Wednesday, April 20, 2011

America's hidden aircraft companies

In February 1942, a Japanese submarine  outside of San Francisco Bay  surfaced off Santa Barbara and fired a few shells at an oil storage facility.  One shell exploded on an ocean pier.
World War II had  finally arrived to mainland America and with the  desperate feeling of panic and worry , the War Department ordered Lt Gen John L De Witt, head of Western Defense Command, to protect vital installations along the Pacific Coast - to disguise California.
Colonel John F Ohmer was stationed at March Field, 60 miles east of Los Angeles.  He was a pioneer in camouflage techniques.  In Britain in 1940, carefully-made and positioned camouflage caused the Luftwaffe to waste thousands of tons of bombs on empty fields and this was done in Britain through out the war.After the attack on Pearl Harbor,
on 7 December 1940, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber company  agreed to make rubber decoy aircraft similar to those used by the British for $1,000 a copy.  But the War Department at first turned down these plans but now Col. Ohmer was charged with hiding important military factories on the west coast especially the Boeing, Douglas and Lockheed plants and most air bases.
Major movie studios in Hollywood like Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Disney Studios, 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Universal Pictures and others agreed to do this work  and offered the help of their professional scenic designers and prop men. 
The Lockheed aircraft plant in Burbank was fully hidden beneath a complete suburb replete with rubber automobiles and peaceful rural neighborhood scenes painted on canvas.  Hundreds of fake trees and shrubs were positioned to give the entire area a 3-dimensional appearance.  The trees and shrubs were created from chicken wire treated with adhesive, then covered with chicken feathers for leaves, then painted various shades of green (with spots of brown, even). Even air ducts were  disguised as fire hydrants.
It was only after the Battle of Midway in June 1942 that some of these hidden factories and airfields became fully visible again.
Here are some photos of the Boeing Aircraft plant from above and below the fake surface.

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