Historian's Corner
39th Logo
4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Advanced Search - [Search Tip: Use " " for better search results ex. "John Q. Doe"; "City of ..."]

Fu-go: War Surplus Hazzard For Hunters
by John L. Perry

Opening 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.

As 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.

Each 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 bomb.

Launched 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.

1944-1945 Wartime Fu-go incidents in Oregon:

  • 5 Balloons with bombs recovered: near Bly (see below), Echo, Bald Mountain (Lake County), Malheur Lake, and Hyatt Lake.
  • 23 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.
  • 5 Balloon Bomb Blasts: in Medford (January 4, 1945 vacant lot on South Peach Street), near The Dalles, Nyssa, Enterprise, and on Mt Pitt (McLaughlin).

The 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.

Since 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 lakeshore.

Old 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 week!

Be careful, and Good Hunting!

The above article was sent to Dr. Vic Durrance, Association Historian for our site.
John Perry can be emailed at:
This page was created on 20 December 2002
Copyright ©  2000 - 2006 - 39th Bomb Group (VH) Association