The Backstory: LA’s Long History of Blowing Things Out of the Sky & Out of Proportion


Jacqueline L.

The Backstory is a column celebrating fun and forgotten history!

The Backstory is a column celebrating fun and forgotten history! 


Remember like a month ago, when the military shot down a bunch of UFOs? Yeah, that was pretty weird. 

It started with a suspected Chinese spy balloon. Fair enough.  BOOM.  But then, three more random objects appeared inand promptly got blasted out ofthe sky.

The government has said that the last three things it shot down probably aren’t associated with the spy balloon, and probably aren’t from outer-space. All the shooting was just “out of an abundance of caution,” according to government officials. It sounds like things may have been blown out of proportion, as well as out of the sky. 

Despite this, some folks continue to insist that we shot down three extraterrestrial visitorswho now have to deal with skyrocketing UFO insurance premiums. I don’t know about all that, but I do know that this isn’t the first time Americans have freaked out and started kabooming random flying objects. In fact, 81 years ago, the SAME THING happenedright here in Los Angeles! 

The obscure and surprisingly anticlimactic, but nonetheless dramatically titled, Battle of Los Angeles (aka the Great Los Angeles Air Raid*), rocked our fair city in late February of 1942. It was the height of the Second World War, and here on the West Coast, we were crazy, crazy paranoid.

Worried about possible attacks by Axis forces, we built up our defenses to the extremebuilding bundles of bunkers, imposing bunches of blackouts, and scrounging for scores of troops and weapons. We even stationed 500 military troops at Walt Disney Studios to guard against the very probable Nazi strike against Mickey Mouse.

Despite these preparations to guard our nation’s most important rodent, in the wee hours of February 24, 1942, the Office of Naval Defense picked up one singular radar blip 120 miles into the ocean. Within hours of this information going public, the government was flooded with civilian reports of “enemy planes” above Los Angeles. Air raid sirens were sounded, and from 4:00 to 7:00 a.m., the military went bananas. Over a thousand anti-aircraft shells were fired, “whereupon the air over Los Angeles erupted like a volcano.”  But what, you may ask, were we shooting at?

Nobody knows. 

After the event, the military confirmed it definitely wasn’t an attack. In fact, there’s been no confirmation there was anything up there, at all! But this didn’t stop the press from speculating. Official and civilian reports were published widely in newspapers across the nation, but each gave a wishy-washy mix of contradicting and unreliable accounts. The L.A. Times claimed definitively that it was a fleet of Japanese planes attacking the city; one paper reported 25 Japanese planes shot down over Hollywood. 

More realistically, it’s likely that civilians were just freaked out by seeing American artillery exploding in the sky and assumed there was an attack…which then led them to fire weapons into the sky and just generally freak out their neighbors.

Was there anything out there that led to all this? Leading historians have concluded with absolute confidence that there may, or may not, have actually been anything up in the sky. But the one likely culprit for the “blip” out in the ocean that started this whole mess? A meteorological balloon. Surprise, surprise.

It appears that history is doomed to repeat itself, with balloons resulting in inflated reporting. We may keep shooting at random things in the sky, but, hey, we’re getting betterat least this time we actually saw some debris even if we don’t know what it was up there.

In the 1970s, a bunch of wackadoos used this photo as ‘proof’ that the Air Raid was spurred by aliens. (


*It was not really so great.