Secretary Knox’s ‘False Alarm’ Statement Is Criticized as Harmful to Morale
Oakland Tribune February 26th, 1942
Secretary of War Stimson announced in Washington that identified aircraft – possibly as many as 15, and possibly piloted by enemy agents – were responsible. It was the War Department’s first statement, beyond bare announcements that unidentified aircraft had been reported and anti-aircraft guns had been in action.
Earlier, Navy Secretary Knox told a press conference that reports reaching him indicated the incident was “a false alarm,” adding that extensive reconnaissance had disclosed no evidence of planes.
CBS News of the World
Listen to a report of the Battle of Los Angeles from CBS News of the World, February 25th, 1942
KNOX IS CRITICIZED
His comments drew fire from Sheriff E. W. Biscailuz and Harold W. Kennedy, chairman and executive director, respectively, of county civilian defense. In a statement last night, they declared, “We jointly decry the very great damage done to civilian defense morale by the reported statement of Secretary of Navy Knox that today’s air raid was a false alarm.”
“…it is highly important that we deal in good faith with the thousands of air raid wardens, auxiliary policemen and other volunteers in the defense effort.”
These facts, meanwhile, had been established. A red air raid warning signal flashed at 2:25 a.m. yesterday and sirens screamed their warning. Southern California blacked out from the San Joaquin valley to the Mexican border.
GUNS IN ACTION
About 3:05 a.m. anti-aircraft guns went into action on a 25-mile front along the coast, firing shrapnel and tracer bullets at a slowly moving, and still unidentified, target. Some observers said it appeared to be a blimp. Firing was steady for nearly 30 minutes, ceased suddenly. It was resumed briefly at long intervals for another 90 minutes. No bombs were dropped. No aircraft was shot down, despite countless false rumors. Souvenir hunters did find lots of shrapnel fired by defense guns.
Life and death went on, amid calm and excitement, sound reasoning and wild speculation. Thirteen babies were born during the blackout. Six persons died—three from excitement-induced heart attacks and three in automobile accidents.
Air raid wardens sped into action and strictly enforced “seek shelter, no traffic” regulations. The all-clear signal was sounded at 7:21 a.m.— half an hour after dawn, releasing a flood of blackout bound automobiles, busses and streetcars to create the city’s greatest traffic jam. Two hours later the jam still was so bad at one bottleneck that 15 minutes were required to drive two blocks. That wasn’t the worst bottleneck. Night shifts worked steadily on in blacked out defense factories. Day workers were stranded in their homes until the all clear sent them pell mell toward offices and plants to meet an outpouring of night workers anxious to get home to breakfast.
Idly curious and souvenir hunters added to the traffic confusion in this city where 1,000,000 automobiles are registered and most of them are used for business purposes. Several homes, garages and stores were damaged by falling fragments of shells. A few unexploded shells dug holes in concrete driveways or yards. They were recovered cautiously by Army munitions experts.
In Pasadena, Clyde S. Lane, 32, was struck in the head by a shell fragment. He was treated for an eight-inch scalp laceration. Several air raid wardens, dashing to duty in the dark, suffered cuts, bruises and, in two instances, broken legs in falls or collisions. Although raid warning officials said the blackout was nearly 100 per cent-effective, two score or more persons were arrested for violating regulations.
In Santa Ana, 21 merchants were fined $50 each because lights burned in their stores until police and wardens forced entry and extinguished them. If night lights are left on, some arrangement to extinguish them instantly must be made. City Judge Donald Harwood later suspended $45 of each fine but collected $5 from each offender. Twelve Huntington Park merchants were cited but not fined.
Justin W. Cooley, 21, aircraft worker, was sentenced to 30 days in jail for driving in the blackout. He crashed into a warden’s automobile. He’s to serve his time only on days off from the plane plant. Walter E. Van Der Linden, 21, was fined $50 for assertedly refusing to douse lights in his dairy barn. Several motorists and householders were arrested for failing to black out. Some were fined $50, others got off with a warning.
Twenty or more Japanese were jailed for various violations of the blackout ordinance. Eight picked up on suspicion of trying to signal the location of defense plants were released for lack of evidence.