Friday, August 19, 2011

Well, actually maybe that wasn't so funny.

So Robb Allen posted the other day about Project X-Ray, the World War 2 plan to make primitive guided incendiary cluster munitions by strapping timed pyrotechnic devices to bats and stuffing them into bomb casings so that, when dropped over Japan from USAAF B-29s, they would scatter and roost under the eaves of houses come the dawn.

As it turned out, we were incinerating entire Japanese cities just fine without chiropterid assistance, and so the project was shelved without burning down anything but test targets and the occasional non-target building on the base.

I was going to make a joke in his comments section that we were going to burn Japanese cities with bats in revenge for them trying to burn our forests with balloons.

I seemed to recollect that the Japanese balloon bombs caused the only civilian fatalities in the continental US due to enemy fire during WWII, and so I went to research...

And indeed they did. Not just any casualties, either: A young minister, his pregnant wife, and five Sunday school children went out for a picnic. While the pastor was laying out the picnic goods his wife and the children ran over to investigate what looked like a crashed balloon. It exploded, killing all six right before the reverend's eyes. There's a memorial on the spot today.

Pastor Mitchell, the widower of almost 20% of US Home Front KIA in the Second World War, eventually remarried and traveled to French Indochina to minister to lepers. While there he was taken prisoner by Viet Cong guerrillas and marched into the jungle in 1962, and was never seen again.

And for some reason, I had completely forgotten what I was going to joke about.

20 comments:

greg said...

And here I sit, ashamed that I did not know the details of that story before hand. I'm sorry that your 'brain tickle' led you down that path and took away your funny comment, but I appreciate you posting the info...

North said...

I remember reading about these fire balloon bombs as recently as July. I guess it was because I was looking up information on Chinese lanterns. (I have launched a few. Remarkable and eerie sight to see in the sky.)

Dwight Brown said...

I think John M<Phee has also written about the fire balloons, in the context of the forensic geology done to determine where the sand used as ballast came from.

I know the New Yorker gets a bad rap in some circles, but I've always found McPhee's work fascinating.

Jim said...

Oh fine, North. Now you have me thinking about going out to the shop and building a sky lantern. Just what I need to further elevate the weirdness quotient assigned me by some of the neighbors.

North said...

Jim: You want to up the weirdness quotient even more? Look up "LED throwies" on the internet. There are individual LEDs that flash all by themselves.

So a couple of wafer/coin batteries and a few blinking LEDs attached to the underside of the fire pan...

staghounds said...

People like Reverend Mitchell are good antidotes to thinking the world is sh!t.

Good to remember when people run down faith, too.

Chas S. Clifton said...

I knew the first part, but not the second. Thanks for that.

There is also a connection between Japanese balloon bombs, conscientious objectors, a unit of black paratroopers that the Army did not know what to with (IIRC), and the development of smoke-jumpers for wildland firefighting.

And I remember the article that Dwight Brown mentioned--a typical McPhee examination of forensic geology, which also caught the murderer of a member of the Coors family, of Colorado brewing fame.

T.Stahl said...

The AT museum in Dayton has a salvaged ballot, IIRC. I'll see if I have pictures of it.

T.Stahl said...

The Air Force museum. Damn auto completion.

Thomas F said...

And thus you demonstrate the difference between conservatives and liberals, after learning all that the liberal would promptly suppress it and still come up with some kinda schlock comedy....

Anonymous said...

Oregon was a big target, for some reason.

We got attacked by a sub-launched float plane, too.

http://www.portorfordlifeboatstation.org/article1.html

russell1200 said...

The closest thing to the balloons (civilian mainland deathwise) I can think of is the mines laid in east coast harbors by the U-boats. I know they caused damage, but I don't if any civilians were killed. Obviously, they would not have been "on land" when the mine went off.

Tam said...

Anon 12:45,

...and shelled by the I-25!

Kristopher said...

Fort Stevens up the coast from Port Orford also got shelled by subs.

The battery commander decided to not expose his dreadnaught era guns and return fire because the AA gun the japs were using seriously outranged his antiquated ordinance.

DirtCrashr said...

A missionary Joke! LOL! The old China-India missionary-hands I knew would have laughed, and then prayed a short prayer.

Anonymous said...

You write, I read. Thanks.

Old NFO said...

I-25 was the other one, as you indicated.

russell1200 said...

I-25 ! I had no idea. Not only did it shell a fort (granted not civilians) but it tried the airplane version of the ballon stunt!

http://www.offbeatoregon.com/o1101e-Japanese-submarine-blasted-its-way-into-Oregon-history.html

Well on our coast I guess the Germans never felt like shelling us.

Standard Mischief said...

I know the fire balloons damage was little compared to fat man and little boy, but it's good to remember that the indiscriminate firebombs were deliberately launched knowing the brunt of the attack was to be born by civilians.


All this talk about I-40 had me fall into this great story about the capture of I-400. (takes a while to load, or you can get it at archive.org)

SewerDweller said...

there was an attempt by a U Boat to shell Portland Harbor, in Portland, Maine. When the u-boat began to surface to clear the guns, it was run over by a fishing trawler, ripping the conning tower off, and sinking with all hands.