Even though the first aerial attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese occurred on December 7, 1941, followed by a second attack on that date, it’s important to note that these attacks weren’t the first time the Japanese had bombed American forces. The first attack began hours before that and involved a submarine.
The attack was sub-surface and happened in two waves: one at 1:30AM and another at 5AM. These two attacks resulted in the destruction of six ships, including an oil tanker and a destroyer. However, the damage was not as bad as what would later occur at Pearl Harbor.
The Los Angeles Air Raid – the bizarre mystery of the Battle of Los Angeles
A few months after Pearl Harbor, America was pretty on-edge, especially along the west coast. Everyone was scanning sky and sea in fear of another Japanese attack. In fact, a Japanese submarine had shelled the Ellwood oilfield near Santa Barbara in February of 1942.
Later that month, the mounting tension exploded into full-blown hysteria. An AWOL weather balloon triggered the initial panic. After that, flares were fired into the night sky, either to illuminate potential threats or signal danger. People saw the flares as more attackers, and a barrage of anti-aircraft fire soon filled the night.
The next day, residents of Los Angeles were reportedly forced to wear gas masks. The activity continued for several nights. In the end, the only casualties from the whole affair were three heart attack victims and three dead due to friendly fire. No Japanese aircraft were found, and the Japanese later denied having anything in the air near Los Angeles at the time.
The Navy at first declared the entire matter a false alarm, but a day later, the War Department, presenting the Army’s side of the story, claimed at least one and possibly five unidentified aircraft were over the city that night.
That’s the official story, at least. At the time, there were claims of a coverup and a bunch of wild theories. The incident was five years prior to the Kenneth Arnold flying saucer report that sparked the US UFO craze, but this is sometimes retroactively described as one of the first major UFO sightings.
“People outside that night swore that it was neither a plane nor a balloon — it was a UFO. It floated, it glided. And to this day, nobody can explain what that craft was, why our anti-aircraft guns couldn’t hit it — it’s a mystery that’s never been resolved.” —Bill Birnes, UFO Expert, Publisher of UFO Magazine
“We all got out and watched it. We saw something, but it was nothing definite. Seemed to be something circling slowly around… I was standing next to my commanding officer, and he said, ‘It looks like an airplane to me.'” —A Retired Officer
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Newspapers at the time thought the whole thing was orchestrated to drum up support for the war effort by inducing panic. Tight-lipped military reports did little to alleviate concerns – a full public investigation wasn’t performed until 40 years later.
The aftermath of the Great Los Angeles Air Raid was one of the most enigmatic and unexplained episodes of the US military’s history. Whether it was a genuine incident or a cover-up by the military remains a matter of conjecture.
Therefore, the story of the Battle of Los Angeles is one that is shrouded in mystery, and the truth behind it may never be known. What is known is that the incident took place, and that it had a profound impact on the people of Los Angeles.