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, 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 the fire­bombed city is said to have been 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.

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The Bombing of Japan, 1944–1945

Four-engine B-29 Superfortresses at Chengtu, China, airbaseTokyo 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 in October 1941, said: “The determination to make peace was the prolonged bombing” of his country.

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 1945Virtually 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 (“Meetinghouse” being the code name for the Japanese capital) 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.

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