Japanese Balloon Bombs hit USA & Canada

Avenging the Doolittle Raids – Project Fugo

November 1944 –  Young Japanese girls wore headbands that designated them as Special Attack Force members. Daily they would recite the Imperial Precepts for Soldiers and Sailors before they began a twelve-hour shift in a makeshift factory in Kokura, Japan. Here they were producing 40 foot balloons to carry a bomb package across the ocean as they were released to drift on the Pacific jet stream.

A total of approximately 9,300 of these weapons were made and about 342 reached land, some as far east as Ontario, Michigan and Nebraska. Some were shot down or caused minor injuries and one hit a powerline of the nuclear weapons plant at Hanford, Washington.

Three days before the end of World War II in Europe and just three months before the Japanese surrendered, spinning shards of metal ripped into the tall pine trees, burrowing holes into bark and tearing needles from branches outside the tiny logging community of Bly, Oregon. The nerve-shattering echo of an exploding bomb rolled across the mountain landscape. When it was over, a lone figure—Archie Mitchell, a young, bespectacled clergyman—stood over six dead bodies strewn across the scorched earth. One of the victims was Elsie Mitchell, the minister’s pregnant wife. The rest were children. Four of the children—Jay Gifford, Eddie Engen, Dick Patzke, and Sherman Shoeman died instantly; Joan Patzke, 13 years old, initially survived the explosion but succumbed to her injuries shortly afterward.

Rev. Archie Mitchell and his wife, Elsie

Forestry workers were running a grader nearby when the force of the explosion blew one of them off the equipment. Another dashed to the nearby telephone office, where Cora Conner was running the town’s two-line exchange that day. “He had me place a call to the naval base in nearby Lakeview, the closest military installation to our town,” recalls Conner. “He told them that there had been an explosion and people had been killed.”

Within 45 minutes, a government vehicle roared to a stop in front of the telephone shack. A military intelligence officer scrambled out of the car and joined Conner inside. “He warned me not to say anything,” Conner says. “I was not to accept any calls except military ones, nor was I allowed to send out any information.” The rest of the day proved difficult, as Conner struggled with lumber companies and angry locals who had been stripped of their phone privileges without explanation.

The U.S. government immediately shrouded the event in secrecy, labeling the six deaths as occurring from an “unannounced cause.” But in the close-knit atmosphere of Bly, many of the locals had already learned the truth: Elsie Mitchell and the five children were victims of an enemy balloon bomb, held aloft by a gigantic hydrogen-filled sphere and whisked from Japan to the western seaboard of the United States. The contraption had alighted on Gearhart Mountain, where it lay in wait until the fateful day when it found its victims—the only deaths from enemy attack within the continental United States during World War II.

bomb map

To help avoid similar tragedies, the government lifted the media blackout. In late May 1945, the headquarters of Western Defense Command, based at the Presidio in San Francisco, issued a cautious message entitled “Japanese Balloon Information Bulletin No. 1.” In an effort to avoid a media frenzy and quell public paranoia, the document was to be read aloud to small gatherings “such as school children assembled in groups.

Preferably not more than 50 in a group and Boy Scout troops.” The bulletin warned that many hundreds of Japanese balloons were reaching American and Canadian airspace. 

Balloon bombs

 For Archie Mitchell, who lost his wife, unborn child, and five members of his church on that fateful day in 1945, life eventually resumed its course. He remarried and in 1947 moved to Southeast Asia to continue the missionary work that inspired him. Unfortunately, fate would deal him yet another blow. On June 1, 1962, a wire report brought his name back into the news: “Today word came from South Vietnam that three Americans had been kidnapped by Communist guerrillas. One of them is Reverend Archie E. Mitchell, a former pastor at Bly in southeast Oregon.” Mitchell was never heard from again.

Click on images to enlarge.

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Today’s Military Humor –

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How would you finish this caption?

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Farewell Salutes –

J.R. Brown – Henryetta, OK; US Army Air Corps, WWII, B-17 waist gunner, 2nd Bombardment Squadron

Adrian Cronauer – Troutsville, VA; US Air Force, Vietnam, (Armed Forces Radio D.J.), / DOD official

Steve Ditko – Johnstown, PA; US Army, (cartoonist)

Brian Dutton – UK; Royal Navy, Falklands, Lt.Commander, mine clearance expert

Robert Hagan Sr. – PA; US Air Force, Captain, pilot

Homer Myles – Dermott, AR; US Army, WWII & Korea

Paul Racicot – Detroit, MI; US Navy, WWII

Joseph Stanhope – Berlin, NH; US Army, WWII, ETO, Bronze Star

James Shaw – Baird, TX; USMC, WWII, PTO, Korea, Major

Dale Wilson – Des moines, IA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, LT, B-25 pilot, KIA (MIA)

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on July 23, 2018, in Home Front, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 134 Comments.

  1. Wat een nachtmerrie waren deze ballonnen.De mensen kenden ze niet en ze doken plots op.en maakten dus onschuldige slachtoffers

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Poor Rev Mitchell! He was definitely “snakebit.” 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So sad 😦
    I hope you are well…blessings to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. When I was in the Philippines, one of my Filipino friends told me about how the Japanese soldiers would torture Filipinos. They would put a burning cigar against the throat of one they were torturing. Even now, Japanese business men will not travel to the outlying areas of the Philippines. There were pigmes of in the Philippines; they were very resourceful in the ways that they would kill Japanese soldiers, such as sneaking into a barracks and slitting the throats of “every other sleeping Japanese soldier.” I saw movie yesterday about the torture that the Japanese inflicted on the people of Indochina, and neighboring areas. It was horrible. Btw, Liberals don’t understand why the U.S. soldiers who served in the Pacific theatre may still use the word, “Jap;” they were not there to see the horrible things that our military people saw “too much” for anyone to forget, or try to remove from their minds. Consider Pres Roosevelt. There was a threat of our Pacific coast being attacked by the Japanese; he had to do things to protect our country. Please keep up your good work; America needs it!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. WOW! I had not heard about this before! Incredible how many of us were not aware of this happening!
    My granddaughter is quickly becoming a cognoscente of WWII. She has read tons of books about it. When she is through with her classes tonight, if I remember, I will ask if she has heard of this.
    So sad and scary, The poor pastor, and the families of the other children.
    I have said it before, but it bears saying again, thank you so much for bringing history alive in your blog and for keeping it alive, too!
    Blessings~

    Liked by 1 person

  6. GP, I would like to reblog this, with your permission, and tell about the balloons that reached Texas.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “Dale Wilson – Des moines, IA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, LT, B-25 pilot, KIA (MIA)”–last one listed.

    My uncle, Dale R. Wilson, from Minburn, IA was in th USAAF, PTO, LT, B-25 copilot, MIA in 1943, DOD 1946. Might this be the same person?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Feb. 2, 1945, the first balloon arrived in Iowa near Laurens. Fragments of an incendiary bomb were recovered later that month near Holstein, with more near Pocahontas in March. Mike Vogt, Curator for Iowa Gold Star Military Museum at Camp Dodge, wrote “Japan bombs Iowa!” in the latest Iowa History Journal. Pieces of of the balloon that landed near Laurens is on display at the museum.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Nice thoughts penned down..

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great post G.P. and I see a few names I recognise in the remembered above. Rest in peace.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thank you, GP, for bringing this piece of history to light, as I was unaware of this retaliation by the Japanese. I was very familiar with the Doolittle Raid, as I knew Retired Air Force Colonel Carroll V. Glines who authored three books on the 1942 airstrike and co-authored General Jimmy Doolittle’s autobiography ” I Could Never Be So Lucky Again.” For those who know the story in detail, it’s amazing what they accomplished in the face of so many obstacles. There were those of us who worked, decades later, to finally see the Doolittle Raiders honored with a Congressional Gold Medal for their voluntary and highly dangerous mission at a low point in U.S. morale, as they retaliated for the devastation of Pearl Harbor.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. That has got to be one of the most intriguing posts by you gp, this is history that is really never disclosed.
    The demise of the Reverend in South East Asia makes the story more intriguing.
    After all these years one would think that the final chapter in the Reverends life would be disclosed.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I hadn’t realised they had reached so far across the country.

    Six deaths are nothing when you set it in context of the whole war, but when you give them names and stories they become a powerful force for promoting peace.

    This makes it an important post – thanks for writing it.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. ‘9,300 of these weapons were made and about 342 reached land’ I wonder where thousands of the balloon bombs ended up. The balloons don’t seem to have been very efficient so perhaps they were more for propaganda purposes; a bit like North Korea boasting that its weapons can reach the USA. Speaking of NK it was nice to see the return of some of the remains of US servicemen. I expect it will be a long process to properly identify them.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I imagine most of the bombs ended up under the Pacific. But, being low on fuel, it was a gamble trying to hit the US to avenge the Doolittle Raids. If just one hit land, it would show we were totally safe from them.

      Liked by 2 people

  15. My Nan would say better to be ignorant about something you can’t do anything about than live in constant fear but we get information overload now to such a point you don’t know what’s true and what isn’t.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Very interesting.I had never known there exist Balloon bombs

    Liked by 2 people

  17. What a time that was during WW2; I can’t imagine today’s generation such a balloon attack could have been kept secret. Thank you for your posts on lesser known details of the Great War.
    Also funny meme about the deployment and how things start getting very weird 6 months in; I agree, with the sentiment.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. I find it so sad to have the young girls in your country making bombs – balloon or any kind. Did they understand what they were making? With that early teaching, there is no way to ever bring peace to the world. But I have a feeling many people thrive on war. Not me!

    Liked by 2 people

  19. I remember my grandmother telling me that she heard a woman begin relating an account of this incident when the broadcast was suddenly cut off. Censors worked fast in those days, I guess.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. This was all new to me. I had to look up the history of the Hanford nuclear plant. I’ve assumed that it’s a fairly recently-built facility, so it was interesting to find that it was involved in the Manhattan Project.

    Looking at the path of the balloon across the Pacific, I couldn’t help thinking about Fukishima, and reports that radiation traces have been found in some California wines. The operative word is ‘traces,’ of course, and there’s apparently no threat to human health, but it’s still interesting to ponder the role that wind and water play in moving various objects and substances around the world.

    Liked by 3 people

  21. One of those came down somewhere in southern Alberta I remember my dad told me when I was little.

    I forget where.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. I’ve never heard this story before. Riveting. The photo with boots of soldiers lined up in tribute was, also, very moving.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. I think the first time I heard about these bomb balloons was on one of your previous posts quite some time ago. Before that I had never heard that anything was attacked here on the continent. Amazing. What a tragic story of that devoted pastor. My goodness…

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Nu alles vluchtig bekeken en kom morgen verder lezen

    Liked by 1 person

  25. An excellent post GP.

    Today’s mission.
    To get this soldier a lamppost.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. GP, this is an unbelievable horror! World War II documentaries and movies never mentioned this. On the east coast I dealt with rationing and air raids as a kid, never even knew about balloon bombs! Thank you for posting this, and all the other educational material about WWII. Christine

    Liked by 1 person

  27. What an excellent accounting – down to the fate of the pastor…

    Liked by 1 person

  28. I’ve just finished reading a book about this (and a review will emerge one day!). The Japanese got up to some pretty vile acts. Fleas carrying bubonic plague were released by Japanese aircraft over the Chinese cities of Ningbo (1940) and Changde (1941). At least 400,000 people died. Later in the war, the Japanese Navy commissioned the huge I-400 submarines which would have carried three aircraft each. These aircraft would then have overflown San Francisco, Los Angeles and other American cities and then dropped canister type bombs or possible even crop sprayed them with Today’s Special… bubonic plague, typhoid, dysentery, perhaps even a nerve gas. Unit 731 at Pingfan in Manchuria were the guilty parties apparently.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Desperate times call for desperate measures I suppose. I guess that’s how they felt. Remember, they had never signed the Geneva Convention.
      Thank you for contributing additional information, John. You are a regular treasure trove of information!!

      Like

  29. Amazing story, GP. Modern radar would have picked up these bombs out over the Pacific.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. They were creative if not victorious. How awful though to target anyone, wherever that balloon landed.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. In all my reading I had never heard of this, a truly amazing story. On the issue of suppression of info, our govt. did that after the regular incursion across the top end in case it caused panic. The full story only emerged in the 70s.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Had’t heard of these balloon bombs, so sad for the Reverend :/

    Liked by 1 person

  33. The story of Pastor Mitchell is amazing. No doubt he met a violent end in Vietnam. The line in The Lord’s Prayer “deliver us from evil” can take some unexpected turns …

    Liked by 1 person

  34. There was an excellent documentary on the BBC about those balloons some time ago. They interviewed people in the US who remembered them, and some of the Japanese people who worked on their manufacture.
    (Great ‘Twitter’ cartoon by the way!)
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. I did not know about the balloon bombs. I thought mainland US was spared of the war after the Japanese turned around after Pearl Harbor.

    Liked by 2 people

  36. I have never heard about these balloons. Interesting and odd that the first bulletins were shared with school children.

    Like

  37. So interesting–and sad for Reverend Archie E. Mitchell. I had no idea that balloon bombs happened!

    Liked by 2 people

  38. I never heard about these balloon bombs before.

    Liked by 1 person

  39. I think I learn more history truth from blogs such as yours than I ever did in any school curriculum. Thank you. Never learned about this.

    Liked by 2 people

  40. Wondered if you were familiar with the U.S. “bat bombs,” one of the funnier and more bizarre stories to come out of the war.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve heard of them. It seemed like a logical idea. They didn’t amount to much, right?

      Like

      • The thought was to drop them on Japan and have them fly into attics after which they would explode. It was quite a project finding bats that could carry an incendiary, developing a way to transport them [like egg cartons], and keeping them calm [lowered their temperature]. Finally they were tested dropping them out of planes over an Air Force base [I think it was in Arizona] and they were too successful — they burned down the barracks. But by then, we were using regular munitions over Japan.

        Liked by 2 people

  41. I did not know about these balloons! Incredible, but sadly true!

    Liked by 1 person

  42. If anything could, this might throw a perspective on Hiroshima and Nagasaki

    Liked by 1 person

  43. A situation that not many Americans knew about 25 years ago….good to see that all the info is getting out….well done….chuq

    Liked by 2 people

  44. GP! I calculate that Kakura to Michigan is nearly 12,000km – 7,500 miles! Now that’s long range bombing.

    Liked by 3 people

  45. Thank you for sharing.

    Like

  46. Thank you very much.

    Like

  1. Pingback: Japanese Balloon Bombs Reach Texas in WWII | Texas History Notebook

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