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WW2: Japan's Balloon Bombs

Article #2 • Written by Alan Bellows

One of World War 2's best-kept secrets was that of the Japanese balloon bombs. Lacking a practical means to attack the US mainland during the war, 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.

It is estimated that about 1,000 of these weapons successfully crossed the 6,000 miles from Japan, a few drifting as far east as Michigan. 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. After five months, the Japanese became discouraged by the bombs' apparent total failure, and halted the attacks. The policy of silence was so successful that few people have heard of these bombs even today.

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

Article written by Alan Bellows, published on 07 September 2005. Alan is the founder/designer/head writer/managing editor of Damn Interesting.

Article design and artwork by Alan Bellows.
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14 Comments
squelch
Posted 06 January 2006 at 06:09 pm

Amazing that the media supported the government as such.
And good thing too, sadly the media is now doing a good job of encouraging "the enemy" by publishing how awful everything is. I am not condoning cover-ups, but if we wouldn't broadcast how effective attacks are, they might not work so hard at them.
It is pretty awful though that we do not teach about this in schools, now.


errna
Posted 25 May 2006 at 10:59 pm

"5 May 1945 - Elsie Mitchell and five children she is watching are killed by a Japanese balloon bomb which drifted over the Pacific into Oregon. They are the only people killed in action on the US mainland during World War II."
to imagine that it was just days before the European part of the war was over... and that they were THE ONLY victims on the US mainland...


Hayley
Posted 08 June 2006 at 11:19 am

That's incredible how well the media cooperated, and very good of them too. It's not repression of free speech if they cooperate for a better cause. No one forced them to not print, but they did it in the name of security. That would never fly nowadays.


frenchsnake
Posted 10 July 2006 at 05:10 pm

I'm very surprised that it worked that well. It was a different world back then, of course, but for everyone to keep silent? That wouldn't work today because of the internet, but the public mail or phone service could still be intercepted, couldn't it...?


Wargamer
Posted 14 February 2007 at 04:23 pm

Deciding what is and what is not worth censoring, and how much information to give out, is always more 'art' than science. There is no doubt that many 'secrets' were stupid if not harmful decisions.

It goes the other way too, glory-seeking ego-idiots announcing to the world how to do this or that to cause harm.

In this case, it might have been better to alert the population to the fact, maybe spin it to show how desperate the enemy was, and at least give warnings to report any sightings to the authorities, do NOT try to shoot them down or approach them and let it lie there.

The west coast Americans and Canadians already had enough paranoia to fear Japanese could somehow attack the coast the same way we actually had airforce spotters working on the west coast.

If you want to get technical, of course we could be attacked by air. The Japanese in fact did send float-planes with guns/bombs launched from submarines into British Columbia, so they say. But no damage done.
The Japanese did have amazingly long-ranged giant floatplane bombers that would need bases in say Alaska or Hawaii. The Germans had plans for extreme long range bombers that could hit the American east coast from Germany.

I guess the concern was that if you tell us the Japanese were sending bombs on balloons over the Pacific that we might lose some sleep over it and keep one of the kids out on the roof with a flashlight or something?

I am reminded of John Belushi in the movie "1941" ? lol. Where people in LA supposedly really thought the Japanese could bomb America-proper.
Loved the movie.

But I still think it would've been smarted to admit we knew these were coming and what to do if we saw any.
But of course I was not alive on the coast back then.

I think there was even an escape attempt from a German pow camp during the war using hot air balloon?
lol,
gliders too.


milkman
Posted 13 March 2007 at 07:37 am

It is nice to see how remarkable the news media could be back then. It would be interesting to find out if the Media today would be as noble as it was back then. The military was very successful and intelligent on that tactic! I could only imagine how many thousands of those balloons the U.S. mainland would have seen if the Japanese would have gotten wind that there idea had worked!


Wargamer
Posted 20 April 2007 at 03:43 am

Doubtful. America's 'news media' has abandoned 'journalistic principles' to become 'commercial narrators' for stories that entertain more than inform, while at the same time totally giving into becoming nothing more than propaganda tools for our gov'ts anymore, rather than the wing of society to act as a check and balance on the gov't.

So on the one hand, they'd sensationalize the unsensational if it would increase ratings,
on the otherhand, they'll cover-up the biggest gov't mistakes rather than act as a monitor as the founders of journalism intended.

Hundreds of thousands of casualties and homeless in the Kobe earthquake, interrupted for updates on the OJ Simpson trial.

CNN breaks the record for redundant 'commercial and break free' reporting held by 9/11 coverage for the death of Anna Nicole Smith.

I call American news 'clonews' because ABC, CBS and NBC can't even help from reporting the exact same stories in the exact same order every night as if to prove the over-paid egos of the anchor-people right, that the reason more watch one than the other isn't substance or variety, but who they like looking at narrating the story the most instead.

Remember, you heard it from me first, the term 'clonews' as in cloned news.

I'd expect the American media would cover up a radiation leak of the gov't told them too, while creating and unnecessary panic in regards to something far less justified if left to their own devices.

I don't criticise nor foreign news media for being propaganda or paparazzi-like as much anymore, that's for sure.


DJ-Anakin
Posted 25 June 2007 at 03:21 pm

"The news media cooperated with the military and didn't publish any news of incidents. "

You'd never be able to get them to do that now. The media are just money-grubbing, egomaniacs.


Jeffrey93
Posted 26 June 2007 at 02:50 am

DJ-Anakin said: ""The news media cooperated with the military and didn't publish any news of incidents. "


You'd never be able to get them to do that now. The media are just money-grubbing, egomaniacs."

I think the media spins things more than you think. Back then the media would keep a story secret to help the "greater good". In reality they aren't helping anybody...the media is there to report events. If they collectively choose not to do this they are lying to the public.

Now the media spins things, which is just as bad. Look at CNN's coverage of the WMD crap. They weren't reporting anything....they were selling it. Makes you wonder why....

Anyway...CNN did all they could to convince the American people that invading Iraq was a good idea, look how that turned out. IF CNN had done their jobs and reported the events, we'd all be better off.

So, refusing to report an event because the government tells you...or spinning an event and selling an event as something more than it is....doesn't help anybody. The media is there to tell the public what happened. If it's good news or bad news, just tell us the news. Don't try to sell it as good news when it's bad, or vice versa. Just report the stuff, then shut up.
You're right they are after the money....but where is the money coming from? Sponsors? Governments?


prudychick
Posted 14 March 2008 at 03:02 pm

Yes, I couldn't imagine today's media keeping something like this quiet. Everyone has to be first and of course then you have the news stations that will sensationalize it, "Balloons of Death Could be Lurking In Your Neighborhood."


DanThinksDances&femaleGspot
Posted 27 June 2008 at 07:26 pm

Enter your reply text here. OK
Collective psycology - You guys are all wrong.
Media would do today and do keep collective temporary secrets at circumstances:
ex: a presidents trip to a war zone.
ex: prince Harry in Afgan. fighting
I'm a dog walker, not a journalist. The media is what the mass public wants. Blame your selves.


Matt
Posted 18 May 2013 at 03:38 pm

Oh the sheep of the 21st century.. Do you honestly believe there are not Daily media blackouts? Do you honestly believe that the government does not carefully script and plan nearly everything seen unrelated to local city/state news?

It's all a big book of manipulation, plain and simple the American public is carefully guided


Mary Wilkerson
Posted 15 January 2014 at 04:50 pm

As a child I lived in Wolf Creek, Oregon. A parchment-like balloon landed in the hills behind our house. I remember some excitement and a lot of secrecy about the event at the time and still have a small (about 6" by 9") piece of the balloon. Is there a way to find out if it is really a remnant of one of the Japanese balloons?


Vince Koers
Posted 26 February 2014 at 06:35 pm

In a word - Yes. Contact us if you would like to discuss...


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