Gaza's Flaming Kites: The Japanese Invented Them in World War II

It is believed the Japanese launched more than 9,000 hydrogen-filled balloons, starting in November, 1944. As late as 2014 unexploded bombs were being found in western Canada

Map of path of balloon bombs from Japan to North America. From a U.S. Navy training video from World War II.
U.S. Navy

In response to “In first, Israeli military fires at Gazans preparing to send flammable balloons into Israel” (June 9)

The use of kites and balloons as vehicles for arson isn’t a Hamas invention. During World War II, the Japanese launched some 9,000 incendiary balloons from their territory in the hope that they would be carried to the United States by the jet stream – a distance of several thousand kilometers. The balloons were made of silk covered with rubber or paper, filled with hydrogen to a volume of about 500 cubic meters, and equipped with primitive control systems to maintain altitude.

At least 342 balloons reached American territory. One hit a high-voltage line and set fire to a nuclear weapons production site in Hanford, Washington. The only civilian casualties in the continental United States during World War II  were five students and a teacher hit by a balloon bomb near Klamath Falls, Oregon.

Flying balloon bomb, filmed for a  U.S. Navy training video from World War II.
U.S. Navy

Even though this is an old and well-known tactic – and despite the Startup Nation’s defense-oriented research and development institutions, its stealth planes and anti-missile missiles – Israel has been caught unprepared by this tactic, as evidenced by the blackened ground near the Gaza border.

Dr. Ehud Finkelstein

Tel Aviv