The Bat Bomb from WW2 - Death from above - History Key

The Bat Bomb from WW2 – Death from above

We’ve all heard about all kind or weapons or machineries involved in war, both during WW1 and WW2. A special chapter of tactics and weapons in war, is unfortunately reserved to animals. Horses or mules were mostly used to travel or carry weights, but there were also other animals carrying the war. We know about the explosive rats or “rat bombs” developed during WW2 by the British Special Operations Executive.

The rat carcasses were filled with plastic explosives and deployed near German boiler rooms, with the hope that they will be burned there, producing the explosion and sabotage.

Scheme for an explosive rat
Scheme for an explosive rat © Image Source: Military History.org

Also during WW2 the Soviet army trained dogs in order to deploy an explosive charge under enemy tanks or other armored vehicles. The dog wore a special explosive harness, which will detonate when the dog will get under the tank; no need to say that it was a deadly mission for the dog, which was anyway considered effective for sacrifice.

Soviet ''Bomb Dog’’ approaches a tank
Soviet ”Bomb Dog’’ approaches a tank © Image Source: todayifoundout.com

Our story forms around another kind of crazy invention related to war animals. Most of our lives, we associated bats to the “Dracula’s myth” or to all kind of other situations, most of them inaccurate or exaggerated (just one note: bats attack very rarely). At some point, bats were “redesigned” in order to spread fear, death and destruction, something totally opposed to their nature.

But what exactly happened?

During WW2 the US army developed a new weapon: a bomb that can be considered at least strange. The plan was to build a bomb (which in fact was a container shaped in the form of a bomb) having more than a thousand compartments housing hibernating Mexican Free-Tailed Bats. A bomber dropped the bat-bomb at night or dawn over enemy positions. The bats had attached to them a small incendiary bomb, which triggered after a while, after the bats could find a place to hide (usually inaccessible locations).

Bat with attached napalm charge
Bat with attached napalm charge © Image Source: Napalmbiography.com

An interesting fact, is that the idea for the “bat-bombs” was developed by a dentist, Mr. Lytle S. Adams, who was very good friend with Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady and President Roosevelt’s wife. The project was presented to the White House in January 1942, being subsequently approved by President Roosevelt. The idea formed around the fact that many Japanese structures were made of very inflammable materials, as paper or bamboo. Several details were taken into account for the project:

  • The bats are able to carry more than their own weight while flying (this makes possible for them to carry the incendiary device);
  • Large numbers of bats were needed (several caves in New Mexico were occupied by millions of bats;
  • Bats hibernate so they don’t require food or special treatments;
  • They fly during the night, only in darkness, the rest of the time is spent at cover, usually in buildings or places hard to reach (perfect context for the incendiary plan);

Tests were conducted at the Naval Air Station, Moffett Field, and Sunnyvale, CA. In March 1943, Louis Fieser was directly involved in the plan, designing special 0.6 ounce (17g) and one ounce (28g) napalm charges. Fieser was the inventor of military napalm.

Bat Bomb Canister
Bat Bomb Canister © Jack Couffer, University of Texas Press /Image Source: Wikipedia

On May 15, 1943, one of the bat experiments went wrong. When several armed bats were accidentally released, the Carlsbad Army Airfield in New Mexico was incinerated. A good way to find out if your plan will be successful.

 Carlsbad Auxiliary Air Base- Airfield on fire
Carlsbad Auxiliary Air Base- Airfield on fire © Jack Couffer, University of Texas Press /Image Source: Wikipedia

During August 1943, the project renamed “Project X-Ray”, becomed a project attached to the Navy. After other experiments and tests, the “X-Ray Project” was deployed on a realistic situation, the “Japanese Village” from Utah. The village was the mockup of a Japanese city, built by the Chemical Warfare Service at their base Dugway Proving Grounds, Utah. After the “Japanese Village” tests, which was considered the ultimate operational test, the chief of incendiary testing at Dugway concluded:

“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.” (Quote from Alexis C. Madrigal – Old, Weird Tech: The Bat Bombs of World War II)

The National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) also stated:

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.” (Quote from Wikipedia)

Despite all the positive results, the project was aborted during the summer of 1944. The Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, stopped the program when he found that it would be ready to deploy in combat only after mid-1945. The project was good ( $2 million were invested in it), but it was moving slowly, too slowly for the war’s needs. A quicker solution was considered and developed. Something capable of immediate results and devastating power: the atomic bomb.

Doctor Adams, who was the initiator of the bat-bomb idea, stated:

“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.” (Quote from ”The Bat Bombers’’, C.V. Glines, Air Force Magazine)

Now we all know that the incendiary bats weren’t deployed over Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
(Article written with references from: Wikipedia)

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