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XIII. WORLD WAR II (continued)


Lacking the industrial and technical know-how to strike at the United States with rockets, the Japanese soon after the Doolittle Raid made plans to take advantage of the jet stream and prevailing winds to attack the United States with free balloons. The balloon bomb was Japan's V-I. While preparations were started in 1942, this method of attack was probably undertaken more as an encouragement to homefront morale than as a method of crippling the American war effort. After the war, a Japanese officer reported:

The bag part of the balloons which were being sent to America consisted of hundreds of small pieces of paper . . . . These pieces were made by school children all over Japan, gathered up village by village, and shipped to a central assembly place for reshipment to the factory where the balloons were finally completed. [15]

In the period October 1944 to August 1945, the Japanese launched about 9,300 of these balloons from the Sendai area of northern Honshu. The bags of the balloons were 33-1/2 feet in diameter and lifted various mechanisms and a load of from 25 to 65 pounds of incendiary and anti-personnel bombs. The first of these free balloons, which were capable of crossing the Pacific in four days, was recovered from the ocean off San Pedro on November 13. About 90 of these balloons were recovered in the continental United States between November 1944 and V-J Day. Some of them drifted as far east as Michigan and south into Mexico. Many landed in Alaska and Canada. As a weapon they were a failure, because they did almost no damage, and there is no proven instance of these bombs starting a forest fire. The only casualties caused by the free balloons occurred at Bly, Oregon, on May 5, 1945, when a woman and five children on a Sunday School picnic were killed when they tried to disassemble a bomb. [16]

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Last Updated: 15-Jan-2004