On this day in 1945, the Army Air Corps launches Operation Meetinghouse, generally referred to as the Tokyo Firebombing. The night of March 9-10, 334 B-29 Superfortress bombers took off for Japan, with 279 of them dropping 1,665 tons of bombs on Tokyo; the effects were devastating and it is regarded as the single most destructive bombing raid in human history.
The bombs were mostly the 500-pound E-46 cluster type which released 38 napalm-carrying M-69 incendiary bomblets at an altitude of 2,000–2,500 ft. 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 jelled-gasoline and white phosphorus bomb which ignited upon impact.
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 Chuo 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 and giant conflagration.
15.8 square miles and 50 percent of the city’s war-making capacity 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; Elise K. Tipton, professor of Japan studies, has arrived at a rough range of 75,000 to 200,000 deaths.
Emperor Hirohito’s tour of the destroyed areas of Tokyo in March 1945 was the beginning of his personal involvement in the peace process, culminating in Japan’s surrender six months later. Hence, we can only turn to the cloying bromide that this act, seen as a war crime by much of the world, served to save countless millions of American and Japanese lives.
Of course, we’ll never really know for sure, and with this moral uncertainty, our lesson endeth.
A tail-end baby-boomer, Bill Urich was born in Cleveland to a grade school teacher and her Navy vet husband, and reared in Greater Detroit. Working his way through school primarily at night, Mr. Urich holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism, Phi Beta Kappa, and a Juris Doctorate from Wayne State University. In his legal career he has acted as an assistant state prosecutor, city attorney, special prosecutor, mediator, magistrate, private practitioner and mayor of Royal Oak, a large home-rule city in Michigan.
Mr. Urich continues in private practice and municipal prosecution, is on faculty to DePaul University, pens regular contributions to political publications, and remains active in selected campaigns and causes related to labor, social and criminal justice. A father of three mostly-grown sons, he spends his precious free time on family, friends, the pursuit of happiness, beauty and truth, three rescue cats, and fronting the rock band Calcutta Rugs from behind the drum kit.