Wartime often brings inventions, particularly in military technology. While some of these are brilliant, others never make it out of the testing stage or are quickly abandoned for their ineffectiveness or inefficiency. These examples show not only the desperation of war, but also the creative solutions to meet the needs of the military during times of war.
World War II brought the atom bomb and new innovations in artillery and tanks, but it also brought the bat bomb, pigeon-guided missiles, and the Gustav Gun.
The Bat Bomb, aka Project X-Ray
The Bat Bomb was the invention of a dentist, Dr. Lytle S. Adams. Adams, a resident of Philadelphia, had recently returned from a trip to New Mexico when he conceived the idea. While traveling, he’d seen and been impressed by the abilities of Mexican Free-Tailed Bats. Adams believed that large numbers of bats armed with tiny bombs, could be dropped on Japan. He returned to Carlsbad Caverns and collected a number of bats to pursue his research.
He quickly realized that bats could carry a substantial amount of weight, fly comfortably at high altitudes, and could fly long distances. The bats would naturally roost in dark, high places, like the eaves of buildings. When the bombs exploded, the wooden structures in Japanese cities would burn.
On January 12, 1942, Adams wrote a letter to the White House, outlining his proposal. He was friends with the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, so the letter reached the desk of U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt. Roosevelt arranged a meeting between Adams and Colonel William J. Donovan, the head of wartime intelligence.
Research and development began in earnest, with the collection of a large number of Mexican free-tailed bats. Once the bats were acquired, the work of developing small-scale bombs began. Eventually, a 17-gram kerosene bomb was built for the bats. A much larger bomb was designed to house and drop the bats. The larger bomb was designed to hold 1,040 bats, and was kept cool so the bats would hibernate during their journey. The bats would be released, warm up, and begin to roost. They would chew through the string on the bomb, triggering the explosive soon after. As for the bats, they would fly away before the bomb exploded. A number of tests were scheduled and were mostly successful.
Work on the project continued until 1944; it was stopped only because all resources were being directed toward the atomic bomb, rather than the bat bomb.