The Japanese were planning to attack San Diego by sea
Operation Cherry Blossom in the Night is the traditional Japanese poetic name for the plan to bring America to its knees at the very end of the war. The goal was to infect the people of San Diego with bubonic plague.
The Japanese were studying the effects of diseases like bubonic plague on poor prisoners of war, especially the Chinese. At the infamous Unit 731 facility, under the command of microbiologist and General Shiro Ishii, the worst atrocities imaginable were being committed. As captured Japanese testified at the war tribunal, soldiers collected fleas to be infected with plague, which were then sealed in special bombs.
These were then dropped by the Japanese on Chinese cities. The Japanese were at war with China before the outbreak and throughout the course of World War II, and it was a very brutal war. Bombs filled with plague-infected fleas were dropped on the cities of Ningbo and Changde in northern China. Some experts estimate that as many as 50 000 residents of these cities died as a result of the bombing.
The Japanese were well aware of the devastating effects of their bombing. They therefore began to contemplate how to deal a similarly lethal blow to their main enemy across the ocean. Thus was born the plan for Operation Cherry Blossom Night. The Japanese were limited by the fact that they did not have bombing planes powerful enough to fly over the United States. They didn’t have any four-engine bombers that could make a similar flight. So they began to consider the use of hot air balloons.
These were indeed used during the war, and about 200 of them flew over the United States, killing seven people. But the American authorities kept the information about the balloons secret, and the Japanese were unsure whether their operation had any effect. Moreover, the balloons were not filled with plague, but mostly with flammable material. However, since the use of balloons had no visible results from the Japanese point of view, they had to find another method that could be used in transporting plague bombs.
An even crazier plan than hot air balloons was hatched. The Japanese were the only ones in the world with submarines that had planes on board. One such submarine was to arrive with a squad of specially trained kamikaze pilots on the shores of America. There, seaplanes were to be launched at night and the pilots were to board them. This was to be followed by a flight over the first major American city, which was San Diego.
But none of this happened. The kamikaze unit was trained, but the Navy refused to make its submarine available. By 1945, Admiral Hideki Tojo was already convinced that his country’s defeat was inevitable and would happen very soon. The navy’s job, he believed, was to defend Japan, not to conduct foolish offensive actions against a distant landmass. Moreover, he probably realized that an attack by the plague kamikazes would anger the Americans, which was not very tactical on the eve of defeat.
It is a sad irony of history that Tojo, who protected America from attack, died. He first tried to shoot himself, but his life was saved, only to be hanged as a war criminal a few weeks later. In contrast, a monster named Shiro Ishii was not punished in exchange for handing over all the results of his research. He lived the rest of his life in peace and without worry. The men of his unit went far in politics, one becoming mayor of Tokyo, the other serving as president of the Japanese Medical Association.