People talk about coaches’ ability to control the locker room, and how it’s an important one. Some people say I never did that so well. I call bullshit on them. You know what’s hard to control? Animals. Football players are comparatively a walk in the park to work with, especially when the animals are small and want to kill you! Confused yet? Don’t worry, you’ll be even more so very shortly…
Country of origin: USA
Purpose built: Alternative, cost-efficient and surprising bomb delivery methods
Years used: 1942-1945
What is it? With humanity constantly striving to create new, devastating weapons of war, it’s only natural that we often look for throwback ways to inflict pain and suffering on each other. Since humanity domesticated the horse and dog many thousands of years ago, we’ve forged a close relationship with animals; much of this is predominantly to our benefit, but in many cases, it is also a net positive for our animal companions. Not so for these unfortunate creatures here – they were in a no-win situation thanks to American military research in the Second World War.
Let’s consider, first off, the idea for the Navy to deploy “cat bombs”. First proposed by the American Office of Strategic Services (a forerunner to the CIA), it revolved around a very simple premise: cats hate water. Therefore, let’s stick a bunch of explosive on the backs of a whole bunch of cats, drop them in the water close by to a ship, then have them swim aboard and explode. Yes, this was a serious idea that was proposed and tested – not some kindergarten creative writing assignment. It was among the dumbest ideas in the history of the universe, and I’ll explain why shortly.
Only slightly better than the cat bombs – but almost just as insane – was the idea to use bat bombs against the Japanese. Again, this isn’t some drug-induced Hunter S. Thompson longform concept. Bat researcher and dentist Dr. Lytle S. Adams managed to connect with top military intelligence thanks to his friendship with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt; realizing that bats were well-suited to be weapons of war, he almost convinced the Air Force to deploy bombs over Japan that were filled with semi-frozen, hibernating bats with smaller bombs strapped to their bodies, which would thaw out, wake up, and fly away to shelter. Later, they would chew through the string attaching the bomb to their body, and then fly away once more. The bomb was a miniature incendiary bomb, with a string on the inside that held the firing pin in place. Each bomb was then injected with copper chloride – a highly corrosive substance – that would slowly dissolve the string, finally allowing the firing pin to trigger the explosion of the bomb.
Thanks to to the bats’ tendency to find places to roost such as attics and doorways – and thanks to the predominantly wood and paper construction of Japanese buildings during this era – the Air Force was convinced that roosting bats would firebomb Japan to the ground if they infested key buildings after being dropped on the country.
Neither of these things did end up ever happening in battle, but my god, let’s consider for a moment if they actually had…
Why didn’t it work?
In the case of the cat bombs, which was clearly the way, way stupider idea of the two, it failed for a variety of reasons:
- Cats are shitty swimmers. Most of them didn’t survive very long in the water.
- It would be almost impossible for cats to climb aboard a ship from the water, due to the difference in size and the lack of solid ground for the cats to get a good initial jump in.
- The cats used in testing passed out halfway through the drop stage and were unsuccessful in guiding the bomb to the target.
The fact that this one even got to the testing stage is a clear indictment of military budgets and intelligence everywhere. The bat bombs were also unsuccessful, but at least there was a slight modicum of thinking behind the whole operation. Why didn’t they work?
- The bats actually did fly away – they were stealthy enough that they could establish roosting spots without being observed by fire watchers in the testing situations conducted in the New Mexico desert.
- The main issue was controlling the live bats; when some armed bats got loose on the testing range in Carlsbad, New Mexico, and roosted underneath a fuel tank, they ended up accidentally burning the entire place to the ground. The Air Force would later pass off the project to the Navy, who would later pass it off to the Marine Corps. After some two million dollars was spent amongst all three branches, the project – titled Project X-Ray – was ultimately canceled in 1944, despite some positive results shown in later testing. Citing the fact that a final version wouldn’t be available for combat usage until 1945 – not to mention the concurrent expensive research going on with the atomic bomb at the same time – it seems likely that the American military wanted to focus their efforts on the Manhattan Project.
- Some eyewitness accounts recall bats dropping to the ground “like stones” in a few test cases – this clearly would limit their efficacy.
What could make it better?
- Just completely fucking scrap the cat bomb idea. That’s so far beyond putting lipstick on a pig.
- The bat bomb idea could absolutely work if it’s possible to have easier transport of the animals; the freezing of the bats was useful for triggering hibernation, but it’s a labor-intensive process to actually capture all of them in the first place, let alone then wrangle them well enough to get them all cooled down. That said, I’m sure PETA would be having a shit-fit if somebody tried to do this in the modern era.
Despite the ridiculous nature of animal-borne bombs, I’m still fairly confident we haven’t seen the last of them, somehow… guess we’ll have to see what’s up next in the rotation. Oh, I remember! A run play on third and 6! That’ll work!