This is the first publication in a series on Japan's air and missile defense system. Before embarking on a review of Japan's air defense system during World War II, the actions of the American aviation against objects located on the Japanese islands.
Since this topic is very extensive, in the first part we will get acquainted with the chronology and results of airstrikes on large Japanese cities. The second part will focus on the bombing of small cities in Japan, mine laying by American long-range bombers, the actions of American tactical and carrier-based aircraft and nuclear strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Then the turn will come to consider the anti-aircraft potential of the Japanese armed forces of the period 1941-1945, the era of the Cold War, the post-Soviet period and the current state of the air defense and missile defense of Japan's self-defense forces.
The Japanese top military-political leadership, planning a war with the United States, could hardly have assumed that two and a half years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese cities, industrial enterprises and ports would be subjected to devastating raids by American long-range bombers.
The first airstrike on the Japanese Islands took place on April 18, 1942. He became American revenge for the attack on Pearl Harbor and demonstrated Japan's vulnerability to air attacks. The raid was led by US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Harold James Doolittle.
Sixteen B-25B Mitchell twin-engined bombers, taking off from the USS Hornet in the western Pacific, attacked targets in Tokyo, Yokohama, Yokosuka, Nagoya and Kobe. The crew of each bomber consisted of five people. Each aircraft carried four 225-kg (500-lb) bombs: three high-explosive fragmentation and one incendiary.
All crews, except for one attacked by fighters, managed to carry out targeted bombing. Eight primary and five secondary targets were hit, but it was all easy to recover.
Fifteen planes reached the territory of China, and one landed on the territory of the USSR near Vladivostok. Three people who were part of the crews participating in the raids were killed, eight crew members were captured, the crew that landed on Soviet territory was interned.
Although the material damage from the Doolittle Raid was small, it was of great moral and political importance. After the publication of information about the raid of American bombers on Japan, the morale of the Americans increased greatly. The United States demonstrated a determination to fight and that Pearl Harbor and other Japanese victories did not break the country. In Japan itself, this raid was called inhuman, accusing the United States of bombing civilian targets.
Before the airstrike inflicted by bombers taking off from an aircraft carrier, the Japanese command considered the main potential threat to aviation deployed at airfields in China and the Soviet Far East.
Actions of American bombers in the northern direction
The Japanese, focusing on their own level of the aviation industry, science and technology, underestimated the ability of the Americans to create heavy bombers, very advanced by the standards of the early 40s, with a long range and flight altitude.
In July - September 1943, American bombers A-24 Banshee, B-24 Liberator and B-25 Mitchell of the 11th Air Army carried out several raids on the Japanese-occupied islands of Kiska, Shumshu and Paramushir.
In addition to providing air support during the liberation of Kiska Island, which is part of the Aleutian archipelago, the main goal of the American command was to pull the air defense forces from the main direction. At the end of 1943, the number of Japanese fighters deployed in the Kuril Islands and Hokkaido reached 260 units.
To counter Japanese fighter aircraft in the northern direction, the American 11th Air Force was reinforced in early 1944 with fifty long-range P-38 Lightning fighters, and attacks from the north continued until June 1945.
Actions of American B-29 bombers from air bases in India and China
Simultaneously with the planning of operations to defeat the Japanese imperial fleet and the liberation of the territories occupied by Japanese troops, the American command decided to launch an "air offensive" using the new long-range bombers B-29 Superfortress. For this, within the framework of Operation Matterhorn in the southwestern part of China in the vicinity of Chengdu, by agreement with the government of Chiang Kai-shek, jump airfields were built, on which the aircraft of the 20th bomber command based in India relied.
On July 7, the Air Force Superfortresses attacked Sasebo, Kure, Omuru and Tobata. On August 10, Nagasaki and an oil refinery in Indonesia's Palembang, occupied by Japan, were bombed. On August 20, during a repeated raid on Yahatu from 61 bombers participating in the attack, Japanese fighters shot down and seriously damaged 12 cars. At the same time, Japanese propaganda reported that 100 American aircraft were destroyed. The ninth and final raid of the 20th Air Force bombers on Japan took place on January 6, 1945, when 28 B-29s again attacked Omura.
In parallel with the raids on the Japanese islands, the 20th command carried out a series of attacks on targets in Manchuria, China and Formosa, and also bombed targets in Southeast Asia. The last raid on Singapore took place on March 29. After which the bombers, based in India, were transferred to the Mariana Islands.
The only major success achieved during Operation Matterhorn was the destruction of the Omur aircraft factory. In the course of nine air raids, the Americans lost 129 bombers, of which about three dozen were shot down by the Japanese, the rest were killed in air accidents.
B-29 Superfortress drops high-explosive bombs. The photo shows that a strong wind leads to a large dispersion of bombs, which makes bombing from high altitudes ineffective.
Militarily, raids from India with a stopover on Chinese territory did not pay off. The material and technical costs turned out to be too high and the risk of flight accidents was high. To organize one combat sortie with an intermediate landing at a Chinese airfield, it was necessary to deliver bombs and fuels and lubricants there by six transport aircraft.
The bombing was greatly hampered by unfavorable weather conditions: cloudiness and strong winds. Affected by the lack of qualified flight personnel, in connection with which such important advantages of the B-29 as high speed and flight altitude were not used. But at the same time, the first operations of the "Superfortresses" against objects on the Japanese islands demonstrated that the air defense forces of the imperial army were not able to reliably cover their territory.
Actions of American B-29 bombers from air bases in the Mariana Islands
At the end of 1944, after the seizure of the Mariana Islands by the American Marines, they hastily erected runways, from which heavy B-29 bombers began to operate. Compared to the raids of bombers based in India, refueling and loaded with bombs at intermediate Chinese airfields, it was much easier and cheaper to organize the delivery of fuels and lubricants and aviation ammunition by sea.
If the raids of long-range bombers taking off in India and refueling at Chinese airfields were not very effective and, rather, were politically motivated, demonstrating Japan's vulnerability and the inability of Japanese air defense to prevent air raids, then after the start of raids from bases in the Mariana Islands, it became clear that that Japan's defeat in the war is inevitable.
Six airfields were built on the islands, from which the B-29s were able to attack targets in Japan and return without refueling. The first B-29 raid from the Mariana Islands took place on November 24, 1944. The target of the airstrike was an aircraft factory in Tokyo. The raid involved 111 bombers, of which 24 struck the factory, while the rest bombed port facilities and residential areas. In this raid, the American command took into account the experience gained during previous air raids. Crews were instructed not to drop altitude or slow down before bombing. This, of course, led to a high dispersion of bombs, but avoided large losses. The Japanese raised 125 fighters, but they were only able to shoot down one B-29.
The next raids, which took place on November 27 and December 3, turned out to be ineffective due to bad weather conditions. On December 13 and 18, the Mitsubishi plant in Nagoya was bombed. In January, factories were bombed in Tokyo and Nagoya. The January 19 raid was a success for the Allies, and the Kawasaki plant near Akashi was put out of action for several months. On February 4, the Americans used incendiary bombs for the first time, while they managed to damage the city of Kobe and its industrial enterprises. Since mid-February, aircraft factories have become the main target of bombing strikes, which was supposed to prevent the Japanese from replenishing losses in fighters.
Combat missions from the Mariana Islands were met with varying success. Losses in some raids reached 5%. Despite the fact that the Americans did not achieve all their goals, these operations had a significant impact on the course of hostilities in the Pacific theater of operations. The Japanese command was forced to invest significant resources in the air defense of the Japanese islands, diverting anti-aircraft guns and fighters from the defense of Iwo Jima.
B-29 Superfortress of the 29th Bomber Group on Guam
In connection with the desire to reduce losses, American bombers launched strikes from high altitudes. At the same time, thick clouds very often interfered with aimed bombing. In addition, a significant portion of Japan's military products were produced in small factories scattered among residential areas. In this regard, the American command issued a directive stating that the residential development of large Japanese cities is the same priority goal as the aviation, metallurgical and ammunition factories.
Major General Curtis Emerson LeMay, who led the strategic air operations against Japan, gave the order to switch to bombing at night, reducing the minimum bombing altitude to 1500 m.The main combat load of the B-29 in night attacks was compact incendiary bombs. In order to increase the carrying capacity of the bombers, it was decided to dismantle some of the defensive weapons and reduce the number of gunners on board. This decision was recognized as justified, since the Japanese had few night fighters, and the main threat was the barrage of anti-aircraft artillery fire.
B-29 of the 315th aviation wing with dismantled defensive weapons
The raid was led by special "tracker aircraft" with experienced crews, who were often deprived of defensive weapons in order to improve flight performance. These bombers were the first to strike with incendiary bombs, and other planes flew like moths into the fires that erupted in city areas. During air raids from airfields on the Mariana Islands, each B-29 took on board up to 6 tons of bombs.
The M69 incendiary bombs were most effective in bombing Japanese cities. This very simple and cheap aircraft munition was a piece of hexagonal steel pipe 510 mm long and 76 mm in diameter. The bombs were placed in cassettes. Depending on the type of cassettes, they contained from 14 to 60 bombs weighing 2,7 kg each. Depending on the version, they were equipped with termites or heavily thickened napalm, which at the time of the explosion was mixed with white phosphorus. At the head of the bomb there was a contact fuse, which initiated a charge of black powder. When the expelling charge was detonated, the burning fire mixture was scattered in compact pieces to a distance of up to 20 m.
M69 Incendiary Bomb Cassette
Typically, the B-29 took on board from 1440 to 1520 M69 incendiary bombs. After deploying the cassette at an altitude of about 700 m, the bombs were dispersed in the air and stabilized in flight with the head part down using a fabric strip.
M47A1 incendiary bomb
Also, for the bombing of Japan, M47A1 incendiary bombs weighing 45 kg were used. These bombs had a thin-walled body and were loaded with 38 kg of napalm. When the bomb collided with the surface, a charge of black powder weighing 450 g, placed next to a container containing white phosphorus, was detonated. After the explosion, phosphorus was mixed with burning napalm, which covered the surface within a radius of 30 m. There was a modification filled with white phosphorus (M47A2), but this bomb was used to a limited extent.
The heaviest incendiary bomb was the 500-pound M76 (227 kg). Outwardly, it differed little from high-explosive bombs, but had thinner walls of the hull and was filled with a mixture of oil, gasoline, magnesium powder and nitrate. The fire mixture was ignited with 4,4 kg of white phosphorus, which was activated after the detonation of 560 g of the tetrile charge. The fire caused by the M76 bomb was almost impossible to extinguish. The combustible mixture burned for 18–20 minutes at a temperature of up to 1600 ° C.
The first large-scale incendiary attack against Tokyo on the night of March 9-10 was the most devastating air raid of the entire war. The first bombers appeared over the city at 2 am. Within a few hours, 279 B-29s dropped 1665 tons of bombs.
Considering that most of the urban development consisted of houses built of bamboo, the massive use of incendiary bombs caused large-scale fires on an area of 41 km², for which the civil defense of the Japanese capital was completely unprepared. Capital buildings were also badly damaged; in the zone of continuous fires, only smoky walls remained.
Hot neighborhoods of Tokyo. The picture was taken from the B-29
The huge fire, which was visible from the air 200 km away, killed about 86 people. Over 000 people were injured, burned and severely injured in the respiratory tract. Over a million people were left homeless. There was also significant damage to the defense industry.
View of Tokyo after the bombing in 1945. The surviving houses are surrounded by the ruins and ashes of neighboring buildings that have burned down.
As a result of combat damage and flight accidents, the Americans lost 14 "Superfortresses", 42 more aircraft had holes, but managed to return. The main losses of the B-29, operating over Tokyo, suffered from defensive anti-aircraft fire. Taking into account the fact that the bombing was carried out from a relatively low altitude, small-caliber anti-aircraft guns turned out to be quite effective.
After American strategic bombers burned much of Tokyo, other Japanese cities were attacked by night. On March 11, 1945, an air raid was organized on the city of Nagoya. Due to unfavorable weather conditions and "smearing" of bombing, the damage was less than in Tokyo. In total, more than 5,3 km² of urban development was burnt out. The opposition from the Japanese air defense was weak, and all the aircraft participating in the raid returned to their bases. On the night of March 13-14, 274 "Super Fortresses" attacked Osaka and destroyed buildings on an area of 21 km², losing two aircraft. From March 16 to March 17, 331 B-29 bombed Kobe. At the same time, a firestorm destroyed half of the city (18 km²), and more than 8000 people were killed. The Americans lost three bombers. Nagoya was attacked again on the night of March 18-19, B-29 destroyed buildings on an area of 7,6 km². During this raid, Japanese air defense forces dealt critical damage to one Superfortress. All crew members of the bomber were rescued after he landed on the surface of the sea.
After this raid, there was a break in night raids, as the 21st Bomber Command ran out of incendiary bombs. The next major operation was an unsuccessful attack by high-explosive bombs on the Mitsubishi aircraft engine plant on the night of March 23-24. During this operation, 5 of the 251 aircraft participating in it were shot down.
The start of the next air campaign against Japanese cities was postponed. And the B-29 of the 21st Bomber Command was involved in the destruction of airfields in southern Japan. Thus, the activity of the Japanese aviation was suppressed during the battle for Okinawa. In late March - early April, airbases on the island of Kyushu were attacked. As a result of these operations, the number of sorties of Japanese fighters was reduced significantly, but it was not possible to prevent the rise of kamikaze aircraft into the air.
In the event that the primary targets were covered by dense clouds, high-explosive bombs were dropped on cities. In one of these raids, residential areas of Kagoshima were severely damaged. In total, within the framework of this operation, 2104 sorties were made against 17 airfields in the daytime. These raids cost 21st Command 24 B-29s.
During this period, night bombardments were also carried out. On April 1, several groups of B-29s, totaling 121 aircraft, carried out a night bombardment of the Nakajima engine plant in Tokyo. And on the night of April 3, there were three similar raids on engine factories in Shizuoka, Koizumi and Tachikawa. These raids did not bring much results, and subsequently General LeMay refused to conduct such operations.
Particular importance was attached to operations designed to keep the Japanese air defense forces in suspense and deplete. At the same time, small groups of B-29s attacked industrial enterprises in various parts of Japan. Since the Japanese could not correctly navigate the situation, the actions of the diversionary forces contributed to two successful large-scale bombings of aircraft factories in Tokyo and Nagoya.
The raid on Tokyo on the afternoon of April 7 was the first to be accompanied by Iwo Jima-based P-51D Mustang fighters from the 15th Fighter Air Group. On this sortie, 110 Superfortresses were escorted by 119 Mustangs. 125 Japanese aircraft rose to meet the Americans. The appearance of American escort fighters over Tokyo came as a shock to the pilots of the Japanese interceptors.
Fighters P-51D 45th Fighter Squadron, 15th Fighter Air Group
According to American data, in the air battle that unfolded over the Japanese capital, 71 Japanese fighters were shot down that day, another 44 were damaged. The Americans lost two Mustangs and seven Superfortresses.
On April 12, over 250 B-29s bombed three different aircraft factories. In the course of this operation, the 73rd Bomber Aviation Regiment, without suffering losses, destroyed about half of the production capacity of the Musashino aviation plant.
After the aircraft of the 21st Command were freed from participation in air support for the battle for Okinawa and managed to deal with large Japanese enterprises that produced fighters, the Superfortress once again proceeded to the methodical destruction of cities. Moreover, the raids with the large-scale use of incendiary bombs were mainly carried out in the daytime.
On the afternoon of 13 May, a group of 472 B-29s struck Nagoya and burned down 8,2 km² of houses. Japanese opposition turned out to be strong: 10 bombers were shot down, another 64 were damaged. The Americans said that they managed to shoot down 18 Japanese fighters, and another 30 were damaged.
After serious losses, the 21st command returned to night sorties. On the night of May 16-17, Nagoya was again attacked by 457 B-29s, and 10 km² of urban area was destroyed by fires. In the dark, the Japanese defenses were much weaker, and the losses amounted to three bombers. As a result of two raids on Nagoya: more than 3800 Japanese were killed and an estimated 470000 people were left homeless.
On the night of May 23-24 and 25, the 21st Bomber Command's Superfortresses once again launched large-scale bombing raids on Tokyo. The first raid involved 520 B-29s. They destroyed residential and office buildings in an area of 14 km² in southern Tokyo. 17 aircraft participating in this raid were lost and 69 damaged. The second attack involved 502 B-29s, which in the central part of the city destroyed buildings with a total area of 44 km², including the headquarters of several government key ministries and part of the imperial complex. Japanese fighters and anti-aircraft guns shot down 26 bombers, and another 100 were damaged.
Central Tokyo, damaged by fire
However, despite the relatively high losses in equipment and flight personnel, the 21st Bomber Command was able to complete the task. By the end of these raids, more than half of Tokyo's buildings had been destroyed, most of the population had fled, industrial operations were paralyzed, and the Japanese capital was temporarily removed from the priority list.
The last major bombing raid by 21st Command in May was an incendiary bomb attack on Yokohama. On May 29, 454 B-29s, accompanied by 101 P-51s, dropped hundreds of thousands of incendiary bombs on the city during daylight hours. After that, the business center of Yokohama ceased to exist. The fires destroyed buildings on an area of 18 km².
Approximately 150 Japanese fighters rose to meet the Americans. In the course of a fierce air battle, 5 B-29s were shot down and another 143 were damaged. In turn, the pilots of the P-51D, having lost three aircraft, announced 26 shot down enemy fighters and another thirty "probable" victories.
The 21st command coordinated well and prepared the bombing of Japanese cities, carried out in May 1945, and this affected the effectiveness of the actions. As a result of the attacks in May, buildings with a total area of 240 km², which accounted for 14% of the housing stock in Japan, were destroyed.
On the afternoon of June 1, 521 Superfortress accompanied by 148 Mustangs attacked Osaka. On the way to the target, American fighters were caught in thick clouds and 27 P-51Ds were killed in collisions. Nevertheless, 458 heavy bombers and 27 escort fighters reached the target. The losses of the Japanese on the ground exceeded 4000 people, 8,2 km² of buildings burned down. On June 5, 473 B-29s struck Kobe in the afternoon and destroyed buildings on an area of 11,3 km². Anti-aircraft artillery and fighters shot down 11 bombers.
Incendiary cassettes dropped on Kobe
On June 7, a group of 409 B-29s attacked Osaka again. During this attack, 5,7 km² of buildings were burned and the Americans suffered no casualties. On June 15, Osaka was bombed for the fourth time in a month. 444 B-29s seeded urban areas with "lighters", causing continuous fires over an area of 6,5 km².
B-29 Superfortress over Osaka
The attack on Osaka, carried out on June 15, completed the first phase of the air assault on Japanese cities.
In the May-June 1945 raids, bombers destroyed most of the country's six largest cities, killing more than 126 people and leaving millions homeless. The widespread destruction and the large number of casualties made many Japanese people realize that their country's military was no longer able to defend their home islands.
To be continued ...