The Pacific War was fought on the largest battlefield in history. This would make the range of aircraft to be an imprtant factor. The air war in the Pacific began as in the European theater with mastery of the skies by the Japanese. The Chinese air force was vitually non-existant. The Japanese conducted terror bombing raid, first on Shanghai and then on other Chinese cities. Japanese aircraft, especially the Mitusubishi A6M Zero, were so effective that they were able to achieve air superority during land and sea battles against Britain and the United States beginning with the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Zero was fast and maneuverable and had an impressive range. This continued throughout much of 1942 and only with the arrival of new American 56L Hellcat in large numbers did the Allies begin to gain the upperhand in the sky. The gradual attrition of skilled Japanese pilots was another factor. New American aircraft brgan reaching the fleet (January 1943). The Gruman 56L Hellcat would be the mainstay of the U.S Navt during the Pacific War. Gradually American flyers had planes with capababilities well beyond those of the Zero. The seizure of the Marianas and the deployment of of the new long range B-29 bombers brought the Japanese homeland within range of strategic bombardment. The initial raids were inclonclusive. General Curtis LeMay devised a strategy of fire bombing which caused massive destruction in Japanese citis crammed with highly flameable wooden structures. When Japan refused to surender after the Yalta Conference, President Truman ordered the use of tha Atomic Bomb in August 1945. The Japanese surendered in September.
Americans in the 1930s thought of Japan as a rather bavkward industrial power. Most Americans bought chrap Japanese toys and china in dime stores. There was no realization, even in upper echelons of the military that Japan had an advanced aviation industry that could produce high performance military aircraft. Even when Clare Chanaulte's Flying Tigers submitted reports of modern Japanese aircraft they were encountering, these assessments were largely discounted in part because of the low esteme Americans had for Japanese manufacturing. In fact Japan had one of the most advanced aviation industries in the world, heavily financed by the Japanese military. Because of this the Japanese entered World war II with one of the best fightersof the War--especially the Mitsubihi A6M Zero fighter. The Army later received the Nakajima Ki-43 Oskar, another excellent fighter with inovative fatures like butter-fly wings. The Japanese also have effective torpedo planes, dive bombers, and various types of other bombers. The Zero was superior in many characteristics to any fighter in the American arsenal when the Japanese launched the War. The Japanese fighters were light, fast and highly manunervable. It also had a range of 1,150 miles, an important capability on the vast Pacific theater of operations. They had some weakenesses, however, such as light armoring to potect the pilot and the absence of self-sealing fuel tanks. (Given the great effort the Japanese put into pilot training, the failure to protect them was short sighted and proved a great mistake.) The Japanese planes were developed with minimal foreign assistance. The Zero demonstrated the potent capabilities of Japanese aviation industry. The fact that at the time the Japanese surrendered (1945) that it was still their first-line fighter demonstrates the limitations of that industry.
China had no aviation industry to speak of, even afyer the major advances made in aviation during World war I. Chiang after seizing control of the Kuomintang did organize an air force by importing foreign-built aircraft. His primary concern during the 1920s was first the war lords and then the Communists, neither of which had important air forces of their own. Chiang and his German military commader, Gen. von Falkenhausen, were chiefly interested in light reconnaissance-bombers that could be used to spot and attack Communist ground forces. Such tactics had proven useful against Communist forces in the Baltics following World war I. The Nationalists purchased aircraft in both the United States and Germany in the years preceeding the Japanese invasion (1932-36). Chiang in America bought 72 Douglas O-2MC-2 and -10 attack bombers and 20 Vought V-92C Corsairs He also bought from NAZI Germany 24 Heinkel He 66Ch biplane dive bombers. These aircrasft were useful in the counter-insurgency campaign against the Communisdts because they were esentially aerial artillery to support infantry and to assist with protecting railroad supply lines. They could conduct punitive raids on villages suspected of aiding the Communists. They were useful against the Communists who did not have their own air force. They were, however, relatively slow aircraft that needed fighter cover in any conflict against a modern airforce.
Japan's invasion of China (July 1937) brought the country in conflict with a country that had a modern airforce. China's small airforce was unprepared for this. Chiang had hired foreign mercenary pilots which were organized into the 14th Squadron. The pilots were nostly from the United States and France. Some had flown for the Republic in the Spanish Civil War. THe 14th Squadron was commanded by Vincent Schmidt, an American World War I pilot. The foreigners poloted the plabnes, the air gunners and ground crews were Chinese. The Squadron�s planes were quite a mix, including Vultee V-11 and Northrop 2E light bombers, two Martin 139 medium bombers, a Bellanca 28-90 racing plane, and two Dewoitine D-510 fighters. The 14th Squadron using its bombers attacked Japanese lines (August, 14, 1937).
Chinese crews flew two Martin bombers on a leaflet raid over Nagasak (May 19, 1938).
The Soviet Union had been an early supporter of the Chinese Republic. The Soviets were increasingly concerned with Jpanese expansion. The Japanese seizure of Manchuria threatened Soviet Siberia, The Soviets had amajor aviation industry and airforce. After the Japanese invasion, they began supplying China with both planes and pilots, including I-15bis fighter biplanes and I-16 monoplanes.
They also supplied Tupolev SB-2s and pilots. These were used to attack Japanese facilities on Formosa (Taiwan).
The Japanese launched an invasion of China proper, launching the Second Sino-Japanese War. (July 1937). The Japanese Kwantung Army turned a small incident into a full-scale war. Chinese forces were unable to effectively resist the Japanese. The Japanese military was not only better armed and organized, they were also incredibly brutal. The rape of Nanking was ome of the most terrible attrocities of World War II. The Japanese methodically moved south, seizing control of most of eastern China and all of the major ports by the time war broke out in Europe. (1939). The Kuomintang Army was battered, but the Japanese were unable to destroy it. Chiang used the samed tactics that Mao and the Communists had used, withdraw into the rugged, easily defensible interior. The Japanese moved up rivers and railroad lines into the interior of China. Much of the Japanese Army was committed to the war in China. It did not prove as draining for Japan, however, as the Soviet campaign did for Germany. This was in pat because of the ineffectiveness of the Kuomintang Army. Resistance to the Japanese fell primarily on the Kuomintang because the Communists were in the remote areas of northwestern China. Also neither Chiang or Mao wanted to weaken their forced by fighting pitched battles with the Japanese.As a result, the Japanese destroyed most of the Chinese air force early in the War. This left the Chinese Army without air cover.
The air war in the Pacific began as in the European theater with mastery of the skies by the Japanese. The Chinese air force was vityually non-existant. The small Chinese air force consisted of mostly obsolete air craft. The Chinese also had no tactical doctrine for effectively persuing the aircraft they had. As a result, the Japanese destroyed most of the Chinese air force early in the War. This left the Chinese Army without air cover. The Japanese used their air superiority not only to attack military targets, but to indiscrinately attack Chinese citis as well. The cities had no anti-aircraft defenses or organized civil defense systems. The result was extensive civilian casualties. Japanese pilots also attacked the American gunboat Panay. The only Chinese areas off limits to the Japanese were the European treaty ports like Shangahi and Hong Kong. It is unclear what the Japanese objective was in attacking civilian targets. Presumably it was to terrorize the Chinese into surrendering. This did not occur. The Chinese simply moved deeper into the interior of China beyond the reach of the Japamese Army, but not beyond the range of Japanese bombers. The Japanese terror bombing of Chinese cities was but one of the Japanese atrocities perpetrated on the Chinese people. One unintended impact of the Japanese bombing raids was a huge impact on the Japanese image among Americans. The Japanese attacks were reported by Western journalists as impages appeared in both newspapers/magazines and movie newreels. Public opinion in America which was already oro-Chinese turned massively anti-Japanese. There was no interest in entering the war, but there was considerable sympathy for aiding China. And one of China's main requests was aid in developing a modern air force. The Japanese attacks would continue unopposed until the arrival of American planes and pilots--the famed Flying Tigers.
American involvement in China did not begin with the Japanese invasion and the Roosevelt Administration. American naval vessels began cruises on the Yangtze River in 1854. The mission of these early cruises was to show the flag and support American consular officers. The naval mission grew ever more complex as the authority of the Imperial Government deteriorated in the late 19th century and became an important instrument of American foreign policy. Operations included putting landing parties ashore on occassion to protect U.S. interests. The U.S. Navy after the turn of the 20th century began to conduct the patrols in a more organized fashion. The Navy deployed purpose-built gunboats and began coordinting operations with the Britidsh Royal Navy. The U.S. Navy was also deployed in anti-piracy patrols off the Chinese coast. Japnese forces were moving up the Yangtze River toward the Chinese capital which had been evacuated from Peeking to Nanking. Two U.S. Navy gunboats were at Nanking, the U.S.S. Luzon and the U.S.S. Panay. Chinese officials notified the American Embassy on November 27, 1937 that it must evacuate. The Ambassador and most of the Embasy personnel departed the net day on the U.S.S. Luzon. The rest of the Embassy staff remained another week. Ambassador Grew notified the Japanese government on December 1 that the U.S.S. Panay would be departing. Panay took on Embassy officials and some civilians and began upriver. It escortied three Standard Oil barges. Two Royal Navy gunboats and some other British boats followed. A Japanese artillery position commanded by a Colonel Hashimoto fired on the ships, hoping that it might precipatate a war with America and end civilian influence in the Japanese Government--finalizing the "Showa Restoration." Panay flew an American flag as well as had Americn flags painted on the awnings and topsides. December 12 was a clear, sunny day with perfect visability. At about 1330, three Japanese Navy bombmers attacked Panay followed by 12 more planes that dive-bombed and 9 fighters that strafed. The attack was deliberate lasting over 20 minutes. As Panay began sinking, the Japanese sraffed the lifeboats and river bank. Two sailors and civilian were killed. there were 11 sailors seriously wounded. passenger died of their wounds; eleven officers and men were seriously wounded. [Morrison, pp. 16-18] There was no outcry in America for war. The Japanese Government which had not ordered the attack, promtly appolgized and offered compensation. The attack was, however, coordinated by military officers. Both the American public and the Roosevelt Administration were releaved that war could be overted. [Freidel, pp. 290-291.] The Japanese when they arrived in Nanking proceeded to conduct one of the greatest attrocities in their campaign in China--known to history as the Rape of Nanking". The Panay was also involved in intelligence collection. The Admistration for a while considered economic sanctions against the Japanese. The Navy gunboats missions continued through 1941 until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese carfully avoided any further incidents. The Japanese officers responsible, however, got what they so ardently desired nearly 4 years later.
Notably the Germans, despite the Axis alliance, made no effort to supply the Japanese with any of their advanced aircraft technology. In the early stages of the War the NAZIs thought that they had essentially won the War and saw no need to share military secrets with a potential future ally. This was in sharp contrast to Allied cooperation even before America entered the War. I have no details on talks between the Japanese and Germans on technical cooperation, but as far as I know, through 1943 there was no serious technical cooperation between these two Axis partners.
The United State protested the Japanese invasion of China, but did nothing to aid the Chinese.
Claire Chennault was am aggresive champion of fighter aircraft. He irritated his superiors in the U.S, Army Air Corps. He was forced to retire from the Air Tactical School, obstendibly because of bronchitis. Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, the head of the Chinese Air Force, hired him to train Chinese pilots. Chennault immeduately accepted the job. Chennault attempted to establish an organized
training program and in paicular change Chinese tactical doctrine, The Chinese pilots were unreceptive. They were poorly disciplined and fid not think a foreign trainer had anything to offer. They objected to practicing missions. Chennault was frustrated and unable toaffect needed changes. The Japanese outclassed the Chinese Air Force and virtually destroyed it. The Japanese had large numbers of modern air craft as well as well-trained and disciplined pilots. The Japanese Army with support from its air arm deized Shanghai and Peeking early in the War and then large areas of China. Chiang to preserve his Army had to withdraw to remote Kumming. Here the lifeline of the Burma Road was the only source of foreign supplies and equipment. Without pilots to train or planes to fly, Chennault could no longer assist the Chinese. Madame Chiang sent Chennault back to America to obtain planes and pilots to help build a new Chinese Air Force.
There has always been a strong isolationist strak in American political life. Americans separated by two great oceans have since the Revolution seen ourselves as different and apart from the rest of the World. From the beginning of the Republic, President Washington warned of entagling foreign alliances. For much of our history, Britain was seen as the great enemy of American democracy and Manifest Destiny. World War I was America's first involvement in a European War and the United States played a critical role in winning that War. Had the Germany not insisted on unrestricted sunmarine warfare, in effect an attack on American shipping, it is unlikely that America woukd have entered the War.
Many Americans in the 1920s came to feel that America's entry into the War was a mistake. There was considerable talk of war profiteering. Many were detrmined that America should avoid war at any cost. This feeling was intensified with the Depression of the 1930s and the focus on domestic issues. With the growing military might of a a rearmed Germany, others such as Charles Lindburg, thought that America could not win another war. Many not only opposed American envolvement, but even military expenditures. Aginst this backdrop, President Roosevelt who did see the dangers from the NAZIs
and Japanese militaists, with great skill and political courage managed to not only support Britain in its hour of maximum peril, but with considerable political skill managed to push through Congress measures that would lay the ground work for turning American into the Arsenal of Democracy, producing a tidal wave of equipment and supplies not only for the American military, but for our Allies as well in quantities that no one especially the AXIS believed possible.
The Japanese destroyed the small, obsolete Chinese Air Force. Claire Chennault had failed in his effort to train Chinese pilots (1937-40). Madame Chiang sent him back to the United States to obtain American assistance. America was still isolationists, but attitudes were chnging. Japanese aggessions and cooperation with the Axis as well as occupation of French Indochina convinced the Roosevelt Adimistration that Japan would have to be confronted. President Roosevelt wanted to assist China. He saw China as a potentially ally to help curb Japanese expansion. The President hoped that American military assistance ptograms would enable the Allies to defeat the NAZIs and Japanese militarists. The policy became increasingly impractical after the fall of France (May 1940).
The President after hearing from Chennault decided to help China build a modern air force. He signed an executive order 1940 which permitted U.S. military personnel to resign so that they could participate in a covert operation to support China (May 1940). He next approved the transfer of Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk fighters under the Lend Lease Program (1941). The planes were originally slated for the British RAF. The President also secretly approved the formation of the American Volunteer Group (AVG) to fly the P-40s. These were the first modern fighters ever deployed in China. The AVG's main task was to protect the Burma Road. The all-volunteer Group formed became known as Chennault's Flying Tigers. This covert operation provide the Chinese a creditable air capability for the first time. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor (December 1941) before the AVG could go into action.
The Japanese in 1941 had 13 aircraft carriers to 3 American carriers in the Pacific. At the time the carrier was still not preceived as the most powerful instrument in naval warfare. Thus the extnt of the Japanese superiority had not yet been fully perceived. The Japanese also had the best fighter in the Pacific--the Mitusishi A6M Zero. Navy planners believed that the Japanese were preparing a strike, but more likely in East Asia or perhaps the Philippines. There were several reasons for this, but one was that carrier aircraft were nelieved to be inferior to land-based planes. Thus it was considered suisidal for Japanese carriers to approach Pearl which was well defended with Army Air Corps bases. The first wave of Japanese planes focused on the air bases, where most of the American planes were destroyed on the ground. This left the Japanese free to attack the battleships and carriers at Pearl. The Japanese found the battleships there, but to their surprise the carriers were not there.
Japanese aircraft, especially the Mitusubishi Zero, were so effective that they were able to achieve air superority during land and sea battles against Britain and the United States. They destroyed substantial numbers of the aircraft on the ground, especially in the Philippines. Then land and sea offensives overran airbases. Another factor was the superb training of the Japanese aviators and their fast, manueverable Zeros.
The news from the Pacific was an unrelenting series of disasters. America needed a victory. The only intact offensive force in the Pacific was Americais carriers. Army Air Corps pilot with B-25s trained for carrier take offs. The B-25 was a medium bomber never intended for carrier use. Carrier commander Afm. "Bull" Halsey led a taskforce made up of Hornet and Enterprise. It was a risky operation as it committed half of the Pacific fleet's carrier force to a very dangerous operation. The B-25s took off from Hornet. It was the first blow to the Japanese home islands. The raid was led by Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle. The physical damage was inconsequential, but the psychological impact was immense. Most of the Amrican aviators crash landed in China and were helped to reach saftey by Chinese Nationalist guerillas. The Japanese reprisals were savage. A estimated 0.5-0.7 million Chinese civilians were murdered. The Japanese Navy was so embarassed that they rushed forward Admiral Yamaoto's plans to bring the desimated American Pacific Fleet to battle at Midway Island.
General MacArthur was ordered from Corregidor shortly before the Japanese who had already taken Batan. He managed to get out through the Japanese naval patrols by PT-boat reaching airbases in the southern Philippines that had not yet been taken. Upon reaching Australia hhe pledged to the people of the Philippines in his first public statement pledged, "I shall return." (In typical MacArthur style it was "I" not "We".) Japanese airpower had played a major role in their victory in the Philippines. One of the erly actions MacArthur took after receiving the command of American and Austrlian forces was to establish a Technical Air Intelligence (TAI) group to compile information on Japanese planes. There was no alternative as America had no inteligence gatering operation in Japan. There was great confusion about the Japanese planes and an almost total lack of knowledge about their technical capavilities. The first TAI group was set up on a shoe stringin Hanger 7 near Brisbane in northern Australia. TAI teams were sent into the jungles of New Zealand to try to retrieve the remnants of crashed Japanese planes . IUt proved to be a daunting task. Luckily a PBY in the Aleutians found an almost undamaged Zero (July 1942). Asca result of this effort, the United States had detailed information on Japanese plane types by the late 1942. This was important in both developing new air craft types as well as developing tatics to be used in engaging the Japanese.
American planners were surprised that Japan would dare attack because of the massive industrial potential of the United States. No where was the American polential prove to be so important than in the air war. Japan introduced the Zero in China (1940). Five years later it was still their main-line fighter. The U.S. Navy at the time of Pearl Harbor was using the Gruman F45 Wildcat. It was slower and less maneuverable than the Zero. It had a limited range of only 770 miles. Its only real asset was it was heavier armored and more durable than the Zero. The inadequate performance and the greater numbers of he Zero enable the Japanese to dominate the skies of the South Pacific during 1942. American aviators developed tactivs to oppose the Zeros, but they wre only partially successful. Even before Pear Harbor, Grunan wa working on a new fighter--the 56L Hellcat (June 1941). After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Navy and Gruman rushed development of the Hellcat. The first protype was flown (June 1942). `It was to be the primary American carrier plane of the Pacific campaign. The Hellcat by the end of the War was being replaced by the even more capable Corsair. The U.S. AirForces also deployed the Lockeed ?? and the North American P51 Mustang. The Air Force also deployed a range of bombers. It was the B-15 Mitchells that first struck Tokyo. The B-19 Flying Fotresses and the B-24 Liberators played important foles, but the B-20 Super Forts that would eventually win the War. These planes had capabilities far beyond those of the comparable Japanese planes and they were produced in numbers that dwarfed Japanese production.
The gradual attrition of skilled Japanese pilots was another factor in the decline of Japan as a major air power. Japan began the War with a cadre of extensively trained pilots. They were some of the finest pilots of the War. The training program was, however, very extensive, inadequate for waging an extended war against a major power. Japan never adopted a training program to create large numbers of skilled new pilots. In addition, pilots were expected to fly until they were killed. Particularly skilled polots were thus gradually lost and with them their invaluable skills. The United States would bring back paticularly skilled pilots to help train new pilots. By 1943 Japan was not only facing improved American plane types, but the replacement pilots flying the ageing Zeros were often poorly trained and unprepared to deal with the increasingly skilled American pilots.
The Japanese immediately after Pearl Harbor opened the CBI theater with first the invasion of Malaya and the sizure of Singapore and then launched the campaign in Burma. All this was accomplished in only a few months and against numerically superior Allied forces, mostly British and Chinese. A major factor in their success was air power. British air units were neglible and the newly arrived American AVG (Flying Tigers) were only a small force. The Japanese were well trained, had much larger air assetts, and better aircrft. The Japanese accomplished important goals, sizing resource rich areas and cutting the Burma Road, Nationlist China's life line. About the same time the Japanese complete the conquest of Burma, the U.S. Navy victory at Midway (June 1942), sinificntly changed the naval balance in the Pacific. This meant the Japanese could not rely on maritine transport to supply their army in Burma, specially as the American submarine campaign began to sink substantial numbers of Japanese marus (transports). And with the Amnerican offensive in the Solomons (August 1942), the Japanese did not have the capacity to build substzntial air units in Burma. At the same time, American aircraft began to reach India in quantity, even though the CBI was usually the lowest priority theater of the war. The Ameican aircraft included modern types that outclassed the Japanese aircraft, bacally the same aircraft with which they began the War. The balance of power in the air changed quickly. The Allies formed Air Command South-East Asia (November 1943) to control all Allied air forces in the theater, with Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Peirse as Commander-in-Chief. Peirse's and his deputy, USAAF Major General George E. Stratemeyer, formed Eastern Air Command (EAC) to control Allied air operations in eastern India and Burma, with headquartered in Calcutta (1943). Japanese efforts to invade India, the U Go offensive, floundered because of lack of logistical capability and air support. The Japanee victories in Malaya and Burma were largely due to success in seizing British supplies. In India, the Zllies supplied surounded garisons by air (Kohima and Imphal). The Japanese attacking force literaly starved in the Jungle (1944). Allied air forces supplied British Chindits and American Ranger behind Japanese lands and plyed an important role in driving the Japanese out of Burma (1944-45).
The Japanese had an important Chemical and biological warfare program. Thy used the agents devrlopd against the Chinese, the primry use of these agents in World War II. he World War II combatant countries all had stock piles of poison gas in World War II, but unlike World War I did not use them. The only exception was the Japanese who used both poison gas and biological weapons in China. The Japanese also used Pows and Chinese civilians to test these weapons. They did not use them against the Americans in the Pacific. The difference presumably is that the Chinese did not have chemical and biolgical weapons or aing them. The Americans did. The Japanese were also working on atomic weapons, but accounts differ as to just how much progress they made.
The NAZIs had highly developed weapons systms that would have been of enormous aid to the Japanese, such as radar. The Japanese were very interested in obtaining access to that technology. We do not hve details on efforts by the Japanese to obtain access to this technology. Clearly NAZI battlefield revrses in Russia and North Africa convinced the Germans that they had no choice but to provide the Japanese some of their most closely guarded secrets. The NAZIs finally provided technical details and actual examples of several weapons systems (mid-1944). We do not have informastion on the full extent of the material involved, but we know that it included jet and rocket aircraft. Two Japanese submarines (Satsuki and Matsu) depart kiel cramed with NAZI military secrets (Mid-Summer 1944). Allied code breakers knew of the effort to ship military technology, but not just what was on the sunmarines. The Allies managed to sink Satsuki. The Matsu reached Singapore (July 1944). The Japanese were working on jet proppulsion. but the German plans, parts, and other material helped the Japanese engineers solve major problems. The Japanese thus began to produce a number of weapon systems that American TAI was completely unaware.
After seizing Singapore, Japaese forced rapidly over ran British Burma, severing the Burma Road, Nationalist China's last suppy route to the Allies. This left the poorly equipped armies of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek titally cut off. It was important for the Allies to keep Chiang and China in the War because the bulk of the Japanese Army was deployed there. It was not possible the Chinese Army by air.
The air lift capacity could not begin to meet the needs of the Chinese Army. Rather the air deliveries were primarily focused on building up and supplying the American 10th Air Force. The pair crews and planes could fly into China. But then they needed to be supplied with fuel, amunition, bomns, spasre parts and other materiel. The United States hoped to initiate the strategic bombing campaign against Japan from Chinese airfields. The Allies began supply runs to Cina from India over the forbidding Himalayan Mountains (April 1942). Among the dangers were the unknown reception of the flyers by people like the Lolo tribesemen. The pilots referred to these runs as flying "The Hump". The flights because of the Himalayas were dangerous. They were 530-mile flights. The flights were conducted as part of the 10th Air Force operations. Nearly 1,000 men and 600 Air Transport Command (ATC) planes were lost during the CBI operations over the Hump. The China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) lost an additional 38 planes and 88 airmen. Once the Allies gained the iniative on the ground along the Indian-Burmese border, they began building a road from Ledo, a rail head in India, to connect with the Old Burma Road. The Allied offensive into Burma succeeded in reopening the Burma road. A land route significantly increased the supplies that could be delivered to the Narionalist Chinese and made possible supplies to the Chinese Army as well as the 10th Air Force.
The United States to adress the limitations of its two heavy bombers (the B-17 and B-24), built the B-29. It had a longer range, carried a heavier load, and was presurized so it could operate at jigher altitudes. It was the single most complicated weapons system of the War. By the time it arrived in Europe the 8th Air Force and Bomber Command had obliterated almost all important targets in Germany. Thus the B-29 was primarily in the Pacific where its long range was needed to strike the Japanese Home Islands. Japan was within range of air fields in China. Operating from Chinese air fiekds required a huge logislical effort because all supplies had to be flow over "the Hump"--the towering Himilayas from bases in India. The Army Air Corps began the strategic bombing campaign in November 1944. The initial bombing raids were inclonclusive. The air crews had very limited impact, in part because the Jet Stream had high altitudes affected nomber operations.
The American conquest of the Marianahas Islands provided new bases from which the B-29s could reach the Japanese Home Islands. General Curtis LeMay who played an important role with the 8th Air Force in Europe devised new tactics. He took out the persurizing equipment amd most of the guns. The crews were ordered to bomb at low levels, thus avoiding the Jet Stream. The bombers were also armed with incendiaries. The result was massive destruction in Japanese cities crammed with highly flameable wooden structures. Major cities like Tokyo were devestated. The resulting fire storms caused thousands of civilian deaths nd significantly disrupted the Japanese war economy.
The Japanese secret airforce is much more than an trivial historical footnote. An appreciation of the existence of the force is important in fully understand the ending of the War. Japan is often described as a defeated country in 1945. This represents a failure to reasonably appreciate the strategic situation. Japan even after the fall of Okinawa still had a sizeable airforce. American intelligence at the time did not fully appreciate the strength of the Japanese air force. Japan is a very mountanous country. After it became clear that the Americans planned to initiate a strategic bombing campaign, the Japanese military began to move its aircraft production facilities into caves, abandoned mines, and railwat tunnels where they could not be hit by American bombers. Using these fcilities Japan managed to amass a secret airforce of 12,000 combat planes that were to be used against an AZmerican invasion fleet. American intelligence had no idea of the dimensions of the force being prepared to oppose the landings. Noit only was a large force being prepared, but the Japanese aided by NAZI technology were building planes that were mre advanced than anything in the American arsenal. Some of these planes include the Japanese Army's Kario (Fire Draggon) which was based on the Luftwaffe ME-262 jet fighter. The Japanese used plans for the jet engine to be used for the Henkel He-162 Volksyager (People's Fighter). It was a simplified engine that was quicker and easier to mass produce. The Japanese version was the NE-20. It was ot just a copy, but an improved version. The Japanese avy also developed a jet fighter, the Kika (Mandrin Orange Blosom). The Navy began flying an operatioinal version (August 7, 1945). The Japanese also produced a fighter to target the B-29 bombers that were vesestating Japanese cities. The plane was the Suswi and was an improved version of the Luftwaffe ME-163 Komet. The Japanese Navy began operational flights (July 1945). There was also the Oka rocket suiside bomber. It was of limited use in Okinawa because it had to be brought into range by slow mombers, but might have proven effective in the defense of the Home Islands. TheJapanese also developed the R2Y (Beautiful Cloud) jet bomber. A prototype was flown (April 1945), but with propellar engines as the engines were not yet ready. Many of these aircraft were very complicated and thus a challenge for the Japanese to produce in numbers. They were not ready in August 1945. Some of them, however, would have been available by Spring 1946 when the American invasion was schheduled. Combined with the hug number of conventional aircraft that had been built, the American invasion could have been a very costly undertaking.
The American Manhattan Program was initiated by President Roosevelt when work done by German physicists led to concern that the NAZIs might build an atomic bomb. Jewish and oher refugees fleeing the NAZIs made a major contribution to the success of the Manhattan Program. The first bomb was successflly tested at Alamagordo, New Mexico on July ??, 1945. The Allies met in a Berlin suburb after the NAZI surrender to make dcisions about the occupation of Germany and defeating Japan. The Allied powers 2 weeks after the bomb was tested demanded on July 27, 1945 that Japan surrender unconditionally, or warned of "prompt or utter destruction". This became known as the Potsdam Declaration. The Japanese military was prepared to fight on rather than surender. The Japanese Government responded to the Potsdam Declaration with "utter contemp". The Japanese military continued feverish pland to repel the Ameican invasion of the Home Islands. Many Whermacht generals at the end of the War were anxious to surrnder to the Amreicans. One German General commanding forces westof Berlin after the War said, "We wondered why they didn't come." This was not the attitude of the Japanese military. I know of know memoir written by an important Japanese military officer expresing similar sntiments. Truman was not anxious to use the atomic bomb. He was anxious to end the War and limit Ameican casulties. For Truman the Japanese response to the Potsdam Declaration made up his mind. There have been many books and aticles published in both Japan and America about the atomic bomb. Japanese scholars have reserched the decission making process that led to the dropping of the atomic bombs. Almost always the focus is on Truman and Ameican military leasers. Rarely do Japanese authors address the role of Japanese political and military leaders. The United States dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, and the Soviet Union entered the war against Japan on August 8.
Most Americans believe that the Japanese surrendered because of the American development and use of the atomic bomb. The bomb was certainly a factor, but not the only factor. The decesion to surender is far more complex and impossible to know with any surity. The American Pacific Island invasions, naval power, and in particular the Soviet declareation of war and starteling sucess of the their invasion of Manchuria all played major roles. The Allies at in the Potsdam Declaration demanded that Japan surrender (July 27, 1945). The Japanese military despite the fact that the Allied bombing had destroyed major cities, were determined to resist, hoping that the cost of invading Japan would deter the Allies. The United States dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (August 6 and 9). The Soviet Union declared war on Japan and invaded Manchuria (August 8). There is reason to believe that the Soviet declaration of war and rapid seizure of Manchuria was more important in forcing Japan to surrender than the atomic bombs. Emperor Hirohito finally decided to surrender unconditionally (August 14). The success of the Soviet Army convinced even Imperial Army officers and the Ministry of war that defeat was inevitable. Emperor Hirohito on August 14 decided to surrender unconditionally. Even after the atomic bombs and the debacle in Manchuria, there were hardliners that were opposed to surrender. A group calling themselves the Young Tigers seized the Imperial Palace grounds and tried to prevent the Emperor's surrender broadcast. The attempted coup almost succeded. On what has become called "Japan's Longest Day" the attempted coup, bombing raid blackout, intrigues, killings, and sepukus determined fate of millions of Japanese people. It iwas a complicated series of events involving both great heroism and treason by officers convinced that they were behaving honorably. The Commander of the Eastern Army, however, remained loyal to the Emperor, dooming the coup. [PWRS] The formal surrender was held underneath the big guns of the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Not knowing just what the Japanese were planning, the American carriers were standing on station at sea just off Japan
A Japanese reader, Fujioka Keisuke, has kindly provided HBC some of his boyhood memories, both before and after the War. We note large number of Japanese readers visiting HBC and we hope some of those readers will provide us additional accounts.
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