Offically; in the waning days of the Pacific War Japan tried a last ditch ploy to hit the United States with a terror weapon. That weapon was the Balloon Bomb. It was supposted to set fire to the West Coast and drop anti-personel bombs randomly on the U.S. In research after the war it was found that the Japanese built 15,000 of them but only launched 9,300. A little over 300 Balloon Bomb incedents occured in the U.S. and Canada. The only casualties were a woman and five kids in Bly, Oregon on a church picnic, who found and moved one. It expoded, killing them all.
Is that all? In my own research into this backwater of the World War II, I have found a few things that don't fit the offical story...It also relates to a mystery that haunts us till today, but some don't want to know its' truth..
The Japanese have been using balloons in war since the 1800s. At Port Arthur they were used for observation of troop movements. The Japanese air force come out of the balloon society and little is mentioned of it during the war.
When the US first heard about the balloon bombs the didn't believe it. After a few were found things changed. They were considered a threat and they outlined it well in an unpublished manual called BD-1. Even though balloons which dropped incendary or antipersonnel were found other uses were enumerated in order of importance.
1. Bacteriological or chemical warfare or both.
2. Transportation of incendiary and antiperonnel bombs.
3. Experiments for unknown purposes.
4. Psychological efforts to inspire terror and diversion of forces.
5. Transportation of agents.
6. Anti-aircraft devices.
Were these threats real or were they just playing it safe? We know now from a book on Unit 731 that the BW possablity was real. Sanders (who went to Japan to interview Shiro Ishii (Unit 731s commander)) worked on finding all the Fugos that landed and looking for BW. Offically none was found. Sanders did help in the cover up of Japanese BW/CW after the war. Did Sanders cover up Japanese use of BW/CW in the war?
The Fugo or Balloon Bomb offiically came in two types. Type A: made by the Imperial Army and Type B: made by the Navy. The Type B had a radio for telemetry, was made of rubberised silk and offically carried no weapons. Just a few were launched and there are records of a balloon being heard for about 1600 miles.
The Type A: (pictured here) was made of mulberry paper and infalted with hydrogen. As a paper weapon it came under much ridicule by the US. Here are its' specifications:
A sphere about 100 ft. in daimeter with a volume of 19,000 cubic ft. of Hydrogen
Lifting capacity 800 lbs at sealevel and 400 lbs at 32,000 ft.
Armament: 5 5 or 12 kg. Theremite bombs and 1 15 kg. High Explosive Anti-personnel bomb.
Of the over 300 incidence recorded about the Fugos during the end of WWII (1944-1945) none caused stoppage of war related activity, except for one case where a balloon landed on a power line at Cold Creek in Washington state. It caused the first SCRAM in history, taking down the first reactor used to make plutonium. The reports of all balloon bombs were censored so as not to give anything away to Japan. Eventually, after six people were killed in Oregon, the story did come out. Over Washington at least 50 were seen on one day. In a oral history of Hanford at least 40 were seen over the reservation. Offically no forest fires or other damage ocurred. The Fugos were a joke.
But were they?
If you read the newspapers for the last 2 years of the war a number of things do come out that are hard to explain. But first we will look at how a Fugo is suppost to work.
The balloon bombs were released from Japan in the winter months when the jet stream is the strongest. They popped up to altitude (20,000 to 40,000 ft.) and if they were lucky into the stream. They traveled along in an easterly direction crossing the Pacific at around 200 mph in the jet stream. In daytime they would ride at the maximum altitude but as time wore on they would sink. At night they would collect dew and become heavy. Below a set height the altimeter would cause a set of blow plugs (charges that released the ballast) to fire releasing the sand bag ballast. The lost of weight would cause the balloon to pop back up to altitude. This continued till all the sand bags were gone. The last ballast was the armament. Thermite bombs were armed and dropped in the last positions on the ring. Anti-personnel bombs were also used. After all the ballast was gone a picric acid block blew up destroying the gondola. A fuse was lit that was connected to a charge on the balloon itself. The hydrogen and air mixture burned the balloon envelope up as a large orange fireball.
The Allies thought they were coming from Japan but were not sure. Using the USGS and Canadian scientist they were able to narrow it down.
A USGS Mineralogist Dr. Clarence S. Ross studied samples from Balloons found at Holy Cross, Alaska and Glendo, Wyoming. He found that the samples were beach sand and the type of fossils pointed to Northern Japan. The most likely source being in the vicinity of Shiogama on the east coast for Honshu, eight miles northeast of Sendai. The next most likely site were the beaches just south of Ohara, about forty miles southeast of Tokyo-this was Ichinomirya, an actual site.
The Canadians also looked at samples and found a slag content, which indicated a nearness of a blast furnace. The US and Canada shared info to find the sites.The actual official launch sites were:
Otsu, Ibarki Prefecture
Ichinomirya, Chiba Prefecture
Nakoso, Fukushims Prefecture
I will be adding to this site as soon as I can find time. To Do:
Table of Balloons Found
The Fugos also caused alot of problems in Europe, thou few people have looked into it. Some Fugos became the Foo-fighters. I am surprized none were found as I the US.
Books on Japanese Balloon Bombs:
Silent Siege III: Bert Webber 1992 Isbn 0-936738-74-x
Japan's World War II Balloon Bomb Attack on North America: Robert Mikesh 1973