As we saw with the amazing bird man hoax, the fault line between reality and illusion is a prime breeding ground for amazing stuff. So when the world’s greatest creator of illusions, Hollywood, was set to work in the theatre of World War II, amazing stuff did indeed occur: they camouflaged California.
The Lockheed aircraft factory at Burbank was one of the key facilities to be disguised in case of a Japanese aerial bombardment. As you can see in the picture above, it would have made a fairly obvious target. But this is how it looked when Hollywood had finished with it:
The entire factory was covered with a huge burlap tarpaulin, painted to resemble a rural landscape. On top of this were placed fake trees made from chicken wire covered in chicken feathers and then painted. There were even fake rubber cars and mock buildings. Air ducts for the bustling factory beneath were disguised as fire hydrants on empty streets.
But the Hollywood illusionists knew that the scene couldn’t look too inanimate. To maintain an appearance of normality, workers were regularly dispatched onto hidden walkways to move cars, take down washing etc. (Although if anyone had been watching particularly closely, they may well have seen these people emerging from the hidden depths of a “field”!)
Creation of this amazing disguise involved set designers, artists, animators, prop men and lighting specialists from all the major Hollywood studios: MGM, Universal, Disney, 20th Century Fox and Universal, among others.
The man behind the camouflaging of California was camouflage specialist Colonel John F Ohmer. Thirty-four military air bases were also camouflaged, including March Field, where Ohmer was based. This sometimes involved creating decoy air bases with aircraft made of various scrap materials.
Similar ruses also took place in Britain. In one heroic tale, British double-agent Eddie Chapman convinced the Germans that he had planted a bomb and destroyed De Havilard aircraft factory. The whole area was strewn with rubble, and a fake report planted in the Daily Express newspaper. The Germans were so thoroughly convinced that they awarded Chapman their highest military decoration! (The amazing story of Eddie Chapman is recounted in the novel Agent Zigzag).
And finally, here is another of Ohmer’s fake suburbs, covering the Boeing factory in Seattle:
For all the horrors of war, it certainly gets the creativity going!
Pics via Stories-etc