Detonating an explosive at the bottom of the ocean that would displace enough seawater to create a tidal wave capable of washing out an entire city sounds like the wet dream of a James Bond villain. Well, call the U.S. that villain because we can add "tsunami bombs" to the list of tried and failed weapons experiments in the war chest of our fair government.
A New Zealand filmmaker was digging for inspiration through declassified military documents in his country's national archives when he spotted a file on an archivist's desk titled "Project Seal." The top secret document detailed a series of bomb tests carried out by the U.S. and New Zealand in waters near New Caledonia and Auckland during World War II. This was happening during the period when Robert Oppenheimer was leading physicists on the path to creating the first nuclear bomb in the American Southwest with the Manhattan Project.
"Presumably if the atomic bomb had not worked as well as it did, we might have been tsunami-ing people," said Ray Waru, the filmmaker and author who unearthed the file on Project Seal. "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."
The operation launched in June of 1944, apparently sprouting out of an observation from a U.S. naval officer that underwater dynamiting, a technique used back then to clear passageways for ships through coral reefs, produced unusual tidal activity and larger-than-average waves on nearby shores. At least 10 underwater detonations were tested, at their best creating 33-foot-tall waves that would have been able to swamp -- though not ruin -- a low-lying coastal city.
Project Seal was put to rest in 1945 after military strategists decided that a 2-million-kilogram bomb laid out across 5 miles of seafloor might be more troublesome than effective. Waru details the find in his new book, titled "Secrets and Treasures."
In a bid to be friendlier to its local marine habitats, New Zealand banned nuclear ships from entering its waters in the 1980s, and like Dr. Evil dumping a disobedient confidant into the fire pit, the U.S. downgraded its official relationship with New Zealand from "ally" to "friend." But today, with nuclear tests and tsunami bombs long behind them, the U.S. again considers New Zealand an ally, and the U.S. State Department said relations are "the best they have been in decades."