Sunday, October 6, 2019

February 25, 1942: Battle of Los Angeles

Wednesday 25 February 1942

Battle of Los Angeles, 25 February 1942,
Searchlights and anti-aircraft fire on the morning of 25 February 1942 (25 February 1942 LA Times).
Battle of the Pacific: After hours of warnings from U.S. Naval Intelligence and many false alarms, a full-scale situation develops over Los Angeles, California, in the early morning hours of 25 February 1942. It is difficult to explain exactly what this "situation" is because there is no certainty other than that a massive barrage of anti-aircraft fire erupts around the city. The first hint of trouble is when air raid sirens sound at 02:25 throughout the Los Angeles basin. This results in a total blackout and the recall of Air Raid Wardens from their beds. At 03:16, the guns of the 37th Coast Artillery Brigade open up. In such situations, all it takes is for one gun to go off for everyone within earshot to begin firing wildly at shadows and stars and anything else in sight. The gunners themselves are not entirely to blame as there are reports from official observers of large enemy formations approaching the city. Over 1400 shells are fired from guns ranging from .50 caliber machine guns to 12.8-pound anti-aircraft guns. Given a lack of actual targets, the firing quickly dies down but spent shell fragments rain down on the city, damaging buildings, vehicles, and everything else. The "all clear" sounds at 04:14 and the blackout order is lifted at 07:21. In all, five people perish directly and five indirectly as a result of the incident.

Battle of Los Angeles, 25 February 1942,
The Los Angeles Times is full of dramatic claims about the Battle of Los Angeles.
The mysterious part about the Battle of Los Angeles is what everyone was firing at. Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox is alerted and quickly claims the entire incident is a false alarm. Various spokesmen from the U.S. Army, however, provide a different theory. They say that there actually were aircraft, but not military planes. Instead, there were civilian aircraft used by enemy agents in a psyops campaign to demoralize the public. Nobody is satisfied with any of these explanations, and newspaper editorials lob feverish conspiracy theory allegations (though this term is not invented until the 1960s) about coverups and enemy attacks. These theories are lent some credence by the well-known attack by a Japanese submarine on the oil installation at Ellwood, California, on 23 February. However, the Japanese have no planes or other assets in the area, so the possibility of actual enemy involvement is virtually nil. The USAAF also denies having any planes in the air. Eventually, theories about UFOs pop up as well, a brewing topic during the war which later explodes when foo fighters also are claimed to be of extraterrestrial origin. The mystery is never solved.

Battle of Los Angeles, 25 February 1942,
The 25 February 1942 Brooklyn Eagle headlines the "Mystery Raid" at Los Angeles.
With British defenses on the Sittang River in collapse, the Japanese continue their jungle infiltration tactics with great success. There is a wide gap between major roads of about 35 miles which the Japanese use to sidestep the Burma 1st Division at Nyaunglebin and the shattered Indian 17th Division at Pegu. If the Japanese can get sufficient troops through, they can cut the Rangoon/Mandalay road and destroy the Indian blocking position. In the air, the American Volunteer Group (AVG, or "Flying Tigers") continues its successful operations, shooting down three "Nate" bombers over Rangoon at noon. At 17:00, the AVG claims a further 23 Japanese Army fighter and an Army bomber. However, the AVG can do nothing to help the ground forces because the Japanese are advancing in small groups under cover of the tree canopy.

Battle of Los Angeles, 25 February 1942,
The 25 February 1942 Los Angeles Examiner reports than "One Plane Reported Downed on Vermont Avenue by Gunfire."
In Java, the end is approaching and everyone knows it. ABDA Commander General Archibald Wavell dissolves his headquarters at 09:00 and flies back to India to concentrate on the Burma campaign. Dutch General Ter Poorten assumes the island's defense and is immediately confronted with news from a reconnaissance PBY Catalina that a Japanese invasion convoy approaching. At 11:25, he orders the entire ABDA naval force to assemble at Surabaya to repel the invasion. This is an impressive force on paper, with cruisers HMS Exeter and HMAS Perth sailing with three destroyers (Electra, Encounter, and Jupiter) sailing from Batavia for a rendezvous at sea. Admiral Doorman heads to sea at dusk from Surabaya with the heavy cruiser USS Houston and Dutch light cruisers HNMS De Ruyter and Java and seven destroyers. Doorman's mission is to intercept and repel the invasion convoy along the coast of Madoera Island. Nothing comes of this, however, and the ABDA ships all return to Surabaya to await developments. This ABDA naval fleet now becomes known as the Combined Striking Force.

With fears growing of a Japanese advance through Burma to India and corresponding Japanese naval forces in the Indian Ocean, aircraft carrier HMS Hermes flies off its planes (RAF Squadron No. 814) to act as a land-based force at Trincomalee. Destroyer Nizam also arrives at Trincomalee. In the Sunda Strait, Japanese submarine I-58 sinks 7136-ton Dutch freighter Boeroe. All 70 men aboard survive.

Eastern Front, 25 February 1942,
Life on the Eastern Front: SVT-38/40: Die Deutsche Wochenschau 25 February 1942.
Eastern Front: The Soviets are busy building up their forces in the Crimea's Kerch Peninsula for an effort to liberate the entire Crimea. They have assembled almost 100,000 men and over 1000 guns for the effort, along with 200 aircraft. Following several postponements, the offensive against the German forces on the Parpach Narrows is scheduled to begin on 27 February. The Germans, meanwhile, still have their main attention focused on Sevastopol in the west and have established a hedgehog defensive strategy in the east centered on fortified villages.

European Air Operations: RAF Bomber Command sends a total of 61 bombers (43 Wellingtons, 12 Manchesters, 6 Stirlings) to bomb a floating drydock at Kiel. Given the difficulties of finding the target by eye, only 36 of them actually report attacking the target. The dock survives, but the bombs sink accommodation ship Monte Sarmiento, killing about 125 men. Bombs also drop in the nearby town, killing 16 people and injuring 39. The RAF loses three Wellingtons. The Germans, not knowing the military intent of the raid, view it as a sour-grapes "revenge raid" for the successful Channel Dash on 12 February. In other missions, 21 Whitleys attempt to bomb aluminum factories at Heroya and Odda but can't find them due to cloud cover, and nine Hampdens drop mines along the Dutch coast. Another three bombers drop leaflets on Lille and Paris.

SS Esso Copenhagen, sunk on 25 February 1942,
Esso Copenhagen, sunk on 25 February 1942.
Battle of the Atlantic: U-156 (Kptlt. Werner Hartenstein), on its second patrol out of Lorient, torpedoes 5685-ton British tanker La Carriere at 02:19 about 75 miles west of Guanica, Puerto Rico. Two torpedoes hit the ship and blow huge holes in the starboard side near the engine room, but the crew manages to get the engines restarted. Unfortunately for the crew, the radio is damaged in the explosion. Captain Hartenstein sees the ship resuming its voyage and surfaces with the intent of using his deck gun to finish off the laboring tanker. However, this proves unfeasible, so he submerges again and fires two more torpedoes. The tanker's crew, however, spots the tracks in the bright moonlight and the ship manages to evade them. Some of the crew attempt to lower a lifeboat to escape, but the boat capsizes, killing the occupants except for the ship's carpenter (he survives by holding onto the shattered boat and drifts ashore two days late). Meanwhile, Hartenstein surfaces again to catch up with the tanker and fires his last torpedo, which hits the starboard side again and blows off the tanker's bow. The ship finally sinks in under three minutes, but the crew manages to launch a lifeboat and the jolly-boat. There are twenty survivors in the lifeboat and four more in the jolly-boat, and they eventually make landfall at Guanica. The ship's master goes down with the ship, but then pops back to the surface and spends three days in the water clinging to debris before being picked up by US Coast Guard Cutter Unalga (WPG 53). In total, there are 15 dead and 26 survivors.

Italian submarine Luigi Torelli torpedoes and sinks 9245-ton Panamanian tanker Esso Copenhagen in the Atlantic Ocean with a full cargo of fuel oil.

British rifle inspection in North Africa, 25 February 1942,
"Re-conditioned rifles being inspected in the Western Desert, 25 February 1942." © IWM (E 8823).
Battle of the Mediterranean: At dawn, 50 British No. 50 Commandos on board gunboat HMS Ladybird land on the Italian-held island of Kastellorizo in Operation Abstention. They are the first of 200 Commandos and 24 attached Royal Marines invading the island. The British hope to use Kastellorizo as a forward torpedo-boat base near the Axis-held Greek Dodecanese Islands. There are only 35 Italian troops on the island and, using the power of surprise, the British quickly overpower them. The British take a dozen prisoners and wound another Italian. However, while the British act with great stealth and speed, the Italians manage to get off a message to the large garrison at Rhodes. This leads to Italian airstrikes at 08:00 and again at 09:30. They bomb the gunboat, wounding three sailors, and its captain decides to leave. Surprised at the fierce Italian response and knowing the gunboat is preparing to leave, the group of Commandos holding the radio station in the port hurriedly re-embark on the Ladybird, which immediately heads back to Haifa. This leaves the remaining British soldiers holed up in the hills and without a link to the outside. Due to the danger from the air, the British divert a follow-up force from Cyprus away from the island to Alexandria. The Italians spend the rest of the day preparing a counter-invasion.

Off Bardia, U-652 (Oblt. Georg-Werner Fraatz), on its sixth patrol out of Salamis, claims a hit on a Royal Navy corvette. However, British Admiralty records do not support this claim.

Dutch freighter SS Boeroe, sunk on 25 February 1942,
Dutch 7135-ton freighter SS Boeroe, sunk by the Japanese on 25 February 1942 south of the Sunda Strait.
Allied Relations: Due to continued Japanese expansion in Burma and the Netherlands East Indies, the ABDA command dissolves today. This is also partly due to growing tensions between the Australian and British governments about the strategic use of Australian troops. General Archibald Wavell resigns as the supreme commander. Wavell establishes in its place a Southwest Pacific command and an Indian command. The British Army takes over the Indian command (commanded by Wavell himself) while the Southwest Pacific command goes by default to the Americans. The immediate effect of this is for Wavell to absolve himself of responsibility for the deteriorating events north of Australia and leave the local forces to their own devices. The basic ABDA structure remains in some areas, most noticeably in the continued joining of local fleets under Dutch Rear-Admiral Karel Doorman. There is just a hint of Allied disunity in the demise of ABDA, but it really just reflects the changed military reality of Japan dominating the seas north of Australia and thereby isolating the major Allied power bases in India and Australia.

USS Helm at Mare Idland, 25 February 1942,
"Plan view, forward, of destroyer USS Helm, Mare Island Navy Yard, California, United States, 25 Feb 1942." United States National Archives 19-N-28726.
US Military: The current plan for Allied operations includes Operation Gymnast, a late-1942 invasion of North Africa centered around Casablanca. The US Army Air War Plans Division, however, today recommends that this operation be stricken from the list of proposed operations due to new commitments in the Pacific. However, Operation Gymnast is considered of great importance by the British and whether it will remain on the docket is a matter that must be resolved at the highest levels of government and the military.

Having recently established the headquarters of the US Army Forces in the British Isles (USAFBI), the commander of US Army Forces in the British Isles Major General James E. Chaney instructs VIII Air Force commander Brigadier General Ira C. Eaker and his staff to visit RAF Bomber Command headquarters to coordinate strategy. The USAAF needs to know, among other things, which airfields it can use to base the large forces that will soon be arriving.

U.S. Major General Joseph Stilwell is promoted to Lieutenant General and meets with General Wavell after the latter arrives by air in New Delhi.

The United States Coast Guard assumes responsibility for the protection of US ports.

More USAAF Fifth Air Force air units arrive at Brisbane, Australia.

Charro Day in Brownsville, Texas, 25 February 1942,
Charro Days Celebration, Brownsville, Texas, Children's Parade, 25 February 1942.
British Government: A two-day debate over the conduct of the war ends in the House of Commons with signs of disunity over current war policy. The sharpest divisions come over the huge emphasis being placed on Bomber Command, with some speakers also questioning the morality of the recent decision to engage in terror bombings of the Reich. The most popular politician in England (with the possible exception of Winston Churchill), Sir Stafford Cripps, condemns what he characterizes as a mistaken priority on the bombing force as opposed to the other service branches.

Occupied Soviet Union: The German occupation authorities establish courts in the former Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania as well as in Ukraine. There are separate courts for locals and Germans.

French Homefront: The Paris Gestapo and its French auxiliaries continue rounding up individuals suspected of working against the occupation.

Battle of Los Angeles, 25 February 1942,
The 25 February 1942 Baltimore News-Post characterizes the Battle of Los Angeles as a great patriotic victory.
American Homefront: Japanese-American residents of Terminal Island, Los Angeles are given three days in which to pack their bags and leave. War fears are at a peak due to the Battle of Los Angeles during the night and there is widespread support for internment. There are seven reported cases of vigilantes executing people of Japanese ethnicity. The situation is the same all along the western seaboard up through Canada to Alaska.

Future History: Karen Trust Grassle is born in Berkeley, California. She becomes an actress in the 1960s and has her most famous role as Caroline Ingalls, the mother in "Little House on the Prairie." Karen Grassle remains active as an actress as of 2019.

February 1942

February 1, 1942: The US Navy Strikes Back
February 2, 1942: Germans Recovering in Russia
February 3, 1942: Japanese Shell and Bomb Singapore
February 4, 1942: Battle of Makassar Strait
February 5, 1942: Empress of Asia Sunk
February 6, 1942: The Christmas Island Body
February 7, 1942: The Double-V Campaign
February 8, 1942: Japan Invades Singapore
February 9, 1942: French Liner Normandie Capsizes
February 10, 1942: US Car Production Ends
February 11, 1942: Tomforce Fails on Singapore
February 12, 1942: The Channel Dash
February 13, 1942: Japanese Paratroopers In Action
February 14, 1942: RAF Orders Terror Raids
February 15, 1942: Japan Takes Singapore
February 17, 1942: Indian Troops Defect to Japanese
February 18, 1942: Battle of Badung Strait
February 19, 1942: FDR Authorizes Internment Camps
February 20, 1942: O'Hare the Hero
February 21, 1942: Crisis in Burma
February 22, 1942: Bomber Harris Takes Over
February 23, 1942: Bombardment of Ellwood, California
February 24, 1942: US Raid on Wake Island
February 25, 1942: Battle of Los Angeles
February 26, 1942: Gneisenau Eliminated
February 27, 1942: Battle of Java Sea
February 28, 1942: Battle of Sunda Strait


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