This post first appeared here at History Is Elementary in May,2007.
Look at my title.
Separated each word means something very different and the concepts they represent are on opposite ends of the desirable and undesirable spectrum depending on the situation.
Of course, when you place the words together the concept they represent (water balloons) can also reside on opposite ends of the desirable and undesirable spectrum. Having a balloon bomb fall on you when you least expect it is not a desirable situation. Watching a water balloon drench someone you are upset with can be a great thing. Playing with water balloons on a hot summer day is a very desirable situation for many, however, believe me when I state being appointed as the adult who gets the honor of filling 200 water balloons for a field day event is not a desirable situation
Today’s 13 list doesn’t deal with just bombs, or just balloons, or even balloon bombs filled with water. The balloon bombs that are my subject today were meant to be weapons of war.
1. Balloon bombs were also known as fire bombs and were weapons used by the Japanese during World War II.
2. The balloons were filled with hydrogen and launched from the east coast of the Japanese island of Honshu. Some records indicate over 9,000 balloons were launched.
3. It was hoped that air currents would carry the balloon bombs across the Pacific to North America.
4. The Japanese were not the only country to use balloon bombs. The British used them against Germany for a time.
5. The bombs were found all over the western United States including Arizona, Idaho, and Iowa. Some even found their way to Mexico.
6. A balloon bomb was located as late as 1955 and it was still combustible. In 1992, a balloon was located, but it was no longer able to explode.
7. America had no prior warning that balloon bombs had been launched against them. Citizens did begin to notice the balloons and explosions were heard from California to Alaska.
8. Eventually more and more evidence mounted that proved something was going on. People witnessed something strange sailing to the ground in Wyoming. When it exploded shrapnel was left behind.
9. Scraps of “Washi” paper (made from mulberry bushes) were found in Los Angeles and in other places. The paper was used to construct the balloons.
10. The U.S. Navy found a balloon floating in the ocean. Later, an Army fighter plane managed to push a balloon towards the ground where it landed intact. Finally, officials could examine what had been launched against us more closely.
11. The American public finally learned about the balloons. The Newsweek issue dated January 1, 1945 contained an article regarding the balloons which the Office of Censorship asked to be removed from public view. The government’s strategy was if there was no information in the press the Japanese would have no information regarding how successful their balloon launch had been.
12. Authorities were really concerned, however, and feared that more balloons might eventually reach American soil. There was some thought that the Japanese had been working on a biological weapon and officials were afraid the balloon bombs might be a first step towards a biological launch.
13. Te event which resulted in the balloon bombs being launched against the United States was the Jimmy Doolittle raid against Tokyo. Doolittle’s raid, of course, was in reaction to Pearl Harbor.
Sadly, a balloon bomb did kill four people. You can find the story here.
A great informational article can be found here.