I still wouldn’t approve of it today. We were about 200 in. At its heart it was psychological warfare 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. Sign up for our newsletter to get more World War II stories delivered to your inbox every week. Our group, the 497th, was the last one to go in. I don’t remember how many square miles. I was home in October of that year in my own little bed, and I had not even achieved my 20th birthday. Yet it remains one of the forgotten horrors of the Second World War. 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. Each cluster would release thirty-eight incendiary bombs of napalm and phosphorus, creating a rain of fire over the city. By dawn, more than 100,000 people were dead, a million were homeless, and 40 square kilometers of Tokyo were burned to the ground. Tokyo burns under B-29 firebomb assault. 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. As he considered abandoning the entire reason the B-29 had been developed in the first place, other possibilities began to emerge. Should it carry out targeted bombings of military sites or carpet bombings of large cities? Thousands and thousands. Then, in a sudden fury, everything changed as the incendiaries hit home. I was a navigator. 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. Over a thousand miles to the north, all the elements to create a monumental disaster unprecedented in human history were falling into place. Second Lieutenant, 869th Bomb Squadron, 497th Bomb Group. And that crew was chosen as the lead crew on the first firebomb mission. 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. Dresden was considered a communications hub and transit center. Wars are fought between governments. Moscow, 1812. . People ran in panic. It is not a good thing to leave an ex-commander in the same outfit that he commanded.”. Alongside the two atomic bombings, the firebombing of Tokyo remains obscure. Estimates of civilian dead range from 24,000 to 40,000. 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. An American aircraft drops napalm on Viet Cong positions in 1965. Before the war’s end, firebombs dropped by B-29s killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese citizens in more than 60 cities before nuclear bombs leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 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 … 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. 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. Richard Sams. 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. Translator’s Introduction. The Air Force history of the war records that “the physical destruction and loss of life at Tokyo exceeded that at Rome . Without being asked, LeMay offered some insight into a surprising piece of his personality—his lack of confidence. They burned up an awful lot of Nagoya that night. I thought, Where will the people go? But the city of Tokyo had some 5 million people living in it. The only course left is for Japan’s one hundred million people (the real count was closer to 72 million) to sacrifice their lives by charging the enemy to make them lose the will to fight.”. 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. May 26th, 1945 It was the highest death toll of any air raid during the war, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Click here to read more about WW2 aviation. But if this one works, we will shorten this damned war out here.”. At the time, you just didn’t think about those things. 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. 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. That meant room for even more bombs. It would not have mattered anyway. © HistoryOnTheNet 2000-2019. This article on the firebombing of Tokyo is from the book Curtis LeMay: Strategist and Tactician © 2014 by Warren Kozak. It would be unlike anything seen yet in the War: three long lines of bombers coming in at a very low altitude. “No matter how you slice it, you’re going to kill an awful lot of civilians. I’ve never smelled anything like it since, and I don’t want to. In their hubris, Japanese officials had never built adequate shelters for the civilian population. The two men, along with their armaments officer and chief engineer, worked out the ordnance questions of the firebombing of Tokyo. All I wanted to do was go home. 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. TOKYO — It was not Hiroshima or Nagasaki, but in many ways, including lives lost, it was just as horrific. So Maj. Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, the officer in charge of strategic bombing from the Marianas, drew upon years of U.S. military research on the flammability of Japanese buildings to usher in a more aggressive tactic: dropping firebombs (also known as incendiary bombs) at night on population centers. Almost 90% of the bombs dropped on the home islands of Japan were delivered by this type of bomber. There were some murmurs, and some of the officers protested the idea of breaking up the crews. You could see flames, they estimated, about 100 miles away. On March 9, 1945, B-29 bombers in the U.S. Air Force began dropping incendiary bombs on the city of Tokyo. Now the slide rule was working at double time. San Francisco, 1906. On February 13–15, 1945, British and American bombers using incendiary bombs created a firestorm in the center of Dresden, Germany, gutting over thirteen square miles of the city. First Lieutenant, 874th Bomb Squadron, 498th Bomb Group. 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. The bombardier’s job would be greatly simplified, because a small group of planes coming from a different direction would drop incendiaries in the front and back of the target zone before the lines of bombers arrived, similar to lighting up both ends of a football field at night. I made one firebomb mission with my second crew on March 24. The purpose was to break the morale of the enemy. “I never think anything is going to work,” he told McKelway, “until I’ve seen the pictures after the raid. On the 70th anniversary of Tokyo’s fire bombing, relatives are asking for a real tribute to its victims At low altitude like that, I didn’t wear an oxygen mask. This investigation reported that the death toll from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima was 260,000, but the figure was adjusted to an estimated 140,000, following a United Nations report in 1976. 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. But if it prolonged the war against a recalcitrant enemy—and Japan was feared for its willingness to send its men, women, and children to their deaths as human weapons—then it might not be so humane after all. … If that were the case, the B-29s would not need their defense guns and their ammunition and their gunners, saving even more weight. Of course the rules of war are pretty vague, but one of the things is that you don’t attack civilians. Only the rear gunner would fly, and he would be there only to observe. It was a cold, dry wind, typical of early spring in that region. Everything started to click, and he extended his calculations into another unprecedented thought. His decision made, LeMay worked on the problem with Tom Power who would lead such a mission. Another factor in the firebombing of Tokyo was the problem of B-29 bombing inaccuracy at high altitude over Japan. The Tokyo Fire Department estimated 97,000 killed and 125,000 wounded. The key development for the bombing of Japan was the B-29 Superfortress strategic bomber, which had an operational range of 3,250 nautical miles (3,740 mi; 6,020 km) and was capable of attacking at high altitude above 30,000 feet (9,100 m), where enemy defenses were very weak. Before the planes arrived, winds started gusting at over forty miles an hour. 2 However, in terms of the number of bombers deployed and tons of bombs dropped, this mission, codenamed Perdition #1, 3 was the largest incendiary attack on Tokyo at that point in the … 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. The crew members were brought in and asked if they objected to firebombing the cities of Japan. Across Tokyo, residents looked up in amazement. 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. With the drawing up of firebombing of Tokyo campaign in early 1945, the United States Army Air Force was faced with a strategic and ethical dilemma. On the ground, the ground level of the firebombing of Tokyo, something extraordinary was happening. 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. The March 10 1945 attack on Tokyo killed more people than the August 9 atomic bombing of Nagasaki. But one thing people agree on is that the fire raids were probably worse than the atomic bomb. Before the war’s end, firebombs dropped by B-29s killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese citizens in more than 60 cities before nuclear bombs leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki. People who ran to a nearby river for relief found that the water was boiling. That would have led to the invasion beginning in November 1945 with a second wave to back it up in March 1946. I often questioned how much they could really be doing. 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. 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. The human cost would be determined later. But that technique had produced no results. Years later, Robert McNamara summed up the focus of Army Air Force General Curtis LeMay. More people were killed in the Tokyo firebombing of March 9-10 than in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki five months later. The incendiaries had created tornadoes of fire, sucking the oxygen from the entire area. “He cared about only two things,” McNamara remembered, “hitting the target and saving the lives of his men.”. Brig. California – Do not sell my personal information. Hamburg was a crucial industrial center with important harbor facilities. or that of any of the great conflagrations of the western world—London, 1666. . We had changed from fragmentary bombs to the incendiaries at Maj. Gen. Curtis LeMay’s request — or demand. The Nagasaki attack by contrast may have killed as few as 150 soldiers. 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. As midnight approached, the coastal watchers were the first to hear the long hums of the B-29s. He stayed down at the field until the last one was gone. Thus the firebombing of Tokyo was seen as necessary. American airmen who took part in the 1945 firebombing missions grapple with the particular horror they witnessed being inflicted on those below. 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. 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. Overall, 1,700 tons of bombs were dropped, 16 square miles were burned, and 100,000 people lost their lives. It was terrifying, really. We safely went on with the mission and went on with lesser-known missions. Considered an Allied atrocity by some today, the public reaction at the time was largely supportive. In the areas targeted, there were 1.5 million people living. Tokyo fire bombing 70th anniversary: Survivors beg Japan to remember the forgotten 100,000. LeMay decided to drop E-46 clusters that would explode at 2,000 feet above the ground. Estimates for the death toll in the firebombing of Tokyo range from 70,000 to almost 200,000, with most historians settling for around 130,000. Technical Sergeant, 873rd Bomb Squadron, 498th Bomb Group. The Japanese would quickly compensate for this, but he thought he could get in a few missions before they figured it out. “But we thought we had to do it. On Saipan, I was in Quonset hut barracks with another crew. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings will always be remembered as two of the most devastating assaults in military history, but many historians consider the American firebombing raid on Tokyo, carried out on 9 March of the same year, to be the deadliest in history. The Tokyo Fire Department gave the total number of casualties as 97,000 dead and 125,000 wounded, although historians 40 years later would argue that the … These bombings often overshadow the Firebombing in Tokyo that claimed the lives of over 100,000 Japanese , an equitable number to the death toll of the Atomic bombing of Hiroshima. 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. 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. 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