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Feb. 25, 1942: Searchlights converge on unknown object over Los Angeles in the early morning hours. Over 1,400 rounds of anti-aircraft rounds are fired. This is the unretouched version.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

Feb. 25, 1942: Retouched version of searchlight photo after work by Los Angeles Times' artists. The bottom part of the image was painted black. The searchlights were lightened with white paint. This version is scanned from a copy negative made around the time of publication in 1942. The negative is now in the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive at UCLA.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

March 11, 1942: A display of shrapnel from anti-aircraft barrage of Feb. 25, picked up in Inglewood by Riege Ardanaz. Photo published in The Times on March 12, 1942.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Al Humphreys / Los Angeles Times

Feb. 25, 1942: Lt. L.E. Richards holds an anti-aircraft dud that was dug up from near the intersection of Ayres and Patricia avenues in Cheviot Hills.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Al Humphreys / Los Angeles Times

Feb. 25, 1942: Motorcycle officer Bobby Clark reaches into a hole caused by a dud shell that hit a driveway at 133 Maple St., Santa Monica. The shell was recovered.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Pacific Press

Feb. 25, 1942: Hugh Landis, who lived on the 1700 block of West 43rd Place in the Vermont Square neighborhood, points to holes made in his car by fragments of an anti-aircraft shell that hit near his garage.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

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The Battle of L.A., 1942 [updated]

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The Battle of L.A., 1942 [updated]

[This From the Archive post originally published March 10, 2011. Today, Feb. 25, 2012, is 70th Anniversary of the Battle of LA.]

Feb. 25, 1942: Searchlights converge on an unknown object in the skies over Los Angeles. During the early morning air-raid alert, more than 1,400 anti-aircraft shells are fired.

The incident, now referred to as the Battle of L.A., occurred less than three months after the Pearl Harbor attack and two days after a Japanese submarine shelled an oil facility near Santa Barbara.

The next day, on Feb. 26, The  Times published a photo page with a retouched version of the above searchlight photo and seven other images of damage from falling anti-aircraft shells.

This six-photo gallery includes two versions of the searchlight photo. The first was recently found at the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive at UCLA by Simon Elliott, researcher in the Department of Special Collections at UCLA. The second version — retouched — was published in 1942. The second version exists as a copy negative also at UCLA.

[Updated to credit Simon Elliott, Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA, who located the Battle of LA negatives.]

This week I inspected the negatives from which the two versions were scanned at UCLA.

The non-retouched negative is very flat, the focus is soft and it looks underexposed. While I could not tell if  the negative was the original or a copy negative made from a print, it definitely showed the original scene before a print was retouched.

The second negative is a copy negative from a retouched print. Certain details, such as the white spots around the searchlights’ convergence, are exactly the same in both negatives.

In the retouched version, many light beams were lightened and widened with white paint, while other beams were eliminated.

In earlier years, it was common for newspapers to use artists to retouch images due to poor reproduction — basically 10 shades of gray if you were lucky.

Thus my conclusion:  the retouching was needed to reproduce the image. But man, I wish the retouching had been more faithful to the original. With our current standards, this image would not be published.

The Los Angeles Times published another retouched version of the image on Oct. 29, 1945. The white spots near the convergence of the searchlights are larger than in the 1942 version. This print is in The  Times’ library and is in poor condition.

Retouched searchlight version published on Feb. 26, 1942.

Different retouched searchlight version published on Oct. 29, 1945.

Larry Harnisch is posting additional Battle of L.A. information in the Daily Mirror blog.

Also of interest is the March 9, 1942 Life magazine. On page 22 is another image of searchlights from the night of the Battle of L.A. In addition this Herald Examiner archive photo is st USC.


  1. March 18, 2011, 1:58 pm

    Where can I obtain a reprint of the February 26, 1942 LA Times?

  2. March 22, 2011, 2:58 pm

    I was just 12 years old when 15 planes in 5 formations of 3 planes each flew directly over our house. Anti aircraft guns were firing like crazy with searchlites all around us. I went into the back yard and my mother was screaming at me to get back in the house because of the possibility of scrapnel hitting me. The planes were so high that I could not see their insignia, but they were deffinately single engine airplanes and not "flying saucers" as some crazys are interpreting now. The planes were headed southeast toward San Pedro. We were near 119th and Vermont Ave.

    The papers seemed like they were covering the whole thing up. My Dad was even think of sending my mother and us two kids back to MInnesota.


    By: smaccpas@yahoo.coms

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