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The Fake American Towns of World War II

Ravi loves writing within the cusp of relationships, history, and the bizarre, where boundaries are blurred and possibilities are immense.

Following the attack on the Pearl Harbour, the US military built entire fake towns along the West Coast to hide its airplane factories from Japanese bombers.

Following the attack on the Pearl Harbour, the US military built entire fake towns along the West Coast to hide its airplane factories from Japanese bombers.

The Pearl Harbour Attack Shook Americans

From a distance, it looked like any other American town.

There were brightly painted houses with windows. There were trees enclosing leafy suburbs. In addition to the tree-lined streets, there were buildings of varying shapes and sizes. There were sidewalks, detached garages, and empty lots.

People were walking, hanging clothes on clotheslines, and tending to their gardens. There were also ladies lounging in bikinis around the community swimming pool. It was just like any picture-perfect American town.

When you zoom in a bit closer, things start appearing wrong.

To start with, the buildings were just 4 feet tall. The houses look too small to live in and occupy and the streets were eerily quiet. Even the ‘people’ walking on the streets didn’t appear like normal middle-class American citizens. Something was very unreal.

That’s because this town was completely fake.

During World war II, the unexpected Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor shook Americans to the bones. Most of the American aircraft-making factories were on the west coast and were vulnerable to potential aerial assaults by Japanese forces.

Pearl Harbour is nearly 4,000 miles from Japan but the Japanese devastated it. American leaders wondered ‘What is stopping the Japanese from ravaging the West coast?’ The fear of attack made all Americans jittery.

That was when the US military decided to team up with Hollywood set designers to disguise important wartime aircraft factories to fool enemy aircraft. Camouflaging reached an entirely new level as completely fake residential neighborhoods were created on the top of the Boeing aircraft Plants as more than 30,000 men and women labored below, constructing 300 bombers per month to support the international war effort.

Camouflaging reached an entirely new level as completely fake residential neighbourhoods were created on the top of Boeing aircraft plants in which more than 30,000 men and women labored, constructing 300 bombers per month.

Camouflaging reached an entirely new level as completely fake residential neighbourhoods were created on the top of Boeing aircraft plants in which more than 30,000 men and women labored, constructing 300 bombers per month.

The American West Coast Was Vulnerable to Japanese Attack

Within a month of the attack on Pearl Harbour, the Japanese had captured Manila, Hong Kong, and Singapore. The Japanese were unstoppable, and the Americans were in panic mode with everybody from military planners to civilians gazing at the sky, half-expecting to see a Japanese invasion fleet.

The west coast was particularly vulnerable as most of the American aircraft factories were located there as sitting ducks for merciless Japanese attacks.

It was then that general John Lesesne DeWitt, the commander of the Fourth U.S. Army and the Western Defence Command, asked Major John Francis Ohmer, Jr. to come up with a plan to defend the factories.

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John was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1891. He was the son of John Francis Ohmer, Sr., an inventor, manufacturer, and founder of the Ohmer Fare Register Company. Young John served with the U.S. Army’s 404th Engineer Battalion in World War I. He later returned to the family business but retained captain’s rank in the Engineer Officers Reserve Corps.

John had a simple objective; he must make the aircraft factories vanish from the air. Ohmer’s proximity to Hollywood gave him access to John Stewart Detlie, a Hollywood set designer who was the best in class in his job. John Stewart was told to create ‘entire fake neighborhoods’ on the top of the Boeing factories using Hollywood set design techniques.

Dozens of fake houses, schools, and public buildings were made of canvas. Thousands of shrubs and trees were created using burlap over chicken wire matrices.

Dozens of fake houses, schools, and public buildings were made of canvas. Thousands of shrubs and trees were created using burlap over chicken wire matrices.

Fake American Towns Were Created

Dozens of fake houses, schools and public buildings were made of canvas. Thousands of shrubs and trees were created using burlap over chicken wire matrices. Lawns were painted in different shades of green with some lawns even painted ‘brown’ to give the ‘not watered’ look.

Fake streets, sidewalks, fences, cars, and outdoor garages for houses were erected over an area that spanned 23 acres. ’actors were engaged to ‘walk’ on the streets, ‘lounge’ in the swimming pools, and even wash clothes in public laundries. Every detailing to the subtly different shades of foliage to the simulation of ‘fireplugs’ through the chimneys was done with painstaking accuracy.

An interesting point in this whole camouflage was that the houses and buildings were not more than 4 feet tall. This was because the camouflage was designed to be viewed from the air and later checked in detail over two-dimensional photographs. Moreover, a bomber pilot will not get more than two minutes to recon an area and would be glancing straight down, due to which the height would not be visible to him.

It was the biggest scale of camouflage anywhere done in the world and John Ohmer called the technique ‘visual disinformation.’

’Actors were engaged to ‘walk’ on the streets, ‘lounge’ in the swimming pools, and even wash clothes in public laundries

’Actors were engaged to ‘walk’ on the streets, ‘lounge’ in the swimming pools, and even wash clothes in public laundries

The Towns Were Dismantled After the War

By 1944, the Japanese were losing the war and were on the defensive. The likelihood of an attack had greatly diminished.

Nevertheless, it was not until the Japanese had formally surrendered to the Allies in June 1945, the cloak of secrecy over the ‘fake towns’ was officially taken down. An official release by Boeing revealed details of the camouflage.

One month later, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it had already issued contracts to civilian firms to dismantle the town. The whole Boeing camouflage project had cost more than $2 million. By the end of 1946, the last vestiges of the West Coast towns were finally removed.

The towns had gone but never forgotten. To this day, the size and scale of the operation have amazed countless generations of military planners worldwide. The existing photographs are a glowing testimony of the skills of countless Hollywood technicians and craftsmen who played an important role to save Americans from certain destruction.

To this day, the size and scale of the operation have amazed countless generations of military planners worldwide.

To this day, the size and scale of the operation have amazed countless generations of military planners worldwide.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Ravi Rajan

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