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Animal Soldiers Go Hi-Tech

Bats as Arsonists

Among the more bizarre of the many senseless schemes that have been dreamed up for dragging animals into human wars was a World War II project to turn bats into arsonists.

The idea grew out of the fact that bats look for places to roost in attics and eaves, and that most of the houses in Japan were made of wood and had paper walls. So, what if you could release lots of bats who would find houses to roost in but who were also carrying miniature firebombs?

The idea of the bat bomb was proposed in 1942 by dental surgeon Lytle S. Adams. A million bats, he proposed, in a letter to the White House, could be outfitted with small incendiary devices and let loose around the cities of Osaka Bay. They would find homes to roost in, and the tiny firebombs would be timed to detonate during the bats’ daytime roosting hours.

While each firebomb would be very small, Adams argued, the sheer number of them would unleash a massive firestorm.

The White House gave the scheme a thumbs-up, and the military went to work in New Mexico, where Mexican free-tailed bats are plentiful and could be captured and bred.

The whole operation went awry, however, when a colony of captive bats, kitted out with their mini-firebombs, were released by accident and started a fire at an air base in Carlsbad, New Mexico.

All the bats died in the fire.