** World War II strategic bombing campaign conventional raids

World War II: Pacufic Strategic Pacific Bombing Campaign--Japanese Home Islsands (June 1944-August 1945)

Figure 1.--This Japanese mother and her baby were lucky survivors of the American fire bombing of Tokyo. Large areas of Tokyo were reduced to ashes. The mother has apparently thrown together a hovel in Ebisu, a bombed-out area of the city. German cities were left piles of rubble, Japan's wood and paper cities were left mounds of ashes. Many Japanese people today believe they were victims of the War because of the American bombing. Rarely do they express concvrn for the Chinese cities bombed by the Japanese Army and Navy.

Japan's cities were some of the most vulnerable cities in the world. There may be a modn downtown of solid stone and concrete structures, but they were surrounded by extensive resdential areas of wood and paper houses which Japanese cities were predominanely built--essentially vast piles of kindling. And not only were Japanese homes and cities highly flanable, but they were packed closely together. Some of the most densely populated urban areas in the world. Not only was the great bulk of the Japanese population located in these cities, but the country's war industries were also packed into these cities. No other World war II beligerant country was as vulnerable as Japan. Yet the Japanese militarists were intent on war. Depreciating China Japan had begun bombing Chinese cities even before invading the coutry (1937). And subsequently Japan attacked the United States which at the time did not have bombers which could attck Japan. The Japanese war lords were sure that the Pacific Ocean protected the country from bomber attack. After 2 1/2 years of fighing, however, the United States had both a bomber and bases that could reach Japan. After seizing the Marianas (June-July 1944), the Americans began building a vast complex of air bases. Supplies began arriving in huge quantities and eventually the B-29 squadrons. The inital conventional B-29 raids were not very effective (fall 1944). This change with the arrival of Gen. Curtlis LeMay and the development of new tactics (January 1945). Than the deadly effective raids began. Day after day and also at night, waves of B-29s hammered Japan's ports and industrial cities. Incinderaries set the wood and paper houses ablaze. And the bomber force steadily grew as the B-29s rolled offthe assembly lines (March 1945). The American bombers flying from the Mrianas began massive, almost daily raids, against Japan's industrial cities. Germany's cities were left mounds of rubble. Japan's cities would be left piles of chared timbers and ashes,

Opperation Matterhorn (June 1944)

Operation Matterhorn was the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) plan for the strategic bombing of Japanese forces by the knew 20th Air Force. They were going to use the new B-29 Superfortresses which could be based in India and operate from for ward bases in China. Targets included the Japanese Home Islands as well as Japanese bases in China and South East Asia. Ot would have been the most difficult bombing campaign in history. The supply line was imncredible. Supplies for the ioeration had to cross thhe Pacific and then half of the Indian Ocean. They then had to be delivered notyh on India's none to midern rail system to USAAF bases in northern India. And from their the had to be flow over the highest montain range in the world--the Himalayas--called The Hump. The final destination were forward air fields in central China that China was building by hand. From here the B-29s would operate. No USAAF operation was quire like it. The supplies for 8th Aifr Force in Britin, simply had a short trip across the North Atlantic. USAAF comanders knew that the Marianas in the Pacific were being targeted. And they weere even closer than the Chinese bases. President Roosevelt insisted in Matterhorn partly to support Ametrica's Chine ally, Chaing's Nationalists, and parttly to begin the bombing as asoon as possible. The first raids began (June 1944). The raids on the Home UIslands were largely ineffectual, largely because the Jet Stream over Jaoan was uunknown to the Americans. And there problems delivering the quantities aof fuel and ordinance needed over the Hump. The collapse of the effort campe when the Japanese launched a huge efforts to seizxe the forward bases -- Ichi-Go (April 1944). USAAF Commander Hap Arnold order Gen Curtis LeMay then in Britain to China to direct the effort (August 1944). A fire bombing raid on Hankow showed what could ve accomplished).

The Marinanas

The Marianas Islands were seized by the United States in a series of massive invasions rivaling D-Day Europe (June-July 1944). The engineers immediately began building massive runways and other instaltions. The Marianas were the sollution to the Chinse logistical log jam. The 20th Air Forces B-29s begana arriving in the Maruanaas (October 1944). Raid on the Home Islans began (Late- 1944), but with little success, largely because of the Jet Stream and the use if percission bombing, high explosive attacks. The USSAAF decided to shift ioerations out of China to the Marianas. LeMay and much of the force in China moved to the Marianas (January 1945).

New Tactics

LeMay adopted new tactics, flying at lower alditudes to lessen the impact of the Jet Stream. He also incereased the bomb laoad by taking out defensive armament. The crews were stunned, but the tactics a work and this would begin the devestaing fire bombing raiods on Japan.

Tokyo (February 25)

The first mahor fire bombing raid was on Tokyo using incinderaries (February 25). It was a high alditude, but judged a success.

Tokyo (March 9-10, 1945)

The atomic bombing of Japan is what has attracted the most attention in the popular imagination. They were, however, neiter the most destructive or the most deadly attacks of the air war. The most deadly attack was the conventinal fire bombing of Tokyo, Tokyo was the ancient city of Edo. It was one of the world's largest cities and Japan's capital. Operation Meetinghouse was the fire bombing of Tokyo (March 9-10). Despite all that is written about the atmic bomb attacks, it is the Tokyo Meeting house attack that was the most destructive bombing attack in history. The B-29s used LeMay's new tactics of bombing at low alditude (5,000-8,000 ft), this bought the bombers in range of Japanese anti-aircraft fire, but saved fuel and allowed for larger bomb loads. The resulting fire storm destroyed 16 square miles of Tokyo and killed more than 100,000 Japanese. Dorr] The bombers stayed away from the Imperial Palace, but the Emperor and Japanese military saw just what the power of the U.S. bombers. Some authors say that President Truman should have given the Japanese a test atomic explosion. Bur if Meetinghouse did not convince the Japanese to surrender, it was clear that only a sustained bombing campaign or even invasion would. In fact it would take 6 months of intensive bombardment to convince the Japanese. Many authos believe that the Soviet invasion of Manchuria may have been more important than the bombing because they were afraid of Stalin and the Communists which would have meant an end to the monarchy.

Nagoya (March 11-12, 1945)

The next big raid after Tokyo was the port of Nagoya. This was a relatively new city and port, founded only in 1889. It was the second largest port in the country after Yokohama. It was Japan's third most populous city, about 1.5 million people. Before the War, Nagoya was famous for its fine ceramics, which were widely marketed in the United States. It was an important target, not only because of the port, but because of several important aircraft plants which were clustered around the Kagamigahara airfield. Mitsubishi, Japan's most important aircraft manufactur, established its largest aircraft assembly works in Nagoya and the second largest in the world. Aichi also had a large airframe and enfine plant. Aichi produced about 1,600 engines per month in 1944 before the strategic bombing campaign began. About a quarter of the city's workers were employed in the city's aircraft plants. In addition to the air plane factories, Nagoya also had shipyards. Primarily because of the aircraft industries, Nagoya was high on LeMay's lists of targets. Japanese planes were by this point of the War largely obsolete, but they wee still a formidable weapon when used in Kamikazee attacks. Nagoya proved to be a difficult target, LeMay first sentb a force of 310 B-29 Superfortresses armed with laden with incendiary bombs to attack thecity (March 11-12). The assessment was that 2 square miles of the city were destroyed in a fire storm. This was, however, considered disappointing compared with the devastation created by the Tokyo raid. This was because the planners decided to spread out the incendiaries dropped from each aircraft over a larger area. As a result, Le May sent a much larger force against Nagoya, 542 B-29s back to Nagoya (May 14). They dropped 2,515 tons of incendiaries destroyed. The second raid destroyed 3.15 square of the city. A third raid executed at night at low levels May 17-18). It consisted of 516 B-29s which dropped over 3,609 tons of bombs, This raid destroyed another 3.9 square miles of the cities. USAF analists saw that some of the city's industry was still operating. Thus a raid by 194 B-29s of 313 and 314 Bombardment Wings targeted the machine tools at Number 2 and Number 4 engine works (April 7). They destroyed 40 percent of production. This was ranked as the the singl most devastating raid against an aircraft plant during the War. This was also one of the first raids of the war with P-51 Mustang escorts. Thiscwa now possible because of the sacrifices the Marines made taking Iwo Jima. USAF analysts after the War concluded that Nagoya was "one of the most difficult cities in Japan to burn because of the difficulties of the approach, the shape and size of the city, the relatively small fire divisions in the urban sections, the numerous fire breaks and the high percentage of fire resistant structures." [Frank]

Iwo-Jima (February-March 1945)

The Maarine fought an epic battle frr the strongly fortified volcanic island of Iwo Jima, located midway between the Marianas and the Home Islands. The Japanese garrison fought almost to the last man. The Marines paid a heavy prices, but the island proved a major assett in the strateghic bombing campaign. First it eliminated an unsinkable Japanese radar picket. Second it provided a base for P-51 Mustangs that could escort the bombrers. The P-51s could fly from the Masrianas, but basing them om Iwo significantly increased the efecctive force and allowed them to conduct low-level attacks. Third, the B-29 flights from the Marianas put an enormpud strain on the B-29 engines. Iwo provided an emergency haven for B-29 with engine trouble or battle danmage.

Fullstrength (April 1945)

The 20th Air fOrce was diverted from stratehic operations to conduct a series of raids in support of the marianas invasion. The XXI Bomber Command reached its full strength (April(. The he 58th and 315th Bombardment Wings arrived in the Marianas. The command comprised five wings equipped with a total of 1,002 B-29s. It was the most powerful air unit of World War II. The Japanese air defenses proved unable to prevent raids or even inflict substabtial losses on night raids, but had some success during the day when the B-29s were not escirted. There were also limits on its operations. The move to the Marianas solved the supply situation, but the long runs to the Home Islnds limited the number of raids and caused enormous srerss on crews and machinery. Both issues would limit operastions throughout the campaign.

Percission Raid (early April)

A few attacks on Japanese cities were conducted during the Battle of Okinawa. A night precision bombing raid was flown against the Nakajima engine factory in Tokyo by 121 B-29s (April 1)> Tree similar attacks were conducted against engine factories in Shizuoka, Koizumi and Tachikawa on the (April n#). The XXI Bomber Command lacked the specialized equipment needed to strike targets accurately at night. LeMay as a esult decided not to conduct similar operations.

More Tokyo Raids (second half of April)

LeMay resumed night firebombing raids (April 13). Some 327 B-29s attacked Tokyo's the arsenal district destroyed an additional 11.4 square miles where several armaments factories were located. Then 303 B-29s attacked targets in and around Tokyo destroyed 6 square miles of Tokyo, 3.6 square miles of Kawasaki and 1.5 square miles of Yokohama (port area, losing only 12 bombers. There was then a lull. The distances involved and the wear and tear on ghe engimes meant that dailt bombing was not possible. Then 131 B-29s attacjed and destroyed the Tachikawa aircraft engine factory at Yamato which was near Tokyo (April 24). A raid on the aircraft arsenal at Tachikawa had to be aborted due to cloud cover (April 30). Some of bombers were divered to Hamamatsu, a port near Nagoya. .

Major Cities (May-June 1945)

May began with some raids on smaller cities. Again notice the significan lull between raids. Another precision raid with 148 B-29s was made against the Hiro Naval Aircraft Factory at Kure, infkigting significant danage (May 5). Mext was an attack on oil infrastructure Iwakuni, Ōshima, and Toyama (may 10). A small number of planes destroyed an airframe factory at Konan (May 11). The major Japanese cities were Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Nagoya, Sapporo, Kobe, Kyoto, and Fukuoka, most located on Honshu--the main island. . With the completion of the Okimawa camapign, the B-29s were released from support opretations. Thus XXI Bomber Command was able to pursue the intensive firebombing campaign against Japan's main cities in ful force (mid-May). Tokyo and Nagoya had already been desestated, but were again targeted. A huge force of 472 B-29s struck Nagoya again, thids time by day May 13). They destroyed 3.2 square miles of the city. As this was a day-time raid, the Japanese were able to engage the bombrers. Thery only downed twi B-29s, but 64 were danaged. Eight B-29s were lost to other causes, esoecially engine failure. Nagoya was attacked again by a massive force--457 B-29s, this time at might (May 16). The fire stirn created destroyed 3.8 square miles. (May 23). Then 502 B-29s destroyed 16.8 square miles of the city's central area. This including the main buildings of several ministries and much of the Tokyo Imperial Palace, although they had orders to avoid the palace (May 26). The Japanese air defenses were unusually successful. About half of Tokyo had been destoyed and with Japan;'s wiiden and oaper constuction this meant burned to ground and reduced ti cinders. The bombing planners removed it from the bombing list. at least for the time. The lasr major raid during May was a daylight incendiary attack on Yokohama (May 29). It consisted of 517 B-29s escorted by 101 P-51s. It was intercepted by an imprtant Japanese force, 150 A6M Zero fighter. A major air battle erupted. Most of the bombers reached Yokohama and leveled the main business district, destoying 6.9 square miles . The attacks in May destroyed 94 square milesof Japanese cities -- 15 percent Japan's urban area and in only 3 months of bombing. Japan had conducted civik defense exercises before the War, but waht was now unfolding in Japan was beyond the scope of Japan's primitive fire gighting caoability. Minister of Home Affairs, Iwao Yamazaki, seeing Japan's cities on fire, and the constant wave of bombers concluded that civil defense efforts were 'futile'. [Tillman, pp. 172–73.] The raids on majopr cities continued into June. The bombing campaign began weith raids of 100 or so monbers, npw 400-500 bomber raids were becoming standard. A huge fiorce of 521 B-29s escorted by 148 P-51s hit Osaka (June 1). Unusually quite a nimber if escirts were destroyed whenb they were enbveloped in a cloud bank. Most of the bombs reached the tarrget Then 409 B-29s attacked Osaka again destroyinh 2.2 square miles this time without losses (June 7). Osaka was bombed for the fourth time in the month, this time by 444 B-29s (June 15). They destroyed some 1.9 square miles in addition to 0.6 square miles of adjscent Amagasaki. Some 300,000 homes were destroyed in Osaka. This attack was the the end of the first phase of XXI Bomber Command's attack on Japan's major cities. American nombers had cut the heart out of Japan's largest cities. Only Kyoto for political reasons was soared and Soporo in the fart north (Hokkaido). Some 120,000 people were dead and millions homeless--all in only aboutv3 months. One source reports that in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, 'the areas leveled (almost 100 square miles (260 km2) exceeded the areas destroyed in all German cities by both the American and British air forces (approximately 79 square miles (200 km2))." And that was over a several year period. [Miller, p. 460] Unlike the European strategic bombing campsign, Amerucamn losses were very low--only about 135 bombers. And infintesimal compared to the daname and desytruction. The Japanese public now knew that theuir military leaders had lied to them about great victories and were un able to protect them. But as in Germny, there was not public outcry. The American plsanners were not sure how tpo explain ythis nd neither are we. Perhaps it was the nature of a totalitarian state able to stifel resistance. Other fctirs such as patriotism, devotion to the Emperor, fear of the Americans may hsve been involved. But it was clear that convntionl bombing was not gouing to end the War. It was of course it was reducing Japan's war-making cpability.

The Empire Plan (June-August 1945)

USAAF Commsander Hap Arnold flew to Saopan to cinfer with LeMay (mid June) He approved what became known as the Empire Plan. -- an undertaking to attack 25 smaller until now untouched Japamese cities, but continuing precission bombing of important targets This plan ignored a recommendation from the United States Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS) team, which had begun the asessmnent of the effectiveness of strategic bombing campaign against NAZI Germany. The believed that the operations against Japan should primarily target the transport system rather than the war industries. The transport system could be more easily destroyed than the huge numbrer of manufacturing factories. And if raw materials, manufactured arms, and food did not move, the country's war econoomy could no longer function. [Kerr, pp. 258-60.] The bombing plan LeMay devised entailed precision daylight attacks attacks on industrial targets on clara days and incendiary attacks using radar guidance on overcast days. As the targets were no longer large cities, massed raids were no longr necessary. The result was smaller raids against multiple targets were launched. [Craven and Cate, pp. 650–51.] The 20th Air Force did no form 1,000 bomber raids as in the bomning campaign against Germanny, but the bomb capacity of the B-29 was larger than the bombers used in Europe. The American bombers varried from 5,000-8,000 lbs payloads. The British Lancasters carried 8,000 lb payloads, but were eventually adapted to carry up to 12,000 lbs. And with air bases in Okinawa, the Americans could use the massive air forces built up in Europe on Japan. While the americans did not excperiebce heavy losses, the Japanese chganged tactics (July 1945). They stopped opposing the American bombers in force. The losses sustanined in aerial combat with America escorts was depleting their airforce which they deemed essential for massed Kamakaze attacks on the anticipated American invasion fleet. And were amassing a secret airforce.

Okimawa Bases

Okimawa did not feature primenentky in the strategic bombing camapihn, but only because the Hapanese surrendered (August 14). Okinawa is cimmonly depicted as a stepping stinr to Jaoan from which am invasion would be launched. And invasion was being preoared, but is inopt all tigerther clear that it would have been carried off as olan. The Smericans were not onky building invadioin infgrastructure on Okinawa abd stickpiling invasion supplies, theu were also extending runways and buikding new aur bases. The strategic bomving had been limited by the huge distances the B-29s could fly. Operatiung from Okinawa doubled tyhe effucribe force. The Americans coukd have styahed and susdtained daily raids. In addition since VE -Day, the hige force of Amreican and Brutish bomberrs had sat idle in Europe. These planes were unabke to reach Japan frim the Maruanas., They certainly coulkd from Okinawa. As a result, when Japan surrendered, the Americansd and British were preparing to massively expand strategic bombing fom new Okinawan bases. The Americans exploded three atomic bomns, one in New Mexico and two in Japan. A fouth was nearing completion, but additional bombs were months away. (The Japanese did not know this, in part because thed two bombs were dropped in such short scucession.) But with the comvedntyional bomboing force neing readied om Okinmaawa., ythe Allies couils=d have scorged Japan from north tp south like no other country in histiry--virtuallu every city, including the smallest. And with fightyrtamfd and mdium moners they would have completed the destructyion of the Japanese transport system. The level of destuction would hve been umimginable.


Craven, Wesley and James Cate. Eds. The Pacific: Matterhorn to Nagasaki. The Army Air Forces in World War II. Volume V. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1953).

Kerr, E. Bartlett. Flames Over Tokyo: The U.S. Army Air Force's Incendiary Campaign Against Japan 1944–194 (New York City: Donald I. Fine Inc., 1991)..

Miller, Donald L. and Henry Steele Commager. i>The Story of World War II (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001).

Tillman, Barrett (2010). Whirlwind: The Air War Against Japan 1942–1945 (New York City: Simon & Schuster, 2010).


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Created: 4:13 PM 10/18/2014
Last updated: 1:42 AM 5/7/2021