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Dave Tewksbury
Dave Tewksbury

National Geographic Presents Tewksbury Research

Tracking WWII Japanese Balloon Bombs across the Pacific

By Vige Barrie  |  Contact Dave Tewksbury
Posted May 29, 2013
Tags Dave Tewksbury Geosciences Hamilton In the News Japan

The National Geographic Daily News site published an article focused on research conducted by Geosciences Technician Dave Tewksbury on May 28.  “Japan's Secret WWII Weapon: Balloon Bombs” described the Japanese plan to use balloon bombs propelled across the Pacific by jet stream currents to the United States. The story was an outgrowth of a poster Tewksbury presented at the annual Geological Society of America meeting in 2008.

According to the article, these were the first intercontinental weapon system, explosive devices attached to paper balloons that were buoyed across the ocean by a jet stream in 1944. Nine thousand balloons are estimated to have been launched, approximately 1,000 balloons reached North America, and 284 were seen or found.

Application of forensic geology enabled researchers to discover the balloons’ origins by analyzing the sand from the balloon bags. Alumnus Dr. Timothy Fagan '80, a professor at Wasada University in Tokyo, brought Tewksbury samples of the sand from 99 League Beach which was one of the launch sites that showed all the characteristics, mineralogy & paleontological features that the original researchers recognized in 1945.

Only one balloon inflicted casualties when on May 5, 1945, five children and a woman were killed as they played with a large paper balloon near Bly, Oregon — the only enemy-inflicted casualties on the U.S. mainland during WWII.

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