Bombing of Tokyo (東京大空襲 Tōkyōdaikūshū), often referred to as a series of firebombing raids, was conducted as part of the air raids on Japan by the United States Army Air Forces during the Pacific campaigns of World War II. Richard Sams. There were at least two B-29s I knew of that collided and went down in a smoke cloud. © HistoryOnTheNet 2000-2019. Thousands and thousands. I was a navigator. They would never expect them that low. There were some murmurs, and some of the officers protested the idea of breaking up the crews. Should it carry out targeted bombings of military sites or carpet bombings of large cities? The incendiaries had created tornadoes of fire, sucking the oxygen from the entire area. But if you don’t destroy Japan’s capacity to wage war, we’re going to have to invade Japan. You could see flames, they estimated, about 100 miles away. 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. Power told them that they had given this a great deal of thought and explained the reasons they thought it would be okay. 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. The human toll that night exceeded that of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki later that year, where the initial blasts killed about 70,000 people and … You could smell, I’m sorry to say, burning flesh in the airplane. Over several hours, U.S. Army Air Forces warplanes destroyed the shitamachi, or the low-lying section of Tokyo, and killed an estimated 100,000 Japanese citizens in a firestorm. A number of people raised their hands. Gen. Lauris Norstad, the chief of staff for the 20th Air Force. The Japanese later called this the “Night of the Black Snow.” Translator’s Introduction. . “No matter how you slice it, you’re going to kill an awful lot of civilians. In the space of a few hours, they dropped 1,667 tons of napalm-filled incendiary bombs on the Japanese capital, killing more than 100,000 people in a single strike, and injuring several times that number. But more than the numbers and the strange, long line of planes, it was the unusual flowers of light that fell from the night sky that mesmerized an entire population. 325 B-29s in total took off from three separate groups. One person said “5,000 feet, you’ve got to be kidding.” And another voice called it a suicide mission. This article is part of our larger resource on the history of aviation in World War Two. There were something like 400 planes up that night. It would be unlike anything seen yet in the War: three long lines of bombers coming in at a very low altitude. From that point on, it became a matter of engineering and mathematics. The human cost would be determined later. The March 10 1945 attack on Tokyo killed more people than the August 9 atomic bombing of Nagasaki. March 10 is the 70th anniversary of the Great Tokyo Air Raid. This was the first information people had that we were going to be bombing the cities. Out of nervousness, LeMay opened up in an uncharacteristic fashion. San Francisco, 1906. As he considered abandoning the entire reason the B-29 had been developed in the first place, other possibilities began to emerge. All I wanted to do was go home. Afterward, I decided to go to medical school and do something positive for a change. 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. And we knew that the war was going to be over pretty doggone soon. 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.”. Most of those were low-level nighttime missions dropping firebombs on Japanese cities. 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. Subsequently, the Japanese would dub this event the Night of the Black Snow. If they couldn’t take out the factories, they could kill the people who worked in them. He decided using the incendiary in the firebombing of Tokyo was worth a try. 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. From their base at Saipan American Superfortresses have been making the trip of 1,500 miles to bomb Tokyo. But if this one works, we will shorten this damned war out here.”. People ran in panic. And that crew was chosen as the lead crew on the first firebomb mission. Before that March 10, 1945, assault, named Operation Meetinghouse, the Army Air Forces had been conducting high-altitude, high-explosive “precision” attacks during the day on military sites and factories in Japan, with limited success. “He cared about only two things,” McNamara remembered, “hitting the target and saving the lives of his men.”. All rights reserved. We wiped out that whole area on that one night. Over a thousand miles to the north, all the elements to create a monumental disaster unprecedented in human history were falling into place. Though the large planes would be perfectly visible then, even at night, the Japanese would be caught off guard. More than a million people were left homeless. 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. 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. They did not believe the Americans were capable of bombing from these great distances. The former would be considered more humane and save resources. 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. The bombing of Dresden was a British-American aerial bombing attack on the city of Dresden, the capital of the German state of Saxony, during World War II.In four raids between 13 and 15 February 1945, 722 heavy bombers of the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and 527 of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) dropped more than 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices on … We were attacked by Japan,” LeMay later wrote. Alongside the two atomic bombings, the firebombing of Tokyo remains obscure. 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. Second Lieutenant, 869th Bomb Squadron, 497th Bomb Group. The death toll was on par with the August 6 atomic attack on Hiroshima. We’re at war with Japan. First Lieutenant, 874th Bomb Squadron, 498th Bomb Group. The firebombing of Tokyo was horrific. . May 26th, 1945 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. His decision made, LeMay worked on the problem with Tom Power who would lead such a mission. He determined from intelligence reports and his own personal experiences in China that the Japanese had almost no night fighter capability. You start to think about how awful the war was. When we did the firebombings, we were killing civilians. The Nagasaki attack by contrast may have killed as few as 150 soldiers. 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. 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. Tokyo fire bombing 70th anniversary: Survivors beg Japan to remember the forgotten 100,000. There was one part of the operation of the firebombing of Tokyo LeMay was not looking forward to. The worry of not producing results and having Americans killed in an invasion overrode any other concerns, especially killing Japanese civilians. LeMay remembered reading in National Geographic magazine as a boy that most Japanese cities were constructed of wood and paper—98 percent of Tokyo’s factory district, as it turned out. It started out like a regular mission. These bombings were especially horrifying because no more than two bombs destroyed many homes and killed almost 120 thousand people. LeMay was there and said nothing. 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. 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 … Estimates of the number of people killed in the bombing of Tokyo on 10 March differ. Before the planes arrived, winds started gusting at over forty miles an hour. The firebombing of Tokyo was designed to terrorise and bomb the Japanese into surrender. Yes, the Allied Firebombing of Tokyo Killed 100,000 Worse that the atomic bombings in number of dead? Click here to read more about WW2 aviation. On the ground, the ground level of the firebombing of Tokyo, something extraordinary was happening. Estimates put the number of people who died in Tokyo that night at 100,000, but the actual number can never be known. or that of any of the great conflagrations of the western world—London, 1666. . Scott Michael Rank, Ph.D., is the editor of History on the Net and host of the History Unplugged podcast. ‘We Hated What We Were Doing’: Veterans Recall Firebombing Japan. Now the slide rule was working at double time. The firebombing of Tokyo was over 16 sq. 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. We safely went on with the mission and went on with lesser-known missions. On the 70th anniversary of Tokyo’s fire bombing, relatives are asking for a real tribute to its victims Without being asked, LeMay offered some insight into a surprising piece of his personality—his lack of confidence. On Saipan, I was in Quonset hut barracks with another crew. At low altitude like that, I didn’t wear an oxygen mask. The US first mounted a small-scale raid on Tokyo in April 1942. The original idea of the Geneva Convention is that civilian targets were out, and it was military targets that should be used. We had a job to do and we did it. Also, it wasn’t just Tokyo. The first planes to take off would fly at slower speeds in order for the later planes to catch up. Moscow, 1812. . The Tokyo Fire Department estimated 97,000 killed and 125,000 wounded. 64 Japanese cities were firebombed in WWII. Brig. But by then, the Japanese fighter response was practically nil. Another factor in the firebombing of Tokyo was the problem of B-29 bombing inaccuracy at high altitude over Japan. As midnight approached, the coastal watchers were the first to hear the long hums of the B-29s. 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. 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. People who ran to a nearby river for relief found that the water was boiling. In Europe, you had the Russians and the Germans — especially the Nazis — bombing civilians. Five hundred thousand seems to be the lowest estimate. In just two days, more than 100,000 people were killed, a million were … Over sixteen square miles of Tokyo—among the most densely populated sixteen square miles in the world—were destroyed. I was a gunner, looking out the right blister window, right behind the wing. In the areas targeted, there were 1.5 million people living. 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. American airmen who took part in the 1945 firebombing missions grapple with the particular horror they witnessed being inflicted on those below. Tokyo was the Japanese capital and the attack was five months before the end of the war. That meant room for even more bombs. Hamburg was a crucial industrial center with important harbor facilities. 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. If that were the case, the B-29s would not need their defense guns and their ammunition and their gunners, saving even more weight. It was also seen as payback for the Pearl Harbour attacks and the mistreatment of Allied prisoners of war. The purpose was to break the morale of the enemy. Not just rooftops and houses caught on fire, but the clothes and hair of the people running were also ignited. 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 … In both cases, the Allies claimed the cities were legitimate military targets. Firebombing is one of the cruelest ways to attack a city. The planes should be safe. He stayed down at the field until the last one was gone. Yet it remains one of the forgotten horrors of the Second World War. Can you imagine standing in front of an open bomb-bay door and smelling a city burn up? . Only the rear gunner would fly, and he would be there only to observe. LeMay’s only way to stop these types of letters from coming was to end the war. Please use this data for any reference citations. A majority of the victims died of asphyxiation. 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. After the war, the United States S… 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. The more humane tactics of Gen. Haywood S. Hansell— trying to hit only military targets—may not have been all that humane in the end, and probably would have prolonged the conflict. Estimates of civilian dead range from 24,000 to 40,000. Although Tokyo was bombed more than 100 times from November 1944 to the end of the war, the firebombing centered on the Shitamachi district in the early hours of March 10, 1945, was by far the most devastating air raid on the capital. The death toll was on par with the August 6 atomic attack on Hiroshima. 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. Of course the rules of war are pretty vague, but one of the things is that you don’t attack civilians. . 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. 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. 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. These accounts have been edited and condensed for length and clarity. And we were really tossed around from the updrafts. Once Allied ground forces had captured islands sufficiently close to Japan, airfields were built on those islands (particularly Saipan 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. In bomb tonnage, it was equivalent to over 1,000 B-17s. I didn’t reflect on the war until much later. 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. We had changed from fragmentary bombs to the incendiaries at Maj. Gen. Curtis LeMay’s request — or demand. I still wouldn’t approve of it today. Father Bitter also recorded, in an almost poetic fashion, the effect of the light and shadows on the planes above: “The red and yellow flames reflected from below on the silvery undersides [of the planes] so that they were like giant dragon flies with jeweled wings against the upper darkness.”. We were burning houses, but we didn’t think about the people. 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. In late February 1945, over 300 B-29s began a night-attack on the city of Tokyo. Just past midnight, hundreds of B-29 Superfortress bombers arrived over Tokyo, having launched from the Mariana Islands, which the United States had recently captured from the Imperial Japanese Army at great human cost. Then, in a sudden fury, everything changed as the incendiaries hit home. The chief target was the Nakajima aircraft plant. 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