Schreffler; members of the Foreign Press Club of Tokyo; and my good and close friend and fellow Alumnus
from Wabash College, Mitsuya Goto. I feel honored to be here today on this 50th Anniversary of
the historic low-altitude, incendiary raid on Tokyo by B-29's on March 9th and 10th, 1945. I use
those two dates because the raid actually took off about 7:00 P. M. on March 9th and it took almost seven hours to reach Tokyo so the bombs did not start falling until around 1:30
A. M. on March 10th, Tokyo time.
first real look at the city without bombs aboard was on September 2nd, 1945, when I was in one
of the several hundred B-29's which flew from north to south over the Battleship Missouri parked
in Tokyo Bay at 10:00 A. M. as General Douglas MacArthur was conducting the surrender ceremonies.
I remember that day well for as we flew over we were in tight squadron formation of eleven airplanes each. We called it a "bomber stream" and we were at 3,000 feet, as I recall,
on a fine, clear day with good visibility. There wasn't much left of Tokyo except the Emperor's
Palace and some buildings downtown near the Palace.
THE B-29 AIRPLANE
understand how all this came about you need to know a little about the B-29. This airplane was
actually envisioned and designed before World War II by a consortium of aircraft manufacturers
led by Boeing and Martin, but Boeing finally won out. The first one flew in Seattle, Washington
on September 21, 1942. And a short time later it was ordered into production to became the first
warplane in our history that was ordered into production before it had been fully tested. This
caused many problems which were not fully solved until right up to the March 9th mission
on Tokyo even if they were all solved then.
B-29 carried a crew of eleven (11)--2 pilots, 1 flight engineer, 1 bombardier, 1 navigator, 1 radar
operator, 1 radio operator and 4 gunners. When an extra crew member or staff supervisor went along
it was usually only one making it a crew of 12.
THE BASES AND UNITS
first combat unit of four Groups (about 180 B-29's) was sent to India in mid1944, with forward
bases in the Chengtu valley of China. The plan was to commence bombing Japan and to give support to Chiang Kai-shek. But results were poor,
supplies were difficult and Yawata in western Japan was the only major Japanese homeland target
reachable. It was a terrible nightmare for the new B-29.
until the Marianna Islands of Saipan, Tinian and Guam were invaded and taken that the airplane could have a decent base of operations and become effective
against Japan. These three islands were large enough to construct runways 8,500 in length which
the B-29 needed for heavy take-offs.
Field, Tinian, the field I was on, had 4-parallel runways of 8,500 feet each. It was, at the time, the largest airfield in
the world. West Field, Tinian had two runways; Saipan had two runways; Northwest Field, Guam had two runways; and, North Field,
Guam had two runways. That makes twelve (12) B-29 runways. Ironically, I flew B-52's off those same runways on North Field,
Guam during the Vietnam War.
first unit, the 73rd Bombardment Wing with four Bomb Groups, came to Isley Field on Saipan in October
1944. They flew several high altitude, training missions against Iwo Jima and Truk then on November
24th, 1944, they flew their first daylight mission to Japan. Aircraft reliability and bombing accuracy
was poor. Weather forecasting over Japan was difficult, the winds at high altitude were very strong
and the airplane wasn't ready. Neither were the crews.
next unit was the 313th Bomb Wing at North Field, Tinian, which also came with four Bomb Groups
in late December and January 1945. I came with that Wing and its 9th Bomb Group the latter part
of January. Then before the March 9th raid on Tokyo portions of the 314th Wing arrived on North
Field, Guam with perhaps 70 or 80 B-29's. By March 9th the entire 21st Bomber Command had around 350 B29's, or less than one-half its planned strength.
in January 1945, the same month I arrived, General Curtis LeMay came to the 21st Bomber Command
from the 20th Bomber Command in China. His Headquarters
was on Guam and things began to happen fast. He first studied the
B-29 results from high altitude raids against Japan and concluded they were miserable.
HOW WE CAME TO INCENDIARY
January and during February it became obvious the job was not getting done. We were not doing critical damage to Japan's war-making capability. A lot of
the industry was being fed by small, home factories all over the major cities with the larger factories
being almost like assembly locations. This fact led into incendiary missions on cities as a way
to get at the war industry.
incendiary mission had been flown by B-29's against Hankow, China by the China-based 20th Bomber
Command on December 18th, 1944. The results of that mission had been good.
incendiary bomb used was the M-69, which had been developed earlier in tests in Utah where engineers
built an entire Japanese-style city and set it afire. Sufficient manufacturing capability became
available at the end of 1944, and by the end of February 1945, there was a stockpile of M-69's
in the Mariannas for a start.
of China raid indicated that 400 B-29's were needed to inflict the same level of damage on Tokyo as had been inflicted on Hankow, but the 21st Bomber Command did not have 400 B-29's. Neither did it have any more time to start
getting results. General LeMay determined that we had to go right then with what was available
and the decision was made to bomb Tokyo the night of March 9th-10th at low altitude using the M-69.
it was planned for four more missions in rapid succession against Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe, and as it turned out, against Nagoya again since the first raid
did not cause as much damage as expected.
THE MARCH 9-10 TOKYO
mission briefing at around 2:00 o'clock that afternoon the briefing officer said we were going to bomb Tokyo that night with incendiaries between 5,000 and 9,000
feet as individual airplanes. Gasps went up from the thirty-three crews jammed into our 9th Bomb
Group briefing quonset. Many felt it was a one-way, suicide mission with balloons and dangling
cables ready to entangle an engine or tear off a wing. I was assigned to fly with one of our lead
crews commanded by Captain Dave Rogan.
a lead crew Captain Rogan's was designated as a path-finder which meant we took off a little early
to get there ahead of our Group and drop phosphorous flares to light and mark our Group's drop
area. I guess our biggest fear was running into another B-29 over the target as all our running
lights were turned off. This fear was well-founded for many of our losses later on, and probably
that night, were for that reason--mid-air collisions.
I located and talked to Dave Rogan just last week. He said his Flight Engineer kept an accurate diary of every mission and I have brought along a copy of that diary. I won't read it here but it is available if you are interested.
off to Tokyo we went shortly after dark on March 9th from North Field, Tinian. I think I stayed
awake most of the way to Japan. About an hour out from the Japanese coast we put on our flak suits
and steel helmets and got ready to enter enemy territory and make the bomb run. The Flight Engineer's
diary says we missed our landfall point and had to make a 360-degree circle to get on the proper course for the bomb run. I don't remember that. But I do distinctly remember
coming across Tokyo Bay from south to north at our bombing altitude of 6,500 feet with some of
the lights of Tokyo still on.
flares and incendiaries had been dropped in front of us but the huge fires had not started yet. We got rid of our own flares and bombs on our Group's aiming point and got out of there as fast as we could with a full-power, climbing turn toward the East. As we climbed away we could see the fires starting to grow.
of the things General LeMay had been worried about was that our gunners might fire on other B-29's
mistaking them for Japanese night-fighters so all of our gunner's ammunition was downloaded from
the airplanes before take-off. The four gunners were mere observers mostly looking out for other
night in Tokyo there was a very strong wind on the ground which caused more widespread damage than
would otherwise have been the case. The final result was the greatest loss of life and property
of any air raid in World War II including Europe. Losses were greater than either atomic bomb at
Hiroshima or Nagasaki. There were 16.8 square miles of Tokyo burned out; 83,000 people were killed;
and, over 267,000 buildings were destroyed. The turning point in the war had been
reached but no one knew it yet.
in B-29's was about 13 of the 325 scheduled or around 4%. Our 9th Bomb Group lost two airplanes but some crew members were saved by submarines.
on the ground on Tinian it was not known exactly what had happened until late that afternoon when
a photo reconnaissance plane was able to go over Tokyo at high altitude for pictures. Then it became
apparent that the damage was much greater than had been anticipated.
mission was the first of four more missions run every 2nd night. The next was March 11-12 against
Nagoya with 285 B-29's; then two days later against Osaka with 274 airplanes; then against Kobe
with 331 B-29's. The 5th, and final mission, was back to Nagoya with 290 B-29's. Many of our crews
in the 9th Group flew 4 of the 5 missions in the 9-days. I flew the first on Tokyo and the last
was one good reason we stopped after the 5th mission--we were out of incendiary bombs. Even if we had bombs I think we would have stopped for a few days to give the flight crews and maintenance people a chance to catch some rest.
THE BEGINNING OF THE
raids were carried out in early March 1945. As I said, the turning point in the war had been reached.
However, not too many people realized it except perhaps
General LeMay and some of our Wing Commanders.
humorous story, if any war can be humorous, was about General LeMay being at our Wing Headquarters
on Tinian briefing General Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Forces, and the Air member of the Joint-Chiefs-of-Staff
in Washington. The briefing was covering the damage to Japan's major cities after these fire raids.
He turned to General LeMay and said, "Curt, Washington has no idea this damage is
so great. I want you to go to Washington immediately and brief the Joint Chiefs".
General LeMay jumped in a Jeep with his Sergeant driver from Guam and raced the two miles down
to our airfield to board his B-29 and fly to Washington. Our field had four-parallel runways each
with its own taxiway. To get to the right one there was a large traffic circle with roads running
off in all directions. So to get off on the right road to go to a particular location, in this
case the Generals B-29, you had to know what you were doing.
Sergeant, being from Guam, not knowing our field, got on the big traffic circle and went around three times (or so the story goes) with General LeMay cussing
louder and stomping harder on his cigar each time around. They finally got someone to help them
find the correct turn-off road which took him to his B-29 and off to Washington he went to brief
the Joint Chiefs.
was five (5) more months in front of us with more incendiary raids on Tokyo, incendiary raids on
Yokohoma, aerial mining of the Inland Sea, repeat missions to Kobe, Osaka, Nagoya and raids on
every small city or factory in Japan. It was truly an awesome operation.
IWO JIMA REALLY SAVED
capture of Iwo Jima saved the B-29 operation by allowing crippled airplanes to land there on the
way back to the Mariannas for fuel or as a result of battle damage.
B-29 from our 9th Bomb Group was the first to land on Iwo Jima in early March when Lt. Malo's crew
was badly shot up from one of the early incendiary raids, and even though Iwo Jima was not ready
for him, he had to land or ditch.
runway was half in the hands of the Japanese and half in the hands of our Marines. He touched down on the Japanese side and rolled into the American side where he was patched up and made ready to fly. On take-off he started
his roll on the American side and was doing 90 to 100 hundred miles an hour when he crossed into
the Japanese side. He was shot at several times but managed to escape and return to our base at
North Field, Tinian.
the aerial war was over some 2,400 B-29's had landed on Iwo Jima with some sort of trouble, many
of them two or three times. The taking of Iwo Jima saved the B-29 operation and the stationing
of the P-51 fighters there for escort of B-29's to Japan certainly helped.
THE ARRIVAL OF THE 509TH
purposely avoided any discussion of the atomic missions to Hiroshima and Nagasaki but I will take questions on that subject.
talked with General Paul Tibbetts on the phone a little over a week ago and told him I was coming
over here. He passed on his regards to this group. His 509th Group was stationed on the same North
Field, Tinian, I was on and I knew most of the crew members.
no one at my level knew what they were about so we sort of dismissed them as having some sort of
"blockbuster" bomb much like the 10,000 pound bomb the British RAF had used. Even when we learned
by short-wave radio from the States what they had dropped on Hiroshima we still did not get excited.
I think we were all too tired. The drop on Nagasaki three days later by Chuck Sweeney was, to us, "just another mission". But, of course, those two B-29 missions, little known to
us at the time, have changed the course of history.
want to thank all of you for this opportunity to visit Tokyo once again and speak to such a distinguished
audience. The mission or missions I have described took place 50-years ago and contributed greatly
to the end of World War II.
should not forget that it was made possible by soldiers, sailors and marines who fought and died in the Pacific to secure the bases from which the B-29's
B-29 operation proved Strategic Air Power and has shaped our Armed Forces for the past 50-years.
Perhaps far into the future.