Last, and largest, bombing mission to Japan

Leaflet delivered to Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and 33 other Japanese cities on 1 August 1945.”
Leaflet delivered to Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and 33 other Japanese cities on 1 August 1945. The Japanese text on the reverse side of the leaflet carried the following warning: “Read this carefully as it may save your life or the life of a relative or friend. In the next few days, some or all of the cities named on the reverse side will be destroyed by American bombs. These cities contain military installations and workshops or factories which produce military goods. We are determined to destroy all of the tools of the military clique which they are using to prolong this useless war. But, unfortunately, bombs have no eyes. So, in accordance with America’s humanitarian policies, the American Air Force, which does not wish to injure innocent people, now gives you warning to evacuate the cities named and save your lives. America is not fighting the Japanese people but is fighting the military clique which has enslaved the Japanese people. The peace which America will bring will free the people from the oppression of the military clique and mean the emergence of a new and better Japan. You can restore peace by demanding new and good leaders who will end the war. We cannot promise that only these cities will be among those attacked but some or all of them will be, so heed this warning and evacuate these cities immediately.”
B-29 Superfortress bombers near Mount Fuji, Japan, circa Jul 1945
B-29 Superfortress bombers near Mount Fuji, Japan, circa Jul 1945

Following the bombing of Nagasaki on the 9th August the Japanese government had met several times to discuss surrender. There were sharp divisions within their ranks whether they should accept the allied ultimatum or fight on. Since the U.S. was reading all of the Japanese secret diplomatic messages they had an almost real time understanding of the complexity of the Japanese position.

A Japanese telegram on the 10th August appeared to offer surrender – but not the full unconditional surrender that Allies sought. The Japanese wanted to preserve the Imperial system, and maintain the Emperor. The Allies’ Potsdam Declaration had been silent on the exact way that the Emperor would be treated – although it was clear that they wanted a change to the system of government.

There was much scope for interpretation in what the two sides wanted. It would take five days to resolve the issues at stake.

Allied bombing of Japan was halted on 11th August because of bad weather – and then this situation was confirmed to allow negotiations to continue. By the 14th the situation was no clearer and US bombing missions were resumed.

On the 14th 1,014 bombers hit the Japanese mainland, the largest raid in the Pacific theatre. Part of the raid involved the 315 Bombardment Wing flying 3,800 miles to destroy the Nippon Oil Company refinery, the longest bombing raid of the war.

Robert F. Griffin of the 331st Bomb Group, part of the 315 Bombardment Wing, was the bombardier on a B-29 flying from Guam:

On the night of August 14, 1945, we took off to make what we thought might be the last raid of the war. A little over a week before, on August 6, an atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. When this did not cause an immediate surrender, a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9. Rumors had spread like wildfire, but most of us could not comprehend the concept of an atomic bomb nor of the extent of damage it might do.

As we headed to Iwo Jima, we listened for a call on the radio to abort the mission. Several hundred miles past Iwo we decided that we had gone too far to abort and would no longer listen for an abort message. Apparently a recall was never made or everyone else also elected to proceed with the mission. This was to be the longest bombing mission that we ever made.

Our course from Iwo Jima was to go north along the east side of Honshu to a point near Hitachi, a town about 75 to 100 miles north of Tokyo. Here we were to turn westerly and proceed over the middle of Honshu to the little island of Sado in the sea of Japan. Near Sado we were to turn north again and fly up the west coast of Honshu to our target, the Nippon Oil Refinery at Tsuchizakiminato. The name was shortened by our intelligence group to Tsuchizaki, and to those who still couldn’t pronounce it, it was referred to as Akita, a larger town about five miles away.

It was customary in the Group to use our navigational lights until we were near the islands of Japan. Too many groups of bombers from the Marianas used similar flight paths and altitudes going to and from the island that prudence called for running lights. Occasionally our own aircraft were close enough to each other to be able to see one another by these lights. Orbiting and flashing lights as you see on today’s aircraft were not in use during the war. Planes of this era were all equipped with stationary red and green lights on the wing tips and some had a white light on the top or on the tail. Many had only the wing lights.

On this night as our plane approached the east coast of Honshu, we could see the green light of the starboard wing top of one of our planes cruising off to our left. As we both turned westward to cross Honshu, we turned off our navigational lights; he did not.

The distance we had to fly over Honshu was about 150 miles which would take about 35 to 40 minutes. We were not to break radio silence, but wished we could alert the other plane to turn off his lights. He could attract attention to the entire mission, he had turned slightly short of us and was flying a parallel path about two to three miles to our south side. After much wishful thinking on our part, we finally forgot him and became engrossed in our own activities.

When we reached the little butterfly shaped island of Sado, we turned to the right to fly our northward path to the target The night was clear with just enough starlight to be able to identify the shoreline of the island. As we turned, we gave one last look for the plane that had been on our left. He had either turned off his lights or changed course considerable. We could not see him anywhere.

The distance from Sado to Tsuchizaki is also about 150 miles so that we now had about 35 to 40 minutes before reaching the target. Final calculations and settings were made to the bombsight. Again our APQ-7 radar had malfunctioned and we were going to have to make a visual bomb run. Occasionally, something could be seen in the water to allow an attempt at setting wind drift. This being done, there was little to do except sit and look ahead.

Abruptly, two lights appeared at “ten o’clock” slightly higher than we were. They appeared to be somewhat red and green as you might see from a fighter plane approaching from a distance of several miles. All of us in the cockpit watched these lights as they slowly came a little closer. They didn’t change position, however, and we could not understand how a fighter could maintain the same position, “ten o’clock,” as he approached.

All of a sudden it became shockingly clear that these were not wing top lights! I was looking right up the exhaust stacks of another plane’s engines! This must have been the plane that crossed Honshu with us. We were less than ten minutes from the target and he was only a few hundred yards to our side, about 50 to 75 feet above us and about 50 feet in front of us! He was apparently oblivious to the fact that we were there.

The target could be seen ahead by this time. Earlier flights had already set a number of ground fires. It was time to lock onto the target for our bomb run. It was too late to swing to the side and try to set another course. The two of us were flying on converging paths, closing in on one point. While I flew the plane from the bombsight, the airplane commander carefully watched the other bomber with the intent of pulling away if a collision seemed imminent.

About a minute for the target we could see what appeared to be a huge cloud, a thunderhead, ahead of us. There had been some questionable reports of potential thunderstorms around the target. We were at 11,000 feet and this cloud towered over us reaching up to 15,000 or 16,000 feet.

A few seconds from bomb release and we were almost touching the plane next to us. The Captain advised that as soon as the bombs are released he will swing to the right and climb about a thousand feet.

“Bombs Away!” The Captain took the plane off the bombsight, turned to the right and began to pull up. I stood up, somewhat straddling the bombsight, and leaned far forward so that I might see the bomb impacts. The large black cloud was just ahead.

We touched the cloud and “Whoosh!”, the plane jerked violently upward. I was thrown up into the air and then dropped unceremoniously with my feet pointed upward, my backside where my feet should be and my head leaning back upon my seat. As I lay there looking upward at the plexiglas and the edges of the aluminum ribs of the plane’s nose, it seemed that they were alive with fire. Sparks jumped all over. I thought, “This is it, the end of the line.”

Then, as suddenly as it started, it stopped. We were out of the cloud. Ahead, slightly above us and to our right, was the plane that had gone down the bomb run with us. In spite of our turn and climb, he had crossed over and climbed higher while we were in the cloud. At this point, he was so close that I could see the tail gunner’s face.

The thunderhead wasn’t a rain cloud. It was a violent thermal cloud of smoke and debris that was drawn thousands of feet into the air by the heat of the huge fires and explosions from the bombing on the refinery. The sparking that I had seen on the plexiglas was akin to St. Elmo’s fire that sailors see in the rigging of ships in a storm, it was electrical discharges from all the charged particles thrown up into the cloud from the explosions on the ground.

The return trip to Guam was rather uneventful. We left the target area about 3:00 AM and, therefore, as we flew by the Bonin Islands it was early morning. This gave us a chance to see how formidable they were and to visualize the hardships that Japanese fishermen must have who live on those rocks. We landed on Guam about noon after more than seventeen hours in the air.

Many more of these stories are available in ‘In their own Words’, published by the 315th Bomb Wing Association.

B-29s of the 462d Bomb Group West Field Tinian Mariana Islands 1945
B-29s of the 462d Bomb Group West Field Tinian Mariana Islands 1945
A Portion Of The Network Of Taxiways And Dispersal Areas To Accommodate B-29 Superfortresses On Guam.
A Portion Of The Network Of Taxiways And Dispersal Areas To Accommodate B-29 Superfortresses On Guam.

One thought on “Last, and largest, bombing mission to Japan”

  1. Few air units or anti-aircraft batteries were stationed in the home islands during the early months of the Pacific War. The General Defense Command (GDC) had been formed in July 1941 to oversee the defense of the home islands, but all combat units in this area were assigned to the four regional military districts (the Northern, Eastern, Central and Western districts) which reported directly to the Ministry of War. As a result, the GDC’s functions were limited to coordinating communications between the Imperial General Headquarters —Japan’s highest military decision-making body—and the military districts.

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