6 things you didn't know about the REAL Battle of Los Angeles

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 4:51 PM EST

With the arrival of the awesome new alien-invasion film Battle: Los Angeles coming in two weeks (March 11), it's worth noting that today is the 69th anniversary of the REAL Battle of Los Angeles.

Also known as the Great Los Angeles Air Raid, the event took place in the wee hours of Feb. 25, 1942, just over three months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and brought the United States into World War II. Air raid sirens began going off as anti-aircraft guns and searchlights began combing the skies over L.A. as they hunted for rumored enemy aircraft, but none were spotted or shot down. The incident was covered extensively by local and national press, but no one could give a satisfactory explanation of what precipitated the alarm.

While the military eventually attributed the incident to "war nerves" and the sighting of an errant weather balloon, ufologists have speculated for years that our guns were actually firing at extraterrestrial spaceships—a theory that provided inspiration for Battle: Los Angeles (Steven Spielberg's film 1941 was also loosely based on the event).

We decided to look into the Battle of Los Angeles a little more and came up with these fascinating bits of info:

The REAL real battle was the day before

While there is no conclusive proof that the Japanese or anyone else attacked Los Angeles on Feb. 25, 1942, Santa Barbara, Calif.—just two hours up the road—was the subject of a Japanese raid just two days earlier. A Japanese sub prowling the waters off the California coast fired several shells at targets in the area, causing minimal damage but initiating the invasion scare that followed.

What was that thing?

The panic in Los Angeles was caused when a number of witnesses reportedly sighted a large, round object in the skies over Culver City and Santa Monica, both neighborhoods on the west side of town and closer to the Pacific Ocean. The object was barraged with more than 1,400 shells from anti-aircraft guns, with no visible effect, until it eventually drifted leisurely south toward Long Beach and vanished from view. Most reports described it as pale orange in color and glowing.

There were casualties

The Battle of Los Angeles did in fact claim six lives. Three civilians were killed directly by friendly fire, while three others suffered heart attacks during the hourlong siege. A number of buildings were also damaged by our own anti-aircraft guns.

Other theories

Shortly after the alarm, speculation ran rampant as to its cause. Some people suggested that the Japanese were launching planes from a secret base in Mexico, while others theorized that they had developed a submarine capable of carrying aircraft. It was even suggested that the event had been staged in order to convince defense companies located near the coast to move their operations further inland.

The military could not get its story straight

While the Army's Western Defense Command in San Francisco initially attributed the incident to "unidentified planes" over Southern California, the secretary of the Navy said the event was the result of "war nerves" and a false alarm. It wasn't until 1983, more than 40 years later, that the military concluded that the incident was possibly caused by a drifting weather balloon.

The mystery remains

Although many eyewitnesses reported seeing a single, large unidentified object over L.A., a number of others also reported spotting anywhere from 25 to 200 planes "swarming" over the metropolitan area. But not a single bomb was dropped, and not a single enemy fighter was brought down. The round object itself was never recovered or seen again. Despite the official explanation, no real answer to what or who started the Battle of Los Angeles has ever been found.

The Phantoms and Monsters website has some more info on the Battle of Los Angeles here. What do you think? Was this a case of itchy trigger fingers and wandering balloons, or were alien beings scoping us out?