Tag Archives: 日本

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 4


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One of my WWII aviation lithographs; it shows a P-38 Lightning ironically over Leyte where my uncle was killed. Drawn by my good friend Mike Machat.

The View From the Ground

“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.

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Circa 1930
(L to R) Mom and Aunt Eiko, circa 1931. Tokyo.

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.

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My Aunt Mieko (dad’s side of family) standing in front of our traditional style home, circa 1936. Although my dad’s home shown here is in Hiroshima, the construction is the same as my aunt’s: wood and paper. Behind her are the “shoji”, or sliding door panels as well as the hard tatami mats. As a side note, all these shoji were blown out by the atomic shock wave.

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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.

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Aunt Eiko, front row, third from left, and circle of close friends. Her closest friend, standing to the left of her, was slightly burned during a firebombing.  Taken atop the Asahi Newspaper Building, Tokyo, Oct. 30, 1937.

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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:

omiya visio
Omiya, the Imperial Palace and childhood home.

A drawing of the wood home in Omiya:

keizu crp
The actual traditional wooden home (立ての木) in Omiya, Tokyo where my family took refuge during the bombings. It is about a mile west of the Imperial Palace. This was drawn on extremely thin paper – much thinner than the old tracing paper we had here in the States – by my great-grandfather, Wakio Shibayama. Undated but post-war.

The Firebombing

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My aunt’s writing. (Copyright Koji Kanemoto)

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.

She notes on the left:

東京大空襲が3月10日にあっておじいさんの家の庭でB-29の爆弾、焼夷弾が落とされる時の雨が降る様な音とその爆弾の数の多いことにだいたいおどかされた。そのおとのザ~ザ~というのが今でも耳にのこっている。

In doing my best at translating, she says:

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.

ちょうちん
提灯 or paper lantern.

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 Firestorm

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.)

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The city’s fire department was largely staffed by women who were not professional firefighters. Importantly, note the clothing worn by the mother and child in the forefront. Source: “The Reports of General MacArthur“.

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.

taka-hide
A Japanese artist’s depiction. Note the pants on fire and the swirling heat.  While unsure, the name appears to be Takahide.

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.

Aftermath

tokyofires
A wall exhibit at the Tokyo History Museum, showing the extent of the area destroyed by firebombing. The Imperial Palace is just right of center. The Omiya house is in the burned zone, in the very center.

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.

I hope you will stay tuned.

Part 1 is here.

Part 2 is here.

Part 3 is here.

Part 5 (Epilogue) is here.

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NOTES:

1. That even surprised me as I didn’t know the incendiaries had streamers, so much so that I asked her what she was talking about.

2. Just like Old Man Jack and many other combat veterans, Aunt Eiko (along with my father) suppresses many of the horrific war experiences she witnessed.  She “gives” things out little by little.

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 3


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Actual photo of firestorm in Tokyo during a firebombing mission. Courtesy of S. Smisek.

The Long, Perilous Flight to Tokyo

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.

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A drawing by S. Smisek showing his father and the crew of the “City of San Francisco” at their respective stations.

He had his orders. Orders from General Curtis LeMay.

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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.” [1]

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. [2]

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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. [3]

Wind currents and cloud cover over Japan. National Archives.
Wind currents and cloud cover over Japan. National Archives.

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. [4]

Ray Smisek, Captain of the “City of San Francisco”, had his orders. His crew was bound for Japan.

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The Flight

smisek-100-8
Capt. Smisek’s B-29 was at the upper left. For a detailed description of how these huge, bomb laden B-29s would take off for a mission to Japan, please see S. Smisek’s write up at https://flic.kr/p/49N5vr.

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.

The Attacks

formation
B-29 formations such as this one rarely occurred for bombing attacks on Japan. Source unknown.

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. [5]  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.

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(Lower left) Per S. Smisek, the cockpit had been sheared off and the B-29 has rolled over onto its back. All lost. (NOTE: that is smoke, not clouds; notice the double bomb bay doors are open.)
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Another B-29, a squadron mate of Capt. Ray Smisek, disintegrates after suicide planes rams it. Although two apparently bailed, they were later killed.  All KIA. Courtesy of S. Smisek.
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Flak bursts amongst B-29s during the dropping of bombs. Courtesy of S. Smisek.
342-FH-3A-42696-58275AC_iwo_b29_crash_20th_af
National Archives
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B-29 crash site in Japan. Undated. Tail number visible. Source unknown.
nihon b29
More wreckage from a crashed B-29 in Japan. Japanese citizens surround the tail. Source unknown.

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.

Tokyo

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.

smisek-1-5
Ray Smisek’s handwritten mission log with daytime missions on the left, nighttime missions on the right. Aborted missions (two) are on another log page. The one mission not on his handwritten log was his last: the flyover of Tokyo Bay after the Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri. Indeed, Smisek was part of that great aerial armada.

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.

smisek-10
Actual AN-M69 with its infamous ribbon-like streamers. Courtesy S. Smisek.

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.

Tokyo-A3851a
Burned out areas stretched from the bay at left to the Imperial Palace. USAAF photograph.

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.

A view from a B-29 cockpit, or "Greenhouse" as it was nicknamed.  While the smoke rising above Kobe, it should give you an idea of what Tokyo may have looked like. Courtesy of S. Smisek.
A view from a B-29 cockpit, or “Greenhouse” as it was nicknamed. While the smoke rising above Kobe, it should give you an idea of what Tokyo may have looked like. Courtesy of S. Smisek.

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. [6]

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.

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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:

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 1

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 2

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 4

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Epilogue

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Notes:

1. B-29 specifications, courtesy of S. Smisek; an average load would be 20,000 tons:
smisek-10-2

smisek-10-8
Assembling the incendiary bomb clusters on Guam for the next mission. (NOTE: Depending on the article read, this B-29 in Capt. Smisek’s 330th BG was still armed with the .50 caliber Browning machine guns.) Courtesy of S. Smisek.

2. A sample flight plan to a Japanese target, courtesy of S. Smisek:
smisek-10-2

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.

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 1


A View From Both Sides

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From left: Grandmother, Dad in US Army uniform 1947 and his youngest brother (seated), circa 1943. The writing is my aunt’s; you can see “B-29”.  Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto

My Aunt Eiko called me in April of 2011; you can tell she was crying.

“I’ve seen this before,” she said in Japanese.  She was watching the TV footage of the disaster caused by the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Dumbfounded, I asked, “How could you have seen this before?  The earthquake just happened.”

“完全な破壊。。。戦争思い出したわぁ。。。” or loosely translated, “From the war…  I remember seeing this (complete destruction) from the war…”

Ironically, she was recalling what she saw exactly 66 years earlier – April 1945 – when Tokyo and many other cities were firebombed in an all out world war.

She was there.

And so was someone else from the other side of the Pacific.

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Through the miracle of WordPress, many of us here have met in the most peculiar of ways –  the hub being World War II…  Perhaps ironic but nevertheless destiny.

For instance, pacificparatrooper‘s father was in the US Army’s 11th Airborne and parachuted into combat over the Philippines with my Dad’s youngest brother killed later on Leyte as a Japanese soldier.  JeanneRene‘s father fought on the wretched islands as a critical Seabee.  Of course, my neighbor Old Man Jack was a sailor fighting to survive in the thick of things on those “stinkin’ islands” – Guadalcanal, Rabaul, Okinawa and Green Island.  Mr. Johnson fought and was wounded on-board CV-6, the USS Enterprise, manning the 20mm AA guns as a US Marine.  Although they returned, they did not return home unscathed.

None of them did.

The Main “Human Beings” of this Story

This series hopes to present the ugliness of war as personally experienced by two human beings – one who was on the ground and one who was in the air.

…The scarring of a Tokyo teen-aged girl on the ground: my Aunt Eiko.

Circa 1932
(L to R) Aunt Eiko, Mom, Grandpa and Grandma. Circa 1938, Tokyo. Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto

…AND the scarring of a young B-29 Superfortress pilot in the US Army Air Force’s 330th Bomber Wing: Capt. Ray B. Smisek who flew bombing missions over Japan.

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Ray B. Smisek (to right of nose gear) after a safe return from a bombing mission to Gifu. Behind him is the B-29 he captained with a crew of ten young men, the “City of San Francisco”. 1945. Courtesy of son S. Smisek (copyright).

There is one sad, dreadful thing about their fateful relationship: neither had asked for it.

Neither had asked for war.

A very bitter war.

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Ray B. Smisek, the Gent

Capt Smisek Catalina island
A “life is good” portrait of Ray Smisek on Catalina Island. Copyrighted photo courtesy of S. Smisek.

One person I met online was S. Smisek.  He has an extensive photo collection on flickr of his father’s service during World War II; that is where our paths crossed (his photo link is here).  His father was Capt. Smisek, the captain of “City of San Francisco”, a B-29 bomber flying out of Guam as part of the 330th Bombardment Group, 458th Squadron.  Born in Minnesota in 1920, he was also a lead pilot – a very heavy responsibility let alone if under attack.

His son shared with me his remembrances of his father.  He shared that Capt. Smisek liked flying above all else – especially open cockpit.

“(His dad) liked Czech and German food, like Sauerkraut, sausage and beer. Polka music. Baseball and football.  He loved baking bread and pastry.  Made amazing sourdough pancakes and Christmas bread. He loved gardening.  He could grow ANYTHING and liked to tinker on anything and everything around the house.  Fix it… or break it if it already was fixed.

Capt Smisek Football at 18 yo Thrid from front right
A young Ray Smisek, third from right. Copyrighted photo courtesy of S. Smisek.

He hated hunting. Did not like to kill anything.  He would pick up bugs and release them outside.  Used to freak us kids out!

He liked his newspaper and watching the news.  He occasionally smoked a pipe.  Wore Old Spice aftershave all the time I knew him (I keep some around to this day.).  He loved licorice. 

He was honest as the day is long.  A man of his word.  A handshake was an agreement.  A promise.  A very strong Republican who loved Richard Nixon and John Wayne.  He liked Louis L’Amour books.  I think he dreamed of being a cowboy.

(Dad) hated racists.  Always gave everyone a chance. Maybe two and that’s it.”

Aunt Eiko, the Teenager

(L to R) Aunt Eiko and mom. Circa 1932, Shimbashi, Tokyo.
(L to R) Aunt Eiko and mom. Circa 1932, Shimbashi, Tokyo.

My Aunt Eiko and my mother had lived with my grandparents in Tokyo since their births in the mid-1920’s. Their childhood home was next to the Ginza at Shimbashi 5 Chome; think of it as Japan’s Beverly Hills.  It is within walking distance from the Imperial Palace.  My aunt says the picture to the left was taken near their Shimbashi home and next to a relative’s kimono shop in the Ginza.

As a child, she was apparently sickly.  They say she was quite skinny from this ailment and that ailment; the food shortage didn’t help much although my grandfather reportedly had black market connections to obtain food once in a while.  Nevertheless, she had a weak digestive system.  She has it to this day.

Like most Japanese “upper society” girls of that time, she was required to know how to play the shamisen, or a Japanese stringed instrument.  She was also trained on the silk kimono – it was an elaborate dress that took a couple of hours to put on properly.

Showa 14 Aki - Fall 1939 / Grandma in center, Aunt Eiko on right
Aunt Eiko on right playing the “shamisen”. Tokyo, Autumn 1939.

Aunt Eiko didn’t disappoint anyone’s ear drums when she saw a bug.  She screamed really loud when a bug got near her.  It was easy to see them since they get as big as footballs there in Japan.  Ok, I’m exaggerating – a little.

She had an artistic flair, with her grandfather being a noted painter and art professor.  She loved “ikebana”, or flower arranging.  In fact, she made it her career after war’s end, becoming one of the top ranked ikebana instructors in Tokyo.

Amazingly, in spite of her stomach ailments, she liked cooking; unfortunately, she had a knack for burning things.  I know.

Most of all, she loved dogs.  After feeding one with her chopsticks, she’d just go right back to using them to feed herself… but with food a scarcity, her love for dogs would have to wait until quite a while after war’s end.

________________________________

In Part 2, we will visit the B-29 Superfortress, her crews and the ordnance she would typically carry into battle above Japan.

Hope you’ll stay tuned.

Edit: You can find the other chapters in the links below:

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 2

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 3

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 4

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Epilogue

What Did FDR Know? – Part 4


 

honolulu headline

As we saw in Part 3, Japan and America are now at war.

While not directly related to the question of “What did FDR know?”, it is deemed critical for readers to understand the damages suffered by the US military – and specifically its naval and air assets – on December 7, 1941.  It is also important to realize the huge advantage the Japanese Imperial Navy had over the U.S. Navy.  Lastly, it is important for readers to note the unbridled successes of the Japanese military at that time… and what unbelievably followed.

For the vast majority, Americans are under the belief that the US was caught flat-footed with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.  Indeed, 21 ships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet were sunk or damaged.

Of those ships damaged, all but three of the ships at Pearl Harbor were refloated and repaired (Note: Pearl Harbor at its deepest is about 50′.):

  • The USS Arizona – too badly damaged to be salvaged,
  • The USS Oklahoma – raised but considered too obsolete to be worth repairing, and,
  • The USS Utah – also considered obsolete.

In addition, the US had 188 aircraft destroyed plus 159 were damaged; the majority were hit before they had a chance to take off.

uss calif

There were a total of 2,403 American casualties, including 68 civilians.  Most of the military killed were on the USS Arizona (1,177 killed).  Most of the civilians killed were from improperly fused anti-aircraft shells fired by US batteries hitting in Honolulu.  There were 1,178 wounded military personnel and civilians combined. (1)

crashed zero
A downed Zero in a Hawaiian neighborhood.

Japanese naval forces sailing for the raid included four heavy aircraft carriers, two battleships, two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, 35 submarines, and 11 destroyers.  Indeed, a powerful fleet projecting tremendous offensive firepower.  All survived unscathed; all but 29 Japanese aircraft returned to their carriers.

In the Pacific Theater, Japanese forces were rolling over Allied forces at will with victories in Thailand, Malaya, Wake Island, Guam Island, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore, Burma, Dutch Indonesia and the invasion New Guinea.  The Imperial Japanese Navy dominated in the Pacific, attacking Allied bases in Australia and Ceylon; they even bombed or shelled coast of North America at will albeit with minimal effect.

But, the great sea battle of the Coral Sea and more specifically at Midway essentially put a halt to the wave of Japanese victories… barely five months after Pearl Harbor.

How could that possibly be?  Wasn’t our Pacific fleet crippled?

____________________________

So… how DID the US Navy stop the Japanese advance at these critical battles at Coral Sea and Midway?  After all, at the time of Pearl Harbor, the US Navy only had three aircraft carriers in the Pacific: the USS Enterprise, USS Lexington, and USS Saratoga.  (The USS Hornet was still on shakedown cruise and the USS Yorktown and USS Wasp were deployed in the Atlantic.)

Of course, the heroics of our sailors and Marines played a most dominant role but you may wish to ask yourself:

  • Were American aircraft and ships better than their Japanese counterparts?  No, production of new classes of ships and aircraft would not arrive in the Pacific until 1943.
  • Did American forces have more men, aircraft and ships? Again no, the tide of the American industrial strength would not be felt in the Pacific until 1943.
  • Was it better leadership?  No.  Admiral Chester W. Nimitz was arguably equally matched by Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the overall commander of Japanese forces during the battles of Coral Sea and Midway.
  • Did our navy stumble upon the enemy out in the Pacific by sheer luck or happenstance?

If it wasn’t the above, how was the US Navy able to engage the Imperial Japanese Navy at Coral Sea and Midway then stop them?

It was MAGIC.

___________________________

Battle of Coral Sea, May 4 – 8, 1942

coral sea map
Battle of the Coral Sea, May 1942.  Source: Pacific War Museum.

By March 13, 1942, OP-G-20 had completely broken JN-25.  Until then, about 10% to 15% of a JN-25 message that was intercepted could be read. (2)  However, enough could be deciphered to understand the Japanese were gearing up to attack Port Moresby in Papua, New Guinea on May 7, 1942.  By taking Port Moresby, Japan could extend its reach beyond northern Australia and further south.

Upon receiving the intelligence from the deciphered JN-25 messages, Admiral Chester Nimitz decided to move a fleet into position in between Port Moresby and Australia.  He issued such orders on April 17, 1942.  However, he had but two carriers available for action – the USS Lexington and the USS Yorktown.  This battle was definitely NOT a chance encounter; it was planned.

jn25 sampleIn fact, deciphered messages allowed the US Task Force 17 to be in position before the Japanese fleets arrived to attack.  But lacking sufficient capital ships and aircraft that were inferior to the Japanese Zero, the outcome was far from certain.  The sailors and Marines were largely untested as well.  (The USS Hornet and USS Enterprise were unavailable due to their critical roles in the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo; it took place two days later on April 18, 1942.)

With but two carriers and support ships, the US fleet was outgunned especially considering our aircraft was obsolete.  The Japanese fleet sailed with a Shoho (a carrier), several cruisers and destroyers, and a dozen transports filled with troops.  A smaller invasion force would move down the Solomons, which laid on New Guinea’s eastern flank, with the target being Tulagi. To protect these two invasion fleets, the Japanese carriers Zuikaku and Shokaku would spearhead yet a third fleet to provide air protection.

coral-lex01s
The USS Lexington explodes and sinks. (US Navy archival photo)

While the ensuing two-day Battle of Coral Sea was considered a draw, U.S. forces inflicted enough damage on the Japanese navy to force it to withdraw.  In addition, as the Japanese were unable to secure the port, their military was forced to fight in land warfare, which proved disastrous for the Japanese.  Of most importance, the fruit of the battle saw the Japanese carrier Shoho sunk, with both the Zuikaku and Shokaku damaged and forced to retire.  Therefore, they were made unavailable for the critical Battle of Midway, just about four weeks later.

However, we lost the USS Lexington, a major loss. And while the USS Yorktown suffered heavy damage as well, the Japanese believed her to have been sunk; instead, the USS Yorktown was made seaworthy through the extreme efforts of repair crews at Pearl Harbor.  While two weeks had been estimated for repairs, the repair crews had her back on the seas in just 48 hours.

This strategic victory was made entirely possible because of secret MAGIC intercepts.  The Japanese still did not believe their complex JN-25 had been broken.

Battle of Midway, June 4 – 7, 1942

rochefort
Captain Joseph Rochefort, USN, head of OIC, Pearl Harbor (Photo NSA)

Arguably, the paramount triumph from the breaking of JN-25 on March 13, 1942 was the Battle of Midway.  This is one battle that my neighbor, Mr. Johnson, fought on board the USS Enterprise as a very young US Marine.  From decrypting the Japanese naval messages, the U.S. naval commanders knew the general battle plans of Admiral Yamamoto – even the timetable.  Yamamoto’s strategy was to have aircraft carrier task forces launch both a diversionary raid off the Aleutian Islands then lure the U.S. Navy to Midway Island.  His goal was to decimate once and for all what remained of the American fleet after Pearl Harbor.

Yes, the deciphered intercepts did not state in the clear Midway was the target; the messages simply designated “AF.”  While CINCPAC felt strongly it was Midway, it was Captain Joseph Rochefort of OP-20-G who wily suggested how to establish for certain what “AF” stood for.

Rochefort was Officer in Charge (OIC) of Station Hypo in Pearl Harbor, the nerve station in Hawaii for deciphering JN-25 intercepts.  An expert Japanese linguist and during the most critical month of May 1942, Rochefort reviewed, analyzed, and reported on as many as 140 decrypted messages per day. These reports were directly piped to the highest-ranking fleet commanders.  He brilliantly strategized for American forces on Midway to send out a radio message saying that they were running short of fresh water.  Rochefort and his group waited anxiously to see if Japan would take the bait. Finally, OP-G-20 intercepted a Japanese message: AF was running short of fresh water.

Establishing Midway as the target, the U.S. Navy assembled what it could.  America was still short on capital ships and better aircraft.  After a 48 hour turnaround, the USS Yorktown joined the USS Enterprise and USS Hornet.

While remembering that by virtue of deciphering coded Japanese messages, the Japanese Imperial Navy had three less carriers to deploy after their losses at Coral Sea – a very critical fact.  After a fierce three-day battle at Midway, U.S. naval aviators sank all four Japanese aircraft carriers in Yamamoto’s task force – the Hiryu, Soryu, Akagi and Kaga.  All four participated in the assault on Pearl Harbor, effectively turning the tide in the Pacific.  Yes, luck was involved during the actual battle but certainly, the courage of our young men at sea and in the air was incredible.  They had proven themselves but at great cost in lives and materiel… including the USS Yorktown.

Unbelievably, the Chicago Tribune published a darned story revealing that the U.S. had known about Japanese battle plans in advance.  They had, in effect, revealed that JN–25 had been broken. Inexplicably, key Japanese leaders never found out about the article.  Darned media – even back then.

Assassination of Admiral Yamamoto

State funeral Yamamoto
State funeral procession for Admiral Yamamoto, 1943.

As school history books had once shown, the battle planner of the Pearl Harbor attack was Admiral Yamamoto.  He did know of the might of the U.S. having attended Harvard University – yes, Harvard – from 1919 to 1921, studying English.  He did, in fact, oppose taking on the U.S.  But Yamamoto had one trait which would lead directly to his death: his intense desire to be punctual.  The US counted on this.

Codebreakers intercepted then learned after deciphering messages that the admiral was scheduled to inspect a naval base on Bougainville in the Solomon Islands on April 18, 1943.  The detail even included his minute by minute itinerary.  Some top US officials were hesitant to use this information for fear that doing so would tip off the Japanese that their codes had been broken. Nevertheless, the decision was made to assassinate Yamamoto. That morning, eighteen P–38 fighters left their base at Guadalcanal at the other end of the Solomon chain and arrived at Bougainville precisely ten minutes before Yamamoto’s plane was making its approach. The admiral was killed in the attack, depriving Japan of its most experienced and accomplished admiral and sapping Japanese morale.

yamamoto flight
Flights paths: Yamamoto (red) and USAAF (black). Also notice “Green Island” north of Bouganville. This was “Old Man Jack’s” last battle station. USN Archives

To mislead the Japanese that the fighters had arrived purely by chance, the air force flew other risky patrols to the area, both before and after the attack.  It was not a “one shot in the dark” mission.  It was deeply thought over and planned out – because we were able to intercept and decipher coded Japanese messages.(3)  They also spread “rumors” that the information was from coast watchers.

The Japanese did not change JN–25, and for the remainder of the war, U.S. intelligence intercepted and read thousands of Japanese messages.  A portion of a secret OP-20-G report, circa 1943, is below listing the number of coded Japanese messages intercepted:

Japan’s Plan

Early in 1942, Japan decided to block the Allies from setting up bases in Australia. Operation MO would send a large invasion force to Port Moresby, the capital of New Guinea. From Port Moresby, the Japanese would be able to project air power beyond the northern tip of Australia and establish bases even further south (Hearn).

The Port Moresby landing force sailed with about a dozen transports filled with troops, several cruisers and destroyers, and a half-size carrier, Shoho (Bennett, Hearn). A smaller invasion force would move down the Solomons, which lay on New Guinea’s eastern flank. The specific target in the Solomons was Tulagi, which was the colonial capital. To protect these two invasion fleets, Zuikaku and Shokaku would lead a separate covering force to create a blanket of air protection (Bennett).

The U.S. Prepares

By March 1942, the United States had cracked part of the current Japanese Naval (JN) code, JN-25. However, U.S. intelligence could intercept only about 60 percent of all Japanese transmissions and had the resources to analyze only about 40 percent of the messages it did intercept (Parshall and Tully). Even then, code breakers typically could read only 10 to 15 percent of the code groups in a message (Parshall and Tully). U.S. intelligence primarily used direction-finding equipment to learn where many Japanese ships were and where they were heading (Parshall and Tully).

Beginning on April 16, U.S. intelligence began using this spotty information to piece together an understanding of a Japanese plan to move south with carriers (Parshall and Tully). On April 17, Nimitz ordered the carrier Lexington to join Yorktown in the Coral Sea (Bennett). If Halsey had been able to move Enterprise and Hornet there too, the U.S. might have been able to destroy the Japanese fleet. But Enterprise and Hornet needed refitting after the Doolittle raid of April 18, 1942, and could not get there in time for the fight (Parshall and Tully).

– See more at: http://www.pacificaviationmuseum.org/pearl-harbor-blog/battle-of-the-coral-sea#sthash.P5voInlO.dpuf

Japan’s Plan

Early in 1942, Japan decided to block the Allies from setting up bases in Australia. Operation MO would send a large invasion force to Port Moresby, the capital of New Guinea. From Port Moresby, the Japanese would be able to project air power beyond the northern tip of Australia and establish bases even further south (Hearn).

The Port Moresby landing force sailed with about a dozen transports filled with troops, several cruisers and destroyers, and a half-size carrier, Shoho (Bennett, Hearn). A smaller invasion force would move down the Solomons, which lay on New Guinea’s eastern flank. The specific target in the Solomons was Tulagi, which was the colonial capital. To protect these two invasion fleets, Zuikaku and Shokaku would lead a separate covering force to create a blanket of air protection (Bennett).

The U.S. Prepares

By March 1942, the United States had cracked part of the current Japanese Naval (JN) code, JN-25. However, U.S. intelligence could intercept only about 60 percent of all Japanese transmissions and had the resources to analyze only about 40 percent of the messages it did intercept (Parshall and Tully). Even then, code breakers typically could read only 10 to 15 percent of the code groups in a message (Parshall and Tully). U.S. intelligence primarily used direction-finding equipment to learn where many Japanese ships were and where they were heading (Parshall and Tully).

Beginning on April 16, U.S. intelligence began using this spotty information to piece together an understanding of a Japanese plan to move south with carriers (Parshall and Tully). On April 17, Nimitz ordered the carrier Lexington to join Yorktown in the Coral Sea (Bennett). If Halsey had been able to move Enterprise and Hornet there too, the U.S. might have been able to destroy the Japanese fleet. But Enterprise and Hornet needed refitting after the Doolittle raid of April 18, 1942, and could not get there in time for the fight (Parshall and Tully).

– See more at: http://www.pacificaviationmuseum.org/pearl-harbor-blog/battle-of-the-coral-sea#sthash.P5voInlO.dpuf

Crane Library, National Archives, College Park
National Archives

Purple and D-Day

The importance of MAGIC and the breaking of the “Purple” Japanese consulate code cannot be understated.  For non-historian readers, the reach and military value extends far beyond the waters of the Pacific.  It extends to Europe…specifically D-Day and the shores of Normandy.

As revealed in “What Did FDR Know? – Part 2” of this blog series, the US broke the code for this cipher before the attack at Pearl Harbor.  The US did their best to keep the wraps over this great intelligence triumph.  However, Nazi Germany’s own intelligence had good evidence that SIS had broken Purple and informed the Japanese.  Unbelievably, Japan refused to believe it.  (I believe this is part of the Japanese culture – to not place importance on “water cooler” talk.)   Only when Congressional hearings and investigations into who knew of the Pearl Harbor attack reveal this did the Japanese accept it.  Unfortunately, is was much after war’s end.(4)

oshima 1
Baron Hiroshi Oshima, 1939.

Per “What Did FDR Know? – Part 1”, Baron Hiroshi Oshima was the Japanese envoy to Berlin and used his Purple machine to communicate frequently with Tokyo.  Luckily for the US, Oshima was also an Imperial Army colonel at the time of appointment and loved war strategy and armaments.  He followed intimately the German conquests in Europe and their latest technologies. He sent very detailed reports to his superiors in Tokyo of what he had learned using the purple cipher machine, which the US was able to intercept and decipher immediately.

Oshima became a favorite and a confidant of Hitler.  Hitler – being so full of himself and pompous – shared with Oshima the most secret and sensitive of his war plans with him.  Hitler even gave Oshima a tour of the German defenses in Normandy!  As per his character and routine, Oshima transmitted very detailed reports of the Nazi defenses at Normandy.  This was obviously key in the preparations for D-Day, so much so the deciphered intel was immediately transmitted to General Eisenhower.  Not quite what we read in our textbooks…

And while the public is led to believe the U.S. did not know if the German commanders took the bait that the D-Day invasion would take place at Pas-de-Calais, Oshima secretly gave the US confidence that the Germans had taken the deception through his messages to Tokyo.  The Nazis were preparing for the landing at the wrong beaches.  (Note: this is not to lessen the somberness of those killed or missing in action at Normandy.  Further, this is not to lessen the importance of wartime security.)  Further, with their true belief that the invasion at Normandy was a diversion, the Panzer divisions were not immediately released to engage the Allied invading forces until too late.

In recognition of this value to Japan, he was promoted in a few short years from Colonel to Lt. General.  Oshima’s prolific reporting prompted US General George C. Marshall to say Oshima was, “…our main basis of information regarding Hitler’s intentions in Europe” in 1944. (5)

_____________________________

Final Query for Part 4

Why did the U.S. decide to take intense preparatory military action for Coral Sea based only on partial deciphers of JN-25?  As stated, OP-20-G did not break JN-25 completely until March 1942.  However, OP-20-G was able to adequately decipher JN-25 messages – even one sent by Yamamoto himself – only until about one week before Pearl Harbor when a code key was changed.  What could the reasons be for the U.S. not taking similar defensive or offensive action at Pearl Harbor before the actual attack commenced?  Was it because of incomplete intel?  Were deciphered messages not of importance to FDR… or they not reach FDR at all?  Were diplomatic deciphers not important?  Did top brass feel their carriers would be sunk facing tremendous attacks and therefore, the Pacific War would be lost from the get-go?  Or…?

Of course, there can be as many reasons as there are people.

_____________________________

NOTES:

(1) National Park Service

(2) “At the Interface” documentary based on interviews of Donald M. Showers, USN, ret.

(3) Public teaching in the past was true at the surface – that the US had intercepted a radio message “sent out in the open” by a brash young officer.  Now you know it was the work of cryptanalysts working under tremendous secrecy.

(4) National Cryptologic Museum

(5) “Hitler’s Japanese Confidant” by Carl Boyd

What Did FDR Know? – Part 1


fdr ph

Good day, everyone.

The more frequent readers of this blog, “Masako and Spam Musubi”, likely see that my main focus is on World War II and my family’s involvement on both sides of the Pacific.  Although I definitely am not a historian by any means, stories here are based on family records supplemented by tidbits of historical “facts”.

And some of these historical facts are public knowledge…while some are kept or suppressed from public knowledge.

Some were destroyed.

The White House also has perhaps the most insurmountable power over what is written – or how events are presented to or withheld from the public.  At times, this leads to the distrust of the very government the people have elected into power.  This distrust continues today and arguably, the worst its been in our country’s history.

This is a knotty topic without a doubt…about FDR’s involvement – or even orchestration – in what happened during these critical years.  But these factual conflicts have perplexed me for years.  Conflicts between what we were taught versus what wasn’t.

I wish to express some facts here and in the next couple of stories about the Pacific war and allow you to come to your own conclusions about FDR.  They will center around Pearl Harbor and the interment of my dad’s family in “war relocation centers”.  Please note that entire books and research papers have been written on this general topic so my blog will do as best possible to reveal the facts involving FDR – before Pearl Harbor, immediately after and up to his death late in the war.

So…  What did FDR know?

Let’s get into it, shall we?

____________________________

fdr paper

BACKGROUND

FDR was our only president to be elected to four terms in office.  He passed away while serving his fourth term on April 12, 1945, just weeks before the surrender of Nazi Germany.  The nation was distracted from the war for that moment.  They mourned his passing.  Indeed, there was great stress being President of the United States in time of World War. Some general background before I get into it:

  • He was a politician.
  • FDR was liked by a significant majority of Americans as proven by his being elected to a fourth term.
  • He made a statement to America during his 1940 re-election campaign, “I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again: Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign war.” (1)
  • A pre-war Gallup poll disclosed 88% of those Americans polled opposed US involvement in the European war.  Britain was fighting for her life.  FDR supported isolationism publicly.
  • Perhaps the best kept secret prior to Pearl Harbor and up to immediately after World War II ended was that an elite cryptology group (members of the US Army Signal Intelligence Service, or SIS) had broken the Japanese diplomatic code in early 1939.  Any intelligence that was gathered was kept secret and under the cover name of “MAGIC”.  (One huge single diplomatic source of detailed enemy information was Baron Hiroshi Oshima, Japan’s ambassador to Nazi Germany.  Nearly all of Oshima’s messages from Berlin to Tokyo were intercepted and deciphered.) (2)
  • Beginning in 1940 and then continuing, FDR and the League of Nations placed an economic embargo on Japan in reaction to their attacks in Asia.  Items were added weekly to the embargo list – except for oil.
Kent
Tyler Kent
  • In 1940, Tyler Kent, a 29 year old code clerk at the U.S. embassy in London, discovered secret dispatches between Roosevelt and Churchill.  These revealed that FDR — despite contrary campaign promises — was determined to engage America in the war. Kent smuggled some of the documents out of the embassy, hoping to alert the American public — but was caught.  With U.S. government approval, he was tried in a secret British court and confined to a British prison until the war’s end.  FDR approved to carefully associate the term “German spy” to his name in a further coverup. (3)
  • FDR authorized British and American military staff members to meet during January through March 1941; the purpose was to plan ahead military strategy in the event the U.S. entered war against Germany. They determined that Germany was to be first defeated, while the U.S. would stand on the defensive toward Japan in the Pacific.
  • The Lend-Lease Bill was passed in March 1941, a major shift in FDR’s foreign policy.
  • At the Nov. 25, 1941 White House conference, just weeks before Pearl Harbor, Secretary Stimson reported that FDR had said “The President said the Japanese were notorious for making an attack without warning and stated that we might be attacked, say next Monday, for example.”  FDR knew historically that on three different occasions since 1894, Japan had made surprise attacks coinciding with breaks in diplomatic relations.  (4)
  • On November 29th, Secretary of State Cordell Hull secretly met with newspaper reporter Joseph Leib.  Hull knew him and felt he was a news man he could trust. The Secretary of State handed him secret MAGIC copies concerning Pearl Harbor.  Hull told him the Japanese were planning to strike Pearl Harbor and that FDR planned to let it happen.  Due to the incredibility, only one newspaper published the story.
wwii portraits
(L to R) Stimson, Oshima greeting Hitler, and Ranneft (in white) shaking hands with Chester Nimitz, 1946.
  • On December 2, 1941, days before Pearl Harbor, Captain Johann Ranneft, a Dutch naval attaché in Washington, visited the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI).  Two junior ONI officers pointed to a wall map and said, “This is the Japanese Task Force proceeding East.”  (He was referring to Admiral Nagumo’s carrier strike force heading towards Pearl Harbor.)  The officer had pointed to a spot midway between Japan and Hawaii.  On December 6th, Ranneft returned and asked where the Japanese carriers were.  He was shown a position on the map about 300-400 miles northwest of Pearl Harbor personally by Admiral Wilkinson, ONI chief. (5)
  • The key battles and events during World War II post-Pearl Harbor from the American perspective were (NOTE: I had to center the bullet points below as WordPress does not allow you to use tab stops):

♦ The Battle of Coral Sea

♦ The Battle of Midway

♦  The Solomon Islands Campaign

♦  Battles for Pelileu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa

♦ The shootdown of Admiral Yamamoto.
(Flights to and from the shootdown point occurred before and
continued afterwards, solely to conceal the fact we broke their code.)

_______________________________

The above tries to give you an at altitude look down on what was happening prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor.  In the ensuing stories, I hope to present “things to think about”…  Things like secret codes, espionage, internment and even D-Day in a roundabout way.  Things that FDR knew then orchestrated actions as a politician should.

I hope you will stay tuned… then come to your own conclusions as to what FDR knew.

To be continued… Part 2 is here.

NOTES:

(1) However, the following comment was not part of his speech: Of course, we’ll fight if we’re attacked. If someone attacks us, then it isn’t a foreign war. – Yale University

(2) There were several codes being used by the Japanese Army and Navy in addition to the diplomatic code mentioned above.  All were broken by US cryptologists.  The Japanese also had their cryptologists but were nowhere’s near as successful in breaking US or British codes.

(3) It is important to note that CHAMBERLAIN was the Prime Minister of England, not Churchill.  Yet, FDR and Churchill were secretly making promises unbeknownst to Chamberlain.

(4) Source: Henry Lewis Stimson diaries.

(5) “Military Intelligence Blunders and Cover-Ups: New Revised Edition”

Hamburgers and a ’63 Merc


MM burger
Marilyn Monroe eating an old-fashioned hamburger at a drive-in hamburger stand. Photo by Philippe Halsman.

Nearly all Americans would agree that hamburgers are the All-American icon.  A simple grilled ground beef patty, salted and peppered, slathered with mayo, mustard and ketchup then sandwiched in a plain bun.

At least that’s how I know them.  Oh, hold the pickles, please.

Now, us kids that grew up watching “Bewitched” and “I Dream of Jeannie” have given birth to a generation that has taken a simple thing and made them into $15 gourmet, fancied-up, mushroom-covered (expensive) cuisine.  Do you think I like Elizabeth Montgomery and Barbara Eden?  Drool…

But I don’t know if I like the “change”.

Back to this in a minute, folks.

The fancy hamburgers – not the drool.

___________________________

Dad had always owned Fords when he could finally afford getting a car.  I guess that’s where I get my Ford passion from.

July 5, 1955
Aunt Eiko holding me in front of my dad’s Ford Consul automobile. If you are reading my past stories about WWII, you will know that only the occupying Americans could afford to buy a car. Her husband was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.  Occupied Japan, Tokyo, July 5, 1955.
Enoshima Beach, Tokyo - April 1957
My dad’s ’57 Ford Fairlane parked on Enoshima Beach, Tokyo. I’m thinking it was a dark green. April 1957.

After leaving Japan for the last time  in the late ‘50’s after the Occupation ended, my pop bought his first new car stateside in 1963 – he was 44 years old.  It was a two door Cascade Blue 1963 Mercury Meteor custom hardtop; a king of obscurity to say the least, but to a kid of about ten, it was Flash Gordon’s rocket ship.  Unlike Hillary, it was easy to love this car.

1964 or 1965 / Dad's new 1963 Mercury Meteor
On a road trip to Chicago in 1964. I’m still holding onto my Fujipet camera with dad’s 1963 Mercury Meteor behind us. This may have been in Utah.

Don’t get me wrong.  It wouldn’t get a choice spot if valet parked.  I say wouldn’t as my old man couldn’t afford valet, let alone a family dinner out.  But to me, the rocket ship had a chrome finish AM push-button radio – turn the dial on the right, find a station, pull out a button, then push it back in to set it.  Trouble is I did it a dozen times each time I got into the car.  But all I cared about was KFI 640 AM, the Dodgers’ station.  The golden voice of Vin Scully… and Fairly, Gilliam, Wills and I forget who played third.  They were World Series champs that year.

Six adults could get into this rocket ship with room to spare – eight of us little Japanese folks and a dog.  The cargo hold in back swallowed up my Sears JC Higgins bike in one gulp with enough space leftover for Frank Howard.  (I saw him hit the scoreboard in right field with a home run.)

Unless my aging grey matter is dissolving at warp speed (maybe it is), there were ash trays with shiny covers in each armrest…and this was for the back seats.  It was a favorite depository for my Bazooka chewing gum but I kept the wax covered cartoon that came with it.

Pop kept it for quite some time.  I passed my driver’s license test in it on my 16th birthday.  I got a 96 only because she claimed I never looked in the rear view mirror.  Poppy cock.  I always look in the rear view mirror for cops.  Even back then.

And as it was the only car we had back then, I also drove my date to one of my senior proms in it (I went to two.).  And the answer is, “No,” if anyone was wondering…but I’m sure she was disappointed.  Well, maybe not.

The four-wheel drum brakes were spectacular…not.  Instead of rubber meets the road, it was like rubber met the world’s supply of Vaseline while fighting the pull to the left… and this was at 25 mph.  Steering?  An oil tanker’s captain would do well.  Turn the wheel a lot; see the slight change in direction a few seconds later.  Pat Brady and Nellybelle turned better – and that was out in the desert on sand.

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The Mercury Meteor’s 260 cid V-8.

I overhauled the epoch 164 hp 260 cid V8 sometime around 1976 in our garage.  At 13 years of age, she had become an old girl.  She had become a V6, meaning it had lost compression in two cylinders.  I remember setting zero lash, then three-quarters turn of the ratchet for the hydraulic lifters during the overhaul.  The distributor was the biggest headache, of all things.  It was like extracting an impacted molar and only after using copious amounts of Liquid Wrench in place of laughing gas did it finally come out.  “Older” Blue Oval guys know what I’m describing.

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Back to today’s elegant hamburgers and change.

Instead of the push-pull AM radio, my youngest son – who was seven when I bought it – similarly discovered my ’08 Mustang GT had a “My Color” dashboard light feature.  Now I know how my pop felt as my son forced me to experience every color of the rainbow while driving at night – every time.  It was like being at an all-night disco club.

Bazooka bubble gum and ashtrays are no more but treasure hunters will be pleased after exploring the map pockets.  No disappointments there.  I promise… especially after my little Cake Boss had sat in the back.  Latex gloves are highly recommended before exploring.

Overhaul it?  After all, my GT’s got a 281 V8, only twenty-one more cubes than my pop’s…but it pumps out a magnificent 505 hp thanks to her Roush supercharger and Carmen pulley.  Hell, I’m afraid to change spark plugs.  Who would imagine in 1963 there would be a TSB on just how to R&R spark plugs?

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My Roush supercharger and gizmos.

And unlike my pop’s ’63 Merc which ran on simple mechanical principles (but threw physics principles out the window for the so-called braking), the computing power in my Mustang would cause Einstein to strike a pose like Captain Morgan.

And today’s stunning braking power is the true reason for seat belts – it compassionately keeps your head from being continually used to redesign the windshield.  The aftermarket Wilwood six-piston disc brakes I installed with slotted and cross-drilled rotors exacerbates the stop-on-a-dime tendencies… which is a good thing.

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The Wilwood Six Piston disc brakes on my Mustang.

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So it appears the delicious, basic hamburger of the 1960’s has been brought into the 21st Century.  Kids that watched Elizabeth Montgomery and Barbara Eden fooled with the wonderfully simple ground beef and bread formula to give us today’s foodie gourmet burger…and we can still listen to Vinny’s golden voice, to boot.  Glorious.

And well, with 505 hp at the crank instead of 164 hp, it’s hard to complain.  Neither do my kids when they hear the whine of my Roush supercharger.  They like to scream.  But it’s a shame my pop’s ’63 Mercury Meteor won’t be swept into anyone’s museum.

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I guess technology has its benefits.

I’ll take a gourmet burger in the end after all.

Pass the Heinz ketchup, please.

At least that hasn’t changed.

The Pain of Survival and Aunt Michie – Part 7


“When it comes to giving, some people stop at nothing.”

– Vernon McLellan

That was Aunt Michie.  She gave all of herself and of her life strength to others because her heart knew no other way.

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At the moment Aunt Michie watched the ugly mushroom cloud rise from her field that day, her older siblings – my dad, Aunt Shiz and Uncle Yutaka – were all imprisoned in the “war relocation centers” scattered about the United States.  These were truly prisons and the popular view is that FDR imprisoned them “for their protection” because they looked like the enemy.(¹)

Life within these “camps” was “sub-standard”.  They were forced to live in small, shoddily built wooden barracks covered only with tar paper with little or no privacy.  No running water inside their barracks – they had to go wait in line outside, whether it be rain, snow, dust storm or searing desert sun to use public latrines or showers. Food was served in mess halls on pot metal plates at specific times, just like in the military.  The food was miserable according to Dad and worse yet, they had to wait in line again.  For the first month or so of imprisonment, he said all they had was liver, powdered eggs and potatoes.

But then again, he said it was food.

Aunt Michie and her family were near starving in Hiroshima while dad was imprisoned in the good ol’ US of A.

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Taken at the Kanemoto home in Hiroshima, 1951 and soon after my parents wed. (L to R) Sadako, Namie, Aunt Michie holding a young Kiyoshi, Grandma Kono, Masako, mom and dad. Courtesy of Kiyoshi Aramaki.

It is assumed like for the rest of America, Dad and his older siblings heard the news of the atomic bombing but while in the camps on or about August 8th… that one enormous bomb had wiped out Hiroshima.  There must have high anxiety and anger as many of the inmates in Dad’s camp (Minidoka) were from Seattle; they had family in Hiroshima as their parents had immigrated from there.

My cousins tell me that sometime after war’s end, Michie’s “American” siblings – my dad, Uncle Yutaka and Aunt Shiz – managed to re-establish contact with Grandmother Kono and Michie.  With the Japanese infrastructure destroyed, it was a miracle.  And it was no easy task as letters to and from Japan were not only prohibited, it was impossible.  There was no telephone in the villages where Grandmother and Michie lived.

But her American siblings somehow managed to send much needed clothing to them.  When my father finally reached Hiroshima while a sergeant in the US 8th Army, he carried two duffle bags full of C-rations, candy and Spam.  They said it was a feast for them after years of hunger.

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Dad in front of his Hiroshima home – April 1948

Sadako (who savored the white rice Michie made them on the day of the bomb) told me at a farewell dinner two years ago that she fondly remembered my dad taking them to a market of some kind where he bought her a little coin purse.  She remembered Dad gave her the money to buy the little purse and was told she could keep the change.  She remembers then handing the change – which was a LOT of money back then – to Michie who humbly accepted it.  Sadako said she cherished that little coin purse for years.

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EPILOGUE

From exhaustive laboring on her farm… to taking precious sashimi to her brother Suetaro… to walking ten miles with children in tow to care for Grandmother Kono after her stroke… to the pain of learning of her brother being killed in action… to being thrown onto the ground and watching a huge mushroom cloud rise over a small hill… to pulling a wooden cart over a hill…  to tirelessly aiding the victims… and most of all, sacrificing her own health for the sake of others…

She never gave up in those thirty years.  Would you have? I don’t believe I would have had the fortitude.

But because her soul would not quit, she got everyone to tomorrow… but in doing so, her own tomorrows dwindled.

Michie is still here.  The fruit of her sacrifices can be seen today in her six children, all of whom have lived – and are still living – full, joyous lives.

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Four of Michie’s children with my son and I. The four at the left front were at Aunt Michie’s farmhouse after the atomic bomb; Hitoshi was there as a burn victim. Hiroshima – September 8, 2012
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At breakfast – Endaijisou Hot Springs, November 2013.  Tomiko was at home when the atomic bomb went off; the house was destroyed.

They have their mother, Michie, to thank and they cherish that… and that they were all there at the farmhouse when she looked at each one of them intently one last time before leaving this world.

A most grand mother.

And yes…

They all love food to this very day.

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I wish to deeply thank my Hiroshima cousins for sharing their memories of their life with Michie with us.

Like all Hiroshima citizens I have met, they simply pray for peace.

NOTES:

(¹) There are declassified US intelligence documents which show that a small number of Japanese and Japanese-Americans were performing espionage.  Intelligence was able to determine this by intercepting and decoding secret Japanese communications. This information was given a cover name of MAGIC and these documents were typed up for FDR and a very small number of trusted officials.  However, rounding up the spies would clearly indicate to the Japanese that their code had been cracked.  These documents present another view contra to the widespread belief that FDR imprisoned the Japanese and Japanese-Americans from discrimination and war time hysteria.  In other words, FDR used that hysteria as a cover story; by doing so, he was able to remove the “spies” from the West Coast without alerting the Japanese.  FDR also stated in communications that there would be “repercussions” from such action.