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The Japanese Attack on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Japanese Balloon in the water off of Canada's Queen Charlotte Islands


It was a chilly early summer morning in 1945 as the crew of the BAYTON set about their morning duties while the loaded steamer plowed through the Lake Superior waves towards the Soo Locks. The weather forecast was calling for rain and the crew was likely making preparations for the on-coming weather.

At about the same time, at the United States Coast Guard base in Sault Saint Marie, the crew of the Coast Guard Buoy Tender ASPEN were going about their morning routine and loading fresh batteries to service the Mackinac Island radio buoy later in the day.

The BAYTON would pass downbound through the locks along with the ALGOWAY, and the C.W. GALLOWAY. As she entered the St. Mary’s River, her crew would have seen the ASPEN making the final preparations for her journey to Mackinac Island. The ASPEN would begin her downbound trip an hour and half later. Little did the crews of these two vessels know, but their paths would soon cross again, and they would be the last witnesses to a true Great Lakes mystery.

  The BAYTON formerly known as the FRANCIS WIDLAR                                                             The USCG Buoy Tender ASPEN

  The Japanese Secret Weapon

Thousands of miles away, WWII was nearing an end. Germany had already surrendered and the Japanese were barely holding on in the Pacific theater. Since the beginning of hostilities, Japan had been experimenting with a means of bringing the war to the American continent.  In November of 1944 they began deploying their secret weapon: the Fusen Bakudan or Fire Balloon. Also referred to as FU-GO balloons, they were assembled by schoolgirls, constructed of mulberry paper, glued together with potato flour and filled with hydrogen. The thirty-three foot diameter balloons carried an aluminum ring (known as the carriage system) with nineteen suspended shroud lines. On board the ring was a control and ballast system consisting of thirty-two, 7-10 pound sandbags and the bomb load.  The typical maximum loading was a single fifteen kilogram high explosive bomb or one twelve kilogram incendiary bomb along with four, five-kilogram incendiary bombs.

The Japanese were the first to discover the high altitude winds known today as the jet stream. With thirty-plus mile per hour winds, in theory, the jet stream was capable of delivering a balloon from the coast of Japan to the west coast of the USA in 30-100 hours, with an average time of 60 hours. To track the flight path of the balloons, each flight of ten had at least one balloon equipped with radio transmitters. Japanese radio tracking stations could track the flight of balloons for the first 1,200 miles of flight. Allied listening stations began picking up the signals in December of 1944 but did not know their origin until a balloon equipped with transmitters was found and studied in the United States.

The balloons were meant to ignite forest fires along the west coast, thus taking vital man-power from the American war effort and to create a sense of panic amongst the general public. American and Allied authorities began finding these balloons almost immediately and press censorship was enacted just as fast. There was a very real fear of chemical or biological weaponry that could cause public panic. Additionally, if these incidents weren’t reported, the Japanese wouldn’t know that the weapons were actually working.

A very unfortunate result of this secrecy occurred on May 5th, 1945 in Bly, Oregon when Mrs. Elsie Mitchell and five children discovered an unexploded bomb while on a picnic. The bomb exploded, killing all six people. These were the only known fatalities of the FU-GO campaign, and as a result, the censorship of the issue was lifted to keep the public safe.

Believing the program to be a failure as a result of the press censorship,(in fact, the Japanese had only received news reports from one incident!) the Japanese officially ended the program on 20 April 1945.

Between 3 November 1944 and 20 April 1945, the Japanese released between 9,000 and 9,300 balloons. While only 285 were ever documented to have made landfall (during the war; about 15 more have been found since the end of the war), experts believe at least 10 percent, or 1,000 balloons may have made the trek successfully. In fact, two balloons are known to have reached Michigan, one in Dorr, near Grand Rapids and one in Farmington Hills, near Detroit.


The Japanese Fire Balloon or FU-GO

The Mystery Unfolds

A hazy fog was moving in over the northern Great Lakes as the ASPEN approached DeTour, MI that evening. DeTour Reef Lighthouse had been sounding its foghorn most of the day. At this time, the ASPEN’s daily log indicates that her crew was actively searching for, “a Japanese balloon reported in the area.”

There is no indication of how the ASPEN was made aware of the presence of this balloon, but it is clear that they were on the look-out. Ahead, the BAYTON was just exiting the DeTour Passage and entering into open Lake Huron. The ASPEN’s log reports, “steamer BAYTON reports seeing the balloon sink as she passed same.”

Again, it is unclear how the BAYTON conveyed this information to the crew of the ASPEN or exactly what the BAYTON saw. From what information exists, it appears that the ASPEN sped to the location reported by the BAYTON and searched the area for nearly two hours. With darkness approaching, and finding nothing, the ASPEN returned to DeTour Village for the night. She would continue on to Mackinac Island the next morning.

The ASPEN’s Search

While they searched for more than two hours, it does not appear that the crew of the ASPEN found anything. The only documentation found thus far is a newspaper article from the Soo (MI) Evening News from shortly after the war that quotes Lieutenant R. T. Coughlin, Executive Officer of the ASPEN, and one sentence in the ASPEN’s daily log from the day in question. Both sources state that the ASPEN was looking for a “Japanese Balloon” with no indications or descriptions that would help determine if it was, indeed, a FU-GO balloon. The only witnesses appear to be crew members of the BAYTON, and what EXACTLY they saw is in question. Did they see the balloon floating on the surface of Lake Huron and then sink or did they actually see it in the air before it landed in the water and sank? Again, all we have is one sentence from the ASPEN, “steamer BAYTON reports seeing the balloon sink as she passed same.”

The BAYTON was travelling in convoy with two other vessels, the ALGOWAY and the C. W. GALLOWAY, did witnesses on these vessels see anything? They would have been in proximity to each other. Attempts to locate the logs from any of these vessels have thus far been fruitless.

What did the crew of the BAYTON see?

Barrage Balloon?   From 1941-1943 the 339th Barrage Balloon Battalion was stationed at the Soo to protect the Soo Locks from air raids. Balloons were known to escape their moorings and float free. A balloon from the locks once broke free and finally landed in Midland, MI; over 200 miles south! By the time of this incident, there were no longer balloons stationed at the locks. Barrage balloons are also very different in shape than the FU-GOs. Presumably, since they were stationed at the locks for three years, seasoned lake mariners like the crew of the BAYTON would have been able to tell the difference.

                               Barrage balloon                                                                                                           FU-GO Balloon

Weather Balloon?
   Certainly weather balloons were in use and could descend back to earth. The larger transosonde balloons could look very similar to a partially deflated FU-GO balloon. These balloons, however, did not come in to existence until 1957, and their very development was inspired by the altitude control technology invented by the Japanese for the FU-GO balloons. Smaller weather balloons or radiosondes and FU-GOs, at altitude, and without scale could also look very similar. These balloons were in wide use by the early 1940s. However, they were designed to get to altitude and ultimately expand to the point of breakage, descending back to earth via a parachute to protect the radio equipment. With the reported visibility, the BAYTON would not have seen said balloon at altitude and the parachute/radio equipment would have been obviously smaller than a FU-GO with its carriage system.

                                                   Comparison of various weather balloons and the FU-GO balloons


Venus?   Some false sightings were attributed to the planet Venus. The planet Venus is sometimes referred to as the Morning Star, as it is most often seen in clear skies in the early morning. This incident occurred in the late evening. Weather reports from both the ASPEN and the DeTour Reef Lighthouse indicate rain and fog with very limited visibility. The steamer reports, “seeing the balloon sink” This could not have been Venus.

                                                                                 Venus in the daylight sky


Unfortunately, without witness statements it is impossible to determine exactly what the crew of the BAYTON saw and exactly where they were when they saw it.

Were there other witnesses?

A little more than 26 hours before the BAYTON witnessed the sinking and just over 25 miles away, The SAUCON reported an object in the water that appeared to be a balloon about a mile from their vessel. About six hours after that, and at the same reported location, the Captain of the RALPH H. WATSON reported seeing the same object, now just 150 feet away from his ship! He had heard the earlier radio chatter from the SAUCON and had read the military press release some time prior concerning Japanese balloons and was actively looking for the balloon when he arrived near the location. Both vessels reported their sightings over the vhf radio and requested that the land-based radio station report to the USCG via land line. At this time, it appears that there was no Coast Guard response to these reports. In fact, USCG documents state that witnesses aboard both vessels did not even give an official statement until close to a week later when they arrived at their next ports of call.


                                                                                                                                           The vessel SAUCON pictured when she was the CHARLES WESTON 


                                                                                                                                                                                                               The vessel RALPH H. WATSON

Unknown to the crews of all these vessels at the time, Japanese command had already suspended the balloon program, at least on an official level. After the war, several Japanese officials associated with the FU-GO program testified that the last balloons were launched on 20 April 1945 (two months before these sightings) and at no time was there a consideration to arm them with chemical or biological weapons. Records indicate that there were as many 1,000 balloons still in inventory and ready for launch.


The case for the Fu-Go

Evidence, including eyewitness accounts, will be presented here suggesting not only that the Japanese were still launching balloon weapons after the stated ending date but that at least one of these balloons landed in northern Lake Huron in the early summer of 1945. Did the FU-GO deploy its deadly load over Michigan’s Upper Peninsula? The only way to know is to find the balloon, or its remnants, on the lake bottom where it has rested for 68 years.

Communications breakdowns

Towards the end of the war the Japanese communications system began to break down, isolated units may not have gotten the word to suspend launchings. In one notable case, nineteen Japanese sailors on the remote island of Anahatan did not surrender until 1951 because they never got the official order! While this is an extreme example, the same could have happened to the balloon launching detachments even though they were on the home islands. For secrecy, the launch stations were in isolated and secure coastal areas. The Japanese maintained twenty-two launching stations with seven companies of launch crews.

                                               Nineteen Japanese sailors finally surrender on Anahatan Island in 1951

 “It will be a time for the bamboo spear”

With the war situation looking bleak, in April of 1945 the Japanese government issued the Ketsugo policy for the defense of the home islands….to the last man. Men, women and children of all ages were trained in the use of makeshift weapons, such as bamboo spears and were rallied to sacrifice themselves by taking just one American soldier with them.

                                                                   Japanese girls training with bamboo spears


As the war ground to a close, the Japanese began employing desperate measures such as manned suicide flights or kamikaze attacks. These attacks were often conducted in outdated air and water craft loaded with explosives. When the balloon project ended, records indicate that there was a surplus of about 1,000 balloons still ready for launch. Post war documents by investigating Allied officials do not mention the discovery of balloon stockpiles. If the balloons were not launched, what happened to them? History describes a state of near chaos within the Japanese military at this time. With the accompanying communications breakdowns, it is entirely possible that balloon launching units did not get the word to suspend launches. Moreover, with the “last ditch effort” rationale that existed at the time, it seems likely that any available weapon would get used. While two of three hydrogen production sites in Japan were destroyed by American bombers, one plant was still active at this time. Additionally, the Otsu balloon launching station had on-site hydrogen production facilities.


                                                                                                                                                                Kamikaze attack on an unknown vessel   


The Ohka human guided rocket


The Kaiten human guided suicide torpedo

Radio signals and shoot downs

While the Japanese officially ended the program on 20 April 1945, balloon-borne signals were still being tracked into August of 1945, why? The FU-GO tracking signals were a distinctly different frequency than the standard weather radiosonde signals so there should have been no confusion. Post war documents reveal that 40% of all balloon signals recorded during the war, occurred AFTER 20 April 1945.

Finally, a balloon was intercepted and shot down by an American fighter plane on 19 July 1945, 430 miles ESE of Tokyo, three months AFTER the official ending of the balloon project. This balloon was positively identified as a FU-GO. The Lake Huron mystery balloon sank less than a month and half after the project ended. Of the 285 balloon incidents that occurred during the war, at least 53 can be classified as “in air” incidents – meaning that a balloon was seen in the air or explosions were witnessed and thus the landing date is known. It should be noted that this is the only “in air” incident that occurred after 20 April 1945. Of the 27 balloons shot down, less than 10 had pieces recovered. All are listed in the official tally of known FU-GO incidents despite the lack of recovered, confirmatory evidence.

                           Gun camera view of a P-38 shooting down a Fu-Go balloon over the Aleutian Islands of Alaska

 Faulty Balloons


It is also clear that the balloons were prone to malfunctioning. Many balloons or balloon parts were found in North America even though each FU-GO was equipped with two self destruct mechanisms. Additionally, sand-filled ballast bags from the balloons were found indicating that the ballast dropping mechanisms were also faulty. Most of the issues were traced to poor quality anti-freeze in the battery compartment, causing the battery to freeze up at altitude.
Consider a balloon that does not drop its ballast properly and is then unable to ride the high velocity winds of the jet stream. This balloon would take considerably longer to make the trans-oceanic trek. Studies on captured balloons indicated that given ideal atmospheric conditions, a balloon could remain aloft for 20 to 30 days. Under these conditions, a balloon launched in the last batch on 20 April could have still been in the air as late as 20 May 1945. Whether these ideal conditions existed at the time (or even what the “ideal” conditions were) is not known.
While they may not have operated as intended, it is also clear that the FU-GO balloon was capable of reaching the continental United States despite these mechanical shortcomings.


The Lake Huron Witnesses

Whether it was sporadic, “unauthorized” launchings by isolated units or malfunctioning balloons making a longer than normal trans-oceanic flight, the mystery balloon seen by the SAUCON, WATSON and BAYTON could have been a FU-GO. Indeed, the eyewitness accounts seem to suggest that this is the case.


First mate of the SAUCON, Ed Fitch, of Sandusky, OH described what he saw in his official statement to the United States Coast Guard:

 “The object was approximately 1 mile from the ship when sighted and it appeared to be a circular object, greenish in color and standing out of the water approximately six feet, but nevertheless, it appeared to be anchored to another object lying on the water that could have been part of the balloon. The nature of the part rolling on the water was difficult to ascertain because of the distance. The object standing out of the water appeared to be 6-8 feet in diameter and the part upon which the object was resting was approximately 15 feet in length. It was impossible to determine if the object was a weather balloon. There were no markings distinguishable on the object.


Second Mate, Ed Manschot, of Sturgeon Bay, WI added his statement:

“The object was ball shaped on top, narrowing on the bottom, and seemed to be spread out on the water in a circle. Part of the object stood out of the water about 5 feet, resting upon an apparently circular object about 15 feet in diameter. The object was greenish in color and there were no distinguishable markings sighted.

                                                           Author’s rendition of what the SAUCON crew saw, based on statements


Almost six hours after the SAUCON’s sighting and at the same location, Captain W. H. McLachlan of the WATSON reported that he:

“… observed an object, 5 feet in height and 3 ½ feet in diameter, floating vertically on top of the water as if it were held in position by a weight or an anchor. The object appeared to be green in color.

The WATSON passed a mere 150 feet from the object and Captain McLachlan noted that it had “no markings of any kind.” He was also, “positive the object observed was a balloon.”

                                                Author’s rendition of what the WATSON crew saw, based on statements


Unfortunately, there are no statements from witnesses aboard the BAYTON. Could this be the same balloon that the BAYTON saw sinking? Given the proximity in both location and time, it is likely that all three of these vessels witnessed the same object on two consecutive days. While balloons were usually launched from Japan in large groups, the likelihood of two coming to earth in such close proximity is doubtful. If this is the case, it appears that none of the vessels actually saw the object in the air, which would have given us valuable clues as to what the object really was. While the BAYTON’s estimated location (based on known parameters) at the time of their sighting would have been a considerable distance from the reported locations of both the SAUCON and the WATSON, reported wind conditions would have been blowing the object towards the BAYTON’s location.

Even operating on the theory that all three witness vessels saw the same object floating on the water, we cannot say whether or not the object was a FU-GO balloon. Since the object was seen “in the water,” it could not have been a false sighting of Venus. The closest barrage balloon battalion at the Soo Locks (close to 100 miles away) had been demobilized two years earlier; so it is extremely unlikely to have been a rogue barrage balloon. While it could be a radiosonde weather balloon, the descriptions of the object being “attached to” or “anchored  to” another object (of apparently significant size) do not fit with the instrumentation known to be used with a radiosonde, which would have been significantly smaller in size than the control and ballast ring of a FU-GO. The above descriptions would at least suggest that the object could be a Japanese balloon.

Witnesses on the SAUCON were making their observations from at least a mile away and the WATSON witness saw the object in fading light at 9:47pm, this could account for the differences in their respective measurements. While the estimated sizes do not match that of the FU-GO balloon envelope, keep in mind that a partially deflated balloon would have most of its fabric on or below the surface of the water with only a small “bubble” of trapped air above water, making it appear as a much smaller balloon. Note that the SAUCON witnesses describe a larger “bubble” than  Captain McLachlan of the WATSON, this could be indicative of the balloon deflating over the 6 hour time difference.

While this is likely a submerged barrage balloon, note that only two small “bubbles” are visible above the surface

Green Coloration

All three witness statements agree that the object had a greenish hue and no markings. We know that as a matter of secrecy, the Japanese FU-GOs did not have any markings on the balloon envelope.
We also know that a blue dye was used in the glue during envelope construction to aid in the detection of potential leaks. The fabric would be laid out upon a glass back-lit floor and areas that were not blue enough were re-glued. Researchers in the United States also noted a blue/green seam tape on some captured balloon envelopes. Balloons were usually launched at dusk and dawn, when it was typically less windy. Witnesses to these launches describe a strangely beautiful sight as the balloons would glow in a blue-green aura in the low light conditions as they ascended to the heavens. Witnesses on the SAUCON and the WATSON would have been seeing the mystery balloon at dusk, thus explaining the green color in their descriptions.


                                                                                                                                                                Japanese girls constructing the balloon envelope   


                                                                                                                                                                             Balloon Fabric with blue/green tint

FU-GO Strength, Buoyancy and Weight

The first balloon found floating off the coast of San Pedro, CA was described as “a large fragment of tattered cloth floating on the sea.” This would indicate that it was completely deflated. Yet when hauled aboard, the ballast control ring was still attached. Since the balloon was deflated, this would imply that the carriage device had at least some buoyancy characteristics. The ring or carriage system with all control mechanisms weighed about 44 pounds (319 pounds with ballast and bombs) but incorporated two boxes (for the battery and aneroids) sealed for protection against extreme conditions at altitude. These sealed boxes would have provided some period of buoyancy and the ring itself would have provided the “anchoring” characteristics described by witnesses, as well as the necessary weight to take the balloon to the bottom when enough hydrogen finally leaked out. The mystery balloon witness statements are clear that the balloon had at least some hydrogen (or trapped air) still in it, suggesting that it could have remained afloat for the 26 hours from the first sighting to the sinking.

                                                                      The hollow battery box area of a FU-GO Balloon

In 1955 near the Skeenjek River in Alaska, a FU-GO balloon was found by a SAR (search and rescue) pilot, thinking it was a parachute blowing in the wind. The paper balloon still retained its cloth-like qualities after ten years in the harsh Alaska weather!
Testing of captured balloons indicated that they retained more than half their tensile strength after 24 hours immersion in water and tested dry. This would suggest that the paper envelope was more than strong enough to remain afloat for the 26 hours (or more) between the SAUCON sighting and when the BAYTON saw it sink. If not probable, it seems at least possible that what the BAYTON saw sink to the bottom of Lake Huron was a Japanese FU-GO balloon.


 Can it be found at the bottom of the Lake?

In order to prove that a FU-GO balloon did sink in this area of Lake Huron it must be found on the lake bottom. Since the envelope was made of paper and the ropes of hemp, it is unlikely that these were able to stand up to 68 years of submersion in the cold waters of Lake Huron. Evidence suggests that the ballast control ring was still attached. Constructed of aluminum, steel, plastic and wood, this would be able to withstand the elements and be detectable by modern side-scan sonar. However, at about 3 feet x 3 feet, it would pose a very small target.

                Control and ballast system with scale                                                                               Side scan sonar image of tires

Known parameters

Unfortunately, there has been no record of the BAYTON’s location at the time of the sighting found to this point. In order to determine an accurate search grid for the mystery balloon we are forced to make some educated assumptions.

The SAUCON was the first to see the balloon in the water, and she reported her exact heading and location as well as the exact time of the sighting. Newspaper sources list her lock through time at the Soo locks. Witnesses describe the balloon as about 1 mile away but to do not say which direction from the vessel it was sighted.

Witnesses aboard the RALPH H. WATSON reported the same heading and location as the SAUCON and also reported the exact time of her sighting, a little over six hours after that of the SAUCON. However, at this time the balloon was only 150 feet from the WATSON. Both vessels report calm seas and winds along with 3 mile visibility. Although these sightings were in the open lake, there is an almost imperceptible current known to exist in the area. By reverse engineering the numbers it is possible to determine the location of the balloon when the SAUCON sighted it, the small current then bringing it towards the location of the WATSON’s sighting. The lock though time of the WATSON is also known.

While no records have been found from the BAYTON herself, various sources list the time that the BAYTON locked through, the time she saw the balloon sink, her destination and the local weather conditions in the area of the sinking.

The daily log of the USCG Cutter ASPEN lists times of her passing various landmarks, her total miles travelled for the day and local weather conditions. It also references their search for the unidentified balloon…..in just two short sentences. At some point the BAYTON must have reported her position to the crew of the ASPEN and it is assumed that the ASPEN cruised to the location of the sinking. There is also a newspaper interview with the Executive Officer of the ASPEN where he states they were looking for a “Japanese balloon” and he gives a location and distance from a known landmark. When plotted on a chart, the daily log and the newspaper article are within 10 miles of each other.

Finding the search area

Travel time from the Soo Locks to the sighting location for both the SAUCON and the WATSON are exactly the same, although 6 hours apart. Travel time from the Locks to the sighting location for the BAYTON was exactly 1 hour less, indicating that she was not at the same location as the other two freighters. In fact, stated wind directions at the time would have been blowing the balloon towards the BAYTON’s location. At some point in the 21 hours between the WATSON sighting and the BAYTON sighting, weather conditions deteriorated and the winds picked up. In the foggy conditions in the treacherous St. Mary’s River, it is unlikely that BAYTON was traveling at the same rate of speed as her earlier counterparts who had clear conditions. If she slows down just two miles an hour, her location at the time of the sighting puts her between the two points plotted for the ASPEN. At the time of BAYTON’s sighting, visibility was listed as 2 miles. Knowing this and knowing that the large freighters would not veer from the posted shipping channels, the balloon lies at the bottom of Lake Huron within 2 miles of the shipping channel being utilized by the three vessels along a 16 mile stretch of said shipping lane. This is a search area of 64 square miles, quite a large area. If we concentrate on the area of the two ASPEN plot points which also contain the slowed down BAYTON location, that becomes a much more manageable 20 square mile search area and is a logical starting point in the absence of any reports from the BAYTON.
At water depths of 50 – 200 feet and the small size of the FU-GO carriage system it will be difficult, but not impossible, for side scan sonar to detect. 


A larger problem would be verifying the side scan sonar targets which would
most likely require an underwater, camera-equipped ROV (remotely operated vehicle). The proximity to the shipping lane would pose many issues including siltation and the possibility of multiple small targets similar in size to the carriage system that would require ROV verification. It is easy to imagine small objects falling overboard from ore carriers or pleasure craft alike. These objects would all look very similar to the control ring of the FU-GO to side-scan sonar.


Neither intelligence analysts of the mid-1940s nor contemporary researchers seem to have noticed the evidence within the literature, that despite Japanese testimony to the contrary, some FU-GO balloons were launched after 20 April 1945.
A 9 February 1946 War Department press release acknowledges an increase in balloon-borne radio signal interception in August of 1945 and concludes;

It is interesting to note that over 40 percent of the signals were detected after 20 April 1945, the date that the Japanese state that the last balloons were released. These signals, all of the same general character, furnished the Japanese a means of tracking the balloons after release, as well as information as to the behavior of the automatic height maintaining apparatus. Radio signals from balloon-borne transmitters were heard as late as 11 August 1945, indicating that the Japanese were still studying the meteorological conditions over the Pacific.

Curiously, the most obvious conclusion, that additional weapons were being launched, is not drawn. Available research indicates that radio signals from the FU-GO transmitters was distinctly different than that of a weather balloon, which makes sense as they were each meant to monitor different parameters.

In his publication Japan’s WWII Balloon Bomb Attacks on North America, Robert Mikesh provides detailed balloon manufacture and launch statistics, indicating that as many as 1,000 balloons were still available for launch after April, 1945. One of the final entries in his Chronology of Balloon Bomb Incidents (compiled from G-2 Periodic Report #188), lists the 19 July 1945 balloon shoot-down by a USN plane, 430 miles ESE of Tokyo. If the Japanese had truly suspended launches in April, how is this possible? This balloon was never recovered for verification but it is still listed as a “positive” balloon bomb incident. As has previously been stated, this incident appears to be the only positive “in air” sighting in the Chronology that occurred after April of 1945.
Mikesh also documents that aerial reconnaissance photos taken on 25 May 1945 appear to show partially inflated balloons near a possible release area in the only heavily defended sector near Sendai. While no post-war evidence of a launch site in this vicinity of Sendai was ever found, it does beg the question of what exactly was in those photos. Were these FU-GO balloons being prepped for transport to a nearby launch site? Were the Japanese hastily launching available balloons from makeshift launching sites? Or were these not FU-GO balloons at all?


Following the 5 May 1945 FU-GO related deaths in Bly, Oregon, the War Department issued a general warning to the public regarding the presence of this “new” Japanese menace and urged people to report any strange objects in the sky. Not surprisingly, multitudes of reports began flooding in and all were investigated. Most were written off as false sightings of Venus or stray weather balloons. Certainly, this was likely the case but of the seven (7) reports found to date from several agencies in Michigan alone, at least two incidents have compelling evidence suggesting that they could be FU-GO balloons. In one case, many witnesses reported the same object in the air over Sault Saint Marie, MI. Included in the witness list were an Intelligence Officer of the USCG, an FBI agent, State Police officers, county sheriffs and an airline pilot in flight. Despite these seemingly credible witnesses and their detailed accounts, this case was quickly dismissed as a sighting of Venus! If reports from this time period from western states were examined, the number of “dismissed” credible reports would most likely rise drastically. Is it possible that the Japanese learned of the press release and subsequent false sighting reports and decided that it was worth the effort to launch the remaining stockpiles of balloons? Indeed, following the above noted War Department press release, Japanese propaganda efforts regarding the balloon campaign were re-doubled. In a 4 June 1945 radio broadcast, Lt. Colonel Shozo Nakijima reported that FU-GO operations were causing significant damage to property and morale in the United States and that this was only the “experimental” phase of the project. American citizens were to prepare themselves for an onslaught! In order to lend credence to this propaganda, would it not make sense to launch a few balloons if they were available?


Can the Lake Huron Mystery Balloon be found? It would certainly be hard to locate but it could re-write history. It would prove that the Japanese were still launching these weapons months after they stated otherwise and it would also prove that the Japanese bombed Michigan’s Upper Peninsula during WWII. It would also make history, since to my knowledge, nobody has ever tried to locate one of these balloons and succeeded. I believe with this information I have a chance at success and come summer of 2013, I have plans to begin searching the waters of northern Lake Huron for the mystery balloon. Stay tuned to this website for future details. If you or anybody you know has any information regarding this incident I would appreciate your help -           

  contact me

Testing our home-made ROV on a known shipwreck

                                 The opinions and theories presented here are solely those of the webmaster of www.mi-aviationarchaeology.com, Jeffrey J. Benya, copyright 2012.




Floating Vengeance: Japanese Balloon Attacks on Michigan - Michael E. Unsworth, Michigan History Magazine, March/April 1987

Japan's World War II Balloon Bomb Attacks on North America – Robert C. Mikesh, 1973

When WWII Came to the Sault – Deidre Stevens, Michigan History Magazine, March/April 2012

Navy Plane Stalks Jap Balloon Near Sault, One of Three in Michigan – August, 1945 – Soo Evening News, Sault Saint Marie, MI

When Northern Michigan’s Soo Locks readied for WWII – Bernie Arbic, Northern Michigan Videos

 Japanese Balloon and Attached Devices Technical Air Intelligence Center, May 1945 - Courtesy of AllWorldWars.com  

Balloon Bombs over Michigan During World War II - Dan Heaton, June 11, 2009 - Courtesy of Associated Content

The Big Balloon Bomb Mystery – Peri Stitzel – South Advance, February 29, 2000

The Great Japanese Balloon Offensive – Master Sergeant Cornelius W. Conley, Air University Review, January/February 1968

A Report on Japanese Free Balloons – United States War Department, Joint Army/Navy Press Release, February 9, 1946

National Archives, Record Group 389 Box# 1826

How Geologists Unraveled the Mystery of Japanese Vengeance Balloon Bombs in World War II
- David Rogers, et. al.

Historical Collections of the Great Lakes – Bowling Green State University

National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration

Waterfront with Roy, Vessel Passage Column – Toronto Evening Telegraph, 1945

Log of the United States Coast Guard Cutter ASPEN – 1945

National Archives, Record Group 26 Box# 5 – Records of the United States Coast Guard: Abstracts of War Diaries 1942-1945, Diary of the 9th Naval District

Michael E. Unsworth - Various additional source material and photographs

DeTour Reef Lighthouse Preservation Society

Halcyon Fishing Charters - John King, St. Ignace, MI