This is a discussion of the photographic print first published in the Los
Angeles Times newspaper on Feb 26, 1942. An article on March 13, 2011, by
Scott Harrison indicates that the published photo was actually a retouched
version of the photo.
(See http://framework.latimes.com/2011/03/10/the-battle-of-l-a-1942/#/0 )
Harrison presented in his article the unretouched version
that was discovered in the UCLA photographic archive by Simon Elliott. The
following discussion is based on the unretouched photo. Several different
versions are presented in an effort to understand the nature of the "object"
(dense smoke? solid body?) at the convergence of the beams.
The date of the photo is Feb 25, 1942. The story of the Battle of Los Angeles
several months after the start of WWII as told by newspapers and witnesses
from several sources follows the photo analysis. If anyone has further
information on this event, please contact me through this web site.
First we have the unretouched print as provided by Scott Harrison.
Next we have some enhanced versions. The first is a brightened version to show
the dim beams more clearly.
In the next image there are white lines drawn along the centers of the beams and
projected through the crossover reagion to show where the beams would go above the
convergence region if they passed through. One beam, indicated by the dashed line,
travels upward from the convergence region as one would expect for a beam that passed
through the convergence region. However, this beam, at the right side of the convergence
region, is a little "strange" because it does not seem to be simply a straight line
extension of one of the beams at the left of the convergence region. Instead, it seems to
be a deviated extension of one of the beams at the left, that is, as if the beam
coming up from the left were "bent" clockwise a small about by something in the
convergence region. This "bend" could result from reflection of the beam from some
reflective surface in the convergence region. One might also consider the possibility
that the "dashed line beam" is a reflection of the brightest beam at the right,
reflected from some surface within the convergence region. These suggestions are,
of course, spculative, but the fact is that the "dashed line beam" does not seem to be
directly related to any of the other beams. (NOte: a beam would not be bent by smoke.)
Sometimes it is helpful to see a negative version. One presumes that this is what
the actual negative looks like. The negative emphasizes the "optical density" of
the convergence region.
Finally, there is a darkened version of the positive to emphasize the brightness
of the convergence region as compared with the beams.
In the L.A. Times artice the caption under photo reads:
"SEEKING OUT OBJECT - Scores of searchlights built a wigwam of light beams over Los
Angeles early yesterday morning during the alarm. This picture was taken during
blackout; shows nine beams converging on an object in sky in Culver City area. The blobs of
light which show at apex of beam angles were made by antiaircraft shells."
To get the true relative image brightnesses it would necessary to scan
the original negative and then adjust the "gamma" (relation between
film image density and the amount of light which made the image) to
match the gamma at development. This is typically 1, but they may have
pushed the film to a higher gamma to get faint images.
There may well be information on the shape of the "object" which is not
discernible from the print because apparently the exsposure level of the
"object" is quite high and so the image may be well into the range of
brightness saturation of the print. IF this is so, i.e., if the print
image is well saturated, no amount of analysis will "dig out" the totality
of brightness information (variations in the high brightness levels)
that would be within the original negative.
I don't know the film speed or the f stop of the camera (probablyl a "Speed
Graphic". However, I would guess that the f-stop was low (lens "wide open"; f/2 or 3?)
and that this is a time exposure because (a) the light beams show up
and (b) there are quite a few "explosions" (I presume) which probably did
not happen all at once. The exposure could have been many seconds.
The fact is that the beams basically do not get past the convergence volume(CV), which is the
volume of space (air) which is illuminated by all the beams. (There is some
faint evidence of beams above the CV.) This indicates that whatever was at the CV
must have been optically quite dense. If there was a lot of smoke swirling around
the volume of air illuminated by the beams, I would expect to see variations
in bream brightness (brighter where there was smoke) and also swirls of smoke. What one actually
sees when beams converge in a smoky volume of air is illustrated in several frames from
a movie of a anti-aircraft operation at night. The below figures show that the
illuminated smoke cloud has a randomly varying shape and that the beams go through
Notice that the smoke does not stay neatly confined to the small volume where the beams
intersect. Instead the smoke spreads out in a random way and is illuminated outside the
CV by beams both below and above the CV. The lack of random smoke in the photo under
discussion tends to contradict the hpothesis that there was nothing other
than smoke at the CV.
How large is the "object"? If we knew the distance of the camera from the
beam convergence and the focal length of the camera we could calculate the
approximate size. This requires knowing what portion of the city the object
was over, where the cameraman was, and the altitude of the "object."
An alternative method is to estimate the diameter of a spotlight beam at
some distance from the spotlight and use that width as a reference size.
I found a research article by Dr. Louis Eltermann that reports research
in the latter 1940's in which he used an army searchlight to probe the
upper atmosphere in order to determine the vertical distribution of dust
in the atmosphere. (Note: Eltermann was the author of the infamous Project
Twinkle Report in November, 1951, which ignored or "covered up" or, at the
very least, misrepresented, the White Sands movie film that proved
unidentified objects were flying around. See THE UFO-FBI CONNECTION by Bruce
Maccabee [Llewellyn, St. Paul, MN, 2000.
Eltermann described the searchlight as being 5 ft in diameter and with a divergence
of about 1.25 degrees or about 20 milliradians. This means that the diameter
at a distance d from the mirror would be about D = 5'+0.02d. Thus at 1000
ft from mirror the diameter would be about 25 ft. At 2000 ft the diameter would be about
45 ft. Of course, the beam is not uniformly bright across its diameter, so the
effective diameter might be closer to 20 or 40 ft at the indicated distances.
Consider the beam at the right side of the photo.
It protrudes upward at some angle, probably not the angle
in the photo. Suppose the elevation angle were 30 degrees. The "object" width
is oriented horizontally (parallel to the ground) whereas the beam is
assumed to be tilted at about 30 degrees. Hence the horizontal width
of the beam, W,(not perpendicular to the beam axis) would be
W = D/sin(angle of elevation) = D/sin(30) = 2D for the assumed 30 degree
elevation angle. Hence if the object were 1000 ft from the projection lens
(and only 500 ft high) it was about 2 x 25 = 50 ft wide. If the distance along the
beam were 2000 ft (and the height were 1,000 ft) the calculation
would yield D = 45 ft and W = 90 ft.
One estimate of the height of the object was 8,000 ft. For a 30 degree slant
angle of the beam from ground level up to 8,000 ft the distance along the
beam would be about 8,000/sin 30 = 16,000 ft. If this were so, then the beam diameter
at that height would have been about 165 ft and the horizontal width of the object
would have been about 330 ft.
If the slant angle of the beam was less than 30 degrees then the calculated sizes
would have been larger. Conversely, if the slant angle was greater the
calculated sizes would have been smaller.
Based on the above calculations, and realizing that a much better estimate could be
made if we had more accurate information on the spotlights, camera, etc., I would
hazard a guess that the width of the illuminated "object" is on the order of 80 ft
or more in size. Without more solid information to go on this has to be no more than
a WAG (wild...rear-end... guess) (but I bet its close to right!)
THE STORY, AS REPORTED IN VARIOUS SOURCES:
The following are excerpts from the primary front page story of the LA Times on
February 26th. Note that there is not a SINGLE description of the object even
though is was clearly locked in the focus of dozens of searchlights for well over
half an hour and seen by hundreds of thousands of people:
Army Says Alarm Real
Roaring Guns Mark Blackout
Identity of Aircraft Veiled in Mystery; No Bombs Dropped and
No Enemy Craft Hit; Civilians Reports Seeing Planes and Balloon
Overshadowing a nation-wide maelstrom of rumors and conflicting reports, the
Army's Western Defense Command insisted that Los Angeles' early morning blackout
and anti-aircraft action were the result of unidentified aircraft sighted over the
beach area. In two official statements, issued while Secretary of the Navy Knox in
Washington was attributing the activity to a false alarm and "jittery nerves," the
command in San Francisco confirmed and reconfirmed the presence over the Southland
of unidentified planes. Relayed by the Southern California sector office in
Pasadena, the second statement read: "The aircraft which caused the blackout in the
Los Angeles area for several hours this a.m. have not been identified." Insistence
from official quarters that the alarm was real came as hundreds of thousands of
citizens who heard and saw the activity spread countless varying stories of the
episode. The spectacular anti-aircraft barrage came after the 14th Interceptor
Command ordered the blackout when strange craft were reported over the coastline.
Powerful searchlights from countless stations stabbed the sky with brilliant probing
fingers while anti-aircraft batteries dotted the heavens with beautiful, if sinister,
orange bursts of shrapnel.
City Blacked Out For Hours
The city was blacked out from 2:25 to 7:21 am after an earlier yellow alert at 7:18 pm
was called off at 10:23 pm. The blackout was in effect from here to the Mexican border
and inland to the San Joaquin Valley. No bombs were dropped and no airplanes shot down
and, miraculously in terms of the tons of missiles hurled aloft, only two persons were
reported wounded by falling shell fragments. Countless thousands of Southland residents,
many of whom were late to work because of the traffic tie-up during the blackout, rubbed
their eyes sleepily yesterday and agreed that regardless of the question of how "real"
the air raid alarm may have been, it was "a great show" and "well worth losing a few
hours' sleep." The blackout was not without its casualties, however. A State Guardsman
died of a heart attack while driving an ammunition truck, heart failure also accounted
for the death of an air raid warden on duty, a woman was killed in a car-truck collision
in Arcadia, and a Long Beach policeman was killed in a traffic crash enroute to duty.
Much of the firing appeared to come from the vicinity of aircraft plants along the
coastal area of Santa Monica, Inglewood, Southwest Los Angeles, and Long Beach.
The Times editorial reads: "In view of the considerable public excitement and confusion
caused by yesterday morning's supposed enemy air raid over this area and its spectacular
official accompaniments, it seems to The Times that more specific public information
should be forthcoming from government sources on the subject, if only to clarify their
own conflicting statements about it."
"According to the Associated Press, Secretary Knox intimated that reports of enemy air
activity in the Pacific Coastal Region might be due largely to 'jittery nerves.' Whose
nerves, Mr. Knox? The public's or the Army's?"
Army Gunners Fire
At UFOs Over Los Angeles
Courtesy UFO ROUNDUP
Volume 3, Number 8
February 22, 1998
Editor Joseph Trainor
On Wednesday, February 25, 1942, at precisely 2 a.m., diners at the trendy Trocadero
Club in Hollywood were startled when the lights winked out and air raid sirens began to
sound throughout greater Los Angeles.
"Searchlights scanned the skies and anti-aircraft guns protecting the vital aircraft
and ship-building factories went into action. In the next few hours they would fire
over 1,400 shells at an unidentified, slow- moving object in the sky over Los Angeles
that looked like a blimp, or a balloon."
Author Ralph Blum, who was a nine-year-old boy at the time, wrote that he thought "the
Japanese were bombing Beverly Hills."
"There were sirens, searchlights, even antiaircraft guns blamming away into the skies
over Los Angeles. My father had been a balloon observation man (in the AEF) in World
War One, and he knew big guns when he heard them. He ordered my mother to take my baby
sisters to the underground projection room--our house was heavily supplied with
Hollywood paraphernalia--while he and I went out onto the upstairs balcony."
"What a scene! It was after three in the morning. Searchlights probed the western sky.
Tracers streamed upward. The racket was terrific." Shooting at the aerial intruders
were gunners of the 65th Coast Artillery (Anti-Aircraft) Regiment in Inglewood and
the 205th Anti-Aircraft Regiment based in Santa Monica. The "white cigar-shaped object"
took several direct hits but continued on its eastward flight.
Up to 25 silvery UFOs were also seen by observers on the ground.
Editor Peter Jenkins of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner reported, "I could clearly see
the V formation of about 25 silvery planes overhead moving slowly across the sky toward
Long Beach." Long Beach Police Chief J.H. McClelland said, "I watched what was described
as the second wave of planes from atop the seven-story Long Beach City Hall. I did not
see any planes but the younger men with me said they could. An experienced Navy observer
with powerful Carl Zeiss binoculars said he counted nine planes in the cone of the
searchlight. He said they were silver in color. The (UFO) group passed along from one
battery of searchlights to another, and under fire from the anti-aircraft guns, flew
from the direction of Redondo Beach and Inglewood on the land side of Fort MacArthur,
and continued toward Santa Ana and Huntington Beach. Anti-aircraft fire was so heavy we
could not hear the motors of the planes."
Reporter Bill Henry of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "I was far enough away to see an
object without being able to identify it...I would be willing to bet what shekels I
have that there were a number of direct hits scored on the object."
At 2:21 a.m., Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt issued the cease-fire order, and the
twenty-minute "battle of Los Angeles" was over. (See BEYOND EARTH: MAN'S CONTACT WITH
UFOs by Ralph Blum, Bantam Books, New York, April 1974, page 68. See also the Los
Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and the Long Beach Press-Telegram for
February 25, 1942. All newspaper quotes taken from "The Battle of Los Angeles, 1942"
by Terrenz Sword, which appeared in Unsolved UFO Sightings, Spring 1996 issue,
pages 57 through 62.)
Glendale News Press
Wednesday, Feb. 25, 1942
ANTI-AIRCRAFT GUNS BLAST
AT L.A. MYSTERY INVADER
Raid Scare Blacks Out
Southland, but Knox
Claims 'False Alarm'
Washington(AP)-Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox said today that there were no
planes over Los Angeles last night. "That's our understanding," he said. He added
that " none have been found and a very wide reconnaissance has been carried on."
He added, "it was just a false alarm."
Anti-aircraft guns thundered over the metropolitan area early today for the
first time in the war, but hours later what they were shooting at remained a
military secret. An unidentified object moving slowly down the coast from Santa
Monica was variously reported as a balloon and an airplane.
No bombs were dropped and no planes were shot down during the anti-aircraft
firing in the Los Angeles area, the western defense command said in San Francisco.
"Cities in the Los Angeles area were blacked out at 2:25 a.m. today on orders
from the fourth interceptor command when unidentified aircraft were reported in the
area," the western defense command said.
"Although reports are conflicting and every effort is being made to ascertain
the facts, it is clear that no bombs were dropped and no planes were shot down."
"There was a considerable amount of anti-aircraft firing. The all-clear
signal came at 7:25 a.m."
Army Scofts at Civilian Reports
Army intelligence, although uncommunicative, scoffed at reports of civilian
observers that as many as 200 planes were over the area.
There were no reports of dropping bombs, but several instances of damaged
property from anti-aircraft shells. A garage door was ripped off in a Los
Angeles residential district and fragments shattered windows and tore into a bed
where a few moments before Miss Blanch Sedgewick and her niece, Josie Duffy had
A santa Monica bomb squad was dispatched to remove an unexploded
anti-aircraft shell in a driveway there.
Wailing air raid sirens at 2:25 a.m. awakened most of the metropolitan's
three million citizens. A few minutes later they were treated to a gigantic
Fourth-of-July-like display as huge searchlights flashed along a 10-mile front
to the south, converging on a single spot high in the sky.
Anti-Aircraft Guns Open Fire
Moments later the anti-aircraft guns opened up, throwing a sheet of steel
Tracer bullets and exploding shells lit the heavens.
Three Japanese, two men and a woman, were seized at the beach city of
Venice on suspicion of signaling with flashlights near the pier. They were removed
to FBI headquarters, where Richard B. Hood, local chief, said, "at the request of
Army authorities we have nothing to say."
A Long Beach police sergeant, E. Larsen 59, was killed in a traffic accident
while in route to an air raid post.
Henry B. Ayers, 63-year-old state guardsman, died at the wheel of an
ammunition truck during the black-out. Physicians said a heart attack was
Rumors of Planes Downed Spiked
Police ran down several reports that planes had been shot down, but said all
were false alarms.
Aircraft factories continued operation behind blackened windows, while
ack-ack guns rattled from batteries stationed near-by.
A Japanese vegetable man, John Y. Harada, 25, was one of three persons
arrested on charges of violating a county black ordinance. Sheriff's Capt. Ernest
Sichler said Harada, driving to the market with a load of cauliflower, refused to
extinguish his truck lights.
Others held on similar charges were Walter E. Van Der Linden, Norwalk dairy
man, accused of failing to darken his milking barns, and Giovouni Ghigo, 57, nabbed
while driving to market with a truckload of flowers.
Traffic Snarl Follows All Clear Signal
Soon traffic was snarled. Thousand of southern Californians were an hour
or more late to their jobs.
There were isolated incidences of failure to comply with black-out regulations.
Neon signs were glowing inside stores. Traffic signals continued to flash in some areas.
Radio stations went off the air with the first alert, and were not permitted
to resume broadcasting until 8:23 a.m.
There was speculation, that the unidentified object, might have been a
blimp-although veteran lighter-then-air-experts in Akron, O., the nations center of
such construction, said Japan was believed to have lost interest in such craft following
experiments in World War I. These sources said inability to obtain fire proof helium
caused discarding of such plans.
Observers lent some credence to the blimp theory by pointing out that the object
required nearly thirty minutes to travel 20 or 25 miles-far slower then an airplane.
Unidentified Planes Pass Over Harbor
AN official source which declined to be quoted directly told The Associated
Press in Los Angeles that United States Army Planes quickly went into action. Later
however, another official said no United States craft had taken off because of
possible danger from the army's own anti-aircraft fire.
A newspaper man at San Pedro said airplanes passed over the Los Angeles-Long
Beach harbor area. The craft were not identified.
There were no reports of any attempt to bomb southern California from the air
although many war-vital factories, shipyards and other defense industries were on
the route the object followed.
Although some watchers said they saw airplanes in the air, semi-official
sources said they probably were the United States Army's pursuits.
All the action, clearly spotlighted for ground observers by 20 or so
searchlights, was just a few miles west of Los Angeles proper.
Object Disappears Over Signal Hill
Observers said the object appeared to be 8000 ft or higher.
Firing, first heard at 3 a.m., ceased suddenly at 3:30 a.m., after the object
disappeared south of Signal Hill, at the east edge of Long Beach. Anti-aircraft guns
fired steadily for two minute periods, were silent for about 45 seconds, and continued
that routine for nearly a half an hour.
All of southern California from the San Juaquin valley to the Mexican border
was blacked out. Los Angeles doused its lights first, at 2:25 a.m.. San Diego, just
17 miles from the border did not receive its lights out order until 3:05 a.m.
When daylight and the all-clear signal came, Long Beach took on the appearance
of a huge easter egg-hunt. Kiddies and even grown-ups scrambled through the streets
and vacant lots, picking up and proudly comparing chunks of shrapnel fragments as
if they were the most prized possession they owned.
I'm a WWII veteran. Just thought I'd let you know that I was an eyewitness to the
event back in February of 1942. I was 14 at the time, living in the Adams and Crenshaw
area of Los Angeles. My family and I observed the entire episode through the large bay
window of our home facing west.The air raid sirens awoke us at 2 AM. There was a period
of silence following that, then the thumping of antiaircraft fire. The northwest sky was
lit up with bursting shells and searchlights. The action was moving south along the
coastline. I remember distinctly the convergence of searchlights reflecting off the
bottom of some kind of slow moving objects, apparently flying in formation. They
seemed to be completely oblivious and impervious to the shells exploding around them.
I was quite the aviation buff back then, as I am now, but I must admit that I had a devil
of a time trying to identify the objects, what with the awe, excitement and speculation
of the moment, the bursting shells, tracers, etc. I was surprised in the days that
followed to discover that with all that aggressive firepower there was no
evidence that we had brought anything down.
I lived on Virginia Road, a half block south of West Adams Boulevard and
one-quarter mile south of what is now the Interstate 10 Santa Monica Freeway;
about 5.5 miles southwest of what is now the Los Angeles Civic Center; and
approximately 10.5 miles due east of the Pacific coastline of Santa Monica.
We were looking in a westward direction from our large living room bay window
which gave us an unobstructed panorama of view facing the northwest, west and
southwest. We then went to our south-facing kitchen and porch windows to
observe the action where it culminated in the south. Ergo, the action followed the
It could have been two, or three, or up to six miles away,
I can't recall exactly since it occurred so long ago. But I strongly remember
the searchlights converging on the bottoms of the reddish objects flying in
Scott Littleton writes:
I was an eye-witness to the events of that unforgettable February
morning in February of 1942. I was eight-years-old at the time, and my
parents lived at 2500 Strand in Hermosa Beach, right on the beach. We thus
had a grandstand seat. While my father went about his air-raid warden
duties, my late mother and I watched the glowing object, which was caught in
the glare of searchlights from both Palos Verdes and
Malibu/Pacific/Palisades and surrounded by the puffs of ineffectual
anti-aircraft fire, as it slowly flew across the ocean from northwest to
southeast. It headed inland over Redondo Beach, a couple of miles to the
south of our vantage point, and eventually disappeared over the eastern end
of the Palos Verdes hills, what's today called Rancho Palos Verdes. The
whole incident last, at least from our perspective, lasted about half an
hour, though we didn't time it. Like other kids in the neighborhood, I
spend the next morning picking up of pieces of shrapnel on the beach;
indeed, it's a wonder more people weren't injured by the stuff, as we were
far from the only folks standing outside watching the action.
In any case, I don't recall seeing any truly discernable configuration, just
a small, glowing, slight lozenge-shaped blob light-a single, blob, BTW. We
only saw one object, not several as some witnesses later reported. At the
time, we were convinced that it was a "Jap" reconnaissance plane, and that
L.A. might be due for a major air-raid in the near future. Remember, this
was less than three months after Pearl Harbor. But that of course never
happened. Later on, we all expected "them," that is, the Military, to tell
us what was really up there after the war. But that never happened,