The First Real Blackout in Burbank
By Lou Schirm, Burbank High School Class of 1938
(From the Burbank Senior Bulldogs News, December 2006)
To Burbank Bulldogs, especially graduates of around 1940: Were any of you in Burbank the night of January 24, 1942? The action in the sky was quite a show!
It would be most interesting to hear from you about what you saw and from what location. The following is my account of that eventful night and early next morning…
Right after December 7th, 1941, the whole West Coast was greatly concerned about the possibility that the Japanese fleet was off shore to do us more damage. A submarine did shell a refinery up the coast of Santa Barbara in January and another almost sunk a lumber ship just outside Los Angeles harbor. To say the least, "We all were very much on edge."
The complete Lockheed factory was camouflaged to look like, from a distance, a farming area. I know as I could see it and the whole valley from where I lived up on the hill.
On January 25, 1942, I was returning a date to her home on the flat part of Burbank, south of Lockheed. While sitting in the car at 12:30 a.m. we heard the air raid warning sirens, which meant off with all lights and shortly after my date's father walked out of the house with his white helmet on to be sure all lights were off. I asked, "What's up?" He said, "Have a look."
I looked up to see the sky full of searchlights, searching for something heard by one of the twelve listening ears, each with a searchlight attached. Soon one found its target and all the searchlights focused on nine small dots of white seeming to be flying in formation towards Lockheed.
Soon AA artillery was firing 3 inch shells toward the formation. I personally saw several explode within the formation. Yet the only things that came down were pieces of shrapnel of the 1,400 projectiles that exploded in this defense (?) The pieces scattered all over Hollywood. The formation broke up over Griffith Park and returned again.
That's twice the formation came over Burbank. And to this day, nothing has ever been acknowledged as to what was up there and not hit.
1.) The white dots were not airplanes, as at that altitude we would have seen the wing patterns.
2.) They were flying too slowly to have been airplanes.
3.) My guess is that it was a weather balloon that broke away with its mile-long tether attached and that is what the searchlights found. (It did follow the usual wind current pattern for that time of night and place.)
Note from the Webmaster: My father-in-law, Don Bilyeu (BHS Class of 1945), has some comments...
I guess it's appropriate that I answer your question on the "Burbank Blackout" today, December 7th, "Pearl Harbor Day." Actually I lived in Brainerd, Minnesota on December 7th and did not move to Burbank until the Spring of 1942. Therefore I missed the incident on January 24th, 1942.
There was much concern about air raids on Lockheed and other defence industry sites in the greater Los Angeles area. On one occasion it was announced in school that balloons carrying bombs were unleashed; these were designed to float over California and detonate, causing, if nothing else, fear. It was emphasized that this caution was to be spread by word of mouth and we students were to tell our parents, friends, & relatives. That night in the newspapers were big headlines expounding the danger of "Balloon Bombs."
It was quite common for searchlights to spot planes overhead and focus on them. There were many anti-aircraft guns all around the Burbank area, and I think most of them had searchlight components to aid in defence. As a matter of fact, there was a large vacant lot just across the street in front of Burbank High that housed various military personnel and AA Guns. And, if I remember correctly, some searchlights as well.
As you know from your interest in "Burbankia," the camouflage over Lockheed was chicken wire suspended from large poles and covered with painted chicken feathers. The main complaint was when it rained all the cars in the parking lot were covered with wet chicken feathers!
Most of the time the Los Angeles area was under what was known as a "Brownout." Over the west mountains that separated the San Fernando Valley and the costal towns the street lights that faced the ocean were painted black, on that side, to avoid being observed by enemy ships and planes. Also, while driving at night, cars used their parking lights only.
Well, I have rambled on long enough. There were many threats and rumors and in the final analysis I think that was all they were - rumors.
Some comments from Joe Brown, Rockport, Maine, Class of Summer 1948 (from the January 2007 Senior Bulldogs News): "I enjoyed the account of the January 1942 'air raid' on Burbank, which brought back memories. We lived at the time about two miles from Lockheed, where my Dad worked, in a house on Fairview Street just off Victory Boulevard. I remember the sirens that night, and, after we darkened our house, peeking out through the windows to watch the anti-aircraft fire. The air raid warden on our block at the time was Arthur Q. Bryan, whose job in Hollywood was to provide the voice of Elmer Fudd of the cartoons. Bryan weighed almost 300 punds and we used him to test the stretchers we made. The theory I found best about that air raid was that it involved a flight of U.S. Navy planes high overhead which had lost radio communication and count not identify themselves. But who knows?"
The Internet Movie Database Biography for Arthur Q. Bryan:
Arthur Q. Bryan was best known as the voice of Elmer Fudd in the Warner Brothers cartoons, but was also an accomplished radio actor, playing Doc Gamble on "Fibber McGee and Molly" for over 10 seasons beginning in 1943. He Played the title role in "The Major Hoople" radio series that debuted on NBC's Blue Network on June 22, 1942. Based on Gene Ahern's comic strip "Our Boarding House", Bryan co-starred with Patsy Moran as The Major's wife Martha Hoople. Mel Blanc, who would later portray Bugs Bunny to Bryan's Elmer Fudd, played the star boarder, Tiffany Twiggs on the 30-minute program, which aired on Mondays at 7 pm. The series went off the air on April 26, 1943.
Personal quote: "You kwazy wabbit!"
From my Internet correspondent Chris Besenty: "The "Battle of Burbank" sounds a lot like "The Battle of Los Angeles" - have you heard of it? It took place on February 24th, 1942. Maybe the same event? I remember when I very young, maybe 7 or 8, and my great-grandparents telling me about it. I was talking about flying saucers and such. My great-grandfather was a cabbie and my Granny worked nights as a waitress on Wilshire Blvd in West L.A. They both said something to effect of, "Oh yes - there was a big orange thing that flew above Wilshire Blvd from the beach to West L.A. - could see it plain as day - wasn't a balloon, and it wasn't an airplane..." and they left at that. They liked mysteries, too. Anyway, if you want to see some contemporary accounts of "The Battle" check these links out: link one, link two, link three. There's also a radio newscast from CBS or the same thing in RealPlayer format."
I think this must have been the same thing that Lou Schirm was talking about. The year and day are the same - just the month is different... - Wes