The World’s First Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

The World’s First Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

( – Imagine having such desperation to bomb another country that your only option to do so came through the use of balloons. Don’t laugh, it really happened. And it was aimed at us Americans. Sadder yet is the fact that some of these “balloon bombs” are still lying in wait to go off.

The year was 1944, and Japan was trying to discover a way they could retaliate for the Doolittle Raid. Once they discovered the United States was capable of attacking Japan by air, the Japanese put the Noborito Research Institute in charge of the Fu-Go Project.

The Fu-Go project was a design that consisted of transpacific balloons, crafted by schoolgirls who were unaware of what they were making. They created the balloons from washi paper produced from kozo tree bark. The idea was these balloons could be launched into the winter jet stream and travel roughly 60 hours before reaching their destination.

Unusual Assault

On November 3, 1944, these top-secret balloons, which witnesses would later refer to as “giant jellyfish,” drifted off bound for the US.

A couple of days later, the Navy patrolling California’s coast came across remnants in the water. Upon close examination, Japanese markings became apparent, prompting FBI notification. The military became concerned once more when similar debris appeared in the sea and citizens on the western half of America began reporting balloon sightings and explosions.

Hushed Investigation

Looking at evidence, officials initially thought the balloons were biological weapons being launched from closely located Japanese relocation camps or German POW camps. After careful analysis, they found the balloons contained sand native to a beach in south Japan. Because it was winter, and the dry season, the military’s biggest worry was forest fires. To avoid panic among Americans, and the Japanese gaining any type of morale boost, they kept the situation quiet.

On February 17, 1945, with the use of Domei News Agency, Japan broadcasted to America there had been numerous casualties and fires caused by their balloons and the attack was just the beginning of something much larger. The US government would still maintain its silence.

Reported Damage

A Sunday school picnic in Bly, Oregon, on May 5, 1945, would break the silence. Reverend Archie Mitchell’s wife, Elsie, their unborn child and five children between the ages of 11 and 14 would die that day as they approached debris from one of the balloons. The military began issuing warnings about the devices and asked that any finds be reported. These would be the only Americans killed in WWII due to enemy actions in the USA.

March 10, 1945 would bring about more damage when a balloon hit a wire at Bonneville Power Administration in Washington. Sparks and a fireball would result in loss of power. The Hanford site of the Manhattan Project was the largest energy consumer on the power grid. Hanford lost two days of production and three days to get full power back but the opportunity to learn that their backup system actually worked. By the end of May, balloon sightings had ceased.

As scary as it sounds, not all these balloons have been recovered. Many people would like to believe that the vast majority landed in the ocean, but in 2014 one was found in Canada, and it was functional — so, to residents of the Northwest, be careful when exploring. Though these weapons were ineffective, they are still considered the world’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles.

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