THE BATTLE OF LOS ANGELES –> Photo analysis by Dr. Bruce Maccabee, Phd.




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 )

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 (at top)  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 region 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” clock-wise 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, speculative, 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 LA Times article 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 be 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 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) that would be within the original negative).

I don’t know the film speed or the f stop of the camera (probably 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 beam bright- ness (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 figures below show that the illuminated smoke cloud has a randomly varying shape and that the beams go through the CV.






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 contra-dict the hypothesis 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).

(Also see:

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 distanced from the mirror would be about

D = 5’+0.02d.

Thus at 1000 feet 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 a 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 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 air- craft 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 LA 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 blasting 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


Raid Scare Blacks OutSouthland, 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 Scoffs 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 apparently responsible.

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, OH, 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.


More Recent Testimony

H.C. writes:

“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 coastline.

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 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, either.”


Editor’s Note to UFO Digest Readers:

Be sure to visit Dr. Bruce Maccabee’s home website …Just click the link below:




November 12, 2007 – UFO Digest Editor Robert Morningstar with Dr. Bruce Maccabee attending The National Press Club UFO Conference in Washington, D.C.  USAF Col. Charles Halt of Rendlesham Forest UFO fame is to be seen standing in the background (left side).



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