During wartime the military will entertain ideas that would almost certainly be shown the door during peacetime. And so it was in 1944 and 1945 that top-secret experiments (Known as Project Seal) were conducted off the coast of Auckland at Whangaparaoa by Auckland University professor Thomas Leech. Leech conducted hundreds of underwater explosions in the hope of developing a weapon that would trigger tidal waves in 1944 and 1945. According to “Ten things” programme the experiments were an utter failure. After 4000 test explosions, none of which generated an appreciable effect and the project was closed down when it was determined that there were errors in the theoretical basis of the plan.
However, according to New Zealand papers released only in 1999 the US and British military were eager for Seal to be developed in the post-war years too. They even considered sending Professor Leech to Bikini Atoll to view the US nuclear tests and see if they had any application to his work. Leech did not make the visit, although a member of the US board of assessors of atomic tests, Dr Karl Compton, was sent to New Zealand.
"Dr Compton is impressed with Professor Leech's deductions on the Seal project and is prepared to recommend to the Joint Chiefs of Staff that all technical data from the test relevant to the Seal project should be made available to the New Zealand Government for further study by Professor Leech," said a July 1946 letter from Washington to Wellington.
Could have it ever succeeded? According to another New Zealand Herald article Tsunami researchers at the University of Waikato believed that the bomb was fundamentally feasible. A modern approach to the idea could produce waves up to 30m high.
Dr Willem de Lange, of the Department of Earth Sciences, said studies proved that while a single explosion was not necessarily effective, a series of explosions could have a significant impact. Dr de Lange said the waves were not high because the energy was projected upwards, not sideways. He believed the same principle would be true for a tsunami bomb.
"You can't confine the energy. Once the explosion gets big enough, all of its energy goes into the atmosphere and not into the water. But... if you had a series of explosions in the same place, it's much more effective and can produce much bigger waves."
To be honest this sounds like one of the wilder ideas of a mad scientist – the sort with an assistant called Igor and a lab full of Tesla coils. Personally I think the idea is pretty ludicrous. Even if a large amount of explosives could indeed create a tsunami, I would imagine dropping the bombs on the chosen would cause rather more damage. I’m surprised it hasn’t been touted more by the tinfoil hat brigade’s mill though