Bombing of Tokyo

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Bombing of Tokyo
Part of the Air raids on Japan, as part of the Pacific War
Firebombing of Tokyo.jpg
Tokyo burns under B-29 firebomb assault, 26 May 1945
Date1942, 1944–1945
Location
Result 120,000+ civilian deaths; roughly 1,000,000 displaced
Belligerents
Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg  United States Merchant flag of Japan (1870).svg  Japan

The Bombing of Tokyo(東京大空襲,Tōkyōdaikūshū) was a series of firebombing air raids by the United States Army Air Forces during the Pacific campaigns of World War II. Operation Meetinghouse, which was conducted on the night of 9–10 March 1945, is regarded as the single most destructive bombing raid in human history. [1] 16 square miles (41 km2) of central Tokyo were destroyed, leaving an estimated 100,000 civilians dead and over 1 million homeless.

Firebombing

Firebombing is a bombing technique designed to damage a target, generally an urban area, through the use of fire, caused by incendiary devices, rather than from the blast effect of large bombs.

Air raids on Japan aerial bombing of Japan during the Pacific War

Allied forces conducted many air raids on Japan during World War II, causing extensive destruction to the country's cities and killing between 241,000 and 900,000 people. During the first years of the Pacific War these attacks were limited to the Doolittle Raid in April 1942 and small-scale raids on military positions in the Kuril Islands from mid-1943. Strategic bombing raids began in June 1944 and continued until the end of the war in August 1945. Allied naval and land-based tactical air units also attacked Japan during 1945.

United States Army Air Forces aerial warfare branch of the United States army from 1941 to 1947

The United States Army Air Forces, informally known as the Air Force, was the aerial warfare service component of the United States Army during and immediately after World War II (1939/41–1945), successor to the previous United States Army Air Corps and the direct predecessor of the United States Air Force of today, one of the five uniformed military services. The AAF was a component of the United States Army, which on 2 March 1942 was divided functionally by executive order into three autonomous forces: the Army Ground Forces, the Services of Supply, and the Army Air Forces. Each of these forces had a commanding general who reported directly to the Army Chief of Staff.

Contents

The US first mounted a seaborne, small-scale air raid on Tokyo in April 1942. Strategic bombing and urban area bombing began in 1944 after the long-range B-29 Superfortress bomber entered service, first deployed from China and thereafter the Mariana Islands. B-29 raids from those islands began on 17 November 1944, and lasted until 15 August 1945, the day of Japanese surrender. [2]

Doolittle Raid American aerial bombing mission against Japan in WWII

The Doolittle Raid, also known as the Tokyo Raid, was an air raid by the United States on the Japanese capital Tokyo and other places on Honshu during World War II. It was the first air operation to strike the Japanese archipelago. It demonstrated that the Japanese mainland was vulnerable to American air attack, served as retaliation for the attack on Pearl Harbor, and provided an important boost to American morale. The raid was planned, led by, and named after Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle of the United States Army Air Forces.

Strategic bombing military attacks by air aimed at destroying a countrys ability to make war and will to fight

Strategic bombing is a military strategy used in total war with the goal of defeating the enemy by destroying its morale or its economic ability to produce and transport materiel to the theatres of military operations, or both. It is a systematically organized and executed attack from the air which can utilize strategic bombers, long- or medium-range missiles, or nuclear-armed fighter-bomber aircraft to attack targets deemed vital to the enemy's war-making capability.

Bomber Military aircraft for attack of ground targets with bombs or other heavy ordnance

A bomber is a combat aircraft designed to attack ground and naval targets by dropping air-to-ground weaponry, firing torpedoes and bullets, or deploying air-launched cruise missiles.

Over 50% of Tokyo's industry was spread out among residential and commercial neighborhoods; firebombing cut the whole city's output in half. [3] Some post-war analysts have called the raid a war crime due to the targeting of civilian infrastructure and the ensuing mass loss of civilian life. [4] [5] .

War crime Serious violation of the laws of war

A war crime is an act that constitutes a serious violation of the laws of war that gives rise to individual criminal responsibility. Examples of war crimes include intentionally killing civilians or prisoners, torturing, destroying civilian property, taking hostages, performing a perfidy, raping, using child soldiers, pillaging, declaring that no quarter will be given, and seriously violating the principles of distinction and proportionality, and military necessity.

Doolittle Raid

The first raid on Tokyo was the Doolittle Raid of 18 April 1942, when sixteen B-25 Mitchells were launched from USS Hornet to attack targets including Yokohama and Tokyo and then fly on to airfields in China. The raid was retaliation against the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The raid did little damage to Japan's war capability but was a significant propaganda victory for the United States. [6] Launched at longer range than planned when the task force encountered a Japanese picket boat, all of the attacking aircraft either crashed or ditched short of the airfields designated for landing. One aircraft landed in the neutral Soviet Union where the crew was interned, but then smuggled over the border into Iran on 11 May 1943. Two crews were captured by the Japanese in occupied China. Three crewmen from these groups were later executed. [7] [8]

USS <i>Hornet</i> (CV-8) 1941 Yorktown-class aircraft carrier of the United States Navy

USS Hornet (CV-8), the seventh ship to carry the name Hornet, was a Yorktown-class aircraft carrier of the United States Navy. During World War II in the Pacific Theater, she launched the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo and participated in the Battle of Midway and the Buin-Faisi-Tonolai Raid. In the Solomon Islands campaign, she was involved in the capture and defense of Guadalcanal and the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands where she was irreparably damaged by enemy torpedo and dive bombers. Faced with an approaching Japanese surface force, Hornet was abandoned and later torpedoed and sunk by approaching Japanese destroyers. Hornet was in service for a year and six days and was the last US fleet carrier ever sunk by enemy fire. For these actions, she was awarded four service stars, a citation for the Doolittle Raid in 1942, and her Torpedo Squadron 8 received a Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism for the Battle of Midway. Her wreck was located in late January 2019 near the Solomon Islands.

Yokohama Designated city in Kantō, Japan

Yokohama is the second largest city in Japan by population, and the most populous municipality of Japan. It is the capital city of Kanagawa Prefecture. It lies on Tokyo Bay, south of Tokyo, in the Kantō region of the main island of Honshu. It is a major commercial hub of the Greater Tokyo Area.

Attack on Pearl Harbor Surprise attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy on the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor in Hawaii

The Attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service upon the United States against the naval base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941. The attack led to the United States' formal entry into World War II the next day. The Japanese military leadership referred to the attack as the Hawaii Operation and Operation AI, and as Operation Z during its planning.

B-29 raids

Aerial view of Tokyo following the war Bomb damage in Tokyo.jpg
Aerial view of Tokyo following the war

The key development for the bombing of Japan was the B-29 Superfortress strategic bomber, which had an operational range of 3,250 nautical miles (3,740 mi; 6,020 km) and was capable of attacking at high altitude above 30,000 feet (9,100 m), where enemy defenses were very weak. Almost 90% of the bombs dropped on the home islands of Japan were delivered by this type of bomber. Once Allied ground forces had captured islands sufficiently close to Japan, airfields were built on those islands (particularly Saipan and Tinian) and B-29s could reach Japan for bombing missions. [9]

Strategic bomber Type of heavy bomber aircraft designed to drop large amounts of ordnance

A strategic bomber is a medium to long range penetration bomber aircraft designed to drop large amounts of air-to-ground weaponry onto a distant target for the purposes of debilitating the enemy's capacity to wage war. Unlike tactical bombers, penetrators, fighter-bombers, and attack aircraft, which are used in air interdiction operations to attack enemy combatants and military equipment, strategic bombers are designed to fly into enemy territory to destroy strategic targets. In addition to strategic bombing, strategic bombers can be used for tactical missions. There are currently two countries that operate strategic bombers: the United States and Russia.

Saipan American island in the Mariana Islands

Saipan is the largest island of the Northern Mariana Islands, a commonwealth of the United States in the western Pacific Ocean. According to 2017 estimates by the United States Census Bureau, Saipan's population was 52,263.

Tinian Island in the United States of America

Tinian is one of the three principal islands of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Together with uninhabited neighboring Aguigan, it forms Tinian Municipality, one of the four constituent municipalities of the Northern Marianas. Tinian's largest village is San Jose.

The initial raids were carried out by the Twentieth Air Force operating out of mainland China in Operation Matterhorn under XX Bomber Command, but these could not reach Tokyo. Operations from the Northern Mariana Islands commenced in November 1944 after the XXI Bomber Command was activated there. [10]

Twentieth Air Force Numbered air force of the United States Air Force responsible for strategic missile forces

The Twentieth Air Force is a numbered air force of the United States Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC). It is headquartered at Francis E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming.

Operation Matterhorn War campaign in WWII

Operation Matterhorn was a military operation of the United States Army Air Forces in World War II for the strategic bombing of Japanese forces by B-29 Superfortresses based in India and China. Targets included Japan itself, and Japanese bases in China and South East Asia. The name comes from the Matterhorn, a mountain traditionally considered particularly difficult to climb.

XX Bomber Command 1941-1948 United States Air Force operational command

The XX Bomber Command was a United States Air Force unit. Its last assignment was with Twentieth Air Force, based on Okinawa. It was inactivated on 16 July 1945.

The high altitude bombing attacks using general purpose bombs were observed to be ineffective by USAAF leaders due to high winds—later discovered to be the jet stream—which carried the bombs off target. [11]

Between May and September 1943, bombing trials were conducted on the Japanese Village set-piece target, located at the Dugway Proving Grounds. These trials demonstrated the effectiveness of incendiary bombs against wood-and-paper buildings, and resulted in Curtis LeMay ordering the bombers to change tactics to utilize these munitions against Japan. [12]

The first such raid was against Kobe on 4 February 1945. Tokyo was hit by incendiaries on 25 February 1945 when 174 B-29s flew a high altitude raid during daylight hours and destroyed around 643 acres (260 ha) (2.6 km2) of the snow-covered city, using 453.7 tons of mostly incendiaries with some fragmentation bombs. [13] After this raid, LeMay ordered the B-29 bombers to attack again but at a relatively low altitude of 5,000 to 9,000 ft (1,500 to 2,700 m) and at night, because Japan's anti-aircraft artillery defenses were weakest in this altitude range, and the fighter defenses were ineffective at night. LeMay ordered all defensive guns but the tail gun removed from the B-29s so that the aircraft would be lighter and use less fuel. [14]

Operation Meetinghouse

A residential section Tokyo that was destroyed following Operation Meetinghouse, the firebombing of Tokyo on the night of 9/10 March 1945 Tokyo 1945-3-10-1.jpg
A residential section Tokyo that was destroyed following Operation Meetinghouse, the firebombing of Tokyo on the night of 9/10 March 1945

On the night of 9–10 March, 1945, [15] 334 B-29s took off to raid with 279 of them dropping 1,665 tons of bombs on Tokyo. The bombs were mostly the 500-pound (230 kg) E-46 cluster bomb which released 38 napalm-carrying M-69 incendiary bomblets at an altitude of 2,000–2,500 ft (610–760 m). The M-69s punched through thin roofing material or landed on the ground; in either case they ignited 3–5 seconds later, throwing out a jet of flaming napalm globs. A lesser number of M-47 incendiaries was also dropped: the M-47 was a 100-pound (45 kg) jelled-gasoline and white phosphorus bomb which ignited upon impact. In the first two hours of the raid, 226 of the attacking aircraft unloaded their bombs to overwhelm the city's fire defenses. [16] The first B-29s to arrive dropped bombs in a large X pattern centered in Tokyo's densely populated working class district near the docks in both Koto and Chūō city wards on the water; later aircraft simply aimed near this flaming X. The individual fires caused by the bombs joined to create a general conflagration, which would have been classified as a firestorm but for prevailing winds gusting at 17 to 28 mph (27 to 45 km/h). [17] Approximately 15.8 square miles (4,090 ha) of the city were destroyed and some 100,000 people are estimated to have died. [18] [19] A grand total of 282 of the 339 B-29s launched for "Meetinghouse" made it to the target, 27 of which were lost due to being shot down by Japanese air defenses, mechanical failure, or being caught in updrafts caused by the massive fires. [20]

Results

A bird's-eye view of Tokyo before and after the air raids Tokyo-kushu-hikaku.jpg
A bird's-eye view of Tokyo before and after the air raids

Damage to Tokyo's heavy industry was slight until firebombing destroyed much of the light industry that was used as an integral source for small machine parts and time-intensive processes. Firebombing also killed or made homeless many workers who had taken part in the war industry. Over 50% of Tokyo's industry was spread out among residential and commercial neighborhoods; firebombing cut the whole city's output in half. [21] The destruction and damage was especially severe in the eastern areas of the city.[ citation needed ]

Emperor Hirohito's tour of the destroyed areas of Tokyo in March 1945 was the beginning of his personal involvement in the peace process, culminating in Japan's surrender six months later. [22]

Casualty estimates

Charred remains of Japanese civilians after Operation Meetinghouse Tokyo kushu 1945-3.jpg
Charred remains of Japanese civilians after Operation Meetinghouse

The US Strategic Bombing Survey later estimated that nearly 88,000 people died in this one raid, 41,000 were injured, and over a million residents lost their homes. The Tokyo Fire Department estimated a higher toll: 97,000 killed and 125,000 wounded. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department established a figure of 83,793 dead and 40,918 wounded and 286,358 buildings and homes destroyed. [23] Historian Richard Rhodes put deaths at over 100,000, injuries at a million and homeless residents at a million. [24] These casualty and damage figures could be low; Mark Selden wrote in Japan Focus :

The charred body of a woman who was carrying a child on her back Tokyo kushu 1945-2.jpg
The charred body of a woman who was carrying a child on her back

The figure of roughly 100,000 deaths, provided by Japanese and American authorities, both of whom may have had reasons of their own for minimizing the death toll, seems to be arguably low in light of population density, wind conditions, and survivors' accounts. With an average of 103,000 inhabitants per square mile (396 people per hectare) and peak levels as high as 135,000 per square mile (521 people per hectare), the highest density of any industrial city in the world, and with firefighting measures ludicrously inadequate to the task, 15.8 square miles (41 km2) of Tokyo were destroyed on a night when fierce winds whipped the flames and walls of fire blocked tens of thousands fleeing for their lives. An estimated 1.5 million people lived in the burned out areas. [23]

In his 1968 book, reprinted in 1990, historian Gabriel Kolko cited a figure of 125,000 deaths. [25] Elise K. Tipton, professor of Japan studies, arrived at a rough range of 75,000 to 200,000 deaths. [26] Donald L. Miller, citing Knox Burger, stated that there were "at least 100,000" Japanese deaths and "about one million" injured. [27]

The Operation Meetinghouse firebombing of Tokyo on the night of 9 March 1945 was the single deadliest air raid of World War II, [28] greater than Dresden, [29] Hamburg, Hiroshima, or Nagasaki as single events. [30] [31]

Postwar recovery

1947 U.S. military survey showing bomb-damaged areas of Tokyo US Strategic Bombing of Tokyo 1944-1945.png
1947 U.S. military survey showing bomb-damaged areas of Tokyo

After the war, Tokyo struggled to rebuild. In 1945 and 1946, the city received a share of the national reconstruction budget roughly proportional to its amount of bombing damage (26.6%), but in successive years Tokyo saw its share dwindle. By 1949, Tokyo was given only 10.9% of the budget; at the same time there was runaway inflation devaluing the money. Occupation authorities such as Joseph Dodge stepped in and drastically cut back on Japanese government rebuilding programs, focusing instead on simply improving roads and transportation. Tokyo did not experience fast economic growth until the 1950s. [32]

Memorials

Cenotaph of a citizen. Bombing of Tokyo in World War II, Sumida park, Taito, Tokyo. Cenotaph-Taito Tokyo at Sumida Park-Bombing of Tokyo in World War II.png
Cenotaph of a citizen. Bombing of Tokyo in World War II, Sumida park, Taitō, Tokyo.

Between 1948 and 1951 the ashes of 105,400 people killed in the attacks on Tokyo were interred in Yokoamicho Park in Sumida Ward. A memorial to the raids was opened in the park in March 2001. [33]

After the war, Japanese author Katsumoto Saotome, a survivor of the 10 March 1945 firebombing, helped start a library about the raid in Koto Ward called the Center of the Tokyo Raids and War Damage. The library contains documents and literature about the raid plus survivor accounts collected by Saotome and the Association to Record the Tokyo Air Raid. [34]

Postwar Japanese politics

In 2007, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe apologized in print, acknowledging Japan's guilt in the bombing of Chinese cities and civilians beginning in 1938. He wrote that the Japanese government should have surrendered as soon as losing the war was inevitable, an action that would have prevented Tokyo from being firebombed in March 1945, as well as subsequent bombings of other cities. [35] In 2013, during his second term as prime minister, Abe's cabinet stated that the raids were "incompatible with humanitarianism, which is one of the foundations of international law", but also noted that it is difficult to argue that the raids were illegal under the international laws of the time. [36] [37]

In 2007, 112 members of the Association for the Bereaved Families of the Victims of the Tokyo Air Raids brought a class action against the Japanese government, demanding an apology and 1.232 billion yen in compensation. Their suit charged that the Japanese government invited the raid by failing to end the war earlier, and then failed to help the civilian victims of the raids while providing considerable support to former military personnel and their families. [38] The plaintiffs' case was dismissed at the first judgement in December 2009, and their appeal was rejected. [39] The plaintiffs then appealed to the Supreme Court, which rejected their case in May 2013. [40]

Partial list of missions

B-29

Other

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Further reading

Coordinates: 35°41′N139°46′E / 35.683°N 139.767°E / 35.683; 139.767