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The Fire Fly Project

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Censorship of news on the Japanese attempts to "blitz" the United States and Canada by incendiary and anti-personnel balloon bombs was highly successful. It was so much so, that even yet many foresters and most of the general public have only a vague knowledge of the incidents. Comments have been heard to the effect that the talk about incendiary balloons was mostly imagination or propaganda. As it turned out, this phase of the Japanese war effort was quite futile, as were many others. But it had elements that could not be discounted. The increasing ingenuity displayed by the balloons and their cargoes made the desire and intent and the potential threat clear. Full preparation for dealing with these intended "invasions by proxy" was regarded as essential by military authorities. The characteristics of upper wind movements in the Northern Pacific and Japanese unfamiliarity with conditions in the United States proved to be powerful allies. The heaviest concentration arrived too early in the season to start forest fires. Several fires of unknown origin did occur later on that might have been caused by balloons that had been grounded or that happened to float longer than normal because of defective operation. The army was of the belief that no new balloons came over after April. American bombing of the launching base near Tokyo is said too to have contributed much to Japanese discouragement in this ambitious project. Since V-J day, Japanese scientists have been interviewed by intelligence officers of General MacArthur's staff to gain further details of the Japanese plan. These scientists were evasive in their replies. But it was evident that their meteorologists already knew that delivery of the incendiary balloons by wind currents in the United States and Canada was dependable only during the winter months. They constructed the balloons to remain aloft 80 hours and expected them to reach our west coast in 60 hours. They estimated that 10,000 of these balloons were launched during the winter months of 1944 and 1945. Japanese military authorities had ordered more work on balloons shortly after the Doolittle raid in April, 1942, and had regarded the balloons as particularly valuable to Japanese morale. The author describes the unusual organization and activities of the "Fire Fly" project. This organization proved to be extremely effective in keeping to a minimum, losses caused by Japanese incendiary balloons. But by far greater importance was its effectiveness in meeting the far greater threat of the regular fire season at a time of critical manpower shortages.
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Document Type: Journal Article

Affiliations: U. S. Forest Service, Sonora, Calif.; liaison officer, Fourth Air Force Headquarters, Junior member, S.A.F.

Publication date: 01 August 1946

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