by John Keel
Return of the fu-gos
Over 200 FATE readers have now written to me regarding the cult misrepresentation of the wartime Japanese fu-go balloons which I discussed in these pages about three years ago. Most described their personal sightings in 1945 and how military officers or FBI agents urged (ordered) them not to discuss what they had seen. Some maintained their silence for decades until they saw my brief article.
Those wartime “Men In Black” were mighty persuasive! There must be thousands of other wartime witnesses out there who do not read FATE and are still keeping their experiences to themselves.
When I submitted the piece to FATE, I included a long list of books and references which the FATE editors chose not to print. (They also shortened my original text somewhat.) I did, however, send out copies of that list to everyone who bothered to write and ask for it. Since then, there have been several new additions to the literature. Keep in mind that most of these books are somewhat technical, quite expensive and hard to find. The best places to look for them are through the various aviation book clubs and military book stores.
For you late subscribers, here’s a summary of the fu-go balloon situation: Near the end of World War II the Japanese built and launched 9,000 bomb-carrying balloons against the United States. Hundreds of them actually managed to drift across the Pacific on the Jet Stream and drop their bombs on the U.S., Canada and Mexico, causing numerous forest fires and a few deaths and injuries.
It sounds absurd today, but each balloon was the size of a three-story house, contained about 90,000 cubic feet of hydrogen gas (the Japanese didn’t have any helium) and was made of a special paper. Very lightweight metals, plastic and wood were used in the construction of their bomb-carrying gondolas. One balloon in every 24 was equipped with a clever radio that transmitted a beep every hour so the Japanese could try to track its progress.
If you ever wander into an Oriental souvenir store you might find a package of “rice paper” (it is not made from actual rice) for sale. Then you can see just how tough some of this paper can be. It is almost impossible to tear it. Some kinds can only be cut with special instruments. The fu-go balloons were made with this very resilient, non-porous paper laminated in four layers, some of it coated with a silvery finish to reflect the heat of the sun. The balloon panels were glued with a special substance made from a Japanese plant. The paper had to be leakproof because hydrogen gas is volatile and difficult to contain. The result was huge balloons that were almost indestructible.
Three different, unrelated people wrote to tell me of almost identical experiences. Each saw a low-flying balloon somewhere in the U.S. in 1945 with a gondola containing a living creature. At a distance, all three thought they were seeing a “screaming monkey.” When the balloon came closer, they realized it was really a very small man wearing some kind of headgear, probably radio headphones. The poor fellow was clearly agitated. Two of the letter writers noted that he had a very angry expression, even a hatefilled one. He appeared to be an Oriental.
Soon after the balloon bounced away, disappearing over a hill or the horizon, one or more Jeeps filled with soldiers suddenly roared onto the scene, apparently in hot pursuit. Two of the witnesses said they heard shots a few minutes later. All three reported that the Jeep(s) came back and a military officer stopped and warned them sternly to forget what they had just seen. “Don’t even discuss this with your parents,” one was told.
History tells us that the Japanese had, in fact, planned to launch manned fu-go balloons against the U.S. from submarines surfaced a few miles offshore. This would account for the three eyewitness reports. It would explain many other things, too, such as the persistent rumors in the 1940s about the bodies of small, Oriental-looking men in flight suits that were supposedly recovered in various western states.
Author Frank Scully made two trips to New Mexico in an effort to track down these rumors for his book Behind the Flying Saucers (1950). Hundreds of reporters and investigators followed him. They all found plenty of hearsay but no actual evidence.
Mr. Mark Gardner, an ace fortean, once interviewed some fishermen who claimed to have seen a Japanese sub sending up balloons off the coast. However, they pinpointed the date as being 1947, not 1945, making the whole incident rather unlikely.
Although most of the fu-gos self-destructed, many crashed to earth intact and were found later by mystified farmers and hikers. The most recent find was in North Dakota in 1990, 45 years after the balloons had been launched! Remains of these balloons have been found as far east as Michigan.
Top secrets revealed
No actual documentation remains at this late date, but it is very possible that one or more Japanese balloonists attempted the 3,000-mile flight across the Pacific to see if manned balloons were practical. If such a project was launched, they would have selected the smallest, lightest volunteers available (just as our modern astronauts are small men). It is also likely that they might have expired during the trip, frozen in the high altitudes or suffering from lack of oxygen. If their bodies ever came down anywhere their complexions would have been very odd, discolored by the cold, and so on.
If even one such volunteer balloonist attempted the trip and crashed, we would have the answer to all those rumors and legends which persist to this day.
In the 1930s, Dr. Robert Goddard conducted his early rocket experiments in an 18,000-acre “field” in New Mexico, backed by Sol Guggenheim, Charles Lindbergh and others. The Nazis stole Goddard’s patents and designs, incorporating them into their V-2 rocket bombs. After the war, we salvaged 100 intact V-2s and brought them to the United States—to New Mexico, naturally. There, a handful of military men and German scientists tinkered with them for several years. Small animals and monkeys were given rides in some of those rockets, adding to all the rumors and legends circulating in New Mexico. In the 1940s, it was the most sparsely populated state, with fewer than 800,000 people, largely indians and Hispanics. Even today, over 40 years later, the state has only 1,500,000 hardy souls.
We not only developed the atomic bomb in New Mexico, we were carrying out all kinds of weird projects. The ejection pods for fighter planes were developed there. Anyone who saw one of these early pods dropping from the sky, with a human-shaped dummy aboard, had a story to tell his grandchildren years later. We were also training bats to haul incendiary bombs through the night, the idea being that they could be released over Japan and set fire to the flimsy Japanese houses. (See Bat Bomb: World War II’s Other Secret Weapon by Jack Couffer.)
We didn’t even know about the jet stream until the fu-gos began to arrive. After the war, we hastily be-gan a series of top secret tests near Goddard’s old base in Eden Valley, N.M., launching “Sky Hook” balloons into the upper atmosphere. We found that the jet stream looped around the world and that balloons launched in New Mexico would end up over Russia!
In other words, we set up our own fu-go balloon program. However, our balloons were much bigger than the fu-gos and carried radios and cameras instead of bombs. They were so huge they were code-named “Moby Dick.” Eventually we sent thousands of Moby Dick balloons over Russia in those pre-U2 spy plane days.
(See The Moby Dick Project by Curtis Peebles.)
Now we know that many of the UFO sightings from the late 1940s were, in fact, secret government tests of various kinds. Many of the sightings of 1945 in the Western states were undoubtedly fu-go balloons. Later sightings, particularly in Europe, were Moby Dicks.
All these silvery balloons certainly added to the confusion and the U.S. military eventually learned to take advantage of the situation and issue false UFO reports to cover up nuclear accidents (see such books as The History of the U.S. Nuclear Arsenal by James Norris Gibson) and other official bungling. Small wonder that the UFO scene became a chaotic mess. Adding to the mayhem, a Hungarian airliner collided with a swarm of Moby Dicks in 1955, killing all on board and creating an embarrassing international incident.
I took a special interest in the fu-gos in the 1960s, particularly after people began sending me pieces of debris which they thought were from outer space. The strange writing on this mysterious junk always proved to be Japanese.
Oldtimers will recall that I wrote a number of articles mentioning the fu-gos, such as my piece “The Myth of UFO Censorship” which appeared in the April 1969 issue of Ray Palmer’s Flying Saucers magazine. It began with a quote from fu-go expert Robert C. Mikesh. Mr. Mikesh was the author of the book Japan’s World War II Balloon Bomb attacks on North America. It is one of the few fu-go books still in print.
Mr. Mikesh retired last year as director of the aviation museum of the Smithsonian Institution. I mention this because the Smithsonian had a fully rigged fu-go balloon on public display for many years. Seven other museums, such as the one in Klamath Falls, Ore., also have fu-go displays.
Anyone who wants to see for themselves the kinds of paper and metal used in their construction can easily track them down. Two other museums in Canada also have fu-go exhibits.
In 1990, a Japanese television network sent a camera team to the U.S. to interview surviving fu-go witnesses for a documentary that was aired in Japan on December 7, 1990. Interesting timing.
Another fu-go expert is Bert Webber of Medford, Ore. He has made the subject a life-long pursuit and has even met and interviewed the Japanese scientists and military men who were behind the fu-go project. His book, Silent Siege II, is still in print and is the best available work on this whole fascinating episode. It sells for around $35.
If you were around in 1945 and lived in a Western state, you may have a fu-go story of your own. Perhaps you saw a mysterious explosion in the sky or watched a silvery balloon drift downwards. Maybe a stern military officer even ordered you to keep your mouth shut. If you had any experience(s) of this sort I would like to hear about it.
If you saw one of those “screaming monkeys” clad in a flight suit and wearing headphones, I would really appreciate all the details.
Of course, we understand that it is next to impossible to recall all the accurate details of something that happened nearly half a century ago. Don’t try to fill in the gaps. Just tell us whatever you can remember. Maybe we can piece the Big Picture together from fragments of information from many people.