Tokyo Marks Deadly 1945 Air Raid
Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE
Tokyo Marks Deadly 1945 Air Raid
As reported in the article, March 10 is the 60th anniversary of the "massive air raid on Tokyo," which took the lives of 100,000 people, almost all civilians - elderly, women, children, mothers and babies.
The leading player was Curtis Emerson LeMay, born in Columbus, Ohio on November 15 1906. He was educated at Ohio State University in civil engineering before joining the new Air Corps in 1928. At the outbreak of World War II, he was a group commander in the 8th Air Force, a unit that carried out daytime bombing operations in Western Europe. In July 1944 he transferred to Pacific operations as major general to direct the 21st Bomber Command, heading B-29 operations
At the time the allied forces was formulating a new tactic, the creation of "firestorms." This was achieved by dropping incendiary bombs, filled with highly combustible chemicals such as magnesium, phosphorus or petroleum jelly (napalm), in clusters over a specific target area. After the area caught fire, the air above the bombed area would become extremely hot and rose rapidly. Cold air then rushed in at ground level from the outside and people were sucked into the fire.
It was first utilized in a large scale, on February 13 1945, by the British and American forces on the city of Dresden, Germany. The city was so heavily destroyed that it was afterwards impossible to count the number of victims. (The number range from 35,000 to 150,000.)
Perhaps inspired by the "success" of the attack in Europe by former colleagues, LeMay was enthusiastic to try it on Japanese people. LeMay had already changed the tactics of the Pacific unit by then. Instead of the established U.S. policy of daylight, precision bombing from high altitudes, he dismantled the armaments on B-29s and loaded each plane with incendiary bombs. He also modified the bombs slightly to make it more effective on Japanese cities. Because it would be unnecessary to "explode" through bricks and mortars as in the case with European cities, and suffice for the bomb itself's weight and velocity to penetrate Japan's buildings and houses mostly made of rooftiles and wooden walls, he decreased the explosives and increased the napalm portion in the bomb,. Once inside houses and buildings, the sticky napalm would be ignited and spurt in all directions, burning everything it touches including people, and then to boost spreading of fire other cells have started.
On March 10, 1945, he ordered the 325 B-29 bombers out at 5 - 9,000 feet over Tokyo, dropping two thousand tons of the bomb tuned to be most destructive for the target. It was "only" a part of Tokyo incinerated by the bombing, but the number of victims reached 100,000 - virtually all civilians.
According to the official Air Force history of the Second World War, "No other air attack of the war, either in Japan or Europe, was so destructive of life and property."
At the time, Robert McNamara, later to become U.S. Secretary of Defense, was on Guam on temporary assignment from Air Force Headquarters in Washington, and Curtis LeMay, commander of air operations in the Pacific, asked him to join the after-mission briefings. One remark by LeMay that McNamara recalls is: "If we lose the war, we'll be tried as war criminals."
After this very "successful" attack, LeMay went on to conduct the massive incendiary attacks on more than sixty Japanese cities, killing half a million people and leaving eight million homeless. And this does not include the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Extent of LeMay's involvement in deciding to use the bombs may be debatable, but it was under his command the actual bombings were executed.
So, this is what a U.S. military referential material described as "[LeMay] is credited with creating an effective systematic strategic bombing campaign in the Pacific Theatre of World War II."
LeMay continued his military career after the war, to become the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force in 1961. He retired in February 1965 and apparently sought a political career. His highest accomplishment in politics was to be selected as the vice presidential candidate to George Wallace in 1968. During the while, on November 12, 1964, the Japanese government awarded LeMay with "Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun," a high honor indeed.
Not many among the small number of people who survived through the inferno have talked about their experience since the end of the war. Many say the horror of the experience has haunted them all these years, and have been endeavoring to cast off the memories. But as the number of people capable of telling the story is diminishing because of age, some have become aware of the necessity to convey their message to the new generation of people, of the preciousness of peace.