The U.S. Army's Plans for WWII Bat Bombs

As the Pacific Theater of World War II kicked into high gear following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Pennsylvania dentist Dr. Lytle S. Adams readied the finishing touches on a weapon of war unlike any other: the bat bomb. The weapon was highly unconventional, but was nonetheless approved by President Roosevelt. By January of 1942, the bat bomb was ready for production.

But just how did this bat bomb get its name, and what made it so unusual? The answer is one of the 20th century’s most bizarre stories.

Dr. Adams’ idea was inspired by his fascination with bats, and centered on a few key factors.
First, at the time of the Second World War, most of the houses across Japan were made from paper, bamboo, and other similarly flammable materials. Second, bats occur in large numbers and are capable of carrying more than their body weight. Lastly, they sleep at night in small, dark corners away from sight.

From these threads of inspiration, Dr. Adams’ plan was woven together. “Think of thousands of fires breaking out simultaneously over a circle of forty miles in diameter for every bomb dropped.”
The plan was to devastate the Japanese homeland with a relatively low loss of life. The bats would be dropped in Japan and take up roosts in the buildings. At night, their bombs would then set the country ablaze. After his acquaintance, one Eleanor Roosevelt, passed the idea along to several experts, it was approved. The plan seemed crazy… but it could work.

The first step was to test the bats out with fake bombs to see if they could handle the job.
Following demonstrations that showed the proof of concept, the project (codenamed “Project X-Ray”) could begin in earnest. The Army then began capturing thousands of bats with nets in caves across the southwest. But researchers still had to figure out how an operation like this could work.

To begin, they had to decide how to transport the bats to Japan, and how they would be deployed on the unsuspecting country.
Researchers decided the best way to accomplish this was by placing the bats in ice cube trays and cooling them until they went into a hibernation mode. Next, they determined that a cardboard container would open automatically to release them.

But trouble arose when some of the bats got loose and set fire to a hangar and a general’s car.
The Marine Corps took control of the project in 1943, but at that point, about 30 demonstrations had been attempted and over $2 million was spent. Project X-Ray was cancelled shortly thereafter.

Most people believe the short lifespan of the idea was in part due to interest and resources being focused on the atomic bomb.
Dr. Adams was dismayed at the cancelation of his grand idea, but he didn’t let it stop him from coming up with others. He went on to patent ideas for bombing fields with seeds… and for a fried chicken vending machine.

Still, the bat bomb would go on to be remembered for its unusual nature and its noble inspiration.
Dr. Adams maintained that his idea could have been as effective as the A-bomb, but without the massive loss of life.

Some stories are just too crazy to be untrue. Dr. Lytle Adams had a big idea and he went for it… even though we all probably could have seen that hangar fire happening.