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That Time Imperial Japan Tried to Bomb the U.S. Using Hydrogen Balloons

Approximately 9,000 balloons packed with explosives drifted toward American shores...

In the early hours of Dec. 7th, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service, killing 2,403 service members and finalizing President Roosevelt’s decision to enter World War II.

Soon after the attacks, the U.S. decided to get a little payback and sent in a group of 80 brave men and 16 B-52 bombers to execute the famous “Doolittle Raids.”

Related: Day of Infamy: Inside the Destruction of the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor 

What most people don’t know, however, is that the Japanese had planned what they believed to be an epic response to these successful, retaliatory attacks.

japanese balloon bomb
  • The B-52 bombers used in the Doolittle Raids

  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

On Nov. 3, 1944, Imperial Japan plotted to release approximately 9,000 hydrogen balloons packed with high-explosives and send them toward American shores to add to their kill count. Since their aircraft were incapable of reaching American soil, they figured this would be the best, undetectable approach.

After the Japanese deployed the paper-made balloons into a jet stream headed for the west coast, they calculated the journey would take three to four days—at which point, another attack could commence.

Related: That Time a Navy Blimp Crew Mysteriously Disappeared 

An estimated 1,000 balloons reached their target but caused little-to-no damage. The other 8,000 fell harmlessly into the ocean.

The Press was instructed not to report this story to avoid giving the enemy any more exposure. However, one of the balloons caused a few fatalities.

japanese balloon bomb
  • One of the balloon bombs launched by the Japanese

  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

On May 5, 1944, Reverend Archie Mitchell and his wife, Elise, were on their way to Gearhart Mountains for a picnic along with five Sunday school children in the car. While the reverend was locating a parking spot, the children and his wife came across one of the explosive balloons. Because the media was instructed not to report that specific story, the children began playing with it, unaware of the dangers, causing it to explode—killing them instantly.

Once again, the general population was instructed to keep the tragic event a secret. But, eventually, the word got out about the weapon and its intercontinental range.

Check out Simple History’s video below to learn more about this insane revenge plot.

Published on 29 Mar 2018

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