World War II was full of bizarre weapons from rifles with curved barrels to attempts at flying tanks. There was nothing each side wouldn’t do to gain an advantage. Every country in the war had their own research department, which job it was to developed new arms for the war effort. One such lab for the Japanese was the infamous Unit 731, tasked with research into publicly keeping soldiers safe from illness but was in fact also working on biological weapons.

Shirō Ishii, commander of Unit 731

From 1937 until 1945, the Japanese brutally occupied China. The idea was to use the fertile fields of China as sort of a food factory for its expanding colonization of the pacific. The only problem was that Chinese were not going to take this occupation laying down. The resulting war and resistance movements resulted in the deaths of an almost unthinkable 17 million civilians living in china. To put that in scale that would mean 1 in every 25 people in china died from the occupation. Some by the mass bombings but most passed away from the famine and illness that just seems to come with war.

For the city of Ningbo there was something even more sinister killing it’s citizens, the bubonic plague. Dr Huang Ketai claims that 109 people in Ningbo died from bubonic plague in 1940. In 1940 the Japanese military was dumping wheat from airplanes over the town, which in my research I couldn’t find a good reason for. Along with the wheat it’s suspected that unit 731 hid plague infected fleas. Just as unusual as the wheat dumping is that the illness just seemed to pop up in Ningbo, killing a bunch of people and then quickly faded away. For those unaware of bubonic plague it is the Bactria suspected of causing the Black Death that wiped out medieval Europe and is usually carried by fleas living on rats. The plague causes coughing and large blisters to form on the skin both of which can spread the bacteria. The Plague being very contagious is very unlikely to contain its self to one village and to just die off.

After the war when allied forces were in China and Japan helping them rebuild, they found labs that contented the materials for making bioweapons. In a lab in Guangzhou China they found vials of typhus which is also spread by fleas and vials of plague as well as a rat farming operation. Disturbingly we also know from lab reports that these illnesses including plague were deliberately given to POW’s for research prepossess. The Japanese were dropping something over Ningbo after which the people came down with bubonic plague, and knowing that the Japanese were experimenting heavily with plague the evidence is strong that Japan had something to do with the outbreak.

But why would the Japanese military want to infect a town they already controlled? Well this might have been a test run. Several times airplanes were filled with plague infected fleas to be dropped behind front lines but luckily never made it to their targets. In 1945 Operation Cherry Blossoms at Night was being set up. The plan would involve three subs that would make their way to San Diego. The subs would then release airplanes that would fly over southern California spreading plague infected fleas. Luckily the war gotten more desperate and Japan was forced to put the mission on hold and by then the war was over.

In 1999 a lawsuit was brought up against the government of Japan seeking compensation and a formal apology for the victim’s of Japanese bioweapons. Still to this day the Japanese government has not admitted that unit 731 was charged with developing bioweapons. The projects of unit 371 were a horror movie made real and is just another example of the extremes that fascist Japan was willing to go to conquer the world.

Sources
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/1135368.stm
https://www.warhistoryonline.com/featured/operation-cherry-blossoms-night.html/2
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unit_731