During World War II, everything from aircraft to small arms evolved and changed. Some of these new discoveries were dangerously effective, such as the atomic bomb, whereas others were not so much, such as the Japanese fire balloons. Actually, the Japanese had a large number of secret weapons and projects during the war that either weren’t very effective, didn’t see the light of day, or weren’t completed before the war’s end. Near the end of the war, Japan was becoming desperate, and some of the creations they came up with were truly astonishing.

Secret Japanese Planes and Project Z

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Japan came up with a wide variety of secret aircraft from jet and rocket fighters to the world’s first combat helicopter. Some of these planes were not put into action for various reasons, but others, like the Oscar, became legends of the battlefield.

And then there was Project Z. Project Z (also called the Z Bombers Project) was a military project of the Empire of Japan, similar to the Nazi German Amerika Bomber project, to design an intercontinental bomber capable of reaching North America. For more information about Project Z and these crazy planes, you can check out the Wikipedia article here.

Balloon Bombs and Other Crafty Schemes

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The fire balloon or Fu-Go, was a weapon launched by Japan during World War II. It was a hydrogen balloon loaded with incendiary bombs, antipersonnel bombs, and various incendiary devices. They were designed as a cheap weapon intended to make use of the jet stream over the Pacific Ocean and wreak havoc on Canadian and American cities, forests, and farmland.

The balloons were relatively ineffective as weapons mainly due to wind not being all that reliable, but they were one of the only actual attacks on North America during World War II.

Between November 1944 and April 1945, Japan launched over 9,300 fire balloons but only 300 or so found or observed in North America. All told, the balloons killed six people and caused a very small amount of damage. For more info, you can check out the Wikipedia article here.

The Japanese Super Sub

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The Japanese super subs look more like Cold War submarines than World War II subs. They were built for high speed underwater travel and were three times the size of modern submarines. Japan wanted to use these ships for carrying airplanes and launching aerial attacks on the continental United States.

They also had another trick up their sleeves. They were planning to use the submarines to drop big cans full of rats infected with the plague and insects loaded with cholera, dengue, and typhus. Fortunately for the United States, they never had the chance to implement this plan.

These two submarines were so advanced that, after being captured and inspected by the United States, they were sunk so the Soviets couldn’t learn from them. The Japanese were the pioneers in developing advanced aerial attack technology for submarines, but nobody knew about it until later.

The Short Lived Yamato

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Yamato, named after the ancient Japanese Yamato Province, was the lead ship of the Yamato class of battleships that served in the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II. It was the heaviest and most powerfully armed battleship ever constructed, but it didn’t survive the war. The Yamato hardly did anything in battle, and was easily sunk, before her secrets could be discovered by the Allies.

Hashi wrote a full post about the Yamato, and you can read even more about it here on Wikipedia.

Japan’s Atomic Bomb and the Mighty Death Ray

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Back in the 1930s all the industrialized nations, Japan included, started playing around with the idea of weaponizing atomic energy. Even in the beginning, it was clear that such a feat would take a lot of time and a lot of money.

Japan’s atomic experts determined early on that the Americans would probably be the first to achieve this goal, but they considered it unlikely they’d be able to do so before the war’s end. Even so, the Japanese had their own nuclear war program. But instead of concentrating all their efforts here, they also worked extensively on another project. Building a death ray.

A bunch of articles from Nikola Tesla about the potential military applications of these so-called “death rays” that could be fired from a country’s borders starting popping up in America. Japan took notice. This was a very attractive prospect for an island nation such as Japan.

By the end of the war, the Japanese Ku-go death ray could kill a rabbit after five minutes at a distance of 1,000 yards. Pretty impressive (if you’re fighting stationary rabbits, that is).

For more about the death ray, you can check out this article here, and you can read more about Japan’s nuclear program over here on Wikipedia. Wikipedia even has a full list of all the secret and special weapons Japan came up with during the war for you to check out as well.

So tell me, what do you think of these secret Japanese weapons? Any others I forgot to mention? How do you think the world would be different today if Japan had made use of its super subs, completed its atomic bomb project, or actually made a practical death ray? Let us know in the comments!

  • Sillysamurai

    Japanese forces attacked and occupied US soil in WWII, invading Alaska’s Aleutian Islands and building bases on the islands of Kiska and Attu. The Aleut residents of Attu and their schoolteacher and the Navy weathermen on Kiska were taken to Japan as prisoners of war. The battle to retake Attu was the second-worst of the war, after Iwo Jima. 20 years ago, representatives of both countries built memorials there to remember those who had done what their country asked of them and died in this remote windy place. The Aleuts who survived the war were not allowed to return to their decimated village due to unexploded ordinance. Thank God our countries are now friends.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    No mention of Imperial Japan’s greatest secret WWII weapon, Tetsujin-28? I mean, had that thing been completed, America would’ve been done for. Same with the rest of the Allied armies, and Germany and Italy, too. Maybe it even would’ve beaten the Japanese army, since it’s on such a roll.

  • Elliot

    This article makes me think the Japanese were a bit more devious than a lot of the other nations who fought in this war. I mean, seriously, dropping cans of rats with the plague? Not only is that just a horrible thing to do, but unlike any bomb, the disease could spread throughout the world killing hundreds of millions, maybe even the Japanese themselves.

    If you think about it, if any of these secret Japanese plans had worked, they could have won. For all the martyrdom they display for being the first country to be A-bombed, it’s kind of funny to think that had they been the first one’s to develop the bombs, they probably would have dropped them on the us without a second thought.

    I guess it’s actually pretty great they lost the war. The allies had to do some real dirty things to win (like those fire bombings), and they still get flak for it. If the Japanese had won, the amount of destruction and killing they would’ve had to do would have made them into monsters — and they’d have continued their Asian imperialism too. Instead of the Japan we love today, they probably would be our enemy. I’m really glad it didn’t happen that way.

  • HatsuHazama

    Indeed, interesting, but faulted. No GUNDAMS mentioned!!!!
    But really, some of those plans still seem like they’re barely achievable today, or at least would still cost way too much.

    The header image has such a light feel to it. I love it!

  • Chester

    Guam. They invaded and occupied Guam. Americans neither know enough about nor do they respect Guam nearly as much as they should.

  • sillysamurai

    Thanks for posting this. It’s important to know history so that we don’t repeat our mistakes. Guam has my respect.

  • naomi

    wow your article reminds me about my grandpa. my grandpa told me about the balloon bomb when I was a child. I though it was a joke. thank you.

  • FoxiBiri

    Wtf Tesla?!


    That Yamato sounds a lot like that giant tank the Nazis made during WWII. That did not live too long either. Bigger is not always better. Sometimes it just makes for a bigger target.

  • Jonadab

    Honestly, none of these technologies would have made very much difference one way or the other to the war outcome. What they needed to develop was their GDP. Nothing else was going to do the trick.

    Superior aircraft are nice, but when your enemy can build five times as many planes as you can in the same time and, more importantly, five times as many aircraft _carriers_, having planes that can shoot down 1.2 enemy planes every time they shoot down one of yours just isn’t going to cut it, even with suicide tactics. I mean, yes, jet-based or rocket-based fighters would’ve helped a little, but Germany HAD them and it didn’t change the outcome in Europe. The balloons are a clever approach to a real problem in that they actually managed to get to the US mainland (something Japan consistently had trouble accomplishing throughout the war), but even if they’d somehow managed to burn half the forests in California to the ground we still had, you know, the whole rest of the country. The long-range subs are an interesting footnote, but the ability to *potentially* launch half a dozen planes within striking distance of the enemy is kind of second rate, compared to our repeatedly demonstrated ability to fly unlimited bomber sorties over any part of the Japanese mainland we felt like and drop any kind of bombs we wanted more or less whenever we wanted (weather permitting) on significantly shorter notice than the subs would have required. The Yamato was a waste of resources to even build: the most important military doctrine of the Pacific theatre in WWII was that carrier groups had made dreadnaught-style battleships hopelessly obsolete as fleet-leading capital ships. Battleships were still useful in secondary roles, as _part_ of a carrier group, e.g., as a supplement for the planes to assist with bombardment of shore targets during troop landings; but by the middle of 1942 or so the idea of sending battleships out to fight against carriers had become obviously ludicrous. If the Yamato had _been_ a carrier, it might have delayed things a bit, but it wouldn’t have changed the outcome, because they couldn’t have built enough of them fast enough to keep up. As for the atomic bomb, I have said this before: if Japan had had the bomb, it would not have mattered. Where would they have dropped it, and how would they get it there? The last time Japan flew a plane over US soil (discounting a couple of remote islands) was at Pearl Harbor, before we were officially at war. They never managed it again. By 1944, the Allies had de facto control of pretty much the entire Pacific. The only ships the Axis could get through were submarines, and even that was highly unreliable.

    The Japanese navy admirals all knew this beforehand: they estimated that Japan would be able to hold its ground in the Pacific for six months or maybe at most a year, but after that America’s larger economic resources and industrial infrastructure would be an insurmountable problem. They tried to explain it to the army guys and talk them out of engagint the US, but the army wasn’t in a listening mood.

  • jgelling

    In general I’d say you’re right, but I think nuclear weapons are a game-changer.

    Japan was several times behind the U.S. in industry. As an example, they built 20 aircraft carriers (of inferior quality) during the war, and the U.S. built 134. The disparity grew worse and worse over time.

    Theoretically if Japan could’ve developed a nuclear bomb first, though, and if they had a reliable delivery system, none of that would’ve mattered. One bomb would be the end of any fleet.

    But Japan never was going to develop nuclear weapons first. They didn’t have the talent or industry to do so.

  • Carrot

    Interesting insight into a topic that is often overlooked. Whether or not these weapons would have changed the fate of World War Two is another matter. Jonadab is probably right; what mattered was the undisrupted manufacturing capabilities of the countries, since it was a time when numbers did matter. However, if the Japanese or Germans had developed nuclear weapons first (which may have been entirely possible since the American development of nuclear weapons was arguably spearheaded by German scientists!), the war may have ended differently – a peace may have been negotiated for fear of further nuclear attacks or the entire world as we know it, could have been destroyed (if one country had nuclear weapons, another would not be far off). Only one nuclear bomb detonated in enemy territory (in this sense, North America) was all that was needed – the ‘game changer’.

    Be that as it may, the fact that Japan was a small island nation with limited resouces, it is undeniable that their ability to produce these technologically advanced submarines and super battleships is impressive. One can only speculate how much design and technology was taken and further developed by the allies after the war – something that the victor nations rarely reveal.

  • ??????????

    Japanese make weapons=)

  • The_Old_Geezer

    Really lame blog