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"Red Rain" and the Japanese fire balloon that coincidentally found its way to Hanford

Juli Kearns Hanford Declassified 4 Comments

Read the introduction to the Remixing the Hanford Declassified Project paintings

Susan Och over at French Road Connections, who recently ran for and was voted into community service (congratulations, Susan), today has a post on a new book written by her brother, Tim Wendel. Titled Red Rain, the novel took its inspiration from fire balloons the Japanese set loose over the Pacific, their intended purpose being to ride the jet stream some 5,500 miles, at least, and finding home in America, settle down and get to business sparking wild fires.

A link is also supplied to an interesting video made by her brother, promoting the book, with old footage of the balloons which were kept secret from the U.S. public as it was feared knowledge of them would ignite hysteria.

Out of some 9000 launched, about 300 balloons made it to U.S. soil. Interestingly, Tim’s video informs that one of those all-too-hardy balloons made it up to Hanford and briefly derailed work on the Manhattan Project.

If I looked up “balloon” in the Hanford Declassified Document Retrieval System, might I find a record of the event?

There was one relevant return. The document is dated Jan 13 1945.

Over Victoria, B.C. noon twelve was sighted balloon about 10,000 feet altitude. No additional details presently available. (DLY RPT) (REF EIDM MI from Johnson) Corrected information re balloons reported downed by Navy base, Klamath, Oreg eleven Jan is that only one balloon, not two, was sighted and downed by that base. Details and description of balloon recovered in isolated section of Calif yesterday still not available…

The Jan 13 1945 report is in the time window for these balloons, which were launched from late 1944 to early 1945. T

he balloon which found Hanford landed on March 10 1945 and caused a short circuit in the power lines supplying supplying electricity for the nuclear reactor cooling pumps. Using the exact date I finally found in the documents one that referred to the incident.

L. A. Darling
Works Engineer

Unusual Incident

At approximately 3 (illegible) March 10, the process units in all 105 Buildings were shut down by automatic action of the safety circuits because of an electric power (illegible) of very short duration. Motor-driven equipment (illegible) stop, and as a result, process was restored within a matter of several minutes in the B and D Areas and a little over an hour in the F Area. Subsequent investigation indicated that the voltage dip was caused by a fault which occurred (illegible) the Midway-North Bonneville Mo. 2 230 KV circuit. This is one of four 230 KV lines which (illegible) terminate at the Midway Substation and from which power is taken for (illegible). The fault was automatically cleared by the line terminal breakers. The circuit was restored manually by the Midway and Bonneville operators in about two minutes.

From Military intelligence sources, it was learned that the line fault was caused by a large balloon of enemy origin dropping into the phase wires of the circuit. It burst into flames upon contact with the power line and the underhung equipment on the balloon dropped to the ground. The line was not seriously damaged as evidenced by the fact that it was restored to service in two minutes.

It should be noted that the balloon could have dropped anywhere on the Project Area, and its equipment could have caused much more serious damage as far as the plant and its processes are concerned.

P.S. Skaff
Electrical Superintendent

A wild fire in the Hanford Project desert area could have been disastrous for the region. Considering the plutonium that would devastate Nagasaki came from Hanford, it is well nigh mind-boggling to imagine this balloon having not only drifted with the winds to Hanford, guided by happenstance, but landing directly on these wires.

Neither the American nor the Japanese workers knew the purpose of their labor

Imagine standing in the Hanford desert on March 10, 1945, watching the balloon descend, and that you are perhaps a Hanford worker who has no idea plutonium is being manufactured at Hanford and that its destination is Nagasaki, and that you have no idea yet this is a Japanese fire balloon that has been manufactured by Japanese who, like you, have no knowledge of what is being manufactured at Hanford. Also, much like the majority of the Hanford workers, the laborers who were employed in gluing together the “road-map” sized squares of mulberry paper for the balloons were unaware of the purpose of their work. Many of the workers were teen-age girls, preferred for their nimbler fingers.

The hunger of the workers was such that they stole the edible paste, used in gluing together the paper, for eating.

Comments 4

  1. Tim Wendel

    Great job researching the Hanford story of the Japanese fire balloon saga. In writing Red Rain, I dealt with the effort to keep the balloons secret, here and aboard, as well as the impact that had on the crews fighting forest fires. I was once on a fire crew. But that’s the great thing about history, isn’t it? The what-if factor.

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