In a slow return to blogging about WWII, I hope to provide some tidbits dug up from buried history about the man named Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto of the once feared Japanese Imperial Navy. I only wish to present unusual facts lost in history; certainly, your children will never read about him in school history textbooks. The textbooks don’t even mention Iwo Jima or World War II for that matter aside from only highlighting minority sacrifices in the US (Iwo Jima is now known as “Iwotou” as even the Japanese military misread the Japanese characters of 硫黄島.).
Well before being ordered to plan the attack on Pearl and for the record, he was totally against having the US as a foe. He documented many times – privately and publicly – that to take on the Americans would mean the end of the Japanese Empire. His publicly voiced sentiments since the 1930’s in Imperial Army controlled pre-war Japan actually had him targeted for assassination. He was against warring with America that strongly. Imagine that.
For instance, before the imminent attack on Pearl, an aide to MacArthur (Gordon Prange, known as MacArthur’s personal historian) reported that he had one of Yamamoto’s personal letters. Prange claimed that Yamamoto had written in this letter to his close friend Ryoichi Sasakawa, “…to invade the United States would prove most difficult because behind every blade of grass is an American with a rifle.”
Second Amendment, folks.
You see, Yamamoto had spent time in America as a diplomatic envoy (a role he detested) observing this nation. He even took English classes at Harvard, mastering it, studying the language late into the nights. He witnessed America’s production might, observing the Ford production lines and even went AWOL in a way, disappearing into Mexico living in attics and meager rations of bananas, bread and water. Not even the Imperial Japanese knew of his whereabouts.
His goal in Mexico? He had the military foresight to also take petroleum classes at Harvard. He wanted to observe Mexico’s oil fields – oil fields which Japan did NOT have, just like the island territory of Hawaii. He appeared so much like a hobo locals reported him to the Mexican authorities.
When questioned by the Mexican authorities, he told them he was a Commander in the Imperial Japanese Navy. They were in disbelief – so they wired the Japanese Imperial Navy. They replied to the effect that, well, there IS a Yamamoto in the United States but that was all they knew. The Mexican authorities were placated and Yamamoto continued on.
By the way, you may wonder how he could have even afforded that privately funded foray into Mexico. At Cambridge, Yamamoto had made a small fortune gambling. He was an excellent gambler. He learned to play bridge quickly and his American opponents lost nearly all the time. (1)
More to follow in Part II on his childhood, entry in the Japanese Imperial Navy, love life, pre-war political power in Japan, military career and the handicaps he was dealt being an admiral in the Imperial Japanese Navy.
(1) Yamamoto had actually amassed a tidy sum from gambling and took that with him to Mexico to fund his adventure. However, early into his foray into Mexico, he met a fellow Imperial Japanese naval officer who WAS stationed there. They became friends and as it turns out, this fellow was also a gambler – just a very poor gambler. He had incurred debt and he was to be rotated home shortly. Yamamoto couldn’t allow his new friend to return home in shame so Yamamoto gave him nearly all of his own winnings. The officer was then able to return home to Osaka without fear of shame. That is how Yamamoto ended up living like a homeless man.
…but Dad passed away quietly at 99 years of age on Good Friday, March 30, 2018 in Los Angeles, CA – at the same facility where his older sister, my Aunt Shizue, passed away just a few years earlier at 95.
Just an eulogy in photographs of Dad:
And my last video of Dad:
Dad, I wish I were a much better son… but I know you are joyfully back playing “oninga” or jump-frog in front of your Hiroshima home with your favorite brother Suetaro. I hope you have all the odango you can eat now. You will be forever young.
I have been remiss in visiting Old Man Jack; when I arrived there today, I made sure he heard my Mustang he loved to ride in so much… I hope his now silent neighbors didn’t mind too much. As I neared his resting place walking on very sodden soil, it was clear I was his last visitor from some months ago. The grass had definitely encroached on his gravestone; even the hole where the water decanter should be seen was covered up.
As I trimmed away the overgrown grass, I fondly remembered a “Whhhoooo-eee!” Old Man Jack let out once. That one time, he had an extra emphasis on the “Whhhoooo”… with even more of a sopranic “eee” at the end. He then proceeded to tell me about how his old man kept him in line as a boy while handing me something from his past. More on that later.
And that word’s made up, you know…”sopranic”. But for that moment, he was definitely Julie Andrews. 🙂
In our chats in his cluttered garage, Old Man Jack used to tell me how he used to “tussle” a lot while growing up in Glendale, CA. You know. Fight. He wasn’t embarrassed to say he took a lickin’ – once in a while. He frequently said one reason why he took a lickin’ was that he was a runt so he took up body building for protection – as well as for the girls. He had flashed his trademark grin while gently shaking his head fondly left and right as while talking about his youthful adventures; you wonder what crazy memories flashed in his mind filled with life’s wisdom to power that grin.
He reminisced that his dad was also a bit of a trouble maker, especially when he had a bit too much libation but that he was the family enforcer. Old Man Jack said his dad was also a sailor – a baker in the US Navy to be exact but he also had worked as a barber. They were together out in the SW Pacific during the war but on different islands. He said his dad would once in a while send him a cake and cookies on a B-25 Mitchell that was making some kind of supply run. Old Man Jack instantly became the most loved sailor on that island when the cake and cookies were unloaded… provided the pilots didn’t eat them along the way.
On the way to visit him at his resting place, I decided to listen to the news. Well actually, the only time I can hear the news is while in my Mustang is stopped at a light – the exhaust isn’t exactly quiet (listen below)… and in that brief instant, the newscaster reported again about a pro sports figure and an alleged “beating” he gave his son. I turned it off as I am tired of the media making a circus out of every perceived “socially incorrect” behavior. Of course, I wouldn’t know of the intimate details of the allegations. Can’t trust the media, you know.
Don’t get me wrong. I sure as hell don’t condone BEATING a kid. No way. But… I believe there is nothing wrong with a spanking – or a “whippin'” as Old Man Jack’s generation used to say. Because of the social pressures exerted by a faction of our culture, taking a hand – any kind of hand – to your child means police show up at your door – at least here in California. “Positive reinforcement” goes only as far as your front door.
There is nothing wrong with a good spanking, in my opinion… Or, when I was going to junior high school, it was called a “swatting”. There was our PE teacher, a Mr. T. He had a swat board the size of Rhode Island made out of balsa wood thicker than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s biceps. It was even taped at the handle to enhance the grip for his elephant sized hands AND he had several large holes drilled into the paddle section to increase the device’s aerodynamic characteristics, i.e., more paddle speed, more pain. I’m positive he had its aerodynamics tested in a wind tunnel. If any of my male high school buddies are reading this, they know exactly what I’m talking about. I think the paddle section was even painted black. All the PE teachers carried one of their own design.
Believe me, the threat of a swat kept MANY a kid in line… meaning they really gave it a thought before crossing that line and risk getting caught – and greeting the aerodynamically enhanced swat from Mr. T. One benefit was it taught respect – the hard way.
Frankly, the prohibition of spanking – in my opinion – has contributed to the growing disrespect and behavioral problems being shown by many of today’s younger folks. A kid never gets a well deserved licking, i.e., pain, if you did something bad. All a kid gets now is a painless lesson in positive reinforcement or detention. No pain, you gained. You learned it was OK to whine, too.
But back to his “Whhhoooo-eee”…
As Old Man Jack belted out the whhhooo-eee, he handed me this; it has been hanging safe and sound in my hall closet since he gave it to me:
It’s a barber’s leather razor blade sharpening strop (not strap). Specifically, a “Scotch Lassie”; it was his father’s:
While I wasn’t clear if this was the one that was used or not, Old Man Jack got a whippin’ with this on occasion from his dad…the same one who sent him cakes and cookies out in the Pacific during a vicious war. From a couple of the stories he told me, it sure sounds like he deserved the whippings and therefore, the reason for his whhhoooo-eee. And you know what? Old Man Jack turned out to be one helluva respectful and forgiving man.
Remembering he was giving me that trademark grin while handing it to me, he said something to the effect of, “Koji, I’ll tell ya… The thought of getting another whippin’ from my dad sure kept me from getting into more trouble…but not ALL the time.” Knowing Old Man Jack well by then, it made me grin, too.
With that, he said it was time for him to part with it, to move on and that he wanted me to keep it… if I wanted it.
Knowing how it was an intimate guiding influence of how this great man turned out to be as he was, of course I did. I think he was glad.
But I sure miss his trademark grin and I think he misses my cigar in return… but not the whippin’ I gave him when he challenged me at stop lights in HIS ’68 Mustang on our way to breakfasts.
“うわぁ。。。二つの尻尾。。。それはその時代の飛行機だ。。。”, my Aunt Eiko said. “Oh, my… The twin tails… Its that plane from (the war).”
She just saw my lithograph of a WWII P-38 Lightning. She and my parents had come for the first time after we moved into our house across the street from Old Man Jack. I had just put up my WWII aviation art gallery and she immediately recognized this US fighter plane with its distinctive twin tails from the war. She said it strafed the high school that she was walking near. She was about 18 years old.
Funny how things stick in your mind from war.
Along with my mom and grandparents, Aunt Eiko lived within walking distance of the Imperial Palace in Shimbashi, Tokyo. Back then, the Emperor was god. To live so close to the Imperial Palace meant your family had some extra change.
Although a photo of their house from that time no longer exists, the home was typical of that time. Beams and floors made of wood. Doors called “shoji” (framed in light wood with paper “windows”) slid open and close. By sliding, they saved space as regular doors would have to swing open and close, taking away precious space. The floors were “tatami”, or boards wound with rice straw. Believe me, they are uncomfortable to sit on to say the least. Many homes still sported thatched roofs, or kusabuki, made with layers of a type of reed. But all in all, the homes were made with wood products or straw. Not exactly fireproof.
As three generations usually lived in a family home, Aunt Eiko had the same close knit circle of girl friends having stayed together through high school. Families rarely moved back then. The girls took classes in “kimono”, shamisen (a guitar of sorts) and cooking – very traditional fare for a Japanese girl. To them, etiquette was to be followed, never to be broken. I would think she had a crush on someone just as any girl would have…but she has not said.
Before the Firebombing
Sometime in late 1943, my aunt says my grandfather decided to move the family, a rarity, due to her illnesses. Apparently, my grandfather thought the unhealthy downtown Tokyo air was exacerbating her ills so they moved into another wooden frame home in Higashi Senzoku, a couple of kilometers south of Shimbashi. It does not appear potential bombings by US planes was the reason to move at this time.
Soon thereafter, though, the family received mandatory evacuation orders (強制疎開）. My Aunt believes this to be late in 1944… Times were tough. Food supplies had already dwindled to nearly nothing. To make it worse, only older doctors remained as many younger ones were conscripted into the Imperial Japanese Army as well.
They moved to her grandfather’s home in Omiya, Tokyo; it is about a mile due west of the Imperial Palace:
A drawing of the wood home in Omiya:
March 9, 1945 was about two weeks before my Aunt Eiko’s 19th birthday. Due to the strenuous and meager living conditions, I doubt any birthday party was in the works. I doubt there were many birthday parties at all. There was little to be had as Japan was losing… and losing badly.
Aunt Eiko was at their grandfather’s house in Omiya that night when the pathfinders found their mark. She says they all gathered in the front yard to gaze towards the Imperial Palace after hearing the first explosions.
We were in the front yard of my grandfather’s house when the firebombing started on March 10. The B-29s were dropping shocking amounts of bombs and firebombs – so many that they sounded like heavy rain coming down. I will never forget that sound (of the falling bombs); it is still vivid in my ears even today.
A year earlier, my youngest daughter was interviewing her for a 5th grade family biography project. One requirement was that the family member’s history was interesting or unusual. Naturally, since experiences like my aunt’s are not found in school textbooks today, I recommended she interview Aunt Eiko about her war experiences in Tokyo.
During the interview, Aunt Eiko said the (AN-M69) incendiary sticks were like thousands of 撥 (bachi, or the drumsticks used for taiko drums) raining down from the sky… that there were so many of them that it looked like swarms of insects. She also described the thousands of trailing streamers (attached to each stick) reminded her of ribbons fluttering in the breeze.¹ Unlike what many of us believe, she said the B-29s came for hours… that there would be a rash of explosions then the B-29s would disappear only to hear the now familiar drone of more B-29s approaching then more bombs.
In earlier conversations², she described seeing hundreds of flashes of light at roof top level during the firebombings. It wasn’t clear to me then but it is clear now that the flashes she witnessed were likely the smaller high explosive bombs dropped from the B-29s hitting structures and exploding. She also sadly described the homes burned like 提灯 (chouchin, or paper lanterns) and that the waves of heat distorted distances (like looking through the heat waves rising from your street in summer). It made it hard to judge how far – or how close – the fires were.
The main concentrations of fire occurred not just in the area behind and to the left of the Imperial Palace; Aunt Eiko said incendiaries (possibly dispersed due to the heat thermals) ignited neighborhoods just to the left of her Omiya house where they were staying. (Embers would have achieved the same results, however, and may be more likely.)
According to studies, death occurred through suffocation, incineration, and heat.
Fed by winds and with a fire department largely staffed by women volunteers, the fires spread rapidly and raged out of control. These firefighters attempted throwing dirt or sand on the incendiaries, a hopeless effort. When there was water pressure, the water pressure was low. Reports indicated the firefighters tried to douse the civilians as they fled but the water would soon evaporate from the heat.
Suffocation occurred as the great fires sucked all the oxygen out of the air. They just couldn’t breathe. Those that were able to find cooler river water tried to keep their faces above the water; but they, too, simply suffocated due to the lack of oxygen. In some instances, fleeing civilians attempted to seek shelter in areas that had pretty much burned but their bodies were found later in a small cluster. They suffocated to death together as oxygen became depleted.
Extreme heat was another cause of death as temperatures soared to 1,800F. Asphalt bubbled and steel bridges became frying pans. People panicking ran or were herded towards bridges or rivers only to be pushed into the waters by the ensuing masses of humanity trying to flee. Unfortunately, the water was at boiling temperatures and they were essentially boiled to death once they fell in. Escape paths were blocked with debris, downed power poles, burning trees…and bodies. If one could not escape the heat, that person simply burst into flames. Horrifically, superheated air swirled down towards street level. People would then literally burn from the feet up when their pants would catch fire.
Incineration was the worst, the most painful death I would assume. One aspect not widely known by the general populace is their type of clothing contributed greatly to their demise of burning to death. Their cloth-based head gear (see painting of women firefighters shown earlier) was meant to protect their ears and head from bomb explosions – not a firestorm. In the end, this protective head gear easily caught fire as did their loose fitting trousers. Aunt Eiko reported a girl she knew ran from the fires with a baby strapped onto her back in traditional Japanese style. Through all the noise, screaming, running and panic, the girl was unable to notice until too late that burning jellied gasoline had landed on the baby’s face and had died.
No photos of corpses are deemed necessary here.
Aunt Eiko has never said whether the Omiya home survived the firebombings and I don’t intend to ask. While this Tokyo raid was the first of several, I cannot understand why my great-grandfather would have sketched the home out, apparently from memory, unless it no longer existed.
Japanese reports of the aftermath indicate that due to the thousands of burned corpses or of those who suffocated, it was nearly impossible to walk through Tokyo without stepping on bodies. Further, as the seared corpses disintegrated, their ashes would swirl up into the air.
She, my mother and grandmother finally fled the city on or about July 1, 1945; grandfather stayed behind for reasons never known to her. They lived at another cousin’s yam farm in Fukui, helping to farm the fields while living on meager rations.
The war ended six weeks later. What happened in between is another story altogether.
Part 5 of “The Firebombing of Tokyo” will be an epilogue.
Capt. Ray Smisek loved to fly above all else per his son, S. Smisek. Indeed, he was a most capable pilot being the Aircraft Commander (A/C) of a B-29 of the 330th’s “City of San Francisco (SN 44-69800)“, a gleaming silver bird that carried ten other young men.
But he didn’t ask to be in that pilot’s seat in 1945 let alone be responsible for ten other young lives.
He had his orders. Orders from General Curtis LeMay.
Per Aviation History Online Museum, “the B-29 (initially) had a maximum permissible weight of around 105,000 pounds which was quickly upgraded to 138,000 pounds. During the latter phases of the war with Japan, gross take-off weights of well over 140,000 pounds were fairly common for the Superfortress.
A whopping 40% of the fuselage was dedicated to carrying bombs. The double bomb bay could carry 16,000 pounds to a target 2,050 miles away and return to base. It took 6,988 gallons of 100 octane aircraft fuel to fill the tanks. The maximum capacity was 9,548 gallons with ferry-tanks in the bomb bays, in which case the range was extended to 6,000 miles.” 
If the crew was lucky to return, they would have logged over 15 hours in the round trip from their airstrip on Guam to Tokyo.
As you complain today about the leg room on your five hour flight to New York , think about their 15-hour flights. No flight attendant. No movie…and you certainly aren’t shot at. 
The Decision to Firebomb
Without getting into detail, Brigadier General Haywood S. Hansell was in command of XXI Bomber Command in the Marianas in 1944. Dismal bombing results were being attained by the B-29s flying out of China, primarily due to only 5% of the bombs hitting target from 30,000′. One other significant contributor to the poor results was the before-mentioned unreliability of the B-29 engines. They had a tendency to overheat during the climb to bombing altitude or at other inconvenient times. Many young lives were lost and not due to enemy fire. In addition, the wind currents over Japan were wicked; bombs dropped from even 20,000′ would land nearly a mile away off target. 
The USAAF – particularly the cigar smoking and belligerent General Curtis LeMay – was dissatisfied with Hansell’s leadership of XXI Bomber Command. LeMay took over in January 1945. Even under LeMay’s command, the same poor results were initially obtained but after “successful” bombing missions over Kobe and Tokyo, LeMay officially changed his overall bombing strategy: he ordered the B-29s designed for high-altitude bombing to go in at 5,000′ to 9,000’…and to carry incendiaries along with smaller fragmentation bombs. LeMay had also been inspired by the bombing of Dresden. 
Ray Smisek, Captain of the “City of San Francisco”, had his orders. His crew was bound for Japan.
They say ballet is a difficult art form that yields beautiful results. Timing, training and execution. It all pays off at the end.
However, no one dies.
Indeed, to get hundreds of B-29s laden with jellied gasoline bombs and 8,000 gallons of high octane fuel into the air was like a ballet. It took timing, intensive training and execution.
But men died. It was not a simple task even when perfectly executed.
Because these laden B-29s were at their weights limits and powered by four unreliable behemoth engines, some planes crashed during take-off due to engine malfunction.
Perhaps you can imagine the thoughts racing through Capt. Smisek’s head as his B-29 thundered down the runway, straining to achieve sufficient airspeed to lift off – before he got to the end of the runway.
Pilots knew anything could happen during a mission. A plane could have turned back due to mechanical problems or crashed. No flight plan EVER went according to plan so two basic approaches to bombing Japan existed: one for daylight bombing and one for night time bombing.
Briefly, once in the air, B-29s would fly individually to an assembly point about 100 miles from Japan for daylight bombing. They flew “on their own”, so to speak, as fuel was a high concern. Flying in formation will consume more fuel and individual pilots could adjust for their own flight environment. Every gallon DID count. Upon a signal from the navigator, the captain would nudge the huge plane up to bombing altitude, normally 20,000′ to 30,000′. This climb was also another precarious phase: engines could overheat and they did. If they overheated too much, they would erupt in fire. If not put out, the fire would quickly burn through the wing spar with disastrous results.
While no one knew exactly how many B-29s would make it to the assembly point, the planes that got there would line up with a “lead” plane at the assembly point then follow the lead to target (Capt. Smisek was such a lead plane.). They would likely be in flights of three to four but no more than ten (i.e., three formations). When the lead dropped their ordnance, so would the others. S. Smisek reported his father “…comment(ed) once about how the B-29 would lurch up as 10 tons of bombs were released”.
For the night time firebombing raids, the B-29s would still take-off from Guam at one minute intervals but each would have their own course and altitude. However, before the rest of the squadron arrived, pathfinders made their drops first. They would literally criss-cross over their target and drop their incendiaries, a conceptual “X marks the spot” with fires.  That general “X” area became the target for the ensuing planes.
While very few photographs exist of the B-29s that night for obvious reasons, perhaps these daytime images largely provided by S. Smisek will illustrate the deathly hazards his father and crew undertook during their bombing missions to Japan. Many other privately taken pictures – many of the men – can be seen in his photostream; merely click on the images.
All crew members knew their fate if they bailed out over Japan. Pilots were urged to head out to sea if at all possible and ditch in hopes of being rescued by Allied ships. If the damage was not excessive, their goal would be Iwo Jima, just taken by the US Marines. In fact, one landed while the battle for Iwo Jima was still going. She would be the first of hundreds of B-29s to be saved.
The most devastating bombing attack in history occurred on March 9-10, 1945. While the actual number CANNOT be officially established, roughly 100,000 civilians perished that first night. In comparison, the first atomic blast over Hiroshima claimed about 80,000 lives on August 6, 1945; many were Korean slave laborers while others were Allied POWs. While this first firebombing mission is the most well known, other firebombing missions were just as terrifying – for those in the air or on the ground. While Capt. Smisek made his first incendiary drop over Japan on April 12th, the terror was the same.
The US military deemed the factories scattered about in Tokyo needed to be shut down. The bombers’ primary target was the industrial district just inland of Tokyo Bay. This is where intelligence determined the factories, docks and the homes of the workers who supplied the labor for Japan’s war industry were located. The area was a heavy concentration of Japanese traditional style wood and paper homes. My aunt lived one of these in the target area through high school.
In the few days before the attack, solitary B-29s flew over Tokyo at night, setting off search lights and flak. No bombs were dropped as these brave souls were testing Japanese reaction to their night time intrusion. In other words, they were scouts that actually wanted to be found by the enemy.
On the night of March 9-10, 334 B-29s weighing about 70 tons each began their 15+ hour flight to Tokyo; each plane took off in one minute intervals maintaining radio silence. As each plane was loaded with 40 clusters, the potential total number of individual AN-M69s to be released over Tokyo that night would be about 450,000 sticks (small amounts of other ordnance was dropped).
Twelve B-29 pathfinders were deployed in this attack; their mission was to set up to five targets in Tokyo. Depending on the report, the very first pathfinders arrived over Tokyo at about 10:30 pm flying into a strong headwind. They were met with intense flak and searchlights. The other pathfinders arrived in succession afterwards, each marking the targets for individual planes that were following.
One by one, the initial B-29s approached on their individual courses and altitudes ranging from 5,000′ to 9,000′, seeking out the fires set by the pathfinders. Bombardiers released the incendiary clusters accordingly over target. When the clusters broke apart between 2,500′ and 5,000′ and released the individual AN-M69 sticks, the swirling wind scattered them about. As one stick would puncture through a roof or otherwise hit a building, these sticks – capable of shooting flame 100 feet if unobstructed – would ignite three to five seconds later. This would happen 450,000 times that night if all ordnance had ignited without fail.
The stream of B-29s stretched for hundreds of miles; the bombing continued for over three hours. Fires raged out of control. Winds fanned the fires so intensely that temperatures at street level reached over 1,800F, bubbling asphalt. Fire crews were amateur, comprised mostly of women as the able men had been sacrificed for war. If someone escaped the fire, the likelihood was high that person would still suffocate to death as the firestorm consumed oxygen to feed itself.
By the time the trailing B-29s approached, the crews were tossed around by the swirling heat thermals rising from Tokyo. Some reported their B-29 bomber weighing 60 tons was thrust upward by 1,800 feet. Others vomited after smelling the intense stench of burning flesh permeating through their aircraft. Another crew member described the inferno below as flying over a forest of burning Christmas trees. These were young men just like Capt. Ray Smisek – if not younger.
Fourteen B-29s and their crews of eleven each did not return – 154 young men. Most of the planes were lost from the intense updrafts from the firestorm. Two collided over target from the effects of the dense smoke and heat thermals. It was a miracle more were not lost. 
The fire ran out of things to burn once it reached Tokyo Bay and concrete structures. Fire crews had nothing to do with it. The all clear was sounded at about 5 AM.
The raid achieved General LeMay’s goals and his crews did as ordered. Again, while estimates will always vary, about 13 square miles of Tokyo ceased to exist; that is more than half the size of current day Manhattan. Over a quarter-million homes and buildings were burned to the ground – including my Aunt Eiko’s childhood home.
Hope you will stayed tuned. The view from the ground in Part 4.
Edit: You can view the other chapters in this series by clicking on the links below:
1. B-29 specifications, courtesy of S. Smisek; an average load would be 20,000 tons:
2. A sample flight plan to a Japanese target, courtesy of S. Smisek:
3. Per S. Smisek, a contributor to the initial bombing inaccuracy was the B-29’s encounter with what is now known as the Jet Stream; this occurred as the B-29’s pressurized compartment enabled the aircraft to fly at higher altitudes (in the 23-39,000′ range).
4. LeMay understood the consequences of his command decision. If America were to lose the war, he would be charged as a war criminal. In addition to a “bat bomb” that was actually developed by the US military, S. Smisek reports LeMay’s planners came up with dropping delayed explosive ordnance. These were anywhere from 20lb all the way to 500lb GP HE that had up to a 30 minute delay fuse. These were employed to kill the personnel that were dispatched to put out the fires from the incendiary bombs.
5. Per S. Smisek, the pathfinders also carried a variety of GP (General Purpose) HE (High Explosive) bombs to break up the target area.
6. In WWII, over 250,000 US airmen were killed, far surpassing those troops lost on the ground.
That’s what we called them here in the States; nicknames for the Boeing B-29 bomber.
My aunt called them “地獄からのトンボ” or dragonfly from hell.
The development of the B-29 actually started before WWII began for the US – in 1939. Perhaps there were some shenanigans back then but Boeing had engineered a pressurized cockpit for their B-17 Flying Fortress (from whence the nickname Superfortress hailed from) for the USAAF. Conveniently, the USAAF put together in 1939 a call for a new bomber capable of 400 mph while carrying a 20,000 pound payload. The B-29 was born.
Her development was not smooth. Indeed, it was the most advanced aircraft design of its time with its pressurized crew compartment and ten remote control dual .50 caliber Browning machine guns. The second prototype YB-29 crashed into the Frye Packing Plant in Seattle killing her pilot, Eddie Allen, all ten of her crew of engineers as well as 19 workers on the ground. (In fact, two engineers managed to bail out over Seattle but they were too low for their parachutes to deploy.) As an indication of things to come, an engine caught fire 20 minutes into the flight causing the horrendous crash. As the plane was secret, there was a tremendous cover-up as well.
The production of the B-29 was a nightmare. Due to immensity of the aircraft for its time, there were no manufacturing facilities large enough to house it let alone build it. Four assembly plants were utilized with Boeing’s Wichita plant eventually becoming the hub. The plane’s complexity exacerbated the production; over a thousand sub-contractors were involved. Production changes were so prevalent, numerous and on-going that even when a B-29 had been assembled, it was towed to a holding area in Wichita to have major modifications done post-production. The freezing weather also made work a nightmare. Production was so poor that even when about 97 were delivered in 1943, only about 15 were flyable.
Some examples of these major flaws included:
Defective pressure seals around cockpit windows and gunner blisters;
As each plane had about ten miles of wiring and electronics, there were numerous failures;
The analog computers used for the new “remote control” machine guns were problematic; and,
As as mentioned, the engines overheated to the point of being set on fire during flight.
Because production of the first B-29’s were done “on the run”, the first 100 built were really built by hand by unskilled laborers. Each one differed from another. One end result of this production on the run was that there were significant differences in weight between supposedly identical bombers.
Only personal intervention by the great General Hap Arnold improved the production problem… but it took months.
The first combat deployment of the B-29 occurred from the China-Burma-India theater of war on June 4, 1944. Ninety-eight B-29s flew to targets in Thailand. However, the results were dismal (Reports indicate perhaps one bomb hit target. Most bombs landed two kilometers off target.). As another indicator of things to come, five B-29s were lost during the mission. They were not lost due to enemy fire; they crashed due to mechanical failure.
Under the command of Curtis “Iron Pants” LeMay, the first bombing mission to Japan occurred on June 15, 1944. Sixty-eight B-29s took off from bases around Chengdu and bombed a steel plant in Yahata, Japan. As a first indicator of an ugly pattern, only 47 of the 68 B-29’s reached their target.
As in the XB-29 prototype crash, the engines were the most serious operational defect. They utilized the 2,200 hp Wright R-3350 Duplex-Cyclone radial engine with 18 cylinders in two rows. One central design defect rested within the top five cylinders of the radial engine. These radial engines needed massive air flow to cool them off. Unfortunately, engine shortcomings, i.e., engine failures, led to a number of crashes at take off when the planes were fully loaded with ordnance or at other unfortunate times during their long flights. Engines needed overhaul or replacement only after about 75 hours of operation to give you an idea of their unreliability. Bombing missions to Tokyo averaged 15 hours in the air.
Later models – the B-29B or ‘”Silverplate”¹ – would be stripped of all defensive armament except for the tail gun.
Imagine being on the plane during that time flying over thousands of miles of ocean…exponentially worsened if you were under attack.
I wonder what unpleasant thoughts kept gnawing at Capt. Ray Smisek and his crew during one of their missions.
He was flying the Chevy Citation of the skies.
In essence, there were many combinations of bombs used in the bombing of Tokyo. For the purposes of this blog, we will focus on a couple.
The AN-M69 Incendiary Bomb was a cluster-type jellied gasoline (napalm) weapon; the gel would be contained in a cheesecloth sack then enclosed in a metal tube. The Standard Oil Development Company started work on the weapon two months before Pearl Harbor. The engineering goal was to develop an incendiary device with as little magnesium as possible due to supply constraints. The objective of this weapon was to simply burn things (and the enemy) up. Ironically, German buildings were the initial target but as the war progressed, use against Japanese targets became the focus.
The most common cluster assembly (the M19) held 38 individual AN-M69s, nicknamed “Tokyo Calling Cards” by her crews; the B-29s would release the M19s 5,000 feet above a target. As the M19 canister would break open, the force of the wind would deploy the streamer attached to each AN-M69 stick. As the individual AN-M69s scattered in the air stream, they would orient themselves to the nose-down position. The M1 fuse would activate after hitting the ground or target, then would lay there 3 to 5 seconds allowing the stick to lay on its side. After those seconds, the explosive charge would disperse the burning jellied gasoline, clinging to anything it touched.
For a USAAF film taken of its assembly and testing:
Each B-29 could carry 40 M19 canisters in their bomb bays with each canister carrying 38 AN-M69s. Using simple (non-common core) multiplication, that would be 1,520 AN-M69s per each B-29. A raid could involve hundreds of B-29s.
There were other variations of this concept, such as the M17s.
We have all been camping at one time or another. When we try to start a campfire “the old way”, the kids would be sent about looking for smaller twigs and branches to be used as kindling. Larger logs would then be placed upon the then burning kindling.
The AN-M41 was a 20 pound fragmentation bomb, held in clusters. There is nothing very unique about this weapon. Upon hitting a target, it’s mission was to simply break things up upon impact. Smaller pieces would then be easier to burn, much like kindling in concept.
I would think it would take immense courage to be flying in an aircraft being shot at while carrying these explosives. In colloquial terms, it took balls.
Lots of it. You were in a flying gasoline tanker.
The perilous B-29 missions will be coming next in Part 3.
Hope you’ll stay tuned.
Edit: You can find the other chapters in the links below:
1 Ironically, the secret codeword Colonel Paul Tibbetts of the Enola Gay was given by General Hap Arnold while assembling his atomic bombing group was “Silverplate”. If Tibbetts encountered any administrative SNAFU, he could get anything ordered by using the secret codeword.
So when I picked up my two kids from school today, I thought I’d surprise them.
I said, “Your Papa had a couple of his stories published in a book!”
Their response? “Oh…”
“Would you like to read it?”
Brooke said, “Umm… No-ah!”
The “-ah” is because she talks valley-girl sometimes and accentuates the end of words at the end of a short sentence with a “-ah”. In this case, her answer was resounding”No.”
Fellow blogger Russ Towne (his blog here) invited me to consider contributing to a non-fiction anthology. Considering this would be the first time ever any story of mine would be published, I gave it a shot! Not that I know anything about writing let alone publishing.
The book is now published and available on Amazon for $8.99 – less than minimum wage! What a deal! He entitled his anthology “Slices of Life”. Russ wrote on his blog:
“I’m pleased to announce that Slices of Life has been released and is available on Amazon.com!
Slices of Life is an anthology of the selected non-fiction stories. From heart-warming memories of childhood, to humorous perspectives on aging and inspiring stories of survival to hilariously disastrous social encounters, this non-fiction anthology has it all! It features thirty-plus stories exploring the challenges, triumphs, and humor of life as seen through the eyes and experienced in the hearts of more than a dozen writers.
Please spread the word that this long-awaited book is now available.
Thank you to everyone who helped to turn this dream into a reality.”
I’ll hope you’ll visit his blog and Amazon, too A direct link to Amazon is here.
Thank you, Russ, for the opportunity!
True stories about World War II – One war. Two Countries. One Family