World War II had dragged on long enough. The Axis of Evil nations didn’t seem to care how many of their own people were killed, as long as victory was theirs…typical of any evil nation. It was time to put a stop to this, and the United States, along with the Allied Nations, could see no other solution to the problem, other than fighting fire with fire…literally. This would be the beginning of a horrible new kind of warfare. I’m sure they didn’t come to that decision lightly. While the Japanese were our enemies, the civilian people didn’t really have much say in what they did. Nevertheless, in a war, sometimes civilians are killed. Collateral damage, they call it. It’s a term for deaths, injuries, or other damage inflicted on an unintended target. In American military terminology, it is used for the incidental killing or wounding of non-combatants or damage to non-combatant property during an attack on a legitimate military target. Knowing that the loss of civilian lives is considered “acceptable” in a war, doesn’t make it easy to live with.
The prospect was sickening, but something had to be done. So, on March 10, 1945, 300 American bombers continue to drop almost 2,000 tons of incendiaries on Tokyo, Japan, in a mission that had begun the previous day. The attack destroyed large portions of the Japanese capital and killed 100,000 civilians. Early in the morning on March 10th, the B-29s dropped their bombs of napalm and magnesium incendiaries over the packed residential districts along the Sumida River in eastern Tokyo. The resulting inferno quickly engulfed Tokyo’s wooden residential structures, and the subsequent firestorm replaced oxygen with lethal gases, superheated the atmosphere, and caused hurricane-like winds that blew a wall of fire across the city. The majority of the 100,000 who perished died from carbon monoxide poisoning and the sudden lack of oxygen, but others died horrible deaths within the firestorm, such as those who attempted to find protection in the Sumida River and were boiled alive, or those who were trampled to death in the rush to escape the burning city. As a result of the attack, 10 square miles of eastern Tokyo were entirely obliterated, and an estimated 250,000 buildings were destroyed. When I think about the loss of life brought on by a complete lack of the Japanese government to surrender when they should have.
This type of bombing was known as area bombing, and was designed to break Japanese morale and force a surrender. I would imagine that morale was seriously broken after such devastating loss of life and property. The firebombing of Tokyo was the first major firebombing operation of this kind against Japan. Over the next nine days, United States bombers flew similar missions against Nagoya, Osaka, and Kobe. Then in August, United States atomic attacks against Hiroshima and Nagasaki finally forced the Japanese surrender. It was an ugly way to have for fight a war, but the Japanese did not seem to care if their own citizens were sacrificed for their evil cause. All they cared about was winning. Thankfully, they didn’t do that either.
Anytime humans go to war, the one sure outcome is loss of life. That is just a fact of war. Of all the wars that the United States has been involved in, World War II interests me the most, because of my dad’s involvement, I’m sure. War is a brutal activity, but with the evil in the world, it is sometimes necessary. Evil nations leave us no choice but to step in. Such was that case with World War II, and Japan. On this day, March 9, 1945, the United States warplanes launched a new offensive against Japan. The campaign carried out involved dropping 2,000 tons of incendiary bombs on Tokyo over a two day period. Almost 16 square miles in and around the city were incinerated, and between 80,000 and 130,000 Japanese civilians were killed in the worst firestorm in recorded history.
Early that morning, Air Force crews met on the Mariana Islands of Tinian and Saipan for a briefing. This would be a low level bombing attack on Tokyo beginning in the evening, but this one would be different. The planes would be stripped of all guns except for the tail turret. This would decrease the weight…increasing the speed of each Superfortress bomber. This also increased the bomb load capacity by 65 percent. Now each plane could carry more than seven tons of bombs. The most crucial thing, however, would be speed. If the plane didn’t make it out of the city, the airmen were warned to get to the water as fast as they could, because their very lives depended on it. Staying in the city would mean a fiery death, because they were going to be delivering the biggest firecracker the Japanese have ever seen.
The first location would be the suburb of Shitamachi, which was composed of roughly 750,000 people. The destruction of Shitamachi would destroy the light industries, called “shadow factories,” that produced prefabricated war materials for Japanese aircraft factories. The citizens of Shitamachi never had a chance against the Superfortress B-29 bombers. Their fire brigades were undermanned, poorly trained, and ill equipped. All the people could do was to run from the inferno that the city had become. The planes…334 in all, came in a just 500 feet above the ground. Most of them didn’t make it. Doctors said, “The human carnage was so great that the blood-red mists and stench of burning flesh that wafted up sickened the bomber pilots, forcing them to grab oxygen masks to keep from vomiting.”
The entire raid lasted just a little longer than three hours. When it was over the Sumida River was clogged with bodies of the dead, burned beyond recognition. The sight was beyond anything anyone could have imagined. The loss of American lives was a mere 243 airmen, and these were considered to be acceptable losses. I suppose that these days, such a raid on known civilian targets would be considered unacceptable, but at the time it was considered acceptable, and even necessary. And it was successful, in a horrible sort of way.