WWII Files – Pigeon Guided Missiles and Literal Bat Bombs


The man behind Project Pigeon was famed American
behaviorist and Harvard professor B.F. Skinner, who teamed with the U.S. Army to develop such
a system. Pigeons were trained using operant conditioning,
a type of learning pioneered by Skinner in 1937 where behavior is modified by its consequences. In operant conditioning, the initial behavior
is spontaneous, but when it is either rewarded or punished, that behavior is either reinforced
or inhibited. In this case, Skinner rewarded pigeons for
pecking an image on a screen to get them conditioned to do it. Skinner then designed a nose cone for missiles
that had three windows for the pigeon (or up to three pigeons in some tests) to look
through. Via the flight control system and a metal
piece on the nose of the pigeon(s) to detect a peck, the pecking of the windows would result
in the missile changing course, depending on which window was pecked and where on the
window the pecking happened. The pigeons were then trained to peck such
that the target, whatever object the pigeon was conditioned to go for, stayed centered
in front of the missile. The National Defense Research Committee was
skeptical of pigeons guiding missiles, but contributed $25,000 (about $321,000 today)
toward research into it anyway. Even with this support, Skinner’s idea was
considered eccentric and there were few in power who would take him seriously. However, in simulation, the pigeons, who can
process visual information roughly three times faster than humans, were remarkably good at
guiding the missile straight to the target once they were trained, rarely missing in
the simulator. Despite this, Project Pigeon was canceled
in October of 1944 due to the belief of Army decision-makers that investing more time and
money into it would delay the development of other projects that had more promise of
being successful. There was also, of course, some unease in
entrusting the guidance of a missile to a bird. As Skinner stated, the problem was not that
the system didn’t work when tested in the simulator, it was that “no one would take
us seriously.” That wasn’t the end of Project Pigeon though. It was brought back by the Navy in 1948, only
this time called Project Orcon, for “Organic Control.” It was canceled again in 1953 thanks to advancements
in electronic guidance systems. bat-bombBat Bombs were another experimental
weapon considered by the U.S. during World War II, at the suggestion of a Dentist, Dr.
Lytle Adams who was a friend of the First Lady. These bombs consisted of a bomb-shaped casing
with several compartments inside. Each compartment housed a Mexican Free-tailed
bat. Each bat had a small incendiary device attached
to it. The casings were refrigerated in order to
lower the bat’s body temperature and force them into hibernation until they were dropped
from a plane shortly before dawn. A parachute would slow the descent and eventually
the casing would be triggered to open and release the bats. As bats in sunlight would seek roosts in dark
places like attics, when they were released and the Sun came out, they’d seek such places. The hope was that with the incendiaries timed
to go off all at once, this would start fires in places that were hard to access to fight
a fire. Further, in many cases, the fire’s existence
wouldn’t be noticed until it had well established itself. It was thought that bat bombs would be particularly
effective in Japan where buildings were made largely of wood and paper. Release several hundred thousand of these
bats in major Japanese cities and the towns would go up in flames while resulting in much
smaller losses of life than by carpet bombing or a (later) nuclear strike. Essentially, it would help take out the infrastructure
while minimizing civilian casualties. While on the surface this plan may seem farfetched,
the U.S. agreed to develop the Bat Bomb for four reasons: bats are available in large
numbers (four caves in New Mexico alone are each believed to be the home to millions of
bats); bats can carry more than their own weight in flight (up to three times their
weight); bats can hibernate for extended periods without need of food or water; and finally,
bats fly in the dark, then find secluded places to hide at sunrise. The program was actually mildly successful
in a bad way. During testing, some of the bats with incendiary
devices attached escaped, resulting in a large part of the base they were being tested at,
Carlsbad Army Airfield Auxiliary Air Base, burning down. (As seen in the above picture.) The results in the controlled testing were
also very promising and it seemed like this would actually work well. In fact, it was estimated that while standard
incendiary bombs would probably start about 167-400 fires per bomb load in a major Japanese
city, based on the testing, the bat bombs would probably produce about 3,625-4,748 fires
per load. Further, just ten B-24 bombers could carry
an astounding 1,040,000 bats strapped with the 17-28 gram incendiary devices. However, the program was cancelled, as with
the pigeons not because it didn’t work, but for other reasons. In this case, it was estimated that the bats
would not be ready for deployment until mid-1945. Despite the promising results in testing,
the program was considered to be moving too slowly, and, with an estimated $2 million
invested in it (about $25.7 million today), too expensively. Instead, the Manhattan Project was deemed
a more likely candidate for ending the war sooner, as it was thought to be progressing
quicker and certainly would have a more dramatic effect if it was ultimately successful. Both for the historical novelty of ending
WWII with literal bat bombs and for avoiding having to use a nuclear weapon in war and
the massive loss of life that ensued, I think we can all, except for maybe the bats, agree
that it’s too bad the timetable on the bat bomb project was considered too long. For reference, Little Boy and Fat Man were
deployed on August sixth and ninth of 1945 respectively. So at the original timetable, the bats would
have been ready sooner had the project continued to be funded. Pigeons were also used as messengers during
both World Wars. The U.S. and United Kingdom created special
pigeon service units with tens of thousands of birds. One pigeon, nicknamed Gustav but officially
known as bird NPS.42.31066, flew over 150 miles to England on D-Day to deliver a message
about the Normandy landings.

100 thoughts on “WWII Files – Pigeon Guided Missiles and Literal Bat Bombs

  1. Lol I accidentally read this as "Liberal bat bombs" and started thinking "what does politics got anything to do with this?"

  2. I suspect that rather than strapping explosives to animals we strapped them to the military planners, generals and politicians, the wars would be over very quickly.

  3. And before tests wirh Pigeons to be used as a guidance system for Dumb bombs. Some Dog loving Cat hating numskull thought that it would be a great idea to use cats as the guidance system for bombs. And his reasoning for this was he believed that the cat's "natural FEAR of WATER" (That Myth is ABSOLUTELY FALSE and UNTRUE ) would make the cat want to go towards the Japanese ships. Well thankfully for the cat. The experiment was abandoned for two MAJOR REASONS when it was found out that…
    1: The cat would black-out EVERY TIME when the bomb that it was in, reached it Terminal Velocity the cat would black-out at 2G's(which that was the speed at which the bomb is going about)halfway between the drop and the intended target.

    So the project was dropped.

  4. imagine being bat bombed and you didnt know it so you find a bat in your house and try to shoo it out with a broom and then it bursts into flames

  5. Are you implying that nuclear weapons weren't the best choice to end the war sooner saving millions of Japanese and American lives?

  6. Lets derail this discussion by focusing on how decisive the nukes were on ending WWII and what part the Soviet declaration of war played on it, because sooner or later someone will bring this up, anyway…

  7. While the bat bombs may have ended the war with no nuclear bombs, I strongly believe that the A-bombs prevented world war 3 from starting.
    Both America and Russia had enough nukes to annihilate the whole world, but seeing the results of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is a good reminder of why not to use them.

  8. Pigeons are really cool. Similar to the guided missile after the war they developed a search and rescue thing. A pod with a trained pigeon in was attached to the underside of a search helicopter/plane. The pigeon's pecks would alert and guide the pilot. It's a shame it was cancelled due to anti-pigeon stigma as they proved 6x as effective at spotting people than human observers.

  9. Bat Bombs burning their test base down, Russian anti-tank dogs hiding under Russian tanks, and pidgeon guided missiles. There is definitely a comedy in there somewhere.

  10. The truth about the bat bomb is… It was originally commissioned by Stan Lee until someone at D.C. got wind of it and paid the government off to cancel it.

    As for why the pigeon guided missile never worked… well slit of the generals thought it was a bird brained scheme.

  11. You have to wonder how some of these people got their job. Maybe the reason that 'no one took them seriously' is due to the fact that any sane person can see how bad these ideas are.

  12. It doesn't surprise me at all that Skinner was behind the pigeon thing… a lot of his most famous experiments were completely unethical by today's standards.

  13. Put a pigeon in a drone and have it guide missiles. Almost can garuntee it would be more accurate than today's drone pilots.

  14. Oh the bat bomb actually has basis in history there are a number of medieval battles where they got birds from the city set them on fire and let them go and set the whole city in fire.

  15. I recall a source claiming a smaller batch was deployed in japan prior to cancellation and the thing cancelled was the bigger batch which was denied funding because of the manhatten project. Anybody know's something about that?

  16. "Bats catching fire in the sky. Pigeons brazenly attacking people on the street. It's the end of the world I tell you."-Skyrim guards during WWII

  17. Bat bombs: simple, effective, and cheap

    America: spends millions and millions of dollars to build atomic bombs

    Big win for the military industrial complex

  18. Why don't supermarket displays have frozen meat instead of cold meat?

  19. Dont forget the proposed way to keep British nuclear land mines in Germany warm in winter (cold A bombs didnt go bang due to the type of explosives used) by filling them with live chickens!

  20. I really think people should leave other animals out of our stupidity and nonsense.  what do they know of politics, greed, corruption and the quest for ultimate power?  they just want to live their lives in peace.  using them for our stupidity is disrespectful.  plus which, animals have an intellect equaling that of a young child.  it's like using toddlers to further the ends of stupid, bickering adults through violent means.

  21. Hey TIFO, I normally avoid this sort of posting (preferring lower key discussions)… BUT it has occurred to me that about 85% of the comments so far (and by kind of lazy math default about 85% of commenters) would respond quite positively to a series of presentations about WWII being more of a comedy of errors than a climax of human ingenuity or a hard won victory over the forces of evil and darkness… :o)

  22. The Germans (and I think the Russians too) used dogs trained to crawl under tanks strapped with explosives as a primitive guided anti tank weapons in WW2. Dolphins and seals were trained to hunt submarines and divers, but I'm not sure if they were actually deployed in combat.

  23. The fact that bat bombs could have ended the war instead of the Manhattan project is surprising. But if that happened the Manhattan project could have continued research and probably been used against Russia.

  24. I'm a little interested in the different types of gases such as regular-premium that you buys at a gas station and how they came about. I've always wondered if it's a scam to get people to pay more money.

  25. I was well aware of the existence of these weird weapons of war before this video. Theirs also plenty more of them that existed. Such as the Russian tank of the First World War that looked like an overgrown tricycle or the British Aircraft carrier from Would War 2 made out of Ice. But still nice video, it helped fill in a few blanks I had.

  26. Have you ever considered the possible consequence of NOT dropping the atomic bombs on Japan? Consider for a moment the fact that after 1945 and at least 1990 the United States and the Soviet Union stood as adversaries, ready at any moment to launch an attack against the other side.
    Every time one side or the other wanted to launch the leaders remembered the pictures of burned Japanese children. It wasn't hard for them to imagine the results of pushing the button to be burned Soviet of American children.
    Politicians are typically pretty stupid and unimaginative. Could Soviet and American leaders have thought as clearly about what would happen if they pushed the button?
    Also, 3 times the number of civilians died in fire bombings in Japan than died in the two atomic attacks. Nuclear weapons seem to have acquired a more than deserved air of evil about them. This is simply not true. Nuclear weapons are no more evil than any other weapon designed to kill. In fact I think they are quite a bit LESS evil than any other weapon of war ever invented.
    After all, no other weapon can make war so unthinkable.Thomas Jefferson (I think) wrote that he hoped there would one day be a weapon invented so devastating as to make it's use unthinkable. When that happens, war will become impossible.
    I think Jefferson would consider nuclear weapons that very weapon.

  27. I met an old guy who was an AF vet, a few years after I got out of the AF myself. He was on one of those teams that work out the logistics and probabilities of all kinds of … well, whacked out ideas. The military games pretty much everything out as an exercise, run every idea into the ground as thought experiments, but in that serious military way.

    One of the concepts he worked on involved ICBMM. Intercontinental Ballistic Mosquito Missiles. The warhead was to be loaded with disease bearing mosquitoes, like malaria. He spent months on the concept with a team of other people, working out the possible logistics, the physics of how to deliver such a delicate load in such a manner that enough of the cargo would be viable at the other end of a sub-orbital trajectory, etc. It was his favorite project, and many on his team put in extra effort to see through to the end every possible way it might work, for months. He said the final report weighed almost as much as a car. The executive summary was one page. With one line on it, basically saying, "it won't work, see attached".

  28. this shit is insane. Imagine how insane it sounded to the higher up officials who allowed funding for the project. "Sir, next up we are asked to fund development on.. pidgeon guided missiles?"

  29. My great-grandfather had the idea of the guided missile in the usa but he did not get any credit. He got taken off one of the ships that was going to D-day the last minute for engineering stuff. He has made many missiles for the us. Go to the Dayton Air Force museum and some of those he has made.

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