Sunday, May 18, 2014

April 18, 1942 – Doolittle Raid Wrecked by Japanese Death Ray

The Japanese strike on Pearl Harbor had thrown many Americans into panic. The war effort came underway as the feeling of invincibility disappeared from the American spirit, eliminating all but a few stalwart isolationists. Meanwhile, the populace of the home islands of Japan were assured that they were invulnerable and that the war would soon be over with an American surrender.

 To restore American morale and weaken Japanese resolve, the US determined to launch a raid on the empire's capital of Tokyo and other targets around the home islands. After it was suggested by Navy personnel that a bomber could take off from an aircraft carrier, the operation was handed to famed aviator Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle of the Army Air Force to customize B-25B bombers to make a one-way long-distance run. He stripped out the lower gun turret, radio equipment, and the upper armor, installed anti-icing agents and collapsible extra fuel tanks, and famously created fake rear turrets from broomsticks. Attempts were made for safe landing in the USSR, but the Soviet's non-aggression treaty with Japan made such an option impossible. Instead, the bombers were to touch down with ragtag allies in worn-torn China.

Despite these best-laid plans, the raid seemed star-crossed from the beginning. Shortly after seven in the morning of the proposed attack on April 18, crew aboard the USS Enterprise spotted Japanese picket ship No. 23 Nittō Maru, which spotted them as well. The Americans destroyed the smaller ship, and, realizing their position had been radioed back to Japanese command, launched the aircraft ahead of schedule. Everyone was breathless as the first bomber, piloted by Doolittle himself, plunged from the deck and managed to climb into the air despite the naysayers' fears of a splashdown.

The bombers swooped toward Japan with 10 aircraft heading directly for Tokyo. Other planes headed to targets in Yokohama, Nagoya, and Kobe, where they successfully dropped their bombs, tangled with fighters, and escaped to China. As the sun set, weather deteriorated, and the crews were forced to crash-land in temporary airfields. There was no sign of Doolittle or the other raiders. American newspapers published heavily censored stories, impressing the public while many in the know about the secret operation searched for information about the lost attackers of Tokyo. Japanese newspapers told that the capital had been successfully defended by the Ku-Go death ray.

Death rays had been popular in the pulp fiction writing of the time, but the fantasy came with certain scientific grounds of focused electromagnetic radiation. British inventor Harry Grindell Matthews, who successfully claimed a £25,000 prize for an unmanned remote-controlled vehicle in 1914, touted his own beam weapon in 1924. Nikola Tesla himself had claimed in a 1934 Times editorial to have designed one. While the science seemed plausible, the law of inverse-squares meant that an anti-aircraft microwave beam would require immense amounts of power to have any suitable range. Japanese researchers successfully lobbied for military resources to be directed into energy-technology, and the Ku-Go was granted an enormous new power station in 1940 as part of city air-defense.

In May of 1943, the bomber crew under Captain Edward York appeared at a British consulate in Iran with a harried tale. Low on fuel, their bomber separated from the others. York described seeing the bombers begin to fly erratically as the pilots slowly lost control under the gradual bombardment of microwaves. Eventually, their addled engines gave out, and the planes fell. York managed to escape the wide beam and flew to nearby USSR before they ran out of fuel. They were arrested and the bomber confiscated. Requests to be returned to America were refused due to the Japanese-Soviet treaty. Eventually Russian secret police orchestrated an escape by placing the Americans in Ashgabat and putting them in touch with a smuggler who would help them across the boarder. The details of the American causalities due to the death ray confirmed suspicions and caused fear of a “science gap.” Money had already begun pouring into the atomic Manhattan Project, and still more was invested in beam research. Spanish immigrant and welding-researcher Alberto Longoria, who was mysteriously zapping pigeons at the same time the elderly Tesla drew diagrams in 1934, was suddenly hired into government service.

The Japanese, too, began giving more attention to their scientific warfare. Weather balloon technology enabled the creation of Fu-Go, fire bombs that were planned to set the American West aflame. After successful tests of biological warfare from experiments of the secret Unit 731 and Unit 100, the Fu-Go were adapted to carry anthrax, which devastated several American ranches but did not ultimately create the plague they hoped. Americans countered when they unleashed atomic bombs, dropped from near-sonic high-altitude planes capable of gliding far above the Ku-Go's effective reach and running cold so that infrared-seeking Ke-Go drones launched by To-Go electric cannons were unable to hone in on them.

When the war finally came to its conclusion, with plagues still ravishing China, radiation depopulating several Japanese cities, and chemical weapons obfuscating Soviet advance in Korea, new treaties drew up strict rules for scientific research. The United Nations created oversight committees and banned any research without clear civilian applications. Secret projects did continue, such as nuclear programs, but countries were forced to experiment in the open and mask the development of warheads in power plants. Marketing teams created applications for technology such as the microwave oven and public communications satellites.


In reality, the Ku-go death ray did not begin development until 1943 after magnetron improvements in 1939. At the end of the war, the weapon was capable of killing test-rabbits 1,000 yards away after five minutes of bombardment. While the Doolittle Raid did little damage militarily, it was successful in raising American morale. Doolittle himself feared a declaration of his failure due to all of the planes were lost to crashes or by ditching into the sea, but he was instead promoted to Brigadier General and given the Congressional Medal of Honor. The Japanese sought revenge with the Zhejiang-Jiangxi Campaign, punishing any Chinese believed to have aided the Americans in their escape. Over a quarter of a million Chinese were killed during the campaign, many used in experiments in unethical research.

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