On Aug. 16, 1942, sirens blazed and the police squad car sped down the Daly City streets. After a confusing call at the police station, the chief immediately ran to the garage and got into a squad car, turned the siren on and, with tires screeching, proceeded to the 400 block of Bellevue Avenue in Daly City.
Firefighters were already there when the chief spotted a navy blimp in a deflated state laying in the street. A crowd had formed by the houses on the street because the firemen and others were keeping them from getting into the gondola of the blimp. A blimp is a lighter-than-air vehicle that is powered and can be steered. This blimp was named L-B and was a 150 feet long and about 47 feet at its widest and could be filled with 123,000 feet of helium. It was powered by two 145 horsepower engines that allowed it to reach a speed of 60 mph. It carried two depth charges and machine guns. It was being used to spot submarines along the coast and destroy them if possible. Japanese subs had been reported along the West Coast and had shelled facilities in Southern California and Oregon.
After the war, we found out that subs had been ready to shell San Francisco but the captain called it off and returned to Japan.
Why were there blimps along the West Coast and where did they come from? In 1931, the city of Sunnyvale sold, to the U.S. government, more than 1,000 acres of farmland by Mountain View and Highway 101 for a dollar. This induced the government to authorize the building a hangar for the world’s biggest airship at that time — the U.S. Navy’s airship, USS Macon. It was dedicated as Naval Air Station Sunnyvale and later named Moffett Field in honor of Rear Admiral William A. Moffett who had died after the crash of the USS Akron during a storm on the coast of New Jersey April 4,1933.
In 1931, Hangar One, one of the world’s largest freestanding structures, was constructed. Its floor covered 8 acres and can accommodate six football fields, and is 1,133 feet long and is 308 feet long. On April 16, 1942, control of the facility was returned to the Navy and it was recommissioned as Naval Air Station Sunnyvale. Later Hangar 2 and 3 were built to house “lighter-than-air” aircraft to defend the coasts of the United States.
Which brings us back to the blimp that fell down in Daly City on Bellevue Avenue. A timetable was put together when the blimp L-8 left Treasure Island with two men aboard at 6:03 a.m. At 7:42 a.m., a oil slick was reported seen by Cody and Adams five miles off the Farallones and they were going to investigate. This meant getting closer and lower to the Japanese sub, which would complicate the operation. There was no further contact by the L-8. At 8:50 a.m., radio calls to the blimp were unanswered. At 9:30 a.m. and 10 a.m., a message was sent out to alert all airplanes to watch for the blimp. At 10:49 a.m., a Pam Am Clipper ship reported seeing a blimp. At 11:05 a.m., a P-38 spotted seeing a blimp near Miles Rock Light, a lighthouse near the main shipping lane a half mile from land. Ten minutes later, beach people reported seeing a blimp drifting and hit the cliff on the way to land. Next the blimp dropped a depth charge on a golf course (but it didn’t explode). After scraping a number of houses and power lines, it settled in the 400 block of Bellevue Avenue, Daly City.
Upon inspection by the authorities, it was found to have dumped its fuel, the radio was still working, the gondola door was unlocked and open, and controls for the blimps engines were switched on. Some highly classified information was on the ship, information that would have been very valuable to the Japanese.
After an exhaustive search for the men and the reason for the ship’s demise, a board of inquiry had no choice but to rule that the two men’s disappearance was unexplained. The two men, Lt. Ernest Cody and Ensign Charles Adams were declared dead.
On July 1, 1994, NAS Moffett Field was closed as a Naval air station and turned over to the NASA Research Center. Although NASA decided to tear down the hangars due to toxic conditions, much debate was followed by a partial destruction of the hangar skins, hoping to maybe save the skeleton for historical purposes. In April 2011, the exterior panels began coming down, starting on top of the hangers.
For more detail on Moffett Field, read Nicolas Veronico’s book (ISBN # 13 978-0-7385-3132-4) Moffett Field available at Barnes and Noble.
Rediscovering the Peninsula by Darold Fredricks appears in the Monday edition of the Daily Journal.