Tag Archives: Japanese balloon bombs

Japanese incendiary bomb sightings in western Montana

News reports this week indicate thatAl Qaeda is now urging its followers to set the forests of western Montana on fire with incendiary bombs, so I thought I would post some information on the last terrorists who tried this tactic. Below is the list I compiled on the Japanese incendiary balloons that landed or were sighted in Montana during World War II. The tactic wasn’t successful for the Japanese, and I don’t expect that Bin Laden’s acolytes will have any more luck, and they just might encounter a rather unpleasant welcome from the residents of western Montana if they try it. Fortunately, their leader is at the bottom of the Indian Ocean and the organization is in shambles. Below is the list of Japanese balloon bombs known to have landed in Montana. More information on the balloon bombs can be found here. You can read the full story of Montana’s Home Front During World War II here.

• Nov. 4, 1944 – A balloon bomb was recovered at sea 175 miles off of Los Angeles.
• Dec. 6, 1944 – A loud explosion was heard in Thermopolis, Wyoming and Japanese bomb fragments were recovered.
• Dec. 11, 1944 – Kalispell. A cream-colored Japanese balloon with blue stripes was found at Truman Creek. Two Japanese men living in Kalispell and Whitefish translated the writing and learned that it was manufactured on Oct. 31, 1944.
• Jan. 16, 1945 – Lame Deer. Balloon recovered.
• Feb. 2, 1945 – Lodge Grass. Balloon recovered.
• Feb. 12, 1945 – Eden. Balloon recovered.
• Feb. 12, 1945 – Red Lodge. Balloon recovered.
• Feb. 12, 1945 – Big Fork. Balloon seen drifting east.
• Feb. 12, 1945 – Riverdale. Three bombs fell southwest of Great Falls and started small grass fires.
• Feb 22, 1945 – Hays. A balloon with three incendiaries and a barometer was found.
• Feb. 25, 1945 – Hardin. Witnesses saw an explosion and smelled explosives. They found a 10-inch long bomb fin sticking out of the ice.
• March 2, 1945 – Boyd. A balloon was recovered, along with a battery, a sandbag, four arming wires, and one bomb.
• March 10, 1945 – Benchland. A balloon made of blue paper was spotted in flight and was recovered mostly intact.
• March 10, 1945 – Whitehall. Balloon with one sandbag and one incendiary found.
• March 13, 1945 – Butte. Balloon found by a farmer.
• March 13, 1945 – Benchland. Balloon recovered.
• March 13, 1945 – Malta. Balloon recovered.
• March 15, 1945 – Stanford. Balloon recovered.
• March 15, 1945 – Legg. Balloon recovered.
• March 18, 1945 – Silesia. Balloon recovered.
• March 19, 1945 – Hammond. Balloon recovered.
• March 20, 1945 – Eden. Balloon recovered.
• March 21, 1945 – Glenn. A 4.5 kg incendiary bomb exploded and started a small fire.
• March 22, 1945 – Sula. An incendiary bomb started a small fire.
• April 4, 1945 – Bozeman. A balloon was recovered at the Montana State College sheep experiment station.
• April 10, 1945 – Turner. Balloon recovered.
• May 3, 1945 – Philipsburg. Balloon with eight sandbags recovered. Five still contained sand.
• May 12, 1945 – Stockett. Balloon recovered.
• May 13, 1945 – Maiden Rock. Balloon recovered.
• May 16, 1945 – Kalispell. Balloon recovered.
• June 1, 1945 – Billings. Balloon recovered south of town. It was believed to have landed two months before.
• July 11, 1945 – Deer Lodge. Balloon recovered.
• July 11, 1945 – Dillon. Balloon recovered.
• July 27, 1945 – Butte. Balloon recovered. It had probably
landed six months earlier.
Balloon bombs were also reported near Cascade, Flathead Lake, Bernice, Hammond, Divide, Harlowton, Coram, Laurel, Nyack, Loring, Dodson, Pryor, Boulder, Monida, Babb,
and Broadus, where an explosion was heard. The Japanese balloon bombs were made of
layers of mulberry paper or rice paper, treated with paraffin.

Read more about Japanese Fugo Balloon Bombs


Just released! Montana’s Home Front During World War II, 2nd Ed.

Montana's Home Front During World War IIGet Your Copy of

Montana’s Home Front During World War II, 2nd Edition

  Look for it in a bookstore near you!

Published by Big Elk Books 2012
ebook versions available at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble

This compelling account of Montana’s contribution to the war effort covers personal stories, local politics, industry, agriculture, education, sports, and social life during the upheaval of a world-wide conflict. Montana’s Home Front During World War II is the tale of ordinary citizens who came together to support their sons and daughters overseas, and the tens of thousands of residents who left the Treasure State to serve their country in the military and defense plants. Those who remained planted Victory Gardens, purchased record amounts of war bonds, and endured the hardships brought about by war-time shortages and rationing. This highly-readable account is the most comprehensive look at Montana during the early 1940s, and the tremendous sacrifices made by ordinary people to support their country in time of war. Originally published in 1994, this revised edition of the classic Montana’s Home Front During World War IIincludes many rare and previously unpublished photographs.


  • The training of the First Special Service Force “Devil’s Brigade” at Fort Harrison.

  • The construction of Malmstrom Air Force Base and the Great Falls based Lend-Lease operation to aid the Soviet Union.

  • The experience of hundreds of Italian and Japanese civilians who languished behind barbed wire at the Fort Missoula Detention Center.

  • The hellish fighting encountered in the jungles of New Guinea and the Philippines by the 163rd Infantry Regiment (Montana National Guard).

  • The terrors of night combat as the crew of the USS Helena battled Japanese ships in the treacherous waters near Guadalcanal.

Look inside the book.

Was Senator B.K. Wheeler duped into revealing America’s top-secret war plan, the Victory Program, just days before Pearl Harbor? Did the Soviets run a nationwide spy ring from an Air Force Base in Montana? The answers to these and many other questions are answered in Montana’s Home Front During World War II 2nd ed. Gary Glynn examines in detail the impact of the Second World War on Montana politics, industry, agriculture, education, sports, and crime.

Train with the Canadian-American commandos of the First Special Service Force “the Devil’s Brigade” as they become a superb fighting unit at Fort Harrison. Languish behind barbed wire at the Fort Missoula Detention Center with hundreds of Italian and Japanese civilians. Pick sugar beets alongside German prisoners of war and American college students from Sidney to Stevensville.

Fight alongside the men of the 163rd Infantry Regiment (Montana National Guard) in the hellish jungles of New Guinea and the Philippines, at Sanananda, Aitape, Wakde, Jolo and Zamboanga. Experience the terrors of night combat as the crew of the USS Helena battle Japanese ships near Cape Esperance and Guadalcanal. Cheer as the 5th Marines raise the USS Missoula’s flag over Iwo Jima.

Far from the famous World War II battlefields of European theater and the Pacific, many ordinary Montanans made tremendous sacrifices to support the war effort. Tens of thousands of residents left the Treasure State to serve their country or work in defense plants. Those who remained purchased record numbers of war bonds, planted Victory Gardens, and endured the hardships brought about by war-time shortages and rationing. Available in print and ebook formats.


Fire From The Sky: Japanese Balloon Bombs

This article originally appeared in 2001 as part of the Missoulian Newspaper’s “Greatest Generation” Series
Montana's Home Front During World War II
Montana’s Home Front During World War II

Incendiary Japanese balloon bombs never caused their intended devastation to western state’s forests

One of the secret weapons of World War II first came to light after two men stumbled across a strange object in the woods of western Montana. On Dec. 11, 1944, two loggers were cutting timber at Truman Creek, southwest of Kalispell, when they found the wreckage of a huge, cream-colored paper balloon, painted with a green rising sun and Japanese characters.

An alert newspaperman in Libby heard of their discovery and printed the news. Within days, Time and Newsweek picked up on the story of this latest Japanese invasion threat, and the secret was out.

The FBI arrived to investigate the balloon found near Kalispell, and admitted that similar balloons had recently been found in California, Hawaii, and Wyoming. The balloons, which carried small incendiary bombs, were designed to start devastating forest fires throughout the West. They represented a desperate attempt by Japan to damage the U.S. economy, and divert military personnel from the battle front into firefighting. In order to keep the Japanese from learning the success or failure of their secret campaign, a news blackout was quickly imposed. Most Americans remained unaware of the extent of the Japanese balloon bomb campaign until the end of the war.

Japanese balloon bomb
U.S. authorities reinflated this Japanese balloon to test its capabilities.

The first “Fugo” balloons were launched from the Japanese mainland in November 1944. The balloons were constructed of rice paper coated with paraffin, or tightly laminated mulberry tissue paper, glued together with potato paste. Many of the balloons were made by Japanese schoolgirls. When fully inflated, the balloons were more than 30 feet in diameter, 70 feet high, and had a capacity of 18,000cubic feet of hydrogen. They were capable of carrying 800 pounds of cargo, which normally consisted of 31 small sandbags (for ballast)plus four small incendiary bombs and one larger high-explosive bomb. Ballast and bombs hung from an aluminum wheel below the balloon. In the case of the Kalispell balloon, the bombs had already been dropped when it was found.

The Japanese depended on what was then a little-known meteorological phenomenon known as the jet stream to carry the balloons eastward over the Pacific. The balloons were designed to fly at 30,000 feet, and were equipped with a barometer and a simple mechanical device to drop the ballast and bombs. Every time the balloon dipped a few thousand feet, a sandbag was released, and the balloon again ascended. When all of the sandbags were expended, the balloons began to drop their bombs.

The mechanism of a recovered Japanese balloon.

Although more than 9,000 balloons were launched, less than 400 are known to have reached the West Coast. Carried by the high-altitude jet stream, the balloons were found from Alaska and Western Canada to as far south as Mexico, and as far east as Michigan. Although the balloons were very ineffective in starting forest fires (perhaps because the vast majority were launched in the winter or early spring) they were not harmless. On May 5, 1945, a pregnant woman and five children were killed by a balloon bomb while they were on a church picnic near Bly, Ore. Other than this incident, the balloons caused only a few small fires and a minor power outage at the Hanford facility in Washington State, where ironically, plutonium for the first atomic bomb was being prepared.

At least 35 balloons are known to have landed in Montana without inflicting any damage. Many of the bombs had unreliable triggers, and were duds. In western Montana, balloon bombs were discovered near Flathead Lake, Deer Lodge, Divide, Coram, Nyack, Sula, Glen, Dillon, Philipsburg, Boulder, Monida, and Babb. (A complete list can be found here.) Military aircraft from the Aleutians to Southern California pursued the balloons, and one enterprising Montana sheriff downed one with a shot from his hunting rifle.

After the war the New York Times declared that “First prize for worthless war weapons goes to Japan, for her ‘unique origination’ of bomb-carrying balloons to spread fire and terror across North America.” Nevertheless, the balloons caused the only American casualties by enemy attack in the continental United States during the war, and may still be a threat today: A Japanese meteorologist has estimated that as many as 300 balloon bombs may still be scattered throughout remote areas of the West.

A more complete account of this story can be found in Montana’s Home Front During World War II.

Montana's Home Front During World War II
Montana’s Home Front During WW II