March 9, 1945: Operation Meetinghouse begins.

The first bombings conducted by the United States over Japan came in the form of the Doolittle Raid, a 1942 air raid that succeeded in boosting American morale but caused very little long-lasting damage to targeted Japanese cities. Systematic strategic firebombing campaigns by Allied forces began in the last months of the war. The bombing campaign dubbed Operation Meetinghouse, which struck Tokyo on March 9-10 with incendiary bombs and firestorms, was of an entirely different nature and more closely resembled the 1945 bombing of Dresden

On March 9, 1945, around 330 B-29s (the plane that carried out the majority of bombings in Japan, including the final atomic strikes over Hiroshima and Nagasaki) launched an attack on the Japanese Home Islands from U.S. outposts in the Mariana archipelago. The bombers carried out low-altitude raids over Tokyo using incendiary bombs, which were gruesomely effective against the tightly-packed and highly-flammable buildings that were common in Japan. The manner in which the bombings were carried out also made it impossible to avoid devastating civilian populations. There was no way to accurately target, with these napalm bombs, factories and industrial buildings, and avoid civilian areas. Fiery infernos burned on the ground, reaching 1,000 ° C, and wind swept burning debris and “clots of flame” into the air, setting everything surrounding alight. Civilians threw themselves into canals and any nearby water in attempts to escape the burning, but still stacks of incinerated bodies piled up in the streets. Curtis LeMay, who executed the strategic bombing campaign in the Pacific Theater, described the victims as having been “scorched and boiled and baked to death”. An estimated 80,000 - 100,000 (according to the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey and the Tokyo Metropolitan Police) died in that overnight air raid, during which some 4,500,000 pounds of incendiaries were dropped in three hours.

The stench of burning human flesh was reportedly so strong that the Americans bomber pilots flying thousands of feet overhead could smell it. 

The firebombing of Tokyo, which was followed by similar bombings in Nagoya, Osaka, and Kobe, was the deadliest air raid of World War II. It was only the beginning of a firebombing campaign that targeted and destroyed Japanese cities both large and small throughout the spring and summer until the capitulation of the Japanese Empire in August of 1945. In a memorandum dated June 17, 1945, Bonner Fellers - a U.S. Army strategist on psychological warfare - described the American firebombing campaign of Japan as “one of the most ruthless and barbaric killings of non-combatants in all history.”

 

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