When Hollywood camouflaged US Military Bases
August 13, 2012
During World War II the Army Corps of Engineers needed to hide the Lockheed Burbank Aircraft Plant to protect it from a Japanese air attack. They covered it with camouflage netting and trompe l’oeil to make it look like a rural subdivision from the air.
“In February 1942, a Japanese submarine skulked just outside San Francisco Bay. A few nights later another Japanese submarine surfaced off Santa Barbara and fired a few shells at an oil storage facility. One shell exploded on an ocean pier. War had come to California.
In the atmosphere of panic and worry, the War Department ordered Lt Gen John L De Witt, head of Western Defense Command, to protect vital installations along the Pacific Coast – to disguise California.
Movie studios in Hollywood, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Disney Studios, 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Universal Pictures and others accepted the challenge and offered scenic designers, painters, art directors, landscape artists, animators, carpenters, lighting experts and prop men.
In a short period of time the entire area of the factory was camouflaged. The Lockheed-Vega aircraft plant in Burbank was fully hidden beneath a complete suburb replete with rubber automobiles and peaceful rural neighborhood scenes painted on canvas. Small farm complete with animals, a barn, a silo and other buildings were erected. Pastoral settings used frames of lumber and large spreads of canvas.
Hundreds of fake trees and shrubs were positioned to give the entire area a 3-dimensional appearance. The trees and shrubs were created from chicken wire treated with adhesive, then covered with chicken feathers for leaves, then painted various shades of green (with spots of brown, even). Air ducts were disguised as fire hydrants.
In other sections, scattered decoy aircraft made of canvas scraps, ration boxes, and burlap on chicken wire as well as flattened tin cans dominated the landscape. None of these aircraft looked real up close but looked great from a distance. Fake runways were made by burning grassy strips.
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.”