Allied naval bombardments of Japan during World War II
|Allied naval bombardments of Japan|
|Part of the Pacific War, World War II|
USS Indiana bombarding Kamaishi, Japan on 14 July 1945
| United States
|Empire of Japan|
|Casualties and losses|
|29 (Allied POWs killed in the bombardments of Kamaishi)||Up to 1,739 killed
Up to 1,497 wounded
Damage to industrial facilities
Damage to urban areas
During the last weeks of World War II, warships of the United States Navy, Britain's Royal Navy, and the Royal New Zealand Navy bombarded several cities and industrial facilities in Japan. These bombardments caused heavy damage to several of the factories targeted, as well as nearby civilian areas. The Japanese military did not attempt to attack the Allied fleet, and none of the warships involved in the bombardments suffered any damage. As many as 1,739 Japanese were killed in the attacks, and up to another 1,497 were wounded.
During the Pacific War the U.S. Navy's fast battleships were mainly used to escort the groups of aircraft carriers which formed the United States Pacific Fleet's main striking force. They were occasionally used to bombard Japanese positions near the shore, however, and fought a small number of actions with Japanese warships.
By mid-1945, cities and industrial facilities in the Japanese home islands were under sustained attack from United States Army Air Forces B-29 Superfortress heavy bombers based in the Mariana Islands. Attacks by Allied submarines, aircraft, and surface ships had also cut most of the country's trade routes and U.S. Navy aircraft carrier task groups had raided locations in the home islands on several occasions during 1945. Shortages of fuel had confined most of the Imperial Japanese Navy's (IJN's) surviving ships to port and forced the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service and IJN to hold its air units in reserve against the expected Allied invasion. Prior to the war, the Japanese military had assessed that coastal artillery was no longer suited to the country's circumstances. As a result, only a small number of strategic ports were protected by artillery capable of engaging enemy warships, and most of these guns were of relatively small calibers.
In mid-1945 the Allied naval commanders decided to use battleships to conduct a series of attacks against Japanese coastal cities. It was hoped that the Japanese military would respond to these bombardments by attacking the Allied forces with the aircraft which were being held in reserve to respond to the planned invasion of Japan, thereby exposing these aircraft to attack by powerful forces of Allied fighter aircraft.
First attack on Kamaishi
On 1 July 1945, the U.S 3rd Fleet sortied from Leyte Gulf in the Philippines under the command of Admiral William Halsey to attack the Japanese Home Islands. Halsey's plans included the use of battleships and cruisers to bombard military facilities and factories, and in preparation for these attacks U.S. Navy submarines sailed into inshore waters to search for naval mines. United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) B-29 Superfortress and B-24 Liberators also conducted photo reconnaissance flights over much of Japan in search of airfields and facilities which could be attacked by the Third Fleet.
The 3rd Fleet's main component, Task Force 38 (TF 38) which was commanded by Vice Admiral John S. McCain, began striking targets in Japan on 10 July. On this day aircraft flying from the Task Force's aircraft carriers attacked facilities around Tokyo. Following this Task Force 38 sailed north, and began raids on Hokkaido and northern Honshu on 14 July. These areas were outside the range of USAAF B-29 Superfortress bombers, and had not been attacked to that point in the war. The U.S. Navy (USN) aircraft met little opposition, and sank eleven warships and 20 merchant ships as well as destroying 25 aircraft. A further eight warships and 21 merchant ships were damaged.
The first Allied bombardment of a Japanese coastal town took place on 14 July in conjunction with the air attacks on Hokkaido and northern Honshu. A bombardment group commanded by Rear Admiral John F. Shafroth designated Task Unit 34.8.1 (TU 34.8.1) was detached from TF 38 to attack the iron works at Kamaishi in northern Honshu. At the time the city had a population of 40,000 and the iron works was among the largest in Japan. However, due to shortages of coking coal and other raw materials the iron works was running at less than half its capacity. TU 34.8.1 comprised the battleships USS South Dakota, Indiana and Massachusetts as well as the heavy cruisers USS Quincy and Chicago and nine destroyers. Allied prisoners of war had been assigned to work at the Nippon Steel Company, and were housed in two camps in Kamaishi.
The bombardment group opened fire on the ironworks at 12:10 from a range of 29,000 yd (27,000 m). The ships subsequently moved closer to the city, but did not cross the 100-fathom line as no minesweepers were available to sweep for naval mines. The bombardment lasted for over two hours, during which time the force made six passes across the mouth of Kamaishi's harbor and fired 802 16 in (410 mm) shells, 728 8 in (200 mm) shells and 825 5 in (130 mm) shells. While most of the shells landed within the grounds of the ironworks, the concussion from their explosions caused kitchen fires to break out across the city. The resulting smoke prevented USN aircraft from being able to support or spot for the warships, which continued to fire accurately on predetermined targets. No Japanese aircraft or coastal guns responded to this bombardment. Following the attack Allied aircraft photographed the ironworks, but photo interpreters underestimated the extent to which they had been damaged. This was one of the first times that photographic intelligence had been used to determine the extent of damage from a naval bombardment, and the interpreters placed too much weight on the fact that none of the ironwork's buildings had been destroyed. The Allies learned after the war that the ironworks had been extensively damaged and forced to cease production for several weeks. This resulted in a loss of four weeks of pig iron production and two and a half months of coke production. Five Allied POWs were also killed in the bombardment.
On the night of 14/15 July, another bombardment unit — TU 34.8.2 — was detached from TF 38 to attack the town of Muroran on the south-east coast of Hokkaido. TU 34.8.2 comprised the battleships USS Iowa, Missouri and Wisconsin, light cruisers USS Atlanta and Dayton as well as eight destroyers and was commanded by Rear Admiral Oscar C. Badger. Admiral Halsey accompanied this force onboard Missouri. The targets of this attack were the Japan Steel Company's facility and the Wanishi Iron Works. That night, a force of four cruisers and six destroyers also sailed near the east coast of Honshu to attack Japanese shipping but did not locate any targets.
TU 34.8.2's bombardment began at dawn on 15 July. The three battleships fired 860 16 in (410 mm) shells from a range of 28,000–32,000 yd (26,000–29,000 m) from the city. Aerial observation and spotting of damage was made difficult by hazy conditions, and only 170 shells landed within the grounds of the two plants. Nevertheless, this caused considerable damage, and resulted in the loss of two and half months of coke production and slightly less pig iron production. Damage to buildings across the city was also extensive. As with the bombardment of Kamaishi, the interpreters of post-attack photographs underestimated the scale of the damage. TU 34.8.2 was highly vulnerable to air attack throughout the more than six hour period it was visible from the shore, and Admiral Halsey later wrote that these were the longest hours of his life. The failure of the Japanese to attack the ships convinced Halsey that they were preserving aircraft for use against an Allied invasion of Japan. On 15 July, aircraft flying from TF 38's aircraft carriers struck again at Hokkaido and northern Honshu and devastated the fleet of ships which carried coal between the two islands.
The attacks on Hokkaido and northern Honshu ended on 15 July, and TF 38 sailed away from the Japanese coast to refuel and rendezvous with the main body of the British Pacific Fleet, which was designated Task Force 37 (TF 37). On the morning of 17 July, the British and U.S. carriers attacked targets to the north of Tokyo. Later that day, TU 34.8.2 and the British battleship HMS King George V and her two escorting destroyers detached from the carrier force to bombard targets around the city of Hitachi, which is located about 80 mi (130 km) northeast of Tokyo. This force was commanded by Rear Admiral Badger and comprised the battleships Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Alabama, and King George V, light cruisers Atlanta and Dayton, and eight U.S. and two British destroyers. King George V and her two escorts sailed astern of the U.S. force but operated independently. Halsey again accompanied this force on board Missouri.
The bombardment of the Hitachi area took place on the night of 17/18 July. Rain and fog made locating the targets difficult and prevented artillery spotting aircraft from flying, but light air protection was provided for the bombardment force by carrier aircraft. The Allied warships opened fire at 23:10, and aimed at their targets using radar and LORAN. The attackers targeted nine industrial facilities and King George V was assigned similar targets to those engaged by the American battleships. By the time the bombardment ceased at about 01:10, the American battleships had fired 1,238 16 in (410 mm) shells, and the British battleship 267 14 in (360 mm) shells. The two light cruisers also fired 292 6 in (150 mm) shells at radar and electronics installations south of Hitachi. All firing was conducted at a range of 23,000–35,000 yd (21,000–32,000 m).
Damage to the Hitachi area from the Allied bombardment was limited. Only three of the nine targets were hit, and overall damage to the city's industrial area was "slight". The attack inflicted considerable damage on the city's urban area and essential services, however. This damage was greatly increased by a B-29 raid on Hitachi on the night of 18/19 July which destroyed or damaged 79% of the city's urban area. The official history of the U.S. Navy states that "individual Japanese" considered the naval bombardment to be more terrifying than the air attack.
Nojima Saki and Shionomisaki
On 18 July, TFs 37 and 38 conducted further air strikes in the Tokyo area, with the U.S. Navy's main effort being an attempt to sink the Japanese battleship Nagato in Yokosuka Naval Base. That night, Cruiser Division 17 (CruDiv 17), which comprised the light cruisers USS Astoria, Pasadena, Springfield and Wilkes-Barre and six destroyers under the command of Rear Admiral J. Cary Jones, fired 240 6 in (150 mm) shells at a radar station on Cape Nojima in a five-minute period but did not score any hits.
After completing their strikes on Tokyo, TFs 37 and 38 conducted an at-sea replenishment from 21–23 July before attacking Kure and the Inland Sea from the 24th to the 28th of the month. On the night of 24/25 July, CruDiv 17 patrolled the Kii Channel and bombarded the naval seaplane base at Kushimoto, a landing field near Cape Shionomisaki and a radio station. This attack lasted for only four minutes and caused little damage.
On 29 July, a group of warships was detached from the main body of the Allied fleet to bombard the city of Hamamatsu. This force comprised the same ships which had attacked Kamaishi on 14 July with the addition of HMS King George V and the destroyers HMS Ulysses, Undine and Urania; the four British ships were designated Task Unit 37.1.2 (TU 37.1.2). The city had previously suffered extensive damage from air attacks.
The British and American ships engaged their targets independently. King George V opened fire at the Japan Musical Instrument Company's Plant No. 2, which was being used to manufacture aircraft propellers, at 23:19 from a range of 20,075 yd (18,357 m). The battleship fired 265 14 in (360 mm) rounds at the plant in 27 minutes and was able to make use of artillery spotting aircraft as visibility was good. Little damage was caused to the facility, however. Massachusetts fired at Plant No. 1 but also scored only a small number of hits. Despite the limited physical damage, the shelling caused increased labor absenteeism and disruption to vital services which caused the factory to cease production. The American ships also shelled the Imperial Government Railway Hamamatsu Locomotive works and three other industrial facilities. Of these targets, the locomotive works ceased operations for about three months due to damage, but two of the other facilities had almost ceased production before the attack and the third was not damaged. Two bridges on the important Tōkaidō Main Line were also fired upon but not hit, though damage to rail infrastructure in Hamamatsu closed the line for 66 hours. During the bombardment Undine twice opened fire on small groups of ships, though these were probably fishing boats. No Japanese aircraft or shore batteries responded to the Allied attack. The bombardment of Hamamatsu was the last time a British battleship fired its guns in anger.
The next bombardment of Japan took place on the night of 30/31 July. On that night Destroyer Squadron 25 (DesRon 25), which was commanded by Captain J.W. Ludewig aboard USS John Rodgers, swept Suruga Gulf looking for Japanese shipping to attack. No Japanese ships were located, however, and in the early hours of 31 July the squadron sailed deep into the gulf and fired 1,100 rounds of 5 in (130 mm) shells in seven minutes at a railway yard and aluminium plant in the town of Shimizu. While the aluminium plant was hit, this was of little importance as it had almost ceased production due to a shortage of raw materials. No damage was caused to the rail yard.
Second attack on Kamaishi
During the last days of July and into early August, the Allied fleet sailed away from the Japanese coast to avoid a typhoon and allow the ships to replenish their stocks of fuel and ammunition. Following this the fleet sailed north, and on both 9 and 10 August the carrier aircraft attacked a large concentration of Japanese aircraft on airfields in northern Honshu. The carrier pilots claimed to have destroyed 720 Japanese aircraft in this operation.
As part of these operations off northern Japan, Kamaishi was bombarded again on 9 August in the mistaken belief that the iron works had not been badly damaged. TU 34.8.1 conducted this attack, and comprised the ships which had bombarded the city in July with the addition of the heavy cruisers USS Boston and Saint Paul, British light cruiser HMS Newfoundland, Royal New Zealand Navy light cruiser HMNZS Gambia and destroyers HMS Terpsichore, Termagant and Tenacious.
The Allied force opened fire on the iron works and docks at Kamaishi at 12:54 and the bombardment lasted for almost two hours from an average range of 14,000 yd (13,000 m). During this time, the ships made four passes outside of Kamaishi harbor and fired 803 16-inch (410 mm) shells, 1,383 8-inch (200 mm) shells and 733 6-inch (150 mm) shells. Gambia fired the final shots of the attack. During the bombardment, several Japanese aircraft approached the Allied ships and two were shot down by Allied naval fighters. This attack caused more damage than the July bombardment and large quantities of pig iron were destroyed. The sounds of this bombardment were broadcast live on radio in the U.S. via a radio relay onboard Iowa. One of the POW camps in Kamaishi was destroyed by the Allied attack, resulting in the deaths of 27 Allied prisoners.
A further bombardment by King George V, three light cruisers and escorting destroyers was planned to be conducted against an unspecified Japanese target on 13 August. This attack was cancelled due both to mechanical problems on the battleship and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Allied fleet did not conduct any further bombardments as Japan surrendered on 15 August.
The Allied naval bombardments were successful in disrupting the Japanese steel industry. While several of the factories attacked were operating at reduced capacity, the important Kamasishi and Wanishi Iron Works suffered heavy damage when they were bombarded in July and August. During both these attacks, the Allied gunnery was accurate and focused on the factories' coke batteries, which were critical to continued production. Post-war assessments found that the damage caused to industrial buildings by even 16 in (410 mm) naval shells was less than that which could be inflicted by the 2,000 lb (910 kg) and 1,000 lb (450 kg) general-purpose bombs which were used by Allied naval aircraft, however. While this supported Vice Admiral McCain's view that the aircraft assigned to protect the bombardment forces could have caused more damage than the ships themselves, the United States Strategic Bombing Survey's (USSBS) assessment concluded that the use of naval bombardments was appropriate as there was little risk to the ships involved.
The bombardments also had an important impact on morale. Several of the industrial facilities which were attacked but suffered little damage nevertheless incurred a significant loss in production due to absenteeism and reduced productivity. This was not the case for all facilities which were attacked, however, and the morale among workers in two of the factories which were bombarded was reported to have increased. Japanese civilians who experienced both air and naval bombardment found the naval attacks to be more terrifying due to their unpredictability and longer duration. The appearance of Allied warships just off the coast also convinced many Japanese that the war had been lost. In 1949, the Japanese Economic Stabilization Agency calculated that the Allied naval bombardments and other forms of attack other than bombing had caused 3,282 casualties, representing 0.5% of all casualties inflicted by the Allies in the Japanese home islands. The casualties attributed to naval bombardments and other causes included 1,739 fatalities, 46 persons who were still classified as missing and 1,497 people who were wounded.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Allied naval bombardments of Japan during World War II.|
- Banham, Tony (2009). We shall suffer there: Hong Kong's Defenders Imprisoned, 1942-45. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. ISBN 962-209-960-2.
- Economic Stabilization Agency, Planning Department, Office of the Secretary General (1949). "Overall Report of Damage Sustained by the Nation During the Pacific War". Japan Air Raids.org. Retrieved 22 February 2011.
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- United States Strategic Bombing Survey Naval Analysis Division (1946). Report of Ships Bombardment Survey Party–Foreword, Introduction, Conclusions, and General Summary.