Lighting Tokyo's Sky With Fire

The B-29 Superfortress bomber made its first appearance over Tokyo on November 1, 1944 - a single plane flying at 35,000 feet; beyond the reach of the defender's anti-aircraft guns and fighter planes. The intruder dropped no bombs. This was strictly a reconnaissance mission.

 

The Superforts returned in force at the end of the month, flying at altitudes that insured immunity from attacks by Japanese defenders. Although their high altitude provided a shield for the bombers, it also decreased the accuracy and impact of their bomb runs. To correct this deficiency, Major-General Curtis Lemay (newly appointed commander of the American Bomber Command) ordered a dramatic change in tactics. The bomber runs would be made at night, at low altitude and deliver a mixture of high explosive and incendiary bombs. The objective was to turn the closely-packed, wooden homes and buildings prevalent in the Japanese cities into raging infernos and ultimately into the most destructive of all weapons - the firestorm.

 

 

B-29 SuperfortressThe Allies had first encountered the phenomenon of the firestorm when the British bombed the German city of Hamburg in August of 1943. The night raid ignited numerous fires that soon united into one uncontrollable mass of flame, so hot it generated its own self-sustaining, gale-force winds and literally sucked the oxygen out of the air, suffocating its victims. Lemay hoped to use this force to level the cities of Japan. Tokyo would be the first test.

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