Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What Happened to the Factories?

In the early days of World War II, real fear existed that the Japanese would bomb the West Coast. Several war industries were located there, and they needed to be hidden. Enter Hollywood.
Canvases were stretched over the rooftops of aircraft factories and painted with streets and lawns. Movie set designers created fake houses out of canvas and plywood. Trees were made of wire with glued-on chicken feathers painted in shades of green and brown. Air ducts were disguised as fire hydrants. Steep, sloped roofs became hills.

During World War II the Army Corps of Engineers needed to hide the Lockheed Burbank Aircraft Plant to protect it from a possible Japanese air attack.

The goal was to look like a peaceful suburb from the air. Employees took scheduled walks in the fake town, hanging out laundry and moving rubber cars.

Employees stroll through a fake neighborhood.

Long runways beside the aircraft plants would seem to be a giveaway, but when a visiting general was flown over a disguised factory, he couldn’t find it. Japanese aircrews surely wouldn’t.
Dummy runways were created by burning grass to look like tarmac. Far from the real planes and hangars covered to look like farmland, dummy aircraft of wood and metal dotted the bogus fields.

Underneath the camouflage, business as usual.

Thirty-four airfields and factories were hidden. Enemy submarines would have been a likelier threat than airplanes. Ships were sunk within sight of West Coast ports. A Japanese submarine shelled an oil field near Santa Barbara in February of 1942, doing little damage.
In June of 1942, the US Navy sank four enemy aircraft carriers in the Battle of Midway. The chance of Japan bombing the West Coast greatly diminished. The Hollywood-designed sets never had a chance to prove their worth.
The factories remained under cover for the rest of the war.


  1. Once again - very interesting! I'm amazed how you find these bits of history.

  2. Fascinating! I've never heard this before.

    1. It would have been fun to wonder around the sets. Like a life-size dollhouse!

  3. I know they did something up here in the PNW for Boeing, but I'd have to research it to know. Great post, Terri!