World War II Day by Day World War II was the single most devastating and horrific event in the history of the world, causing the death of some 70 million people, reshaping the political map of the twentieth century and ushering in a new era of world history. Every day The Daily Chronicles brings you a new story from the annals of World War II with a vision to preserve the memory of those who suffered in the greatest military conflict the world has ever seen.

THIRD B-29 RAID ON JAPANESE CAPITAL TOKYO

Tinian, Mariana Islands December 3, 1944

On this date in 1944 eighty-six four-engine B-29 Super­for­tresses belonging to XXI Bomber Com­mand, a unit of the U.S. Twen­tieth Air Force, left the north­western Pacific Mari­ana Islands base on Tinian on their third Tokyo bombing mis­sion. Ten days earlier 111 of these heavy bombers had launched the first raid on Japan’s capital since Lt. Col. Jimmy Doo­little’s six­teen B‑25 medium bombers inflicted minor damage thirty-one months earlier. Results of the Novem­ber 24 raid were dis­cour­aging for both sides: only 48 of the 240 bombs dropped on the Naka­jima Air­craft Com­pany’s engine plant at Musashino in Tokyo’s arsenal district struck their tar­get, and Japa­nese sui­cidal ram­ming air­craft, lacking guns and armor plate, failed to make a dent on the first B‑29 strike on their capital.

The December 3 target, today’s target, was again Tokyo’s Musashino air­craft fac­tory. Though 85 per­cent of the Super­for­tresses attempted to hit their pri­mary target, just 2.5 per­cent did. A late-Decem­ber raid on the same com­plex pro­duced worse results: only six bombs landed with­in 1,000 feet of the target. Not until Janu­ary 19, 1945, when 38‑year-old Maj. Gen. Curtis LeMay, a vete­ran of both the German and China-Burma-India thea­ters, assumed opera­tional com­mand did the bombing pro­gram begin pro­ducing drama­tic results—this the result of changing tactics from high-level (20,000‑plus ft), high-explo­sive day­time bombing runs over indus­trial tar­gets to low-level (5,000–6,000 ft) night­time incen­di­ary runs over urban-indus­trial areas. In just two of these night­time raids on Tokyo, on Febru­ary 24/25 and March 9/10, 1945, hun­dreds of B‑29s laid waste to more 300,000 build­ings and homes over a 17‑square‑mile area.

It was not all smooth flying, even when the first P‑51 Mus­tangs from the newly acquired air­fields on Iwo Jima began escorting B‑29s (April 7, 1945). As part of the first of two days of satu­ra­tion bombing on Japa­nese cities in mid-May, 472 B‑29s dropped 16,000 tons of napalm and oil bombs on Nagoya, the cen­ter of Japan’s air­craft in­dustry; 77 failed to return, or one out of six Superfortresses.

On August 1, 1945, in the biggest air raid yet over Japan, 820 Super­for­tresses dropped 6,632 tons of high-explo­sive and incen­diary bombs on four cities, bringing the total num­ber of Japa­nese cities incin­er­ated to 56. The last major raid on Japan—this on Tokyo now more than 50 per­cent rubble and ruin—took place on August 10, 1945, one day after a single bomb from a single B‑29 had incinerated Nagasaki.

My 100-year-old father-in-law Capt. Benjamin A. Nicks of Shawnee, Kansas, served with Maj. Gen. Curtis “Iron Ass” LeMay, head of the XXI Bomber Com­mand, out of Tinian Island in the Mari­ana Islands chain between Febru­ary 1, 1945, and August 10, 1945. Ben was a B‑29 air­craft com­man­der who flew 35 mis­sions, his last being on August 6, 1945. Ben wrote per­sonal mission reports for each of his missions. His 21st report described his crew’s mission to Kobe on June 5, 1945, a round­trip flight of nearly 15 hours. His B‑29 was loaded with thirty-two 500 lb incen­diary cluster bombs: “This high-altitude day­light forma­tion incen­diary mission was a depar­ture from ones we had been flying. We had parti­ci­pated in low-altitude night­time indi­vid­ual incen­di­ary mis­sions. And we met intense oppo­si­tion from flak and fighters. Fortu­nately, we made it through all right. Kobe-Osaka on the Inland Sea was a highly deve­loped and popu­lated manu­fac­turing and port area, and the Japa­nese took effort to defend it. This was the only time I saw an enemy. When the Jap Zero met us head-on, foolishly attacking a for­ma­tion of some 30 B‑29s armed with more than 300 50-caliber machine guns, he was asking for it, and got it. . . When the Zero flashed by in less than a second off our port wing I looked at him and he looked back at me—in that flash we may have seen each other. He had on an avia­tion hel­met and goggles. As he flashed by I saw a burst of flame shoot out from the Zero’s cowling—then gone—and from the rear the crew began shouting: ‘He turned over and is spinning in.’ To this day I think of him occasionally.”—Submitted by C. M. “Mike” Adams



Bombing of Tokyo, 1944–1945

B-29 firebombing raids: Charred remains of Tokyo civiliansB-29 firebombing raids: Virtually destroyed Tokyo residential section

Left: Charred remains of Japanese civilians after the March 9–10, 1945, fire­bombing of Tokyo (Opera­tion Meeting­house). Around 1,700 tons of bombs were dropped by 279 B‑29s and roughly 16 sq. miles of the city were destroyed. The U.S. Stra­tegic Bombing Sur­vey esti­mated that nearly 88,000 peo­ple died in this one air raid and resulting Dante-esque fire­storm, 41,000 were injured, and over a million resi­dents lost their homes. Another esti­mate is that the Japa­nese capi­tal suffered more imme­di­ate deaths than either Hiro­shima (70,000–80,000) or Naga­saki (40,000–75,000), which were tar­gets of atomic bombings on August 6 and 9, 1945, respectively.

Right: A virtually destroyed Tokyo resi­dential sec­tion. Because over 50 per­cent of Tokyo’s indus­try was spread out among resi­den­tial and com­mer­cial neighbor­hoods, the Tokyo fire­bombings cut the city’s industrial output in half.

Four-engine B-29 SuperfortressB-29 firebombing raids: Tokyo burns under a B-29 firebomb assault

Left: Boeing built 3,970 of these propeller-driven B‑29 behemoths between 1943 and 1946. The sleek fuse­lage, large bomb capa­city, impres­sive per­for­mance, four turbo-super­charged engines, and long-range capa­bility of the “Super­forts” epito­mized Amer­i­can air power in World War II. Two specially configured B‑29s, one named Enola Gay and the other Bocks­car, carried out the atomic bombings that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively.

Right: Tokyo burns under a B-29 fire­bomb assault, May 26, 1945. B‑29 raids on Tokyo began on Novem­ber 24, 1944, 10‑1/2 weeks after the first B‑29 arrived on Saipan Island in the Marianas, and they lasted until August 10, 1945, five days before Japan capitu­lated. Twin-engine bombers and fighter-bombers carried out addi­tional attacks on Tokyo. An August 15 raid that targeted air­fields in the Tokyo area was con­ducted by air­craft from Vice Adm. John McCain’s fast carrier squa­dron, which had not heard the announcement of the cessation of hostilities.

B-29 Strategic Bombing of Japanese Cities, 1944–1945