World War II History: Japanese Balloon Bombs – How Japan Killed American’s AT HOME

During WWII, the Japanese sent thousands of floating deathtraps across the ocean with one goal: burn down the Pacific Northwest.

Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, was a shocking display of its ruthless military tactics during World War II. Over 2,400 U.S. servicemen died during the surprise attack, thrusting the United States into a war that shook the world to its core. But it wasn’t Japan’s final attack on American soil. Roughly two years later, the Japanese came up with a plan to harness air currents to create the world’s first intercontinental weapons: balloon bombs.

Titled ‘Project Fugo,’ the booby-trapped hot-air balloons were designed to ride 30,000-foot altitudes en route to North America, where, if everything went according to plan, they would set fire to the United State’s vast forests. Japan hoped these massive wildfires — particularly in the Pacific Northwest—would create mayhem and disturb the U.S. war effort. Each balloon was essentially a giant, floating Molotov cocktail.

According to J. David Rodgers of the Missouri University of Science and Technology, the hydrogen-filled balloon was constructed from mulberry paper, measured about 33 feet in diameter, and was capable of lifting a thousand pounds. The light, sturdy frame was saddled with bags of sand, sensors, triggering devices and a 33 lb. anti-personnel fragmentation bomb. Because the balloons took between 30-60 hours to reach North America, the bomb’s 64-foot fuse was designed to ignite after about three days of flight and detonate after 82 minutes.

Project Fugo officially launched on November 3, 1944, kicking off a six-month frenzy during which the Japanese fired between 6,000 – 8,000 balloon bombs at North America. The Japanese hoped their origin would be untraceable, but Col. Sigmund Poole, who was the head of the U.S. Geological Survey at the time, was able to track their launchpoint back to the island of Honshu—just east of Tokyo—by examining the bags of sand they were saddled with.

The numbers vary, but experts estimate about 1,000 reached their target, landing anywhere from Northern Mexico to Alaska to Michigan.There was even one discovered in the mountains of British Columbia just two years ago by two forestry workers who used C-4 to blow it up because it was too dangerous to move.

Despite its ingenuity, the strategy had one small problem: the balloons couldn’t be tracked or controlled. Because they were at the mercy of the airstreams they were designed to ride, the balloons ultimately didn’t have their intended effect; though, an Army airborne unit, the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion was deployed to the Pacific Northwest in the fall of 1945 just in case, earning the nickname “Smoke Jumpers.” To date, only about 300 balloons have been reported as sighted or discovered over the years, with no trace of hysteria — or forest fires — breaking out in the wake of their arrival on American soil.

There was one reported deadly incident, though. On May 5, 1945 in Bly, Oregon, five children and a pastor’s pregnant wife, Elsie Mitchell, were killed as they played with the large paper balloon, unaware of its explosive contents. In 1950, a memorial for the victims, called the Mitchell Monument, was erected in Oregon near the site of the bombing. It reads: “Only place on the American continent where death resulted from enemy action during World War II.”

Project Fugo was a total bust. In fact, for years, few people even knew the balloon bombs existed because the American government asked news organizations to refrain from reporting their sightings. Still, you’ve got to acknowledge the gumption it took to produce this terrifying and unique concept, regardless of how poorly it was carried out.

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Espionage Files: 6 Spies Who Risked It All For Fame, Money, Sex, Drugs and Diamonds

Anna Chapman, a Russian spy who was busted in a New York City spy ring, enjoys celebrity status in Moscow.

Anna Chapman, a Russian spy who was busted in a New York City spy ring, enjoys celebrity status in Moscow.

These modern-day spies didn’t have strong ideological allegiances, except perhaps to the high life.

Spies. Subterfuge. Clandestine operations. Nothing gets people going like a thrilling tale of espionage — it’s no wonder that movie franchises like the Bonds and the Bournes have seen so much commercial success. These real-life spies, however, aren’t nearly as badass — and none of them were patriotically or ideologically driven. These nine spies committed espionage against the United States in the name of livin’ the high life: for the love of sex, drugs, diamonds, and fame.

Aldrich Ames, who compromised the second-largest number of CIA agents after Robert Hanssen, is one of the most notorious spies in U.S. history. A former CIA agent turned KGB mole, Ames was known for his rampant alcoholism and frequent love affairs, according to a congressional assessment of Ames’ espionage case and its implications on U.S. intelligence. After a messy and expensive divorce, coupled with his new lover’s expensive shopping sprees, Ames fell into massive debt. In an effort to alleviate his financial distresses and to continue impressing his mistress, Ames approached the KGB, and ultimately received over $4.6 million for the information he passed. Ames spent nine years as a KGB mole, spying from 1985 to 1994, and was eventually caught after a mole hunt surrounding a series of leaks pointed investigators directly to him.

Martha Dodd was a novelist and journalist — and also happened to be the daughter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ambassador to Germany. Throughout her young adulthood, Dodd was a Nazi sympathizer who frequently met with high-level members of the Third Reich, including Hitler himself, who she claimed to be “excessively gentle and modest in his manners” — according to author and researcher Shareen Blair Brysac in her book “Chasing Hitler.” Dodd eventually turned away from the Nazi philosophy, but was recruited by one of her many lovers to become a spy for the Soviet Union. This lover convinced her to sell State Department and embassy-related secrets to the Soviets, who later assessed her as an uncertain asset —  referring to her as a “sexually decayed woman ready to sleep with any handsome man,” reported by authors Allen Weinstein and Vassiliev Weinstein in their book, “The Haunted Wood.” She spied on the U.S. from 1936 to 1957, and was eventually caught by an FBI informant who implicated her in his exposure of the Soble spy network.

Jonathan Pollard is the only American spy who was given a life sentence for providing information to an ally of the United States. As an analyst for the Naval Intelligence Command, he leaked U.S. secrets to Israel for diamonds, cash, and even “heritage” in 1987. According to NCIS, he also released classified materials on numerous occasions to South Africa, Pakistan, and China in an effort to advance his wife’s business. Pollard was busted when a colleague discovered him removing classified materials from their work center.

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Armed Citizen Corner: ZORE – The Future of Firearm Safety

Safety is paramount to every responsible gun owner. With that in mind, Zore, a Jerusalem-based startup company founded by a group of Israeli Defense Force veterans, has designed a gun storage system that prevents your firearm from being tampered with, but doesn’t impede your ability to neutralize threats quickly. And while it links to your smart phone, sounding alerts whenever the firearm is moved by someone else, the caliber-specific lock is mechanical. It’s a no-frills alternative to smart guns and other safety devices that rely on more complicated technology. There is, however, a catch: although it’s currently available for pre-order, the full package isn’t scheduled to ship until spring 2017. But, hey, good things come to those who wait, right?

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Military History: 8 Legendary Military “SNAFU’s”

Everyone makes mistakes … militaries included.

The internet is packed with YouTube videos, news stories, and Facebook pages dedicated to bizarre military blunders. Just a few months ago, Task & Purpose even reported about a British helicopter that created a literal shit storm by blowing down a row of porta-potties.

In most cases, if a military makes a mistake, people, cities, or multi-million dollar vessels become heart-wrenching examples of collateral damage. However, in these eight cases, while there are a few casualties, we are mostly left with embarrassing, funny, or just plain ridiculous stories.

1. That time British soldiers got too drunk to invade Spain.

After the British dissolution of the Parliament of 1625, the Duke of Buckingham wanted a naval conquest that would parallel the exploits of the raiders of the Elizabethan era. So they decided to attempt to invade Spain with a hundred ships and 10,000 men. Sir Edward Cecil led the fleet through the port city of Cadiz. They had not brought sufficient rations, so they raided the city, pillaging the locals’ wine supplies. The drunken troops then threatened mutiny. Cecil ordered them back to ships, and not a single shot was fired upon a Spaniard.

2. When the Brazilian Navy sank its own ship.

There are many stories of navies sinking their own ships, but the sinking of the Brazilian ship BZ Bahia takes the cake. On July 4, 1945, it sank itself during live-fire practice. Positioned in the Atlantic Ocean in between Brazil and Africa, the Bahia was meant to aid allied planes making transatlantic transfers between Europe and the Pacific. A gunner unintentionally shot down the kite, which hit a rack of depth charges, which in turn hit the ship’s fantail. It exploded, and the Bahia sank within three minutes. Half the crew perished. No one knew until four days later when its sister ship, the BZ Rio Grande do Sul, discovered its survivors.

3. That incident with tootsie rolls and the Marine Corps.

In 1950, during the Korean War, the 1st Marine Division was holed up in the Chosin mountain reservoir. This group of only 15,000 men was waged up against an encroaching Chinese force of 120,000. The conditions in the area were unbearable, with temperatures dipping nearly 30 degrees below zero, and their rations froze. At some point a call was put out for “Tootsie Rolls,” the codename for mortar shells. However, the person who filled the order took the request literally, so crate upon crate of Tootsie Rolls were airdropped to the division. Though it wasn’t artillery, the frozen candies were able to be melted with just body heat, so they became a replacement for the frozen rations. This strange mistake ultimately helped keep the group alive.

4. The time emus defeated the Australian Army.

After World War I, more than 5,000 Australian soldiers were given money and deeds to farm the western countryside. According to the blog War is Boring, in the 1930s a horde of 20,000 emus invaded their land and destroyed their crops. Armed with rifles and machine guns from their time in the service, they attempted to rid their farms of the highly-intelligent, pack-hunting birds. It proved unsuccessful, and the Prime Minister at the time ordered Maj. G.P.W. Meredith, who  commanded the Royal Australian Artillery’s Seventh Heavy Battery , to lead a new charge. His campaign proved ineffective, and eventually, Parliament gave up on trying to civilize the west, conceding it belonged to the emus.

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Modern War: How Tactics Used in Iraq and A-Stan Can Make The U.S. More Vulnerable in Future Wars

We need to ask ourselves which lessons are worth retaining versus which do we think we should retain but make us more vulnerable.

Editor’s Note: This article is drawn from a talk given by the author to the Special Operations Medical Association Scientific Assembly in Charlotte, North Carolina, on May 24, 2016.

Question: Do the wars of the last 15 years really prefigure the future? Many people think they do. But, the answer is “Yes” only if all future fighting is done in tribal shatter zones, where we retain air dominance. Meanwhile, additional questions that should haunt everyone in uniform for the remainder of their careers are: What is particular to Afghanistan and Iraq, and what is generalizable? What belongs in the lockbox because it won’t apply elsewhere? Or, which lessons are worth retaining versus which will we think we should retain, but will make us more vulnerable?

Historically, being able to reach, keep, and smash objectives so that your forces can move forward without you having to fear for your rear was critical. At the broadest level, no war was deemed over until one side conceded defeat. This required killing your adversary’s hope and not just his will to continue. When your enemy acceded to the terms you dictated, you had finally succeeded.

The piss poor substitute today, given our inexplicable reluctance to declare war, is to talk about end states instead. Yet, if you stop and think about it, there is no such thing as an end state. Time goes on. More events occur. End states don’t end anything. But, repeat “end state” often enough and the term begins to take on a reality of its own.

In my mind, this is similar to invoking “complexity,” which everyone now accepts as a description of today’s reality. Yet nothing we face today is more complicated than World War II. Instead, the scope of what we think we should consider seems to have expanded, thanks to the speed and volume of information flows. On top of that, we think we have the capacity — or will soon develop the ability and/or the software — to help us think through all likely consequences, even though this will only compound paralysis by analysis.

Meanwhile, who are we currently up against? Jihadis, to whom nothing is particularly complex or nuanced, except how long it might take to undermine us. They aren’t encumbered with our same sensibilities: If you’reof us, good. If not, you’re expendable.

To be clear, I am not advocating that we become more like them. Just the opposite. I want us to tilt war back to a format that advantages us, which means we need a 21st century rethink of Just War theory, and of who deserves noncombatant status among other things. We also need to give serious consideration to the following lessons that have emerged out of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

1. More technological innovation is not always a better means of warfare.

But along with this, we need to rethink our conviction that if we just keep on technologically innovating we will retain a sufficient edge. Take improvised explosive devices versus drones. Which have had a more profound psychic effect on people? With precision-strike, the individuals we target change their tactics, techniques, and procedures, and a lot of them get killed. But the pressure is Darwinist and we are helping individuals get smarter faster; drones do not dissuade communities from supporting terrorists. With IEDs, on the other hand, the randomness has been pernicious, forcing us into rolling fortresses and sowing seeds of not-yet-detonated post-traumatic stress disorder.

Meanwhile, in the who-is-out-innovating-whom sphere, we not only overlook innovations in what people are willing to do with and to other human beings at our growing peril, but we ignore the ways in which future adversaries will be able to take greater advantage of our self-inflicted Achilles’ heels. We have quite a few.

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