by Bruce Maccabee
This is a discussion of the photographic
print obtained by Frank Warren which was made from the
original negative. 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 near 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 print as provided by Frank Warren:
Next we have some enhanced versions:
Sometimes it is helpful to see a
One presumes that this is what the
actual negative looks like.
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 anti-aircraft shells.”
To get the true relative image
brightnesses it is necessary to scan the original negative and then
adjust the “gamma” (relation between film image density and the
about 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 exposure 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)
contained within the negative.
I don’t know the film speed or the f stop of the camera. 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,
the light beams show up
there are quite a few
“explosions” (I presume) which probably did not happen
all at once
The exposure could have been several
The fact that the beams basically do not get past the “object”
(there is some faint evidence of beams above the object), whatever
was at the beam convergence 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).
There are variations, but they are
uniform and agree with the distance (from the searchlight) and width
of the beam. That is, the variations are consistent with each beam
getting dimmer as it travels away from the searchlight. IF there
were smoke within any beam it should cause an increase in scattered
light where there is smoke (which is how we see the beams anyway...
light bounced or scattered from dust or smoke particles in the air).
The beams are quite bright before they reach the “object” and zero
or nearly zero afterward. Just how much optical density of smoke
this requires I do not know. However, certainly a solid metallic
object would be sufficient to block the beams.
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
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
THE UFO-FBI CONNECTION by Bruce
Maccabee [Llewellyn, St. Paul, MN, 2000. Also,
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 the
diameter would be about 25 ft. Of course, the beam is not uniformly
bright across its diameter, so the effective diameter might be
closer to 20 feet.
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 it was about 2 x 25 = 50 ft wide.
If at 2000 ft the calculation yields 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 100 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!)
(NOTE: if you found this
photo-analysis interesting you may want to check out the analyses of
other photo cases at
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
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
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
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
“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?”
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
“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
“What a scene! It was after three in the morning. Searchlights
probed the western sky. Tracers streamed upward. The racket was
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
Editor Peter Jenkins of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner
“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.
“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
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.
BEYOND EARTH: MAN’S CONTACT WITH UFOs
by Ralph Blum, 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
Battle of Los Angeles, 1942” by Terrenz Sword, which
appeared in Unsolved UFO Sightings, Spring 1996 issue, pages 57
GUNS BLAST AT L.A. MYSTERY INVADER
Raid Scare Blacks Out Southland, but
Knox Claims ‘False Alarm’
Glendale News Press
Wednesday, Feb. 25, 1942
- 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
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 been sleeping.
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 skyward. 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
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
Others held on similar charges were Walter E. Van Der Linden,
Norwalk dairy man, accused of failing to darken his milking barns,
and Giovanni 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
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
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
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
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
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 formation
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
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
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
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, either...