From the Archives: The 1942 Battle of L.A.

Following the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, war jitters swept the Southland. By February 1942, air-raid sirens, searchlights and anti-aircraft guns filled Los Angeles. Blackouts and drills were common.

Then on Feb. 23, 1942, a Japanese submarine surfaced and shelled oil installations at Ellwood, north of Santa Barbara.

In a Feb. 24, 1992, Los Angeles Times article, Jack Smith reported what happened next:

It was on the night of Feb. 25, 1942, that Los Angeles experienced the Great Los Angeles Air Raid. It was a night when everyone's fears apparently were realized — Japan had brought the war to mainland America, and Los Angeles was the target.…

The Great Air Raid began at 2:25 a.m. on that clear moonlit night when the U.S. Army announced the approach of hostile aircraft, and the city's air raid warning system went into action for the first time in the war.

Suddenly, the night was torn by sirens. Searchlights swept the sky. Gun crews at army posts along the coastline began pumping ack-ack into the moonlight. (In the entire episode, 1,433 rounds would be fired.) …

Thousands of volunteer air-raid wardens tumbled from their beds and grabbed their boots and helmets--those who had helmets — and rushed into the night. Tens of thousands of citizens, awakened by the screech of sirens and the popping of shells, jumped out of bed and, heedless of blackout regulations, began snapping on lights. It was pandemonium. …

Although no bombs were dropped, the city did not escape its baptism of fire without casualties, including five fatalities. Three residents were killed in automobile accidents as cars dashed wildly about in the blackout. Two others died of heart attacks.

learn more

Chris AlexakisL.A.