Throughout the history of war people have come up with some heinous ways to inflict mass destruction. Some launched plague ridden cadavers over castle walls in a medieval attempt to spread bubonic plague within your enemy’s ranks. Timur Khan, descendant of the great Genghis Khan, figured the best thing to do when facing the enemy would be to set his camels ablaze and send them into the enemy’s ranks. Some military techniques were a little, for lack of a better word, kooky. The British, for example, didn’t really have submarines in WWI but their German enemy’s did. They were losing trade ships left and right to the sneaky submarines and had to do something about it. Their best plan? Try to sneak up on the subs when their periscope was above water and smash it with a hammer. Today’s post falls in the latter category.
Everyone knows about Little Boy and Fatman, the two Atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Most everyone knows about repeat carpet bombings of major cities, such as Dresden, and the damage that was done. But, how many people have heard of the bat-bomb? No, I’m not talking about the Adam West character running around with a comically huge, sizzling bomb looking for a safe place to dispose of it. Surprisingly the actual bat bomb may have been slightly more comical.
The story starts December 7, 1941 in New Mexico, right in the middle of WWII with a dentist, of all people, named Lytle Adams. Dr. Adams was on vacation visiting the Carlsbad cavern’s hoping to get some spelunking in when he came up with an idea that he hoped would help end the war. While descending into the darkness Lytle Adams saw thousands of bats coating the caverns walls. That very day when Adams was on his way home every radio station was broadcasting news of Japans attack on Pearl Harbor. That’s when it him, Adams had a retribution plan which consisted of strapping incendiary bombs to bats and sending them into Japan. Adams returned to the cave and captured a handful of the bats to conduct studies on, during his testing he discovered that the bats were significantly stronger than even he anticipated as they were able to carry nearly three times their own body weight with ease. After less than a month of planning Lytle Adams sent his proposition to the Whitehouse. Luckily Eleanor Roosevelt and Adams were acquaintances which helped get his plan in the president’s hands.
Evidently the president thought the plan sounded good to him, thus he forwarded the proposal to the National Research Defense Committee. The committee then forwarded the proposal to several experts on bats for their opinion. One Donald Griffin seemed beyond certain the proposal was worth funding and helped to decide which species would be used for the newly dubbed “Project X-Ray”. After several months of experimenting, it was decided that the best candidate for Project X-Ray was the Free-Tailed Bat. After the decision was made the military went out and captured several thousands of the creatures with nets and brought them back to the laboratory where they were placed in holding area.
The ultimate plan was for these bat bombs to be deployed over Japan in the middle of the night, at which point they would fly around until day break then, with luck, go to the wooden buildings to rest for the day at which point the timer on the incendiary they carried would reach zero and detonate the bomb. An incendiary isn’t quite like a traditional bomb, it doesn’t have the same explosion that traditional bombs have; rather these are designed to spread napalm-like flames to the surrounding area. With many of Japans towns still consisting of wood based buildings this was expected to wreak havoc on the cities.
To set the plan in motion the military had to develop some type of releasing devise that would set the bats free over Japan in the middle of the night, undetected. Several concepts were tossed around, all of which proved to be faulty in one way or another. First was a basic cardboard box that was meant to shred apart mid-fall, this one didn’t work half the time. Next they developed a bomb that was meant to hold 1,000 of the beasts and open at a designated altitude allowing the bats to escape, which is apparently harder than it sounds. A slight oversight occurred during the testing where some of the actual bomb bats were used, and in a twist of events burned down the testing facility.
Ultimately, after almost exactly two years in the making and $2 Million dollars of research and funding being blown the military decided to scrap the project for a more lucrative weapon which I had mentioned earlier; the Atom Bomb. Although the idea apparently looked great on paper, and in theory could have worked, the bat bombs never got to see their maiden flight. In retrospect it seems like the bat bomb would have been a great way to instill fear and chaos amongst the Japanese with minimal casualties had it only been a little less… kooky.