Second World War: Balloon Bombs

Demolition engineer describes Japanese balloon bombs used during the Second World War.

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During the Second World War, I volunteered to be in a demolition unit. Because of the nature of the work, we could not be assigned to it. Our job was to locate unexploded bombs, hand grenades, bazooka shells, 37mm, 75mm and 105mm high-explosive shells and disarm or explode them. 

We had to disarm a small, unexploded 100-pound bomb that had landed in a farm pigpen with the front half buried in the dried mud. A bombing practice range was near the area, for the training of the young bombardiers from the air base. The detonating device was gently removed, and the bomb hoisted out to be carried away. The farmer was angry and told us many times that he was sure that it had been dropped there on purpose.

One assignment was top-secret. We were searching the forest along the West Coast between the California/Oregon state lines to Seattle, Washington. The Japanese were seeking information as to where their balloon bombs were landing. They were sending large weather balloons up into the jet stream with timing devices and incendiary bombs. When the balloon would reach the West Coast, the timing device would release the bomb.

In an effort to hinder the Japanese from getting information as to where the balloons and bombs were traveling and landing, our government enforced a very strict ban on the newspapers and radios from reporting forest fires of all kinds. We were not allowed to discuss any of the finds we made. All the detonating and timing devices were turned over to the FBI. The Japanese scientists had it calculated too close for comfort.

H information had leaked out that some of our cities could have been hit with incendiary and possibly larger bombs, it would definitely have affected the morale of our country.

Ivan French
Mercedes, Texas

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.