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