With World War Two nearing an end and the US and Britain succeeding in quashing the brutal assault of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party, Japan, aligned with Germany, took matters into its own hands, launching a series of balloons across America with the purpose of dropping bombs .
Named Fu-Go, the so-called ‘balloon bombs’ were 10 meters (33 feet) tall, with the ability to carry four 11-pound (5.0 kg) incendiary devices plus one 33-pound (15 kg) anti-personnel bomb . Their intention was to start forest fires across the Pacific Northwest of America.
Reports show that between November 1944 and April of the following year, the Imperial Japanese Army unleashed around 9,300 balloons towards their rivals, from bases on the country’s largest and most populous island of Honshu.
From there, the balloons traveled across the Pacific Ocean via the water’s jet stream at high altitudes. A “sophisticated ballast system” was employed to help the balloons maintain the correct speed and height as they made their lethal trip towards destruction.
Dr. Diehl said: “Reportedly [Japan] was considering equipping the balloons with biological agents, as well as explosives. But to my knowledge, the use of such biological weapons has never occurred.
“However, several Americans were killed, and a few forest fires were started by the explosive-equipped balloons.
“Note, the American government kept the existence of these balloon attacks secret, claiming that they didn’t want the Japanese to know if they were effective.”
One of the main issues Japan faced when the balloons reached US soil was the wet weather conditions.
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This ensured the desired forest fires never really started, and in total six deaths were recorded in one civilian incident due to the balloons in Oregon in May 1945.
But according to Ross Coen, who wrote the 2015 book Fu-Go: The Curious History of Japan’s Balloon Bomb Attack on America, Japan itself “knew full well that… destroying actual targets in America was slim… practically nonexistent”.
Speaking to the University of Washington eight years ago, Mr Coen continued: “They were hoping instead to terrorize the Americans while simultaneously providing a morale boost in Japan.
“Propagandists in Tokyo hoped to fill newspapers with stories of raging fires and panicked Americans. When that didn’t happen, they made up a few stories and printed them anyway.”
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Initially, the US’ War Department was “puzzled by the balloons” and it took officials “weeks and numerous balloon landings” to fully understand exactly what was happening. By early 1945, and with World War Two’s end in sight, “it became clear that Japan was launching thousands of bombs” towards America, Mr Coen explained.
He continued: “The US military never really feared the bombs as they were likely to fall in unpopulated areas and cause little damage, if any.
“The far greater concern was that some part of the balloon might contain bacteriological agents and infect people, livestock, or wild animals with anthrax, encephalitis, or some other disease.
“Military officials cautiously inspected every balloon that landed. Although the Japanese did develop chemical and biological weapons in other theaters of the war, none were used on the balloon bombs.”
With Washington, Dr Diehl noted, appearing to hide the actual impacts of the Fu-Go balloons from their Asian rivals, the true extent, albeit minor in terms of World War Two, was never understood until years later.
After the war, remnants of the balloons were continuously found. At least eight were unearthed during the Forties, and then intermittently over the next three decades. In 2019, remains of another balloon were located near McBride, in British Columbia.
It left Dr Diehl comparing the current predicament the US faces when it comes to confirming what they know about China’s balloon.
He added: “Because the US may still recover the wreckage of the current Chinese balloon, it would seem they are being forced to admit it belongs to them. Although China, after apologizing, is apparently still suggesting it is only a weather balloon.”