B-29s set fires in Tokyo (11-24-44)

The Pittsburgh Press (November 24, 1944)

100 Superfortresses rip Jap plants

Saipan-based planes open drive to soften Japan for invasion
By Fred Scherff, United Press staff writer

B-29s from Saipan in the Marianas staged the big raid today on Tokyo.

Washington –
One hundred or more B-29 Superfortresses, officially opening a two-pronged air offensive to soften Japan for invasion, bombed Tokyo by daylight today, and the enemy admitted factories and other important installations had been damaged.

Roaring out from new bases on Saipan in the Marianas, 1,550 miles to the southeast, the giant four-engined bombers swept over Tokyo at noon (11:00 p.m. Thursday ET) to give the jittery Japanese capital its first taste of American bombs since the historic April 18, 1942, raid by Lt. Gen. James H. Doolittle’s fliers.

**Four hours later, Tokyo belatedly admitted the raid and backed into admissions of what it sought to imply was slight damage to factories and other major installations. “Small fires” were caused, Tokyo broadcasts added, but only among “civilian homes and hospitals” and all were controlled “immediately.”

Tokyo said the bombers, attacking in 10 or more groups, were over the city for two hours.

The attack, the first on Tokyo by land-based aircraft, was announced here by Gen. H. H. Arnold, commander of the Army Air Forces and chief of the global 20th Air Force. He said another communiqué on damage done to the industrial targets would be issued “when further details are available.”

Gen. Arnold said in a special report to President Roosevelt:

The Battle for Japan has been joined. This operation is in no sense a hit-and-run raid. It is a calculated extension of our airpower… no part of the Japanese Empire is now out of our range, no war factory too remote to feel our bombs…

The Saipan-based B-29s, working under the newly-formed XXI Bomber Command, Gen. Arnold said, will coordinate their operations with those of the China-based XX Bomber Command, whose B-29s have already carried out 17 missions against Jap Empire targets.

Gen. Arnold told Mr. Roosevelt:

The systematic demolition of Japan’s war production, begun six months ago from China bases, henceforth will be carried out with decisive vigor, softening up the Japanese heart for the ultimate invasion by combined United Nations land, sea and air forces.

Gen. Arnold did not disclose the exact number of B-29s in the attacking force, saying only that it was “sizeable” – a term that in the past has meant 100 or more.

Neither did he identify the exact targets, although Tokyo is the site of some of the most vital Jap war industries. These include the giant Mitsubishi and Ishikawajima shipyards, the Mitsubishi heavy industries and numerous airplane and ammunition factories, oil refineries and machine tool, electrical, radio and precious instrument works.

The Tokyo radio, which gave the world the first albeit hysterical account of the Doolittle raid, was silent for several hours after today’s attack and then blossomed forth with its usual report – that the B-29s had “failed to attain any tangible results” due to “effective interceptions.”

The attack on Tokyo came just 24 hours after Japan had observed its Thanksgiving Day – the Minamati Festival – in which Emperor Hirohito had offered newly harvested grain to his gods. Even as the festival was in progress, the Japs witnessed a harbinger of things to come when a single B-29, according to Tokyo reports, flew over the Nagoya area some 275 miles west-southwest of Tokyo.

Other reconnaissance flights by B-29s over the island of Honshu, on which Tokyo is located, had steadily increased Jap fears of a coming raid on their capital and thousands of children, women and older residents had been ordered out in preparation.

Virginian is in command

Gen. Arnold said the XXI Bomber Command was commanded in its first operation by Brig. Gen. H. S. Hansell Jr., a 41-year-old native of Fort Monroe, Virginia, who first gained fame 10 years ago as a member of the aviation acrobatic team, “Three Men on a Flying Trapeze.”

Lt. Gen. Millard F. Harmon, commanding general of Army Air Forces in the Pacific and Gen. Arnold’s deputy commander of the 20th Air Force, issued his own statement promising that the two-pronged air offensive against Japan was destined to grow in other directions.

He said:

The time is not far now when Japan will be subjected to the combined efforts of units based from Alaska through the Philippines and over into China – a ring of air effort focused on the Imperial Empire.

In addition to the mounting American threat from the air, Japan is faced with ever-bolder operations by units of the mighty Pacific Fleet.

The Navy revealed last night that a task force had struck Tuesday at the Kurils at the northern tip of the Jap islands, bombarding Matsuwa and starting large fires and explosions. Jap guns did not reply and no American ship was damaged.

For the United States, the Tokyo raid brought additional retribution for Japan’s execution of an unknown number of Gen. Doolittle’s first Tokyo raiders forced down on occupied areas of the Asiatic mainland. The execution of those fliers, who staged their attack from the decks of the now-sunk carrier USS Hornet, brought from President Roosevelt a pledge that they would be avenged.

Heart of Japan rocked

Gen. Arnold accompanied his announcement with a dramatic statement, beginning with these words:

The Air Force today rocked the heart of Japan with bombs from a mighty new task force of B-29 aircraft based in Saipan.

He continued:

The mission was accomplished by Brig. Gen. Haywood Hansell’s XXI Bomber Command. Its vigor should be convincing proof that these far Pacific islands, captured by our Army and Navy at great cost in men and material, have been put to the greatest possible use. Tokyo’s war industries have been badly hurt by a blow made possible by the Americans who fought and died for the Marianas.

Now, as our American factories feed the voracious appetite of our B-29s with replacements and bombs, we will pound Japan’s war machine out of existence…

Japan has sowed the wind, now let it reap the whirlwind.

‘No part of Japan safe’

Gen. Harmon said in his statement that with the basing of B-29s in the Marianas, “no part of the homeland of Japan is now safe from land-based air attacks.”

Although warning that air attacks alone cannot win victory, he said the Tokyo raid marked the start of a “new phase of the air war against Japan which, in its various aspects, will steadily unfold.”

The War Department disclosed in an accompanying statement that the XXI Bomber Command was activated last March 8. It was set up at first at Smoky Hill Army Air Base, Salina, Kansas, but headquarters were moved in June to Peterson Field, Colorado Springs, Colorado, with Brig. Gen. Roger M. Ramey as acting commander. Gen. Ramey is now chief of staff to Gen. Hansell, who took command of the XXI Command last Aug. 29.

Wide raids made

The B-29s were first sent into action against Japan’s warmaking potential early in June in a “shakedown” raid on Bangkok, Thailand. In all, counting the Tokyo raid, they have carried out 18 missions against industrial targets in the Jap homeland and in occupied regions in China, Malaya and the Dutch East Indies.

In October, while the Navy was striking at Formosa and Northern Luzon in preparation for the Philippines invasion, the B-29s joined in with three heavy raids on targets on Formosa.

Japs admit damage

The Japanese conceded that the Superfortresses raided Tokyo for two hours, damaging factories and other important installations and causing some fires.

A brief Jap communiqué claimed three Superfortresses had been shot down. The communiqué said:

Today, Nov. 24, approximately 70 enemy planes from the Marianas area penetrated into the capital area in wave formation, divided into several units, at about 12:20 p.m. and raided for about two hours.

Our damages have been slight and the war result confirmed up to now is three enemy planes shot down.

Tokyo raid is a success, leader radios his base

B-29 base, Saipan, Mariana Islands (UP) – (via Navy radio)
Brig. Gen. Emmett “Rosey” O’Donnell Jr., leader of the Superfortress mission over Tokyo, flashed back word today that his sizeable task force of sky giants had successfully bombed important military objectives at the Jap capital.

Boring in without benefit of fighter protection, the world’s mightiest planes packed large enough loads from their Saipan bases to pay dividends in this big American attack on Honshu Island.

It was the biggest raid by land-based bombers, in terms of both the bombload and number of planes involved, in the history of the Central Pacific war.

Maj. Robert Morgan of Asheville, North Carolina, pilot of the famed B-17 Memphis Belle of the 8th Air Force in Europe, was at the controls of the first bomber over Tokyo. Gen. O’Donnell was in the plane as command pilot and leader of the mission.

Overcoming the weather and tough navigational problems the big raiders hammered the Nakajima aircraft factory in the western outskirts of Tokyo after parading into the air from bases won on bloody Saipan by the Marines and Army troops.

Tokyo Rose paves the way for big Superfortress raid

Plane cruises over Jap capital 35 minutes to make pictures to guide attackers
By Lisle Shoemaker, United Press staff writer

Saipan, Mariana Islands –
A giant, silvery Superfortress names Tokyo Rose, piloted by Capt. Ralph D. Steakley of Jefferson, Ohio, cruised over Tokyo for 35 minutes making crystal-clear photographs of strategic targets to pave the way for the second raid of the war on the Japanese capital.

Droning in over the city after a grueling fight from new bases on Saipan, the daring crew, the first American airmen to fly over Tokyo since Lt. Gen. James H. Doolittle’s fliers raided the city in April 1942 peered down on vital war industries and strategic targets which Japan has guarded jealously for the last 10 years.

Japs fail to attack

Jap radio announcers screamed frantically that U.S. planes were over the city, then added as a face-saving afterthought that “an American plane fled before our attack.”

Not content with the first valuable photo-fight, the same crew flew over the famed target twice more, noting that ack-ack became more accurate with each trip.

Capt. Steakley and his 10-man crew saw from 19 to 21 enemy intercepting planes on their first trip but Jap pilots were apparently leery to attack the Superfortress with its bristling guns and made no attempts to get within shooting range.

Pictures are taken

Despite the breathless altitude, the crew and cameras clearly saw and recorded Jap airfields studded with fighter planes and saw Hirohito’s palace and factories.

Capt. Steakley said:

We did not know what to expect and we were excited. We settled down soon because we had work to do.

The crew said that Capt. Steakley coolly piloted the giant plane over target after target. He was as elated as the crew after the flight. Their emotions hardly compared to those of intelligence officers, who termed the photos the best pictures of enemy targets ever taken.

Second Lt. Charles G. Hart of Kansas City, Missouri, the photo navigator, said the Jap ack-ack on the first strip was sporadic, but two subsequent trips found the barrage intensifying.

Important facts learned

Although the daring flight of Tokyo Rose undoubtedly robbed today’s mass attack of a surprise element, the knowledge gained by the picture-taking spree overshadowed all else.

The entire crew was decorated at the Saipan base, Capt. Steakley receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross. The navigator, Lt. Claude K. Stambaugh of San Antonio, Texas, received the Oak Leaf Cluster to the Air Medal and the rest of the crew got Air Medals.

The rest of the crew included:

  • Co-pilot Lt. John R. Burke of Newark, New Jersey
  • Flight Engineer Lt. Harold L. McCommon of Athens, Georgia
  • Photographer Sgt. Walter C. Marvin of St. Louis
  • Gunner Sgt. William O. Starks of Dunbar, West Virginia
  • Sgt. Fred H. Hutchins of Italy, Texas
  • Bombardier Observer Maj. Hugh V. Gilmour of Paris, Texas.

Yanks pledge to hit Tokyo in new raids

‘Must bore right in,’ one airman says

Saipan, Mariana Islands (UP) –
The XXI Bomber Command sent its new B-29 Superfortresses off from Saipan for the attack on Tokyo today with the promise that this initial blow will be followed up with ever-increasing force until the Jap Empire has been battered into submission.

Brig. Gen. Haywood S. Hansell Jr., commander of the XXI Bomber Command, and Brig. Gen. Emmett O’Donnell Jr. of Jamaica, New York, the 28-year-old former West Point football coach who led today’s raid, made it clear that the long-promised aerial offensive on the Jap home islands has begun.

In the weeks and months ahead, they declared, air-raid sirens will be echoing again and again and again in Emperor Hirohito’s imperial shelter in the heart of the congested enemy capital.

To bore right in

“We’ll probably get a lot of opposition over Tokyo, but we’ve got to bore right in and we will,” Gen. O’Donnell said just before the takeoff.

Gen. O’Donnell said good weather is expected over the Saipan-Tokyo bombing run in the next three months, particularly over the eastern side of Honshu Island, where the enemy capital is located.

Both officers emphasized that today’s raid, while marking the beginning of the final phase of the war against Japan, does not necessarily foreshadow an early end of the conflict.

Daylight attacks pledged

Gen. Hansell said:

We are not afraid to attack in daylight. We are confident our Superfortresses with their central fire control systems can defend themselves in air combat.

Gen. O’Donnell revealed that the planes that took part in today’s strike had been improved as a result of battle experience obtained by the Superfortresses operating from China and India, particularly the engines.

Even at Gen. O’Donnell’s bombers were roaring into the air from their new fields on Saipan, U.S. Marines and Army troops were combing the jungled cliffs and cave-studded mountains for survivors of the formidable Jap garrison that held the island only five months ago.

Arnold sends word to Roosevelt

Washington (UP) –
Gen. H. H. Arnold, commander of the Army Air Forces, sent President Roosevelt the following special report on today’s B-29 raid on Tokyo:

Our air forces returned to Tokyo today. A task force of B-29 Superfortresses attacked the Japanese capital from bases in the Marianas.

This operation is in no sense a hit-and-run raid. It is a calculated extension of our airpower. Combined operations of the Navy and the Army in the Pacific have won these island bases from which our B-29s now may strike at will into the enemy homeland. No part of the Jap Empire is now out of our range, no war factory too remote to feel our homes. The Battle for Japan has been joined.

The systematic demolition of Japan’s war production, begun six months ago from China bases, henceforth will be carried out with decisive vigor, softening up the Japanese heart for the ultimate invasion of combined United Nations land, sea and air forces. This will not be accomplished in a short time. The battle is just beginning. But today we opened against Tokyo an attack which will be carried on relentlessly from the air until the day of land-sea invasion.

Tokyo is world’s third largest city, seat of empire

Washington (UP) –
Tokyo, bombed today by B-29 Superfortresses, is the heart of Japan’s vast conquered empire and the seat of her imperial government.

It is the world’s third largest city, having a population in 1940 of 6,580,000.

It is also the center of Japan’s most heavily-producing industrial area, and its 40,000 factories of all sizes include huge shipbuilding works, airplane and engine factories, oil refineries, chemical works and plants producing radio and electrical equipment, explosives and precision instruments.

There are no skyscrapers in Tokyo, but many modern steel and concrete buildings were built after the disastrous earthquake in 1923.

This modern business area borders on vast “matchbox” sections of unpainted wooden and bamboo dwellings. More than half the homes are one-story and most are highly inflammable.

Transportation consists of subways, buses, trolleys and bicycles. A network of canal and rivers is crossed by some 5,000 bridges.

Other raids by big B-29s

Washington (UP) –
The B-29 raid on Tokyo was the 18th wartime mission for the big four-engined U.S. bombers.

Here is a list of their raids:

Early June: Struck at Bangkok, Thailand, in a shakedown operation.
June 15: Smashed the steel works at Yawata, Japan’s “Pittsburgh.”
July 7: Again hit Yawata as well as Sasebo and Omura in Japan and Laoyao and Hankow in occupied China.
July 29: Raided Anshan, Manchuria, and Chenghsein and Tangku in occupied China.
August 10: Struck at Palembang, Sumatra, and Nagasaki, Japan.
August 20: Two raids – day and night – on Yawata, Japan.
September 8: Hit Anshan, Manchuria.
September 26: Smashed Anshan, Manchuria, and Dairen and Loyang, occupied China.
October 14: Raided Okayama, Formosa.
October 16: Raided Okayama and Heito, Formosa.
October 17: Hit Einansho, Formosa.
October 25: Struck at Omura aircraft plant, Japan.
November 3: Hit Rangoon, Burma.
November 5: Raided naval base at Singapore, oil refineries on Sumatra.
November 11: Attacked Omura, Japan, and Nanking and Shanghai in occupied China.
November 20: Hit Omura on Japan and Nanking and Shanghai, China.
November 24: Raided Tokyo.