- California Military
- California and
the Second World War
- California was witness
to some of the most traumatic events that happened during the
war in the then 48 states. When Pearl Harbor was bombed on Dec.
7, 1941 California was racked from north to south with near panic
conditions because tens of thousands of its citizens expected
similar attacks, possibly by the same naval force that attacked
Hawaii, at any time on California cities.
Within days of the attack on Hawaii, Japanese submarines were
attacking merchant ships off California's coast reinforcing those
fears. Wild rumors circulated of Japanese invasion fleets being
seen in California water and of actual Japanese landings. There
were rumors of air attacks, rumors that secret Japanese air bases
existed in California's deserts or in Mexico, rumors of sabotage,
of periscope sightings and of many other fearful things. Worst
of all, there were wild and unfair rumors about the ethnic Japanese:
Japanese fishermen were mining harbors; supplying food, fuel
and secret information to submarines off the coast; Japanese
farmers were poisoning fruits and vegetables they brought to
market; the Japanese were secretly organized into military units
to carry out attacks behind American lines if and when an invasion
came. None of these things were true, but every such rumor was
believed by someone.
These fears lead to a series of immediate and unusual events
in California. Martial law was declared on Terminal Island in
Los Angeles Harbor where a major U.S. Naval base, important oil
facilities and a large ethnic Japanese community existed side-by-side.
Soldiers from west coast Army posts, some of them only partially
trained, were rushed to various points along the coast to prepare
defenses against an invasion. California's beaches were strung
with miles upon miles of barbed wire. Coastal cites were blacked
out and citizens sandbagged their homes and businesses. Radio
stations went off the air, commercial airliners were grounded
and ships were ordered to stay in port. These measures were seen
as absolutely necessary by the west coast Army commanders because
at the time of Pearl Harbor the Army Air Forces in California
consisted of only 16 modern fighter planes available to defend
the entire state.
Citizens of enemy countries (enemy aliens), most of them Germans
and Japanese who were known to the FBI and thought to be dangerous,
were taken into custody under international laws defined by the
Geneva Conventions and shipped off to internment camps as far
away as North Dakota. This represented only a small percentage
of the 531,882 registered enemy aliens in the state. Califomia
a the second largest enemy alien population in the nation. New
York had the most with 1,234,995.
In time, the wildest rumors faded away but others persisted,
especially those about the ethnic Japanese. Fears turned into
harassments and attacks on the ethnic Japanese, many of whom
began to fear for their safety and that of their families. Soon,
a fantastic plan began to evolve to expel all people of Japanese
ancestry from California, and within a few months that plan was
put into effect.
In late February 1942, as the evacuation of ethnic Japanese was
just getting under way, Californian's war fears were rekindled
when news came that an oil facility near Santa Barbara had been
shelled by a Japanese submarine. Some saw it as a prelude to
greater attacks or perhaps an invasion. The night following the
shelling Los Angeles had a false
air raid that looked and sounded like the real thing and went
on for several hours. Antiaircraft guns fired away at imaginary
planes and search lights scanned the skies looking for them.
It was weeks before everyone in the area was finally convinced
that Los Angeles had not really been bombed.
While Californians were learning to live with war fears their
aircraft and shipbuilding industries exploded with defense work.
Unemployment virtually disappeared and every one was called upon
to do their share for the war effort. California's huge oil and
mineral resources were cranked up to full production, new industries
of all kinds sprang up, train loads of people flocked to California
looking for work, and her southern border was opened to Mexican
workers. During the war California would receive 11.9% of all
U.S. Government war contracts and her plants and workers would
produce 17% of all war supplies made in the U.S. Military bases
were built by the dozen, sometimes in little towns that people
in the big cities didn't even know existed. California's deserts
became bombing ranges, her harbors became naval bases, her airports
became air bases and infantry and tanks rumbled across her farm
lands, orchards and deserts. During the course of the war California
would acquire more military installations, by far, than any other
During the long war years California's big cities became mega-cities
and the automobile became the main means of transportation. Already,
California lead the nation in the number of cars; one for every
2.3 persons in the state. The Los Angeles area, already large
and growing rapidly before the war, experienced the greatest
growth of any metropolitan area in the country. By the end of
the war the Los Angeles metropolitan area stretched 80 miles
solid from the San Fernando Valley to San Bernardino, and a new
phenomenon had occurred ... smog.
War fears for most Californians never really went away and with
good cause, for the Japanese had plans to carry out further attacks
against the state, if and when the opportunities arose. During
the winter of 1944-45 the state was attacked again ... this time
by Japanese bombing balloons. Many bombs were dropped on California
by these curious weapons but no significant damage was done,
and effective U.S. censorship kept news of individual incidents
secret from most Californians.
As a direct result of the war, millions of Americans "discovered"
California for the first time. Many stayed on after the war and
others returned to settle in the state. In doing so, they started
a trend of strong and steady growth that lasted for more than
- Updated 27 October 2015