Thursday, January 14, 2016

Revisiting the Battle of Los Angeles

A while back, my friend Danny posted a question to a Facebook UFO page.

I don't remember the exact wording of the question, but the paraphrased gist was: "Is there a famous UFO case that has been mostly or totally discredited but you still can't help but like it?" There are probably more than a few cases that fit that mold for me, but one that immediately jumped into my mind is the "Battle of Los Angeles."

I remember when I first came across the story. I was reading Above Top Secret by Timothy Good and there it was in the photo inserts: a black and white picture from the 1940s of searchlights shooting up over the skies of Los Angeles. The beams of light all converged on a single aerial object, an object with a distinct saucer-like outline. Doesn't get much better than that. Or so I thought.

Here is a YouTube upload of a CBS radio report from the time of the incident but the summary goes something like this: On the night of February 25th, 1942, radar detected an unknown object entering the airspace over Los Angeles, California. Bear in mind that this was less than three brief months after Pearl Harbor. Fears were high that California was next on the list for a Japanese sneak attack. Indeed just two days before this incident, a Japanese submarine had shelled an oil refinery near Santa Barbara causing light damage. It's not difficult to see how this was a situation ripe for mass hysteria.

Searchlights scoured the skies for this craft. Eventually, the anti-aircraft batteries opened up, sending fire into the air. What exactly were they shooting at? That's where witness testimony varies. There were those who said they saw a whole squadron of bombers in the air. Others just saw lights. Others said they saw a sphere. Then there were those who claimed to have seen a saucer-shaped UFO in the sky. The AA shells exploded against the bottom of the craft, causing no apparent damage. What's more, there are even reports that this craft had smaller vehicles moving around and above it.

That last bit is tantalizing, especially given what that photograph seems to depict. To my disappointment, it is the nature of that very photograph that is part of the downfall of any UFO aspect to this incident. A recent edition of UFOs Declassified on the Smithsonian Channel went to the UCLA archives of the Los Angeles Times, the newspaper in which the photograph first appeared, to examine the picture. Turns out that the image that ran in the paper had been heavily retouched. So much so that the unmodified image shows no real shape to whatever is in the convergence of the spotlights. Inspection of the photo's negative would reveal more, however it had been lost.

Enter a conspiracy theory here if you so choose.

Dr. Robert Wood certainly has. He is a former aerospace engineer who purports that five "leaked" documents confirm that the object had been shot down, wreckage was recovered, and said wreckage was found to be of "interplanetary origin." This, according to Wood, was the beginning of the government's secret reverse engineering program. The rub with this story, however, is that no original documents have been produced to verify this claim. That makes such arguments suspect at best.

So if not a UFO, what exactly happened over Los Angeles in February of 1942? I mean, it is a verifiable fact that thousands of AA shells were expended at a target. That is to say, at what someone thought was a target. Radar then was primitive by today's standards, tracking was difficult, and the targets in this case were probably merely perceived and not confirmed. The witness reports of "lights" can easily be attributed to flashes of tracer fire. One officially proposed explanation guessed it...a stray weather balloon. This is somewhat substantiated by that fact that the AA artillery units were "officially chastised" for wasting ammunition on a target that was moving far too slowly to be any military aircraft of that time. My only question is if it was indeed a balloon, wouldn't it have been shredded by all that AA shrapnel and frag? Wouldn't parts of the balloon be recovered on the ground? Maybe not, I guess.

There are just too many other reasonable explanations for what happened on the night of February 25th, 1942 that render the likelihood of genuine UFO involvement to be quite slim. Am I disappointed? I must admit, I sort of am. Ever since I saw that photo in Good's book, I had a positive feeling about this case. That saucer shape gleaming in the spotlights really took my breath away when I first saw it, making me think that it was solid, almost undeniable evidence. That, plus my being weened on "alien invasion" fiction where our military squares off against malevolent attackers from all just hits me in a soft spot.

But facts, as they say, are facts and there's no sense denying them. We must instead allow these facts to lead us to reasonable...even if not very exciting...conclusions. This one is easily explainable.

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1 comment:

  1. another viewpoint:

    I always wondered why the beams didn't pass through the convergence they do in comparison photos