FASCINATING: The US built mock German & Japanese villages during WWII to learn how to bomb them

It’s well known that the U.S. Army built a myriad of projects in the southwestern deserts of the States to test various new kinds of warfare in World War II. It was at one of these sites that Napalm was developed. Even today, the sites are well guarded and are used to try out weapons that the public knows nothing about. These sites spark lots of controversy about conspiracy theories and even alien visitors.

Dugway Proving Ground is one such place. It was built in 1942 to test out both biological and chemical weapons. The site is a little bit south of Salt Lake City and near other southwestern training and testing grounds used by the military. It’s also home to a handful of mock villages that the public are unaware of. However, these mock villages played a vital role in weapons testing in World War II.

A photo of Dugway Proving Ground today. David Jolley Staplegunther /Own Work/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 3.0
A photo of Dugway Proving Ground today, with the leftover mock village housing not shown. Photo Credit

Dugway Proving Ground

Quite a few significant incidents have occurred at Dugway Proving Ground. Most recently, the U.S. government announced that the testing facilities there had accidentally and inadvertently let a few anthrax spores get away and out into the environment.

In the late 1960s, the most infamous of all the Dugway Proving Ground incidences occurred; the Skull Valley Sheep-Kill. More than 6,000 sheep living on ranches in the near vicinity of the site mysteriously died. Much later in the century, the government did admit that the sheep had been killed by aerial nerve agent testing.

It’s estimated over 500,000 pounds of nerve agent was released into the open air. However, the incident is an odd one, as no other animals in the area experienced any negative reaction – it was only the sheep.

An aerial view of the German and Japanese villages, built side by side. U.S. Army/Wikipedia/Public Domain.
An aerial view of the German and Japanese villages built side by side.


Before the sheep and anthrax incidents, however, there were the replica German and Japanese villages in 1943. The area where Dugway’s training ground is situated was chosen initially for its remoteness. This area – of more than 120,000 acres – is located near the desert mountains.

There, in an effort to study the most efficient bombing methods, perfect replicas of German and Japanese homes were constructed. The interiors were completed as well, to discover how quickly fires would spread between residences. The houses were built, burnt, built and burnt, again and again.

The German village being tested with an M-69 bomb. U.S. Army/Wikipedia/Public Domain.
The German village being tested with an M-69 bomb.

A New Goal

The U.S. had the aim of targeting the most densely populated, impoverished areas. They hoped that from there, a massive fire would begin that would obliterate vast areas of the German metropolitan areas. Of course, the U.S. forces at first hoped to avoid targeting civilians if necessary. Great Britain was facing huge civilian losses thanks to German actions, so pressure was put on the United States to retaliate in kind.

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Initially, Churchill asked Roosevelt to provide the Brits with anthrax bombs that were capable of wiping out as much as half of six German cities in a very short time frame. However, Roosevelt wasn’t terribly keen on the idea and instead offered a more powerful firebomb. The firebomb then needed to be created and substantially tested: hence the villages at Dugway.

A completely furnished bedroom in one of the interiors of the German village. U.S. Army/Wikipedia/Public Domain.
A completely furnished bedroom in one of the interiors of the German village.


The army even employed German architects so they could indeed make the villages as realistic as possible. The interiors of these homes needed so much detail that specialists were brought in as well for this part of the building process.

They were to advise on what typical German and Japanese homes would have inside: from the particular types of furniture (as the building materials in the separate countries would be very different); to how clothing would be stored; to what kind of knick knacks and toys would be lying around.

Everything was as authentic as possible, down to the tiniest details, including chopsticks on the tables in the Japanese villages. The study required more than 750 pieces of furniture, and more than 700 cloth components, such as drapes, bedding and more. For the Japanese village, more than 900 tatami mats were needed.

In addition to architects and specialists, Hollywood designers were also brought in. Hollywood was well versed with working alongside the government in the war effort. Studios had been hired lots of times already to produce short films and propaganda. These Hollywood set workers provided many of the interior furnishings and props.


It took 44 days to completely build and furnish the villages the first time. Some can still be seen today, built side-by-side by Utah state inmates due to a lack of manpower. Once the structures were finalized, it was test time. Standard Oil created the firebombs.

The most important weapon to come out of the testings was the M-69 bomb. It contained a gelatin gasoline, now commonly known as napalm, that created horribly impenetrable fires when combined with white phosphorous. Even a minuscule amount is capable of burning straight through human flesh in a mere matter of seconds.

Other bombs tested were the M-47 (made up of gasoline, rubber, and coconut oil). The M-50 (made up of aluminum, magnesium and iron oxide) and the bat bomb. This was a light incendiary attached to real, live bats. B-17 and B-24 bombers carried out the testing operations from a standard height.

Final Results

It was discovered that the Japanese village caught fire easier, but the German housing, once set aflame, was almost impossible to stop. Each German structure was a typical duplex, with six apartments and an attic. The German housing had a very flammable attic, but the masonry and cinder used in the construction made it difficult to burn the duplexes down to the ground. Testing went on for four months.

Holly Godbey

Holly Godbey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE