Twenty years ago last month 111 B-29s of Brig. Gen. Emmett
"Rosy" O'Donnell's 73d Bomb Wing left Isely Field, on Saipan, and set
course for Tokyo, some 1,500 miles away. This mission, code-named San Antonio
1, was the first B-29 attack against Japan from the recently captured Marianas
and the first attack upon Tokyo since Jimmy Doolittle's carrier-based raid of
April 18, 1942.
Weather was bad to and over the target, and only
eighty-eight B-29s were able to drop their bombs at all. Of these, only
twenty-four bombed the primary target, but the appearance of the
Superfortresses over their capital on November 24, 1944, brought home to the
Japanese people the stark reality of the situation. American air-power was now
within reach of the home islands. Worse, the Japanese Air Force couldn't do a
thing about it.
Within nine months this aerial armada grew from a single
bomb wing with 119 aircraft to five wings and a thousand B-29s. The course of
the Pacific war was soon to change abruptly as the weight of American airpower
The B-29 forces which operated from the Marianas were a part
of the Twentieth Air Force, activated in Washington on April 4, 1944, with
Gen. H. H. Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Forces, as Commander. The Twentieth
operated directly under the Joint Chiefs of Staff and was unique in that the
headquarters resided in Washington while the combat element was in the
Marianas, more than 8,000 miles away.
Since Guadalcanal in 1942, United States forces had been
engaging Japanese forces in battle, but, until the arrival in the Marianas of
the XXI Bomber Command, the homeland, the sustainer of the war effort, had been
untouched, save for the Doolittle raid and a comparatively minor effort by the
XX Bomber Command from China. The tentacles of Japanese expansion were being
crushed, but the heart was untouched until the XXI Bomber Command—the combat
arm of the Twentieth Air Force—began a systematic and cataclysmic series of
attacks, short in duration but terrible in their intensity.
The defeat of the Japanese Empire is unique in modem
military history. For the first time, a major nation surrendered, totally and
unconditionally, without a single invader having set foot within its borders.
Germany surrendered in 1918 before actual invasion, but invading troops in
large numbers had penetrated the homeland during the course of the war. Japan
accepted defeat while possessing more than two and one-half million combat-equipped
troops and 9,000 kamikaze planes in the home islands.
United States strategy contemplated an invasion of the home
islands, with landings on the southern island of Kyushu scheduled for November
1945. Honshu was to be invaded the following March, even though many American
commanders, mostly air officers, stated as early as May 1945 that air attacks
would make an invasion unnecessary.
Evidence supports the conclusion that the B-29 offensive,
more than any other factor, forced the issue. By August 1945, the XXI Bomber
Command had destroyed a high percentage of Japanese industry, wrecked her
economy, and shattered the morale of her people. In 1945, the XXI Bomber
Command comprised the sole force capable of a sustained and continuous attack
upon the Japanese homeland.
The XXI Bomber Command was activated at Smoky Hill Army Air
Field, Kan., on March 8, 1944. Soon afterward, the Command Headquarters moved
to Colorado Springs to bring together the headquarters of the Command, its
three wing headquarters, and Second Air Force. The latter was supplying the
cadre of personnel, fillers, and replacements.
By June the Bomber Command was comprised of three wings. The
73d Bomb Wing (VH) consisted of four Bomb Groups: the 497th, 498th, 499th, and
500th. In the 313th Wing were the 6th, 9th, 504th, and 505th Groups. The 314th
Wing was made up of the 19th, 29th, 39th, and 330th Groups. Two additional
wings joined the Command in the Marianas. The 58th—first wing to use the B-29
in combat from bases in India and China—arrived on Tinian in April 1945. In
this wing were the 40th, 444th, 462d, and 468th Bomb Groups. The 315th Wing,
the fifth to join the Command, flew its first combat mission on June 26, 1945.
It consisted of the 16th, 331st, 501st, and 502d Groups.
The summer months of 1944 were arduous. Washington was
pressing for combat readiness in a minimum of time. The B-29, however, was the
largest and most complicated aircraft produced to that date, and there were
problems. From October 1943 to September 1944, the in-commission rate never
exceeded forty percent at any time. During July 1944, the Command in-commission
rate for the B-29 was twenty-seven percent, and in August only thirty-six
percent, while the average monthly hours flown per aircraft assigned in July was
2.8, and in August 3.6 hours.
By October 1944, XXI Bomber Command units were spread from
Colorado Springs to the Marianas, though most of the combat aircraft still were
in Kansas and Nebraska. The movement of thousands of men, hundreds of aircraft,
and tons of materiel was an exacting, complicated, and difficult task. Total
strength had now reached 43,000, with 8,000 in the headquarters and related
units, and 11,500 men in each of the three wings.
The first B-29 to reach the Marianas was Joltin' Josie, The Pacific Pioneer,
which landed on Saipan October 12, 1944, with General Hansell at the controls.
Brig. Gen. Haywood S. "Possum" Hansell, Jr., had assumed command of
the XXI on August 28. He had been Chief of Staff of the Twentieth Air Force in
Washington and was given the task of leading the Bomber Command overseas and
directing its initial missions against Japan. Soon to follow were elements of
General O'Donnell's 73d Wing, which would fly fourteen combat missions before
the second wing entered the fray. Total B-29 hours per crew averaged only 108.
Six shakedown missions were flown by the 73d soon after its
arrival at Isely Field, Saipan, against submarine pens on Truk and Iwo Jima.
These missions furnished the crews needed experience in navigation, bombing,
radar approach, formation flying at altitude, and night landings. The bombing
results were unsatisfactory. The 73d needed more training, but General Arnold
ordered the first strike against Japan itself.
A Period of Trial
From this first mission on November 24, 1944, until the
revolutionary change in tactics on March 9, 1945, was a time of trial and
error, of frustration and dejection. Maintenance equipment and supplies were
lacking. Flight personnel and maintenance technicians were green. Information
on Japanese targets was scanty. Bomb loads were often limited to three tons
because of excessive fuel Consumption. Missions were flown every fourth to
sixth day, depending on weather, and during December, January, and February
missions were flown on only eighteen days. All of these factors meant an
exceedingly high noneffective rate of aircraft airborne and a low rate of
combat effort. For the three-month period, the monthly average was fifty-eight
hours per aircraft and forty-four hours per crew.
The effectiveness of Bomber Command operations could be
measured in two ways—first, by the bomb tonnage carried to Japan, and secondly,
by how much of this tonnage hit primary targets. In both critical areas, the
Command fell short of all expectations.
A target system issued in November listed the following
priorities: (1) Japanese aircraft industry, (2) Japanese urban industrial
areas, (3) Japanese shipping. Seven of the ten primary targets were aircraft
and engine factories. Lower on the priority list were coke, steel, and oil.
When weather or other conditions made it impossible to bomb any priority
targets, the Command was directed to radar bomb specific port and urban areas.
Throughout this early period the Command adhered to the
time-honored Air Force doctrine of high-altitude, daylight, precision bombing.
Although successful in Europe, this approach failed to achieve significant
results after three months of continued operations against Japan. Much had been
expected from the B-29, but not much was being obtained.
On January 6 General Arnold sent Brig. Gen. Lauris Norstad
to Guam to inform Genera] Hansel that a change was coming. It came on January
20, when Maj. Gen. Curtis E. LeMay assumed command of the XXI. The
thirty-eight-year-old general had earned a reputation as a hard taskmaster with
the 3d Air Division in England. He came to his new post from XX Bomber Command.
He went to the Marianas as a top combat commander. He emerged from the war as a
brilliant air strategist.
General LeMay immediately ordered a rigid training program.
For combat crews, this consisted of classroom instruction, supervised line
maintenance, mission planning and briefing, physical training, dinghy drills,
instrument training, and lead crew tactics. The mission critique was begun on February
5. Wing commanders and their staffs met with General LeMay and his staff
following each strike to discuss problems, including possible changes to the
approved tactical doctrine.
These training programs, together with increased experience,
showed significant results. In November 1944, only twenty percent of the
airborne aircraft bombed the primary target, and twenty percent failed to bomb
any target. In March 1945, eighty-five percent bombed the primary target, and
in July the percentage climbed to ninety-four percent.
From Fire Bombs to
The third phase began on March 9, 1945. From March to the
termination of hostilities on August 14, the B-29 strength in the Marianas
increased from less than 400 to 1,000. Command personnel on Guam reached
37,500, on Tinian 26,500, on Saipan 12,700, and on newly captured Iwo Jima
This period was one of tremendous success. Those who had
held to the belief, even in darker days, that the B-29 could force Japan to
surrender before a land invasion were vindicated. The speed with which the
Command was transformed from near impotence into an instrument of devastating
power was alarming, both to the Japanese and to many within our military
A key factor was the change in tactics inaugurated by General
LeMay and applied in the great incendiary attacks upon Japanese cities, which
began in force on March 9, 1945. Although LeMay consulted with his top commanders,
he alone was responsible for the final decision to adopt this drastic change to
unproven combat tactics. From high-altitude, daylight, precision bombing in
formation, the switch was made to low-level, area bombing during hours of
Eight principal factors influenced the decision: (1) previous
bombing tactics had produced unfavorable results; (2) winds and cloud coverage
prevented satisfactory visual bombing from high altitudes; (3) by March 1945,
Japanese fighter interception had decreased substantially; (4) by March, the
strength of the Command had increased to three combat wings; (5) it was
believed that enemy resistance would be lessened by night attacks; (6) a
change to low altitude would greatly extend the life of the engines, which
averaged only 264 hours between overhauls; (7) much less fuel would be
consumed, thus permitting greater bomb loads; and (8) the target system itself
dictated a change.
Concerning the last mentioned factor, reports continued to
show that Japans industry depended on the combined production of thousands of
small subcontractors and workshops manufacturing essential component parts,
each employing only a few people. This type of industry was meshed into the
urban areas of Japan, and was extremely vulnerable to widespread incendiary
destruction. Since the urban industrial areas were highly congested and inflammable,
their destruction would critically dislocate the labor force.
An important change in tactics involved the decision to
attack individually rather than in formation. Another significant change was
the decision to carry no ammunition in this first great raid. It was believed
that one of the greater dangers on a night mission by individual aircraft
might be self-inflicted damage. It was found that there were only four
night-fighter units in the Japanese Air Force, and only two of these were
stationed in the home islands. As a result, on the Tokyo attack of March 9 not
a single round of ammunition was carried in the B-29s. In succeeding missions,
the amount of ammunition varied, since the Japanese would have soon learned
that none was aboard and pressed their attacks.
Each B-29 could carry forty E-46 bomb clusters. Each
cluster, exploding at 2,500 feet, would release thirty-eight M-69 incendiary
bombs which would fall in a random pattern. The resulting pattern from one
aircraft with an intervalometer setting, or spaced bomb fall, of fifty feet
would cover .025 square miles. With a full bomb load of 17,000 pounds, the area
burned by a single aircraft could be approximately sixteen acres.
In this memorable ten-day period, beginning on March 9, the
Command's three wings sent 1,595 B-29 sorties against the four major cities,
unleashing 9,365 tons of incendiaries from an average altitude of 7,000 feet.
Thirty-two square miles of highly populated and industrialized area were
destroyed. In the devastating raid upon Tokyo on March 9, 15.8 square miles
were burned, with the loss of only one B-29 to enemy action.
The phenomenal success of the new tactics restored the morale
and fighting spirit of the Command's crews by providing a degree of battle
success proportionate to the effort expended. Especially important, the B-29
was established as a reliable and efficient combat aircraft.
After the March raids Japanese opposition steadily declined.
It became the exception when B-29s met heavy opposition over the target. Flak
and searchlight defenses continued to be strong in the Tokyo area but were comparatively
Under the brilliant leadership of General LeMay, together
with Brig. Gens. Roger Ramey, Emmett O'Donnell, John H. Davies, Thomas Power,
and Frank Armstrong, his wing commanders, the XXI Bomber Command, by March
1945, was inflicting heavy and continuous devastation upon the home islands.
Sixty-one percent, or 96,480 tons, of all bombs dropped by
the B-29s upon Japan were incendiaries. The scope and complexity of these
attacks were the most impressive in the history of aerial warfare. Seventy-nine
major missions hit sixty-four principal cities, involving 13,365 aircraft
sorties and causing nearly one hundred percent building damage in a total area
of approximately 175 square miles, practically all in the very center of the
General LeMay said later: "Due to the nature of Japanese
construction, the vast majority of targets were highly inflammable and ideal
for incendiary attacks. It was a classic situation, one that airpower exponents
since the days of Douhet had looked for as a stage to prove their
The most devastating single raid was the March 9 attack
upon Tokyo. There were six strategic targets within the primary area, the most
important being the Hattori Company, which manufactured fuzes for artillery
shells. Each major factory was surrounded by a 100-foot firebreak. Home
industry was highly concentrated within this area. Most of the people living in
the zone worked either at the factories or supported them in their homes.
Ninety-five percent of the homes and factories in the area were made of wood.
XXI Bomber Command Field Order No. 43 directed the 73d,
313th, and 314th Wings to participate. All crews were to snake individual runs
on the target at night at altitudes ranging from 5,000 to 7,800 feet.
Three hundred and twenty-five B-29s took off from the
Marianas, and 279 dropped 1,665 tons of bombs onto the primary zone. Fourteen
aircraft were lost to all causes, and 102 crew casualties were recorded-3.1
percent of those airborne. Visual bombing was accomplished by 125 crews, radar
bombing by 149, and five crews bombed on the lead aircraft. This was also the
first combat mission for the 314th Wing.
Bombing results were considered superior. Japanese air
opposition was weak, with seventy-four fighters making only forty attacks. Flak
was accurate and intense but diminished as the attack progressed. Japan's
defenses were proven to be extremely weak.
A fifty-mph wind, plus the highly combustible nature of the
city, resulted in a fire that was out of control within thirty minutes after
the first B-29s dropped their bombs. Police records showed that 267,000
buildings were destroyed, about one-quarter of Tokyo.
The fires were still burning by mid-morning, and had it not
been for the river, which made a natural firebreak, they might have continued
much longer. Aerial photographs showed a burned-out area of 15.8 square miles.
Eighteen percent of the industrial area and sixty-three percent of the
commercial area were destroyed. Command intelligence officers deleted
twenty-two numbered industrial targets from their priority lists.
The ten-day fire blitz of March was a turning point. The
morale of the Japanese people began a steady decline, never to rise again.
Industries suddenly ceased to exist, or operated at greatly reduced rates. The
panic-stricken people began an exodus from the major cities. The rate of absenteeism
in the war industries recorded an alarming rise. The population of Tokyo
dropped from over five million on January 1, 1945, to two and one-third million
on August 1.
In Tokyo, only four incendiary raids completely destroyed
51.3 square miles of industrial urban areas. Kobe, a city comparable to St.
Louis, lost fifty-one percent of its industrial area in only three raids.
Osaka, industrially similar to Pittsburgh, was Japan's second city in
population, and second to Tokyo as an industrial and transportation center. In
three incendiary attacks, one-fourth of its area was destroyed. Nagoya, a city
of a million and a half, produced half of Japan's aircraft and engines, plus
machine tools, ball bearings, and tanks. Incendiary attacks destroyed one-third
of its industrial urban area.
Practically all incendiary bombs in the Marianas were
expended in the ten-day blitz. Consequently, there were no incendiary missions
from March 19 to April 13. Then three incendiary strikes occurred, again
followed by a pause in fire raids until May 14, due primarily to the Command's
strikes against Japanese airfields in support of the Okinawa invasion. On May
14, 529 bombers were airborne in the first daylight incendiary raid, the first
strike in which all four wings struck the same target, the north urban area of
Nagoya. This was the largest force sent against Japan to date.
The fourth bomb wing to join the Command was the 58th. It
flew its first mission from West Field, Tinian, on May 5, 1945. Although a
latecomer to the Marianas, the 58th was no neophyte. It had been the combat
element of the XX Bomber Command, which had been hastily sent to India by
General Arnold in 1944. Staging from bases in China, it flew its first mission
against Bangkok on June 5 of that year. Its final mission from China was flown
on March 30, 1945, against Singapore.
June 1945 saw the tempo of the fire raids stepped up. The
Command released a total of 20,559 tons of incendiaries in fifteen missions,
numbering 3,203 sorties. Principal targets were Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe, Sasebo, and Fukuoka, but as
the destruction of these major centers became more complete the Command turned
toward secondary targets. When 444 B-29s attacked Osaka on the fifteenth, not
one Japanese fighter rose to the attack and the Japanese never again sent up a
fighter defense of any consequence.
July was the last full month in the war, and on July 16 the
XXI Bomber Command was redesignated the Twentieth Air Force under Lt. Gen.
Nathan F. Twining.
It was evident to most of our air generals that the war was
rapidly coming to an end. General Twining has said:
"Upon my arrival in Guam to assume command of the
Twentieth Air Force on July 2, 1945, 1 spent considerable time studying the
photographs of the B-29 bomber offensive against the Japanese
islands—particularly their war-sustaining resources, industry and oil. It was
readily apparent from the bomb damage photos, and we had many of them, that
the Japanese resources for continuing a war were practically nil. This
information was known to General Arnold in Washington, who presented it to our
top decision-making people. But in spite of this the decision was made to
continue on with the plans for the invasion of Japan." [Italics added]
From the beginning of March to the end of the war, a little
more than twenty percent of the Command's combat effort was devoted to high-explosive
bombing of priority industrial targets, usually by daylight formation attacks. Targets
included installations of the aircraft industry, arsenals, oil, chemical
plants, and in the latter months of the war, with the land invasion in mind,
In precision bombing, weather was the dominant factor. When
conditions permitted visual sighting, the results were usually satisfactory.
The weather over Japan was usually not favorable for visual daylight attacks,
however, and there were attempts to employ precision bombing at night, using
flares. Results were discouraging. The light from the flares was reflected by
either the clouds or smoke and hindered rather than helped the bombardiers. The
Command decided to draw on the techniques used by the Royal Air Force and await
arrival of RAF 1,000-pound, target-identification bombs. Reflex optic bombsights,
better for this type of bombing, were ordered.
By May, the Command was achieving acceptable results. Crews
were gaining in experience. The weather improved. Flying at low altitudes
eliminated winddrift problems. This combination resulted, for the first time,
in more than fifty percent damage to precision targets.
Mission No. 232, flown on the night of June 26, was the
first combat mission for the 315th Bomb Wing, the fifth and the last wing to
join the Command. Its B-29s carried a new radar—the APQ-7—designed specifically
for radar bombing, and were unarmed, except for tail guns, permitting a much
larger bomb load. The 315th was given the task of destroying Japan's oil
industry since many of the large refineries were on the coast and easily
identified by radar. Fifteen missions were flown against this complex. Using
radar for ninety-five percent of their bombing, the wing destroyed most of the
major oil refineries and more than six million barrels of storage-tank
capacity. The total cost was three aircraft lost and thirty casualties.
Japanese opposition became so insignificant by late July
that General LeMay announced in advance to the Japanese which targets would be
hit and warned the people to evacuate. On July 27, more than 60,000 pamphlets
were dropped on eleven cities. Japanese officials later admitted that these
pamphlets frightened thousands from their jobs and homes.
Another requirement imposed upon the XXI Bomber Command was
the tactical operations against airfields on the southern Japanese home island.
These attacks, conducted from April 17 to May 11, 1945, were deemed necessary
to protect our naval forces off Okinawa.
The B-29s flew ninety-five tactical missions, dropping 8,116
tons of fragmentation and general-purpose bombs. Twenty-three B-29s were lost.
More than 350 Japanese aircraft were destroyed or damaged on the airfields and
208 in the air.
The mine-laying operation was going on at the same time.
General Twining has called it a most essential element in the air offensive.
He further stated that it demonstrated for the first time that airpower could
carry the brunt of a strategic blockade of a powerful maritime nation. Fleet
Admiral Chester Nimitz said the mining campaign accomplished phenomenal
results. Never before had such an operation been undertaken on such a scale and
with so bold an aim.
The aerial mining campaign hit at Japanese dependence on
imports to supply her factories and feed her people. In the last five months of
the war, more than 1,250,000 tons of shipping were sunk or damaged by B-29-sown
mines —more than by any other agent, including submarines. Yet the mining campaign
represented less than six percent of the total sorties flown during the last
five months of the war and involved only one wing, the 313th.
Cooperation between the Bomber Command and the Navy was
excellent. The Navy designed, supplied, and serviced the mines. The final
results are a tribute to both Services.
Prince Konoye evaluated the B-29 mining campaign as having
had an over-all economic effect comparable to the bombing and incendiary
attacks. Captain Tamura of the Japanese Navy said in an interview after the war
that the B-29 mining was so effective that he believed the war could have been
shortened had the operation begun earlier.
Effects on Japanese
Once the B-29 raids began, and as they increased in size and
frequency, Japanese propagandists found it impossible to hide the true state
of affairs from the people.
A committee which studied Japanese morale states:
The air raids brought the war home to the Japanese people,
psychologically as well as physically, and made them realize as nothing else
could that the mere factor of geographic remoteness does not ensure a nation
against the terrible consequences of modern air warfare."
To this, a city official in Sakai added: "As raids increased,
the fighting spirit decreased because people were tired and frightened. Also,
the desire for peace increased and work capacity was lowered."
The conviction spread that continued resistance was futile.
In particular, the extension of the bombing to the secondary cities convinced
the people that the B-29s could, and would, destroy every city in Japan. Also,
they were made painfully aware of the impotence of their own government to
prevent destruction or even to minimize its effects.
An important secondary result was the widespread and
disruptive evacuation from the cities. City dwellers dispersed throughout the
nation and spread the word of Japan's weakness by their words and by their
actions. The mass exodus began after the incendiary attacks on Tokyo in March,
when approximately two million people lost their homes. More than 8,500,000
persons fled from the cities. Fully one-third of these evacuees had been
engaged in war production.
Another aspect of B-29 operations which affected morale was
the dropping of leaflets to announce future raids. The manager of a large
factory in Nagaoka said: "The leaflets had a great effect on the morale of
the people. They figured that if the enemy could announce a raid beforehand,
the enemy was superior."
The Atomic Bombs
The B-29 Enola Gay, with Col. Paul Tibbets as aircraft commander,
appeared over Hiroshima at 8:15 on the morning of August 6. Its single bomb
took forty-seven seconds to descend prior to its violent explosion. An area of
4.4 square miles was completely obliterated—sixty-nine percent of the urban
area. The same destruction would have required 210 B.29s, each carrying ten
tons of conventional bombs.
Nagasaki, the second city to fall victim, had experienced
only five small raids in the preceding twelve months. The impact of the A-bomb
here was less shattering than at Hiroshima. The scale of destruction was
greater, but the actual area destroyed was smaller due to the terrain, and the
point of fall of the bomb.
The two A-bombs were dropped from B-29s of the 509th
Composite Group, which had trained at Wendover Field, Utah, and was based at
North Field, Tinian, on May 1, 1945.
Whether or not these two weapons were the decisive factor in
causing the surrender within the week is a moot point. General Twining said;
"I am convinced that the surrender would have occurred within a short time
period even if the atomic bomb had never been used." General LeMay agrees
with this view. He stated: "The atomic bomb certainly expedited the
collapse; however, ... I think it was
anticlimactic in that the verdict was already rendered."
The fact remains that the atomic bombs were a facet of
airpower. Whether the atomic bombs or the massive raids prior to August 6 had
forced Japan to seek peace, it was the B.29 offensive which finally brought
about the decision.
As the B-29 attacks increased in number and intensity, the
people grew progressively more short-tempered and outspoken in their criticism
of the government, the war, and affairs in general.
No nation can long sustain an aggressive war effort without
the full cooperation and determined will to win on the part of the people.
These elements were lacking in Japan in the summer of 1945, and airpower was
the principal cause for this apathy. The Japanese said of the B-29 that:
• It was the most important single factor in causing them to
have doubts of victory.
• It was the most important single factor in causing them to
feel certain of defeat.
• It was the most important single factor in making them
unwilling to continue the war.
• It was the greatest single cause of worry during the war.
A look at the final results achieved by the Twentieth Air
Force to August 14, 1945, shows that:
• One hundred eighty square miles of highly industrialized
urban areas were burned to the ground. The industrial productive capacity of
sixty-one cities was destroyed, and twenty-one million Japanese people were
• Six hundred and two major war factories were destroyed or
severely damaged, excluding the thousands of small feeder factories destroyed.
• A total of 159,862 tons of bombs were dropped on Japanese
targets, including a daily average of 1,193 tons during the final three months.
• One and one-quarter million tons of Japanese shipping
were destroyed by aerial mines.
• A total of 33,047 bomber sorties were flown against Japan.
• Some 470,000 barrels of oil and oil products, 221,000 tons
of foodstuffs, and two billion square yards of textiles were destroyed.
• In twenty Japanese cities, 100 percent of the planned
target area was totally destroyed, seventy-five to 100 percent of the planned
area in eighteen cities, and from fifty to seventy-five percent in thirteen
• Based on figures before the attacks, production in key
industries had decreased by the following:
Oil refineries 83
Aircraft engine plants 75
Airframe plants 60
Electronics and communications equipment plants 70 percent
Army ordnance plants 30
Light metals 35
Credit must also go to the B-29 gunners, who destroyed 714
Japanese aircraft, probably destroyed 456, and damaged 770.
The campaign was not without its price. From the beginning
of combat operations on November 24, 1944, to August 14, 1945, the Twentieth
Air Force operating from the Marianas lost 447 B-29s and 824 crews. Of these,
343 aircraft, or 1.2 percent of those airborne, and 243 crews, or 0.8 percent
of those airborne, were lost in combat missions. During the entire period,
eleven percent of the aircraft over the target were lost or damaged. Japanese
fighters accounted for thirteen percent of all battle damage, seventy-six
percent was due to flak, nine percent was charged to both, and two percent was
In addition to these combat operations, the Bomber Command
also flew 480 photo reconnaissance sorties, 755 weather reconnaissance and
leaflet-dropping missions, 248 radarscope missions, and 134 search sorties for
As the war entered the first week of August 1945 and Japan
lay battered and charred from southern Kyushu to northern Honshu, preparations
were still being made in Washington and in the Far East for an amphibious
invasion. The advice of our top air commanders was often ignored, for they were
convinced that Japan would surrender prior to November 1. Actually, the true
capability of the B-29 was never fully recognized, except by the air officers,
and was not given adequate weight in the plans established for the war against
Japan. The B-29 campaign was conceived, in effect, as a means to an end, namely
invasion, rather than as a decisive force within itself. Few officers outside
the AAF believed otherwise.
Ten weeks remained from the time the Japanese did surrender
until the scheduled date of the Kyushu invasion. Consider the state of social
and economic collapse existing in Japan at the time of surrender, and associate
this with the size of the B-29 operations to that date. The Twentieth Air Force
was in a position, by August of 194.5, to deliver a bomb tonnage upon Japan in
the next eleven weeks equal to its entire effort to that time, even if
additional atomic bombs were not used.
The United States owes much to Generals Twining and LeMay
for their superb performances. General LeMay must be given special recognition.
It was he who assumed command of the XXI at a time when its performance was
poor and its achievements were negligible. It was due in large measure to his
leadership, discipline, and brilliant strategy that the Command became the most
formidable force of destruction that the world had ever seen.
The United States likewise owes much to the officers and men
of the XXI Bomber Command and the Twentieth Air Force. Two and one-half million
combat-equipped troops and 9,000 kamikaze planes were ready to meet our
invading armies on the beaches of Kyushu and Honshu.
There is little to add to the final address by their commander,
General Twining, who said after the final mission had been flown on August 14,
"That day marked the closing of a record of achievement
that is unparalleled in the history of the Army Air Forces. That the Twentieth
Air Force was able to undertake and so decisively accomplish its mission
within a very short span of time is a tribute to those who designed and
produced its weapons, to the courageous airmen who by their ingenuity and
training established the combat effectiveness of those new weapons, and to the
ground personnel who were unstinting in their efforts to support the combat
The author, Maj. James
M. Boyle, is an Assistant Professor of History at the Air Force Academy. Born
in Fresno, Calif., in 1925, he was trained as a pilot during World War II. He
received his B.S. degree in history
from the University of Santa Clara. Calif., in 1950, his master's the following
year from Stanford University, Calif., and his Ph.D. in history from St. Louis
University, Mo., in 1963. This article is condensed from his 260-page doctorate
dissertation, "The XXI Bomber Command: A Primary Factor in the Defeat of
Japan." Major Boyle is presently teaching a course in the history, theory,
and employment of airpower during his second tour at the Academy. Earlier,
before two years of graduate work at St. Louis University, he was assigned to
the Air Force Academy as an instructor during the 1960-61 academic year.
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Daily Report: The day's top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
Daily Report: Read the day's top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
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