Japanese Balloon Bomb
The large balloons carried fire and destruction on the jet stream from Japan to the Pacific Northwest – Source: National Museum of the US Air Force

Part of the fun of hiking is finding pieces of history long forgotten by time and hidden by the Northwest’s quickly advancing foliage. Usually these blasts from the past are things like old pieces of railroad equipment or an apothecary’s glass bottle containing questionable liquids, but sometimes these hidden gems can actually contain… well blasts.

During the Second World War, starting in November of 1944, Japan began launching balloon bombs using the jet stream to carry the bombs to the west coast of the United States. Many of these bombs ended up in the Pacific Northwest. The U.S. government estimates that, of the 9000 balloons launched by Japan, 1000 probably reached the mainland and, of those balloons, only approximately 284 have been found (according to National Geographic).



Japanese Balloon Bomb
The jet stream carried the balloon bombs to the Pacific Northwest – Source: National Geographic

J. David Rodgers of the Missouri University of Science and Technology told National Public Radio that the balloon bombs “were 33 feet in diameter and could lift approximately 1,000 pounds, but the deadly portion of their cargo was a 33 lb anti-personnel fragmentation bomb, attached to a 64–foot-long fuse that was intended to burn for 82 minutes before detonating.” In addition to the high explosives, the balloons also carried a payload of incendiary bombs.

Japanese Balloon Bomb
The balloon bomb payload included a 33lb anti-personnel bomb and incendiary devices – Source: The Province

The latest balloon was located in 2014 by a forest service crew working in the Monashee Mountains approximately 280 miles northeast of Vancouver, British Columbia. Henry Proce of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Lumby told World News that the crew, working in a remote area of the forest, noticed two large aluminum rings and the rusted fins of the bomb sticking out of the ground. The bomb was identified by a military bomb disposal unit and later destroyed without incident.

Japanese Balloon Bomb
Balloon bomb aluminum ring found in the Monashee Mountains, B.C. – Source: Toronto Star
Japanese Balloon Bomb
Tail fins from the 31lb anti-personnel bomb visible in the ground of the Monashee Mountains, B.C. – Source: mywarhistory.com


Balloon Bombs in Washington and Oregon

The only enemy-inflicted casualties on the US mainland of World War II were the result of a balloon bomb attack. On May 5, 1945, Elsie Mitchell, the wife of a local pastor, was killed along with five children when they examined a large paper balloon in the woods near Bly, Oregon. In Washington, a balloon bomb nearly had the strategic effect the Japanese where hoping for when one blew up dangerously close to the Hanford facility where the U.S. was making plutonium for nuclear bombs. The balloon struck power lines north of the facility and knocked out power temporarily – it was the only wartime industrial facility shut down due to enemy action.

Japanese Balloon Bomb
Inert aluminum ring on display in Oregon – Source: The Oregon Encyclopedia


What to Do if You Suspect a Balloon Bomb

The most durable parts of the balloon bombs are the aluminum rings and the actual anti-personnel bomb. The rings themselves do not look dangerous, but don’t touch them because they are lined with blasting caps, according to Canadian bomb disposal experts.

If you find a balloon bomb on your next hike:

1. Do not disturb the site
2. Mark the area so that you can find it again
3. Notify the appropriate authorities immediately
4. Warn others to stay out of the area

See the balloon bomb in action in this World War II National Achieves Video

Watch Canadian bomb disposal experts destroy latest balloon bomb:

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