LeMay watched each plane take off at the flight line. At its heart it was psychological warfare The plan was brilliant in its simplicity. Tokyo was the Japanese capital and the attack was five months before the end of the war. Also, it wasn’t just Tokyo. I made one firebomb mission with my second crew on March 24. or that of any of the great conflagrations of the western world—London, 1666. . Now the slide rule was working at double time. But because there was no formation, there was some confusion and the alarms were not sounded until 12:15, a full seven minutes after the bombs began to fall. Moscow, 1812. . Earlier in the war, on July 24, 1943, British bombers dropped incendiaries on Hamburg, Germany, killing as many as 40,000 people. The bombing of Dresden was a British-American aerial bombing attack on the city of Dresden, the capital of the German state of Saxony, during World War II.In four raids between 13 and 15 February 1945, 722 heavy bombers of the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and 527 of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) dropped more than 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices on … So Maj. Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, the officer in charge of strategic bombing from the Marianas, drew upon years of U.S. military research on the flammability of Japanese buildings to usher in a more aggressive tactic: dropping firebombs (also known as incendiary bombs) at night on population centers. Before the planes arrived, winds started gusting at over forty miles an hour. The firebombing of Tokyo was designed to terrorise and bomb the Japanese into surrender. ‘We Hated What We Were Doing’: Veterans Recall Firebombing Japan. Estimates for the death toll in the firebombing of Tokyo range from 70,000 to almost 200,000, with most historians settling for around 130,000. People who ran to a nearby river for relief found that the water was boiling. It was also seen as payback for the Pearl Harbour attacks and the mistreatment of Allied prisoners of war. Before the war’s end, firebombs dropped by B-29s killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese citizens in more than 60 cities before nuclear bombs leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In Europe, you had the Russians and the Germans — especially the Nazis — bombing civilians. Gen. Thomas S. Power, right, the senior officer for the March 10 attack, giving an after-action report of the Tokyo raid to Maj. Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, center, the commander of the 21st Bomber Command, and Brig. After the raid, 79,466 bodies were recovered and recorded. LeMay would not hear anything from the planes until sometime after midnight (March 10) Guam time when the bombs were released. More than a million people were left homeless. The Air Force history of the war records that “the physical destruction and loss of life at Tokyo exceeded that at Rome . They did not believe the Americans were capable of bombing from these great distances. The Tokyo Fire Department estimated 97,000 killed and 125,000 wounded. The human toll that night exceeded that of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki later that year, where the initial blasts killed about 70,000 people and … Once Allied ground forces had captured islands sufficiently close to Japan, airfields were built on those islands (particularly Saipan There were at least two B-29s I knew of that collided and went down in a smoke cloud. In the areas targeted, there were 1.5 million people living. . Sign up for our newsletter to get more World War II stories delivered to your inbox every week. I still wouldn’t approve of it today. Across Tokyo, residents looked up in amazement. Second Lieutenant, 869th Bomb Squadron, 497th Bomb Group. The first planes took off on March 9, 1945, starting at 4:36 in the afternoon, with the final bombers lifting off the runway three hours later. American airmen who took part in the 1945 firebombing missions grapple with the particular horror they witnessed being inflicted on those below. This was the first information people had that we were going to be bombing the cities. Technical Sergeant, 882nd Bomb Squadron, 500th Bomb Group. As historian Edward Drea aptly phrased it, “Undergirding all Japanese strategy was a dismissive view that Americans [were] products of liberalism and individualism and incapable of fighting a protracted war.” The War Journal of the Japanese Imperial Headquarters backed this up in July 1944: “We can no longer direct the war with any hope of success. We were about 200 in. These bombings were especially horrifying because no more than two bombs destroyed many homes and killed almost 120 thousand people. In interviews with The Times, Marich, now 94, and three other airmen who took part in the firebombings reflected on their determination to accomplish their missions and get home as soon as possible, while grappling with the particular horror they witnessed being inflicted on those below. It would be unlike anything seen yet in the War: three long lines of bombers coming in at a very low altitude. Chicago, 1871. . It is available for order now from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. But eventually there was enough pressure put on them that they changed their mind. How do the death tolls compare to those of other World War Two bombings? That would have led to the invasion beginning in November 1945 with a second wave to back it up in March 1946. The Japanese later called this the “Night of the Black Snow.” The firebombing of Tokyo did, indeed, kill the most people of any air raid in history — from 80,000 to over 100,000 dead in a single raid. The United States Strategic Bombing Survey later wrote that “probably more persons lost their lives by fire at Tokyo in a six-hour period than at any time in the history of man.” The devastating results motivated military leaders to continue incendiary bombing raids on Japan’s other cities — both large and small — in hopes of forcing the Japanese to surrender. The Tokyo fire department put the casualties at 97,000 killed and 125,000 wounded, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department believed that 124,711 people had been killed or wounded. Almost 90% of the bombs dropped on the home islands of Japan were delivered by this type of bomber. It was terrifying, really. Young American officers in the sky dropped hundreds of thousands of bomblets on the working-class section of the city, with its densely packed wooden dwellings mainly inhabited at the time by women, children and men too old to fight. It is not a good thing to leave an ex-commander in the same outfit that he commanded.”. At low altitude like that, I didn’t wear an oxygen mask. And that crew was chosen as the lead crew on the first firebomb mission. LeMay was there and said nothing. LeMay’s only way to stop these types of letters from coming was to end the war. Richard Sams. But that technique had produced no results. First Lt. Richard Gross between missions at the B-29 bomber base on Saipan, a United States territory in the Western Pacific. In just two days, more than 100,000 people were killed, a million were … An aerial view of Tokyo after it was firebombed by U.S. Army Air Forces on March 10, 1945. And we knew that the war was going to be over pretty doggone soon. This article on the firebombing of Tokyo is from the book Curtis LeMay: Strategist and Tactician © 2014 by Warren Kozak. And in the short span of time, he hoped to be able to knock them so hard and so fast that they might just consider surrendering. The incendiaries had created tornadoes of fire, sucking the oxygen from the entire area. We went in at about 6,800 feet. Five hundred thousand seems to be the lowest estimate. The Japanese would quickly compensate for this, but he thought he could get in a few missions before they figured it out. They burned up an awful lot of Nagoya that night. Overall, 1,700 tons of bombs were dropped, 16 square miles were burned, and 100,000 people lost their lives. Together they came up with a plan to go in at lower altitudes in a series of massive lightning raids that would occur on consecutive nights, catching the Japanese off guard. The aircraft had largely been stripped of their armaments so that they could carry even more clusters of small incendiary munitions. But if you don’t destroy Japan’s capacity to wage war, we’re going to have to invade Japan. Brig. I’ve always felt bad about that. If everything around you is burning, what do you do? For more coverage of conflict, visit nytimes.com/atwar. miles Tokyo, killing 100,000 and leaving more than 1 million homeless. 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