People ran in panic. Each cluster would release thirty-eight incendiary bombs of napalm and phosphorus, creating a rain of fire over the city. One person said “5,000 feet, you’ve got to be kidding.” And another voice called it a suicide mission. This Analysis will explore the firebombing of Tokyo as a wartime strategy of the United States, as well as exploring how the firebombing brought destruction to the Japanese homeland. He determined from intelligence reports and his own personal experiences in China that the Japanese had almost no night fighter capability. By dawn, more than 100,000 people were dead, a million were homeless, and 40 square kilometers of Tokyo were burned to the ground. Now the slide rule was working at double time. We had a job to do and we did it. But if this one works, we will shorten this damned war out here.”. . Overall, 1,700 tons of bombs were dropped, 16 square miles were burned, and 100,000 people lost their lives. The Japanese would quickly compensate for this, but he thought he could get in a few missions before they figured it out. They did not believe the Americans were capable of bombing from these great distances. Though the large planes would be perfectly visible then, even at night, the Japanese would be caught off guard. The fire falling from the sky reminded a German Catholic priest, Father Gustav Bitter, of the tinsel hung on a Christmas tree back home, “and where these silver streamers would touch the earth, red fires would spring up. Gen. Lauris Norstad, the chief of staff for the 20th Air Force. Almost 90% of the bombs dropped on the home islands of Japan were delivered by this type of bomber. Please use this data for any reference citations. Each plane would fly individually, in three staggered lines between 5,000 and 7,000 feet. But the order came down: “Well, that’s your opinion, but the orders are you’re going to go on the mission.” I guess they could have declined, but I don’t know if any did. In Hiroshima the device targeted a major military base and is believed to have instantly killed 15,000 Japanese soldiers. I was home in October of that year in my own little bed, and I had not even achieved my 20th birthday. . The firebombing of Tokyo was designed to terrorise and bomb the Japanese into surrender. At its heart it was psychological warfare How to successfully bomb Japan with the B-29 was the question that tormented him as he lay on his cot throughout those muggy nights on Guam during late February. The Japanese military leaders were beginning the massive training of the civilian population for total war known as “Ketsu-Go.” The plan called for every able-bodied Japanese citizen—women and youngsters included—to form suicide squads and swarm the Americans. Once Allied ground forces had captured islands sufficiently close to Japan, airfields were built on those islands (particularly Saipan Without being asked, LeMay offered some insight into a surprising piece of his personality—his lack of confidence. The former would be considered more humane and save resources. I still wouldn’t approve of it today. The firebombing of Tokyo is often overshadowed by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The US first mounted a small-scale raid on Tokyo in April 1942. When we did the firebombings, we were killing civilians. The worry of not producing results and having Americans killed in an invasion overrode any other concerns, especially killing Japanese civilians. ‘We Hated What We Were Doing’: Veterans Recall Firebombing Japan. Civilians pay the price. Exactly 66 years ago, the U.S. Airforce conducted the largest single firebombing in history over Tokyo which killed at least 100,000 residents and injured up to one million people. The incendiaries had created tornadoes of fire, sucking the oxygen from the entire area. In just two days, more than 100,000 people were killed, a million were … “We hated what we were doing,” said Jim Marich, one of the airmen who flew over Tokyo that night as part of the B-29 aircrews. No other air attack of the war, either in Japan or Europe, was so destructive of life and property.”, The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey was more direct: “Probably more persons lost their lives by fire at Tokyo in a 6-hour period than at any [equivalent period of] time in the history of man.”, The Japanese calculated that though they could no longer win the war, Americans might grow weary and allow the Japanese to exact better terms if the price of victory was costly enough. Can you imagine standing in front of an open bomb-bay door and smelling a city burn up? Near the end of the briefing, an intelligence officer asked the question that was on everyone’s mind: “Aren’t firebomb attacks on cities the type of terror bombing used by the RAF that our air force has been trying to avoid?”. We had changed from fragmentary bombs to the incendiaries at Maj. Gen. Curtis LeMay’s request — or demand. Lt. Richard Gross served as a B-29 navigator on 35 missions over Japan in 1945. But because there was no formation, there was some confusion and the alarms were not sounded until 12:15, a full seven minutes after the bombs began to fall. Few Americans have even heard of it, and few Japanese like to dwell on it. There were something like 400 planes up that night. There was one part of the operation of the firebombing of Tokyo LeMay was not looking forward to. From their base at Saipan American Superfortresses have been making the trip of 1,500 miles to bomb Tokyo. Tokyo was the Japanese capital and the attack was five months before the end of the war. Technical Sergeant, 873rd Bomb Squadron, 498th Bomb Group. They burned up an awful lot of Nagoya that night. His decision made, LeMay worked on the problem with Tom Power who would lead such a mission. “Here’s another great big bear for you,” LeMay wrote about this reassignment as head of the Twenty-First Air Force in the Marianas. Some say a million. We were about 200 in. He took out his slide rule and began to calculate the change in weight from the enormous savings in fuel, which would allow the planes to carry more bombs. We thought that raid might cause the Japanese to surrender.” Marich’s somber account of his role in the missions is a grim reminder of the indelible scars left on both the survivors of the attack and those who conducted it. The first planes to take off would fly at slower speeds in order for the later planes to catch up. Our group, the 497th, was the last one to go in. Alongside the two atomic bombings, the firebombing of Tokyo remains obscure. He rationalized the potentially significant loss of Japanese life on the ground with the following logic: Marines were suffering horrendous casualties on Iwo Jima in slow, agonizing fighting, evidence that the Japanese were becoming even more ferocious the closer Americans came to the home islands. When the crews came into the main hall, Tom Power, who gave the briefing as mission commander, explained that no defensive guns and gunners would be flying on this mission. 325 B-29s in total took off from three separate groups. He brought us down from high-altitude bombing with fragmentary bombs to low-level with incendiaries. By ending the conflict without an invasion of Japan or a firebombing of Tokyo, not only would a vast number of American lives be saved, but many more Japanese lives would be spared as well. . The firebombing of Tokyo was over 16 sq. He decided using the incendiary in the firebombing of Tokyo was worth a try. … Click here to read more about WW2 aviation. The Air Force history of the war records that “the physical destruction and loss of life at Tokyo exceeded that at Rome . And in the short span of time, he hoped to be able to knock them so hard and so fast that they might just consider surrendering. All I wanted to do was go home. Although the precise death toll is unknown, conservative estimates suggest that the firestorm caused by incendiary bombs killed at least 80,000 people, and likely more than 100,000, in a single night; some one million people were left homeless. In the strange mathematics of war, and with the hindsight of more than half a century, it turns out that the planners in Washington were correct. All I can say is that the smell was nauseating. The Tokyo Fire Department estimated 97,000 killed and 125,000 wounded. This article is part of our larger resource on the history of aviation in World War Two. They would never expect them that low. He knew the men would howl about it all, but he thought he could persuade them with this reasoning: the Japanese anti-aircraft guns—set at higher altitudes—would be ineffective at 5,000 to 7,000 feet. We safely went on with the mission and went on with lesser-known missions. Estimates of the number of people killed in the bombing of Tokyo on 10 March differ. In late February 1945, over 300 B-29s began a night-attack on the city of Tokyo. The planes coming after them from another direction would see the fires that the lead bombers had set and then bomb the area in between. Yes, the Allied Firebombing of Tokyo Killed 100,000 Worse that the atomic bombings in number of dead? The aircraft had largely been stripped of their armaments so that they could carry even more clusters of small incendiary munitions. This was the first information people had that we were going to be bombing the cities. But by then, the Japanese fighter response was practically nil. Five hundred thousand seems to be the lowest estimate. Scott Michael Rank, Ph.D., is the editor of History on the Net and host of the History Unplugged podcast. Years later, Robert McNamara summed up the focus of Army Air Force General Curtis LeMay. Almost 16 square miles in and around the Japanese capital were incinerated, and between 80,000 and 130,000 Japanese civilians were killed in the … Afterward, I decided to go to medical school and do something positive for a change. You start to think about how awful the war was. They decided to abandon formation flying altogether. But one thing people agree on is that the fire raids were probably worse than the atomic bomb. It was also seen as payback for the Pearl Harbour attacks and the mistreatment of Allied prisoners of war. The seven-volume official history of the US Army Air Forces (USAAF) in World War II devotes just two sentences to it 1, while the most detailed account of the firebombing of Tokyo gives it just five lines. I made one firebomb mission with my second crew on March 24. An American aircraft drops napalm on Viet Cong positions in 1965. Young American officers in the sky dropped hundreds of thousands of bomblets on the working-class section of the city, with its densely packed wooden dwellings mainly inhabited at the time by women, children and men too old to fight. You could see flames, they estimated, about 100 miles away. The Tokyo fire department put the casualties at 97,000 killed and 125,000 wounded, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department believed that 124,711 people had been killed or wounded. It was terrifying, really. March 10 is the 70th anniversary of the Great Tokyo Air Raid. And that crew was chosen as the lead crew on the first firebomb mission. As historian Edward Drea aptly phrased it, “Undergirding all Japanese strategy was a dismissive view that Americans [were] products of liberalism and individualism and incapable of fighting a protracted war.” The War Journal of the Japanese Imperial Headquarters backed this up in July 1944: “We can no longer direct the war with any hope of success. Thus the firebombing of Tokyo was seen as necessary. You can also buy the book by clicking on the buttons to the left. Another factor in the firebombing of Tokyo was the problem of B-29 bombing inaccuracy at high altitude over Japan. From that point on, it became a matter of engineering and mathematics. And we were really tossed around from the updrafts. . Another two million people left Tokyo, not to return until after the war. Considered an Allied atrocity by some today, the public reaction at the time was largely supportive. But eventually there was enough pressure put on them that they changed their mind. This article on the firebombing of Tokyo is from the book Curtis LeMay: Strategist and Tactician © 2014 by Warren Kozak. Gen. Thomas S. Power, right, the senior officer for the March 10 attack, giving an after-action report of the Tokyo raid to Maj. Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, center, the commander of the 21st Bomber Command, and Brig. or that of any of the great conflagrations of the western world—London, 1666. . But the debate over military legitimacy and outright terror bombing has intensified in the years since. The first planes took off on March 9, 1945, starting at 4:36 in the afternoon, with the final bombers lifting off the runway three hours later. The firebombing of Tokyo did, indeed, kill the most people of any air raid in history — from 80,000 to over 100,000 dead in a single raid. Firebombing is a bombing technique designed to damage a target, generally an urban area, through the use of fire, caused by incendiary devices, rather than from the blast effect of large bombs. Should it carry out targeted bombings of military sites or carpet bombings of large cities? The United States Strategic Bombing Survey later wrote that “probably more persons lost their lives by fire at Tokyo in a six-hour period than at any time in the history of man.” The devastating results motivated military leaders to continue incendiary bombing raids on Japan’s other cities — both large and small — in hopes of forcing the Japanese to surrender. In bomb tonnage, it was equivalent to over 1,000 B-17s. I’ve always felt bad about that. Reportedly, over 1 million people had their homes destroyed during the Tokyo bombing that night, and the estimated number of civilian deaths is recorded as 100,000 people. These accounts have been edited and condensed for length and clarity. But if you don’t destroy Japan’s capacity to wage war, we’re going to have to invade Japan. An American amphibious assault on the Japanese mainland could mean a half a million more lives that the U.S. lost, to say nothing of Japanese death tolls. The plan was brilliant in its simplicity. We wiped out that whole area on that one night. It was considered a legitimate option by LeMay. The calculations poured onto the paper, and each one reinforced his conclusions. The Strategic Bombing Survey estimated that 87,793 people died in the raid, 40,918 were injured, and 1,008,005 people lost their homes. On Saipan, I was in Quonset hut barracks with another crew. And unlike the U.S. or German industry, which was factory centered, Japanese manufacturing was greatly decentralized—individual parts for airplanes, tanks, and bombs were produced in homes and in backyards. We went in at about 6,800 feet. LeMay was there and said nothing. As he considered abandoning the entire reason the B-29 had been developed in the first place, other possibilities began to emerge. If I remember correctly, when they announced what was going to happen, there were a few pilots who refused to fly because of humanitarian reasons. For the latest article from “Beyond the World War II We Know,” a series from The Times that documents lesser-known stories from World War II, The Times spoke to four former B-29 bomber crew members who participated in the firebombings of Japan in spring 1945. I don’t remember how many square miles. Translator’s Introduction. TOKYO — It was not Hiroshima or Nagasaki, but in many ways, including lives lost, it was just as horrific. At low altitude like that, I didn’t wear an oxygen mask. It was a cold, dry wind, typical of early spring in that region. Tokyo burns under B-29 firebomb assault. He stayed down at the field until the last one was gone. Together they came up with a plan to go in at lower altitudes in a series of massive lightning raids that would occur on consecutive nights, catching the Japanese off guard. In all, 8,519 clusters would be dropped, releasing 496,000 individual cylinders weighing 6.2 pounds each, resulting in 1,665 tons of incendiaries to be dropped on Tokyo that night. I often questioned how much they could really be doing. 64 Japanese cities were firebombed in WWII. miles Tokyo, killing 100,000 and leaving more than 1 million homeless. An aerial view of Tokyo after it was firebombed by U.S. Army Air Forces on March 10, 1945. Not just rooftops and houses caught on fire, but the clothes and hair of the people running were also ignited. After the war, the United States S… I thought, Where will the people go? There were some murmurs, and some of the officers protested the idea of breaking up the crews. The chief target was the Nakajima aircraft plant. For LeMay, the debate over civilian deaths came down to one blunt question: “Do you want to kill Japanese or would you rather have Americans killed?” His logic left little room for nuance. Estimates of civilian dead range from 24,000 to 40,000. Most of those were low-level nighttime missions dropping firebombs on Japanese cities. Many other bodies were not recovered, and the city's director of health estimated that 83,600 people were killed and another 40,918 wounded. If that were the case, the B-29s would not need their defense guns and their ammunition and their gunners, saving even more weight. Firebombing knocked out half of the factories in Kobe and was part of one of the biggest attacks in the war. Hamburg was a crucial industrial center with important harbor facilities. And we knew that the war was going to be over pretty doggone soon. My job was to stand by the open bomb-bay doors and throw chaff out — these long strips of aluminum foil to confuse Japanese radar. San Francisco, 1906. Of course the rules of war are pretty vague, but one of the things is that you don’t attack civilians. 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