TOKYO — It is now 75 years since the end of the Second World War.
As happened on the many 25th, 50th and 60th anniversaries of the war, there is to be a series of memorials recalling specific events, the 75 million soldiers and civilians who died between 1939 and 1945, and honouring the dwindling number of veterans and civilians who witnessed the carnage and can still tell us about it.
Though the Dresden firebombings and the atomic bombs that struck Hiroshima and Nagasaki are much better known, they did not kill as many people as the massive bomber attack on the heart of Tokyo on March 10, 1945.
Curiously, there have been no high-profile public memorials planned in Japan to commemorate what was arguably the most destructive air raid ever carried out.
While fierce fighting between U.S. Marines and the Imperial Japanese Army raged on atolls such as Iwo Jima to the south of the main Japanese islands, about 300 United States Army Air Forces B-29 Superfortress bombers under the command of Maj.-Gen. Curtis LeMay — who had earlier commanded U.S. bombers that conducted similar firebombing attacks in Europe — massed together near Guam and Saipan in the western Pacific and headed to Tokyo.
As the aerial armada reached its destination, the aircraft swooped down to between 600 and 800 metres in altitude to drop more than 1,000 tons of cluster bombs, each loaded with 38 canisters of highly incendiary napalm. About 30 of these bomblets exploded every second during the two and a half hours it took for all the bombers to fly over the city.
Air crews flew so low that they later told American journalists that they could feel the heat of the fires.
LeMay and others justified the bombing of what were mostly civilian targets as necessary to break Japan’s will as well as its ability to fight. The general cited then-president Harry Truman’s prediction that one million or more troops, including Canadians who began mustering in western Canada after the war in Europe ended on May 8, 1945, would be killed if they had to fight their way ashore on Japan’s biggest islands.
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