During World War II, in an effort to disguise the facility and ward off enemy fire, officials at Burbank’s Lockheed Air Terminal (now known as Bob Hope Airport ) took the unusual but highly effective step of covering the entire airport with strategically placed camouflage netting. Up from the air, in the eyes of the enemy, the entire area looked like a rural subdivision.
In February 1942, a Japanese submarine was spotted just outside San Francisco Bay. When another Japanese submarine surfaced off Santa Barbara, a few nights later, and fired a few shells at an oil storage facility the War Department ordered Lt Gen John L De Witt, head of Western Defense Command, to protect vital installations along the Pacific Coast.
The job of disguising California fell upon Colonel John F Ohmer, a pioneer in camouflage, deception and misdirection techniques. During the Battle of Britain in 1940, Colonel Ohmer’s carefully made and positioned camouflage caused the Luftwaffe to waste thousands of tons of bombs on empty fields.
With help of scenic designers, painters, art directors, landscape artists, animators, carpenters, lighting experts and prop men from movie studios in Hollywood, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Disney Studios, 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Universal Pictures and others, Colonel Ohmer began the task of disguising March Field and its neighborhood.
Maintaining the illusion of a neighbourhood required signs of life and activity. Workers emerged to relocate automobiles, and took walks on hidden catwalks. Some took washing down from fake clotheslines only to replace it later at scheduled times. Parked automobiles were moved to indicate drivers were using their cars daily and returning home from work.
Ohmer’s “suburb” brought requests for other camouflage projects. In Seattle, Boeing Aircraft covered nearly 26 acres. It became covered by a complete town with municipal buildings, a park, schools and homes.
The disguise of California ceased to be critical when the US Navy dealt a smashing defeat to a Japanese carrier task force at Midway Island. The threat of a serious attack against the West Coast diminished, then vanished.