Friday, 11 February 2011

Balloon Warfare

In world war II, all the main participants converted every resource possible into their war machine. One of the more bizarre tactics was attack balloons, and no; not hot air balloons with gunners in them or something. Actual explosive balloons.

British barrage balloons
The British were the first to attempt this, calling it 'Operation Outward'. Weather balloons were already commonplace, and even before the war, the British conducted experiments regarding what would happen if balloons with metal parts collided with enemy power lines. In 1940, several British barrage balloons (which were also already common) were lost in a storm. They flew East into Scandinavia, causing a minor panic in Finland where the origin and nature of the balloons was unknown and therefore suspect. This sparked interest in balloon weaponry in the UK.

On the 20th of March 1942, the British let loose their balloons, equipped with small bombs, intended to be more of an irritation than an actual threat, at £73 each in today's money, it was deemed worth it. Intercepted German transmissions told British high command that the balloons had had the intended effect; the Luftwaffe were wasting their time shooting the balloons, only half of which actually had bombs on, the others were harmless.

The only actual known fatalities caused by Operation Outward was in neutral Sweden where the balloons caused a train wreck. The operation was ended in September 1944.

Diagram of the Japanese Fu-Gos
The Japanese; however, deployed a more deadly war balloon. Known by the Japanese as 'Fu-Go', large balloons were made in Japan's schools by school children who unaware what they were making, then equipped with firebombs and sent across the Pacific against Canada, America and Mexico. The idea was to ignite forest fires as the balloons were impossible to guide against any small target. The Japanese balloons were much more sophisticated then the British ones; the Fu-Gos had sandbags on them, which were periodically released when an electronic sensor detected that the balloon was flying too low.

The balloons; despite their sophistication failed to ignite any forest fires. They did however kill 6 Americans; making them more successful than their British counterparts. One balloon also hit The Manhattan Project, knocking out a generator, the backup generation came on before any real damage was done however. The Japanese claimed mass casualties and widespread panic as part of their propaganda war despite the somewhat limited success.

In Canada, balloons were found as far inland as Winnipeg. These balloons caused no damage, in fact quite the opposite; the Canadians took the balloons apart and used the materials for their own causes.

The Japanese balloon launches ceased in May 1945.

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