The Night The Japanese Attacked Los Angeles

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Senior Airman
Dec 3, 2003
The Night The Japanese Attacked Los Angeles, by Bob Naismith

Soon after the Pearl Harbor attack, as a partial bulwark against this doleful scenario (a Japanese attack) the Army assigned its 1st Pursuit Group the responsibility of patrolling Southern California's coastline and serving as first line of defense against what popular newspapers ballyhooed as a certain attack. Around the clock aerial patrols were backed by air raid wardens who were to make visual observations of aircraft approaching the coast and batteries of anti-aircraft artillery to dispatch any and all aircraft deemed hostile, a scenario which caused the sky over Southern California to come unglued on the night of February 25th, 1942.

Lieutenant William "Big Bill" Newman of the famous 71st Squadron was on routine duty, picketed off Santa Monica. He was leisurely boring his way back and forth at an assigned altitude of 4000 feet, as he expressed it later, 'fat, dumb and happy, 'when his electrical system failed and cockpit instrument lighting died out. Tootling around in the dark without gauges to guide him was no fun, so after giving the matter some consideration Big Bill fired up his red-banded signaling flashlight and took a reading on his instrument panel. He reported later that what he saw made his lower intestines clog his throat. His ammeter was registering full discharge. Not a happy turn of events. He knew that when the plane's batteries discharged both electrically controlled props would feather on him and turn his heretofore-dependable flying machine into a non-flying chunk of machinery. That was no place for "Little Willie" as he called himself, to hang around. To make matters worse, his flashlight switch jammed in the 'ON' position and resisted all efforts to turn it off. During debriefing he admitted that in frustration he had cranked his side window down and heaved the offending piece of junk over the side. Bill then opened his throttles and departed the scene.

in the meantime a dedicated, sharp-eyed air raid warden on the coastline below spotted that tumbling red and white object and came to an instant conclusion. The Japanese had attacked the night before and they were at it again. He ran to his phone and called the Los Angeles Intercept Board to report that aerial combat was taking place over Santa Monica Bay with one plane shot down in flames. Intercept called Big Bill and got no response - his radio like his light system, was out. Aerial combat? One plane shot down? No response from Newman? A duty officer at Intercept took these items at face value and immediately invoked a red alert. In effect, gentle Big Bill had innocently attacked his homeland.

Given time the whole situation would probably have been sorted out and the alert cancelled. However, a few minutes later some poor Navy pilot came chugging in from Pearl in a PBY. He missed his identification zone north of Coronado Island and hit Santa Monica right on the nose. An unnamed AA gunner on red alert saw the juicy target and let fly, whereupon the startled Navy fly-boy had sense to douse his running lights. Ground marksmen then zeroed in on Mars, Venus, each others' shell bursts and the sky in general. Soon guns were firing from Long Beach to Malibu with only an empty sky to shoot at. As soon as the firing started someone in the chain of command ordered a Southern California blackout. Master power switches were pulled hither, thither and yon.

The Navy pilot did what any sensible young man would do. He took a reading on his location and opted to use his remaining fuel to head for a safe haven at the Salton Sea. Big Bill decided that trying to land on the by then blacked-out landing strip in Glendale without lights or instruments and with guns going off all round would not be the wisest of procedures so he headed for wide open Muroc Army Air Base.

The comedy of errors continued as phones began ringing in the apartment complex where three married officers were quartered relaxing in wedded bliss. It was the Intercept Officer calling. All standby off-base pilots were to report immediately and prepare for takeoff. The intrepid three piled in to one trusty '41 Chevy and headed for Grand Central Airport. Within a few blocks Glendale police pulled the speeding vehicle over and asked sarcastically if the driver didn't know that there was an air raid on, that no private automobiles were allowed on the roads during air raids. Military ID's and flight suits didn't daunt Glendale's finest. They had their instructions and that was it. Shonie, always the great communicator, informed them in his best military voice that the pilots orders came from General Israel (a slight exaggeration, Israel had only just been made a light colonel) and demanded to know on what authority they were countermanding his orders. In the same tone of voice he told the driver to drive on. The police were left speechless.

Another obstacle awaited at the field. A National Guard outfit had bivouacked on the inside of the perimeter fence while awaiting transhipment to the Pacific. When the night's fireworks had begun, their CO had taken the initiative; he posted guards at strategic locations with orders that they were to protect the landing field, allowing no one through the gate. One of his grim faced citizen soldiers, holding a fixed bayonet, held the three at bay. He announced in a post teen-age squeaky voice that he had his orders. No one was to pass through the gate and only their CO, the Officer of the Day or the Sergeant of the Guard could change those orders. None of the three saw any point in pressing the issue against a bayonet on the end of a rifle held in shaky hands.

Eventually the alert was called off, flying was cancelled until daybreak at which time all available pilots were to scour segments of the Pacific to see if they could discover from whence the mysterious aircraft had come. While the pilots were thus engaged, enterprising citizens tackled the Grand Central runway, paint and brushes in hand to camouflage the concrete. This, of course, put the runway out of commission and forced the pilots to land on a weed patch beside the landing strip. One P-38 unfortunately had a close encounter with, of all things, a foxhole dug the night before. A final tally of the night's work: five people dead, considerable damage from falling shrapnel, tons of lost food from power outages, frayed nerves and the unreported loss of one P-38. (The Accident Board charged pilot Naismith with 100% pilot error on the grounds that all the other pilots had missed the foxhole.)
I bet it is true. There were many cases of Japanese subs of the coast of California and German Subs spotted in the Atlantic.


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I bet it is true. There were many cases of Japanese subs of the coast of California and German Subs spotted in the Atlantic.

There were no P-38s in service in California in early 1942. No P-38 crashed into a foxhole and no pilot was court-martialed for pilot error. During the "air raid" six people died, three from heart attacks and three from falling shrapnel, that is, friendly fire. The main anti-aircraft atillery firings were at the upper and lower reservations of Ft. MacArthur, at San Pedro. They were three miles apart. We lived between the two of them. Shrapnel fell in our street, South Carolina, three houses east of 40th street.
Our fireplace chimney was hit by a five-inch anti-aircraft shell, which was used for training. It had no explosive charge in it. It destroyed the top four feet of our chimney. Four days later the army sent two bricklayers out to repair it and and a number of roofers to patch holes in the houses hit by shrapnel.
PBYs didn't fly in from Pearl unless they were carrying a US senator or a four-star general. It could be done, as TWA had a transpacific service by PBYs, stopping at Midway to refuel. But casual flights as mentioned in the article I am criticizing, just didn't happen.
The movie, 1941, was a ridiculous piece of trash, disguised as a comedy. No one could have thought that it was about the Japanese raid. The star, John Belushi, died of a drug overdose three years later.
Unless you lived in L.A. at the time, you would have considered that it was nothing more than awful,
silly fluff, which it was, undeniably.
There was a submarine attack, or so it is believed. Standard Oil had a refinery just south of Santa Barbara, with an oil fueling dock extending into the ocean. According to more realistic reports a submarine surfaced there and shelled the dock and the refinery, doing some but not great damage.
The only other time that dock was visited by a submarine was in the movie, "On The Beach," when a U.S. sub came there after a global nuclear war had erupted, because the men in the sub continually heard an erratic wireless transmission originating there. They tied up at the dock and ventured into the offices of the refinery, there to find a coke bottled tied to a flapping window blind, laying across a manual telegraph key. If you saw the movie you will remember this.
Imaginary raid or not, it led to the incarceration of Japanese-American citizens to remote places in "relocation camps' and the forfeiture of their homes, businesses, fishing boats, cars, trucks and farms.
The man who went to Washington to persuade President Roosevelt of the local Japanese threat to California was the newly-elected governor of California, Earl Warren. It was a complete abrogation of the Constitution and the civil rights of American Citizens, from which all was stolen at about four cents on the dollar by friends of Earl Warren. California liked him; he was re-elected twice.
When Eisenhower was elected he made Warren the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the man most responsible for interpreting the Constitution. Immediately there began a public outrage against Warren and demands that he should be impeached, the only way to remove him. Nothing worked, though the outrage continued for the next 15 years. For all that time the Supreme Court was only a travesty.
Yeah me, too. Must have found girls, grades spiraled, bought an X-box, fell in love with Cortana and is now hustling shopping carts from the parking lot. Too bad.


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