Archive for March 9th, 2008

On the evening of March 9, 1945, it was rather breezy as the residents of Tokyo slept in their beds.  An American air raid was coming, but they were becoming accustomed to air raids.  They were used to the scream of air-raid sirens, the drone of aircraft overhead, and the popping of anti-aircraft guns.  They were probably even familiar with silhouette of the oversize bombers and the sight of bombs being dropped from high in the sky.  But tonight would be different.

Having taken over the Twenty-First Bomber Command in late January, Gen. Curtis LeMay was disappointed with how the bombing campaign against Japan was progressing.  B-29’s were the best of the heavy bombers with the most advanced equipment, but still they struggled to take out important industrial, manufacturing, and military targets.  There was a potential invasion of the Japanese islands with which to contend, and the more (and better) equipment the enemy had, the more lives that would be lost.

Something had to be done…a change in tactics was required.  The change began on this day in 1945.

Rather than send a few dozen bombers against Tokyo, XXI Bomber Command gathered 325 B-29’s.  And rather than pack the bombers with standard iron bombs, they were loaded with M-69’s.  These were small, six-and-a-half pound cylindrical bomblets filled with napalm.  Thirty-eight of the bomblets went into a container, and a single B-29 generally carried thirty-seven containers.  The containers would open above ground (much like modern-day cluster munitions) and scatter the M-69’s over a wide area.  The bomblets exploded on contact, splling out (and igniting) the napalm, which was extremely flammable and burned with incredible heat.

And instead of dropping their payloads from 30,000 feet, altitudes were reduced to less than 8,000 feet.  It sounded suicidal, but LeMay contended that the drastic change would throw off Japanese anti-aircraft batteries, whose crews were used to firing at planes at high-altitude.  Furthermore, Japanese fighter resistance was waning.

So one-by-one, and flight-by-flight, and squadron-by-squadron, the B-29’s lifted off into the fading daylight.  At just after 1:00am on March 10th,…well, that’s tomorrow, so…

To be continued…

Recommended Reading: Code-name Downfall: The Secret Plan to Invade Japan and Why Truman Dropped the Bomb – a great book explaining why American leadership in 1945 felt the atomic solution in Japan was the right one. It’s very enlightening.

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