*** war and social upheaval: World War II Pacific strategic bombing campaign air campaign

World War II: Pacific Strategic Bombing Campaign

air war in the Pacific
Figure 1.--The Japanese war lords began a series of aggressions in the 1930s that led to World War II. One of their assumtions was that they could bomb cities and civilians in other countries, but their own cities with wood and paper homes were safe from such terrifying assaults. While this proved to be the case with China, attacking America proved to be a very different proposition. It seemed a safe bet at the time the Japanese boms fell on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese had a powerful Navy and given the limited range of American bombers and the Panzers racing toward Moscow. But within days of Pearl Harbor, the Red Army lunched a counter offensive before Moscow (December 1941). And only a few months later, American bombers hit Tokyo and other Japanese cities (April 1942). Two monhs later the First Air Fleet lost most of its first-line carriers at Midway (May 1942). Even more importantly, American air designers were already working on a revolutionary new bomber with a greatly expanded range and bomb load--the B-29 Superfortress. This scene of devestgion here was the result. German cities were left piles of rubble. Japanese wood and paper cities were reduced to cinders. Tokyo had been one of the great world metropolises. This is what Tokyo and other Japanese cities looked like even without the atomic bomb.

The Pacific War was fought on the largest battlefield in history. This would make the range of aircraft to be a critically important factor. The air war in the Pacific began, as in the European theater, with mastery of the skies over China 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. The Japanese began the Pacific War with air mastery. This surprised Allied military experts. The dazzling Mitusubishi A6M Zero was 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.

Japanese Aviation Industry

Americans in the 1930s thought of Japan as a rather backward 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 maneuverable. 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.

American Aviation Industry

The aviation industry in the United States was a relatively small part of American industrial production before World War II. One source ranks it at only 41st in a list of major industies. The leading industry being the automobile industry. Even so, the American aviation industry was the largest in the world, in part because of demand from the growing demand for passanger aircraft. Europeans had little need for domestic aviation. America with substantial distances between cities did. President Roosevelt's decession to arm America as Europe moved toward war helped to further expand the industry. President Roosevelt gave a priority to air power in American defense planning. One of the results of that program was the Boeing B-17 which was designed to protect America from invasion. It proved ineffective against enemy fleets, but was along with the B-24 the mainstay of the American strategic air campaign against Germany. The British and French reacted slowly to German rearmament. This changed dramatically as Hitler began using the powerful Luftwaffe, first in Spain and then to threten the Czechs and their British and French allies. The British and French unable to restore the inballance in air fleets rapidly through domestic production, began to place orders for military aircraft in the United States (1938). This provided an inportant pre-War stimulus to the American aviation industry. The United States produced 6,000 air planes in 1939. Germany also developed a major aircraft industry as part of its rearmament program. The difference between the two countries is that America had a substantial capacity to increse airplane production. Germany had only a limited capacity to expand production. One reason America was able to expand aircraft production was its vast automotive industry. After America entered the War, a part of the automotive industry was diverted to aircraft production. American aircraft production expanded to an extent never imagined by the Germans and Japanese and to levels that surprised many Americans. And the industry produced many new many advanced aircraft types during the War. As a result the aircraft the U.S. Air Forces were using at the end of the War were different than those at the beginning of the War. This was in sharp contrast to the Axis air forces. Curtis, Grumman, Lockheed, and North American Aviation focused on fighters. Boeing focused on bombers.

Japanese Strategic Calculations

The Japanese militarists who planned the War did not conceive of a long war. These were the same men who did not think their invasion of Manchuria (1931) and China proper would set off long wars. They were right about Manchuria, but not about China. And bogged down in China, incredibly there aggresive mindset led to the idea that the only way of completing the conquest of China was to attack the United States. They thought they could seize an empire in Southeast Asia and with the resources there could complete the conquest of China. They never conceived of conquering America, but they believed that moraly decadent Americans would never have the forditude to contest the Japanese Empire once established. They believed that the Americans would instead seek peace as the Russians had done in Russo-Japanese War (1904-05). Part of this construct was the belief that the Germans would quickly defeat the Soviet Union and thus America would have to focus its strength on the European War. This looked probable when the Japanese made the decesion to attack America. By the time of the actual assault, however, the situation had changed. Red Army resistance had stiffened and the Whermacht was deep in Russia in the middle of a severe winter at the outer limit of the supply chain. Even so, the Japanese did not adjust their war calculations. Another aspect of the Japanese calculation was that their air power gave them the ability to hammer Chinese cities, but that the Imperial Navy and geography made it impossible to bomb their wood and paper cities. Just like the Germans, the Japanese militaits believed that they could bomb Chinese and other cities with abandon, but their cities could not be bombed. Even later when they studied war with America, they believed that American bombers could not reach the Home Islands. Here they made the critical error of assuming that the aircraft with America had in 1941, would be the aircraft with which the war would be fought. This proved to be largely true of the Japanese, but far from the case with the United States. Today the Japanese are critical of the devestaging American strategic bombing campaign. Rarely do they mention that it was Japan who began bombing cities (1931) and continued to do so until America entered the War and began building up the Chinese air defense capability.

Japanese Bombing Raids

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. The first bombing raids of the Asian/Pacific War were Japanese raids on China. These raids began at the same time as the Japanese attacks on China poper (1937). These raid targeted Chinese cities. There were some military targets, but the primary purpose appars to have been to strike fear in Chinese civilians. China had virtually no air force or civil defense infractuture. Thus the Japanese were attacking largely undefended cities. As a result civilian casualties were heavy. The Japanese bombing raids on China did not encounter serious opposition until the arrival pof the American Flying Tigers (1942).

Japanese Mastery of the Skies (1942)

The Pacific War was fought over the largest battlefield in history. This would make the range of aircraft to be a very important factor. Japanese aircraft, especially the Mitusubishi A6M Zero, were effective in part becasuse of theur longrr range thsan Allied zurcraft. The Japanese 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. The Japanese aircraft had long ranges primarily because they were built with little or no armored protection. Japanese air power played a major role in their victories furing first 6 mnths of the War. American flyers wereforced to develop and adopt tactics to compensate for the superior performance of Japanese aircraft. Gen. Clare Chenault showed it was possible from the beginning of the War with the Flying Tigers using P-40s. Other American flyers took longer to develop needed tactics. The Marines on Guadalcanal were able to compete with the Zero using F4F Wildcat. Than by new advanced Ametrican aircraft beghan to arrive (1943), quoickly changing the balance of power in the air.

Japanese Wood and Paper Cities

After World War I, Europeans aecame obsessed with the idea that if there ever was another war, that cities would be bombed not only with explosives, but poison gas. The Germans had began bombing London and other British cities during World War I. The Germans used not only their Zephlins, but also developed the long-range Gotha bomber. The mantra that developed after the War was that 'the bomber will always get through'. The Germns convinced themselves that after Hitler sezed power that Germany could not be bombed. The Japanese were even more sure of that and began bombing Chinese cities (1931). They were right that China did not have the ability to bomb them, but curiously they ignored the Soviet Union which had air bases within short range of major cities. Even after bombing Chinese cities for a decade, the Japnese saw boming their cities as a war crime and executed some American airmen (1942). It of course be the United States that Japan would choose to go to war with. The United States had strategic bombers, but none that could read Japnese cities. The Japanese did not believe that America could develoo longer range bombers or take bases close enough to reach Japanese cities. This of course was a flawed assessment baed on the assumption that it would be a short war that Japan would quickly win. No thought seems to have been given to the the fact that Japan's cities were more vulnerable to aerial bombardment than those of any other country. The vast majority of Japasnese poeople lived in homes contructed of highly flamable wood and paper -- essentially vast areas of kindling that would ignite in fierce fire storms when set off by incendiary bombs. As far as we know, the Japanese militarists who drove Japan to war never consider Japan's vulnerability.

New American Aircraft

Only with the arrival of new American F6F Hellcat in large numbers to replace the older Wildcat 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 56F Hellcat would be the mainstay of U.S Navy aviation during the Pacific War. Gradually American flyers had planes with capababilities well beyond those of the Zero. By the end of the War the American aviators would be flying an entirely new generation of aircraft while a new group of much-less skilled Japanese flyers were still flying the same aircraft with which Japan had begun the war.

The B-29

Among the new American aircraft was the B-29 Superfortress. The American B-17 and B-24s which could reach Germany from bases in Britain did not have ranges which could be used to reach Japan. An entirely new plane was needed. That plane was the Boeing B-29 Superfortress. Boeing submitted the prototype for the B-29 in 1939, before the United States had even entered World War II. The B-29 was the most advanced aircraft propeller aircradt used in World War II. It wasalso the most expensive weaons ssystem of the War, coing more than even the Msnhattan Project. It had had many sophisticated features. The guns could be fired by remote control. The crew areas were pressurized and connected by a long tube passing over the bomb bays. The B-29 was rushed into production so fast that testing had not yet been completed. The Army Air Force established modification centers where last-minute changes could be made without slowing production lines. The most remarkable aspect of the B-29, however. was its range. It had a range of 2,850 miles and a cruising speed of 358 mph at 32,000 feet. The bomb load was 20,000 tons. Production lines for the new B-29 Superfortress began operating (early-1944). I'm not sure how the Japanese learned of the B-29. Details may have been published in newspapers. They seem to have learnened by early 1944. The response was to plan an offense in China and to prepare plans to commit the fleet in the defense of the Marianas. This would be the first appearance of the Imperial Fleet in force since the Solomons campaign. They were right to be concerned. The B-29 proved to be the most effective weapon system of World War II and it arrived just at the time in the War that America seized bases that brought the Japanese Home Islands into range. An estimated 90 percent of the bombs dropped on Japan would be dropped by the B-29s (147,000 tons).

China (1943-44)

The original American plan for the strategic bombing campaign was based on bombing Japan from bases in China. The Americans attached much more importance to China as a war partner than the British. This is one reason the American Volunteer Group (AVG) was sent Burma and China. After the Japanese seized Burma and cut the Burma Road, the primary American focus in the CBI was to reopen the BurmaRoad. This was one reason that the campaign to take Burma and reopen the Burma Road. As it was, most of the limited supplies flown over the Hump was for the Army Air Corps in China. There was just not the air lift capcity to supply the Nationalist Army. The strategic bombing campaign was launched by the 20th Air Force operating from China. It was named Operation Matterhorn under XX Bomber Command. In preparation tge Chinese began building new airfields for the bombers. Matterhorn was initially commanded by Hap Arnold. China was chosen because in early 1944 with the new airfields built by the Chinese, it had the only airfields within range of the Japanese Home Islands. There were, however, serious problems. The Chinese airfields were extremly difficult to supply. Bombs, fuel, and amunition had to be transported to India and flow over the Hump. In addition, the B-29s operating from China were operating on the outer limits of their range. They could only reach Japan if they carried extra fuel which lowered the bomb load. The first B-29 bombing raid was launched from Chengdu, about 1,500 miles from Japan (June 15, 1944). The results were disappointing. There were problems with the plains, but apoor understanding of wind patterns and the use of high-explosives rather than fire bombs limited effectiveness. The Japanese responded with the Ichi-Go offensive. The Chinese Army defending the airfiekds virtually mdelted away before the Japanese advance. They seized a large area of central China, including the area where the USAF planned to base B-29s to pursue the strastegic bombing campaign.

The Marianas (1944-45)

The Marianas were unique in that they were divided beteen the United States and Japan before World War II. The Americans obrained Guam from Spain as a result of the Spanish-Aerican War (1898). The Japanese seized Sipan and Tinian from Germany during World war I (1914-18). Durng the inter-War era by international agreement, the islands were not to be fortified. The Japanese began to militaize their islands, the United States did not. Japan immediately after Pearl Harbor seized Guam which had only a small Marine detachment with small arms (Scember 1941). Later in the War, the Marianas became a major battlefield of the War. The Navy's Central Pacific campaign was unopposed by the Imperial Fleet. The Japanese hoped that fortified islands could resist amphibious invasions without the Fleet intervening. After the Ameicans took the Marshalls, Gilberts, and Carolines, it was clear that they could not. For the Japanese the stakes were very high. The Marianas brought the Japanese Home Islands within range of the new B-29 bombers. So when the American landings on the Marianas began, the Imperail Fleet did intervene, setting up one of the climatic battles of the Pacific War--the Battle of the Phillipine Sea (1944). As the Marine and Army troops were going ashore, the B-29 bombers were coming off the assembly line at American aircraft plants. The U.S. Navy Central Pacifiv campaign solved the baseing and supply problems for the U.S. Arny Air Forces. The seizure of the Marianas opened new possibilities for the strategic bombing campaign (June-July 1944). The islands (Guam, Saipan, Tinian) provided sites for airfields that were within range of the Home Islands. And not originally planned for strategic bombing campaign, the Marianas had significant advantages over China. It was a lot easier to seize an island, no matter how well garisoned than advance armies into central China and ebgage large Japanese forces. In addition, the Marianasa were a straight supply run from San Franciso and other West Coast ports, eliminating the logistical nightmare of getting the vast supplies needed to China. The Air Force rushed to complete the large airfields needed by the B-29s and to deploy the planes and crews to the islands.

Early Raids

The initial raids were inconclusive. The first raid from the south was 88 B-29s that struck Tokyo (November 24, 1944). The dropped bombs from about 30,000 feet (10,000 m). The post-bombing assessmment suggested that only about 10 percent of the bombs hit their targets. At the time, the Jet Stream was unknown. Bobs dropped at high alditudes, especially light-weight incenderaries were dispersed, reducing the impact.

Tactical Changes

General Curtis Leemay arrived from Erope (mid-January 1945). The 20th Air Force was reassigned to the XXI Bomber Command. Under the command of Curtis LeMay, they organized a much more effective bombing campaign. Flying from the Marianas (primarily Guam and Tinian) the B-29s were within range of the Home Islands and able to carry a full bomb loads. General Curtis LeMay devised a strategy of fire bombing which caused massive destruction in Japanese citis crammed with highly flameable wooden structures. The campaign was given great priority. The Bomber Commands did not report to the theater commanders (MacArthur and Nimitz), but rather directly to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. At the peak of operation, they were placed under the U.S. Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific, commanded by General Carl Spaatz (March 1945). The Americans as in Europe tried daylight precision bombing using high explosive bombs. The results were ineffective. The hight winds over the Islands (the Jet Stream) disrupted the trajectory of bombs dropped from high alditude which meant that targets were not struck. The B-29 was built for high altiutude operations and this was preferred because it was above the effective height of Japanese air defenses. General LeMay, commanding the XXI Bomber Command, decided to change tactics. He switched to low altitude raids (about 2,100 meters) dropping incendiary bombs. The lower altitude meant that the bombers cane in under the weather and it also improved accuracy and the indendiaries meant that specific targets did not have to be accurately hit, they would be destroyed in the huge conflgrations of Japanese cities. The speed of te B-29s proved suffucent to protect the raiders. The raids focused on the major urban centers of Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, and Kobe. The early raids using this method were only moderately successful, but results stradily improved. There were also daylight raids on particularly important trgets.

Japanese Air Defense

Japan's primary air defense was the Pacific Ocean. American bombers did not have the range to reach Japan. The initial American plan was to bomb Japan from China and the new B-29s had the range to reach the Home Islabnds from bases being prepared in China. China was, however, less than stisfctory. Getting supplies to America bomber forces were a night mare they had to delivered to India, transported to remote areas, and then flown over the towering Himlayas, called 'The Hump'. And then the Japanese Ichi-Go offensive seized most of the airfields. But then the Americans seized the Marianas which provided the needed air bases and were easy to supply. The mericans initially targeted industrial facilities, but then began fire bombing raids on cities (March 1945). With the destruction of the Imperial Fleet and the seizure of the Okinawa, Aircraft flying from Allied aircraft carriers and Okinawa joined in the air campaign. Unlike the air camaign over northern Europe, the Japanese were powerless to stop the air attacks. The number and quality of fighter aircraft and anti-aircraft guns available for air defense was inadequate. Japan was left to defend the Home Islands with with essentially the same aircraft with which Japan had begun the War. They were now obsolete not fast enough or capable of the alditude to reach the B-29s. The Japanese during the final months of the War formed 'Special Attack Units' and 'Air-shaking Units'. These were temporary short-lived units with their destinctive names (commonly mythology and history) and markings. They were part of existing squadrons. These units were trained to ramming Allied bomber s. They usually had their armaments removed to permit faster speeds and higher alditudes. Some had airframes reinforced. The anti-aircraft guns were also proved inadequate, unable to fire at ufficent aldditudes. There were a range of other limitations, including fuel shortages, inadequate pilot training, poor radar, and a lack of air defense coordination. The U.S, Navy targetted Imperial Navy picket ships. So the Japanese had little advnce warning of the attcks. Despite the vulnerability of Japanese wood and paper homes in cities, the firefighting services were poorly trained and equipped. Few air raid shelters were built for civiians. At first the Japanese came up to intercept the B-29s. But the the bombers were fast enough that they were not very successful And after the Marines took Iwo Jima, P-51 essort aircraft could accompany the bombers or engage in low alditude attacks on selected targets as well as targets of opportunity. The Japanese fighters eventually stopped coming up to challrnge the bombers April 1945). This was because they had not been very successful and because it was demed more cimportant go save available aircraft and fuel for a massibe Kamikazee attack on the expected American invasion fleet. The American bombers began calling their raids 'milk runs'. The final reorganisation of Japanese air units was part of Opertation Ketsu-Go, the defence of the Home Islands. All Japanese aur units were centraized under the command of General Masakau Kawabe who was preparing a massive Kamikazee attack on the allied invasion fleet.

Civilian Evacuations (1943-45)

The Jpanese began bombing Chinese cities !931) even before actually invding the country (1937). As China had a very small air force, the Japanese militarists who launched the war did not think their own cities were threatned. And subequently the same men who launched the Pacific War believed that the vast distances of the Pacific would prevent the United States from bombing the Home Islands. It was one of many horendous miscalculations of the War. . Japan's wood and paper cities were the most vulnerable of all the beligerant powers--giant tinderboxes. Some 8.5 million Ja-*panese civilians would be displaced from Japan's cities as the Pacific war began to go aginst Japan. The United States from an early point began to see strategic boming as the way of defeating Japan. At first the Home Islands were beyond the reach of American bombers. But American successes and the development of the long rnge B-29 bomber changed this. The Japanese began voluntary evacuations of school children, women, and the elderly (December 1943). Most adults were expected to stay in the cities and continue oprating the war plants. Some of older students evacuated were recruited to work in factories. There were no factories in the countryside. There were, however, some in the towns surrounding the larger cities amd in the outskirts pf the cities. Some of the work recruits may have even been drawn back into the cities to work in factories there. This was all part of the Government 'Labor Mobilization Policy' and 'Student Mobilization Policy'”.[11] In most cases students were genuine volunteers who petitioned their teachers and school principals as a group to allow them to work in factory complexes that could accept them. Students then entered dorms near the factory complex; strict daily schedules ensured that the children woke, cleaned their quarters, ate meals, went to and from their work shifts, and had time for evening hygiene in cohorts.[12] Parents were reluctant to protest because it was believed that the military-funded factories could provide the children with more nourishing meals and because such protests would draw the attention of the secret police and suspicions of disloyalty or subversion. [Ohnuki-Tierney, p. 15.] The American air campaign which was at first designed to be launched from China encountered a series of problems. As a result, the bombing campaign achieved very limited success during 1944. This began to change with the American seizure of the Marianas Islands (June-July 1944) and the arrival of a new commader, Curtis Lemay, with new tactics. The systematic destruction of Japanese cities ensued (1945). Inititially only small numbers of children were involved, but when the bombings began and the goverment more firmly encouraging families to evacuate their children. Whole cities were consumed even before the to atomic bombs were dropped. Millions of Japanese civilians fled into the countryside. These were not organized evacuations.

Conventional Bombing Raids (September 1944-August 1945)

Japan's cities were some of the most vulnerable cities in the world. There may be a modn downtown of solid stone and contcrete 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. 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 attack 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 Marianas 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,

Mustang Attacks

The U.S. Marines storned the volcanic island of Iwo Jima (February-March 1945). It was te Narines toughest fights. The Japanese knew they were coming and were dug into the island. Iwo was located about midway between the Marianas and the Home Islands. This provided a refuge for the B-29s damaged over Japan or which developed engine trouble. It also provided a base for P-51s Mustahngs to escort the bombers as they did in Europe. Japan was different than Germany. The Japanese did not have an air defense to match the Luftwaffe. After a while, Japanese fighters did not even come up to challenge the B-29s. The Japanese decided to save what planes they had for a massive Kamakazee assault on the planned American invasion fleet. Thus the P-51s escorts had little to do. As a result, they began to be used in a more offensive role. The Mustangs came down to the deck and went after small targets like airfields, communication lines, locomotives and marshalling ysrds, and powerlines. and anything else that moved. This were able to after targets that were too smll or dispersed for the B-29s. This included small suburban factories, barges and boats,These were targets that were difficult for the B-29s to hit, but added greatly to the economic dislocation being wreked upon Japan.

Potsdam Ultimatum (July 26, 1945)

The Potsdam Conference was held at Cecilienhof in Potsdam, a suburb of Berlin. The Conference was held from July 17 to August 2, 1945. It was a conference of the Big Three (the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States). The participants proved to be quite different than those at the other major World War II conferences, incliding Yalta held a few months earlier. Stalin still represented the Soviet Union. Fresident Roosevelt had died after Yalta and was replaced by the new president--Harry Truman. Churchill was at the beginning session was replace as prime minister by Clement Attlee, who had replaced him after a general election. The Conference was held after the NAZI surrender (May 1945). The primary order of business was how to administer occupied Germany as well as the post-War order, peace treaties, and the huge problems created by the War. The primary importance concerning the Pacific War was that Stalin secretly pledged to enter the War by August 15. President Truman informed Stalin of the atmoic bomb. Because of Soviet espionage, he already knew. The Conference issued a declaration demanding that Japan immediately surrender or face "prompt and utter destruction". The Japanese did not respond. Some Japanese officials actually thought the Potsdam Declaration showed the success of their policy of bleeding the Americans. Although the Potsdam Declaration called for unconditional surrender, there was language providing for Japan eventually rehoining the community of nations. When Japan refused to surender after the Yalta Conference, President Truman ordered the use of tha Atomic Bomb.

Atomic Bomb (August 1945)

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.

Japanese Surrender (September 1945)

Most Americans believe that the Japanese surrendered because of the American development and use of the atmonic 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.



We have noted inceneary claims that the strategic bombing campaign caused millions of deaths. This simply is not true. There is no evidance in the literture to suggest any such claim. Such numbers are pure propaganda. It is true that the bombings killed hundreds of thousand of Japanese, motly but not all civilans. Mny of the deaths were civiliand drafted for war work. So the idea that they were not involved in the war effort is also not true. The actual number of deaths will never be known. Large numbers of wommen and children had been evacuated to the countryside and many men posted abroad or elsewhere on the Home Islands outside the cities for military service. The Japanese were massing men and material in Kyushuwhere the Americn invaion was expected. (Which is part of the reason that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were targeted for the atomic bomb attacks.) So the population of the cities were below pre-War levels. All that can be said with any accuracy is that several hundred thousand people were killed. There are quite a number of estimates, but they vary considerably. It is important to note that they are all etimates, there is not precise account. Most estimates we have seen range from 0.3-0.9 million people. Most of the casualties were caused by the Twentieth Air Force. The etimates cluster in the 0.3-0.5 million range. One American estimate produced the higher 0.9 million figure. [USBS] It seems a statistical outlyer, but not beyond the realm of possibility.

Individual Accounts

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.


Dorr, Robert F. Mission to Tokyo:The American Airmen Who Took the war to the Heart of Japan (2012), 336p.

Frank, Richard B. Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire (Random House: 1999).

Ohnuki-Tierney, Emiko. Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms: The Militarization of Aesthetics in Japanese History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002).

United States Strategic Bombing Survey (USBS). Morale Division (1947), p. 1


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Created: 11:19 PM 4/16/2008
Last updated: 34:18 AM 6/6/2024