Exultation was in the air. The city had met its first taste of war with valor. It was exhilarating. But exultation turned to embarrassment the next day when the Secretary of the Navy said there had been no air raid. No enemy planes. It was just a case of jitters.Jack Smith, Los Angeles Times, February 24th, 1992
On December 7th, 1941, the U.S. was attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor. The following months was filled with paranoia and anxiety surrounding the fear of being attacked. On February 23rd, 1942, a Japanese submarine surfaced near Santa Barbara and shelled an oil field.
The next day, February 24th, 1942, in Los Angeles, California, an alert was called around 7 pm that would be lifted around 10:30 pm. An air raid began around 2:30 am on the morning of February 25th. A total blackout was ordered while searchlights swept the sky.
Around 3:15 am, 37th Coast Artillery Brigade began firing .50 caliber machine guns and 12.8-pound anti-aircraft shells. Thousands of volunteer air-raid wardens joined the fight. The gunfire would continue until 4:14 am. The “all clear” would not be sounded until 7:21 am and at that same time, the blackout was lifted.
Several buildings and vehicles were damaged. Five civilians died as a result of anti-aircraft fire, three were killed in car accidents in the ensuing chaos, and two died of heart attacks.
Hours after the conclusion of the air raid, a press conference was held to declare the entire incident a false alarm due to anxiety and “war nerves.” The day following, there were suggestions by the army that the Japanese were using commercial airplanes in a psychological warfare campaign to generate panic.
Speculation and suspicions arose almost immediately. Some prominent theories included a secret base in Mexico, Japanese submarines offshore, or a staged incident used to give coastal defense industries an excuse to move further inland.
Once the war ended, the Japanese declared that they had flown no airplanes over Los Angeles during the war. In 1983, the U.S. Air Force analyzed the incident and concluded that unannounced meteorological balloons were the blame of the incident.
Whatever the excuse may be, people continue to poke holes in it and assume it was something else. However, the suspicious photos and statements from eyewitness point in the direction of an unidentified flying object or a flying saucer.