Imagine a hail of them raining down from the skies. And then, out of nowhere, every building within a 30 to 40 mile radius goes up into flames. Sounds like one of the plagues in Exodus, right? Well, that’s what we almost did to Japan during World War II.
It was all hatched by a guy named Lytle S. Adams, who was actually a dentist from Pennsylvania. While on vacation in Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico, he became fascinated by bats, specifically the Mexican free-tailed bat, which he captured and studied there. After hearing the news of Pearl Harbor on December 7th, while still on vacation he got pretty pissed off.
So much that he decided to weaponize his new fascination. On January 12, 1942, Adams, a personal friend to Eleanor Roosevelt, sent his plan to the White House: for using the bats as bomb carriers. He saw Japan as the perfect burning ground: Adams even went as far to say that the bats were placed here by God for this purpose.
Basically the plan went like this: we would strap tiny, incendiary bombs to the bats, which would then be carried into Japanese cities by the thousands. They would be dropped into nooks and crannies, almost undetectable, and then set off once the bats departed. According to Adams there would be thousands of fires raging for 40 miles. And apparently little loss of life. But a heavy toll of destruction.
The proposal was taken up by the National Research Defense Committee. It was even sent to animal professor Donald Griffin, who first discovered echolocation in bats. Needless to say, he was pretty hyped about using them for collateral damage. He gave it his official mark of approval in April, 1942.Later the U.S. Air Force gave their authority for investigation. They sent a memo entitled “Test of Method to Scatter Incendiaries.”
A team of scientists was assembled. University of California field naturalists went to the southwest and captured thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats. These bats, though small, could carry objects up to twice their weight.
The plan became known as Project X-Ray. Dr. Louis Fiester, the inventor of napalm, was tasked with designing the mini-bomb. He developed a light case made out of nitrocelluse (or guncotton) filled with kerosene. A capsule on the side of the bomb contained a firing pin that was separated from the cartridge by a wire.
The larger bomb was designed by the Crosby Research Foundation. This was filled with a parachute, along with enough cooling trays to hold more than a thousand bats. Technicians inserted copper chloride into the cartridge, and then fastened each bomb to the bat’s chest. The bats were then put in the trays, which were cooled inside the larger bomb in order to simulate hibernation.
They would then be flown to Japan and released over their target city. While in midair, the parachute would be deployed while the outer casing fell away. The trays would then open, freeing the bats from their simulated hibernation. After flying into various nooks and crannies, the bats would gnaw their way through a string and then fly away. Once the copper chloride dissolved the bomb wire, the pin snaps would fire, igniting the capsule, and then BOOM-the entire building. The total time frame: 30 minutes,
This method of “bat-bombing” was tested successfully on several mock settlements. A chemist even offered that Project X-Ray could guarantee at least 4000 fires. There was one small incident at one point: during an accidental release a hangar and general’s car were set on fire.
So, what happened, then? If everybody was so on board with the idea of incinerating Japan, why did they abandon this plan? Well, they kinda thought of a better, more efficient one: the atomic bomb. Long story short: resources were redirected. The project was cancelled after some 30 demonstrations and $2 million spent.
The mastermind of the whole affair, Lytle Adams, went on to develop a slew of other strange inventions, but still insisted on the superiority of his plan, saying the “bat bomb” would have most definitely incinerated Japan, but with much smaller loss of life.
-Giaimo, Cara “The Almost Perfect World War II Plot To Bomb Japan With Bats” Atlas Obscura
-Madrigal, Alexis C. “Old, Weird Tech: The Bat Bombs of World War II” TheAtlantic