Southern California Defenses In 1942
icon32.png Posted: 15 Mar 2012 16:42

  • Feb. 25, 1942 The Battle of L.A. (Two months after Pearl Harbor)
  • Jan. 17, 1942 L.A. Times Article: Southern California Defense
  • Feb. 23, 1942 Japanese Submarine Shells refinery near Santa Barbara
  • Photo Tampering. Is this evidence of photo tampering?

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec 7th 1941, the U.S. Military increased the military presence along the West Coast. Los Angeles was especially important due to the fact that is contained valuable industrial and aircraft plants. In response to the local increase in military presence, L.A. Times writer John Cornell wrote a 3 part news series documenting nearby Army fortifications and training units. The news series was published on Jan 15th, 16th, and the 17th of January 1941.

In part 1 regarding Army underground preparations, John Cornell wrote about U.S. Army restrictions:

All is calm in California, but beneath that calmness there is the sane, methodical doing of the things that must be done in an area designated by the Army as a theater of operations. Californians have been made mildly aware of defense preparations by troop movements in their midst. Here is a page of pictures indicting the thoroughness with which this defense action is being carried out.

This is no “scare” story. Far from it. By no means does it offer either of the two taboos, aid or comfort, to the enemy. The adjacent photographs include no landmarks or insignias which might identify military units or positions, you’ll notice. They were made with Army sanction…. Although given all possible Army co-operation during our visits to the combat posts, we — The Times staff photographer, our officer-guide and myself — came close to ball ammunition and bayonet steel more than once.

“Evan a uniform and bars on your shoulders don’t mean you can walk into military areas now,” explained our officer after showing endless credentials the 10th time. These are wartimes.

In part two, Cornell and Photographer Paul Calvert covered an Army in transition, reporting on the cavalry and armored tank units. A few months later, all remaining cavalry units were disbanded.

The old and the new… Cavalry troopers mounted on sleek horses; armored force fighters aboard roaring, clanking war tanks… Both have their place in California’s present military preparation effort and the “on alert” status. And following the cavalry tradition, members of both arms evince the same dashing swashbuckling spirit.

As to the tanks? No matter how dramatic they appear in photographs, you have to HEAR the monsters as they roar toward you to really appreciate how awesome they must be in actual combat. This we saw can be described as “held in reserve somewhere in California.” We were permitted to photograph them because their training ground is unidentifiable. In fact, the Army’s official appellation for it is “a section of nondescript terrain”….

Through ditches and over sandbag barriers we saw the clattering giants roll. They did it with such ease — and with such speed — that as laymen we were lulled into thinking the terrain wasn’t so rough after all. A friendly war tank helped pull our car out of the rough, fortunately. Three times.

The 3rd installment in the series covered beach defenses and anti-aircraft units.

Probing searchlight beams swinging across the sky… Because they’re right up there where you can see them, they doubtless arouse the interest of the California public more than any other single phase of actual military operations under current 24-hour alert conditions.

The beams are the cat eyes of our ack-ack marksmen, our anti-aircraft batteries. Photographs on this page will help explain their place in the defense picture… Other pictures on this page show barbed wire entanglements and machine gun dugouts and trenches on a California beach.

The exist as evidence of the all-out precautions being taken by the Army against any action against strategic areas–even against the possibility of an attack or sabotage attempt from the sea. The coast IS protected in every way possible. On the other hand — some published reports notwithstanding — there’s still plenty of beach open to sun-loving Southlanders.

Times staff photographer Paul Calvert shot about 50 photos for the published series of which 23 were published. At the time of this writing, negatives were split equally between the L.A. Times library and the Times Photographic Archive located at UCLA. The photo gallery below contains the best images from the series according to Scott Harrison of the L.A. Times. Since the date of the photographs took place a month prior to the Battle of L.A., there is a good chance that the soldiers and gear pictured below were put into play during the L.A. Raid.