Hor­ror of the killer bal­loon

Daily Mail - - News -

QUES­TION Was an Amer­i­can fam­ily killed by a Ja­panese bal­loon bomb that crossed the Pa­cific?

THIS in­ci­dent hap­pened on May 5, 1945, in south­ern Ore­gon. The vic­tims were Mrs El­yse Mitchell, a preg­nant sun­day school teacher, and five stu­dents, Jay Gif­ford, Ed­ward En­gen, sher­man shoe­maker and Dick and Joan Patzke, all aged 13 to 14.

The Rev Archie Mitchell was driv­ing his wife El­yse and the stu­dents to a pic­nic along a moun­tain road. El­yse be­came car sick and they pulled in.

Rev Mitchell chat­ted to a road crew while his wife and the stu­dents wan­dered from the car. When they were about 100 yards away, his wife called out: ‘Look what i’ve found, dear.’ Al­most im­me­di­ately there was a loud ex­plo­sion.

Rev Mitchell and the road­work­ers ran over to discover that all but Joan Patzke were dead. she died a few min­utes later. There was a small crater in the ground.

El­yse and the stu­dents hadn’t recog­nised what they had found be­cause there was a news blackout on the bal­loons. This de­nied the Ja­panese any in­tel­li­gence, but also left the pub­lic un­aware of their dan­ger.

More than 9,000 bal­loons were launched over five months when the winds were most favourable, and at least 342 ar­rived. some caused dam­age, but there were no other re­ported ca­su­al­ties. One bal­loon hit a power line and tem­po­rar­ily blacked out a nu­clear weapons plant.

The Ja­panese de­vel­oped the bal­loons as a way of at­tack­ing the U.s., which was be­yond the range of their air­craft. The bal­loons were 33ft in di­am­e­ter and could carry ei­ther a sin­gle 15kg high-ex­plo­sive bomb or a num­ber of in­cen­di­aries.

They flew at an al­ti­tude of be­tween 30,000 ft and 38,000 ft, so trav­elled in the jet stream east­ward for 6,200 miles to Amer­ica, where it was hoped they would start for­est fires and cause panic.

One of the tech­ni­cal prob­lems the Ja­panese vari­a­tions dur­ing faced the was three-day tem­per­a­ture flight. in day­time, the bal­loon reached 30c and the hy­dro­gen gas ex­panded and was vented off through a pres­sure valve to stop the bal­loon burst­ing. At night, the tem­per­a­ture fell to mi­nus 50c, the gas con­tracted, the bal­loon lost lift and de­scended.

When it fell to 30,000ft, the bal­loon au­to­mat­i­cally dropped bal­last.

The bal­loon en­velopes were made of three to four lay­ers of pa­per held to­gether with a glue made from pota­toes. The glue was ed­i­ble and the Ja­panese school­girls em­ployed to make the bal­loons would some­times eat it to al­le­vi­ate hunger pangs caused by food short­ages.

De­nis Sharp, Hail­sham, E. Sus­sex.

QUES­TION Does any­one know the name of a short film from the Six­ties where aliens ob­serve life on Earth and de­scribe ‘mo­tor-ve­hi­cle’ peo­ple, who leave their homes every morn­ing in pro­ces­sion and make loud noises as they slowly travel to work?

‘IS THERE in­tel­li­gent life in space? Last week, we dis­cov­ered that we are not alone. With this film the door to the uni­verse opens for every Mar­tian!’

so be­gins the clever short film, What On Earth! The Au­to­mo­bile in­her­its The Planet, made in 1966 by the Na­tional Film Board of Canada. De­liv­ered as a pub­lic ser­vice piece to the in­hab­i­tants of Mars, life on Earth is por­trayed as an un­end­ing line of cars, with the ex­tra-ter­res­tri­als as­sum­ing they are the dom­i­nant race. The 50-year-old com­men­tary on the reign of cars is still rel­e­vant to­day.

in the open­ing scene, a car pulls up at a petrol pump and the voiceover states: ‘here we see him at din­ner, a care­fully reg­u­lated meal, af­ter which he takes shel­ter for the night. he needs his rest.’

As for hu­mans, we are just a dis­ease: ‘it seems odd that such a highly de­vel­oped civil­i­sa­tion has not found a way to com­bat par­a­sites. These pesky lit­tle creatures build huge hives or nests [houses and flats] which of­ten slow down or pre­vent the or­derly progress of the Earth­ling.’ it can be seen on the Na­tional Film Board of Canada’s web­site, and is both a stark re­minder of the per­sis­tent pri­macy of au­to­mo­biles, and a pre­dic­tion of what that could look like in the near fu­ture. Louis Hob­son, Sheffield.

QUES­TION What is the best gen­uine excuse you’ve heard for fail­ing to hand in home­work?

FUR­THER to the ear­lier ex­am­ples, when i lived in More­cambe, Lancs, in the Fifties, a boy in my class told the teacher he was late be­cause an ele­phant had sat on his dad’s car. it seemed his fa­ther was sta­tion­ary, wait­ing for Billy smart’s cir­cus pa­rade to pass by, when one ele­phant had de­cided he needed a rest.

The teacher was scep­ti­cal but, later, re­ports about the in­ci­dent hit the pa­per.

Clive Glad­stone, Culler­coats, Tyne and Wear.

WAIT­ING for a friend at the bus sta­tion near the river in the early Fifties, i was idly swing­ing my satchel when the strap broke and the bag fell into the river!

I re­trieved it and pre­sented the wet, ink-run pages at school, only to be told to re­write all the ru­ined work.

Val Hansen, An­dover, Hants.

IS THERE a ques­tion to which you have al­ways wanted to know the an­swer? Or do you know the an­swer to a ques­tion raised here? Send your ques­tions and an­swers to: Charles Legge, An­swers To Correspondents, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, Lon­don, W8 5TT; fax them to 01952 780111 or email them to charles.legge@dai­ly­mail.co.uk. A selec­tion will be pub­lished but we are not able to en­ter into in­di­vid­ual cor­re­spon­dence.

Dan­ger: A de­flated Ja­panese bomb bal­loon in 1945. In­set: Vic­tim El­yse Mitchell with her hus­band Archie

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