Washington, D.C. · December 31, 1943

By this date in 1943 Boeing delivered its 92nd B‑29 Super­for­tress to the U.S. govern­ment after the giant bomber began rolling off the assem­bly line the pre­vious Septem­ber. Even before the coun­try was at war and govern­ment funds had been allo­cated, Boeing had produced a proto­type of the long-range heavy bomber and had sub­mitted it to the U.S. Army for eval­ua­tion. In all, Boeing built 2,766 B‑29s in Wich­ita, Kan­sas and Ren­ton, Wash­ing­ton. The Bell Air­craft Co. built 668 in Geor­gia and the Glenn L. Mar­tin Co. built 536 in Ne­braska. Early plans to use B‑29s against Ger­many were scrapped when B‑17s and B‑24s were able to oper­ate from neigh­boring Brit­ain and Italy. Hence, Super­for­tresses were primarily used in the Pacific theater. As many as 1,000 B‑29s at a time bombed Tokyo in 1945, des­troying large parts of the city. In March 1945 alone, more than 80,000 Japa­nese died in an in­cen­di­ary raid on the city’s cen­ter—the highest loss of life of any aerial bom­bard­ment of the war. Finally, on August 6, 1945, a B‑29 named Enola Gay dropped Amer­ica’s ulti­mate bomb, the world’s first atomic bomb, on Hiro­shima. Three days later, on August 9, another B‑29, Bockscar, im­molated Naga­saki in a second effort to bring an end to the war. On August 14, the last day of combat in World War II, B‑29s laid waste to the Japa­nese naval arsenal at Hikari on the south­ern tip of Japan’s main island, Honshū. The next day, August 15, 1945, Emperor Hiro­hito (post­humously referred to as Emperor Shōwa) spoke to his nation by radio, acknow­ledging the B‑29’s pivotal role when, in the under­state­ment of the decade, he cor­rectly rea­soned that “the war situ­ation has developed not neces­sarily to Japan’s advan­tage.” His coun­try’s war in China and the Pacific theater had brought his “good and loyal subjects” to the edge of ex­tinc­tion: “To con­tin­ue to fight . . . would not only result in an ulti­mate col­lapse and oblit­er­a­tion of the Japa­nese race, but also the destruc­tion of all human civili­za­tion.” In lives alone, the tally of Japa­nese killed or missing is estimated at 1,740,000, with 94,000 mili­tary wounded and 41,000 pri­soners of war; 393,400 civil­ians were killed and 275,000 were wounded or missing. By com­pari­son, 108,504 Amer­i­cans who served in the Pacific were killed, and 248,316 were wounded or listed as missing.

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The B-29 Superfortress: Japanese Surrender Motivator

Charred remains of Tokyo civiliansVirtually destroyed Tokyo residential section

Left: The charred remains of Japanese civil­ians after the car­nage and destruc­tion wrought by Oper­a­tion Meeting­house, the March 9–10, 1945, fire­bombing of Tokyo. Toward the end of May, Tokyo was devas­tated two more times, leaving three million residents homeless.

Right: A virtually destroyed Tokyo residen­tial section. Over 50 per­cent of Japan’s capi­tal was reduced to ashes by the end of World War II. After one bombing run, one B‑29 flier quipped, “Tokyo just isn’t what it used to be.”

Four-engine B-29 SuperfortressTokyo burns during May 26, 1945, B-29 firebomb assault

Left: Boeing built 3,970 of these four-engine, propeller-driven B-29 Super­for­tresses between 1943 and 1946. “Silverplate” B‑29s—Superfortresses specially modified for atomic bombing missions—carried out the destruction of Hiro­shima and Naga­saki on August 6 and 9, 1945, respectively.

Right: Tokyo burns under a B‑29 firebomb assault, May 26, 1945. B-29 raids on Tokyo began on Novem­ber 17, 1944, and lasted until August 15, 1945, the day Japan capi­tulated. Addi­tional attacks on Tokyo were carried out by twin-engine bombers and fighter-bombers.

Hiroshima after atomic bombing, August 1945Nagasaki after atomic bombing, August 1945

Left: Hiroshima, Japan, after the atomic bombing of August 6, 1945. Area around ground zero in 1,000‑ft circles. The bomb deto­nated in the air and the blast was directed more down­ward than side­ways. Some 70,000–80,000 people, or roughly 30 per­cent of the popu­la­tion of Hiro­shima, were killed by the blast and resul­tant fire­storm, and another 70,000 injured. It is esti­mated that 4.7 sq. miles (12 sq. km) of the city were destroyed. In terms of buildings, 69 per­cent were destroyed and another 6–7 per­cent damaged.

Right: Nagasaki, Japan, after the atomic bombing of August 9, 1945. Area around ground zero (the city’s in­dus­trial valley) in 1,000‑ft circles. The bomb deto­nated 1,539 ft (469m) above ground, the explo­sion directed more down­ward than side­ways. It gener­ated heat esti­mated at 7,050°F (3,900°C) and winds that were esti­mated at 624 mph (1,005 km/h). Casu­alty esti­mates for im­me­di­ate deaths range from 40,000 to 75,000. Total deaths by the end of 1945 may have reached 80,000.

Inside a Boeing B-29 Superfortress Aircraft Factory