I have often mentioned jet streams relative to north-west cloud bands. Well, jet streams are narrow currents of high-speed winds, typically thousands of kilometres long, hundreds of kilometres in width, and a few kilometres in depth, that occurs in the lower stratosphere and tropopause They normally travel up to about 400 kph. The maximum speed recorded was 656 kph. Commercial aircraft on trans-Australian flights make full use of the boost given by a jet stream whenever possible.
The Japanese already knew about jet streams from their research on balloons before the Second World War. (This was well before our understanding of jet streams from satellite images). They planned on using jet streams to attack the North American Mainland with incendiary bombs attached to balloons and cause as much alarm and despondency as possible. The idea was to set fire to the forests of the Pacific Northwest.
They developed sophisticated high-altitude incendiary bomb-carrying balloons called Fugos, to be carried along in a jet stream. Of nine thousand Fugos launched, around one thousand reached America, from Alaska to Mexico, and as Far East as Michigan and Texas in the south-west.
Although only six people were killed, the military authorities and FBI realized the confusion and panic this could trigger in the civilian population; and censored all media reports of the balloons. Special Fugo squads were set up across the country to clear up any evidence of the bombs and hush up eye-witnesses. They were called ‘smoke jumpers’, attached to the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion and as a black battalion were the only all black airborne unit in the US Navy. Though highly trained and very capable, they were never allowed to fight in Europe. Instead, in 1945, they were sent to the west coast to deal with a little-known war tactic of balloon bombs. These incendiary bombs were set afloat into the jet stream in Japan, with the idea that they would land on the western US coast and ignite. Though not very successful at killing people, the bombs did cause forest fires. The Smoke Jumpers, in their three years of service, made a total of 1200 individual jumps into fires, with only one loss of life.
If the forests had not been wet from rain and snow the Fugos would have succeeded in setting them alight. And if, as the Americans feared, the Japanese added a biological germ or chemical warfare to the balloon’s arsenal the results would have been catastrophic. Ironically, the most successful Fugo attack brought down a power line to Hanford – the plutonium plant from which the atom bomb was being made.
Joke of the Week. Little Jimmy writes letter to God. Please send me $100. His parents not knowing where to send the letter sent it to Parliament House, Canberra. At Canberra a kind person was touched by the request and slipped a $5 note into a government envelope. Disappointed Jimmy receives it and writes another note to God which says “Thank you God for sending me $5, but next time could you please send the $100 direct to me as Canberra kept most of the money for themselves.