Chengtu, China June 15, 1944

On this date in 1944 67 B-29 Super­for­tresses took off from their base in Chengtu, main­land China, to release 221 tons of bombs on the Impe­rial Iron and Steel Works at Yawata on the southernmost Japa­nese home island of Kyū­shū. This was the first attack on the Japa­nese home­land since Col. James Doo­little and his Raiders famously launched them­selves off the carrier deck of the USS Hornet more than two years earlier.

The June 15 attack inflicted marginal damage on Yawata—only one bomb struck the steel­works. But more than that, the Yawata raid demon­stra­ted to U.S. Army Air Forces Maj. Gen. Curtis LeMay, head of the XX Bomber Com­mand in China, that Chinese bases, which had to be supplied with fuel flown over “The Hump” (the Hima­layan “Alumi­num Trail,” named for the num­ber of planes lost), could not deliver the knock­out blows to Hon­shū, the main island north of Kyū­shū, where Tokyo, the nation’s capi­tal, lay. Raids from Chin­ese air­fields against indus­trial targets con­tinued at rela­tively low intensity through early January 1945.

The first wave of B-29s attacked Tokyo from their new base in the Mari­anas in the Cen­tral Pacific on Novem­ber 24, 1944, when 111 B‑29s hit an air­craft fac­tory on the edge of the city. More B‑29 raids con­tinued through the end of the month, when LeMay gave his bomber team a respite. In mid-Febru­ary Tokyo’s air­craft works were badly hit by carrier-based air­craft. The second of these carrier-based raids was accompanied by nearly 230 B‑29s.

At month’s end the B-29s took over the show. On the night of March 9/10, in a fiery dis­play called Oper­a­tion Meeting­house (Meeting­house being code for Tokyo), 334 B‑29s dropped incen­di­aries that destroyed 267,000 buildings, roughly 25 per­cent of the city (nearly 16 sq. miles), killed close to 84,000 re­si­dents while wounding over 41,000, and cut the city’s indus­trial capa­city in half. The Japa­nese Impe­rial Palace was heav­ily damaged in the fire­storm. Emperor Hiro­hito’s tour of his fire­bombed capital is often cited as the beginning of his per­sonal involve­ment in the peace pro­cess, cul­mi­nating in Japan’s sur­render six months later. Tokyo con­tinued to be bombed through August 15, when the Japa­nese govern­ment announced its accep­tance of the Allies’ July 26 Pots­dam Decla­ra­tion and its willing­ness to capitulate provided the emperor’s sovereignty was maintained.

Noriko Kawamura’s Emperor Hirohito and the Pacific War provides a convinc­ing reapprai­sal of Japan’s Hiro­hito few Westerners would recog­nize when­ever they are reminded of Pearl Harbor and the Pacific con­flict. This owes largely to Kawa­mura drawing on a huge number of pri­mary and secondary Japanese-lan­guage sources—some of them only recently avail­able to scholars. Mining them Kawa­mura draws a por­trait of an emperor person­ally against waging war with the West, all the while offi­cially sanc­tioning (as required by the Japanese con­sti­tu­tion) state decisions that led to the events of Decem­ber 7, 1941. Once Japan’s leaders launched their nation’s high-risk cam­paign to seize Western colo­nial interests, Hiro­hito assumed the mantle of supreme com­mander in chief (daigensui) of all Japa­nese armed forces, again as required under the consti­tu­tion. Kawa­mura por­trays Hiro­hito growing ever more skep­ti­cal of a favor­able mili­tary out­come as Japa­nese vic­tories over the enemy proved more elu­sive by the month. Terri­fied by the pro­spect of “Japan’s anni­hi­la­tion,” as Hiro­hito him­self put it, the emperor at last flexed his moral muscles in a set of imperial prerog­a­tives (sei­dans), inter­vening on the side of the “peace faction” to end the con­flict he never wanted. To his dying days in January 1989 the Hiro­hito of Kawa­mura’s account privately agonized over his not nipping in the bud the cala­mity that the fire-breathers in his mili­tary were poised to inflict both on his loyal sub­jects and on tens of millions more who would suffer, be injured or maimed, or lose their lives in the Pacific War.—Norm Haskett

The Bombing of Japan, 1944–1945

Four-engine B-29 Superfortresses at Chengtu, China, airbase Tokyo burns under a B-29 firebomb assault

Left: B-29 Super­for­tresses photo­graphed at Chengtu, China, shortly before they par­ti­ci­pated in the bombing of Yawata, Japan, on June 15, 1944. Boeing built 3,970 of these four-engine, pro­peller-driven heavy bombers between 1943 and 1946. B‑29s carried out around 33,000 sorties in World War II mainly against Japan. B‑29s carried out the atomic bombings that destroyed Hiro­shima and Naga­saki on August 6 and 9, 1945, respec­tively. On August 14, 1945, the last day of com­bat in World War II, B‑29s targeted the Japa­nese naval arse­nal at Hikari on the south­ern tip of Japan’s main island, Honshū. Former Japanese Prime Minister Fumi­maro Konoe, who left office seven weeks before his country’s surprise attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, said: “The determination to make peace was the prolonged bombing” by U.S. warplanes.

Right: Tokyo burns under a B-29 firebomb assault, May 26, 1945. B‑29 raids on Tokyo began on Novem­ber 24, 1944, and lasted until August 15, 1945, the day Japan capit­u­lated. Twin-engine bombers and fighter-bombers carried out additional attacks on Tokyo.

Charred remains of Japanese civilians, Tokyo, March 1945 Virtually destroyed Tokyo residential section, 1945

Left: The charred remains of Japanese civilians after the almost unimagin­able car­nage and destruc­tion wrought by Oper­a­tion Meeting­house, the March 9–10, 1945, fire­bombing of Tokyo. Oper­a­tion Meeting­house was the deadliest firebombing of World War II.

Right: A virtually destroyed Tokyo residen­tial section. Over 50 per­cent of Tokyo, or 97 sq. miles of the city, was reduced to ashes by the end of the war. In all, an esti­mated 40 per­cent of Japan’s built-up cities were destroyed in U.S. air attacks in 1944–1945.

March 1945 “Blitz Week” Targets: Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, and Kobe (Four Consecutive Videos)

WWII Chronicles book coverHistory buffs, there is good news! The Daily Chronicles of World War II is now avail­able as an ebook for $4.99 on The ebook contains a year’s worth of dated entries from this web­site. Featuring inven­tive naviga­tion aids, the ebook enables readers to instantly move for­ward or back­ward by month and date to different dated entries. Simple and elegant! Click here to purchase the ebook.

WWII Chronicles book coverHistory buffs, there is good news! The Daily Chronicles of World War II is now avail­able as an ebook for $4.99 on Con­taining a year’s worth of dated entries from this web­site, the ebook brings the story of this tumul­tu­ous era to life in a com­pelling, author­i­ta­tive, and suc­cinct man­ner. Fea­turing inven­tive naviga­tion aids, the ebook enables readers to instantly move for­ward or back­ward by month and date to dif­fer­ent dated entries. Simple and elegant! Click here to purchase the ebook.