fu-go balloon bomb
Thermopolis, Wyoming…a favorite destination for my husband and me. We take a trip there every year for our anniversary. I suppose that for many people, Thermopolis would seem too quiet, too small, and too little to do, but for us it is just perfect. With its hot springs and river walk trail, it is just perfect for us, and the hot spring ponds filled with goldfish of a size you simply cannot imagine until you see them. I’ve been told that they came from people getting rid of the small goldfish, and the warm water, along with the pond size, allowed the smaller goldfish to grow quite large. Thermopolis also had a dinosaur museum, although we have never been there. We go to the area for the hot tub and the trail for sure.
While Thermopolis might seem like the safest little out of the way place, there was a time when it was actually a target for an attack. During World War II, the Japanese set their sights on Wyoming. It makes little sense to me, but it was the target they chose. During World War II, the Japanese were experimenting with a new kind of bomb. It really wasn’t the greatest idea, but they did send some of them out. The problem with balloons is that it’s difficult to control where it is going…especially when it is unmanned. It’s hard to say what the exact target was, but on December 5, 1944, coal miners outside of Thermopolis heard something from the skies above and saw an explosion streak across the dark sky. When the object landed, it was discovered to be a Japanese Fu-Go Balloon Bomb. Though the Japanese launched 9,300 of these bombs, only about 300 made it to land, and the Thermopolis bomb was the first one to reach the United States.
I find it hard to believe that the first Fu-Go Balloon Bomb made it all the way to Wyoming before exploding, when the only Fu-Go Balloon Bomb to actually kill anyone was one that landed near Bly, Oregon on May 5, 1945, that killed a pregnant woman and five children after they approached the unexploded balloon that had landed nearby. The balloon exploded as they investigated it. After that, the public was warned to stay away from the objects, but the news stories were still scarce. In fact, the Japanese only ever learned of the landing in Wyoming!! I have no idea how the media held themselves back.
Landing so many balloons in America was an impressive feat because the inter-continental attack was considered impossible at the time. Whatever the Japanese had hoped to gain by this relatively ineffective “bomb” is unknown, but it was a real failure. My guess is that most of them exploded over the ocean, doing no damage. Nevertheless, these massive balloons were a bit of a marvel…so to speak. They had to carry more than 1,000 pounds across the ocean, which was no easy task, especially for technology at the time. The fact that any of them made it here was impressive, I suppose. They were impressive balloons from a technologic standpoint. They were controlled by altimeters that kept the balloon in the newly discovered jet stream until it was over America, where it would fall to the ground and detonate…or so was the plan. The goal of the mission was to cause panic and fear in the United States, but a media blackout meant that these landings and explosions went unreported. A blackout was the only way.
These attacks were actually quite amazing, because they were the longest ranged assaults in the history of warfare. It wasn’t until 1982 (during the Falkland Islands War) that the distance was topped. Today, the story of the Fu-Go Balloon Bombing is rarely told in Wyoming outside of Thermopolis, where it has supposedly become local folklore. Strange that I have never heard of it, even with the many years we have been spending our anniversary there. I will most definitely have to ask about it the next time we go.