Before entering World War II, the United States had been implementing the “Europe First” strategic plan. However, after the Japanese attack on the US base Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the American people demanded action against Japan. While the U.S. Army and Navy were preparing for the Pacific campaign, the Army Air Corps (the predecessor of the U.S. Air Force, which was established in September 1947) was also researching ways to strike the Japanese mainland. Due to the limited range, the B-17 and B-24 bombers of the United States could not reach the Japanese mainland. Therefore, the Army Air Force needed to use a bomber with a range of more than 4,828 kilometers – the B-29 bomber nicknamed “Super Fortress”.
In April 1944, the first B-29 bombers of the 20th Bomber Command of the US Army’s 20th Air Force were deployed to India under the command of Brigadier General Wolff. However, logistical problems arose as all supplies had to cross the Himalayas. For pilots, flying the “hump course” is an amazing feat in the air that requires very skilled piloting. The high difficulty of execution slowed down the bombing plan.
In July 1944, an impatient U.S. Army Air Force commander, Adm. Arnold, dismissed Wolff and replaced him with Major General Curtis LeMay. While the operational situation has improved, the fundamental problem with the bombing program — the launch of airstrikes from within India — remains unresolved. Attempting to successfully conduct strategic bombing at such great distances is unrealistic.
Statistics show that over a period of nearly ten months, the 20th Bomber Command dropped only 11,000 tons of bombs in 49 combat missions, while the 21st Bomber Command, based in the Mariana Islands, dropped 15.6 Tons of bombs. Air raids from India ceased in March 1945.
On the bright side, some of the problems exposed by the B-29 bomber were gradually resolved during this period, and General LeMay gained valuable regional combat information and experience with the bomber. The bases in the Mariana Islands were the key to strategic air strikes against Japan, and B-29 bombers from Guam, Saipan and Tinian could hit Japan hard.
Determining bombing targets has always been the focus of strategic air strikes. Therefore, long before the deployment of bombers, the United States has invested a lot of energy in studying the Japanese economy and selecting the most suitable targets.
Based on lessons and experience from the European battlefield, planners identified several key Japanese systems as targets, including coke ovens necessary for steelmaking, merchant ships, oil refineries, transportation networks, and military factories (especially aircraft and engine factories) ).
| Change strategy |
Analysts with the US Strategic Bombing Survey have raised the priority of these targets after studying the impact of Allied bombing on Germany. However, U.S. commanders on the Marianas had other ideas.
The 21st Bomber Command’s first three months of operations were nothing short of impressive. By January 1945, the command had dropped only 1,500 tons of bombs on Japan. Also, the accuracy is low. On half of the bombing missions, on average only 1 in 50 bombs landed within 305 meters of the target. Arnold lost patience again.
In January 1945, LeMay was transferred from India to Guam as a commander. He lowered the bombing height to reduce the impact of high-level jet winds on accuracy. In addition, analysts believe that, unlike the large factories prevalent in Europe, Japan’s economy is made up of “domestic industries”. In Tokyo, half of the workers work in small factories with fewer than 100 people.
Combining the above factors, LeMay made a fundamental change in bombing tactics in March 1945. He lowered the bombing altitude to below 2743 meters. In addition, he speculated that Japan’s night defenses were weak, and ordered the removal of the bomber’s self-defense machine guns, ammunition, and machine gunners, except for the tail. So Li May sent B-29 bombers to attack from low altitudes at night, using incendiary bombs on Japanese cities.
This trick worked. The Japanese were unprepared for incendiary bombs, and the bombing program was devastating to the Japanese economy and its military capabilities. The lower bombing height combined with the reduction of its own defensive armament doubled the bomber’s bomb load to six tons. In March 1945, 385 B-29 bombers dropped 14,000 tons of bombs on Japan, and in July of the same year, about 900 bombers dropped 43,000 tons of bombs on Japan.
On August 6, 1945, a B-29 bomber dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan; on August 9, a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Soon after, the Emperor of Japan announced his surrender.
So, what finally forced Japan to surrender?
The Emperor of Japan used “the most brutal bomb” and “immeasurable power” to justify Japan’s surrender in a radio speech to the nation on August 15 of that year. Shortly after Japan’s surrender, members of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey were stationed in Japan. They interviewed some Japanese leaders to find out what led to Japan’s surrender.
At the time, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Hisashi Kushimi, said: “The opportunity to end the war has come. There is no need to blame anyone – just because of the atomic bomb. This is a very good reason.” This was confirmed by then Japanese Prime Minister Suzuki Kuntaro, He said he needed the right opportunity to persuade stubborn military leaders, and the atomic bomb gave him that opportunity.
| Psychological warfare |
The data collected by the US Strategic Bombing Survey is instructive. 91% of all bombs dropped on Japan were dropped by B-29s, and 96% of bombs dropped in the last five months of the war. Air strikes destroyed hundreds of factories and thousands of “household factories” in Japan.
The Japanese tried to disperse into underground factories and caves to avoid attack, but this only further consumed scarce resources. From November 1944 to July 1945, Japan’s industrial productivity had been declining. In cities that were not bombed, industrial output in June 1945 could reach 94 percent of its wartime peak; in bombed cities, industrial output fell to 27 percent of its peak. By July 1945, aluminum production had fallen to 9% of its peak, and refining and steel production was at 15% of its peak.
The survey concluded: “By July 1945, Japan’s economic system had collapsed and civilian material production had fallen below subsistence levels. Arms production had fallen to half of its wartime peak, a level that could not be supported. The Japanese are conducting ongoing military operations against our offensive forces. The economic basis for Japan’s continued resistance has been destroyed.”
Bombing warning flyers scattered in Japanese cities
8.5 million people fled the cities, a quarter of Japan’s urban population. And in big cities like Osaka and Kobe, even more than half of them fled. One-third of those fleeing were factory workers, as evidenced by the 49% absenteeism rate at the factory at the end of the war.
This trend was furthered by General LeMay. In July 1945, LeMay had the plane drop leaflets in some Japanese cities, saying that these cities would be bombed in the next few days. A Japanese official said the flyers had caused panic and led to an accelerated flight of the city’s population. And of those who remained, tens of thousands needed to put out fires, restore utilities and clear rubble after the bombing ended, further hindering the transfer of production and the arms industry.
Morale in Japan plummeted. Opinion polls show that in June 1944, only 2 percent of Japanese believed they would lose the war; in December of the same year, that figure reached 10 percent; in June 1945, it rose to 46 percent; and In August of that year, that percentage climbed to 68 percent.
More than 50% of the Japanese believed that air strikes were the reason for Japan’s surrender, while another 30% blamed the surrender on the loss of Japanese military power.
Statistics show that during the air strikes, at least 330,000 Japanese civilians were killed, about 2.5 million houses were destroyed, and more than 600,000 houses were demolished by the government to build firebreaks.
Despite this, the strategic bombing program was not completely successful. The survey shows that the United States’ biggest strategic mistake was not bombing Japan’s railways and inland waterways sooner. Such an attack could completely disrupt Japan’s domestic transportation, thereby greatly reducing Japanese reinforcements to the island of Kyushu, from which the Allies had planned to invade the Japanese mainland in November 1945.
Overall, the B-29 bomber played a decisive role in defeating Japan. The aerial bombardment severely damaged Japan’s economy and, more importantly, blinded Japan and its leaders to any hope of victory. Undoubtedly, Japanese resistance could continue for months or even years if the blockade of starvation and the slow advance of the Allies into the Japanese mainland alone would continue.