WWII Bombs Full Of Bats: Stranger Than Fiction

On September 24, 2014 by Tim Newman

Batman with a bomb

The idea of making a bomb that utilises bats might sound like a pretty mental idea, but actually when you think about it, it’s a pretty nifty idea. Initially the brainchild of a dentist from Pennsylvania, the bat bomb very nearly saw action.

This bat bomb was dreamed up during the uncertain times of WWII and was constructed like so: the exterior shell housed 40 smaller compartments, and within each compartment was a bat with an incendiary device attached to it. The plan was for a US bomber to fly over Japan at dawn and release the bomb with a parachute atop of it.

USA WWII Bat_Bomb_Canister

During the gentle descent the bomb’s casing would open up and the miniature bat missiles would fly off to find places to roost in attics and eaves. The bat’s explosive devices would later be detonated, devastating the Japanese buildings which were made predominantly of bamboo and paper. Small fires would light up Tokyo and destroy buildings before the bats were glimpsed in the nooks and crannies of their homes.

The bat bomb was first envisioned by a Pennsylvanian dentist named Lytle S. Adams, a friend of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. He knew that much of Japan’s infrastructure was flammable and that if the bats were released from high enough they could cover a huge area. Adams submitted the idea to Roosevelt in 1942 and he approved it.

USA WWII Bat_Bomb - incendary

By 1943 the Americans had decided on the species of bat which would be best suited to the mission: the Mexican free-tailed bat. This species dwells in caves in their millions, they can easily carry more than their own weight in flight and whilst hibernating need very little maintenance. They were the ideal specimen for a practical bat bomb.

The idea was taken up by Louis Fieser who has the dubious accolade of being the inventor of napalm. Fieser designed tiny incendiary devices that would be suitable in size to adorn a bat.

The plan was to send over ten B-24 bombers chocked full with more than a million bats inside thousands of devices; drop the little blighters at 5,000 feet, sit back and watch Japan burn.

USA WWII Bat_Bomb - Carlsbad disaster

The bat bombs were initially tested out at Carlsbad Army Airfield Auxiliary Air Base in New Mexico. If anything, the tests went a little too well and the bats incinerated the test range when they roosted under a fuel tank (above). The Navy then took the project up under the code name Project X-Ray before passing it on to the Marines.

The Marines tested the bat bombs on a mock-up of a Japanese village in Utah (below) which was designed for testing chemical weapons.

USA WWII Japanese Village Mock Up

The Marine’s tests also seemed to go pretty well, the chief of incendiary testing wrote:

A reasonable number of destructive fires can be started in spite of the extremely small size of the units. The main advantage of the units would seem to be their placement within the enemy structures without the knowledge of the householder or fire watchers, thus allowing the fire to establish itself before being discovered.

The National Defense Research Committee observer was also pretty pleased:

It was concluded that X-Ray is an effective weapon.

The Chief Chemist’s report stated that on a weight basis X-Ray was more effective than the standard incendiary bombs in use at the time:

Expressed in another way, the regular bombs would give probably 167 to 400 fires per bomb load where X-Ray would give 3,625 to 4,748 fires.

These incredible and cruel bat bombs never actually got to see active battle. Despite having almost $2 million spent on them they were shelved because they were taking too long to come to fruition. More resources were thrown at the atom bomb which, as we have all seen, was terrifyingly effective. Nagasaki and Hiroshima were possibly the most disgusting way of forcing a military submission of all time; and, by many accounts from military men who were active at the time, unnecessary.

A Military Bat House

A Military Bat House

The bat bombs would have been much quirkier and with far fewer liquidised humans. Dr Adams, our genius dentist, puts it thus:

Think of thousands of fires breaking out simultaneously over a circle of forty miles in diameter for every bomb dropped. Japan could have been devastated, yet with small loss of life.

So, yes, America did make and test bat bombs, but unfortunately for Japan they never saw any action.




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