In early October two Canadian forestry workers found a bomb-like object in a remote area over 400 kilometers east of Vancouver. A military bomb disposal team was called in and after a little research determined that this was the 70 year old remains of a Japanese “balloon bomb” from World War II. That meant there were still explosives inside the metal container and a detonator that did not work 70 years ago but might do so if an effort to move the bomb was made. So explosives were placed around the half buried balloon bomb and it was blown up. While there’s still a lot of World War II bombs and shells being uncovered each year, it is very rare for any to be found in North America. And therein lies a strange tale.
This bomb was part of a bizarre and desperate scheme to give the Americans and Canadians a taste of the bombings they were inflicting on Japan and Germany. In November 1944 the Japanese Army's "Special Balloon Regiment" began releasing the first of over 9,000 hydrogen filled balloons. These were expected to float with the prevailing westerly winds all the way from Japan to the west coast of North America. Each carried an 18 kg (40 pound) bomb that would explode on landing, injuring anyone in the vicinity or starting a fire. It was believed that these bombs would cause forest fires in the heavily wooded northeast coast of the United States and across the border in British Colombia. At least 300 (and perhaps as many as a thousand) of the balloons actually did reach North America, but only three are known to have caused any damage. This amounted to six dead civilians and two brush fires. The Japanese apparently missed the fact that most of this area was thinly populated and also a rare “temperate rain forest.” The region is very damp most of the time and not conducive to wild fires.
This was not the only desperate Japanese attempt to retaliate for the increasingly intense American bombing of Japan. The first such attempt was in late 1942 when a Japanese submarine modified to carry a single engine reconnaissance plane (E14Y1 "Glenn"), launched its aircraft off the coast of Oregon. Four 76 kg (167 pound) incendiary bombs were dropped in forests, but no major fire was started. Earlier in 1942, Japan put the first of its four engine float planes, the H8K, into service. The H8K was a very large aircraft (39 meter/124 foot wing span, 29 meters/92 feet long). Its defensive armament consisted of four 7.7mm and six 20mm machineguns. It had a range of 7,000 kilometers. It could carry over four tons of bombs and had a top speed of 462 kilometers an hour. The Japanese did a little math and concluded that half a dozen H8Ks could fly to the California coast, land on the water, be refueled by submarines, bomb Los Angeles and then fly back to Japanese held territory. This plan was approved before the Battle of Midway in June 1942, and scaled back after the battle (which Japan lost, big time). Only three H8Ks were sent out to bomb Hawaii. Bad weather forced the H8Ks to drop their bombs blindly. Undiscouraged, the Japanese planned to take thirty H8Ks, refuel them from submarines off Baja California and then fly cross country to bomb the Texas oil fields. Then, in cooperation with German U-boats (some of which would be tankers), the H8Ks would range up and down the east coast of the US, making air raids on major cities, mainly for terror and propaganda value. The Germans were eager to cooperate and prepared the tanker subs needed. The deteriorating Japanese military and economic situation caused this plan to be shelved. All the Japanese could afford at that point were hydrogen filled balloons, many of them made by Japanese school children to “aid the war effort.”