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Fu-Go 風船爆弾: the Curious History of Japan’s Balloon Bomb Attack on America

28 April 2021

Fu-Go: the Curious History of Japan’s Balloon Bomb Attack on America, Ross Coen, 2014, ISBN 978-0-8032-4966-0, 280 pp.

Fu-Go: The Curious History of Japan’s Balloon Bomb Attack On America by Ross Coen (front cover)

The fire bombing of Japan by the United States is an epic event in the annals of World War II. Though the fire bombing of the U.S. by Japan is most often dismissed—almost anecdotally. This is a mistake if done, however. A mistake since it dismisses the sociology Japan experienced as it was increasingly isolated from trade during the war’s progression. A mistake to not recognize the inspired engineering of these non-piloted balloons to carry and deliver a payload over a period of days (iterative increasing and decreasing envelope size had to be addressed via unmonitored ballast changes). And a mistake for the counter-propaganda effort mounted by the U.S. civil authorities to deny information about the threat to U.S. citizens—as well as air defense assets dedicated to countering Japan’s fire balloon missions.

Coen researched this fascinating work effort which begins with the discovery of the jet streams by Japan’s scientists over a decade before becoming known to the Western world during World War II strategic bombing missions (suprise—the ground speed is ~100 mph less than it should be). His description of the young girls manufacturing the balloon envelopes mainly out of Mulberry tree derived paper, and why, is heart rendering. How the engineers and technicians in Japan used basic physics to automatically drop ballast as needed until the ordinance was sequentially dropped (typically a handful of incendiary devices as well as one high explosive bomb) is amazing (no microchips, no electronics).

Imperial Japan’s intention was to ignite massive forest fires in the American West with these balloons but, fortunately, the jet streams relied upon to transport these balloons eastward across the Pacific Ocean coincide with the American West’s wet season. Many balloons were lost for unknown reasons before reaching American shores but many also arrived, usually undetected and untraced, and carried as far as the American mid-West. An amazing amount are unaccounted for but must have landed in remote locations—presumably still hung in trees or sunk beneath lake waters—with their ordnance not only intact and viable but becoming increasingly unstable as aging progresses.

Fu-Go: The Curious History of Japan’s Balloon Bomb Attack On America by Ross Coen (back cover)
4 Comments leave one →
  1. Terry Welshans permalink
    28 April 2021 18:18

    Partial remains of one balloon and the fuse ring is on display at the USAF Museum in Dayton, Ohio.

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      28 April 2021 22:24

      Thanks Terry. It must have been something to see for the first time and figuring out how it worked.

      • Terry Welshans permalink
        28 April 2021 23:11

        As you know, this was very top secret as we didn’t want the Japanese to know that the balloons even got to the continental USA. My guess is that many of them were found and nothing was said. Roswell? Perhaps if not a Project Mogul balloon.

      • travelforaircraft permalink*
        28 April 2021 23:38

        Yes, too true about not having the Japanese’s knowing success rates. Regardless they kept trying though. Had to look up Project Mogul…that was interesting. I see what you mean about being found and not reported especially given their remote locations—and some of the folks there as well.

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