day of the 1945 deer season found Medford hunters Joe
Rinard, J.S.McDonald and J.W.Teague traversing Coleman
Rim in southwestern Lake County when sunlight reflecting
from below the eastern ledge drew their attention. Upon
investigation, they found a partially burned metal canister
fused to the rock. Most of the device was intact so they
pried the object loose and later, after completing their
hunt, returned to Medford with it. There, Army personnel
confirmed it was an incendiary bomb dropped from a World
War II Japanese Fu-go balloon earlier that year.
revenge for Jimmy Doolittle's 1942 "30 Seconds Over
Tokyo" bombing raids, the Japanese wanted to bring
the war to the U.S. Options for direct attack were limited
so they devised an ingenious plan involving un-manned
bomb-carrying balloons utilizing the jet stream to cross
the Pacific. The goal of the Fu-go (translates: "wind
ship weapon") program was to cause destruction, terror
and panic in America by starting forest fires and by bombing
populated areas. An ambitious effort produced and launched
about 9,500 balloons between November 1944 and May 1945.
Fu-go measured 70' in height and could carry 400 pounds.
The balloon's envelope or gasbag, crafted from glued 4-ply
paper panels, was 10 meters in diameter with capacity
of 19,000 cubic feet of hydrogen gas. Wooden boxes holding
three barometers, switching devices, a block of solid
explosive and an electric battery hung 40' below the envelope.
Underneath the boxes were two concentric aluminum rings
similar to stout bicycle tire rims. Suspended from the
rings were Thirty-six 5-pound sandbags, four 11-pound
incendiary bombs, and a single 33-pound anti-personnel
near Tokyo, the balloons climbed rapidly and, with luck,
entered the jet stream, which flowed east at 125+ mph.
At 32,500' altitude a barometric mechanism vented a measured
amount of hydrogen gas. Becoming relatively heavy, the
balloon slowly sank to 23,000' where another barometer
triggered a blow plug (type of blasting cap) on the aluminum
ring, dropping a sandbag. Now relatively buoyant, the
balloon slowly rose. This cycle repeated with the balloon
rising and falling until all 36 sandbags had been expended,
all the while headed east at high speed. The designers
hoped the craft would have crossed the Pacific by then
so the final five releases were the bombs. The balloon
then explosively self-destructed. The intended result
four mysterious fires and one bomb blast per balloon with
no remaining evidence.
Of the 9,500 balloons released, most probably fell harmlessly
into the ocean. However, many did make it to American
shores, dropped their bombs, then self-destructed as programmed.
Others malfunctioned, lost buoyancy, landed and were recovered;
some with bombs still aboard. While balloons were found
scattered from Alaska to northern Mexico and as far east
as Michigan, most balloon incidents occurred in Pacific
Northwest states and British Columbia.
All balloons arrived during the November-to-May period
when forests were too wet to bum. And, because of military
censorship and cooperation by civilian news outlets, coverage
of balloon incidents was suppressed. Had the balloons
been deployed in summer when forests are flammable, and
had the Japanese learned significant numbers were actually
reaching America, history might have unfolded differently.
However, lack of apparent results combined with hydrogen
production disruptions caused by American B-29 raids led
to Fu-go program cancellation in May 1945.
Wartime Fu-go incidents in Oregon:
Balloons with bombs recovered: near Bly (see below),
Echo, Bald Mountain (Lake County), Malheur Lake, and
Balloons/remnants/parts without bombs recovered: near
Estacada, North Bend, Bums, Eugene, Rome, Harper,
Lake of the Woods, Ontario, Wolf Creek, Yamhill, Coquille,
Murphy, Tyee, Huntington, Enterprise, Summer Lake,
Mahogany Mountain, Jordan Valley, Deer Island, Bandon,
Adrian, Grants Pass, and Beatty.
Balloon Bomb Blasts: in Medford (January 4, 1945 vacant
lot on South Peach Street), near The Dalles, Nyssa,
Enterprise, and on Mt Pitt (McLaughlin).
only balloon bomb casualties occurred east of Bly on Gearhart
Mountain on May 5, 1945. A pastor's wife and five children
in her Sunday school class were killed when they found
an intact Fu-Go near Brownsworth Creek. The anti-personnel
bomb exploded as they dragged it from the woods.
the end of the war, Fu-go remnants have been found in
Oregon nine times. First was the incendiary bomb recovered
from Coleman Rim by the Medford deer hunters in October
1945; a few weeks later balloon bag pieces were found
near Klamath Falls. In 1946, loggers felled a tree at
Merlin containing a balloon's explosive ballast rings.
Loggers found ballast rings east of Tillamook in 1955.
In 1956, fishermen found ballast rings with explosive
charges 3.5 miles south of Pelican Butte (now on display
in Klamath County Museum). In 1966, Frank Corder found
a balloon's ballast rings and explosive charges on Neah-Kah-Nie
Mountain near Seaside. in 1968, fishermen found balloon
parts on the Columbia River bank 2 miles west of Clatskanie.
In 1978, logger Jerry McDonald found ballast rings, fuses,
and two barometers on the ground near the South Fork of
Elk River (now on display in Coos County Museum). The
latest incident was reported in 1992 from Applegate Reservoir
where Robed Wolf found pieces of a Japanese bomb on the
growth timber, second growth stands dating prior to 1945,
and other undisturbed areas are places where balloon bombs
might yet be found. After 57 years of weathering, the
aluminum rings with their identifying array of evenly
spaced 112' holes would probably be the most recognizable
parts. If rings are found, bombs may be lying nearby.
Should you locate balloon pads, balloon bombs, or other
suspicious objects, call the Sheriff or State Police to
report your find. Let the experts deal with it
Statistically, it is quite likely that additional Fu-gos
lie undiscovered in the wilds of Oregon. But, also statistically,
the chances of an individual hunter encountering a Japanese
balloon bomb are extremely low approximating the odds
of winning the Megabucks lottery on a $2 bet. However,
long odds or not, somebody bits the jackpot nearly every
Be careful, and Good Hunting!