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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

B-29 Operations - World War II

As the powerful B-29 "Superfortress" rolled off America's production lines in the midst of World War II, General "Hap" Arnold, then Commanding General of the Army Air Forces, understood the need to bring the B-29's unique strategic bombing capabilities to bear against the Japanese homeland. Thus, in April 1944, he created Twentieth Air Force and gave it the daunting mission of conducting one of the largest -- and ultimately most successful -- air campaigns in history.

Arnold formed Twentieth Air Force, consisting of the first operational B-29s. Arnold's B-29s first flew in Operation MATTERHORN, which called for India-based Superfortresses to bomb Japan from forward bases in China. However, as allied forces advanced in the South Pacific "Island Hopping" campaign, Twentieth Air Force expanded its B-29 operations to bases in the Marianas Islands.

Haywood S. Hansell Jr., taught strategic bombardment theory at the Air Corps Tactical School (ACTS) and later served as a planner and commander in World War II. Hansell became de facto commander of the new air force. His role became more direct in October 1944, when he went to the Mariana Islands to head XXI Bomber Command. His position there seemed almost hopeless. The new B-29s were having severe teething troubles — the weather was abysmal, the distances were enormous, the supply lines were slow and sporadic, and all the while Arnold issued impatient demands for greater results. In an attempt to spur Hansell to more creative tactics that would produce greater damage to the Japanese war industry, Arnold advised him to abandon his attempts at high-altitude precision bombing and opt for low-level area attacks that employed incendiaries.

But Hansell resisted. His patience — never copious in the best of circumstances — at an end, Arnold relieved Hansell in January 1945 and replaced him with Curtis LeMay. Hansell returned to the United States, served briefly as a base commander in Arizona, and retired in 1946. He was recalled to active duty during the Korean War and promoted to major general, serving first as chief of mobilization on the Air Staff and then as the senior airman on the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group. Hansell believed passionately in the concept of the daylight, strategic, precision bombing of industrial systems. Hansell was too inflexible in his thinking and that this intransigence contained the seeds of his downfall.

Regarding the weather over Japan, LeMay wrote: “The weather at high altitude [over Japan] was unquestionably the worst bomber weather in the world.” From altitudes of 25,000 to 30,000 feet, cloud ceilings averaging 6,000 feet often obscured Japanese targets. As a result, B-29 aircrews often placed less than 6 percent of their bombs within 1,000 feet of the designated targets. The damage produced by early B-29 raids was hardly worth the expense. Even LeMay’s predecessor as leader of the XXIst Bomber Command, Major General Hansell, understood the implications of Japanese weather on the strategic bombing effort and concluded that the preferred strategy (of precision optical bombing) could not be sustained.

Air Force crews experienced their first contact with the jet stream. These currents of air race at speeds above 200 miles per hour, circling the globe at altitudes similar to those used by B-29 aircrews. This river of high-altitude air contains winds that precluded effective and accurate high-altitude bombing of the Japanese nation. These high winds over bombing targets were a stumbling block to bombing accuracy. Wind velocities at 30,000 feet were as high as 230 miles per hour or about three times hurricane intensity.

When bombing downwind, these winds made for aircraft ground speeds as high as 550 miles per hour, far beyond the maximum provided for inthe USAAF bombing tables. Flying with the wind, a B-29 would pass over the target at a rate much too fast for World War II precision bombing techniques. Conversely, if a B-29 turned into the wind during its bombing run, its ground speed could drop to as low as 125 miles per hour, making it an easy target for Japanese fighter interceptors.

Because of cloud coverage, the jet stream, and high winds, the USAAF was unable to conduct high altitude strategic bombing in the Pacific as it had done in Europe. Japanese conducted a wholesale production dispersal program. Japanese were thereby forced to conduct a wholesaleproduction dispersal program. As a result, the USAAF assumed that this method ofproduction dispersal was a mainstay of the Japanese industry program and began to target entire urban areas. As a result, the USAAF assumed that this method of production dispersal was a mainstay of the Japanese industry program and began to target entire urban areas. General Arnold explained to the civilian leadership in Washington that “it was practically impossible to destroy the war output of Japan without doing more damage to civilians connected with the outputthan in Europe.”

Low level area bombing became a mainstay of the USAAF bombing effort in the Pacific. During the last two months of 1944, B-29s began operating against Japan from the islands of Saipan, Guam and Tinian. Flying more than 1,500 miles one way, more than 1,000 bombers and 250 fighters conducted 28,000 combat sorties against Japan in the brief span of 16 months.

However, during the conduct of the USSBS it was found that these Japanese home industries were not as important as LeMay and the USAAF leadership had thought. According to the USSBS: "The urban area incendiary attacks eliminated completely the residential and smaller commercial and industrial structures in the affected areas and a significant number of important plants, but a portion of the more substantially constructed office buildings and factories in those areas and the underground utilities survived. By 1944 the Japanese had almost eliminated home industry in their war economy. They still relied, however, on plants employing less than 250 workers for subcontracted parts and equipment. Many of these smaller plants were concentrated in Tokyo and accounted for 50 percent of the total industrial output of the city. Such plants suffered severe damage in the urban incendiary attacks."

On 6 August 1945 the crew of the "Enola Gay" dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. The thirteen-hour mission to Hiroshima began at 0245 Tinian time. By the time they rendezvoused with their accompanying B-29s at 0607 over Iwo Jima, the group was three hours from the target area. The "Enola Gay" flew toward Hiroshima at a speed of 285 mph. After six-and-a-half hours of tough over-water navigation, the B-29 was over target within seventeen seconds of the scheduled drop time of 0915. When the 9,000-pound bomb "Little Boy" fell from the "Enola Gay," pilot Paul Tibbets put the aircraft into a 60-degree diving right turn and headed home. Seconds later, Hiroshima lay in ruins.

Despite widespread destruction, the Japanese still did not surrender. Three days later, Maj. Charles W. Sweeney, commander of the 393rd BMS and piloting "Bockscar" flew over Nagasaki. A few minutes after 9 a.m., bombardier Capt. Kermit K. Beahan toggled the bomb switch. Less than a minute later, Nagasaki became the second city attacked with the devastating weapon. The Japanese surrendered in the following days thereby ending World War II.

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Page last modified: 23-07-2018 13:44:51 ZULU