SEATTLE, Aug. 15 -- AP -- Japan landed more than 200 bomb carrying unmanned paper balloons in western North America, out of perhaps thousands launched, but the bizarre attack fell flatter than a pancake as a military weapon.
Flop As Weapon
Details of the strange balloon attacks, hitherto largely secret to keep the enemy from learning the results, were disclosed today with relaxation of censorship.
As of the end of July, nearly 230 of the lethal balloons or their exploded remnants had been recovered. They fell from Alaska to Mexico and as far east as Michigan, but most frequently in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California and Montana.
Many more were sighted and still are being recovered in isolated areas, where unexploded bombs remain a menace. Possible duplications in reports of balloons sighted and the fact that many may have come down unseen in mountainous areas make uncertain the exact number that actually reached this continent.
Unknown too, unless Japan tells, is the number launched. But official guesses that it may be in the thousands are based partly on a navy task force report that hundreds were sighted in a single day off the Aleutians, headed for California. It was at the time of the San Francisco [United Nations] security conference and the report caused apprehension and a redoubled watch. But not one of these was sighted ashore, all apparently falling into the sea.
Except for killing six persons who tampered with a bomb near Lakeview, Ore., perhaps causing two small fires, and diverting manpower for their investigation and control, the balloons flopped badly as a war weapon. Not one ever dropped in a city or war plant, although several came down near the Hanford atomic bomb factory in south central Washington state and one dropped on the Bonneville Dam power line, momentarily stopping power to the Hanford project.
The two fires possibly started by balloon bombs were a small brush blaze in Shasta county, Calif., and one on a turkey farm in Oregon, but neither was definitely established as balloon caused.
The Japanese radio threat to send balloons carrying suicide pilots never materialized. There was no indication any balloon was manned.
Authorities quickly imposed secrecy on balloon landings. Investigation showed the balloons were 33 foot [diameter], hydrogen filled bags made of five layers of paraffined rice paper and that they traveled at around 30,000 feet with prevailing Pacific winds, coming from Japan in three and a half to four and a half days at 80 to 120 miles an hour. Each carried five bombs, four incendiaries and a 33 pound fragmentation type anti-personnel bomb.
Combating the balloons quickly became an important defense project under the army's western defense command. The army and navy set up joint operations centers from which planes were dispatched to shoot down the balloons. Comparatively few were destroyed by planes, however. Cooperation of state and local authorities was enlisted, and the military stationed "recovery teams" which pursued and disposed of balloons when sighting reports were received. Recovered balloons were sent to the aerological laboratories at Anacosta, D. C., where they were studied.
Authorities found the design of the balloon, and the ballast dropping device intended to keep it aloft until it reached this country, was so good some suspected they were of German origin. But the Japanese workmanship was sloppy, and the equipment frequently failed to function properly -- a factor which helped make the attacks unsuccessful. About half the bombs dropped or were dragged off before the balloons were found.
The balloon traffic reached a peak last March and dropped to a mere dribble the last two months, but authorities attribute this to the fact summer winds are unfavorable for sending gasbags from Japan.
Near Moxee City, Wash., a sheepherder found a fallen balloon with live bombs, dragged it behind his automobile and kept it in a building two weeks before authorities learned of the incident.
A small boy in Washington state found an anti-personnel bomb, which looked to him like a toy airplane. He wound the "propeller" -- the arming device in the nose -- until it was within one-sixteenth of an inch of exploding the bomb.
The lad was pretty disappointed when his plaything was removed, but not more so than the Indian children near Wapato, Wash., who found part of a paper balloon and used it to make a beautiful tepee in their back yard. They were crushed when the officers snatched it away.