Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | May 23, 2013

America’s Experiment with Weaponized Bats

Molossus molossus molossus 1847

Anderson alerted me to the fact that today is the 70th anniversary of a failed experiment in the history of developing unconventional weapons. (It’s simultaneously tragic and hilarious.) Anderson links to this Brad DeLong post, which in turn links to this Dave Barry column:

In December 1941, shortly after Pearl Harbor, a Pennsylvania dental surgeon named Lytle S. Adams thought of a way that the United States could fight back against Japan. It will come as no surprise to anyone who has undergone dental surgery that the idea he came up with was: attaching incendiary bombs to bats and dropping them out of airplanes. The idea was that the bats would fly into enemy buildings, and the bombs would go off and start fires, and Japan would surrender.

So Dr. Adams sent his idea to the White House, which laughed so hard that it got a stomachache.

No! That’s what you’d expect to happen, but instead the White House sent the idea to the U.S. Army, which, being the U.S. Army, launched a nationwide research effort to determine the best kind of bat to attach a bomb to. By 1943 the research team had decided on the free-tailed bat, which “could fly fairly well with a one-ounce bomb.” Thousands of these bats were collected and — remember, we are not making any of this up — placed in ice-cube trays, which were then refrigerated to force the bats to hibernate so bombs could be attached to them.

On May 23, 1943, a day that every school child should be forced to memorize, five groups of test bats, equipped with dummy bombs, were dropped from a B-25 bomber flying at 5,000 feet. Here, in the dramatic words of the article, is what happened next:

Most of the bats, not fully recovered from hibernation, did not fly and died on impact.

Researchers continued to have problems with bats failing to show the “can-do” attitude you want in your night-flying combat mammal. Also there was an incident wherein “some bats escaped with live incendiaries aboard and set fire to a hangar and a general’s car.”

At this point the Army, possibly sensing that the project was a disaster, turned it over to the Navy. Really. “In October 1943, the Navy leased four caves in Texas and assigned Marines to guard them, ” states the article. The last thing you want, in wartime, is for enemy agents to get hold of your bats.

The bat project was finally canceled in 1944, having cost around $2 million…

Lest we forget.

Image Credit: Drawing of Molossus molossus molossus, a subspecies of the free-tailed bat, native to much of South America and Central America. From Alcide d’Orbigny, Voyage dans l’Amérique méridionale, 1847 edition. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

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