Bombing of Kobe in World War II
The bombing of Kobe in World War II on March 16 and 17, 1945, was part of the strategic bombing campaign waged by the United States against military and civilian targets and population centers during the Japan home islands campaign in the closing stages of World War II. The city would be bombed again in later months.
Kobe was the sixth-largest city in Japan at the time, with a population of roughly 1 million. The houses were mostly built with wood and thus highly flammable, suitable for starting and sustaining large fires. Second, it was Japan's largest port, home to the largest concentration of shipbuilding and marine-engine manufacturing. Kobe was also an important city for transportation and business. National highways ran through the city, especially through the congested business section, and Kobe contained business facilities for steel, machinery, rubber, railway equipment, and ordnance. Lastly, Kobe's low water supply, consisting of only three reservoirs, and its poor firefighting equipment created a very fire-prone environment.
February 4 raid
After trials on the Japanese Village set on the Dugway Proving Grounds, Curtis LeMay of the American Forces ordered the B-29 bombers to drop incendiary bombs to burn Japan's mostly wood-and-paper houses, in an "experimental" carpet bombing against Kobe on February 4, 1945.
March 16/17 raid
On March 16/17, 331 American B-29 bombers launched a firebombing attack against the city of Kobe, Japan. This raid was executed by all three wings of the XXI Bomber Command, namely the 73rd, 313th, and 314th bombardment wings. It was flown in honor of Brigadier General LaVerne Saunders, who was, at the time, recuperating in Walter Reed General Hospital from injuries he sustained during an aircraft accident. The raid targeted four key areas: the northwest corner of the city, the area south of the main railroad line, the area northwest of the main railroad station, and the area northeast of the third target. Of the city's residents, 8,841 were confirmed to have been killed in the resulting firestorms, which destroyed an area of three square miles—21% of Kobe's urban area. At the time, the city covered an area of 14 square miles (36 km²). More than 650,000 people had their homes destroyed, and the homes of another million people were damaged.
During the raid, 280 Japanese fighters were spotted, 96 of which engaged the B-29 bombers in 128 attacks; this constituted a higher proportion of fighters sighted to those attacking than previously experienced during a night raid over Japan. Three bombers were lost during the raid, but the reason/s for their losses is/are unknown. Two of the airmen in the downed aircraft, Sergeant Algy S. Augunus and Second Lieutenant Robert E. Copeland, survived and were captured by the Japanese. They were subsequently tried by a hastily convened court for the "indiscriminate bombing" of Kobe and Osaka, sentenced to death, and executed by firing squad.
In addition to incendiary attacks, Kobe was the target of a B-29 precision attack on industry, three mine-laying operations, and one fighter-bomber swoop:
- May 11, 1945: 92 B-29s hit Kawanishi aircraft industry
- June 18, 1945: 25 B-29s laid naval mines in several areas, including waters near Kobe
- June 28, 1945: 29 B-29s laid naval mines in three harbors, including Kobe's
- July 19, 1945: 27 B-29s laid naval mines in several areas, including waters near Kobe
- July 30, 1945: Fighters attacked airfields, railroads, and tactical targets throughout Kobe/Osaka area
- Pacific War
- Pacific Theater of Operations
- Bombing of Tokyo
- Grave of the Fireflies (short story), a semi-autobiographical short story set during the bombing
- Grave of the Fireflies, an anime film based on the novel
- 21st Bomber Command Tactical Mission Report 43, April 19th, 1945
- John A. Glusman (April 25, 2006). Conduct Under Fire: Four American Doctors and Their Fight for Life as Prisoners of the Japanese, 1941–1945. NAL. p. 285. ISBN 0-451-23410-3.
- "The 6th Bomb Group." Philcrowther.com. Retrieved 27 October 2012.
- Air Force Historical Studies: U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II Combat Chronology 1941 -- 1945 Archived December 3, 2007, at the Wayback Machine