Bombing of Tokyo

Tokyo is the capital of Japan and was therefore a major target of the United States Air Force during the Second World War. The first raids began in late 1944 when the new B-29 Stratafortress heavy bombers began operating from bases in the Mariana Islands.

After the US Army captured Iwo Jima the USAF was able to use the island to increase its bombing attacks on Japan. The large number of Japanese buildings made of wood made it easy for the bombers to create firestorms. On the 9th and 10th March 1945, a raid on Tokyo devastated the city.

Primary Sources

(1) Studs Terkel interviewed Akira Miuri of Tokyo about his experiences during the Second World War for his book, The Good War (1985)

Even before the war, Japan had been under military rule, so our education didn't change that much. We did spend more time with patriotic material in history classes and were being taught how to march and how to shoot. We took it in stride without much questioning.

In the beginning, the war was still distant to us. We sent off our relatives and friends with cheery smiles and military songs. We didn't see any bombing yet, so we were not really aware of what war was like.

Doolittle's raids began in 1942 and 1943. When I saw a couple of American planes in the sky, I realized it was coming closer. After Doolittle's first attacks on Tokyo, nothing happened for a time. America started invading all those Pacific islands. When they took Saipan and built a huge airfield there, it really began. We saw these bombers high above Tokyo. They came in droves early in 1944.

In 1944, all the high schools were closed so the students could work in the factories. Everybody was mobilized for the war effort. My classmates and I were sent to a metal factory, where they were building airplane parts. I was seventeen then.

The younger kids were all evacuated from Tokyo and sent to the countryside. The air raids were now getting worse and quite heavy. I was awakened by air-raid sirens and could see the western sky lighted up by fire bombs. It looked like a big display of fireworks.

Fortunately, the residential area where I lived was not hit. We were very lucky, because in Tokyo it was hard to distinguish factory areas from dwelling places.

Downtown Tokyo was completely destroyed. The Ginza area was pretty well wiped out. I saw people fleeing, their faces covered with soot, their clothing torn off. It was happening almost every night.