While Battle: Los Angeles, the film, opens on March 11th - today marks the 69th anniversary of the “real” Battle of Los Angeles, also known as “The Great Los Angeles Air Raid,” when late-night February 24th/early morning February 25th, 1942 several unidentified objects were sighted hovering over the Los Angeles coastline. The upcoming film is, of course, fictional – but the story was, in part, inspired by the following actual events that took place almost 70 years ago.
In the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941, and less than three months into the United States’ entry into WWII, people were understandably shaken, and naturally assumed that they were, once again, under threat of enemy fire.
In fact, the Japanese had returned to our shores the day before with a truncated submarine attack off the coast of Santa Barbara. The physical damage was minimal, but the psychological, severe. It inspired an invasion scare that would inform the events of the next night, and influence the decision to intern Japanese citizens of the United States during the war.
It was just past 2AM in the morning when the sightings began and authorities took swift and decisive action as soon as repeated reports of the unusual activity rolled in from the uneasy citizenry.
Air raid sirens were sounded, and a total blackout was ordered. At 3:16 am, the 37th Coast Artillery Brigade began firing 12.8-pound antiaircraft shells at the objects – more than 1,400 shells were fired over the next 58 minutes as the objects moved south, from Santa Monica to Long Beach.
According to UFO expert Bill Birnes:
Not one artillery shell could hit the craft – out of all the hundreds of shells that were fired. 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.
Take a look at the newspaper clippings following that night below:
Close in on one of the “objects” sighted:
The next day began a series of fits and starts in terms an official explanation for the episode.
Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, dismissed the event as a “false alarm” due to “jittery nerves,” but when this failed to satisfy the press and the public, the Army responded with a definitive answer that the craft and the battle were real, and the next day, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson confirmed that. Santa Monica’s US Representative, Leland Ford, was quoted in the Times on February 27 calling for a Congressional investigation into the incident, but this went nowhere. In the years since, various explanations have been offered – from Japanese planes to German craft launched from secret bases in Mexico to unidentified aircraft to weather balloons to sky lanterns to blimps.
In the years to come it would become clear that there is no definitive answer to the questions that were raised that night.
Descriptions of the UFOs (sighted) varied widely. General George C. Marshall, in his initial memo to President Roosevelt regarding the event, wrote that the “unidentified airplanes… [traveled at speeds ranging from] ‘very slow’ to as much as 200 mph and from elevations of 9000 to 18,000 feet.” (The memo may be viewed at http://www.militarymuseum.org/BattleofLA.html.) The number of craft reported by observers ranged from 9 to 15 to 25.
As a part of the press day for Battle: Los Angeles Sony brought in a panel of UFO experts, which included Mr. Birnes, to give evidence about what they claim have been repeated occurrences like the one on the night of February 25th, 1942. It is noteworthy that each of these alleged events took place during war time, and/or on and around a military base. While it is difficult to say if the claims are founded, these men certainly believe what they are saying. It becomes challenging, however, when someone has such a clear agenda prior to the onset of an investigation – it weakens the objectivity necessary for true discovery.
There was, however, some compelling testimony offered from two former Military officers who had personally experienced sightings and unexplained phenomena on the bases they were respectively assigned to. Colonel Charles I. Holt, was present for what he and others reported as a UFO sighting at the Bentwaters U.S./U.K. military base in England in 1980. A site which was, at the time, the largest Tactical Fighter Wing in the US Air Force. Two officers disappeared for over 45 minutes during the initial encounter, Holt himself saw what he described as a bright red/orange sphere with a black center “like an eye,” hovering over a neighboring farm the next night. His story is told in the book Left At Eastgate.
Take a look at Col. Holt giving his testimony in 2007:
Robert L. Salas was the Deputy Missile Combat Crew Commander (DMCCC) on duty at the Minuteman Launch Control Facility at Malmstrom AFB, Montana during, what he refers to as, the “Minutemen Missile Shutdown” in 1967. An incident in which a topside NCO (non-commissioned officer) who had no control over the missiles, reported seeing an unidentified aircraft and a “bright light” in the sky. The officers report was immediately followed by an inexplicable, simultaneous shut-down of all the missiles present which effectively disarmed that defense system. The man who reported the UFO was injured when went to investigate the craft (Salas does not recall the particulars of said injury) and flown off base; Salas and his commanding officer were never given a satisfactory explanation for the event. He is the author of the book Faded Giant, which details his experience while stationed at Malmstrom AFB.
The particulars of these men’s experiences were enough to give one pause – however there was no one at the Battle: Los Angeles press event who was an eyewitness on that night in 1942.
When asked if he had done research on the historical Battle of Los Angeles in preparation for the film, Battle: Los Angeles director Jonathan Liebesman replied:
Yes, we saw as much footage as possible. You want to draw on the collective consciousness of images that everyone has seen, but the funny thing is, no one has ever heard of that (event) or seen it. Again it’s taking that and saying ‘listen, this was no different that Omaha beach.’ In other words, we take Omaha beach imagery and juxtapose it with Santa Monica; and what’s great is, is that there was a real event that you can extrapolate from. It’s just using stuff in our collective conscious, and juxtaposing that with this real event.
Battle: Los Angeles, the film, seeks to explore what the “real world” consequences of, and military response to, an actual alien-invasion on our shores would be. As a part of the marketing campaign for the film the team at Sony have released a series of videos that imagine what we may see on the news if such a phenomenon were to occur.
Take a look at the “US sightings” and response video below in which the world helplessly watches as the incursion unfolds:
As to the events of the real Battle of Los Angeles in 1942, we leave it to you to decide who was hovering in the skies that night.
Battle: Los Angeles opens in theaters on March 11th.