Japanese Balloon Bombing

In the final year of World War II, Japan developed a new weapon for use against the Allies in a last-ditch attempt to retaliate for her losses. Between November 1944 and July 1945, Japan released over 9,000 bomb-bearing balloons against the continental United States and Canada. Each paper balloon carried one high-explosive bomb and several incendiary devices designed to start massive fires in the forests of North America. Once released, these balloons drifted eastward on the prevailing winds and jet stream, crossing the Pacific Ocean in approximately sixty hours. Air Force pilots, stationed on the west coast and in the Aleutian Islands, shot down many balloons but over 1,000 reached their targets, some drifting inland as far as Michigan. Many were never found; but out of the 285 incidents recorded by the Smithsonian Institute of Washington, eight bombs descended in Saskatchewan. All reports of sightings were immediately suppressed by strict military censorship. Six more balloons landed in Manitoba.

Confirmed sites in Saskatchewan and the dates (all in 1945) were recorded as follows: Stoney Rapids (January 1), Minton (January 12), Moose Jaw (February 9), Porcupine Plain (February 22), Camsell Portage (March 21), Consul (March 30), Ituna (March 31), Kelvington (May 15).

There were no reports of serious damage at any of the sites in Saskatchewan or elsewhere in Canada. In the United States, however, five youths and an adult were killed when a group of picnickers detonated a live Japanese bomb that had come down in a forested area of Oregon. Ironically, a balloon bomb also destroyed the power source to an atomic research plant in Washington State; this power outage briefly interrupted production of the two atomic bombs which were being prepared for delivery to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Harold J. Fenske