The atomic bomb was just one superbomb invented in World War II. In 1944, one year before the atomic bomb was used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the U.S. and New Zealand tested what was called a “tsunami bomb” in waters around New Caledonia and Auckland.
The report, issued on Tuesday, New Year’s Day, came out of research by a New Zealand author and film-maker, Ray Waru, who examined military files deep within his country’s national archives.
Code-named “Project Seal”, it was seen as a possible backup to the nuclear bomb, one which, of course, would only be effective against an enemy with a coastline — like Japan. During the tests, about 3,700 such bombs were detonated.
The project was started in June of 1944 after a U.S. naval officer, E. A. Gibson, noticed that blasting operations to clear coral reefs around Pacific islands sometimes produced a large wave, raising the possibility of creating a “tsunami bomb.” When done right, the tsunami bomb actually worked.
It was absolutely astonishing. First that anyone would come up with the idea of developing a weapon of mass destruction based on a tsunami … and also that New Zealand seems to have successfully developed it to the degree that it might have worked.
In order to create an effective tsunami bomb, scientists determined that they actually needed multiple explosions. Single explosions were not powerful enough; a successful tsunami bomb, they determined, would require about 2 million kilograms of explosive arrayed in a line about five miles off-shore.
If it sounds like science fiction or something out of a James Bond movie, even Waru admits that. He said,
If you put it in a James Bond movie it would be viewed as fantasy but it was a real thing. I only came across it because they were still vetting the report, so there it was sitting on somebody’s desk [in the archives].
The project was abandoned early in 1945, presumably because the Manhattan project was going well. It could have ended the war, if the atomic bomb had not come to fruition, but certainly, it would not have frightened the Soviet Union. As Waru said,
Presumably if the atomic bomb had not worked as well as it did, we might have been tsunami-ing people.
To be clear, though, the blasts used in World War II generated about a 33-foot tall tsunami. During April of 2011, Japan was devastated by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami; the wave in that tsunami was about four-times as high, at 132-feet tall in some areas.