Watch photographer Levi Bettwieser of The Rescued Film Project discover and process 31 rolls of film shot by an American WWII soldier over 70 years ago. Bettwieser knows nothing about the person who shot the film or who it belonged to, but these never seen before photos offer a glimpse into the mind of the soldier/photographer as he captured the tumultuous world around him.

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It’s February, 1942. US Navy Monitors have just tracked a Japanese submarine skulking just outside of San Francisco. A few nights later, a Japanese submarine surfaces off the coast of Santa Barbara and fires a few shells at an oil storage facility. With the memories of Pearl Harbor from last December still fresh, the threat of a Japanese invasion is palpable.

Enter Lt. Gen. John L. De Witt, head of Western Defense Command. He is tasked with the daunting order to implement ‘passive defense measures’ for all vital installations along the Pacific coast. Executing such an order fell to Col. John F. Ohmer who was stationed at March Field, about 60 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. Camouflage California was on.

Camouflage Netting: Covering Air Bases, Factories and Plants in WWII

Colonel Ohmer, who commanded a camouflage training center at March Field, was a pioneer in camouflage, deception and misdirection techniques. During the Battle of Britain in late 1940, when the full force of the Luftwaffe was attempting to bring England to her knees, Ohmer visited England and witnessed first-hand how carefully made and positioned camouflage was, which caused the Luftwaffe to waste thousands of tons of bombs on empty fields.

In addition to his team at March Field, Ohmer received help from the movie studios in Hollywood. MGM, Disney, 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Universal, all heeded the call; offering up their set designers, painters, landscape artists, carpenters, lighting experts and prop men.

The colonel and his crews began applying Hollywood techniques to camouflage some 34 air bases to include the planting of fake foliage and structural cover. Concurrently, Ohmer set out to conceal key factories and assembly plants that would be likely targets for a Japanese assault on the Pacific Coast. Facilities included the Douglas Aircraft plant in Long Beach, and the Lockheed-Vega aircraft plant in Burbank.

The Lockheed-Vega plant (shown above) was fully hidden beneath a complete suburb replete with rubber automobiles and peaceful rural neighborhood scenes painted on canvas. Hundreds of fake trees and shrubs were positioned to give the entire area a three dimensional appearance.

Maintaining the illusion of a neighborhood required careful timing and planning. The suburb had to show signs of life and activity. To do this, workers occasionally emerged to relocate automobiles, and through hidden trap doors in the canopy, appeared to take walks on hidden catwalks and pretended to do maintenance work. [Source]

Camouflage Netting in WWII Continued…

Flights over camouflaged areas tested positively as pilots were unable to identify the bases, factories and plants. Soon orders came from other areas of the US. In Seattle, the gigantic 26-acre Boeing Aircraft complex ordered the same treatment, blanketing the plant under netting; disguising the area as a suburb complete with municipal buildings, parks, schools and homes.

As the war continued, the threat of Japanese invasion pacified, especially after the US Navy dealt a crippling blow to the Japanese carrier task force at Midway Island. Eventually the camouflage would be removed but had the Japanese ever mounted an aerial attack it would have been fascinating to see if the camouflage netting would have proved successful. [Source]


The Disguise of California by Dennis Casey
Douglas’ Dream Took Wing in Santa Monica by Cecilia Rasmussen
California Becomes a Giant Movie Set
Hiding in Plain Sight

Captain Mark D. Anderson of the United States Navy and historian Jean Muller were searching for artifacts from The Battle of the Bulge in the mountainsides of Luxembourg when their metal detector alerted them to something just under their feet. Below Anderson and Muller was a foxhole that was dug during the crucial World War II battle and in it they found the belongings of an American soldier, Technician Fifth Grade Louis J. Archambeau. Among the things that Archambeau, who died in the battle, left behind was a camera with an undeveloped roll of film in it. Anderson and Muller developed the film and, after spending 70 years in a foxhole, a dead soldier’s photographs were finally brought to life. This is T/5 Louis J. Archambeau’s World War II experience, told by his very own photos.

1.) Company C, 1st Battalion, 317th Infantry Regiment

6.) Louis J. Archambeau’s camera

(Sources: The Trouble Shooters, Wikipedia) The Battle of the Bulge resulted in more American casualties than any other battle in World War II. Spanning December 16, 1944 to January 25, 1945, roughly 19,000 American soldiers lost their lives. However, the battle was an even bigger blow to the Germans, who lost much of their war resources. You can share this amazing war photography using the button below.

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