“The inhabitants of Venus…must be rocking with laughter today, for their planet having been mistaken for a Jap balloon”
Before UFOs there were FU-GO scares.
In 1945 a jittery American public was mistaking Venus for Japan’s FU-GO balloon bombs on an alarmingly regular basis. 9,000 of the 30 ft balloons with incendiary bomb payloads had been launched against the US in the hope of causing large-scale forest fires and spreading terror.
For many months the authorities in the West and Pacific North West had successfully kept an embargo on confirmed landings until six people were killed by an exploding Fu-Go in Oregon (the only known deaths on US soil from enemy action in WW2).
When the threat was revealed in May ’45, numerous panics ensued throughout the summer months as citizens frequently mistook Venus, weather balloons, and sometimes hoax balloons for the FU-GO menace.
This is surely pertinent to anyone interested in the history of UFO reports.
“About 25 feet up”
On June 6th, Phoenix and several other Arizona communities had their first ‘Jap balloon’ panic. Telephone lines to the press, police department, sheriff’s office and weather bureau were reportedly jammed
‘while at the air fields planes were sent out to hunt down the invader…Men, women and children shaded their eyes and gazed at the round white speck which was…”just about 25 feet up and north of the new moon.”’ [Emphasis mine]
Spectators ‘dive[d] for the nearest telephone to notify someone else about it’, and arguments raged as to whether it was a Jap balloon or just one the weather department sends up.’
Luke Field and Williams Field fliers, checking the object from planes, were able to report back definitely that there was no balloon where reported. And Phoenix Junior college’s 5 inch refractor telescope clearly identified the object as Venus. According to the Associated Press, Tucson had the same experience, with Davis-Monthan fliers being ‘sent to cut down the invader.’
A week later, witnesses in Provo, Utah, ‘swore they could even see “the stripes” on the balloon’ until two Brigham Young University Students, having noticed ‘hundreds of people craning their necks’, reported the incident and one Dr Carl Eyring used his telescope to identify Venus.
In Klamath Falls, Oregon, Venus started ‘frantic reports’ of a Japanese balloon and an amateur astronomer had to be called in to set up a public ‘astronomy clinic’ on the sidewalk ‘to convince the populace that they were not being bombed.’
A few days later on June 21st, security forces were ‘brought to the ready’ when reports of a ‘grey globe hovering ominously’ over the city of Superior, Wisconsin, ‘sent hundreds of persons into the street to see the “Japanese balloon”.’ Until Prof. E Schreiber at the State Teachers College looked through his telescope and announced, “There is no immediate danger since the Planet Venus, now the morning star, is at present 30 million miles from town.”
On July 5th, people in downtown Spokane, Washington, ‘spent most of the morning and afternoon…craning their necks to see a “Jap balloon”‘…drifting over the city, with ‘every street corner crowded’ until the weather bureau identified the object as Venus. The Bureau’s H R McQueen said ‘hundreds of Seattle, Tacoma and Spokane residents phoned to report a Jap Balloon “near the moon”, only to be advised they were seeing Venus.
Another Oregon paper reported:
All law enforcement agencies here received many calls on every bright day in the last month from disturbed citizens who have mistaken the planet for a balloon. It appears even more like a balloon when seen through binoculars, some declare. Authorities said there would be many more calls of alarm over the next month/six weeks but each call is carefully checked by army authorities lest by chance a balloon should make an appearance.
‘Meanwhile, all sorts of weird reports have spread through the West as a result of these balloon; and at one time the schools in one big city were nearly disrupted by exaggerated rumours.’ [Emphasis mine]
Despite the very real threat of injury or death from the FU-GO balloons, hoaxers couldn’t resist capitalizing on the febrile atmosphere. Three High school boys in Monterey Park, California, inflated their 16 x 10 ft balloons with hot air from a barbecue pit causing ‘a realistic Japanese balloon scare.’ Chief of police Herman Conway said the ‘reprimanded’ boys promised not to repeat the prank.
In Vancouver, Canada, Western air command was ‘flooded with calls from nervous citizens reporting an object above the city hall district. RCAF pilots were scrambled to herd it away from the city and hopefully shoot it down over the ocean.
‘As the planes closed in, their quarry began evasive tactics, turned, twisted and descended rapidly to earth – guided by a small boy who had taken advantage of the evening breeze to fly an over-sized box kite.
While a landed 6ft weather balloon in Brockway PA, stirred ‘hundreds of spectators.’
The above are samples of many such reports in the summer of 1945, two years before the press cried ‘Flying Saucers!’ UFOlogists and UFO enthusiasts have often enjoyed scoffing at Venus and weather balloon explanations for UFO reports. But here were witnesses – hundreds at a time – fearful that Venus was going to bomb them in broad daylight. The incidence of mistaken reports of the FU-GO balloons, and attendant hysterical contagion, should be a sober lesson in the fallibility of emotionally charged witnesses.
Arizona Republic, Thu Jun 7 1945
The Daily Herald, Provo, Utah Fri Jun 15 1945
Venus gets the blame in Jap Balloon scare, The Lincoln Star, Nebraska, Sun Jun 17, 1945
Balloon’ Scares Town, The Wilkes-Barre record, Pennsylvania, Fri Jun 22 1945
Venus Throws Jap Scare Into City, Daily Capital Journal, Salem, Oregon, Fri Jul 6 1945
Another Jap Balloon Scare, Delphos Daily Herald, Ohio, Tue Jun 19 1945
Venus Gets Blame For Balloon Scare, The Bend Bulletin, Oregon, Fri Jul 6 1945
Pranksters Scare City With Balloon Barrage, The Advocate-Messenger, Danville, Kentucky, Thu Jun 7, 1945
Youths Cause Balloon Scare, Argus-Leader, Sioux Falls, Sth Dakota, Thu Jun 7, 1945