Los Angeles

75 Years Ago: Great Los Angeles Air Raid

"Jittery nerves" were blamed for a massive artillery barrage in 1942

The Great Los Angeles Air Raid of 1942 from Rob Frenay on Vimeo.

Seventy-five years ago, a mystery unfolded in the skies over Los Angeles that led some to believe the city was under attack.

The LA Times' Feb. 26, 1942 banner headline read, "ARMY SAYS ALARM REAL: Roaring Guns Mark Blackout."  Some reported seeing planes and balloons. Others thought the object above LA on the night and early morning of Feb. 24 and 25 was a blimp.

In 1942, an attack by the Japanese on the West Coast of the United States wasn't out of the question. Pearl Harbor had been attacked just a few months before and a Japanese submarine surfaced off the coast to shell an oil refinery in Goleta Feb. 23, 1942.

Whatever it was in the sky over Southern California, it caught the military's attention. Air raid sirens blared, a blackout ensued and a barrage of anti-aircraft fire was unleashed from Southern California defense installations.

One of the more frightening nights in Los Angeles' history is re-enacted each year at The Fort MacArthur Museum in San Pedro. This year's "Great Los Angeles Air Raid" event took place Saturday, and video of the re-enactment is available above.

The museum's website also features video of the re-enactment and the following CBS Radio war bulletin: "Anti-aircraft guns went into action against unidentified aircraft in the Los Angeles area, shortly after 3 a.m. Pacific War Time... The unidentified object, which some thought might be a blimp, moved slowly down the Pacific Coast from Santa Monica and disappeared south of Long Beach."

According to the LA Times' Feb. 26, 1942 issue, the Army's Western Defense Command chalked the whole thing up to "jittery nerves." The newspaper also reported that five people were killed, including three in car crashes during the blackout. Two others died of heart attacks, the newspaper reported.

The Times ran a note to subscribers at the bottom of the right front-page column, adjacent to news of a War Production Board decision to prohibit the use of rubber in corsets: "Attention Subscribers! Because of the blackout yesterday between 2:25 a.m. and 7:21 a.m., delivery of The Times to many subscribers was delayed."

The newspaper's delivery trucks were not allowed to move during the blackout, and "Further delay was caused by the fact many delivery boys had departed for school by the time the newspapers reached the dealers."

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