The Wargamer

26 June 2017

Historical Article: Enola Gay - the War Ends

The US Strategic Bombing Campaign on Japan, Part 3

Published on 30 JAN 2015 9:08am by John Dudek
  1. world war ii, air combat, background / research material, asia, english

As soon as Colonel Paul Tibbets felt his B-29 bomber the "Enola Gay" lurch upwards following the release of the 9,700 lb. atomic bomb "Little Boy" from its bomb bay, he and his co-pilot advanced or "firewalled" the engine throttles to maximum over boost as he put the plane into a shallow dive to gain as much speed as possible and put as many miles between his fleeing bomber and the nuclear bomb currently hurtling towards earth.  He had two minutes before the bomb was scheduled to detonate in an air burst 2,000 feet above the city. He ordered his crew to put on their welders goggles over their eyes to shield them from the bomb's expected blinding flash.  Concussion from the bomb's detonation rattled and shook the bomber as one crewman exclaimed "My God!" over the interphone as to what he witnessed below.  A massive mushroom shaped cloud of many colors boiled and arose thousands of feet above the now brightly blazing city. A Japanese fighter pilot flying through the same cloud rolled back his canopy and stretched his hand outside the cockpit to the colorful smoke all around his plane.  In doing so, he unknowingly signed his own death warrant and soon died from radiation poisoning in the coming days.  The bomb killed 78,000 people although many thousands more would die from its after effects in the weeks, months and years afterwards.  In addition, the bomb destroyed almost 5 square miles of the city.  The Enola Gay and its five accompanying weather spotter bombers returned to the Marianas without incident.  Their 509th Composite Group had dropped the very first atomic bomb in wartime history.  Unfortunately, the Japanese military government remained completely unmoved in their fervent Bushido code desire to continue their suicidal war to its bitter, bloody end against the Allies.

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Following the initial and highly successful 14 day incendiary bomb blitz against several major Japanese cities in March-April 1945, General Curtis LeMay greatly ramped up and increased the pressure even further upon the Japanese empire by using many different methods to wage an air war upon them.  His bombers flew so many incendiary bombing missions in the coming days against Japanese military and civilian targets that his bomb dumps ran out of the M-47 and M-69 bomb cluster incendiary bombs.  LeMay resorted to the expedient of his planes carrying high explosive bombs against land targets and sea mines to be placed in Japan's shipping lanes.  This was done to wage war against the Japanese Empire on multiple levels until his supply of fire bombs could be replenished.  The sea mining of all major Japanese waterways under the code name of “Operation Starvation" soon had a particularly devastating effect upon Japan's civilian economy.  With the sudden drop off in the importation of vital and badly needed food stuffs from overseas, the daily civilian food ration was reduced to a level of 1,400 calories.  This low level of daily caloric intake was guaranteed to cause substantial weight loss to the Japanese populace. 

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LeMay increased the number of mine-laying sorties in June. In response to this offensive, the Japanese greatly expanded their mine-sweeping force by 349 ships and 20,000 men and deployed additional anti-aircraft guns around the Shimonoseki Strait. They had little success in permanently clearing minefields or downing the B-29s, however. Many of Japan's major harbors, including those of Tokyo, Yokohama and Nagoya, became permanently closed to shipping. During the last weeks of the war, B-29s continued to drop large numbers of mines off Japan and the campaign was expanded into Korean waters. The 13th Bombardment Wing lost only 16 B-29s during mine-laying operations. Overall, mines dropped by Superfortresses off the home islands sank 293 ships, which represented 9.3 percent of all Japanese merchant shipping destroyed during the Pacific War and 60 percent of losses between April and August 1945. Following the war, the USSBS (US Strategic Bombing Survey) assessed that the Twentieth Air Force should have placed a greater emphasis on attacking Japanese shipping given the effectiveness of these attacks.

In the closing months of the war, Japanese industrialists reported that should the war continue for another year, seven million Japanese would die from starvation.  The very real threat of a national famine loomed with no way to prevent it short of surrender. The desperate Japanese even resorted to filling drums half full of rice and setting them adrift off the coast of Korea in the hopes the prevailing currents would eventually put the barrels ashore along the Japanese coastline.  Japanese interceptor aircraft were no more successful in attacking the B-29 bombing formations, because their high altitude day light raids flew at so great a height level. Few Japanese fighters were able to catch them nor operate effectively at that altitude as most of their fighter planes lacked a turbo supercharger that would enable them to do so.  Those more modern planes that could do so often resorted to kamikaze ramming tactics against the bombers.  By the war's end, ramming attacks shot down nine B-29's and damaged 13 others.  The numbers of modern Japanese anti aircraft guns were also augmented in late 1944 with the addition of 4.7inch weapons that were soon emplaced in all of the larger cities.  This increase in improved weaponry resulted in more B-29's being shot down over Japan or suffering battle damage.  In addition the development of a new and improved generation of Japanese fighter planes began inflicting higher losses in American bombers between November 1944 and February 1945.  However, the successful US Marine invasion and seizure of the island of Iwo Jima meant that long range US P-51 Mustang fighters could now be based there and escort the B-29's to and from their targets.  Equally important were the large number of battle damaged B-29's who now had a nearby friendly island refuge to land upon and make their repairs from.  With the aid of the P-51 Mustang escorts, B-29 losses from Japanese aircraft soon dropped off precipitously.  During the entire US strategic bombing campaign, Japanese fighters were able to shoot down only 74 American bombers while their anti aircraft guns destroyed another 54.  Nineteen others were shot down by a combination of flak gunfire and fighter plane attacks.  By mid-summer 1945, General LeMay could call upon nearly 700 Super Fortress B-29 bombers to rain down fire, death and destruction upon the remaining cities of Japan.  Continued raids upon Japanese arms works, oil refineries and other munitions plants meant less ammunition for its anti aircraft guns and fewer new generation fighter planes to resist the continuing American aerial onslaught.  The lack of aviation gasoline also meant fewer trained pilots who could ever hope to learn to effectively fly their newer planes still being produced in its remaining aircraft factories.  In the closing days of WWII B-29 bombing raids became something of a "milk-run" of largely monotonous bombing missions with few to no losses being taken.  General LeMay later quipped that "...it is now safer to fly a combat mission over Japan than it was to fly a B-29 training mission in the United States."

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As the summer of 1945 droned on, an ever increasing number of the larger Japanese cities were erased from the US strategic bombing surveillance map as their war production capabilities ceased to exist after the incessant pounding of Allied bombs.  Only Kyoto, Japan's fifth largest city was spared from intense bombing because of its religious importance to the Japanese people.  However, sixty of the smaller sized, secondary Japanese cities began feeling the weight of the 20th Air Force incendiary and high explosive bombs.  LeMay went one step further.  His planes began flying propaganda leaflet missions over Japan's cities warning its citizenry to immediately evacuate their particular city because a US bombing raid was on its way within the next 24 hours. The Japanese citizens saw that any enemy capable of warning them of an impending air raid without the worry of any military resistance was one that could not be overcome. Civilian morale collapsed.  Ever increasing B-29 bomber formations began striking as many as four cities in one day.  The overall bomb tonnage dropped by the bombers continued to grow until reaching its peak on 2 August 1945 when nearly 900 B-29's bombed a number of remaining targets with over 6,600 tons of bombs.  In one night, the city of Toyama was fire bombed into complete and utter destruction with over 97% of it completely destroyed.  By the time the two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 178 square miles of 69 Japanese cities had been completely destroyed.  The Japanese authorities later admitted that over 50% of 72 of their cities had been completely destroyed.  LeMay later wrote that by the time the two atomic bombs were dropped and the Japanese sued for peace:  "We had two or three more weeks left on the cities and were just getting started on their transportation network.  Another six months and Japan would have been bombed into the dark ages - which practically was the case anyhow."  The last conventional bombing raid on mainland Japan took place on the night before the Japanese government sued for unconditional surrender.  It proved to be the longest range US bomber raid ever flown in WWII lasting over 17 hours. The target was an oil refinery at Akita in the north of Japan that extracted and made fuel from pine tree stumps.  The refinery was smothered with bombs and completely obliterated.  How far the once mighty had fallen.  The war Japan had started in 1941 because of a lack of oil, now ended in 1945 largely because of a lack of the same.

The US 20th Air Force operated for fifteen months, had suffered 3,015 killed, wounded and missing and had lost 414 bombers.  Only 147 of their bombers lost were attributed to flak or fighter attacks.  They dropped 170,000 tons of bombs on enemy targets and had flown 34,790 sorties during the war.  The vast majority of lost B-29 bombers resulted from the extremely long and hazardous12 hour trip over water to and from mainland Japan and back to their home airfields in the Marianas.

With the Japanese surrender ceremonies aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, the signatories of all the victorious Allied powers as well as the vanquished Japanese signatories listened to the closing remarks of General Douglas MacArthur.  When the general finished his oration,  "The Show of Force" took place and over 500 B-29's roared over the Allied ships in Tokyo Bay, their massive engines blotting out all other sound with their display of raw, irresistible combat might and power.  Certainly no one in the Japanese Imperial delegation could deny they'd been decisively beaten by the combined Allied powers and a key role in that defeat lay in the formations of B-29's currently thundering overhead.  Japanese Prince Konoye of the Japanese Royal family later wrote "Fundamentally, the thing that brought about the determination to make peace was the prolonged bombing by the B-29's."  Japanese Premier Suzuki also wrote: "I myself, on the basis of the B-29 raids, felt that the cause was hopeless."  All because of a single, revolutionary heavy bomber that nearly no one originally wanted combined with clear headed, visionary and innovative combat leaders like General Curtis Lemay and General Henry Hap Arnold.

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