January 15, 1945: The night the Japanese Empire attacked Ventura County!

by Richard Senate

As hard as it is to believe, once a 33-pound high explosive bomb fell on the sleeping hamlet of Saticoy just east of Ventura. The bomb wasn’t dropped by an airplane or rocket but it was delivered by an ingenious Japanese weapon—a paper balloon!

Once the bomb fell, the balloon flew on to crash in the hills west of Moorpark. The small bomb blew a crater in the ground but, besides that, did no real damage. The US Army sent out a team to investigate and hushed up the whole incident.

Nearly 10,000 of these curious balloon bombs were made in Japan and set loose upon the United States and Canada in the last months of World War II. The bombs used the jet stream in the upper atmosphere to cross the Pacific to their destinations.

They were assembled in music halls and theaters in Japan put together by an army of school children. Some balloons were armed with explosive bombs, others with incendiaries in hopes they would cause massive forest fires and panic all across the northwest.

At the time Japan was suffering under devastation brought on by American bombers and the balloon bombs were seen as a way to strike back. They even discussed arming the balloons with biological weapons they had perfected in China. One of the bio-weapons was killer anthrax, yet another the infamous “black plague.” If they had used biological warheads the losses on the west coast may well have been staggering.

The American Government pulled a news blackout on the balloon bombs and where they fell. The Japanese, who were monitoring the American media, didn’t know if their weapon was even reaching American soil. In this way, the black out caused the Japanese to lose heart in their project but it also lead to a terrible event. On May 5,1945 a group of picnickers in Oregon spotted one of the balloon bombs caught in a tree. They assumed it was an advertising stunt that dropped gifts from the sky. They pulled on the rigging of the balloon hoping to get to the prizes inside but their efforts only managed to set off a high explosive anti-personnel bomb, killing six. They would be some of the few civilians lost on Mainland America in World WarII.

Most of the bombs fell on uninhabited areas, landing in Canada, Alaska, Oregon, Washington and California. A few were blown as far east as Colorado. The blackout on the weapon continued for four years after the war had ended. It was only then that Ventura County learned they were bombed by this bizarre weapon.

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