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Bombing of Tokyo

Coordinates: 35°41′N 139°46′E / 35.683°N 139.767°E / 35.683; 139.767
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Bombing of Tokyo
Part of the air raids on Japan during the Pacific War

Tokyo burns under B-29 firebomb assault, 26 May 1945.
Date1942, 1944–1945
Tokyo, Japan
Result American victory
 United States  Japan

The Bombing of Tokyo (東京大空襲, Tōkyōdaikūshū) was a series of bombing air raids launched by the United States Army Air Forces during World War II.

The raids that were conducted by the U.S. military on the night of 9–10 March 1945, codenamed Operation Meetinghouse, are the single most destructive bombing raid in human history.[1] 16 square miles (41 km2; 10,000 acres) of central Tokyo was destroyed, leaving an estimated 100,000 civilians dead and over one million homeless.[1] The atomic bombing of Hiroshima in August 1945, by comparison, resulted in the immediate death of an estimated 70,000 to 150,000 people.

The U.S. mounted the Doolittle Raid, a seaborne, small-scale air raid on Tokyo in April 1942. Strategic bombing and urban area bombing began in 1944 after the long-range B-29 Superfortress bomber entered service, first deployed from China and thereafter the Mariana Islands. B-29 raids from those islands began on 17 November 1944, and lasted until 15 August 1945, the day of Japanese surrender.[2]

Over half of Tokyo's industry was spread out among residential and commercial neighborhoods; firebombing cut the city's output in half.[3] Some modern post-war analysts have called the raid a war crime due to the targeting of civilian infrastructure and the ensuing mass loss of civilian life.[4][5]

Doolittle Raid[edit]

The first raid on Tokyo was the Doolittle Raid on 18 April 1942. In the raid, sixteen B-25 Mitchells were launched from the USS Hornet at Yokohama and Tokyo, and then flew to airfields in China. The raid was retaliation against the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The raid did little damage to Japan's war capability but was a significant propaganda victory for the United States.[6] Launched at longer range than planned when the task force encountered a Japanese picket boat, all of the attacking aircraft either crashed or ditched short of the airfields designated for landing. One aircraft landed in the neutral Soviet Union where the crew was interned, but then smuggled over the border into Iran on 11 May 1943. Two crews were captured by the Japanese in occupied China. Three crewmen from these groups were later executed.[7][8]

B-29 raids[edit]

Aerial view of Tokyo following the war
Leaflet dropped over Tokyo, warning civilians to leave the city

The key development for the bombing of Japan was the B-29 Superfortress strategic bomber, which had an operational range of 3,250 nautical miles (3,740 mi; 6,020 km) and was capable of attacking at high altitude above 30,000 feet (9,100 m), where enemy defenses were very weak. Almost 90% of the bombs dropped on the home islands of Japan were delivered by the B-29. Once Allied ground forces had captured islands sufficiently close to Japan, airfields were built on those islands (particularly Saipan and Tinian) and B-29s could reach Japan for bombing missions.[9]

The initial raids were carried out by the Twentieth Air Force operating out of mainland China in Operation Matterhorn under XX Bomber Command, but these could not reach Tokyo. Operations from the Northern Mariana Islands commenced in November 1944 after the XXI Bomber Command was activated there.[10] The high-altitude bombing attacks using general-purpose bombs were observed to be ineffective by USAAF leaders due to high winds—later discovered to be the jet stream—which carried the bombs off target.[11] Between May and September 1943, bombing trials were conducted on the Japanese Village set-piece target, located at the Dugway Proving Grounds.[12] These trials demonstrated the effectiveness of incendiary bombs against wood-and-paper buildings, and resulted in Curtis LeMay's ordering the bombers to change tactics to utilize these munitions against Japan.[13]

The first such raid was against Kobe on 4 February 1945. Tokyo was hit by incendiaries on 25 February 1945 when 174 B-29s flew a high altitude raid during daylight hours and destroyed around 643 acres (260 ha) (2.6 km2) of the snow-covered city, using 453.7 tons of mostly incendiaries with some fragmentation bombs.[14] After this raid, LeMay ordered the B-29 bombers to attack again but at a relatively low altitude of 5,000 to 9,000 ft (1,500 to 2,700 m) and at night, because Japan's anti-aircraft artillery defenses were weakest in this altitude range, and the fighter defenses were ineffective at night. LeMay ordered all defensive guns but the tail gun removed from the B-29s so that the aircraft would be lighter and use less fuel.[15]

Operation Meetinghouse[edit]

A birds-eye view over the Ningyōchō district of Nihonbashi following Operation Meetinghouse

On the night of 9–10 March 1945,[16] 334 B-29s took off to raid with 279 of them dropping 1,665 tons of bombs on Tokyo. The bombs were mostly the 500-pound (230 kg) E-46 cluster bomb which released 38 napalm-carrying M-69 incendiary bomblets at an altitude of 2,000–2,500 ft (610–760 m). The M-69s punched through thin roofing material or landed on the ground; in either case they ignited 3–5 seconds later, throwing out a jet of flaming napalm globs. A lesser number of M-47 incendiaries were also dropped: the M-47 was a 100-pound (45 kg) jelled-gasoline and white phosphorus bomb which ignited upon impact. In the first two hours of the raid, 226 of the attacking aircraft unloaded their bombs to overwhelm the city's fire defenses.[17] The first B-29s to arrive dropped bombs in a large X pattern centered in Tokyo's densely populated working class district near the docks in both Koto and Chūō city wards on the water; later aircraft simply aimed near this flaming X. The individual fires caused by the bombs joined to create a general conflagration, which would have been classified as a firestorm but for prevailing winds gusting at 17 to 28 mph (27 to 45 km/h).[18] Approximately 15.8 square miles (4,090 ha) of the city were destroyed and some 100,000 people are estimated to have died.[19][20] A grand total of 282 of the 339 B-29s launched for "Meetinghouse" made it to the target, 27 of which were lost due to being shot down by Japanese air defenses, mechanical failure, or being caught in updrafts caused by the fires.[21]

The Operation Meetinghouse firebombing of Tokyo on the night of 9 March 1945 was the single deadliest air raid of World War II,[22] greater than Dresden,[23] Hamburg, Hiroshima, or Nagasaki as single events.[24][25]


A bird's-eye view of Tokyo before and after the air raids

Damage to Tokyo's heavy industry was slight until firebombing destroyed much of the light industry that was used as an integral source for small machine parts. Firebombing also killed or made homeless many workers. According to the victorious US report, over 50% of Tokyo's industry was spread out among residential and commercial neighborhoods; firebombing cut the whole city's output in half.[3] The destruction and damage were especially severe in the eastern areas of the city. The districts bombed were home to 1.2 million people. Tokyo police recorded 267,171 buildings destroyed, which left more than one million people homeless.[26]

Emperor Hirohito's tour of the destroyed areas of Tokyo in March 1945 was the beginning of his involvement in the peace process, culminating in Japan's surrender six months later.[27]

Casualty estimates[edit]

Charred remains of Japanese civilians after Operation Meetinghouse

The US Strategic Bombing Survey later estimated that nearly 88,000 people died in this one raid, 41,000 were injured, and over a million residents lost their homes. The Tokyo Fire Department estimated a higher toll: 97,000 killed and 125,000 wounded. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department established a figure of 83,793 dead and 40,918 wounded and 286,358 buildings and homes destroyed.[28] Historian Richard Rhodes put deaths at over 100,000, injuries at a million and homeless residents at a million.[29] These casualty and damage figures could be low; Mark Selden wrote in Japan Focus:

The charred body of a woman who was carrying a child on her back

The figure of roughly 100,000 deaths, provided by Japanese and American authorities, both of whom may have had reasons of their own for minimizing the death toll, seems to be arguably low in light of population density, wind conditions, and survivors' accounts. With an average of 103,000 inhabitants per square mile (400 inhabitants/ha) and peak levels as high as 135,000 inhabitants per square mile (520 inhabitants/ha), the highest density of any industrial city in the world, and with firefighting measures ludicrously inadequate to the task, 15.8 square miles (41 km2) of Tokyo were destroyed on a night when fierce winds whipped the flames and walls of fire blocked tens of thousands fleeing for their lives. An estimated 1.5 million people lived in the burned out areas.[28]

In his 1968 book, reprinted in 1990, historian Gabriel Kolko cited a figure of 125,000 deaths.[30] Elise K. Tipton, professor of Japan studies, arrived at a rough range of 75,000 to 200,000 deaths.[31] Donald L. Miller, citing Knox Burger, stated that there were "at least 100,000" Japanese deaths and "about one million" injured.[32]

The entire bombing campaign against Japan killed more than 300,000 people and injured an additional 400,000, mostly civilians.[33][34]

Postwar recovery[edit]

1947 U.S. military survey showing bomb-damaged areas of Tokyo

After the war, Tokyo struggled to rebuild. In 1945 and 1946, the city received a share of the national reconstruction budget roughly proportional to its amount of bombing damage (26.6%), but in successive years Tokyo saw its share dwindle. By 1949, Tokyo was given only 10.9% of the budget; at the same time there was runaway inflation devaluing the money. Occupation authorities such as Joseph Dodge stepped in and drastically cut back on Japanese government rebuilding programs, focusing instead on simply improving roads and transportation. Tokyo did not experience fast economic growth until the 1950s.[35]


Cenotaph for 80,000 deceased citizen. Bombing of Tokyo in World War II, Sumida park, Taitō, Tokyo[36].

Between 1948 and 1951 the ashes of 105,400 people killed in the attacks on Tokyo were interred in Yokoamicho Park in Sumida Ward. A memorial to the raids was opened in the park in March 2001.[37] The park has a list of names of people who died due to the bombings is made based on applications from bereaved families; it had 81,273 names as of March 2020.[38] Bereaved families can submit applications to the government of Tokyo to have names of victims added to the list.[39]

After the war, Japanese author Katsumoto Saotome, a survivor of the 10 March 1945 firebombing, helped start a library about the raid in Koto Ward called the Center of the Tokyo Raids and War Damage. The library contains documents and literature about the raid plus survivor accounts collected by Saotome and the Association to Record the Tokyo Air Raid.[40]

Postwar Japanese politics[edit]

In 2007, 112 members of the Association for the Bereaved Families of the Victims of the Tokyo Air Raids brought a class action against the Japanese government, demanding an apology and 1.232 billion yen in compensation. Their suit charged that the Japanese government invited the raid by failing to end the war earlier, and then failed to help the civilian victims of the raids while providing considerable support to former military personnel and their families.[41] The plaintiffs' case was dismissed at the first judgement in December 2009, and their appeal was rejected.[42] The plaintiffs then appealed to the Supreme Court, which rejected their case in May 2013.[43]

In 2013, during Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe's second term, Abe's cabinet stated that the raids were "incompatible with humanitarianism, which is one of the foundations of international law", but also noted that it is difficult to argue whether the raids were illegal under the international laws of the time.[44][45]

Partial list of missions[edit]


  • 24 November 1944: 111 B-29s hit an aircraft factory on the rim of the city.[46]
  • 27 November 1944: 81 B-29s hit the dock and urban area and 13 targets of opportunity.[47]
  • 29–30 November 1944: two incendiary raids on industrial areas, burning 2,773 structures.[47]
  • 19 February 1945: 119 B-29s hit port and urban area.
  • 24 February 1945: 229 B-29s plus over 1600 carrier-based planes.[48]
  • 25 February 1945: 174 B-29s dropping incendiaries destroy 28,000 buildings.[49]
  • 4 March 1945: 159 B-29s hit urban area.[50]
  • 9 March 1945: 334 B-29s dropping incendiaries destroy 267,000 buildings; 25% of city[50] (Operation Meetinghouse) killing some 100,000.
  • 2 April 1945: 100 B-29s bomb the Nakajima aircraft factory.[51]
  • 3 April 1945: 68 B-29s bomb the Koizumi aircraft factory and urban areas in Tokyo.[51]
  • 7 April 1945: 101 B-29s bomb the Nakajima aircraft factory again[51]
  • 13 April 1945: 327 B-29s bomb the arsenal area.[52]
  • 20 July 1945: 1 B-29 drops a Pumpkin bomb (bomb with same ballistics as the Fat Man nuclear bomb) through overcast. It was aimed at, but missed, the Imperial Palace.[53]
  • 8 August 1945: 60 B-29s bomb the aircraft factory and arsenal.
  • 10 August 1945: 70 B-29s bomb the arsenal complex.[54]


16–17 February 1945: carrier-based aircraft, including dive bombers, escorted by Hellcat fighters attacked Tokyo. Over two days, over 1,500 American planes and hundreds of Japanese planes were in the air. "By the end of 17 February, more than five hundred Japanese planes, both on the ground and in the air, had been lost, and Japan's aircraft works had been badly hit. The Americans lost eighty planes."[55]

18 August 1945: The last U.S. air combat casualty of World War II occurred during mission 230 A-8, when two Consolidated B-32 Dominators of the 386th Bomb Squadron, 312th Bomb Group, launched from Yontan Airfield, Okinawa, for a photo reconnaissance run over Tokyo, Japan. Both bombers were attacked by several Japanese fighters of both the 302nd Naval Air Group at Atsugi and the Yokosuka Air Group that made 10 gunnery passes. Japanese IJNAS aces Sadamu Komachi and Saburō Sakai were part of this attack. The B-32 piloted by 1st Lt. John R. Anderson, was hit at 20,000 feet; cannon fire knocked out the number two (port inner) engine, and three crew were injured, including Sgt. Anthony J. Marchione, 19, of the 20th Reconnaissance Squadron, who took a 20 mm hit to the chest and died 30 minutes later. Tail gunner Sgt. John Houston destroyed one attacker. The lead bomber, Consolidated B-32-20-CF Dominator, 42-108532, "Hobo Queen II", piloted by 1st Lt. James Klein, was not seriously damaged but the second Consolidated B-32-35-CF Dominator, 42-108578, lost an engine, had the upper turret knocked out of action, and partially lost rudder control. Both bombers landed at Yontan Airfield just past ~1800 hrs. having survived the last air combat of the Pacific war. The following day, propellers were removed from Japanese aircraft as part of the surrender agreement. Marchione was buried on Okinawa on 19 August, his body being returned to his Pottstown, Pennsylvania home on 18 March 1949. He was interred in St. Aloysius Old Cemetery with full military honors.[56] "Hobo Queen II" was dismantled at Yonton Airfield following a 9 September nosegear collapse and damage during lifting. B-32, 42-108578, was scrapped at Kingman, Arizona after the war.[57]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Long, Tony (9 March 2011). "March 9, 1945: Burning the Heart Out of the Enemy". Wired. 1945: In the single deadliest air raid of World War II, 330 American B-29s rain incendiary bombs on Tokyo, touching off a firestorm that kills upwards of 100,000 people, burns a quarter of the city to the ground, and leaves a million homeless.
  2. ^ Craven, Wesley Frank, and James Lea Cate, eds. The Army Air Forces in World War II, Volume Five, the Pacific: Matterhorn to Nagasaki June 1944 to August 1945. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953, page 558.
  3. ^ a b United States Strategic Bombing Survey, Summary Report (Pacific War), p. 18.
  4. ^ Rauch, Jonathan. "Firebombs Over Tokyo: America's 1945 attack on Japan's capital remains undeservedly obscure alongside Hiroshima and Nagasaki". The Atlantic. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
  5. ^ Carney, Matthew (8 March 2015). "Tokyo WWII firebombing, the single most deadly bombing raid in history, remembered 70 years on". ABC Australia. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
  6. ^ Shapiro 2009, p. 115.
  7. ^ Ray 2003, p. 126.
  8. ^ "Official Website of The Doolittle Raiders". Archived from the original on 30 November 2017. Retrieved 25 March 2022.
  9. ^ Beevor 2012, p. 698.
  10. ^ Video: B-29s Rule Jap Skies,1944/12/18 (1944). Universal Newsreel. 1944. Retrieved 20 February 2012.
  11. ^ Morgan & Powers 2001, p. 279.
  12. ^ Plung, Dylan (15 April 2018). "The Japanese Village at Dugway Proving Ground: An Unexamined Context to the Firebombing of Japan". Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus. 16 (8).
  13. ^ Hopkins 2009, p. 322.
  14. ^ Bradley 1999, p. 33.
  15. ^ Miller & Commager 2001, pp. 447–449.
  16. ^ Crane, Conrad C. "The War: Firebombing (Germany & Japan)". PBS. Archived from the original on 2 June 2017. Retrieved 24 August 2014.
  17. ^ Bradley 1999, pp. 34–35.
  18. ^ Rodden, Robert M.; John, Floyd I.; Laurino, Richard. "Exploratory Analysis of Firestorms" (PDF). Stanford Research Institute (May 1965). Office of Civil Defense, Department of the Army, Washington D.C.: 39, 40, 53–54. Archived from the original on 8 October 2012.
  19. ^ Dyson., Freeman (1 November 2006), "Part I: A Failure of Intelligence", Technology Review, MIT, archived from the original on 2 March 2012, retrieved 9 March 2008
  20. ^ McNeill, David (10 March 2005). "The night hell fell from the sky'". Japan Focus. Archived from the original on 5 December 2008.
  21. ^ Morgan & Powers 2001, p. 314.
  22. ^ "9 March 1945: Burning the Heart Out of the Enemy". Wired. Condé Nast Digital. 9 March 2011. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
  23. ^ Technical Sergeant Steven Wilson (25 February 2010). "This month in history: The firebombing of Dresden". Ellsworth Air Force Base. United States Air Force. Archived from the original on 29 September 2011. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
  24. ^ Vance, Laurence M. (14 August 2009). "Bombings Worse than Nagasaki and Hiroshima". The Future of Freedom Foundation. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
  25. ^ Coleman, Joseph (10 March 2005). "1945 Tokyo Firebombing Left Legacy of Terror, Pain". CommonDreams.org. Associated Press. Archived from the original on 3 January 2015. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
  26. ^ Sherry 1987, pp. 276–277.
  27. ^ Bradley 1999, p. 38.
  28. ^ a b Selden, Mark (2 May 2007). "A Forgotten Holocaust: US Bombing Strategy, the Destruction of Japanese Cities & the American Way of War from World War II to Iraq". Japan Focus. Retrieved 18 July 2015.
  29. ^ Rhodes 1984, p. 599.
  30. ^ Kolko 1990, pp. 539–540.
  31. ^ Tipton 2002, p. 141.
  32. ^ Miller & Commager 2001, p. 456.
  33. ^ Crane 1993, p. 140.
  34. ^ Conway-Lanz 2006, p. 1.
  35. ^ Sorensen 2004.
  36. ^ Approx. 80,000 deaths in down town Tokyo at the Wayback Machine (archived 2020-10-27) Approx. 80,000 deaths in down town Tokyo in one night on 10, March 1945. Book: ISBN:4-00-415021-3 Writer: Katsumoto Saotome, Publish: Iwanami Shinsho (岩波新書) (一夜に東京の下町一帯で8万人にのぼる死者)
  37. ^ Karacas 2010, pp. 521–523
  38. ^ "慰霊供養の方 東京空襲犠牲者名簿 登載受付" [Receptionist for registering Tokyo Air Raid Victim List]. 都立横網町公園 ( Yokoamichō Park ) (in Japanese). Retrieved 5 June 2021.
  39. ^ "東京空襲犠牲者名簿" [Bureau of Citizens and Cultural Affairs, Tokyo Metropolitan Government]. 東京都生活文化局 (in Japanese). 15 January 2013. Retrieved 7 June 2021.
  40. ^ Aukema Justin, "Author sees parallels between prewar, nuclear indoctrination", Japan Times, 20 March 2012, p. 12.
  41. ^ "東京大空襲、国を提訴 遺族ら12億円賠償請求". 47NEWS. Kyodo News. 9 March 2007. Archived from the original on 2 December 2013. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
  42. ^ "東京大空襲の賠償認めず 「救済対象者の選別困難」". 47NEWS. Kyodo News. 14 December 2009. Archived from the original on 2 December 2013. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
  43. ^ "東京大空襲で原告敗訴が確定 最高裁が上告退ける". 47NEWS. Kyodo News. 9 May 2013. Archived from the original on 11 June 2013. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
  44. ^ "Japanese government says 1945 Tokyo bombing was 'against humanitarian principles'". Japan Daily News. Mainichi Shimbun. 7 May 2013. Archived from the original on 9 August 2015. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
  45. ^ "東京大空襲で答弁書 「人道主義に合致せず」". 47NEWS. 共同通信社. 7 May 2013. Archived from the original on 2 December 2013. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
  46. ^ Hillenbrand 2010, pp. 261–262.
  47. ^ a b Hillenbrand 2010, p. 263.
  48. ^ Hillenbrand 2010, p. 274.
  49. ^ Tactical Mission Report 38. 21st Bomber Command. 1945.
  50. ^ a b U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II: Combat Chronology. March 1945. Archived 2 June 2013 at the Wayback Machine Air Force Historical Studies Office. Retrieved 3 March 2009.
  51. ^ a b c Sloggett 2013, p. 154.
  52. ^ Dorr 2012.
  53. ^ Polmar 2004, p. 24.
  54. ^ "American missions against Tokyo and Tokyo Bay". Pacific Wrecks. Archived from the original on 5 October 2023. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
  55. ^ Hillenbrand 2010, pp. 273–274.
  56. ^ The Last to Die | Military Aviation | Air & Space Magazine. Airspacemag.com. Retrieved on 5 August 2010.
  57. ^ 1942 USAAF Serial Numbers (42-91974 to 42-110188). Joebaugher.com. Retrieved on 5 August 2010.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

35°41′N 139°46′E / 35.683°N 139.767°E / 35.683; 139.767