Japanese balloons and bats!

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Staff Sergeant
It's a little-known fact that in WW II the United States had plans to send thousands of expendable combatants with incendiary devices strapped to them that would detonate in the combustible structures of Japan causing fires! With all these devices going off at relatively the same time, a firestorm that much later B-29s induced could be accomplished in 1942!

After hearing the news about Pearl Harbor a Pennsylvania dental surgeon, Dr. Lytle Adams, had a masterful counterstroke in mind. He wondered why the millions of bats in Carlsbad Caverns of New Mexico could not be fitted with incendiary bombs then dropped on Japanese cities. The furry kamikazes would naturally seek shelter in the buildings. The pre-set fuses would trigger firebombs that would cause conflagrations in the flimsy wooden structures of Japan, he reasoned.

Even if the fires didn't link up, as did the later B-29's, the toll exacted on the populace would be valuable in the psy-war. The fuses could be set for any time indiscriminately in the future. They'd never be certain when or where fires would erupt. Panicked citizens would endure dangers and stress in relation to the random occurrences. Some could go off immediately. Once fires from them were quenched more could be generated hours or days later.

Adams had been traveling in New Mexico and had visited Carlsbad Caverns the day before, hence the brainstorm. He turned around and headed back to the famed caverns and outlined his idea to intrigued guides there. They actually assisted him in the capture of several bats, which he took home to Pennsylvania where he began boning up on bats, incendiary devices and Japanese structures. In January 1942 he sent his findings and plan to the White House.

Perhaps the desperate times aided the concept, but for whatever reason, the proposal reached the desk of President Roosevelt who was actually favorably seized with the idea.

High-flying bombers would deliver the bats in containers and drop them. At 1,000 feet the containers would automatically open and the fuzzy, winged rodents would carry out their dastardly scheme on the wood and paper buildings. Roosevelt directed the project classified as Top Secret with the code name Operation X-Ray, perhaps for the originator dentist Dr. Adams. Adams was brought to Washington and placed in charge of the program.

He and his program assistants traveled all over the country in search of bats on a wholesale basis. Carlsbad Caverns had a bat population of some nine million with one cavity housing half a million alone. But Texas always does thing bigger and better. There in Ney Caverns an estimated thirty million furry critters dwelled in a virtual bat utopia. Capture began and the Army Chemical Warfare Department and the National Defense Committee commenced work on an incendiary device small enough for the bat bombers. By 1943 the experts had an oblong case of nitro-cellulose filled with napalm actuated by a delayed timing mechanism.

To handle and ship the bats they were cooled to 40 degrees Fahrenheit at which temperature they began hibernation. This solved the feeding problem that was becoming immense. But it's not nice to fool Mother Nature, and artificial cool down using ice cubes did not produce the same result, as did the natural process. Most of the bats simply did not awaken!

Considered a minor setback, testing with live bombs was undertaken near Carlsbad New Mexico from an auxiliary airfield. Military experts pointed out that high-altitude release would cause the same effect as the ice cube freezes did due to the cold temperatures of the upper atmosphere. The answer was to fly low and to hell with anti-aircraft fire! How sad it would have been to one day find out your loved one had lost his life dropping fire-bats over Japan!

The first test bats dropped either plummeted to the ground anyway or flew off in distant directions. The scientific types hoped they wouldn't fly to the city of Carlsbad where the residents would not have enjoyed the results, if successful. Since it was Top Secret and the military couldn't have told the citizens why they burned down their town.

The setback was temporary and more bats were collected. The second test was successful. The containers opened and the hairy winged warriors alighted from them. Since there was no Japanese city nearby the fuzzy creatures congregated in a hanger, which promptly burned down. At least it worked. One bat found a visiting general's car nearby and sought a darkened refuge for a bat nap. The resulting mass of molten metal prompted the Army to relinquish all interest in the project to the U.S. Navy who swiftly gave it to the Marines.

On December 13, 1943 in El Centro, California the Leatherneck had the best success of all with thirty fires ignited. Most of which most went out unaided in minutes. Four actually needed fire fighters to extinguish. They reasoned the bats just needed a more destructive payload.

After several months a new device was developed that was hopefully still light enough for the bats but more powerful. But out of twenty-five bat bombers released fifteen plunged to their deaths without attempting to fly. Five others flew away with one dropping its bomb in the desert. Three flew a few more minutes and exhaustedly crashed to the sand. One lone bat drifted to earth as intended with its weighty bomb.

So the project rested on the success of the one bat! Since millions had been sunk into Operation X-Ray so far, they decided to carry on. The Marines prepared for another test with two bombs relative to bat size. The heavier burned six minutes while the other for four.

Again Mother Nature became involved. When female bats become pregnant the males do not eat correctly during this seasonal cycle. So for seven months a year the bat combatants would not be physically at their peaks to serve Uncle Sam.

Undeterred, the Marines planned another test for August 1944 with actual in-service use projected for one year later. But the timetable was re-evaluated to fifteen months before operational use could commence. The Navy cancelled further bat plans for Operation X-Ray with vague reasons. It seemed another group of scientists, also in New Mexico, were working on another type of firebomb that had nothing to do with bats. After Hiroshima it was clear why the Navy ceased the program. It had become informed of the atom bomb project at White Sands and bat bombs would soon be unnecessary even if they worked.

As bizarre as it all sounds, the Japanese came up with the reverse engineering of bat bombs with their Fu-Go balloon bombs that first launched in November 1944. Made from paper, cloth and rope these weapons were to be launched from Japan where prevailing 30,000 foot high-altitude jet streams would carry them to the United states mainland in three to four days at up to 170 MPH.

It was a cheap way to inflict some possible, unknown damage at an unseen, distant enemy. It was a poor man's V-1, if you will. The balloons were constructed from non-strategic material in a primary design. Most were constructed by school kids pasting the squares of washi paper together. Adults now, the children describe that they had no idea what they were working on for eleven hours a day. After balloon building they'd receive 2.5 hours of school.

The concept was the brainstorm of the Japanese Ninth Army Technical Research Laboratory, under Major General Sueyoshi Kusaba. The balloons were about thirty-two feet in diameter and suspended beneath them were light anti-personnel explosives and incendiary devices attached by light rope. They lifted about 1,000 pounds of ordnance and equipment (About 200 lbs. of it was sand bag ballast). A simple altimeter mechanism would release hydrogen from the bag if it got too high (38,000 ft.) and drop sand bag ballast if it dipped too low (27,000 ft.). After a predetermined number of days it was assumed that device was over the U.S. and the bombs would release. The balloon would then light an 84-minute fuse towards self-destruction. The bombs were quite light with the fragmentary bomb was about 33-lbs. If all went well the bombs would explode and the evidence of the balloon would be eradicated. Mystery explosions out of the blue were what the Japanese envisioned.

When some balloon remains were discovered, some as far east as Michigan, it was not immediately determined what they were or their origins. Airborne explosions were seen near the California coast. At first it was thought these devices were being released by submarines off the West Coast. But the balloons were too big and far too numerous. When a P-47 squadron on coastal patrol saw one airborne a pilot maneuvered his ship to herd the thing using his prop wash. It was recovered safely, the ordnance devices having failed to discharge. The secret was out.

All details were censored in newspapers of the day on this vengeance weapon so the Japanese planners figured their speed; time and distance estimates were off and quit the program in April1945. Besides, B-29s had knocked out two thirds of Japanese hydrogen productions by then.

The unfortunate case of six people being killed in Oregon by one of the devices was a fluke at best. Another started a small fire in a forest that was put out quickly. It was hoped that the balloons would destroy vast acreage of virgin American forests and kill hapless citizens. Another balloon bomb ran into an electric line at the Hanford plant in Washington and cut the power. For a while, it shut down the production of plutonium for the atom bomb that would fall on Nagasaki. Back up power cut in and things resumed at once.

The total number of launches is unknown but estimates of 9,300 have been quoted. 15,000 were planned. 285 remains have been found about 1,000 that made the crossing. About twenty were shot down in the air once they were known for what they were. Nine were shot down by P-38s in the Aleutians within two hours on April 11, 1945.

Remains have been located all over the American northwest, Alaska and Canada. Two inert balloons were found in Texas. One by a rancher who described a rising sun on the top of it with several smaller ones at the equator area and another by school kids who cut pieces off as souvenirs. The children described the rising sun painted on the top of their bag too. Fortunately both had seemingly dropped their ordnance harmlessly and only the envelopes were found. G-men visited the school the next day and collected the pieces the kids had taken.

The real threat of the balloons was not the puny bombs but the fact that they could carry biological material developed in Manchuria at the infamous Camp 731. At any rate, they forced the U.S. to prepare for that possibility, which diverted manpower and resources.
Certainly if any remain yet unfound they have the capability of detonation if disturbed. In conclusion the Fu-Go balloons were a bit more of a threat to the U.S. than the bat bombs were to Japan. Now if some genius had come up with a way to secretly introduce explosive underwear into enemy garment production lines THAT would have been something.
I write 2-3,000 words a day and I guess I missed that. You know funny thing the only 2 Japanese guys I knew personally both referred to their peoples as J**s. One was a Japanese American and we shared interest in war stuff. He'd refer to his ancestors in a a 3rd person sense like "the J**s did this or that," as if he wasn't related. The Guy I worked with from Japan referred to things such as "we J**s smoke a lot." Of course he was a modern guy with excellent English knowledge.

"Mike" Kawato, the alleged shooter of Boyington referred to his peoples as "J**s" in the 1980s when I met him too.

I find it all perplexing really. I guess today in the politically correct world we live in we can't take the slimmest chance of offending anyone. That's why we can't profile "middle eastern" men in their 20s at airports. Caucasian grandmas gotta get frisked too to prove we aren't being prejudiced.
Interesting story Twitch.
On the subject of whether or not " Jap " is offensive I was always of the opinion that they objected to being referred to as "Nips" rather than Nipponese.
For the records, the Japanese balloon raids gave the USAAF Bell P-63s their only chance to achieve an air-to-air kill.

Quoting from Army Air Forces in World War II




(Fourth Air Force): A P-63 from Walla Walla AAFld, Washington, intercepts a Japanese balloon near Redmond, Washington, and, after a chase that includes 2 refueling stops, shoots it down near Reno, Nevada."

A little known fact indeed...


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