Los Angeles Train Wreck and Flooding,
Twice in less than one January week, troops
and equipment of Southern California's 40th Armored Division
were called on to aid civilian authorities at disasters in the
Los Angeles area.
Redondo Junction Train Wreck,
22 January 1956
The Redondo Junction
Train Wreck, 22 January 1956 (KTLA)
First was the tragic train wreck January 22, 1956, which claimed
the lives of 30 people and left more than 130 others injured.
Later that same week, an unprecedented eight-inch downpour flooded
low-lying areas in Los Angeles County and forced evacuation of
hundreds of families.
Fifty members of the 40th Signal Company had just returned to
their armory after a full Sunday of firing on the rifle range
when word of the rail- disaster reached them. Within 25 minutes,
the company was on the scene of the accident to aid in rescue
and police operations.
When they were finally released at 11.30 p.m., the signalmen
had been on continuous duty since 5.30 a.m. and had eaten nothing
since their noon luncheon on the range.
The tragedy, which took place at 5.45 p.m. occurred when a San
Diego-bound Santa Fe passenger train left the tracks only a few
minutes after leaving Los Angeles Union Station.
An emergency plea was made by Los Angeles police through radio
and television stations for ambulances, doctors and other emergency
Upon request of the police department, Captain Edward Bogenschild
took his 41) men and officers, and nine vehicles, to the crash
Under police supervision, the guardsmen formed a cordon around
the overturned train to hold back the hordes of sightseers and
others whose morbid curiosity brought them to the scene.
It was a grisly baptism for some of the younger guardsmen, with
only a few weeks of service under their belts. Dead and dying
were scattered along 200 yards of track, their bodies horribly
mangled. Guardsmen not working as part of the human chain around
the train patrolled the area and drove away several persons who
apparently were attempting to carry away personal belongings
of the victims.
Observers praised the guardsmen for their performance and later
said the 40th troops represented the "only organized police
activity" until rescue operations were well under way: Their
job throughout the long evening was complicated by a lack of
central control of rescue operations.
Los Angeles Flood, 25-27
Soldiers of the 40th
Armored Division's 132nd Armored Engineer Battalion removing
children from a rescue boat, 26 January 1956. (California Military
Department Historical Collection)
Three days later, on January 25th, calls
commenced pouring into 40th Armored Division headquarters for
assistance in flooded areas.
An overnight deluge had filled many low-lying areas the evening
before and the rain was continuing. Machinery was set in motion,
both in Los Angeles and Sacramento, to give assistance to southland
communities whose local emergency crews were inadequate for rescue
Before the rain ended Friday, at least four units had been called
on to provide aid.
The 132d Armored Engineer Battalion (now 578th Brigade Engineer
Battalion) placed two companies on state active duty. In all,
they totaled about 90 officers and men and they stayed on active
duty from Thursday afternoon, January 26th, until the next day.
Company E assisted authorities in Torrance in clearing debris
from a badly overloaded flood channel, in evacuating more than
30 stranded families and in guarding the evacuated areas against
looting. Company B performed similar service in Manhattan Beach.
In Arcadia, eight men were called for one-day duty to aid in
evacuation of flood-stranded civilians. They were members of
the 215th Armored Field Artillery Battalion. Full-time personnel
of Inglewood's 111th Reconnaissance Battalion were pressed into
service along with their heavy vehicles to transport nurses and
other key personnel.
State authority had been given to call as many as 400 men if
the need arose in other areas but floodwaters receded before
they were needed.
Source: 1956-1958 Biennial
Report of the Adjutant General of the State of California