Bombing of Tokyo in World War II

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B-29 bombers were used to drop hundreds of thousands of tons of explosives onto Japanese cities during the war.
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The bombing of Tokyo by the United States Army Air Forces took place during the Pacific campaigns of World War II.


[edit] Early raids

The first raid on Tokyo was the Doolittle Raid of April 18, 1942, when sixteen B-25 Mitchells were launched from the USS Hornet (CV-8) to attack targets including Yokohama and Tokyo and then fly on to airfields in China. The raids were a significant propaganda victory. Launched prematurely, none of the attacking aircraft reached the designated airfields, either crashing or ditching (except for one aircraft which landed in the Soviet Union, where the crew was interned). Two crews were captured by the Japanese.

The key development for the bombing of Japan was the B-29, which had an operational range of 1500 miles (2,400 km); almost 90% of the bombs dropped on the home islands of Japan were delivered by this type of bomber (147,000 short tons, 133,000 metric tons). The initial raids were carried out by the Twentieth Air Force operating out of mainland China in Operation Matterhorn under XX Bomber Command, but was supplemented in November by the activation of XXI Bomber Command based in the Northern Mariana Islands. The B-29s of XX Bomber Command were transferred to XXI Bomber Command in the spring of 1945 and based on Guam.

The Twentieth Air Force was commanded directly by Army Air Forces' Chief General Henry "Hap" Arnold to prevent control of strategic airpower from falling under either Chester Nimitz's or Douglas MacArthur's command. Arnold, however, had suffered four heart attacks and finally gave over command on July 16, 1945, to General Curtis LeMay. The military services reached a compromise on unity of command issues with the Joint Chiefs (including Arnold) retaining control of the strategic air forces through a new command, the U.S. Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific, commanded by General Carl Spaatz. LeMay became Spaatz's chief of staff on August 2, 1945, and the Twentieth Air Force was then commanded by Leiutenant General Nathan Twining.

The first raid by B-29s on Japan came from China on June 15, 1944. The planes took off from Chengdu, over 1,500 miles (2,400 km) away. This first raid was also not particularly damaging to Japan. Only forty-seven of the sixty-eight B–29s airborne hit the target area; four aborted with mechanical problems, four crashed, six jettisoned their bombs because of mechanical difficulties, and others bombed secondary targets or targets of opportunity. Only one B–29 was lost to enemy aircraft. The first raid from the south was on November 24, 1944, when 88 aircraft bombed Tokyo. The bombs were dropped from around 30,000 feet (10,000 m); it is estimated that only around 10% of the bombs hit designated targets.

The mainland China option was never a satisfactory arrangement because the Chinese airbases were difficult to supply via the Hump from India, and the B-29s operating from them could only reach Japan if they substituted some of the bomb load for extra fuel tanks in the bomb-bays. When Admiral Nimitz' island-hopping campaign captured islands close enough to Japan to be within the range of B-29s, the Twentieth Air Force was assigned to XXI Bomber Command which organized a much more effective bombing campaign of the Japanese home islands. Based in the Marianas (Guam, Saipan, and Tinian) the B-29s were now able to carry their full bomb loads.

As in Europe, the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) tried daylight precision bombing. However, it proved to be impossible because of the weather around Japan, as bombs dropped from a great height were destabilized by high winds. General LeMay, commander of XXI Bomber Command, switched to mass firebombing night attacks, from altitudes ranging from 5,000 to 7,000 feet (1,500-2,000 m), on the major conurbations of Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, and Kobe. Despite limited early success, LeMay was determined to use such bombing tactics against the vulnerable Japanese cities. Attacks on strategic targets also continued in lower-level daylight raids. The most devastating attacks, even more so than the well-known nuclear attacks, were the fire-bombing campaigns against Japanese cities.

[edit] Firebombing

Image:Firebombing of Tokyo.jpg
Tokyo burning after the May 26, 1945, firebombing raid.

The first firebombing raid was on Kobe on February 3, 1945, and following its relative success the USAAF continued the tactic. Japanese cities were susceptible to such attack, but the most favorable conditions for success were areas with few firebreaks and high surface winds. Much of the armor and defensive weaponry of the bombers was also removed to allow increased bomb loads, but ultimately loads were increased by the use of low altitudes for fuel conservation, with individual aircraft bomb loads increasing from 2.6 tons per plane in March to 7.3 tons in August.

The first such raid on Tokyo was on the night of February 23–24, when 174 B-29s destroyed around one square mile (~2.56 km²) of the city. Following on that effort 334 B-29s took off from the Mariana Islands on the night of March 9–10 heading for Tokyo. Robert Guillain, a French journalist living in Tokyo and a witness to the bombing attack described what happened as the U.S. B-29s arrived over Tokyo:

They set to work at once, sowing the sky with fire. Bursts of light flashed everywhere in the darkness like Christmas trees, lifting their flame high into the night, then fell back to earth in whistling bouquets of jagged flame. Barely quarter of an hour after the raid started, the fire, whipped by the wind, began to scythe its way through the density of that wooden city. As they fell, cylinders scattered a kind of flaming dew that skidded along the roofs, setting fire to everything it splashed, and spreading a wash of dancing flames everywhere. The first version of napalm. Roofs collapsed under the bombs’ impact, and within minutes the frail houses of wood and paper were aflame, lighted from the inside like paper lanterns.<ref>Guillain, Tokyo Burning, quoted at [1].</ref>

After 2 hours of bombardment, Tokyo was engulfed in a firestorm. The fires were so hot they would ignite the clothing on individuals as they were fleeing. Many women were wearing what were called 'air-raid turbans' around their heads and the heat would ignite those turbans like a wick on a candle. The aftermath of the incendiary bombings lead to an estimated 100,000 Japanese dead. This may have been the most devastating single raid ever carried out by aircraft in any war including the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Around 16 square miles (41 km²) of the city were destroyed in the fire storm. The destruction and damage was at its worst in the city sections east of the Imperial Palace. In the following two weeks there were almost 1,600 further sorties against the four cities, destroying 31 square miles (80 km²) in total at a cost of 22 aircraft. There was a third raid on Tokyo on May 26.

The firebomb raids were not the only raids on Tokyo; there were more regular raids using conventional high explosives. With the capture of Okinawa, the Eighth Air Force was transferred there from Europe and began its own raids. Monthly tonnage dropped on Japan had increased from 13,800 short tons in March to 42,700 tons in July (from 12,500 to 38,700 metric tons), and was planned to have continued to increase to around 115,000 short tons (105,000 metric tons) per month.

[edit] Criticism

The firebombing of Tokyo and other Japanese cities is considered a war crime by some. Unlike the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which were at least partially intended to force Japan to capitulate immediately, fire-bombing, which killed more civilians in total, was carried out as a long-term strategy to destroy Japan's ability to produce war materials as well as to undermine the Japanese government's will to continue the war. In the context of total war, the large number of Japanese civilians killed by strategic bombing was seen as acceptable by the American administration. When reflecting on the campaign after the war, some expressed doubts about the morality of the firebombing. Curtis LeMay later said: "I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal." He felt, however, that his bombings were saving lives by encouraging Japan to surrender earlier. Former Japanese prime minister Fumimaro Konoe's statement that, fundamentally, the thing that brought about the determination to make peace was the prolonged bombing by the B-29s, lends support to this view.

Tokyo was not considered as an official target for the first nuclear attacks, although Tokyo Bay was apparently examined as a target for a non-lethal demonstration.

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[edit] See also

[edit] References

[edit] Books

  • Coffey, Thomas M. (1987). Iron Eagle : The Turbulent Life of General Curtis LeMay. Random House Value Publishing. ISBN 0517551888.
  • Crane, Conrad C. (1994). The cigar that brought the fire wind: Curtis LeMay and the strategic bombing of Japan. JGSDF-U.S. Army Military History Exchange. ASIN B0006PGEIQ.
  • Grayling, A. C. (2006). Among the Dead Cities. New York: Walker Publishing Company Inc.. ISBN 0-8027-1471-4.
  • Greer, Ron (2005). Fire from the Sky: A Diary Over Japan. Jacksonville, Arkansas, U.S.A.: Greer Publishing. ISBN 0976871203.
  • Guillian, Robert (1982). I Saw Tokyo Burning: An Eyewitness Narrative from Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima. Jove Pubns. ISBN 0867212233.
  • Lemay, Curtis E., Bill Yenne (1988). Superfortress: The Story of the B-29 and American Air Power. McGraw-Hill Companies. ISBN 0070371644.
  • McGowen, Tom (2001). Air Raid!:The Bombing Campaign. Brookfield, Connecticut, U.S.A.: Twenty-First Century Books. ISBN 0761318100.
  • Shannon, Donald H. (1976). United States air strategy and doctrine as employed in the strategic bombing of Japan. U.S. Air University, Air War College. ASIN B0006WCQ86.

[edit] External links

[edit] Notes


de:Luftangriffe auf Tokio

fr:Bombardement de Tōkyō nl:Bombardement op Tokio ja:東京大空襲 pl:Naloty na Tokio tr:Tokyo Bombardımanı zh:東京大轟炸

Bombing of Tokyo in World War II

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