Obama’s trip to Japan last week, and specifically his tour of WWII devastation caused by the Atom Bomb, aka, ‘A-bomb’—dredged up some sore history on both sides of the fence. I think it a shame Japan—and most westerners, too, I’d bet—may never know the entire account of America’s desperate race to end her unprovoked war on a second front. For instance, most of us know some things about the A-bomb; how groups of scientists and engineers raced against time and each other to invent a devastation device that would put an end to the war. But few people know about another “think tank” engaged in the race. Put into action by the Army Chemical Warfare Service, this research foundation (think tank) had a batty-sounding idea for a device, but it came from a dentist who was a personal friend of Eleanor Roosevelt’s. The dentist told the President he wanted to help with the war effort; he then explained how America might destroy Japan’s factories and big cities made of wood and paper without catastrophic loss of life…well, human life. The think tank was charged with building a working prototype and they succeeded.
Most Americans probably think they know who Harry Lillis Crosby is, too, but I bet his whole story would surprise more than a few people. He was leader of a prestigious research foundation and charged with the success of the wood-and-paper bomb, but that was all top-secret. Harry was famous for a number of other reasons. In 1931, he had an enormously popular radio show. It became his springboard to an acting career, and a decade later he won an Academy Award. From there, a singing career resulted in nearly 300 music-chart hits before his death in 1977. I think most will remember him fondly as Catholic priest “Father O’Malley”, from the movie, Going My Way, but his fans and his friends called him Bing.
It probably sounds like a role from one of the actor’s movies. While Oppenheimer and crew worked on the A-bomb from Army barracks in the New Mexico desert, Bing Crosby and his two brothers put finishing touches on their device in a labyrinth of converted rooms beneath the grandstands of Del Mar Horse Race Track. They finished before the other teams and were first to begin testing their device; it sort of worked. I am referring, of course, to the Bat Bomb, WWII’s other secret weapon.
The bat bomb looked like a normal bomb, tapered nose, fins and all. But on the inside, vertically stacked trays filled the temperature-controlled housing with 1,040 bats, each with a small explosive on a string clipped to its chest. The plan was, the bomb would drop and its propeller would spin. After enough turns, the sides of the housing would disengage and fall away, the trays would be supported via parachute, and the bats were free to scatter. It was expected the bats would eventually perch, chew through their bomb tethers and fly off, leaving tiny incendiary payloads behind to do their worst damage to Japanese cities made of paper.
The bomb’s housing worked perfectly. The trouble was with the bats, themselves. In order to manage so many of the little critters, they had to be refrigerated into hibernation…but they didn’t always thaw out/wake up in time. (In war, many sacrifices are required.) The mucky-mucks fiddled with thermostats and altitudes and held mock-tests with promising results. Convinced by the military’s Chief Chemist that the Bat Bomb could deliver 100 times more fires per payload than traditional bombs, the project was renamed “Project X-ray” and moved to Carlsbad Army Airfield for “armed” trials, and where there was a proximal supply of more bats, if needed—Carlsbad was home, sweet home to the tiny cave dwellers.
It was nothing short of a “bat-tastrophe!”
The creatures thawed, woke and incinerated the entire test range, an aircraft hangar, and a very expensive car belonging to an Army general. The think tank went back to the drawing board and tried again, but time ran out; the nuclear tests were a success and we all know the unfortunate history that followed.
But Bing’s bomb worked! (Now say that three times, real fast.)