During World War II, Japan floated balloons across the Pacific to drop bombs on the U.S

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The Canadian military tested a similar idea, but saved money by using parachutes, burning Sudbury to the ground. On the plus side, nobody could tell the difference.*

  • Take that, Sudbury!


The story of the Japanese Fire Bombs may be considerably more sinister than you indicate. My grandfather, who was a Major-General in Canada’s Signals Corps during the war, was specifically tasked with tracking down reports of balloon landings. He got this role in part because he had been deeply involved with aviation in the Canadian bush in the 30’s and knew many if not all of the prominent bush flyers active then. He also had logged hundreds, if not thousands of hours in RCAF flying boats, going from base to base, lake to lake, across Northern Ontario, the prairies and British Columbia.

My father - his son - had, and kept until his death, a piece of the rice-paper skin of one of these balloons that his dad had brought back as a souvenir after one of his expeditions. I am sure, based on what my grandfather told me, and my father remembered, the he attended several dozen of these during the late months of '44 and '45.

Here’s the sinister bit: my grandfather categorically stated that the real purpose of the balloons were to “spot” locations where the balloons landed, to establish a pattern correlated to launch, weather etc… The goal was to replace payloads with biological agents. These would certainly have included anthrax, bubonic plague and others. My grandfather - who I knew very well, spending summers with him in Manitoba - was very clear that this program had begun before March '45. He suggested to me and others that he had found more than one device that contained animal bait and ampoules of what he described generally as “stuff that would make the animal really sick”. The goal, it was intimated, was to start a major health crisis in the West.

Incidentally, balloons had no particular understanding of geography, and Canada was as susceptible or more so to these attacks, precisely because the pattern of the jetstream is primarily over Canada. You might drop some of the customary US-centricism when scripting these pieces if being provincial isn’t your goal.

i might also mention that my grandfather had difficulty back in '44-45 getting Americans to listen to what he and his teams were beginning to suspect as well.


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There was a great documentary on these a while back – it was under the banner of one of those “SECRET WEAPONS OF THE AXIS!!” shows on cable, but it was a terrific documentary about how clever these devices were and yes – sinister – I think five students got blown up by one in Idaho when one landed near a school.

Also, I love me some flying boats and my post-liquidity event (whenever or however that might occur) plan is to spend my days flying amphibious airplanes!

I wondered initially if the Japanese military had failed to comprehend how empty north america is, compared with Japan. They’d have been lucky if a bomb dropped at random from so far away was seen by anybody, let alone hurting them.

The only fatalities of the program were Elsie Mitchell (The wife of a pastor) and 5 Sunday school children, on a picnic in Oregon. There’s a monument and recreation area named after her.

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