spaceSpace and Physics

The US Navy Once Fired 300 Rounds At An Aircraft, Then Realized It Was Venus

They were aiming about 82 million kilometers too low.

James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

James is a published author with four pop-history and science books to his name. He specializes in history, strange science, and anything out of the ordinary.

Senior Staff Writer

A war ship in the ocean at night.

And now turning to our next enemy, the moon. Image credit: zef art/

Balloons and as yet unidentified flying objects are popping up all over the place at the moment. As well as four (so far) objects being shot down above the US and Canada, China says it is preparing to down one in its air space, while the Uruguayan air force is investigating reports and photos of flashing lights over the Termas de Almirón area.

Prompted by this, the US Naval Institute decided to share its own story of a mysterious aircraft that came the Navy's way in 1945 (though a different account places it in 1941).


According to the US Naval Institute, a captain aboard the USS New York spotted a sphere in the sky, and ordered it to be shot down, believing it to be a "Japanese balloon weapon". 

According to Lanson B. Ditto, who was serving on the ship (actually the USS Langley) at the time, the crew fired about 300 rounds at the object before realizing it was celestial.

“About noon on December 9, 1941 we were steaming south on open seas when a plane was sighted," Ditto said of the incident.  

"We opened fire at what we thought was the altitude of the plane. We had to estimate. We set a fuse to go off at an estimated altitude. We started out at 5,000 feet [1,524 meters] and could see that it was coming up short, so we raised to about 7,500 feet [2,286 meters] and could see that it was short, too. So, we raised it up to the maximum of 10,000 feet [3,048 meters]."


The team still couldn't get a good shot at it, which isn't surprising as they were aiming about 82 million kilometers too low.

"Pretty soon, word came down from the navigator," he added. "It was determined that this was the planet Venus. It turned out that we had fired 300 rounds at the planet Venus."

Ditto went on to sink twice during the war, once on the USS Langley, and survived both.

"Recently, I’ve seen satellite pictures of the planet Venus, and I noticed pockmarks," he reflected later. "So maybe we did hit our target.”


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