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Bizarre tale of Carlsbad Caverns’ famed bats featured on TV

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Bats make their way out of the mouth of Carlsbad Caverns’ entrance as the sun sets. The caverns and Mexican free-tailed bats were featured in the Travel Channel’s newest episode of Monumental Mysteries titled “St. Urho, Mystery Castle, Bat Bombs.” It premiered Friday evening. (Albuquerque Journal File Photo)

Bats make their way out of Carlsbad Caverns as the sun sets. The caverns and Mexican free-tailed bats were featured in the Travel Channel’s newest episode of Monumental Mysteries titled “St. Urho, Mystery Castle, Bat Bombs.” It premiered Friday evening. (Albuquerque Journal file photo)

CARLSBAD – What was once a forgotten and unbelievable tale centered on Carlsbad Caverns National Park’s most beloved animal is now growing in legend, thanks to a national television show.

Both the caverns and the Mexican free-tailed bats were featured in the Travel Channel’s newest episode of “Monumental Mysteries,” titled “St. Urho, Mystery Castle, Bat Bombs,” which premiered Friday evening.

“Beneath New Mexico’s Chihuahuan Desert lies the Carlsbad Caverns, home to spectacular limestone formations and hundreds of thousands of bats,” said Don Wildman, the show’s host, while narrating the episode’s two-minute teaser video. “And while these winged creatures have captivated visitors for over a century, they also inspired one of history’s most radical weapons of war.”

That weapon described in the show has been dubbed the bat bomb.

Jack Couffer, a young Army private who was visiting Carlsbad Army Airfield in May 1943, wrote in his book titled “Bat Bombs” about the top-secret project and the day it came crashing down, literally.

Couffer wrote that on May 15, 1943, Carlsbad Army Airfield’s base commander stood enraged as visiting Army officials wouldn’t allow him to pass through the gates of the auxiliary field as fire engulfed one of the buildings. He then became even more upset when asked to supply a bulldozer to bury the evidence without any explanation.

The official report of the incident, filed by base Fire Marshal George S. Young, cited the cause of the fire as “an explosion of incendiary bomb materials” and estimated the damage at $6,838.

The true cause of the fire stemmed from a project called the Adams Plan unofficially and Project X-Ray officially. The plan proposed using bat bombs to help end World War II and cost the U.S. military $2 million.

Dr. Lytle S. Adams proposed the project, believing that incendiary devices could be attached to bats and then dropped on the Japanese mainland. President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave the command in January 1942 to follow up on the proposal, writing about Adams: “This man is not a nut.”

But several of the Mexican free-tailed test bats, armed with napalm devices, escaped captivity of Army handlers and flew into the Operations and Crew Chief Building, setting it ablaze.

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