Air raids on Japan

Air raids conducted by Allied forces on Japan during World War II caused extensive destruction to the country's cities and killed between 241,000 and 900,000 people. During the first years of the Pacific War these attacks were limited to the Doolittle Raid in April 1942 and small-scale raids on military positions in the Kuril Islands from mid-1943. Strategic bombing raids began in June 1944 and continued until the end of the war in August 1945. Allied naval and land-based tactical air units also attacked Japan during 1945.

Air raids on Japan
Part of Pacific War, World War II

B-29 Superfortress bombers dropping incendiary bombs on Yokohama during May 1945[1]
Date18 April 1942 – 15 August 1945
Location
Result Allied victory
Belligerents
 United States
 United Kingdom
 China
 Japan
Units involved
Fifth Air Force
Seventh Air Force
Eleventh Air Force
Twentieth Air Force
3rd Fleet
5th Fleet
British Pacific Fleet
Republic of China Air Force
Northern District
Eastern District
Central District
Western District
General Defense Command
Air General Army
Casualties and losses
5th Air Force:
31 aircraft
7th Air Force:
12 aircraft
VII Fighter Command:
157 aircraft
91 killed
20th Air Force:
414 aircraft
over 2,600 killed[2]
241,000–900,000 killed
213,000–1,300,000 wounded
8,500,000 rendered homeless[3]
Very heavy damage to industry
Extensive damage to urban areas
4,200 aircraft[4]

The United States military air campaign waged against Japan began in earnest in mid-1944 and intensified during the war's last months. While plans for attacks on Japan had been prepared prior to the Pacific War, these could not begin until the long-range B-29 Superfortress bomber was ready for combat. From June 1944 until January 1945, B-29s stationed in India staged through bases in China to make a series of nine raids on targets in western Japan, but this effort proved ineffective. The strategic bombing campaign was greatly expanded from November 1944 when bases in the Mariana Islands became available as a result of the Mariana Islands Campaign. These attacks initially attempted to target industrial facilities using high-altitude daylight "precision" bombing, which was also largely ineffective. From February 1945, the bombers switched to low-altitude night firebombing against urban areas as much of the manufacturing process was carried out in small workshops and private homes: this approach resulted in large-scale urban damage. Aircraft flying from Allied aircraft carriers and the Ryukyu Islands also frequently struck targets in Japan during 1945 in preparation for the planned invasion of Japan scheduled for October 1945. During early August 1945, the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were struck and mostly destroyed by atomic bombs.

Japan's military and civil defenses were unable to stop the Allied attacks. The number of fighter aircraft and anti-aircraft guns assigned to defensive duties in the home islands was inadequate, and most of these aircraft and guns had difficulty reaching the high altitudes at which B-29s often operated. Fuel shortages, inadequate pilot training, and a lack of coordination between units also constrained the effectiveness of the fighter force. Despite the vulnerability of Japanese cities to firebombing attacks, the firefighting services lacked training and equipment, and few air raid shelters were constructed for civilians. As a result, the B-29s were able to inflict severe damage on urban areas while suffering few losses.

The Allied bombing campaign was one of the main factors which influenced the Japanese government's decision to surrender in mid-August 1945. However, there has been a long-running debate over the morality of the attacks on Japanese cities, and the use of atomic weapons is particularly controversial. The most commonly cited estimate of Japanese casualties from the raids is 333,000 killed and 473,000 wounded. There are a number of other estimates of total fatalities, however, which range from 241,000 to 900,000. In addition to the loss of mostly civilian life, the raids contributed to a large decline in industrial production.


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