March 9, 2020: Bombing of Tokyo
Today is Monday. March Ninth Twenty Twenty on this day in nineteen forty five. The United States executed the single deadliest air strike in history on the city of Tokyo. Japan welcomed today and true crime. Apar- cast original today. We're covering the American firebombing of Tokyo during World War Two to the Americans. It was dubbed Operation Meeting House to the Japanese it will forever be remembered as the Great Tokyo Air Raid. Now let's go back to that night. March ninth nineteen forty five at five thirty five PM local time. American bombers took off from the tiny Pacific island of Saipan the encountered some mild turbulence on route to Tokyo but otherwise conditions and visibility. Were clear even though the planes were flying at low altitude around six thousand feet they were high enough to avoid the extremely gusty winds on the ground. This was the first low altitude bombing raid that the Americans had flown their previous high altitude precision raids over. Tokyo had failed miserably for one thing. Conditions were usually too windy for bombs. Dropped at that altitude to hit their targets. Plus the Japanese had one of the most advanced and effective air defense systems in existence. A defense system formulated to fend off. High altitude raids. The architect of this low altitude bombing raid was Curtis Lemay. Lemay had led several dangerous and successful missions across Germany and North Africa over the of World War Two because of his fearless effectiveness he was put in charge of all strategic air attacks against the Japanese home islands. The May was known to his troops as old iron pants because of his unflappability under pressure. He attempted to drill that composure. Into his troops when they weren't flying practice missions lemay constantly kept his pilots on their toes by training them to adapt to chaotic situations. He believed it was the only way for them to be effective in combat. They had to be so prepared for the chaos and terror of their flight missions that their actions became second nature. Training pilots to fly at low altitude was no different. It was a slow grueling process. Spread out over many smaller missions. The pilots weren't entirely aware of the reasoning for this new training. But they knew to follow lamaze orders. He had his reasons. The May did indeed have his reasons for introducing the low flying strategy. He knew the Japanese architecture relied mainly on combustible material such as Wood and paper. Also Japanese munitions weren't just confined to factories on the outskirts of town. Production was spread out between homes with small factories. Peppering dense urban areas low. Flying Planes would circumvent the wind interference and air defenses that had foiled previous bombing raids allowing the US to effectively burn Tokyo to the ground. It was an unorthodox strategy and Lemay knew that the raids would be costly in fact. Intelligence officers calculated that up to seventy percent of his pilots could be killed but it wasn't just lamaze pilots whose lives were at stake by. Its very nature the type of raid. That Lemay was proposing could decimate the Japanese civilian population. Still Lemay believed. It was the only way for the US to defeat Japan so just after midnight as March ninth turned to the early morning of the tenth. The first low-flying American bombers reached Tokyo and immediately launched a scene of death and destruction. Unlike anything seen before the American planes dropped thousands of pounds of firebombs throughout Tokyo. They created an x shape of fires. Which not only served as a target for other bomber planes but allowed those fires to spread in the fastest and most destructive way possible. The fire spread inexorably. Throughout the city propelled by the knights heavy winds and just as Lemay had suspected the city's wood and paper buildings burned up like kindling within a half hour from the start of the bombing. The fire was too large to be contained within an hour most of eastern Tokyo had been destroyed or was burning to the ground in a three hour period. American pilots dropped one thousand six hundred sixty five tons of bombs. The casualties were so severe that many pilots reported smelling burning flesh all the way. From the cockpits of their aircraft's most of those who weren't immediately killed by falling bombs were killed while trying to evacuate on foot. The dense smoke made it nearly impossible to see more than a few feet ahead and anyone who fell was trampled many of those who were fortunate enough to make it to air raid. Shelters died of smoke inhalation and those who fled to parks or other open spaces were killed when the wind blew the flames and heat in their direction. Others died after being trapped under fallen structures and still more succumbed to injuries sustained during the fire. Considering it was days before many of them were able to access treatment the only people who managed to survive were those who hid in rivers or canals and even then they were forced to return to a city that had for the most part been burned to the ground. Coming up we'll examine the impact of Curtis Lemay Strategy for the firebombing of Tokyo. Now back to the story on this day in Nineteen forty-five Curtis Lemay ordered his pilots to firebomb Tokyo decimating the city and its civilian population. Lemay was asked by the New York Times how he could justify a strategy that killed most of his men and so many innocent civilians he replied if the war is shortened by a single day the attack will have served its purpose. There's no way to know how many people were killed during Operation Meeting House but the estimates range up to two hundred thousand almost sixteen square miles of Tokyo were burnt beyond recognition. Furthermore it left over a million people homeless survivors were forced to evacuate the city entirely. The firebombing of Tokyo was the most deadly and destructive bombing campaign in history but most shocking of all it didn't lead directly to a Japanese surrender wall. It was a devastating blow for Japan and its collective morale. The Japanese army continued fighting. And the Americans engaged in several more low altitude firebomb raids which eventually culminated in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It wasn't until August. Fourteenth nineteen forty-five over five months after Operation Meeting House and a week and a half after the bombing of Hiroshima that Japan officially surrendered. It took some time for the goals of lamaze. Low altitude strategy to come to fruition but in the end they did in an attempt to explain the ambiguity of wartime decision-making Prussian historian. Carl von Clausewitz wrote in eighteen. Thirty two war is the realm of uncertainty. Three quarters of the factors on which action and more is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty a sensitive and discriminating judgment is called for a skilled intelligence to sent out the truth. But La- may never attempted to justify his decision based on the ambiguity of war when asked about his methods years later. Lemay said quote. Killing Japanese. Didn't bother me very much at the time I suppose. If I had lost the war I would have been tried as a war criminal. Every soldier thinks something of the moral aspects of what he's doing but all war is immoral. And if you let that bother you you're not a good soldier. Thanks for listening to today in true. Crime I'm Vanessa Richardson. 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Sound design by Kerry Murphy With Production Assistance by Ron Shapiro Carly Madden Aaron Larson and Paul Moller. This episode of today in true crime was written by Tony Goodman with writing assistance by Nora Patel. I'm Vanessa Richardson.