Operation Meetinghouse- The Bombing of Tokyo

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“If war with the Japanese does come, we’ll fight mercilessly,” General George C. Marshall told news reporters in an off-the-record briefing on November 15, 1941, three weeks before Pearl Harbor. “Flying Fortresses will be dispatched immediately to set the paper cities of Japan on fire. There won’t be any hesitation about bombing civilians—it will be all-out.”  More than three years of brutal global warfare would pass before Marshall’s prediction came true, but come true it did on the night of March 9-10, 1945.

 An aerial armada of 334 B-29 bombers took off from newly established bases in the Mariana Islands, bound for Tokyo. In the space of a few hours, they dropped 1,667 tons of napalm-filled incendiary bombs on the Japanese capital, killing more than 100,000 people in a single strike, and injuring several times that number. It was the highest death toll of any air raid during the war, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki. By comparison, the bombing of Dresden a month earlier had resulted in around 25,000 deaths.
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The charred body of a woman who was carrying a child on her back

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The March 9 raid, code-named “Operation Meetinghouse,” marked a shift in American bombing strategy. It wasn’t B-17 Flying Fortresses that did the job, as Marshall had predicted, but the new long-distance B-29s based in Saipan and Tinian.

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General Curtis LeMay, newly appointed as the head of B-29 operations, called for a change in tactics.

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The high-flying bombers had shown themselves on their first missions to be horribly inaccurate in hitting their targets. At a time when the jet stream was still poorly understood, B-29 crews watched as the high winds at 30,000 feet scattered their bombs as soon as they dropped. That, and the frequent cloud cover over Japan, had led to B-29s hitting their targets, on average, less than 10 percent of the time.wczt1gd

 

For the March 9 raid on Tokyo, LeMay made some key changes. The B-29s would overfly the city’s most densely populated areas at 7,000 feet instead of 30,000 feet, in single file rather than in formation. To reduce the risk from Japanese fighters, they would raid at night (in fact the American bombers met with little resistance). And the B-29s would be stripped of nonessentials, including guns and gunners, to make room for more bombs. “By changing tactics and doubling the bombload per plane,” wrote historian Thomas Searle, LeMay created “a force capable of starting enormous firestorms.
U.S. planners knew the wooden Japanese buildings would burn hot. Army engineers had prepared maps of Tokyo’s most flammable sectors, and had observed Japanese-style houses put to the torch in a mock “Japanese village” constructed at the Dugway Proving Ground in Utahtokyo_inflammable_areas

On the night of the Tokyo raid, 15 square miles of one of the world’s most densely populated urban centers—equivalent to half the area of Manhattan—burned to the ground. More than a million people were left homeless. As historian John Dower described in his 1986 book War Without Mercy, “The heat from the conflagration was so intense that in some places canals boiled, metal melted, and buildings and human beings burst spontaneously into flames.”

Watching Tokyo on March 10 from our Evacuation Home in Ibaraki PrefectureArtist: Hashimoto KimisukeLocation: Yoshinuma (Tsukubane City), Ibaraki PrefectureAge at time of raid: 7

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The Umaya Bridge on the Night of March 10Artist: Fukushima YasusukeLocation: Umaya BridgeAge at time of raid: 6

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For Japan, it was a grisly beginning to the war’s end. According to a postwar U.S. estimate, total civilian casualties in Japan as a result of nine months of air attack were about 806,000, including 330,000 deaths—more than the 780,000 combat casualties suffered by Japanese soldiers

 

The bombing of Café de Paris -London

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Café de Paris is a London nightclub, located in the West End, beside Leicester Square on Coventry Street, Piccadilly.

It opened in 1924 and subsequently featured such performers as Dorothy Dandridge, Marlene Dietrich, Harry Gold, Harry Roy, Ken Snakehips Johnson and Maxine Cooper Gomberg.Louise Brooks made history when she worked there in December 1924, introducing the Charleston (dance) to London.

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Much of the early success of the Café de Paris was due to the visit of the then Prince of Wales who became a regular guest, often dining with notables from high society across Europe. Cole Porter was a regular, as was the Aga Khan

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During World War II, on 8 March 1941, the café was bombed soon after the start of a performance[and at least 34 people were killed and around 80 injured.

 

Two bombs fell into the basement ballroom down a ventilation shaft and exploded in front of the stage.The victims included 26-year-old bandleader Ken “Snakehips” Johnson, his saxophonist Dave “Baba” Williams, other band members, staff and diners.Snakehips’ head was blown from his shoulders.

Bandleader Snake-Hips Johnson on BBC Television

Dancers’ legs were sheered off. The blast, magnified in the confined space, burst the lungs of diners as they sat at their tables and killed them instantly.A rescue worker who arrived in the devastated nightclub tripped over a girl’s head on the floor, looked up and saw her torso still sitting in a chair. The dead and dying were heaped everywhere.Champagne was cracked open to clean wounds.

But there were some narrow escapes too. The high-kicking cabaret dancers, a troupe of ten girls, were due on stage when the bomb struck, but were saved because they were waiting in the wings and therefore protected from the devastation.

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The worst of human nature was in evidence that night too – amid the rubble and the chaos, unscrupulous looters were seen cutting off the fingers of the dead to steal their rings.

But, even among the death and destruction, one man retained his sense of humour – as he was carried out on a stretcher, he got a cheer from the watching crowd when he called out, ‘At least I didn’t have to pay for dinner.’

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On the same night that the Café de Paris was hit, so too was another even more famous landmark of London society – Buckingham Palace. And not for the first time.

The Bombing of the Vatican

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Bombing of Vatican City occurred twice during World War II. The first occasion was on the evening of 5 November 1943, when a plane dropped bombs on the area south-west of Saint Peter’s Basilica, causing considerable damage but no casualties. The second bombing, which affected only the outer margin of the city, was  on the 1st of  March 1944, and caused the death of one person and the injury of another.

An undated eyewitness account written by Monsignor Domenico Tardini in 1944 states:

Domenico Tardini

“The (first) bombing of the Vatican occurred on 5 November 1943 at 20:10. It was a very clear and cloudless evening. The moon made visibility excellent. For over half an hour an aeroplane was heard circling insistently over Rome and especially the Vatican. At about 8:10, while an Allied squadron passed over the Vatican, the aeroplane that until then had been circling over Rome dropped four bombs and flew away. The bombs fell in the Vatican Gardens: the first near the receiving Radio, another near the Government building, a third on the mosaics workshop, the fourth near the building of the Cardinal Archpriest. If they had fallen a very few metres off, they would have hit the Radio, the Government building, that of the Tribunals (where the diplomats were housed), and that of the Archpriest.

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They caused considerable damage, for all the windows were blown to pieces. There were no human casualties.”

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The future cardinal Tardini continued: “General opinion, and general indignation, blamed the Germans and, perhaps more, the Republican Fascists. The latter view was reinforced by notes about a telephone conversation of Barracu (Undersecretary for Home Affairs) that a telephone operator gave to the Holy Father. However, some months later, Monsignor Montini received from Monsignor Carroll, an American of the Secretariat of State, who was in Algiers to organize an information service for soldiers and civilians,in which it was stated clearly that the bombs had been dropped by an American. 5 November is for England, Father Hughes told me, an anti-Pope day.When Monsignor Carroll came to Rome in June 1944, he answered a question of mine by telling me that the American airman was supposed to have acted either to make a name for himself or out of wickedness. Monsignor Carroll did not know whether the delinquent had been punished.

The message from Monsignor Walter S. Carroll that Monsignor Tardini spoke of as addressed to Monsignor Montini was in reality addressed to Cardinal Secretary of State Luigi Maglione. It read: “In a conversation with the American Chief of Staff during the past week I was informed very confidentially that they feel that the bombing of the Vatican is probably attributable to an American pilot who lost his way; in fact, another American pilot reported seeing an Allied plane dropping its load on the Vatican. The General expressed his sincere regret and gave assurances that strict precaution would be taken to avoid a repetition of this incident ”

Official assurance that no American plane had in fact dropped bombs on Vatican City was given by the United States authorities.

The German and British authorities gave similar assurances regarding aircraft of their countries.

However in 2007 new evidence found by Augusto Ferrara, suggested that the bombing was ordered by the Italian Fascist politician Roberto Farinacci.

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The main target had been the Vatican radio because the Fascists believed that the Vatican was sending coded messages to the allies.

The plane which bombed the Vatican reportedly took off from the airport of Viterbo, a town 70 miles north of Rome.Ferrara discovered that “the pilot was a sergeant Parmeggiani, who was ordered to drop the bombs by the prominent fascist Roberto Farinacci.

That the attack was carried out by the Italian fascists, and not the Allies, is also suggested by a conversation between a priest of Rome, Fr. Giuseppe, and the Jesuit Pietro Tacchi Venturi, who was continuously in touch with Cardinal Luigi Maglione, Vatican Secretary of State.The conversation is reported in the book “Skyways lead to Rome” by the historian Antonio Castellani.

According to Castellani, Fr. Tacchi Venturi lamented “the attack of the Americans” to Fr. Giuseppe, but Fr. Giuseppe replied, “they were not Americans, they were Italians.”

Fr. Giuseppe then underscored that “it was a Savoia Marchetti plane, with five bombs aboard to be thrown to the Vatican Radio station, since Farinacci was convinced that Vatican Radio transmitted military information to the Allied Forces.”

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The Bombing of Cologne-90 minutes that changed the city.

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One of my favourite cities in Germany is Cologne. known for Eaux de Cologne and for its many landmarks like the Cathedral.

The Cologne of the 21st Century is a vibrant and multicultural metropolitan city only about 80 km away from Belgium and about 95 Km from the Netherlands.

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This location and the fact that the Rhine flows through it add the industrial hinterland made it a prime target for the allies.

Cologne had been bombed throughout the war the first time on the 17th of May 1940. In total there had been 262 separate air raids. However one of the most devastating raids happened on the 30th of May 1942.

On the 30th of May 1942 , a thousand-plane raid on the German city of Cologne was launched by Great Britain. Almost 1,500 tons of bombs rain down in 90 minutes, delivering a devastating blow to the Germans’ medieval city as well as its morale.

Codenamed Operation Millennium, the massive raid was launched for two primary reasons:

  • It was expected that the devastation from such raids might be enough to knock Germany out of the war or at least severely damage German morale.
  • The raids were useful propaganda for the Allies and particularly for RAF Bomber Command head Sir Arthur Harris, 1st Baronet’s concept of a Strategic Bombing Offensive.

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Bomber Command’s poor performance in bombing accuracy during 1941 had led to calls for the force to be split up and diverted to other urgent theatres i.e. Battle of the Atlantic. A headline-grabbing heavy raid on Germany was a way for Harris to demonstrate to the War Cabinet that given the investment in numbers and technology Bomber Command could make a vital contribution to victory.

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At this stage of the war Bomber Command only had a regular front line strength of around 400 aircraft, and were in the process of transitioning from the twin engined medium bombers of the pre-war years to the newer more effective four-engined heavy bombers such as the Handley Page Halifax and Avro Lancaster.

By using bombers and men from Operational Training Units (OTUs), 250 from RAF Coastal Command and from Flying Training Command, Harris could easily make up the 1,000 aircraft. However, just before the raid took place, the Royal Navy refused to allow the Coastal Command aircraft to take part in the raid.The Admiralty perceived the propaganda justifications too weak an argument against the real and pressing threat of the U-boats in the Battle of the Atlantic. Harris scrambled around and, by crewing 49 more aircraft with pupil pilots and instructors, 1,047 bombers eventually took part in the raid, two and a half times more than any previous raid by the RAF.

In addition to the bombers attacking Cologne, 113 other aircraft on “Intruder” raids harassed German night-fighter airfields.

Cologne was not Harris’s first choice; he wanted to bomb Hamburg. Poor weather made Hamburg a poor choice; in addition, Harris was advised by Dr. Basil Dickins, a scientist who was section head of RAF’s Bomber Command’s Operations research, to choose Cologne, which was within GEE range.

This was the first time that the “bomber stream” tactic was used and most of the tactics used in this raid remained the basis for standard Bomber Command operations for the next two years and some elements remained in use until the end of the war. It was expected that such a large number of bombers flying in a bomber stream through the Kammhuber line would overwhelm the German night fighters’ control system, keeping the number of bombers shot down to an acceptable proportion. The recent introduction of GEE allowed the bombers to fly a given route at a given time and height. The British night bombing campaign had been in operation for some months, and a statistical estimate could be made of the number of bombers likely to be lost to enemy night fighters and flak, and how many would be lost through collisions. Minimising the former demanded a densely packed stream, as the controllers of a night fighter flying a defensive ‘box’ could only direct a maximum of six potential interceptions per hour, and the flak gunners could not concentrate on all the available targets at once. Earlier in the war four hours had been considered acceptable for a mission; for this raid all the bombers passed over Cologne and bombed in a window of 90 minutes, with the first having arrived at 00:47 of 31 May. It was anticipated that the concentration of bombing over such a short period would overwhelm the Cologne fire brigades and cause conflagrations similar to those inflicted on London by the Luftwaffe during the Blitz.

 

In the raid, 868 aircraft bombed the main target with 15 aircraft bombing other targets. The total tonnage of bombs dropped was 1,455 tons with two-thirds of that being incendiaries. Two and a half thousand separate fires were started with 1,700 classed by the German fire brigades as “large”. The action of fire fighters and the width of the streets stopped the fires combining into a firestorm, but nonetheless most of the damage was done by fire and not directly by the explosive blasts. 3,330 non-residential buildings were destroyed, 2,090 seriously damaged and 7,420 lightly damaged, making a total of 12,840 buildings of which 2,560 were industrial or commercial buildings. Among the buildings classed as totally destroyed were: 7 official administration buildings, 14 public buildings, 7 banks, 9 hospitals, 17 churches, 16 schools, 4 university buildings, 10 postal and railway buildings, 10 buildings of historic interest, 2 newspaper offices, 4 hotels, 2 cinemas and 6 department stores. The only military installation damaged was the flak barracks. The damage to civilian homes, most of them apartments in larger buildings, was considerable: 13,010 destroyed, 6,360 seriously damaged, 22,270 lightly damaged.Amazingly the Cathedral survived.

1,047 aircraft were dispatched, this number being made up as follows:

    • 1 Group – 156 Wellingtons
    • 3 Group – 134 Wellingtons, 88 Stirlings
    • 4 Group – 131 Halifaxes, 9 Wellingtons, 7 Whitleys =

147 aircraft

    • 5 Group – 73 Lancasters, 46 Manchesters, 34 Hampdens =

153 aircraft

    • 91 (O. T. U.) Group – 236 Wellingtons, 21 Whitleys =

257 aircraft 92 (O. T. U.) Group – 63 Wellingtons, 45 Hampdens = 108 aircraft Flying Training Command – 4 Wellingtons

The number reported killed was between 469 and 486, of whom 411 were civilians and 58 combatants. 5,027 people were listed as injured and 45,132 as “bombed out”.It was estimated that from 135,000 to 150,000 of Cologne’s population of nearly 700,000 fled the city after the raid. The RAF lost 43 aircraft (German propaganda claimed 44) 3.9% of the 1,103 bombers sent on the raid. 22 aircraft were lost over or near Cologne, 16 shot down by flak, 4 by night fighters, 2 in a collision, and 2 Bristol Blenheim light bombers lost in attacks on night fighter airfields. A posthumous Victoria Cross was awarded to Flying Officer Leslie Thomas Manser who sacrificed himself so his crew could abandon the aircraft.

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