This 32-page section concludes the series of three special reports, summarizing aviation's part in our victory, which Flying has given to its readers in recent issues. The material has been reprinted from the Army Air Forces' hitherto classified publication, Impact. The first two of the series summarized, respectively, the strategic and tactical phases of the air war in Europe. This is a report on both tactical and strategic phases of our Pacific air war against the Japanese Empire.
The Japs had something which we didn't have. They had a scheme. It was a grandiose scheme that befitted true Sons of Heaven. We came to know of it as "The Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere." The name was illusory because it entailed a great deal more than Asia and had nothing whatever to do with co-prosperity.
It had been in the back of the Japanese mind just about as long as the Japanese had been trying to become a modern nation ever since Commodore Perry re-awoke them to the fact that there was a world going on.
For two hundred years prior to that time, the Japanese had been living a proud., feudal, insulated existence and had liked it or at least the ruling Japanese liked it, which is all that has ever mattered in Japan. Commodore Perry did not convince them that they were backward and ridiculous. On the contrary, he merely convinced them that if they were going to maintain their separate existence, they would have to incorporate modern methods and expand the area of insulation. That, in brief, is the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere a great realm where Japanese ideas and ideals would be immune from the Occidental influences, large enough to provide all the necessities and luxuries of life, and long enough and wide enough and powerful enough to be impenetrable.
The Japanese scheme failed.
The Japs failed, first of all, because Germany failed. Japan predicated the assumption of victory on a German victory and planned her grand strategy on that assumption. History will show that Stalingrad was a catastrophe for Japan no less than for Germany.
The Japs failed, secondly, because they could not keep pace with Allied production. They started the war with numerical superiority in practically every field of army and navy equipment and vastly increased that superiority in the opening months of the war by attrition against the Allies. Thereafter, the scales turned quickly against them. When the US finally brought strategic bombers to bear on the Home Islands, so that production and attrition would work hand in hand, the Japs didn't have a chance. They were faced with Allied superiority in planes, ships, and all the impedimenta of war which rapidly snowballed to stupefying proportions.
The Japanese failed, thirdly, because they did not possess a scientific "know how" to compete qualitatively. Jap equipment rapidly became inferior to ours. At the end of the war they did not have one single operational weapon which was superior to ours or which we could not have produced. In the critical new weapon developments of this war, Japan was practically at a standstill while the Allies were racing ahead. Japanese radar was crude by our standards. She had nothing that even approximated a Flying Fortress or a Liberator let alone a Superfortress. And she was constantly perplexed, bewildered, and confounded by a galaxy of Allied weapons air-to-ground rockets, napalm, computing sights, proximity fuses, aerial mines. bazookas, flame throwers, the atom bomb. It was these things, and the Japanese inability to produce them, which the Nip post mortem artists are blaming for their defeat.
The Japanese failed because their high command failed. Japanese strategy was based on the assumption that the United States could be surprised and beaten before we could arm ourselves and fight back effectively. They made the mistake of believing their own propaganda that there was internal dissension in the United States, that Americans were peace loving and decadent, and that it would take them years to switch from luxury production to war output.
Japanese strategists and technicians fought their war straight out of the rule books. The rule books were never revised until the Japs learned, through ugly experience, that they were obsolete, and when the Allies got out editions of their own or fought off the cuff, the Japs were dumbfounded and incapable of effective countermeasures. A case in point was the Jap belief that "unsinkable aircraft carriers" would afford impregnable barriers to our advance across the Pacific. When it was proven that superior carrier air power could knock out island bases, and land-based planes could keep them neutralized, the Japs had no alternative defense.
Japanese strategists apparently could not foresee a situation in which they did not have the initiative. Their conception of war was built around the word "attack." When they were put on the defensive, it took them a long time to learn that there were better stratagems than an heroic banzai charge and, when the trend was against them, they sometimes lost their capacity for straight thinking and blundered themselves into a mess. Witness the Marianas incident, when the cream of the naval air force was caught outside its radius of action, or the Yamato engagement, when the pride of the Jap fleet, in a futile move toward Okinawa, was sunk by carrier planes. Or the first weeks on Guadalcanal, when the Japs couldn't utilize an overwhelming air superiority efficiently enough to wipe out Henderson field.
The Japanese strategists did not understand, until too late, the potentialities of air war. Like the Germans they thought of air power in terms of an attack weapon to be used as support for naval forces and ground armies. Because they themselves had no formula for the use of strategic air power, they overlooked the possibility that it would be used against them and so were unprepared to counter it. The JAF was built around a force of short range bombers and fighters that were flimsily built, armorless, fire traps. The bombers were incapable of sustaining an offensive that really packed a wallop. The fighters were increasingly ineffective against Allied bombers that were forever flying places and doing things that the Japs hadn't anticipated soon enough. The Japs learned about big time air war but they learned it the rough way just as guinea pigs learn about shock treatment from scientists.
The Japanese failed, last of all, because their men and officers were inferior not in courage but in the intelligent use of courage. Japanese education, Japanese ancestor worship, and the Japanese caste system told off time after time in uninspired leadership and transfixed initiative. In a predicted situation that could be handled in an orthodox manner, Japanese soldiers were always competent and sometimes resourceful. Under the shadows of frustration, however, the obsession of personal honor extinguished the spark of ingenuity; and a deteriorating situation would provoke an increasingly irrational resistance. The Japanese air force's attempt to break up the Leyte landing is a case in point. For days the Japs tried conventional bombing tactics and were shot down by the hundreds without doing appreciable damage. Failing in this, the only improvisation they could conjure up was suicide attack. Contrast this desperate failure with Allied success in the Battle of the Bismarck sea, when less than 150 miscellaneous 5th Air Force planes coordinated tactics and techniques to skip-bomb, machine gun, and precision drop an entire convoy to the bottom within range of a numerically superior Jap air force.
All of these failures add up to one thing. The execution of Japanese plans was not equal to the grandiose demands of their strategy. They found out that the exquisite ambitions of the Sons of Heaven could not overcome the limitations of the common, mortal Jap.
But sometimes we were lucky. We must admit that. We were lucky, those first few months, to be fighting an enemy who was mentally incapable of exploiting his advantage. We were lucky the Japs didn't throw everything at Oahu. And we were lucky at Port Moresby when General MacArthur played them for suckers with a superb bluff on a bust hand. After that, the deal shifted and all the luck in the cards couldn't help the Japs to escape the show-down.
By the time the American offensive got started at Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942, the Japs had gone a long way toward reaching their goal of strategic isolation. The Allies were pushed back to India, to Australia, to Hawaii, to Alaska to bases so far distant that only an occasional submarine could scratch feebly at the jugular vein, and only Lieutenant Colonel Doolittle's monumental gesture of defiance could cause a momentary tremor of the heart itself.
Although the Japanese empire was vast and her armed forces formidable, she was vulnerable. Japan had delicate arteries and a bad heart. The value of her captured land masses and the armed forces that defended them was in direct proportion to the ability of her shipping to keep them supplied, to keep the forces mobile, and to bring back to Japan the raw materials that make it possible to wage modern war. Destroy the shipping, and Japan for all practical purposes would be four islands without an empire four islands on which were a few dozen made-to-burn cities in which were jam-packed the people and the industry that together made up the Japanese war machine. Destroy the shipping and burn the cities, and the whole empire complex would be like forsaken puppets lifeless without strings and a master hand to play them.
These were the basic conceptions of American strategy a war of attrition against Japanese shipping that would be waged on an ocean-wide front coincidentally with a gouging thrust straight towards the Home Islands to positions where land-based bombers could sever the arteries and pound away at the heart.
The future course of the Allied offensive was determined at Guadalcanal. It seemed a long way to Tokyo. It was. It seemed like a pretty small beginning. It was. It seemed like a lot of men and time and effort going into the acquisition of a jungle mud hole.
It was worth it. The Japanese reaction to our landing was proof enough of its strategic value. But the Guadalcanal operation paid off in higher terms than real estate. We prospected a theory on Guadalcanal and brought in a gusher. The theory was that an Allied force, working with an airfield and some planes (a muddy jungle slash and obsolete fighters would do) could beat off the Japs and eventually push them back to decisive defeat. We did just that. Armed with confidence and the promise of increased capital in the form of more and better planes, ships, and equipment, and more men, the prospects of developing the whole field into a bonanza looked excellent. We could go ahead.
The technique of triphibious warfare was evolved and became so standardized in its pattern that it was almost a ritual. Submarines were usually the advance agents, snooping, harassing, diverting, and raising hell with enemy supply. Long range reconnaissance bombers might be the next on the scene or it might be a carrier task force that would come quickly, concentrate a Sunday punch on the enemy air force and shipping, and retire before the Japs could bring tactical superiority to bear. There would follow a few weeks, or perhaps months, when land-based planes would take over the job of interdicting the base, neutralizing the air facilities and knocking out the gun positions and strong points. In due time the landing force would arrive, escorted by a suitable task force which would do as much as artillery preparation and aerial bombardment could do to smooth the way; and then the ground forces would establish a beachhead and push inland; and then the combat engineers, or the Seabees, or the construction battalions, or the air engineers, or perhaps all of them, would take over, with bulldozers and carbines; and then an airfield would be ready and planes would start to come in, artillery spotters first, then the fighters and night fighters, and then the bombers; and then the place would be declared secure, and the Japs would write off one asset and we would start to process another.
For a long time it was muddy going in low gear but in 1944 the Allied offensive started to roll. By that time we had definite superiority, quantitative and qualitative, in ships, planes, equipment, and technique. General MacArthur hedgehopped up the islands towards the Philippines. Kwajalein and then Eniwetok fell in short snappy campaigns. And Navy task forces, no longer tied down to direct support operations, flexed their muscles and paraded forth to cut the enemy in his vaunted strongholds and to slap his face with the established fact that from henceforth the US would make a hobby of the Pearl Harbor game.
June 15, 1944, was the day that the American offensive reached level ground and switched to high gear. That was the day that China-based Superfortresses cast their shadows on Yawata and that was the day that forces stormed ashore on Saipan. It was the day that the Japanese high command had to admit, to themselves at least, that their beautiful dream of insulation had turned into an horrendous nightmare.
Having taken the Marianas, we were finally in a position, with the Superfort, to wage a strategic war of attrition against the Japanese empire. From here on in, the increase of Allied strength would go hand in hand with the deterioration of the Japanese capacity to fight back. We were ready to launch a vicious spiral of destruction from which there could not possibly be any escape. If the Japanese backed up farther, we would advance more quickly. If they chose to stand and fight, we would destroy them and have so much less to cope with later on. It was as simple as that. It was as simple as that because the Allies had amassed a power that was titanic. The Japanese could not stand up to it and there was no place they could go to get away from it. They had no immovable object to place against the irresistible force. Eventually they had just one final choice give up or be destroyed.
The road to Tokyo started where it had to; started from where we picked ourselves up after being kicked out of the Philippines, out of the East Indies, out of all the places within reach of Japan.
It was a long trek, made over a bridge whose spans were pushed forward one by one and anchored to bases won by the combined strength of land, sea and air. This is the story of how we got to our starting point, and how the Army Air Forces helped to build and use the bridge.
On the first day of war we lost two-thirds of our aircraft in the Pacific. Hawaii was erased as a source of immediate reinforcements for the Philippines. And in the Philippines, where enemy attacks continued, our planes were whittled down rapidly. The kicking out phase was under way, with the 19th Bombardment Group taking its 14 Fortresses to Australia and then to Java for a brief but futile stand. The 24th Pursuit Group continued to give such aid as it could to the troops as they gradually gave ground in the Philippines, but its extinction was in sight before the end of 1941.
The air effort to hold the Netherlands East Indies radiated from a main air base at Malang, Java. Japan's 10-to-1 numerical air superiority and the swift onrush of its invading troops soon forced abandonment of all hope. In late February, 1942, evacuation was ordered and by early March the planes of the 5th Air Force, around which Southwest Pacific air strength was to be built, were in Australia.
Fearful anxiety gripped Australia. The Japanese sweeping in through the East Indies had brought Port Darwin and other western cities under air attack. While battering the 5th Air Force, they launched another prong of their offensive with air attacks on northern New Guinea, the Admiralty Islands, New Ireland, New Britain and the Solomons. Australia was being sealed off from the north. Late January landings at Kavieng, Rabaul and Bougainville made it clear that Australia's supply line from the United States was threatened. The same landings would protect the enemy's left flank and serve as springboards for invasion of the island continent.
The 5th Air Force had arrived in Australia from Java with virtually no fighters and few bombers. It was a negligible factor until replacements could arrive. Australia itself was similarly weak. Outpost garrisons in its island possessions to the north were over-run and it had only 43 operational combat planes. The gravity of the situation was apparent and reconnaissance planes' reports of massed enemy shipping at Rabaul increased the tension. Just to the north of Australia, in southern New Guinea, was Port Moresby. Its loss to the enemy would eliminate Townsville and other northeastern Australian cities as plane bases, would shove our planes back from within reaching distance of Rabaul. When in early March a Jap convoy sent troops ashore at Lae and Salamaua in northern New Guinea, the noose was beginning to settle. Planes from two US carriers opposed the Lae-Salamaua landing, sinking 15 vessels after spanning the mountains from the gulf of Papua, but the landing went on.
The victory-flushed enemy, annoyed but not seriously worried by the Doolittle Tokyo raid of April 18, then pushed a convoy into the Coral Sea, aiming it at Port Moresby. Two carriers, seven cruisers, 17 destroyers, 16 unidentified warships, 21 transports and two submarines were spotted by a reconnaissance plane on May 4. US fleet units, concentrated in Australian waters, challenged it. Land-based planes struck at enemy airfields at Lae and Rabaul to neutralize them, while carrier planes attacked the convoy. It was an air engagement. Neither fleet's surface units got within gun range of the other. By May 9 the battle was over, the convoy routed by the carriers. The Japs had suffered their first major defeat of the war and Port Moresby had a new lease on life.
Then came the events which slowed the tempo of Jap expansion and stabilized the outer perimeter of the enemy's conquests in the Pacific. On June 3, Jap warships were sighted west of Midway. Fortresses of the 7th Air Force reached out to them for initial attacks while our carriers under forced draft got within fighter range. As in the Battle of the Coral Sea there was no contact between surface forces and also, as in the earlier engagement, the Japs suffered a crushing defeat. Four carriers, two cruisers, three destroyers and a transport were sunk, others were damaged and 275 of the enemy's planes hit the water We lost a carrier, a destroyer, 150 carrier planes, two Forts and two Marauders. Our Navy's carrier arm had established its superiority over the Japs; had depleted the enemy's carrier forces so sharply that never again could Japan strike as swiftly, in as great strength, over as vast an area as she had before.
While the Midway force was steaming toward disaster, another group of vessels was playing hide and seek in the Aleutian fog. It lost a lone plane over our then secret base at Umnak on June 3 and launched its attack on Dutch Harbor the next day. It was met by fighters from Cold Bay and Umnak, and our bombers sought the carrier force. A few contacts were reported and a carrier was damaged, but the weather was so bad that vessels could be held in sight for only a few minutes at a time. The Japanese withdrew under cover of the fog and a week later reconnaissance showed them in possession of Kiska and Attu.
The Midway reverse slowed the enemy, broke the previously unrelieved gloom in which the Allies moved, but did not eliminate the tension in Australia or the threat to Port Moresby. Moresby was under unremitting air attack; was too hot for heavy bombers which moved to it from Townsville, refueled, hit Rabaul, and scampered back to Australia. But Moresby was an essential in the MacArthur promise to return to the Philippines. Gen George C Kenney, who took command of the 5th Air Force, gave assurance that with the few planes he had, plus expected reinforcements, he could get and hold air superiority. And so, despite continuing air attacks and the ever-present possibility of assault from the sea, Moresby was developed through the spring and summer of 1942, with seven landing strips taking shape. It was the base we had to have to trade blows with the enemy; the base from which we could reach Rabaul.
Moresby could be held only if Kenney's planes could meet the Jap air attacks and beat them down, exacting a heavy toll while husbanding their own numbers. They had to do it with far too few planes which had to fly too many hours in every week. They had to do it with planes which could not match the Zero in maneuverability, in speed of climb or speed in level flight. But they had some tools the Japs lacked. They had the Fortress, a weapon which could outreach anything the enemy had, striking from bases relatively immune to attack. They had fighter planes which were built for defense as well as offense and would not become flaming torches at the flick of the enemy's trigger. They had men, too, with ingenuity in maintenance, flying and tactics. These were the things which kept the 5th Air Force in Moresby through the spring and summer of 1942.
Then in late July the Japs landed at Buna, Gona and Sanananda on the northeast coast of New Guinea, just over the Owen Stanley mountains from Moresby. They started to push up the Kokoda trail while Australians fought a delaying action in retreat. Kokoda fell, the Japs pressed on through the mountain pass and then Port Moresby began to pay off. Troops staged there moved out to meet the enemy in the mountain jungles. The 5th's planes got their first taste of cooperation with ground troops under conditions of tremendous difficulty. As they strafed and bombed Japs along the trail and hit at supply dumps, they rarely saw their targets, concealed in the jungles. Vague reference points in a confusing welter of trees and valleys and ridges were all they had. But they struck at them and at airfields and at coastal shipping. They flew as long as the planes would hold together, then tied them up with stray bits of wire and flew some more. They improvised: old P-400s (modified Airacobras) were turned into dive bombers with a 500-pound bomb slung underneath. And then as the Australians stopped giving ground and halted the Japs just 30 miles from Port Moresby, the 5th Air Force played its biggest role in the campaign, sparking the start of MacArthur's since-famed hop, skip and jump warfare.
With Gona-Buna in enemy hands, Port Moresby would never be secure, Rabaul could not be neutralized and an advance out of the Southwest Pacific could not get started. The Papuan campaign was initiated with the ground push back across the Kokoda trail and an airborne leap of 15,000 men across the mountains to near Buna. The Troop Carrier Command ferried engineers with equipment to hack out airstrips, then moved in the troops and their equipment. The lack of aircraft was as acute for transport as it was for combat, and bombers were pressed into service and loaded with artillery. The ground forces were dependent on air supply for food, ammunition and equipment The air supply route was maintained with its terminus almost in sight of the Japs. Casualties were evacuated on the return flights. Buna was overrun on January 2, 1943, and the threat of Port Moresby was ended. The first span was in place.
Meanwhile in the late summer of 1942 the Solomons campaign was started. Its immediate objective also was the security of Australia. The Jap invasion of the Solomons had pressed the sharp cutting edge of the expansion knife close to the Australian supply artery. The entire push back to the Philippines depended on building Australia into a tremendous storehouse of men and material, and it was endangered to a critical degree when Guadalcanal was occupied by the Japanese. Guadalcanal had to be retaken.
AAF planes, later to be formed into the 13th Air Force, launched attacks from Espiritu Santo on Jap positions on Guadalcanal and Tulagi while 5th Air Force planes struck at Rabaul. Navy and Marine flyers ranged up and down the Solomons, striking at shipping and at airfields, preparing for the day of invasion. On August 7, 1942, the Marines went ashore on Guadalcanal. For three critical months they battled the Japs on little better than even terms. Allied strength was barely adequate and the enemy kept pouring reinforcements down from Rabaul. But incessant naval and aerial patrol and attacks on shipping gradually cut into the Japs' ability to bolster their failing troops and turned the tide of battle. By late October we had aerial superiority and by mid-November heavy bombers were flying from Guadalcanal's Henderson field. The battle was won and mopping up completed in February, 1943. Guadalcanal was the first step toward Rabaul and it was followed by invasion of the New Georgia islands in the Central Solomons at the end of June and by invasion of Bougainville November 1, 1943. These steps put Rabaul within easy fighter range of the 13th Air Force. Its harbor and airfields could be kept under daily attack. But Bougainville was not taken easily. Ground fighting was bitter and costly. The enemy struck with his full air power again and again, but as in New Guinea, the US flyers were the masters. They had met overwhelming numbers and by out-flying and out-thinking the enemy had racked up ratios of 10, 20 and even 30 to 1 destroyed. By late 1943 pyramiding enemy losses coupled with mounting US production made it clear that destruction of the Jap air force was only a matter of time.
While Guadalcanal and Port Moresby were being made secure and the first advances made beyond them in the Southwest Pacific, other events had been giving notice of growing Allied strength. In the Aleutians, Kiska was by-passed and a landing made on Attu in May, 1943. This former American island had been bombed occasionally from Adak and Amchitka, but persistent low-hanging clouds made it less profitable for attack than Kiska. The Attu landing, then, was a surprise maneuver, going past the island most heavily attacked and most heavily defended. Attu fell on June 2 and American forces stood between Kiska and its supply base in the northern Kuriles. On August 15, Canadian and American troops stormed ashore on Kiska and learned that the by-passing technique was effective. There were no Japs on the island. They had pulled out in late July under cover of a weather front so thick that one of the evacuating destroyers saw Little Kiska Island dead ahead, thought it was an American warship, and opened fire. Not only had American soil been freed of the invader by the Aleutian campaign; we had moved into position for the 11th Air Force to begin its strikes against the Kurile Islands. These attacks, which increased steadily as radio navigation aids and radar lessened the need for good weather, forced the Japs to consider the possibility of an attack from the north, forced them to tie up more men and planes and ships than they could afford when their southern flank was crumbling.
In the Central Pacific, too, things were beginning to jell. Wake Island had been hit occasionally by the 7th Air Force in flights staging from Midway, but since the 7th was sending most of its planes into the Solomons action under the 13th Air Force, it had little offensive power. In April, 1943, however, phosphate-rich Nauru and Tarawa in the Gilberts were blasted. These islands continued to be occasional targets and in September Army and Navy planes joined to give Tarawa a thorough pasting. The explosive force with which the United States rocketed across the Pacific in 1944 was beginning to gather.
New Guinea's re-conquest, to spring from Australia by way of Buna and Gona, required two things above all: denial of reinforcements to the Japs, and protection of Allied troops from aerial attack. The 5th Air Force accepted major responsibility for both. The first obligation was spectacularly fulfilled in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. Kenney's ubiquitous bombers had been roaming the coastlines and ranging out to sea with increasing frequency as the 5th began to gather strength. On the first of March, 1943, a reconnaissance Liberator spotted a large convoy with destroyer escort steaming west off the northern coast of New Britain. It carried supplies and more than 12,000 men for reinforcement of Lae. When word of this juicy plum was lashed back to base, a flight of Fortresses was dispatched. The convoy, however, was hidden in a front and contact was not made. At dawn the next day, the 5th mustered all its planes, sending Havocs to immobilize the airfield at Lae, Liberators and Fortresses with Lightning escort to the attack. The convoy was sighted and bombed from medium altitude. Four ships were sunk. Later in the day a flight of Forts attacked again as the ships maneuvered under a cover of squalls. That night the weather changed and by morning the convoy was entering Huon Gulf under clear skies. That was the jackpot day.
Tests by the Proving Ground Command at Eglin Field, FL, had established the feasibility of masthead bombing a low-level broadside attack with the bomb plunking squarely into the side of the vessel. Synchronized high-level attack and accompanying fighters were recommended. Quick to seize on new ideas, the 5th's Forts successfully used low-level attacks on ships in Rabaul harbor at night. Its Mitchells and Havocs practiced the technique on an old hulk at Port Moresby between combat missions. The Mitchells gained added security and lethal power by a modification which gave them eight forward-firing .50-calibers through a modification made in the theater.
Thus on March 3, 1943, the unsuspecting Jap convoy was keeping a date with eternity. As it entered Huon Gulf, Beaufighters went in first, taking the screening destroyers as their strafing targets. With AA fire lessened and scattered, the heavies picked their targets from medium altitude and made repeated bomb runs. The Mitchells and Havocs then sprang the big surprise, raking the decks as they approached and dropped their bombs just before they pulled up and over the masts. All the while, Lightnings were overhead engaging the convoy's fighter cover. The convoy was dead as darkness fell. The next day attacks on the Lae airfield continued as planes searched for survivors. The final mop-up was on March 5 when Beaufighters and Mitchells put an end to the rafts and lifeboats. Land-based airpower had demonstrated that when properly employed it could stop an invader before port could be reached. From that time on the Japs were forced to spirit their troops along the coast of New Guinea at night in camouflaged barges which hugged the shore and darted for cover at the approach of dawn. The commitment of the 5th to prevent reinforcement of New Guinea had been met.
The second of its tasks, protecting troops from air attack, involved destruction of the Jap air force in such numbers that eventually replacement would be foolhardy. That commitment was met too. It was met by better flying in aerial combat, through surprise attacks on airfields which destroyed the grounded planes, and by construction of airfields.
The next jump of MacArthur's forces from Buna was to Lae. Not only was it in the right direction for the move toward the Philippines but its possession would be a powerful factor in the neutralization of Rabaul. In aid of the Lae offensive, aviation engineers made a long overland trek to 40 miles southwest of the coming battlefield and cleared a site for Marilinan field. As soon as transports could land, Skytrains moved in an airborne engineer battalion with all its equipment plus antiaircraft guns. This field was expanded and soon became the major base from which Wewak was put under attack. Four Jap airfields were in the Wewak area and all of them nested scores of planes. The big show at Wewak preliminary to the intensive phase of the Lae campaign opened on August 17, 1943. At dawn the heavy bombers unleashed frag clusters, demolition and incendiary bombs. They were followed by Mitchells and Lightnings which scampered across the airfields disgorging parafrags, their machine guns chattering. The performance was repeated the next day. Then came a day of rest, followed by two more days of the same attack pattern. The result was 228 enemy planes destroyed on the ground and 81 shot out of the air against our loss of 10 planes. Wewak was out of business as a major base.
A few days later a landing east of Lae was effected, followed by the first extensive use of paratroops in the Pacific. To put a sizable force behind the Jap lines at Lae it was decided to capture the Markham valley site of Nadzab. Detailed preparation was made and the jump was a model of excellence. While General MacArthur and General Kenney cruised about overhead, Mitchells put the Nips under cover with a strafing and parafrag attack. They were followed by Havocs laying a smoke screen, behind which 96 Skytrains shucked out 1,700 American paratroopers. Nazdab was ours and a week and a half later Lae fell. As infantrymen crossed the airfield, they found it a junkyard of shattered planes, souvenirs of the 5th's visits.
The entire Huon Gulf area was cleared out a few days later with capture of Finschafen. It reduced the importance of Rabaul and established a protected flank for future leaps to the west along the New Guinea coast. In the late fall of 1943, this was the picture throughout the Pacific: in the north, the Japs had been driven out of the Aleutians, back to the Kuriles; in the Central Pacific, the Jap-held islands were taking occasional attacks; in the Southwest Pacific, the key base of Rabaul, one holding the dual threats of slashing the supply route to Australia as well as invading it, was itself threatened with isolation.
Rabaul still had air strength but it was maintained at terrific cost as our planes blasted it with rising tempo. Its harbor began to lose importance as the points to which it shipped men and supplies began to fall into Allied hands.
Tarawa and Makin were invaded on November 20, 1943. The Marines went ashore after seven days of intensive aerial softening. The Marshall Islands to the north were immobilized by concurrent attacks. The invasion spelled the end of reinforcements in strength for Rabaul but, more than that, it set the first pier for our bridge across the Central Pacific.
The pattern of Pacific advance was one of taking the bases we needed and by-passing the others. Those by-passed were not forgotten, however. They were hit again and again and again. And after they had lost all possibility of usefulness to the enemy, they were made practice targets for new crews; targets which still could put up some AA fire to season the crews at minimum risk. To the end of the war, Rabaul was getting a daily pounding although as a factor in impeding the push to Tokyo it had faded completely after the Tarawa landing doomed its reinforcements and subsequent landings at Arawe and Cape Gloucester threatened it from the west.
Truk now became the important base, with Palau likewise looming larger in the Japanese scheme of reinforcement of forward areas But those forward areas were soon to be lost. American task forces ranged through the eastern perimeter islands striking Mili, Jaluit, Kwajalein, Wotje and Nauru, churning their runways into coral rubble, burning their supplies. The same islands and others nearby were hit in daily sorties by Liberators. By mid-December, fighters and bombers were taking off from newly won Makin to strike the Marshalls. Kwajalein was invaded in a brilliant maneuver which caught the Japs by surprise as we went through to the northern part of the Marshalls, skipping the more obvious southern invasion points. Throughout February, airfields in the Marshalls were bombed into uselessness and our planes ranged westward to immobilize the staging areas. Forty-two Liberators plastered Ponape in the Carolines on February 14, and two days later a Naval task force gave the great naval and air center of Truk a thorough shellacking, shooting down 127 aircraft and destroying 74 on the ground while losing only 17 of its own planes. It was an action timed to keep the Japs off balance while we invaded Eniwetok, where troops went ashore on February 17. All of the Marshalls and Gilberts were under constant fighter and bomber attack from that time, and as we gradually moved in and captured the key islands, air pressure by the enemy was kept at low level by destruction of planes and airfields both in those islands and in the Carolines to the west. Four major Jap islands were left to bake in the Pacific sun under an umbrella of smoke raised by almost daily neutralizing attacks. Mili, Jaluit, Maloelap and Wotje remained to the end as practice targets, symbols of the fate of the by-passed.
While the Gilberts and Marshalls were being taken in hand by the Navy, the ground forces and the 7th Air Force, the 13th Air Force made a jump to the Admiralty Islands north of our Huon Gulf holdings on New Guinea. That made it a partner of the 7th in blows on the Carolines, with special attention being given to Truk.
These blows along the Central Pacific route to Japan were falling while General MacArthur moved his forces westward along the north New Guinea coast. Infantrymen slugged their way through inland valleys parallel to the coast, and as they pressed the Japs back, amphibious operations put other troops behind the Japs to effect a pincers. The 5th Air Force continued its systematic destruction of the Japanese air force in New Guinea while blasting supplies, defensive installations and troops. In the last week of February, 1944, 900 sorties were flown and 1,000 tons of bombs dropped on the Wewak, Madang, Alexishafen and Hansa Bay areas, leading to the March 5 landing west of Saidor behind the Jap lines. Hollandia was the major enemy base after Wewak was shattered, with the Schouten islands and the Halmaheras backing it up as rear bases. But Hollandia was soon to share the fate of what in 1944 was the sorry lot of all Jap forward bases. On March 30, Liberators, Lightnings and Thunderbolts hit it. The next day Liberators and Lightnings gave it a final polish. The box score: Japan, 219 planes destroyed or damaged; the US, one P-38 lost. Three days later a force of 303 Libs, Mitchells, Havocs and Lightnings pulverized the area and shot 26 planes out of the sky. Hollandia was finished as an enemy bastion and on April 22 a long jump was made to it by invasion forces. The same day a precautionary firewall was built between it and the by-passed areas by a landing at Aitape, Then in turn came Wakde island on May 17, Biak island on May 27, Noemfoor on July 2 and Cape Sansapor on July 30. Western New Guinea was under control. The route now lay north through the Halmaheras to the Philippines.
With MacArthur poised on the western end of New Guinea at the close of July, the Central Pacific forces under Admiral Nimitz's command had swept into the Marianas and likewise were set to move north or west. They reached the Marianas in one tremendous thrust from the Marshalls, past the Carolines, into Saipan on June 15. This was accomplished on the familiar pattern of neutralization of all surrounding bases. Daily strikes were made on Truk, Ponape, Woleai, and Yap. The Peleliu airfield in the Palaus was the target of five attacks in three days. While the 7th and 13th air forces were neutralizing the Carolines, carrier planes attacked Saipan, Tinian, Rota and Guam in the immediate invasion area. The fleet started shelling Saipan and Tinian two days before the landing. On D-Day, carrier planes made sustained attacks on the enemy bases on Iwo, Haha and Chichi islands. These attacks on bases from which the invasion could be hampered were accompanied by a diversion in the north. The Navy shelled Matsuwa Island while 11th Air Force and Fleet Air Wing 4 planes bombed Paramushiru and Shimushu in the northern Kuriles. As the battle for Saipan progressed, carrier planes continued to sweep Guam, Rota, Pagan and Iwo while the AAF concentrated on Truk, Woleai, Yap and Ponape. The by-passed bases at Rabaul and in the Marshalls were attacked daily.
The threat in US occupation of Saipan was obvious and the Jap fleet came out of hiding. It was discovered west of Guam and our carriers attacked on June 19. The ensuing Battle of the Philippine Sea was another in the series of naval engagements in which all of the contact was from the air and in which Japan's fleet was defeated. The enemy lost 428 planes, including those hit on the ground on Marianas bases in accompanying side action. Jap ship losses were 17 sunk or damaged. The US fleet lost 122 aircraft and 72 men. During almost the entire action the American carrier planes were striking at about the limit of their radius of action and most of our losses were due to forced landings in the sea when the planes gave out of gas. The enemy's air reaction to the Saipan landing was strong but our air superiority was never in serious jeopardy. From the opening of the pre-invasion attacks on June 11 to a relatively stabilized condition on June 28, enemy plane losses in the Marianas and to the west in the Philippine sea totaled more than 750.
On D plus 5, an engineer aviation battalion began unloading equipment and on D plus 6 began repairing the runway at Aslito (renamed Isely) airfield. On D plus 7, 7th Air Force Thunderbolts, ferried from Hawaii by CVE, landed and took off on missions against enemy ground forces. The engineers widened and lengthened the runway, then turned to construction of a heavy bomber strip. They interrupted their work on the night of D plus 12 to wipe out 300 Japs who had broken through and overrun the airfield, but it was only a temporary halt. The Saipan operation was typical of the speed with which aviation engineers prepared new airfields: Isely field, started June 21, operational for fighters June 22, for Liberators August 9, for Superfortresses October 15, The engineers moved 4,500,000 cubic yards of coral and earth, produced 127,322 tons of asphaltic cement, paved 11,000,000 square feet of surface and consumed more than 1,250,000 gallons of diesel fuel in their round-the-clock performance.
After Saipan came Guam on July 21, followed by Tinian on July 23. Again both invasions were preceded by heavy air and naval bombardment, some of the help coming from the land-based planes on Saipan. The islands were "secured” by mid-August although isolated Japs were being picked off months later.
Planes of the Air Transport Command followed almost in the prop wash of combat planes as new bases were taken. Operations on the long overwater route steadily increased, with personnel flown from the United States to the Pacific theater in nine months of 1945 totaling 80,847 as against 75,560 in all of 1944. Similarly, in 1945, through September, tonnage flown was 39,518 and in 1944 it was 28,861. Evacuation of casualties to the US, a major factor in reducing the death rate from wounds, totaled 36,000 in 1945 and 10,498 in 1944.
Meanwhile, preparations went forward for the long-anticipated drive back into the Philippines. On September 15, the Palau Islands were invaded, the Marines heading into tough opposition on Peleliu, and Army ground forces having a somewhat easier time on Angaur. This placed the Central Philippines within range of our heavy bombers. MacArthur moved into Morotai, north of Halmahera, and the stage was set for all forces to unite in a single plan.
In no previous Pacific operation did the preparatory phase cover such a vast area and involve so many different striking elements. The leading role was played by a tremendous carrier force of the Third Fleet, which struck along a vast arc from the Philippines to Marcus island, the Ryukyus and Formosa. In late September, they wrecked the Manila area, destroying 357 aircraft, and the next day pounded Leyte, Panay and Cebu. Then, in early October, they cut loose with a series of terrific wallops: Marcus Island on the 9th, the Ryukyus on the 10th, Formosa on the 12th and 13th, and Manila again on the 15th and 17th. Their score was 915 enemy planes destroyed, 128 ships sunk and 184 damaged. They lost no ships and only 94 oi their own planes. This was essentially an operation to isolate the battlefield, to make it difficult for the enemy to reinforce the Philippines. Fitting into the same scheme were three attacks on Formosa by China-based Superfortresses, constant attacks by the 5th and 13th air forces on the southern Philippines and East Indies flank, by the 7th on the Bonins, and by the 14th against harbors and shipping along China coast.
On October 20, troops poured ashore at Leyte.
Leyte was a dud from the beginning. As far as the air forces were concerned, it was mostly a case of mud. Torrential rains bogged us down everywhere. For the first time since we had struggled with the mud hole that became Henderson field, airfield construction was agonizingly slow, and it became apparent before long that our bomber strength could not be pulled into Leyte. Tacloban airstrip was the only strip that proved of real value. From it, the 5th Fighter Command, its planes jammed wingtip to wingtip, for weeks did an all-around air force job, handling many tasks that normally would have been given to the bombers. The latter, flying from Morotai, the Palaus, and bases on northwest New Guinea, were forced by distance to carry lighter loads. It had been expected that soon after invading Leyte they would be operating in force against northern Luzon.
Leyte was the closest we had come in a long time to losing a show. With the infantry and artillery slowly widening the beachhead perimeters and carrier aircraft the only umbrella over them, the Japanese navy appeared. It came in three separate thrusts, although one from the north never got into the Leyte action because it was met and routed by planes of the 3rd Fleet north of Luzon. The other two forces moved in from the west, threading their way through the islands toward Leyte Gulf, where the light and escort carriers of the 7th Fleet were protecting the invasion. Although spotted as they moved in and attacked by submarines, torpedo boats and planes, a strong Jap force reached Leyte gulf and on the morning of October 25 began shelling our carriers.
Despite the heavy ships the Japs had brought into the action through San Bernardino Strait, the battle swung in our favor and the enemy withdrew after suffering serious losses. In this action the Japs lost a golden opportunity, which was actually in their hands, to destroy our entire escort carrier and transport fleet in Leyte gulf. Our carriers, destroyers and destroyer escorts covered themselves with glory against tremendous odds. Meanwhile to the south the old battleships of the 7th Fleet, though short of ammunition, together with a fleet of PT boats, destroyers and cruisers, decisively defeated the enemy force which attempted to join the battle through Surigao strait. The Jap bid to halt the Leyte invasion had failed and their fleet had been reduced by sinkings and damage to task-force size. Our losses were the carrier Princeton, two escort carriers, two destroyers and one destroyer escort.
During all the operations in September and October, it was the carrier forces of the 3rd Fleet that dominated the air action and deserved the major share of credit. On the eve of the Battle for Leyte gulf, the Navy's vast Carrier Task Force 38 had a complement of 1,082 planes, and its Task Force 77, with the smaller carriers, could put some 600 planes into the air. The Far Eastern Air Forces (5th and 13th) had 1,457 planes assigned to tactical units and 524 held in ready reserve. The 7th, in the Marianas, Palaus and Marshalls, had another 526. While there were more land-based aircraft, the mobility of the carriers enabled the massing of great carrier striking strength at any required point. Truly, in these two months, carrier air, in a war dominated by sea masses rather than land masses, proved itself indispensable.
The end at Leyte came when the Japs discovered it was just as difficult as back at New Guinea to reinforce a besieged garrison. On November 10, a Jap convoy bound for Ormoc on Leyte's west coast was hit by Mitchells in a masthead attack which sank three transports and six escorts. The next day Navy planes smashed another Ormoc-bound convoy. On December 7, 5th Air Force fighter bombers sank all vessels in a 13-ship convoy, and four days later destroyed most of another, both near Ormoc.
Throughout the Leyte campaign the Japs had dissipated their air strength in frequent, small attacks. Their opportunity was missed at the beginning when heavy, sustained pressure might have turned the tide. When we made an amphibious landing at Ormoc bay, followed on December 15 by a landing on Mindoro, the Japs struck hard. But this time it was too late. Once on the firm soil of Mindoro, the 5th Air Force was able to pull its main bomber strength up to the Philippines. The 5th now took up where the carriers had left off. In three weeks, the remainder of the Japanese air establishment in the Philippines was utterly demolished. On January 9, when MacArthur invaded the Lingayen Gulf, only two Japanese planes appeared over the beach. Never, in the European war or previously in the Pacific war, had such a crushing air defeat been administered. The 5th Air Force destroyed more than 2,000 enemy planes in the Philippines.
Yet the Japs had plenty more. Japanese aircraft production reached its highest level at this very time. They finally gave up sending more planes into the Philippines because the organization to operate them had been wiped out. The 5th Air Force not only made every decent airfield unserviceable, but also left every repair shop and storage depot a shambles. The entire ground maintenance system collapsed. When our forces reached Clark Field, they found a George fighter which needed only a carburetor to fly. Dozens of carburetors, as well as engines, wheels and hundreds of other parts, were found dispersed at nearby Mabalacat town in shacks, under buildings, and even buried in the fields. The George wasn't alone. Many planes were in almost flyable condition.
From this overwhelming defeat, the Japanese high command, however reluctantly, could draw only one conclusion: it would be senseless, in the future, to continue using their air force in the conventional manner. There was only one course left: a Kamikaze, or suicide, air force.
For the balance of the Philippines campaign, the 5th Air Force was free to roam at will against the shipping routes of the South China sea and to neutralize Formosa. This meant the 5th had taken over air commitments within range of the Philippines, freeing the carriers for two major tasks Iwo and Okinawa.
Daylight attacks on Formosa started in January and soon Liberators, Mitchells, Lightnings and Mustangs were making regular strikes which at first were in preparation for and later in aid of the Okinawa campaign. The Libs also reached out across the China sea to disrupt communications in Indo-China. Mitchells were a potent striking force against shipping with their precision low-level attacks. In the Philippines, the 5th put on a whirlwind bombing and troop carrier show at Corregidor and, without air interference, swept against enemy troops wherever they still faced MacArthur. Outstanding were missions in aid of guerrillas, and napalm fire bomb attacks on Japs holed up in mountain caves.
The 13th Air Force, meanwhile, had been protecting the left rear flank as MacArthur turned north from New Guinea. It policed the Netherlands East Indies and southern Philippines, knocking out harbor installations, airfields, oil facilities and shipping. Borneo, Java, Celebes, Ambon, Ceram and lesser islands were scoured by planes of the 13th and the RAAF. Snoopers (single Liberators) picked off shipping in Makassar Strait. The oil center of Balikpapan was put out of action in four major strikes in which 5th Air Force heavies joined. The East Indies thus were eliminated as a staging area for Philippines reinforcement and were softened up for invasion.
Meanwhile, the Central Pacific forces forged their final arch in the bridge needed to put fighters over Japan. To the Superfortresses bombing Japan from the Marianas, Iwo had become increasingly annoying. To convert this warning station and interception point into a haven for distressed Superfortresses and a forward base for fighter sweeps over Japan, it was invaded on February 19. Hardly had the bloody struggle for Iwo ended when Okinawa was invaded. Coming so soon after Iwo and at the very doorstep of the Home Islands, the invasion of Okinawa was a show of power that jolted the American public into the realization that the war against Japan might be approaching the final phases.
This time the preparation included sustained strikes at Japan itself. The February blows in the Tokyo-Yokohama area prior to the Iwo landing were dwarfed by those which preceded the Okinawa invasion. The 5th Fleet on March 18 and 19 disposed of most of what remained of the Jap fleet and destroyed 475 enemy aircraft as its planes struck at airfields and anchorages in southern Honshu and Kyushu. From March 23 to 29 it made daily attacks on Okinawa and on southern Kyushu to disrupt reinforcements and supply. The 5th Air Force intensified its attacks on Formosa and was joined by British carriers in strikes on airfields and transportation facilities. Jap airfields on the east China coast were neutralized by the 14th.
Okinawa was invaded on April 1 and, after a few days of easy going, our ground forces ran into Japanese resistance that remained fanatical to the end. Japan's air force appeared in its new trappings and the Navy went through hell.
At Leyte, where the Japs first tried suicide tactics on more than an individual scale, they were a menace but not a critical one. Now, at Okinawa, the Japs came up with a predominantly suicide air force and the threat was critical in the extreme. The US fleet and ships off Okinawa, were a made-to-order target for Kamikaze attack. The Japs did not repeat the piecemeal mistake of Leyte.
On April 6 date of the first intensive attack, the Navy was knocking down the Kamikazes without a moment's respite from dawn to dusk. Major assaults were made five times during the month and on the other days there were attacks at frequent intervals. The fleet's air patrol intercepted most of the Kamikazes but a large number inevitably got through to the outer screening ring of destroyers. A few pierced the defenses and reached the major fleet units. Proximity fuses, which detonated the ships' antiaircraft shells even though direct hits were not made on the enemy planes, increased the toll of suiciders but damage to surface craft continued to mount. In the 81 days of the Okinawa campaign 32 ships were sunk and 216 damaged by aircraft. Destroyers, destroyer escorts, minesweepers and smaller craft were the heaviest losers. Nine destroyers and one destroyer escort were sunk; 68 destroyers and 24 destroyer escorts damaged. Two ammunition ships were blown up in one attack. None of the major fleet units were sunk although many were severely damaged and lost for the campaign.
The Kamikazes used both new and obsolete planes and introduced the Baka a piloted bomb-with-wings carried to the scene by a bomber and then released for its short and only flight. As the fleet stayed off Okinawa, shelling enemy positions and aiding the troops with carrier aircraft strikes, the menace of the suicide attacks grew. To lessen this, the airfields from which the Kamikazes flew were brought under sustained attack. Both the Amami group and the Sakishima group of islands, north and south of Okinawa respectively, were attacked daily by American and British carrier planes. Task Force 58, which had been giving its major attention to the Japs on Okinawa, with a side excursion on April 7 to sink the battleship Yamato and five other warships which apparently were moving out on a hit-run mission to Okinawa, initiated the sustained program to put Kamikaze bases out of commission. The carrier planes on April 15 strafed, bombed and rocketed airfields on Kyushu. The next day carrier planes, Marine Corps medium bombers and Army fighters from Iwo worked over the same area. Then on April 17 Superfortresses entered the picture. Five times in six days the Superforts dropped their heavy loads on Kyushu airfields, then, after a three-day lapse, closed out the month with five consecutive days of attack. Through the early part of May the Superforts continued these blows, striking seven times in the first 11 days. Carriers picked up where they left off and gave Kyushu a three-day dusting. By late May, Thunderbolts joined the attacks, flying from the small island of Ie Shima near Okinawa. These operations, combined with increasing success of our troops on Okinawa, gradually whittled down the scale of enemy attacks. In the first month of the invasion 1,700 Jap planes were involved in ordinary or suicide attacks; in May the total dropped to 700 and in June it was less than 300. Our ground successes were a greater factor in this reduction than the breaking up of Kyushu airfields, for, with the island definitely falling to us, the Japs withheld the bulk of their planes for a last-ditch defense of the Home Islands.
Long before Okinawa was wholly won, we began to carve out a network of bases which was to hold the invasion air force. As the Japs were compressed into the southern part of the island, fields began to blossom profusely over the central parts. As the bases took shape they began to fill with planes and daily strikes were made on Kyushu, paralyzing transportation, airfields, and cities. The final softening up for invasion in November was under way. Throughout July the tempo increased and by early August, despite unfavorable weather, between 350 and 450 sorties were being flown daily. This was scarcely a sample of what was in store, for from 23 bases on Ie and Okinawa, the re-deployed, B-29-equipped 8th Air Force was to join General Kenney's huge tactical air force in smoothing the invasion path Even as the war ended the Navy was basing 625 planes on Okinawa, 32 Superfortresses had arrived and 1,317 planes of the tactical air force were ready to go.
It was an ironical twist of fate for Kenney, who had done so much with so little, particularly in the early days, finally to get a force of really great size just when it was no longer needed. For without a landing in Japan to put the final span of the Pacific bridge in place, the long trek ended.
America's aerial effort in Asia was long an undernourished child, forced by circumstances to fend for itself; to improvise and, at first, to cling to its slender thread of life by whatever means it could. It developed into an unorthodox, vigorous air force. Its main achievements in Burma were in making it possible for Allied troops to exist in the jungle by supplying, evacuating and transporting them on an unprecedented scale and in making the Japanese position untenable, literally through starvation, by destruction of their supply bases which disappeared in a welter of bombed bridges, river boats, railroad trackage and freight junctions. In China it achieved command of the skies over Chinese troops, and tore gaping holes in the enemy supply routes on land and sea. Between India and China it flew the Hump in the greatest sustained transportation achievement of the war. And it did all this in weather which for more than half each year was so bad one pilot was moved to remark, "Flying, hell! This is an amphibious operation; we need gills more than wings."
The aerial infant from which this grew was born. by 10th Air Force activation February 12, 1942. Before that, American air power in Asia consisted exclusively of the American Volunteer Group. Claire L Chennault, master tactician for China's air force, had obtained 100 obsolescent Warhawks and 100 American pilots to man them, and some 200 ground personnel to keep them in the air. When this group of Flying Tigers met their first Jap over Rangoon on December 20, 1941, they were a single bright light in an otherwise dismal sky. China was isolated except for the Burma Road and Hong Kong, with the latter about to fall. Japanese forces were firmly entrenched in French Indo-China, had moved through Thailand, had swung one spearhead down the Malay Peninsula and another into South Burma. Rangoon fell on March 10, then came the "walk-out" of a motley array of British, Indian and Chinese troops led by Gen. Sir Harold Alexander and Gen Joseph W (" We-took-a-hell-of-a-beating") Stilwell. By May most of Burma was gone, the Burma Road cut and China isolated. Western prestige had hit a new low in the Orient.
During this period of unrelieved Allied military disaster, the AVG and a handful of RAF planes performed brilliantly in local engagements but could do no more than impede the enemy advance. Bases were bombed out by the Japs and the Flying Tigers were pressed back into China. Always outnumbered and flying relatively slow aircraft, the AVG nevertheless hung up a phenomenal record during the seven months of its operational life: 298 enemy planes destroyed in combat for a loss of 12. This proved the soundness of Chennault's precepts, which were to fly in pairs, take one swipe at the enemy and get gone It also punctured the balloon of invincibility growing up around the speedy, highly maneuverable Zero and proved that ruggedness, speed in dives, and firepower could be made to beat an enemy who, although a fancy dog-fighter, was not so rugged.
The 10th Air Force got a handful of planes in March, 1942. It had the Fortress and the LB-30 (early Liberator) with which Maj Gen Lewis H Brereton and his party had flown from the Netherlands East Indies. It added six Fortresses and 10 Warhawks which had been scheduled for Java but which were diverted. With this tiny force it expected daily to have to help repel an invasion of India. But by May, 1942, this no longer appeared imminent so the primary mission of air in Asia then shifted from defense of India to aid to China. This meant ferrying operations over the Himalaya Mountains the famed Hump route. A few planes from China National Airways and some DC-3s obtained via Africa and flown by commercial airline pilots started the operations. The first transport assignment was delivery of 30,000 gallons of gasoline and 500 gallons of oil, intended for Doolittle's April 18 raiders. By August, 1942, they had become the India-China Ferry Command, and on December 1 the Air Transport Command took over.
On the first anniversary of war, ATC had only 29 transport planes to fuel and supply the war in China. In all India the 10th had only 16 heavy bombers, 15 mediums and 50 fighters operational. US planes in China that day totaled 10 mediums and 50 fighters. These pathetic numbers were due partly to a diversion of reinforcements, partly to an actual withdrawal of planes to the Middle East, both in an effort to repel Rommel's drive on Egypt. The 10th lost all of its heavy bombers in this way and had none at all for some time. ATC grew the fastest. At first it carried gasoline, oil, and replacement parts to China-based aircraft. Gradually it started carrying heavy equipment. By October, 1943, a schedule of night flights over the stormy barrier peaks was added. By August 1, 1945, ATC was able to tally up a month's delivery of 71,000 tons over four times the capacity of the old Burma Road and it had stepped that up to a rate of more than 85,000 tons monthly in the final days of the war. Before it could begin to expand, however, it had to have bases. It had to get its own supplies, as well as those it was transporting to China, from harbors to the take-off point via air or inadequate rail, highway, and river transportation. Its planes in late spring, summer, and early fall flew in monsoon weather of rain, hail, wind and turbulence. In winter they flew through ice-laden clouds, piled high above the 18,000-foot Himalayan peaks. But they flew in ever-increasing numbers.
The AVG was absorbed into the 10th Air Force on July 4, 1942, and redesignated the China Air Task Force. Chennault, recalled to active duty as a brigadier general, was named its commander. In March, 1943, the China Air Task Force became the independent US 14th.
Meanwhile, two British land campaigns were set in motion in Burma to combat the growing Japanese forces there which were threatening to drive across the Indian border and cut off the ATC bases now being built in Northeast India. Both these ground operations were on a limited scale. On the central front, Britain's Gen Orde Charles Wingate infiltrated a brigade of jungle troops through the Japanese and for three months harried the rear areas while depending wholly on air supply. Farther south, in the Arakan, the British engaged in an orthodox, unsuccessful campaign.
Basing its decision on the experience of these two operations, the Quebec conference in August, 1943, approved plans for a determined drive the following year a drive which was to utilize the lessons of 1943 and profit from a unified command, coordinating efforts of the 10th Air Force and the RAF Bengal Air Command under the Eastern Air Command, commanded by Maj Gen George Stratemeyer. As the India forces were depleted in 1942 to support the Middle East, they were reinforced from the Middle East once the African campaign was won. The 7th Bomb Group (H) was the one which was called out of India and it was sent back. The 12th Bomb Group (M), whose Mitchells had fought across North Africa, also was assigned to the 10th Air Force.
The push began in late 1943 with a limited British-Indian offensive into the Arakan. As it moved ahead, Japanese infiltration units struck the rear lines and cut communications. But unlike the previous year, the troops now were supplied by aerial drops from planes of Brig Gen. William D Old's Troop Carrier Command. They held, strengthened, and broke out of the trap.
Northward on the central front, a similar situation developed. Two British-Indian columns, moving out of Imphal, had been hit on the north and the south flanks by a major Japanese drive. The enemy pressed on, entrapping the British on the Imphal plain and posing a critical threat to the Assam-Bengal railway over which supplies were moved to Chinese-American forces building the Ledo road.
For the second time General Old's Troop Carrier Command came to the rescue. The 5th Indian Division, with all its mountain batteries and mules, was lifted into the Imphal area in 60 hours. Two brigade groups were flown to Kohima. Two hospitals and thousands of wounded and non-essential personnel were flown out. And, most important of all, food and ammunition were flown in.
The result was inevitable. The British troops had a secure air supply route while the Japanese had a land supply route which was under constant harassment by combat planes. The threat to India was ended and these operations became the pattern for the ensuing campaign for all Burma.
Japan's forces in Burma were supplied by a long, slender rail-highway-river system, with only a few lines running north and south. The interdiction campaign in Burma was based on the fact that with Rangoon and other south Burma ports under sustained air attack the enemy was forced to use Bangkok as his principal port. This meant carrying supplies on an additional stretch of rickety railroad running through miles of coastal country before they could be moved north. There were hundreds of bridges on this line. The solution, then, to denial of supplies to the enemy was to knock out the bridges and railroad trackage. This was done with regularity. The Japs were skillful at repair but our aircraft were able to keep ahead of the repair crews. Radio-guided bombs were used with excellent results, and Liberators even worked out a 25° dive angle technique which increased accuracy. The Jap supply problem became critical, and troops at the north end of the line eventually became starved and disease-ridden. These were the troops facing Gen Stilwell's Chinese-American forces who were working their way ahead of the engineers building the Ledo road.
Air supply was vital to Stilwell's drive. A picked group of 3,000 volunteers Merrill's Marauders following the technique of General Wingate, struck off into the jungle as an advance spearhead probing toward Myitkyina. From February 23 until May 17 when Myitkyina airfield was taken the Marauders were entirely supplied by air. Nearly 8,000 Chinese troops were flown over the Hump from Yunnanyi, China, in one operation, as front-line reinforcements for Stilwell's forces. By the end of October, 1944, 75,527 personnel had been flown into North Burma, 7,693 had been shifted within the area, and 28,181 had been flown out.
In yet another 1944 operation an army was able to make a deliberate choice of entrapment through reliance on air. The 1st Air Commando Group under Col Philip G Cochran was organized to put General Wingate's troops inside Burma between Myitkyina and Katha, to supply them, to evacuate the casualties, and to sweep in front of the columns with bombers and fighters. The objective of Wingate's men was to cut supply lines in the rear of Japanese troops opposing Stilwell and Merrill.
March 5 was D-Day for Wingate and Cochran. Take-off time was set to put the gliders, with their cargoes of troops, airborne engineers, bulldozers and mules, over the secret jungle clearings of "Broadway" and "Piccadilly" just after dusk. So secret was the operation that the clearings were not reconnoitered for fear the Japanese would divine the intention and obstruct them. But, on a hunch, Colonel Cochran sent a photo reconnaissance plane out the afternoon of D-Day. Its wet prints were handed to him 15 minutes before take-off and he found that Piccadilly was a death trap. The Japs had covered it with logs.
Plans were changed swiftly to put the force down on Broadway alone and, with a postponement of only 30 minutes, the first wave of 26 transports, each towing two gliders, headed east. A second wave was dispatched, but all planes except one were called back because the landing field had become littered with gliders that had smashed up in landing due to overloading. Of the 54 gliders in the first wave, 17 did not reach Piccadilly because tow lines snapped.
Despite the losses and confusion, 539 personnel, three mules and 29,972 pounds of supplies and equipment were landed that first night. Airborne engineers went to work and by the next afternoon Broadway was ready for Skytrains.
Complete surprise had been achieved. A second field was set up the night after the first. Men and supplies poured in. By D plus 6, the total was 9,052 men, 175 planes, 1,183 mules and 509,083 pounds of stores. During the entire operation our bombers and fighters were masters of the air above Wingate's troops.
More troops and supplies were ferried to the fighting area. Light planes landed beside the advancing columns on hastily scratched-out clearings, to pick up casualties. The exact statistics on the 'grasshoppers" will never be available because the commandos took literally General Arnold's injunction: "To hell with paper work; go out and fight." A reasonable guess is that they flew more than 8,000 sorties.
When the 20th Bomber Command's Superfortresses ended operations in China in late 1944 they turned their heavy loads loose in aid of the Burma campaign while awaiting a final shift to the Marianas. Singapore and Palembang were hit but blows against Rangoon and Bangkok were their principal assignments. In their first maximum-load attack each plane dropped 40 500-pound bombs, wiping out a Rangoon rail yard.
While the North Burma forces were advancing, British-Indian troops which had withstood the Jap attack at Imphal also took the offensive. Their advance was speeded by air leaps to airheads (airfields captured or built to keep supply bases near the advancing front). When on March 8, 1945, Mandalay and Lashio fell, the route to China was clear.
Rangoon remained. By 1945 it was almost useless to Japan but not until it was in Allied hands would the Burma campaign be ended. The British, with air lashing out in front of them, continued southward. Lieut Gen Sir William Slim, commanding the troops, radioed the 12th Bomb Group: "You have been a powerful factor in helping us give the little bastards a thorough thrashing."
By March, 1945, the southward-moving troops in Burma wholly dependent on air supply totaled 356,000. With the monsoon season near, it was decided to bridge the distance to Rangoon by a seaborne invasion aided by the whole weight of Allied aircraft. On May 1, Gurkha paratroopers jumped from Skytrains, swept meager resistance aside, and the next day the seaborne troops piled ashore to find Rangoon abandoned. The Burma campaign was over.
All this time the 14th Air Force, which eventually included the Chinese-American Composite Wing, made up of US-trained Chinese and AAF airmen, was ranging over China, assisted by a reporting net of thousands of Chinese. Initially it operated from bases prepared or planned before America's entry into the war. It gradually acquired new bases until finally there were 63 which the coolies had laboriously fashioned. Because of them General Chennault was able to shift his forces when enemy air or ground opposition became too threatening as it often did and employ them without delay against new targets.
Greatest of the bases was Chengtu. Its nine fields were built in 1944 in nine months by a peak of 365,000 workers who moved two million cubic yards of earth and laid two and a quarter million cubic yards of paving at a total cost of nine billion Chinese dollars. This was the Superfort forward staging base from which the first attack was launched on Japan. It also was the springboard for attacks on North China, Manchuria, and Formosa.
General Chennault's flyers had no connection with the Superfortresses other than defense of the bases. Their main duties were: protection of the Hump, close cooperation with China's armies and attacks on shipping and rail communications.
The 14th made up for its tiny size by reliance on deception, at which Chennault was a past master. He knew the capabilities, numbers and speeds of the enemy and by the judicious employment of feints and bluffs he used this knowledge to insure that he met the enemy where and when he wanted. Thus, even in the early days when he was greatly outnumbered, he often managed to have local air superiority and almost always managed to be on top of the enemy so that the high diving speed of his Warhawks would count. In one case, late in 1942, Chennault saw to it that Japanese agents got wind of an impending strike from a forward base against Hong Kong. The mission got under way on schedule; the Japs got set to defend Hong Kong. At the last minute, the US force of eight bombers and 22 fighters, after apparently being on the way past Canton to Hong Kong, swung sharply into Canton and caught the off-balance Jap defenders coming up below them. Result: 22-23 Nip planes destroyed in the air and more on the ground; no American planes lost.
General Chennault's bombers ranged over the South and East China seas in quest of Jap shipping. Staging at East China bases for their missions, until these bases were lost early in 1945, they utilized to the fullest low-altitude radar bombing for night and low-ceiling attacks. They became the scourge of ships following the coast, gradually forcing them farther out where they became prey to US submarines.
One of the 14th's most heart-breaking tasks was aid to China's armies. The Japanese always had enough more than enough land power to go where they would against the stubbornly contesting but ill-equipped Chinese. The 14th could, and did, impede the advances and make them costly. It could do little more, but in the final analysis that was enough. Japan's unwillingness to pay the price always saved China.
The first direct air aid to troops was in the late spring of 1943 when the enemy launched a limited offensive south and southwest of the Yangtze river in the Tungting Lake area. Only a few planes were available. About all that could be placed on the credit side of the ledger was experience for the pilots and bolstered morale for the overpowered Chinese. Later in 1943, seven Jap divisions struck at Changteh, southeast of Tungting Lake. This time they met stiffer ground resistance, heavier air attack from a stronger 14th Air Force. The Japanese had sufficient power to move ahead but they were looking for a cheap victory and this was not the place. They withdrew.
The high tide of the Japanese advance in China came in 1944. Between May and the end of the year the invaders, driving west from Canton and southwest toward Indo-China, severed East China from West China with consequent isolation of East China air bases, captured the air bases at Hengyang, Lingling, Kweilin, Liuchow and Nanning, and established a continuous line of communication from French Indo-China to North China. In early 1945 the Japanese seized all of the north-south rail line from Hankow to Canton, then pushed eastward and took the 14th's East China airfields at Suichwan and Kanchow. Loss of territory was nothing new to the Chinese; they had been giving ground since 1937. But evacuation and demolition of the laboriously constructed airfields and the necessary destruction of precious supplies was a bitter blow to them as well as to the 14th.
Although Chennault's men were driven from one base to another, operations against rail lines and freight yards, supply depots, airfields, moving troops and river shipping were carried on relentlessly. Throughout this period, as earlier, the incredibly vast Chinese information net was invaluable. When river craft assembled and river shipping was an integral part of the transportation system the 14th was advised. Its total tally of 24,299 miscellaneous river craft claimed sunk or damaged was the result. So effective were its rail attacks that Japan could neither fully use the lines she had nor extend lines which would have exploited the Indo-China link. From the days of the AVG, qualitative superiority in the air was always on the side of China. The 2,353 Jap aircraft destroyed and the 780 probably destroyed in China were never replaced in sufficient numbers to overcome the more effective fighter pilots, bomber crews, tactics and planes of the United States.
So complete was the aerial mastery that Japan dared not attack by day and its last inland night bombings were against Kunming in December, 1944. By April, 1945, all air attacks against American or Chinese installations had ended and the Japanese air force in China was an all but forgotten foe.
When Jap reverses in southwest China and in north Burma finally led to re-opening of the land route to China in the early spring of 1945, one of the tasks which had been set before our air power in Asia in 1942 had been accomplished. But the picture was no longer the same. ATC was flying into China a greater tonnage than the road could ever carry and the triumphant Pacific forces of the United States were pounding Japan from island and carrier bases. Japan, now, began to withdraw her forces from their points of deep penetration. As they moved back, they were pushed by the revitalized Chinese and hit by everything which could be thrown at them from the air. However, it was a planned withdrawal. Japan was through as an occupant of interior China. Her position in the war had deteriorated to a point where the occupation brought her returns that were continually diminishing.
The Japanese warlords' proud plans for Asia had been crushed when air power and land power were linked to turn back the thrust toward India and to re-open the Burma road. Their hope of substituting a land route for the effectively shattered sea route to the riches of the south faded when the 14th blasted their highways, railroads and river craft into uselessness. The value of China as a granary for them lessened as their cargo carriers, in ever increasing numbers, splintered from bombs and bullets. They were opposed by armies strengthened by airborne equipment and supplies. And, finally, having lost the air, their own armies were wide open to the most-feared fate of any ground force constant, unchallenged attack by the opposing air force.
So the Japanese withdrew, moving north under pressure of ground and air forces. And the 14th in the final days of war shifted its attack to the targets far to the north which stood before the Soviet armies; targets that never were needed.
The blockade of Japan was, from the beginning of the war, one of the main objectives of American air and sea power. It was postulated on a set of conditions which were believed to make Japan at least as vulnerable to blockade as any great power in modern history. First, she was surrounded by water. Second, she had a huge population and depended on extra-territorial sources for at least 20 per cent of her food. Her nutritional standards were so low already that denial of this 20 per cent was expected to result in privation for a large part of the population. Third, much of her manufacturing potential was in the home islands, whereas most of the raw materials which her industries consumed were not. For example, 90 per cent of all oil came from overseas, 88 per cent of all iron and 24 per cent of all coal. Fourth, the bulk of her domestic coal supply was in Kyushu and Hokkaido, with the result that 57 per cent of all coal was water-borne at some point between mine and factory. Fifth, terrain and the comparatively poor development of the Japanese rail system made her very dependent, even for domestic transport, on coastal vessels.
In short, Japan had to have a large and active merchant fleet if she expected to exist as an effective combatant. This fleet reached its maximum size in 1942. It consisted of about 5,000 vessels of over 100 tons each, and had a total gross weight of 7,500,000 tons. (No calculation has been made of the small coastal vessels, river boats and sampans of under 100 tons gross weight.) Because of the rapid expansion of Jap military activity to the south in the early days of the war this fleet was strained to the utmost and attacks by American submarines and aircraft were felt immediately. The 5th Air Force ravaged shipping lanes to the south, introducing, in the all-important Battle of the Bismarck Sea, low-level skip bombing by its Mitchells This was a growing scourge until the end of the war. In the Southwest Pacific, the 13th Air Force developed a highly successful long-range snooper technique for its Liberators.
The 14th concentrated on river shipping and vessels traveling along the China coast, achieving notable success with a method for making low-level night strikes by radar. Carrier-based Navy planes sank ships everywhere. But the real vampire on Japan's jugular vein proved to be the submarine. Day in and day out it chewed its way through more than 100,000 tons a month with relentless regularity. The effects of these attacks were manifold. They led to a general weakening of the Jap effort on the various southern and island fronts and eventually dictated a squatter policy in these places rather than one of aggressive military development. In addition to this they so restricted the delivery of raw materials to Japan that an increasing number of manufacturing plants was left idle. Finally, US submarine depredations caused a virtual abandonment by cargo vessels of the great east-coast Japanese ports of Tokyo, Yokohama and Nagoya. This was more important than it sounds. It meant that a vast amount of shipping was now being funneled into a few places: the Shimonoseki Strait, whence it could proceed in safety up through the Inland Sea; and a handful of smaller ports on Japan's west coast, from which cargoes were transported to the manufacturing centers by rail. The first half of the job was now done. The aerial half remained. If we could clog up Shimonoseki and these west-coast ports with mines, Japan would almost certainly crumble rapidly as an organized industrial society.
It was not until the spring of 1945 that development of air bases within range of Japan had proceeded to a point where a mining campaign could be undertaken on the huge scale believed necessary for success. By that time Japan's merchant marine was down to about 2,500,000 tons. She had been completely unable to replace losses, and as the space in which her remaining ships could operate became more and more constricted the airplane became an increasingly terrible menace. In January, 1945, aircraft accounted for more than double the number of ships sunk by subs.
The first mining mission was flown on March 27 by Superfortresses which sowed 900 mines in the approaches to Shimonoseki Strait, Japan's greatest bottleneck and by that time, handling 40 per cent of all marine traffic. In the next four months over 12,000 mines were laid, completing the largest blockade in history, one that literally strangled Japan.
To complete the blockade of Japan started by the submarine, Operation Starvation (strategic mining of Japanese waters by Superfortresses) was commenced on March 27, 1945. The mines used were of two sizes: 1,000 pounds for water up to 15 fathoms, and 2,000 pounds for water up to 25 fathoms. All of them rested on the sea bottom and could function properly in 10 feet of mud.
Mechanically, the mines were a marvel of ingenuity. Said one Superfort pilot, "The damned things can do everything but fry eggs." They could be equipped with a "ship count" device which permitted a specified number of ships to pass into their field of influence without causing detonation. This effectively foiled Jap minesweepers but was only used occasionally because it allowed some valuable tonnage to slip by. A "delayed arming" device permitted the mine to come alive only after a specified time had elapsed. Every mine was equipped with a "sterilizing" mechanism which rendered it impotent after a predetermined period. The mining campaign was divided into five operational stages, described in the following paragraphs:
Phase I: March 27 to May 2. This was planned in support of the Okinawa operation. By mining the great ports of Kure, Hiroshima, Tokayama (naval fueling point) and the big base at Sasebo, naval units which otherwise would have rushed to the defense of Okinawa, were blockaded. Equally important was the mining of Shimonoseki Strait, which prevented the enemy fleet from speeding to Okinawa through Shimonoseki and down the relatively safe western side of Kyushu.
Phase II: May 3 To May 12. Called the "Industrial Center Blockade," this phase severed all major shipping lanes between the great industrial cities which depended on water transportation for 75 per cent of their goods. The operation extended from Shimonoseki Strait east to Tokyo Bay, with particular emphasis on the vital Kobe-Osaka port system. Ship passages in the strait were reduced to two and four a day by the end of May, compared with 40 a day in March.
Phase III: May 13 To June 6. The "minelayers" now went to work on ports in northwestern Honshu, even going as far up as Niigata, which the Japs thought was "too far north" for the Superforts. As a result, the heavy and direct ship routes to the Asiatic mainland thinned away to almost nothing. At the same time, the Superforts continued to pollute the Shimonoseki Strait. In fact, nearly half of all mines dropped during Starvation were earmarked for this bottleneck area.
Phase IV: June 7 To July 8. Intensified mining of northwestern Honshu and Kyushu ports maintained the blockade. The great port system of Kobe-Osaka was also mined repeatedly, as these ports were offering repair facilities to wounded Jap shipping which was constantly attempting to limp through the Inland sea.
Phase V: July 9 To August 15. To complete the blockade, mines were dropped again on major harbors of northwest Honshu and Kyushu, and as a final touch the Superforts mined Fusan, on Korea's southern tip, and other Korean ports. On August 6 only 15,000 tons of operational shipping were photographed at Fusan, whereas over 100,000 tons had been spotted there a few months earlier. Ship losses for Phase V were estimated to be in excess of 300,000 tons. Only a trickle of traffic still flowed from the continent to Japan. All raw material shipment had ceased and the shipment of food was only a fraction of that required.
As for the aircraft score, a total of 1,528 Superforts were airborne to lay 12,053 mines in the targets with the loss of 15 aircraft. In a unique operation, demanding the utmost precision and navigational skill, the 313th Wing of the 21st Bomber Command, and particularly its 505th Group, had made possible the first strategic mining blockade in military history.
Behind every combat mission flown by the Superfortresses lay an incredible amount of training, planning, sweat, sacrifice, and guts. This informal report touches only a few random details of the story. If they jostle together incongruously a general's courageous decision next to a sergeant's silver dollar it can only be pointed out, perhaps platitudinously, that life itself is incongruous and final values are seldom known.
The history of Superfort operations in the Pacific can be dated from the arrival of the first bomber, an event which a corporal in an air service group celebrated in a lengthy ballad. It began:
THE FIRST B-29
On the thirteenth of October back in nineteen forty-four
The citizens of Saipan heard a great four-motor roar.
Bulldozers fled the runway, and soldiers stopped to cheer
As down come Joltin' Josie the Pacific Pioneer.
And all the Japs still lurking in the cane fields and the caves
Peered out in fear, and ghosts of Japs were peering from their graves.
Their plans for co-prosperity they knew they'd have to cancel
As out of Joltin' Josie bounded General Haywood Hansell.
In stanzas that are somewhat less flowing, but historically accurate, the corporal told how the first air service groups had moved in two months earlier, built roads out of crushed coral, hauled supplies, set up maintenance equipment on the line "to be ready for the coming of the first B-29." In full detail he designated Brigadier General Hansell as the commander of the 21st Bomber Command, told of the long training period in high-altitude flying over the plains of Kansas, the six shakedown missions over Truk and Iwo, the three famous recon missions of Tokyo Rose, and ended up with the first Tokyo attack on December 24 when 111 Superfortresses at Isely Field, Saipan, took off on the 1,500-mile-long "Hirohito Highway" to bomb the Musashino aircraft engine plant.
The No 1 problem was weather. Japanese weather showed its hand right from the start. On the first Tokyo mission only seven per cent of the bombs were dropped on the target, due to heavy cloud cover. (Radar was an invaluable aid to navigation, but it could not at that time insure precision from high altitudes.) During the first two and a half months that the 73rd Wing, commanded by General O'Donnell, carried on alone, its bombing results were far from decisive. But this was a period of courage and dauntless perseverance, when problems were discovered, diagnosed, and solved, a period as essential to the ultimate success of the 20th Air Force as a firm foundation is to a fort.
Indicative of the 73rd Wing's fighting spirit is the fact that in 10 days, starting with its debut over Tokyo, the Jap capital was walloped four times and this despite the hazards of blazing a new air route, flying a new and not fully perfected type of aircraft. Once it had started, the Wing kept punching to the limit of its strength.
The Japs struck back. Shortly after midnight November 27, when the Superfortresses were lined up on Saipan's runway to launch at dawn their second Tokyo strike, Jap raiders sneaked in to bomb and strafe the base. One Superfort received a direct hit. It exploded and damaged other aircraft on adjacent hardstands. But the mission was run as scheduled.
Radio Tokyo was broadcasting threats of Kamikaze rammings. These seldom materialized but they were a source of some anxiety to our crews. Jap fighters appeared to be bamboozled by the high speed and heavy armament of the Superfort. Almost all of their effective attacks were head-on. At high altitudes they didn't have enough speed differential to attack from any other quarter. And even in head-on attacks, with a closing speed of more than 500 mph, the Superfort could usually dodge its attackers by a quick flip of the wing.
Jap fighters found they could do better by waiting until some Superfort, crippled by flak, lagged behind its formation, and then, like vultures pouncing on wounded prey, chase it 50 or 100 miles out to sea. In most cases, though, the plane got away.
This policy of attacking stragglers continued throughout the war, It was counteracted by our "Buddy System," in which one Superfort would fall out of formation to defend the crippled plane and, if it had to ditch, circle above the survivors, dropping life rafts and directing air-sea rescue units to the scene. Sometimes an entire formation would slow up in order that a limping Superfort could keep pace.
Fighter attacks, however, grew more and more fierce and accounted for most of our losses over the target. (At very high altitudes flak was generally too inaccurate to be effective.) During the first five high-altitude strikes (28,000 to 33,000 feet) on the Mitsubishi aircraft plant at north Nagoya, the Superforts were met by a total of 1,731 fighter attacks. Our gunners shot down 48, probably destroyed 50 others. And on the Wing's 14th strike against the Jap homeland on January 27, "fighter opposition of unparalleled intensity was met." Combat reports go on to tell how "fanatical hopped-up pilots pressed their attacks right down the formation's stream of fire, dove into formations to attempt rammings, and sprayed fire at random." Five Superforts went down over the target. Two ditched on the way home, and 33 returned with battle scars. In turn, the Superforts on this same mission destroyed 60 Jap fighters.
"Fuji in '44" became the name of a select group of airmen who had used the famous Japanese mountain as a check point. Pictures of Superfortress formations against snow-capped Fuji appeared as often in the Marianas as pictures of Niagara Falls in old-time parlors.
Greatest hindrance to bombing accuracy was the high winds over the target. At 30,000 feet, high wind velocities up to 230 mph were met, causing ground speeds as high as 550 mph when bombing downwind. These velocities were far beyond the maximum provided for in the AAF bombing tables. Moreover, the crews were often subjected to extreme cold when the pressurizing system in their planes was knocked out by enemy fire. This gave rise to a grim quip having to do with a remedy for fleas. "Take your fleas with you over Japan, and stab them with an ice pick."
But by now one fact was clear: the Superfortress could take it. It had come through its baptism of fire, had felt the full force of Jap fury and Jap weather. It was a superb combat weapon.
By now, also, it was clear to any observer that the strategy for bombing Japan would follow much the same pattern as in Germany. And this was to bomb aircraft production first. As set forth in FM 100-20 on the Command and Employment of Air Power, "The gaining of air superiority is the first requirement for the success of any major land operation."
Before any priority targets were selected, however, intelligence material was culled from every conceivable source. In marked contrast to the European theater, where US target specialists could benefit from British intelligence and where the Germans themselves, with their zeal for documentation, had published volumes of facts and figures about their resources, wartime Japan was virtually terra incognita.
Planning war for many years, the naturally secretive Japanese had taken extra pains that their plans should not be known. In one of history's greatest fact hunts, information had to be pieced together from reports made by missionaries, commercial travelers, former residents of Japan, US engineers who had been hired to build Jap plants, even from snapshots taken by American summer tourists. Added to this were the first reconnaissance photos taken back in the spring of 1944 by 20th Air Force pilots whose daring China-based photo missions, flown by single Superfortresses deep into enemy territory, were among the war's most heroic deeds.
Starting with this remarkable compendium, much of it still valid, two committees met in Washington: the Committee of Operational Analysts and the Joint Target Committee. They compiled a list of 1,000 precision objectives. From this the Joint Chiefs of Staff picked out Jap aircraft production, the coke, steel, and oil industries, shipping, and the Japanese industrial urban areas as major targets. The final priority list was drawn up by the COA in this order:
To transmute a general Washington directive into specific orders for individual bomb crews in the Marianas required still a vast amount of work. In rough outline, this is what happened.
The job was assigned to target specialists of the Bomber Command's A-2 (Intelligence), cooperating closely with A-3 (Operations). Their most crucial need was for detailed, up-to-date facts about specific targets and the routes thereto. These had to be obtained largely from aerial photos. Starting in November, 1944, and operating out of the Marianas, the 3rd Photo Squadron ran almost daily missions to Japan, flying Superforts modified for camera equipment. Guns, incidentally, were not sacrificed. By August 1 the squadron had completed 433 such missions and had photographed literally every square mile of Japan. Here were the eyes of the B-29ers the advance echelon of eyes
Once the film was printed the PIs (photographic interpreters) got busy. They scrutinized each print through magnifying glasses, spotted enemy defenses, landmarks, analyzed targets, even estimated what kind of building materials were used so that the bomb experts would know what type of bombs could do most damage.
Armed with such data, the A-2 and A-3 men at headquarters then proceeded to lay out specific missions.
The technique of planning a mission evolved with practice. Eventually, a planning meeting was devised, an informal round-table gathering of veteran operations officers, along with specialists on targets, navigation, weather, enemy fighters and antiaircraft defenses, radar, radio, armament, ordnance, and chemical warfare. Pure theory was not represented. These were men who from first-hand flying experience "knew what the hell it was all about."
Together they drew up a kind of blue print for each mission. It told the force required, bomb loads, routes and altitudes to and from the target, navigational check points, aiming points, axis and altitude of attack. These missions were then submitted to the commanding general for his approval, and wrapped up for future use.
Immediately, however, each complete "blue print" was sent to the A-2 at each wing headquarters. Called a fragmentary plan, it was a tip-off, a forewarning of what missions might be coming up, any time from three days to three weeks. Several such plans might be submitted at one time.
Thanks to this advance warning, the wing A-2s could assemble most of the data for a mission maps, charts, and so on and keep them on file until more specific orders were issued. This system also enabled the wings to recommend target studies, based on the fragmentary plan, for their own respective bomber groups. In other words, it enabled the airplane crews to do homework on possible future targets, instead of depending entirely on the final briefings.
Headquarters staff also benefited by the system. They were not committed far in advance to bomb any single target. They could cut their cloth according to last-minute requirements. Had they been committed and, for example, had the targets been "socked in" by bad weather, it would have meant sitting idle until the weather improved. Now there were alternate targets to pick from, and the entire air force was ready to roll on any one of them.
Final orders from the 21st Bomber Command were issued by the commanding general in two installments.
Each wing issued its own field orders, which included the order of take-off for each group. The group A-3 then prepared a schedule, known as a flimsy, which was handed to every airplane commander, stating the exact time and order of takeoff for each individual aircraft within the group.
Thus each pilot, with his briefing and target study in mind, and with his target folder and flimsy in hand, was ready to bomb Japan, backed up by the knowledge and experience of many thousand men. In the deepest sense, the 11 crewmen in a Superfortress did not fly alone.
Meanwhile, a pattern of living had begun to take form and with minor variations repeated itself on all three islands: Saipan, Guam, Tinian. The battered remnants of Japanese occupation were pushed aside. The Age of the Bulldozer had dawned. Seabees and aviation engineers pitched their pup tents in the morning near some clump of trees for a landmark, and at nightfall they couldn't find their way home. The landmark was gone. The bulldozers had been around. Acres of jungle were unrooted in a few hours, making way for new air strips and bivouac areas. What once looked like a tropical paradise on a tinted postcard took on the character of all American pioneer settlements shanty towns, lumber camps, gold rush towns.
By April Guam's Route No 1 became what is practically the symbol of America: a straight paved road, lined with telephone poles, and jammed with traffic. You felt that such a highway must lead to a big city. The road had other plans. Riding northward on Route No 1, you came to a rise, and then suddenly it was spread out before you; North field with its two 8,500-foot runways, its miles of taxi strips and hardstands, covered by a sea of Superfortresses, their rows of wings shining in the sun, their tail rudders arching up like surf. It was a satisfying way for one highway to end and another to begin.
A take-off at North field is scheduled for 1900 (7 PM). It is a maximum effort job, involving all four groups of one wing, or about 140 planes. Ground crews, officers, enlisted men line up on the mounds of coral along both runways. Two by two, the planes begin to take off, slowly at first as if they could never raise their tremendous bulk. As each set of wheels finally leaves the ground each man feels a sense of relief. In less than an hour, the entire group is airborne. Tail lights dwindle into the clouds and the last planes are out of sight. Not out of mind.
Sweating out a mission is an Air Force rite. Different men do it in different ways, some by playing poker, or waiting for radio reports, or trying to sleep and forget. But nobody quite forgets. A ground crew member who is charged with keeping a certain No 3 engine in perfect condition, and has named it after his wife, is sweating out all 18 cylinders of No 3. A colonel who briefed a group of enemy fighter opposition wonders whether his briefing will save or cost lives. Not all sweating is done on the ground. The crews in the air are thinking ahead about the few minutes over the target. A bomber outfit is full of thinkers.
So seldom do these inner emotions produce any outer evidence, that when they do it is worth noting. There was one target known as "Old 357," or "General O'Donnell's Pet Little Target." It was the important Nakajima aircraft plant near Tokyo. To destroy it became the special job of the 73rd Wing on Saipan, and the target seemed to be jinxed. They bombed it on 13 different missions, at a cost of 58 planes. On the nights before the later missions were run to Old 357 the barracks where the crew members slept were quiet and dark as usual. There was only the meagerest evidence of what was going on in their minds, while they took the bomb run over and over again. while they weighed their chances of living or dying. It was a row of cigarettes glowing in the dark.
To every Superfort crew who flew to Japan after March, the fact that Iwo Jima had become a US base was a cause for thanksgiving. Iwo is eight miles long a very little island. But never did so little mean as much to so many. Located about midway between Guam and Japan, Iwo broke the long stretch both going and coming. If you had engine trouble, you held out for Iwo. If you were shot up over Japan and had wounded aboard, you held out for Iwo. If the weather was too rough, you held out for Iwo. Formations assembled over Iwo and gassed up at Iwo for extra long missions, If you needed fighter escort, it usually came from Iwo, If you had to ditch or bail out, you knew that air-sea rescue units were sent from Iwo. Even if you never used Iwo as an emergency base, it was a psychological benefit. It was there to fall back on.
From March 4, when the first crippled Superfortress landed there, to the end of the war, 2,251 Superforts landed at Iwo. A large number of these would have been lost if Iwo had not been available. Each of them carried 11 crewmen, a total of 24,761 men. It cost 4,800 dead, 15,800 wounded, and 400 missing to take the island, a terrific price for the Navy and Marines to pay but one for which every man who served with the 20th Air Force and 7th Fighter Command is eternally grateful.
Iwo started with a crude dirt runway that barely accommodated the first Superfort, which was refueled by gasoline carried in the helmets of Marines. At war's end it had an elaborate system of black-top runways, gas pumps and machinery which could handle scores of Superfortresses.
This is where Maj Charles A (Rocky) Stone came in. They called him chief of B-29 maintenance but it was easier to see him as the operator of "Rocky's Wayside Service Station," the most important drop-in-and-fix-it station in the world. Rocky is an ex-navigator who got his Iwo job by telling a colonel in the States, "Sir, I think your maintenance section stinks." A produce trucker from California, Rocky, with his square, stubble-bearded face under a billed cap and a hunk of tobacco always clamped in his jaw, looked the part of a big-time shop foreman.
In the grand strategy of the Pacific war, Iwo Jima was expected to serve primarily as a base for fighter-escorting Superforts. As stated above, it served the Superforts even more importantly. But it did become the base for the 7th Fighter Command, which made combat history in its own right.
Pilots of the 7th flew some of the longest, toughest missions ever undertaken by a fighter outfit. They had to fly in weather that earned every foul name in the Army's lexicon of abuse. Jack-knifed into the cramped cockpits of their Mustangs, they flew for eight or nine hours over 1,600 miles of sea, for only a few minutes' strafing of enemy airfields and other targets. "It wasn't so bad after the first hour because your legs got numb," said one pilot. "But when you got home, you didn't feel much like sitting. You were raw."
The Mustangs started moving to Iwo early in March. The first chores were aid on Iwo itself to the still embattled Marines, and neutralizing raids against Jap positions in the nearby Bonins. As all-around trouble shooters, the Mustangs often found that trouble had evaporated before they had much chance to shoot at it. The expected Jap attacks on Iwo seldom materialized. In part, this was because the presence of fighters scared them off and partly because, with the loss of Iwo and the threatened loss of Okinawa, the Japs decided to pull in their horns and concentrate on Kamikaze attacks.
On April 7 the Fighter Command began what presumably was to be its No 1 assignment. One hundred and eight Mustangs took off to escort B-29s on a daylight mission to Tokyo, and proved their usefulness at once by shooting down 21 Jap fighters at a loss of only two Mustangs. From that date until the Jap surrender, 10 escort missions were flown. This relatively small number was due to the sudden increase of night incendiary attacks for which no escort was required.
The fighters' real foe, as always, was weather. On June 1, as they returned from escorting Superforts on a daylight incendiary attack on Osaka, 24 Mustangs were lost in a frontal area extending from the surface to 23,000 feet, with zero visibility, heavy rain, snow and icing conditions. What these planes went through, battered and tossed in a seething cauldron of black weather, nobody will ever know. Two more fighters collided and crashed. One pilot from the 44th Fighter Squadron spent six days in a one-man raft and was knocked out of the raft five times by waves. He was finally picked up by a submarine, which by pure luck happened to be surfaced. On his fifth day he weathered the typhoon which ripped the bow off the cruiser Pittsburgh. His only comment on the ordeal was, "I just sat there."
On April 16 the command began its series of sweeps on Jap ground installations and for the first time was in business for itself. Altogether, it was able to launch 33 effective strikes and was going strong when the war ended, a partner of the much bigger and, of course, more powerful Navy carrier air forces.
There is no question that these attacks helped deny the Japs the use of airfields in the Tokyo-Nagoya-Osaka area, while the Okinawa-based fighters did likewise for the Kyushu-Shikoku area. The Japs were forced to camouflage their planes under trees, in revetments, in cemeteries. Planes were parked as far as five miles from airfields, which meant that by the time a plane had been taxied to its field its engines had become so overheated that it couldn't be flown for awhile. This enforced dispersal complicated the Jap maintenance problem tenfold and the Japs at best were never too good at maintenance. From the fighter pilot's viewpoint it was discouraging sometimes to get all the way to Japan and not be able to rip into a sitting duck.
With airfields knocked out, railroads, power houses, factories, and coastwise shipping became prime targets of opportunity. As a sidelight, it is interesting to note that the Japs appeared to have no adequate aircraft warning facilities. Our fighters were continually catching Japs running for cover, jumping off bicycles, piling out of trains and trucks, even running from tennis courts. It became a court martial offense to strafe civilians and non-military targets such as isolated houses, silos, hospitals, schools.
The success oi the fighter strikes depended to a large extent on licking the navigational problem. this involved a reversal of the standard procedure of fighters escorting bombers and required that the Superforts be used as escorts. The tactical unit for the Mustangs was the group, which consisted of three squadrons of 16 planes each, plus two spares per squadron. The fighters took off two at a time, with 15-second intervals between each pair, and fell into formation about five miles offshore, then proceeded to the rendezvous point at Kita, a pinpoint volcanic island about 40 miles north. There the group joined three navigational Superforts which had taken off from Iwo about a half hour earlier, and were circling over Kita until the fighters pulled in,
It was the job of the big planes to lead the little ones across the 600-mile stretch of sea to Japan, giving them the benefit of their superior navigational aids, and standing ready to drop rescue equipment in case a fighter was forced down. The lead squadron of the fighter group flew about a quarter of a mile behind the Superforts, and other formations followed close after.
Thus chaperoned, the fighters proceeded to the Departure Point, usually about 20 or 30 miles off the Jap coast, and then struck off by themselves to attack the target. Meanwhile, the Superforts proceeded 50 or 100 miles to the Rally Point, where the fighters were expected to reassemble after the strike. For the Superforts, it was simply a case of circling the Rally Point for a half hour or longer, waiting for the scrappy small fry to come back if they did.
It was customary for each group to concentrate on only one target at a time, in order to provide mutual protection against enemy air attack and ground fire. Usually two squadrons attacked the target, while the third provided top cover. Then the covering squadron came down and took a crack at the target, while another squadron went upstairs. But the group as a unit always stuck together. After the strike, the planes proceeded by units of not less than a pair back to the Rally Point where the Superforts were waiting.
The rounding-up of the fighters was expedited by a system of plane-to-plane radio telephone communication, which enabled one or more groups of fighters to be in constant touch with their navigational guides. (This same system links the fighters with air-sea-rescue units, and has been responsible for saving the lives of many pilots lost in bad weather or forced down at sea.) The fighter pilots and their Superfort guides are like characters in a vast combat drama, making their entrances and exits as they careen through the clouds at lightning speed, speaking lines that sound like double-talk but are often a matter of life or death.
What follows here is a snatch of dialogue that might be heard as the fighters approach the Rally Point after an attack on Himeji airfield. The code names are fictional, but follow closely the actual names. The characters: 48 fighters called Small Fry; divided into three squadrons known respectively as Doctor, Lawyer, Merchant; three Navigational Superforts Uncle Adam, Uncle Bill, Uncle Charles; a Super Dumbo (air-sea-rescue B-29) known as Cartwheel.
When our action starts, the fighters are just returning to the Rally Point about 20 miles off Japan, where the three Superforts are orbiting, waiting to guide them home.
Uncle Adam: (the lead B-29): Any more Doctor ships approaching the Rally Point? Give Uncle Adam a call.
Uncle Charles: Uncle Adam, this is Uncle Charles. I have seven Doctor ships with me, and 10 Lawyers. I'm proceeding home on a 185 course.
Uncle Adam: All Small Fry coming into the Rally Point: Uncle Charles has just headed on course 185. Follow him. (Five more Small Fry join Uncle Charles and start home. A few minutes later Uncle Bill rounds up 13 Small Fry and also starts home. Uncle Adam waits for three stragglers.)
Doctor Red One (a fighter): This is Doctor Red One calling Cartwheel. (Cartwheel is one of the Super Dumbos, a B-29, circling a submarine posted at one of the Air-Sea-Rescue stations. Due to faulty communication, Cartwheel does not hear the fighter's message.)
Uncle Adam: Doctor Red One, this is Uncle Adam. I'll relay your message to Cartwheel 42.
Doctor Red One: My engine's smoking from flak hit. I'm at Silver Moon, seven Zero (code for his location) Going to splash.
Uncle Adam: Roger. (He switches to a special Air-Sea-Rescue radio channel.) This is Uncle Adam calling Cartwheel 42. Splash at Silver Moon, seven Zero.
Cartwheel 42: Roger. Proceeding to scene of splash.
Doctor Red Two: (wing man to the fighter in trouble): Calling Cartwheel 42. Man in Goodyear (rubber life raft), same position. I'm circling scene with Rooster showing Mayday. (This last remark refers to his IFF system which will help guide Cartwheel 42 to the scene. Again, Uncle Adam relays this message to Cartwheel 42. Within 10 minutes Cartwheel 42 arrives over the man in the rubber raft, and then calls a submarine to the scene. Uncle Adam continues his business.)
Uncle Adam: (Picking up the last two Small Fry.) This is Uncle Adam calling all Small Fry. I'm heading home on course 360 Follow me.
For the Superfort pilots this escort work may sound like a comparatively easy assignment. They did not run into much combat. But most of them would far rather have faced combat and been spared the worry and strain of shepherding a flock of fighter pilots who had become their close friends. "Hell," said one Superfort pilot, as he came back to Iwo after two fighters had been shot down over Japan. "You live and eat with these boys. You take their money at poker. You know all about them. That's why " He didn't feel like talking any more.
Fighters were also aided by radar-equipped Black Widows who, in addition to patrol and combat duties, often guided Mustangs onto Iwo's runways when they were socked in.
Returning from a mission, pilots usually retired to a bath house built especially for fighter clientele. Here was a rubdown table and a row of deep tin tubs. The tubs were fed by hot, sulphurous water that springs from Iwo's volcanic depths. Hot water is an almost unheard-of luxury in the Pacific. After soaking their muscles in these curative baths, US airmen had still another reason to thank God, and the Marines, for one of the world's most ugly, useful islands.
On January 20, Maj. Gen. Curtis LeMay took charge of the 21st Bomber Command, with its headquarters on Guam. He had left Europe in 1944 to assume command of the India-based Superfort operations, two months after they had started. Now he had left India to assume command of Superfort operations in the Marianas two months after the first Tokyo mission. A Superfort can run into a good deal of trouble in two months.
In China the main trouble had been distance, supply and to some extent, weather. In the Marianas it was largely weather. Due to treacherous, unpredictable weather, not one of the 11 priority targets was destroyed in the first 2,000 sorties. A third of the total effort had been spent on Musashino Target 357 and it was only four per cent destroyed. There was only one opportunity for visual bombing during General LeMay's first six weeks at Guam.
Even when good weather prevailed over the target, the Superforts often had to battle their way through severe fronts on the long overseas flight. Formations were scattered and many crews missed the briefed landfall by a considerable distance. With a small fuel reserve on high-altitude missions, errors in navigation were sometimes impossible to correct and aircraft were forced to return early or bomb a target of opportunity. An added obstacle to navigation was the fact that Jap-held islands en route could not be used as check points for fear of alerting the enemy radar system. But the toughest problem, as mentioned earlier, was the terrific wind velocity at high altitudes over Japan. True, some crews were able to hit the target consistently. But they were an exception, proving that more than average training and unusual aptitude were needed to do the lob (a lead crew school was started in an effort to discover and train such leaders). Another result of the high-altitude attacks was the cumulative strain on men and equipment. Long formation flights shortened engine life, contributed greatly to crew fatigue.
Against this background of poor conditions and poor results, it was decided to depart radically from the traditional doctrine of strategic bombardment. Just how radically was not known to most of the flyers until the memorable morning of March 9 when in all briefing rooms throughout the Marianas an announcement was made. It was followed by a sudden, shocked silence as the crews began to realize what they had just heard:
In making this daring decision, General LeMay was not motivated simply by the desire to get better performance from his crews and aircraft. Nor were these operations conceived as terror raids against Japan's civilian population. The Japanese economy depended heavily on home industries carried on in cities close to major factory areas. By destroying these feeder industries, the flow of vital parts could be curtailed and production disorganized. A general conflagration in a city like Tokyo or Nagoya might have the further advantage of spreading to some of the priority targets located in those areas, making it unnecessary to knock them out by separate pinpoint attacks.
Incendiary operations were not new. Several trials had been made. On some attacks a mixed load of HE and incendiary bombs had been used with indifferent results. On three missions prior to March 9 incendiaries alone were used. According to the Phase Analysis reports, from which much of the foregoing data was assembled, these results, too, were indifferent. This was partly because the ballistic characteristics of incendiary clusters rendered them inaccurate when dropped from high altitudes in strong wind, partly because not enough Superforts had been available for a major strike against a big urban area. But by the start of March the 313th Wing had joined the 73rd Wing as a fully operative unit, and two groups from the 314th, recently arrived on Guam, were ready for action. Thus, the combined force now totaled more than 300 aircraft enough to strike a spark. One main advantage in lowering the altitude to between 5,000 and 10,000 feet was the increased bomb load. A single Superfort flying in formation at high altitude could carry only 35 per cent of the possible bomb load of the same plane attacking individually at the lower altitude. This was made possible, of course, because individual attacks required no assembly over the base at the mission's start or reassembly on route to the target. Aircraft would go directly from base to target and return, thus saving gas and allowing a greater bomb load. Better weather would be encountered at the lower altitude, and the heavy, gas-consuming winds of high altitudes would be avoided. The weight of extra crew members, armament and ammunition would go into bombs. With the largest bomb load carried to date to Japan, each Superfort would bear six to eight tons, largely the new M-69 fire bomb, composed of an incendiary cluster containing a jelly-gasoline compound. It was felt that the weakness of Jap night fighters justified the elimination of armament.
Time was a crucial element in the new plan.
Jap night fighters were known to be weak, but flak losses were expected to be substantial. By making a night-time attack it was hoped to minimize these losses, since enemy radar gun-laying devices were thought to be comparatively inefficient and heavy AA guns would thus have to depend on searchlights for effective fire control.
It was found that the best time for take-off was around dusk, so that the planes could benefit by at least some daylight for the getaway. This brought them to the target just before dawn, and, most important, enabled them to make the homeward flight by daylight, thus avoiding night ditchings of battle-damaged aircraft.
Finally, these missions had to be completed in time for the Superforts to coordinate their efforts with the naval strike at Okinawa. Since the first of the Okinawa operations was scheduled for March 23, only a little more than two weeks were available in which to hit the four big targets Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe.
Viewed in retrospect, it appears that almost everything was in favor of the low-altitude night attacks. Nevertheless, it took extraordinary courage to risk 300 unarmed aircraft on a new type of attack directly opposed to the traditional doctrine of high-altitude precision bombing for which the Superforts had been expressly designed.
Probably no mission, except the first historic ones against Yawata and Tokyo, was sweated out with more anxiety than the March 9 strike on Tokyo. This time, in the event of failure, nobody could claim that we were pioneering against an unknown enemy. This time the risk of men and equipment was many times greater. This time it was later in the game and the need for decisive air action was more acute than it had been during earlier strikes.
On the afternoon of March 10, when one by one the Superforts returned to the Marianas, the verdict became known. Pilots told how Tokyo "caught fire like a forest of pine trees."
A few hours later came the photographic evidence. Sixteen and a half square miles of Tokyo had gone up in smoke. Eighty-five per cent of the target area was destroyed. And this included 16 targets which were numbered for pinpoint attacks. Out of 302 aircraft over the target, 14 were lost the largest loss suffered on any of the five missions.
Less than 36 hours later the Superforts were off again, to Nagoya. During this strike the crews peered down on what "looked like a gigantic bowling center with all the alleys lighted up; each flight had left an alley of flames." But the scattered fires never joined to create a general conflagration and final results were not too good. A total of 1.56 square miles was destroyed. Nagoya was unfinished business.
Osaka. Kobe. These were next on the timetable. On March 13 more than 300 Superfortresses destroyed 8.1 square miles of Osaka, and on March 17 2.4 square miles of Kobe, including 11,000,000 square feet of dock area, were reduced to cinders. Fifth and last attack in the series was made on the return trip to Nagoya when again more than 300 Superfortresses dropped some 2,000 tons on the city. Over-compensating for the scattered bombing on the previous attack, the bombs were dropped in too small an area, and only .65 square miles of the city were destroyed. But nobody doubted, least of all the Japs, that the blitz was a holocaust. In five missions more than 29 square miles of Japan's chief industrial centers were burned out beneath a rain of bombs that totaled 10,100 tons. By comparison, on the Luftwaffe's greatest fire raid on London, only 200 tons were dropped. And on the 8th Air Force's record strike on Berlin (February 3, 1945) over 1,000 heavy bombers made a 1,000-mile round trip to drop 2,250 tons. During the 10-day blitz, nearly this same tonnage was carried on each mission by only 300 Superfortresses. The round trip exceeded 3,200 miles.
Our losses to AA and fighters were less than 1.3 per cent of aircraft over the target, and they were soon to drop even lower. Greatest source of alarm to our flyers were the terrific thermals, or hot air currents, that rose from the blazing targets and sent our aircraft into a black hell of smoke (no losses were ever attributed directly to thermals). One plane commander related what happened over Osaka: "We headed into a great mushroom of boiling, oily smoke and in a few seconds were tossed 5,000 feet into the air. It was a jerky, snappy movement. The shock was so violent that I felt I was losing consciousness. 'This is it,' I thought, 'I can't pull out of it.' Smoke poured into the ship and every light was blacked out. It smelled like singed hair, or a burning dump heap. Everybody coughed. We were tossed around for eight or 10 seconds. Flak helmets were torn off our heads. The ship was filled with flying oxygen bottles, thermos jugs, ear phones, latrine cans, cigarette lighters, cans of fruit juice. We dropped down again with a terrible jolt, and in a few more seconds pulled out into the clear."
Discussing the morale of the B-29ers after the blitz, one report said, "The phenomenal success of our new tactics had precipitously salvaged the morale and fighting spirit of our crews by providing a degree of battle success proportionate to the effort expended . Amazingly, the number of cases of flying personnel disorders due to flying, which had increased steadily prior to March 9 fell off sharply after March 19, 1945." Cases were reduced from one per cent of the total flying personnel to two-tenths of one per cent, or a total reduction of 80 per cent.
If our crews were encouraged by the low losses and good results of this initial phase, they truly hadn't seen the half of it yet. More and more Superforts were put on the job. Tail guns were reinstalled for minimum protection. Fighter escort was available, if needed. In May and June forces of 400 planes, and more, were launched against the big targets. By June 15 they were so completely destroyed, that the Superforts started a new campaign against more than 60 of the smaller industrial cities. Losses continued to nose dive. In June the average Superfortress loss rate per mission was .08 per cent. In July it was .03 per cent. In August it was .02 per cent. In the Marianas a low altitude incendiary attack on Japan was considered to be about the safest pastime a man could enjoy.
Japan's ability to continue the war finally collapsed amid the ashes of her burned-out cities. Her industry, blockaded and bombed into a shambles, finally could not longer support a large, modern war machine. This situation was caused by the Superfortress, which, in the final phase of the war, was the decisive factor.
The final phase was swift. President Truman's announcement of the surrender came 157 day's after the 20th Air Force first cut loose with fire bombing. In those 157 days, the main strategic air weapon literally wrecked the enemy nation.
Our intelligence analysts rubbed their hands with anticipation when they examined Japanese industry. Here was no dispersed, well-organized system like Germany's. They knew that only a few vulnerable target areas had to be obliterated before Japan would be on the ropes. A study of her cities showed that the wood and plaster buildings were a set-up for area incendiary bombing. Only 10 per cent were made of stone, brick, metal or reinforced concrete. Many modern factories were hemmed in by solid masses of flimsy workshops, the very homes of the workers themselves. Peacetime conflagrations had been frequent in Japan; this had not been true of Germany. Water supplies, never adequate, were dangerously low for large-scale fire fighting. In addition, our experts discounted all talk about Japan's ability to survive through her Manchurian industry alone. They were convinced that once the heart of the Empire had been gouged out, she was licked.
On the basis of these facts, the bombers of the 20th Air Force went to work. Their success is, if anything, considerably understated here because information is still incomplete in many instances.
For one picture of what happened to Japanese industry, here are some estimates of factory space destroyed by both area and precision attacks in 12 major war industries, listed in order of their importance:
Area in 000s
of sq ft
|Shipbuilding and repair||45,000||15%|
|Oil (including storage)||150,000||5%|
|Machinery and finished metal prod||110,000||33%|
|Metals (ferrous and non-ferrous)||150,000||14%|
|Mil and Gen storage area||200,000||12%|
Industrial damage totaled 288,000,000 square feet. Of industry in the 69 cities blitzed, 27.4 per cent was badly damaged. Yet this fails to tell a complete story. Many undamaged factories were of no use because the blockade and bombing of supporting industries denied them the necessary materials to fabricate Likewise, it is impossible to translate physical plant damage into specific production loss. On the basis of what we learned in Germany, where fire bombing was much less successful than it was in Japan, the percentage of production loss for six weeks after incendiary missions was sometimes double the percentage of space destroyed. The Japanese, in contrast to the Nazis, did almost nothing to repair damage. They cleared up rubble inside bombed-out plants, then abandoned them completely. Other factors contributing to loss of output were:
Important results in some instances are hidden in the table above. Oil target areas are reported as only five per cent destroyed. However, due to the fact that most production was confined to a relatively few modern facilities, the 315th Wing, by concentrating on 11 of Japan's newest refineries, reduced over-all oil output by 30 per cent in little more than a month of operations. Synthetic production sagged even more sharply with a drop of 44 per cent, which represents an actual loss of some 265,000 barrels.
As in the case of Germany, the first target system of fundamental importance was the aircraft industry which was treated to both high explosive and incendiary attacks. Against this type of target, the fire bombing was even more effective than had been anticipated. Many large structures were consumed by flames which gave added dividends by ruining machinery that possibly could have been salvaged if subjected to HE only. Despite our attention to this industry, Japan still had plenty of planes at war's end so one might assume that the B-29 effort was a wasted one. It was not, and for very simple reasons.
On August 1, 1945, Jap monthly production was estimated at 1,834 combat planes. This figure was 75 per cent of their production for December 1944, before bomb damage became appreciable. It indicates that by some dispersal, use of excess plant capacity and production in hidden sites (including a small number of underground shops), the Japs, like the Germans, were still able to produce a sizable number of aircraft despite our prolonged attacks. Also, they had planned a considerable increase in production.
The 20th Air Force expended 45.5 per cent of the 15,000 tons it dropped on the aircraft industry against aero-engine plants. Another 49.5 per cent went on airframe assembly plants. This probably denied the JAF between 6,400 and 7,200 planes through July, 1945. These, if it had been possible to employ them as Kamikazes at Okinawa, might well have delayed the outcome of the war.
Strangely enough, a portion of the remaining five per cent dropped on subsidiary aircraft industries by the 20th, plus extremely successful fire attacks against Osaka and Shizuoka, would have hurt the Japanese most during the balance of 1945. The Sumitomo propeller plants at Amagasaki, Shizuoka and Osaka, making 70 per cent of all the propellers used on first-line Jap combat aircraft, suffered 60.5 per cent damage, which, together with same damage to the Japan Musical Instrument Co propeller plant in Hammamatsu, curtailed propeller output sufficiently to cause a five month production loss. It is estimated that the resulting bottlenecks would have forced aircraft production down to 41 per cent of its January 1, 1945, rate by November of 1945. Cumulative effects would have begun to be felt seriously just at the time our invasion was scheduled. It undoubtedly was one of the factors that convinced the Japs that the situation was hopeless.
Though aircraft continued to be No 1 priority, other industries received an ample share of attention. Shipbuilding had dropped 60 per cent by V-J Day, partly due to the fire bombing of Kobe, Osaka, and Yokohama, but principally because of steel shortages. Ordnance, a particular pet of the 20th, was cut 40 per cent. Iron, steel and coke, the key heavy industries of war, were down 56 per cent primarily because of the blockade, but also partly due to bombing. Aluminum output slumped 35 per cent. Military and industrial storage areas also suffered heavily as a result of the incessant bombing.
Unlike the bombing program for Germany, where transportation rated top priority along with aircraft and oil, we had not yet reached the stage where it was necessary to concentrate on rail targets. Japan's rail system, incidentally, like her industry, was far more vulnerable than Germany's. Not until August 14, the last mission of the war, did the Superforts hit a Jap rail target. Nonetheless, the fire blitzes had an amazingly potent effect on land transport. Together with depreciation of already poor rail equipment, they cut railroad traffic to less than half the volume of a year before. With coastwise shipping also disrupted, the Japanese were faced with what was admittedly their worst economic bottleneck. This was the most important by-product of the incendiary attacks.
Many lesser industries contributing to the Japanese war economy also were heavily affected by Superfort bombing. Electronics equipment production, already insufficient to supply demands, was down 35 per cent. These in turn were badly needed for repairing bombed-out factories and for retooling damaged machinery. The little factories of 30 workers or less, where the Japanese produced components for delivery to larger assembly plants, took a terrible beating from area attacks. Just as the experts predicted, they were wiped out by the thousands in all the big cities.
Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Yokohama, and Kobe caught 44.1 per cent of all 20th Air Force tonnage. Serious damage to identified industry ranges from 25 per cent in Osaka to 43 per cent in Nagoya. The aircraft industry within these cities suffered 50 per cent damage. Ordnance and metals were lowest at 21 per cent. Kobe's industrial area was 41 per cent obliterated. So thoroughly gutted were most sections of the "Big Five" (their burned areas totaled 103.22 square miles), that they were no longer considered essential targets except for occasional pinpoint "policing" attacks.
Once they had taken care of the big fellows, the Supers relentlessly went after the Toledos and Bridgeports of Japan. In all, 69 cities were treated to "burn jobs." On the basis of available photo coverage, 175 square miles of urban area were wiped out. Here is what the Tokyo radio announced on August 23 concerning casualties from air attacks in the home islands: 260,000 killed; 412,000 injured; 9,200,000 homeless; 2,210,000 houses demolished or burned, and another 90,000 partially damaged. Though these figures may not be entirely accurate, they compare favorably with estimates of our analysts who say that housing for 10,548,000 persons was destroyed. This is 50.3 per cent of the 1940 population in the 69 cities. Considering that half the population in the industrial centers was de-housed, the effect this had upon labor morale and absenteeism must have been enormous. The completeness of the chaos was reflected in the breakdown of all administrative controls. Workers lacking orders from higher up, were hamstrung.
Wide variations exist in the percentages of pre-attack industrial area damaged with the 69 cities. Fukuoka, with only .6 per cent, Takamatsu with 89.3 per cent represent two extremes. Damage to residential structures ranges from 9.1 per cent for Nishinorniya to 98.2 per cent for Toyama. Impressive as these figures are, again they fail to tell the whole story. The "planned target area" was much smaller than the built-up urban area in nearly every case. Thus, after the last great fire mission to Tokyo on May 25, some 86 per cent of the "planned target area" had been eliminated.
With two shuddering jolts, at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the war skidded to a halt. Soldiers the world over, their jaws agape, began to wonder how the sudden crazy shift of military values would affect the familiar patterns of conflict. A few things are clear. The atom bomb will not, at one blast, wipe out navies or ground armies, as has already been widely proclaimed. That it will change them almost beyond recognition is without question. But they will remain. Warfare has existed in many forms since men first banded together to destroy men, but it has always been waged in all the elements over which man had some control or, more correctly, in which he could move freely. For a long time all battles were on land. Later they were on land and water. When man began to exercise control over the air, war moved into the air too. There now remains only "under the ground." It may be that atomic power will force future military strategists to fight in that dimension also. But they will never fight in that, or any dimension, alone.
Since atomic explosives were first used by the Army Air Forces, and used conventionally (ie, in the form of a bomb dropped by conventional methods from a conventional aircraft), it may seem that air will be less affected than land or water. This is not so. The single fact that atom bombs are 2,000 times as powerful as ordinary bombs eventually will make present-day air forces obsolete. Until now they have depended largely on size for their ability to crush a city or an industrial system. In the future a handful of planes will theoretically do the same job provided they can get to the target. The inevitable improvement of antiaircraft defenses will probably force future bombers to fly at great heights and speeds. The aircraft we know cannot fly as high (even with the reduced loads made possible by atomic explosives) or as fast as theory already requires. If improved ground defenses or air defenses do not demand increased altitude and speed improvement in the efficiency of atomic explosives probably will, to ensure that a bomber is not caught in its own bomb's blast. All this will mean fundamental changes in the design of aircraft. These may be difficult to engineer (for example, getting adequate lift out of a supersonic airfoil).
Consider for a moment the simplicity of military organization and effort required to wreck two large Japanese cities. The two bombs which fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were dropped by the 509th Composite Group, part of the 313th Wing of the 20th Air Force. It had its own Troop Carrier Squadron, Ordnance, and Technical Service Detachment, nothing else except about a dozen scientists who arrived in Tinian on July 4. The Hiroshima mission was flown on August 5. Two planes participated in it, one to carry the bomb, the other to act as escort. It went off without a hitch. Bombing was visual. On the second mission, the same two planes participated, but their roles were reversed. This time weather caused a great deal of trouble. According to Maj Charles W. Sweeney, pilot of the plane with the bomb, "The navigator made landfall perfectly. We passed over the primary target but for some reason it was obscured by smoke. There was no flak. We took another run, almost from the IP. Again smoke hid the target. 'Look harder,' I said to the bombardier, but it was no use.
"Then I asked Comdr Frederick Ashworth (Naval adviser to the project) to come up for a little conference. We took a third run with no success. I had another conference with the commander. We had now been 50 minutes over the target and might have to drop our bomb in the ocean. Our gas was getting low 600 gallons were trapped. We decided to head for Nagasaki, the secondary target. There we made 90 per cent of our run by radar. Only for the last few seconds was the target clear."
Although some Japanese have been trying to sell the world on the idea that it was the atomic bomb and Soviet war declaration which forced them to surrender, there is now abundant evidence to the contrary, much of it from the lips of high-ranking and informed Japanese themselves. The following testimony tells with stunning emphasis that Japan mas utterly finished as a war-making nation before the first atom bomb was dropped.
The most interesting and most complete statement comes from Prince Higashi-Kuni, speaking before the Japanese Diet on September 5: "Following the withdrawal from Guadalcanal, the war situation began to develop not always in our favor. Especially after the loss of the Marianas islands the advance of the Allied forces became progressively rapid while the enemy's air raids on Japan proper were intensified, causing disastrous damage that mounted daily.
"Production of military supplies, which had been seriously affected by curtailment of our marine transportation facilities, was dealt a severe blow by this turn of the war situation, and almost insuperable difficulties began to multiply, beginning with the spring of this year With the loss of Okinawa and the consequent increase in the striking power of the enemy's air forces, even communications with the China continent were rendered extremely hazardous As regards railway transport, frequent air raids, together with depreciation of rolling stock and equipment, brought about a steady lowering of its capacity and a tendency to lose unified control Moreover, various industries suffered directly from air raids which caused huge damage to plants and lowered the efficiency of workmen. Finally the country's production dwindled to such a point that any swift restoration of it came to be considered beyond hope." On September 14, Higashi-Kuni further said, "The Japanese people are now completely exhausted." He estimated that there were 15,000,000 unemployed in the home islands, and called the Superfortress attacks the turning point in the war.
Rear Adm Toshitane Takata, ex-deputy chief of staff of the Japanese Combined Fleet, also saluted the B-29: "Superfortresses were the greatest single factor in forcing Japan's surrender. These planes burned out Japan's principal cities, reduced military production by fully 50 per cent and affected the general livelihood of the Japanese people."
On the sudden cessation of enemy air activity after the end of the Okinawa campaign, General Kawabe, Commanding the Japanese Army Air Forces, had the following to say: "It was to combat invasion that we hoarded all our aircraft [5,000-plus planes remained operable at war's end], refused all challenge to fight the Third Fleet, the city-destroying Superfortresses, and the hard-hitting FEAF which was blasting targets on Kyushu during the last six weeks of the war. But while we waited, the air war was carried to such extremes of destruction, including use of the atomic bomb, that the Emperor decided to capitulate on the basis of the Potsdam Declaration." When questioned about Kamikaze, Kawabe replied, "We had to do it that may. We had no other way to use our pilots."
One of Tokyo's district fire marshals stated: "After the first big incendiary attack I realized that our system of fire prevention was utterly helpless in stemming attacks of such magnitude."
Among industrialists, war manufacturer Chickuhei Nakajima stated that Japan had been so wrecked by bombardment that it would take from two to five years for her to get back on her feet, but only if trade with the US was resumed instantly. If not, "even the bare essentials of life for the Japanese cannot be produced."
This article was originally published in the February, 1946, issue of Flying magazine, vol 38, no 2, pp 51-82.
The PDF of this article includes maps of
There is a mission profile showing flight altitudes and weather on Mission 183.
- "The Victory Route"(the island-hopping campaign laid out on a globe, focused on Japan),
- supply lines in Burma,
- the mining of Japanese waters,
- North Field, Guam (a map of the airfield),
- "What They Expected" (Japanese estimates of air attack strength and sources), and
- "What They Got" (air attack strength as delivered).
There are 22 photos, a couple of them spanning two pages, showing air action and bomb damage; the frontispiece shows the mushroom cloud from one of the nuclear strikes.
Photos credited to AAF.
Photos and diagrams: