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Mystery of Japanese Balloon Bombs In World War II

By J. Mark Soveign    3/7/08

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Desperate to avenge the brutal American attacks on the Japanese homeland, Japan invented one of the strangest weapons in aerial combat.  During the Second World War the Japanese conceived the idea of fashioning incendiary bombs and attaching these to balloons which were released with easterly winds to float 5,000 miles across the north Pacific to the U.S mainland.  The balloons were intended to make use of a strong current of winter air that the Japanese had just discovered flowing at high altitude and high speed over their country, which later became known by meteorologists as the jet stream.

balloon_bomb.jpg
One of World War II's best-kept secrets was of the Japanese balloon bomb attack.  Lacking a practical means to attack the North American continent, the Japanese constructed 9,000 large hydrogen balloons, attached incendiary and anti-personnel bombs to them, and set them afloat on the high-altitude trade winds towards the United States.

The balloons were crafted from mulberry paper, glued together with potato starch paste and filled with hydrogen.  They were 33 feet across and could lift approximately 1,000 pounds, but the lethal portion of their cargo was a 33 pound anti-personnel fragmentation bomb, attached to a 64–foot long fuse intended to burn for 82 minutes before dropping to the ground and exploding wherever it landed.  The balloons were programmed to release hydrogen if they climbed to over 38,000 feet during their flight and to drop sand filled ballast bags if it decended to below 30,000 feet.  This was controlled by  an onboard altimeter.  The bags were programmed to be released in pairs on opposing sides of the wheel so the balloon would not be tipped to one side or another, releasing any of the hydrogen gas.  In this way the balloons would rise in the daylight heat each day of the crossing and fall each evening, untill their ballast bags were depleted, at which time the balloon and its bombs would randomly fall upon whatever lay beneath it.

The Japanese released the first of these bomb-bearing balloons on November 3, 1944.  They were found in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Michigan and Iowa, as well as Mexico and Canada.  The last one was launched in April 1945.  The last known discovery of a functional fire balloon in North America was in 1955 - its payload still lethal even after 10 years!  Japanese balloon bombs were discovered on American soil as late as 1992!

The bombs caused little damage, but their potential for destruction and fires was large.  The bombs also had a potential psychological effect on the American people.  The U.S. strategy was to not let Japan know of the balloon bombs' effectiveness. Cooperating with the desires of the government, the press did not publish any

balloon bomb incidents effecting a classic government coverup.  On March 10, 1945, one of the last balloon bombs descended in the vicinity of the Manhattan Project's production facilities at the Hanford Site in Cold Creek Washington taking down the first nuclear reactor used to make plutonium.  This balloon caused a short circuit in the powerlines supplying electricity for the reactor cooling pumps, but backup safety devices restored power almost immediately.  This is the closest that the Japanese war machine ever came to destroying U.S. domestic war production capacity.

It is estimated that about 1,000 of these balloon bombs successfully crossed the 5,000 mile trip from Japan.  Once the US military realized the nature of these balloons, they regularly shot them out of the sky, but adopted a policy of absolute secrecy to deny the Japanese any news of success.  The news media cooperated with the military and didn't publish any news of incidents.  This policy of silence was so successful that few people have heard of these bombs even today.

All in all, there were 285 balloon bomb incidents reported, and six deaths. All six deaths occurred during a single incident when a group of picnickers in Oregon found a balloon bomb in the woods, and attempted to move it, causing it to explode.

After the war the New York Times declared that "First prize for worthless war weapons goes to Japan, for her 'unique origination' of bomb-carrying balloons to spread fire and terror across North America."  True or not,

the balloons caused the only American casualties by enemy attack in the continental United States during the war, and may still be a threat today.  Scientists have estimated that as many as 300 balloon bombs may still be scattered throughout remote areas of western United States!

What are we to make of this most bizarre story?  Well, balloon bombs were discovered as far as Alaska and Texas as well as in Mexico and Canada.  We have to take into account that this attack was the best that the tiny nation of Japan could come up with given the circumstances that they were in at the time.  We also have to consider the effectiveness and completeness of a Government/Military coverup when they make up their minds to engange in one.

Below is a very interesting video about Japanese WWII Balloon Bombs.

 

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