Air University Review, May-June 1967
The First of the Twenty-First
Haywood S. Hansell, Jr., USAF (Ret)
The author, Major General Haywood S. (“Possum”) Hansell,
Jr., USAF (Ret), shepherded the B-29 air offensive plans, including
establishment of the twentieth Air Force and capture of the Mariana
Islands, through the Joint Chiefs of Staff. General Hansell served as commander of the XXI Bomber Command until
20 January 1945, when he was rotated to the United States.
The achievements of American air power in World War II are well documented
and well known. They constitute a fascinating and exhilarating story of mature
and victorious strength. In the latter part of the war in the Pacific, the XX
Bomber Command and the XXI Bomber Command were combined and ultimately became
the world’s most powerful air force, the Twentieth Air Force. In its maturity,
the XXI Bomber Command became an American legend, but its early days—from birth
to adolescence to commitment in battle—are less well known and, unfortunately,
not well documented. It is with the thought of describing the modest beginnings
which led to such magnificent power and stature that this brief résumé has been
To begin at the beginning, one must describe the circumstances in which the
XXI was created and the purposes for which it was commissioned.
In the beginning there was division. There was division of opinion, hotly
contested, as to whether there really was such a thing as decisive air power,
to be considered in the same context as land power and sea power. There was
division, even more hotly contested, as to who should control it and how it
should be organized and employed.
The proponents of air power in 1941 put forth their thesis in Air War Plans
Division—Plan 1 (AWPD-1). The plan called for a major strategic air offensive,
to achieve, in itself, a major military purpose. It espoused a purpose which
would make a signal contribution to victory in war and which might, in fact, be
conclusive. It did not deny land power and sea power. It contemplated concerted
action by all three. But it did contend that air power could, in some
circumstances, be the decisive factor in war.
AWPD-1, prepared before Pearl Harbor,
described the end purpose of air warfare against Axis Europe in these terms:
To wage a sustained air offensive
against European Axis Military Power. To apply air
power for a breakdown of the industrial and economic structure of Germany.
To support a final offensive if invasion becomes necessary.
The end purpose of air warfare against Japan,
to be undertaken after victory in Europe, was
described in similar vein in AWPD-42, dated 9 September 1942.
Because the environment of the future war was not clear, AWPD-l called for
three types of strategic bomber aircraft with which to pursue the air
· B-17s and B-24s (then in
existence) for use if European bases were available
· B-29s and B-32s (both then in
the project stage) for use from British, Near East, and African bases against
Axis Europe and from Pacific bases against Japan
4000-mile-radius bomber (then a design objective) for use from Western Hemisphere bases if overseas bases were not
The B-17s and B-24s were the backbone of strategic air warfare in the
European Theater. The 4000-mile-radius bomber became the B-36, but it was not
ready in time for World War II. The B-29 was developed and put in mass
production and became available in time for employment in the Pacific. It was a
major strategic weapon which had to be reckoned with in the preparation of
overall war strategy in the Pacific.
The creation of this powerful air weapon, the B-29, really marked the
conception of the XXI Bomber Command, for the B-29’s potential demanded
recognition in the formulation of Pacific war plans.
Solution of the problem of the command of strategic air forces was even more
difficult than solution of the technical problems posed by the extravagant
requirements demanded of the bomber airplane. Unity of command was a cherished
military concept in both the Army and the Navy. In the Army this unity was
achieved by designating single commanders to exercise command over all units
within specific geographical boundaries. In the Navy it was achieved by
retaining control of combat naval forces under ultimate command of the top
naval echelon of the nation. Fleet units were almost never assigned to
territorial command areas, and when they were it was always with the proviso
that they could be withdrawn at any moment for employment elsewhere if the
naval situation should so require.
Strategic air forces did not fit either concept, but their command
characteristics more closely resembled those of the Navy than those of the
Army. The long-range air force straddled several land commands. Its bombers
might be based in many areas, each of which was under separate Army or Navy
jurisdiction. But bombers of the strategic air forces had to have unity at the
target area, and they had to have continuity of application if they were to
accomplish their strategic mission. The very flexibility which constituted the
cardinal virtue of strategic bombers constituted their greatest vulnerability:
there was a constant temptation to divert them from their long-range strategic
war objectives to targets that were critical only to local area commanders.
Several tentative steps toward unification of strategic air command had
taken place in Europe. The Combined Chiefs of
Staff gave the Chief of Staff of the Royal Air Force the role of coordinator
over the U.S. Eighth Air Force and the RAF Bomber Command. Later the Eighth in England and the Twelfth in the Mediterranean
were coordinated by General Carl A. Spaatz. Still later, the Eighth in England and the Fifteenth in the Mediterranean
were combined into United States Strategic Air Forces in Europe,
under actual command of General Spaatz.
But the problem of unity of command became very acute indeed as primary
attention turned to Japan
and the B-29 force began to emerge. In order to apply this very heavy bomber
(VHB) force against Japan
proper, which was its real role, plans were made to
establish a number of bases within action radius of Japan. Three bases were to be in China, the Marianas, Alaska,
and either the Philippines
The first of these plans, called “Project Matterhorn,” resulted in
establishment of bases in India
forces there were under command of General Daniel I. Sultan, U.S. Army. He in
turn was a part of the Allied command headed by Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten,
Royal Navy. The Joint Staff planners proposed placing four groups of B-29s in
which, when recaptured, would be under the command of General Douglas
MacArthur. Plans were also being prepared for placing B-29s in the central
Pacific and in Alaska.
The Mariana Islands, which were to be captured
largely for this purpose, would be under the command of Admiral Chester Nimitz,
Each of these base areas was under a separate theater command, and these
field commanders were very powerful people indeed. Each had strategic purposes
to be achieved. Each wanted to apply the B-29s to his own strategic theater
purposes. Each resented any incursion into his area of control. Yet there was
one area in which unity of air command and continuity of effort was imperative,
and that was the target area itself, Japan, which was under the control
of none of them.
In March 1944 the Air Staff presented to the Joint Chiefs of Staff its
concept of Pacific strategy. It called for a concerted bomber offensive against
the Japanese home islands. In order to carry out this air offensive, the Air
Staff advocated capture of the Marianas and
establishment of the main B-29 force there. When the Philippines had been retaken, a
B-29 force was to be established there also. The B-29s in Chengtu, China, were to be moved forward
when better base areas became available. A base was to be constructed in the Aleutian Islands as well. The main thesis of the plan was
a unified and concerted air bombardment, concentrated against a single list of
targets in the Japanese home islands and coordinated through a unified air
Actually it was the similarity of this air problem to the traditional naval
problem which finally was persuasive. At least, it was this similarity which
persuaded Admiral Ernest J. King to accept the idea of a strategic air force
that would be assigned to none of the surface commands but would report
directly to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The concept was similar to that under
which the U.S. Fleets operated: they reported to the Joint Chiefs, and the
Chief of Naval Operations functioned for the Joint Chiefs as their executive
agent. Admiral King accepted the parallel concept of a strategic air force that
would report to the Joint Chiefs, with General Henry H. Arnold as its commander
and executive agent of the Joint Chiefs.
Admiral King’s endorsement was vital because the bulk of the bombers would
be in the Pacific Ocean area, which was a
naval command. General George C. Marshall, with his typical breadth of vision,
supported the concept. The plan was accepted and approved by the Joint Chiefs
of Staff on 10 April 1944. General Arnold was designated the commander of the
new strategic air force. He in turn appointed me its Chief of Staff, in
addition to my assignment as Deputy Chief of Air Staff. The Headquarters Army
Air Forces served General Arnold as headquarters of the Twentieth Air Force.
The new strategic air force was even given an out-of-sequence number in
order to enhance the idea that it was a different sort of creature. It was
designated the Twentieth Air Force, though there was no Sixteenth, Seventeenth,
Eighteenth, or Nineteenth. The Twentieth Air Force was conceived to have,
eventually, three or four bomber commands: the XX Bomber Command in
China-India, the XXI in the Marianas, the XXII in the Philippines or Formosa,
and perhaps a XXIII in Alaska.
Although this decision made possible the development of the bomber offensive
it did not mark the close of the argument from the theater field commanders.
They continued their efforts to gain control of the B-29 units in their areas.
General MacArthur’s headquarters was especially insistent and coupled its
requests with a strong contention that B-29 operations out of the Marianas were militarily and technically unfeasible.
As a result, the Twentieth Air Force was under extreme pressure to perform.
One major slip and the critics would have had their way; the Twentieth Air
Force would have been dismembered and parceled out to the various theaters. An
understanding of this tension and pressure is vital to an understanding of the
early struggle of the XXI Bomber Command to meet its commitments. We had given
a pledge to launch an air offensive against Japan in November (1944). This
action was tied into the carefully prepared plans for the Pacific campaigns of
Admiral Nimitz and General MacArthur.
The target date had to be met, and the success of a highly controversial
operation had to be demonstrated if air power was to reach fruition in World
The XXI Bomber Command was activated at Smoky Hill Army Air Field, Salina, Kansas,
on 1 March 1944. The XX Bomber Command was then in process of establishment in
the China-Burma-India Theater.
The 73d Wing, which was originally scheduled for the XX Bomber Command, was
transferred to the XXI when the XX was reduced from two wings (eight groups) to
one wing, the 58th. The XXI Bomber Command was trained and staffed by the
Second Air Force. The headquarters of the command was later moved from Salina to Peterson
Creation of the parent organization, the Twentieth Air Force, did not take
place until 12 April of that year. The Twentieth was to consist of a thousand
B-29s in combat units, supported by necessary auxiliary units and given the
When I took command of the XXI Bomber Command on 28 August 1944, the units
of the 73d Wing were training for radar bombing at night, along the pattern of
the XX Bomber Command in China,
of which it was to have been a part. The XX, because of its location, logistics
problems, and relationship to the main target areas, had been assigned target
priorities different from those of the XXI. The Japanese airplane and engine
factories were not within range of the bases in China. The XX operated primarily at
night, using radar bombing techniques. Precision bombing was neither feasible
On the other hand, the aircraft factories and engine factories assigned as
targets to the XXI Bomber Command, based in the Marianas,
were precision targets. As a matter of fact, they had yet to be located
precisely--a major task for the reconnaissance squadron of the XXI. They could
not be found, hit, and destroyed with the radar bombing equipment we had
available at the time. So the units had to be retrained on a crash basis to do
high-altitude, daylight precision bombing and to fly in formations which had
not yet been selected. The airplane and engine factory targets were at the
extreme limit of the B-29 radius of action as it was then. Formation flying
always reduces available range, making completion of missions even more
problematical. As a matter of fact, it took several months of actual operation
to master the techniques of fuel control that would give the B-29 its design
There was spirited dispute at the time over this change in bombing tactics.
The dispute persists, but the reasoning is not hard to trace.
Our only real experience in massive bombing operations had taken place over Europe. The whole concept of American air power--the
selection and destruction of vital targets on the ground through precision
bombing--had faced the possibility of disastrous failure there. The ability of
massive bomber formations to fight their way through enemy defenses and reach
remote targets, without intolerable losses, came dangerously close to being
disproved. If the German fighter forces had been left free to expand, the price
might have been too high. And if that price had been too high, the air
offensive would have failed and with it the hope of surface invasion.
The bombers of the Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces had to be directed
against the sources of enemy fighter development and strength: the aircraft and
engine factories, the air bases, and the sources of aviation fuel. These
constituted the targets of the intermediate objective: the enemy air force. At
the earliest possible time the penetration capability of the bomber formations
had to be supplemented by escort fighters.
This experience in Europe obviously weighed heavily in the establishment of
target systems in Japan.
The aircraft and engine factories, and to a more limited extent the oil
resources of Japan,
Were established as the intermediate objective, to receive first priority in
point of time.
The other lesson of European air combat simply could not be applied
initially to the Twentieth Air Force. The range of the B-29 was such that no
escort fighters could accompany the formations. Until Iwo
Jima could be captured and a fighter base established there, the
bombers would be entirely on their own. This was
really the most controversial point of all. Seasoned experts on every hand
assured us that the B-29s would simply be shot out of the air. But it was a
risk that had to be taken if the strategic purposes were to be achieved. And
the B-29s had some other factors working for them: greatly improved defensive fire
power and high-altitude performance.
Orders for conversion to daylight tactics were issued early in September,
and tactical doctrine for daylight operations was established. Training was
intensive. But training missions from Kansas
to Cuba, simulating the
mission from Saipan to Japan,
left bombers down all over the Gulf
States. Meanwhile the pressure to commit the
command to combat was becoming intense.
Final practice missions were flown, groups of the 73d Wing participating in
two long-range missions, which stressed take-off, assembly, rendezvous,
formation flying, and simulated frontal penetration.
Although the Marianas were captured on the
initiative and insistence of the Army Air Forces to serve as a base for B-29
Operations in the Pacific, the decision was taken before crews had had enough
flying experience with the aircraft to know really what their performance was.
Initial experience in the training area indicated that the distance from the
Marianas to Tokyo,
1200 miles one way, was so great that the round trip was very marginal for the
B-29, even on paper, and without opposition. Obviously there would be no
land-based fighters for the first part of the campaign, before the capture of
Iwo Jima, and the Marianas were separated from Tokyo
by more than a thousand miles of hostile environment: the Pacific
When the time came to move the first units to Saipan
six weeks later, the crews had averaged less than one hundred hours of total
flying time in the B-29, and the average high altitude formation flying
experience was less than twelve hours. The engines of the B-29 had developed a
very mean tendency to swallow valves and catch fire. The magnesium crank cases
burned with a fury that defied all extinguishing efforts. In addition, gunsighting blisters were either blowing out at high
altitude or frosting up so badly that it was impossible to see through them,
but there was no time to fix them properly.
A request was made by the XXI Bomber Command that units be flown to Saipan, under Air Transport Command control, in squadron
formations in order to get precious experience in flying formation for
considerable distances. This was denied on the ground that the airplane lacked
sufficient range to fly from Sacramento to Hawaii, 2400 miles, in
formation. The flight would have been without a bomb load, in the face of no
opposition, and with excellent communications, weather reporting, and base
facilities. These same units, on arrival in Saipan,
were faced with a round trip of about 2500 miles, with bomb loads, in the face
of enemy opposition, and with no weather data or communications.
Two bases, each with two 8500-foot paved runways and 80 hardstands,
necessary shops, housing, fueling facilities, and other essentials, were
supposed to be ready on Saipan. The bases were
to have been built by the Central Pacific Area Command, but stubborn
interference by the Japanese garrisons in the Pacific and competition from U.S.
Navy construction work had set the schedule back by several months.
I landed the first B-29, “Joltin’ Josie, the
Pacific Pioneer,” at Saipan’s Isley Field on 12 October 1944, with Major (now Major
General) Jack J. Catton as my copilot. A rousing reception from the men who had
been laboring in tropical heat and rain to build the field greeted our arrival.
Of the two bases under construction on Saipan, one could not then be used at
all by B-29s, and the other had one runway 7000 feet long--5000 feet of it
paved--a taxiway at one end only, about forty hardstands, and no other
facilities whatever except for a bomb dump and a vehicle park with gasoline
truck-trailers. It was hardly ready to receive the 12,000 men and 180 aircraft
potential of the 73d Wing. Ground crews put up borrowed tents in what was
certainly one of the most disorderly military encampments of the war, but they
worked day and night to meet the demands for the first strike.
The bases on nearby Tinian
Island had hardly been
started. Those in Guam, where the main
headquarters of the XXI Bomber Command was to be located, had not even been
started. Communications were completely inadequate. The aircraft of the 73d
Wing arrived rapidly on Saipan after
mid-October and had to be double-parked on hardstands. In the meantime a
shipload of supplies arrived at Guam, to
become a depot.
The ship had been carefully loaded so that supplies could be unloaded in
reverse sequence and stacked at the depot in “combat loaded” order. The
procedure was new and elaborate but one which would give us an operating depot
in a matter of weeks. Actually, fighting was still going on in Guam, and confusion reigned supreme. The harbor master
said, “I’ll give you twenty-four hours to get that— —ship out of here.” The
supplies were dumped in the jungle and never recovered. It became necessary to
supply and maintain the B-29s, themselves new and unfamiliar, by air all the
way from Sacramento, California—8000 miles away! The
in-commission rate was low.
As indicated earlier, the strategic concept was for the defeat or
neutralization of the Japanese air forces as an intermediate objective. The
major strategic air offensive was against the war-supporting and economic
systems of Japan,
the primary objective. The plan of operations against the primary objective
contemplated destruction of major selected industrial facilities by direct
attack and burning out of the major cities in order to eliminate the small
supporting industries, which were known to be widely distributed in Japanese
homes and residential areas. (Sample Japanese villages were actually built in Nevada, and various
types of incendiaries were tried against them. From these tests and
experiments, incendiary bombs and clusters were designed and put into mass
The primary target system assigned to XXI Bomber Command by agreement of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, giving first place to Japanese aircraft and aircraft
engine factories, was not lightly conceived. It had been learned that air
superiority is necessary in order to carry out effective surface operations and
invasions as well as major strategic air operations. The Joint Chiefs had been
persuaded to back the air offensive, but they were looking over the shoulders
of the airmen at the invasion shore. Second priority was given to Japanese
industry, which was distributed throughout the great urban industrial areas,
and third to Japanese shipping.
It must be remembered that the Twentieth Air Force had won its right to
exist only by becoming a creature of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The official
war plans of the JCS did contemplate invasion, and the Twentieth Air Force
could not be divorced from that ultimate concept. Certainly that was wise in
the early stages. Air power, applied by itself, had
never before been sufficient to bring about capitulation of a major nation that
was still in full control of its own military means. What if the strategic air
offensive should not be effective? The Joint Chiefs simply had to have a backup
plan. To be sure, there was some skepticism of air power, but even if there had
not been, it would have been unwise to fail to provide for a backup. Actually
the JCS did give the Twentieth Air Force priority second to none in the
creation and launching of the force, and they did direct the capture of the Marianas as a base of operation of the XXI Bomber
It has been implied that the air strategists who conducted the early
operations of the XXI had limited vision and were too much influenced by the
need to pave the way for invasion. This is not so.
The pattern of B-29 operations against targets in Japan
was not conditioned by the limited conception of the role of air power inherent
in the basic idea of defeating Japan
by ground invasion. The initial target list had as its objective the defeat of
the Japanese air force, but this, like the defeat of the German air force, was
an intermediate objective. It was considered a necessary preliminary in order
to ensure and enhance the effectiveness of strategic bombing operations. To be
sure, the objective also contributed to successful future ground and sea
operations. But the primary objectives were essentially the same as those in Germany: the
military, economic, industrial, and social structure, which supported the will
and the ability of the Japanese nation to wage war.
Plans for the first bombing of Japan
from the Marianas called initially for a
combined first strike with the Navy, so that carrier-based aircraft would
divert some of the Japanese fighter defenses and absorb some of their
capability. For the rest, the B-29s would have to depend upon high altitude
(their principal advantage) and their own defensive gunfire. The B-29 was
designed as a high-altitude bomber, the first to have pressurized crew
compartments. It had turbosupercharged engines. It
was reasonably fast at high altitudes. It was heavily gunned. By operating information it was expected to fend for itself against enemy fighters, which
would be operating at their ceiling and have little if any margin of
The first airplanes and crews to arrive on Saipan
were given a small amount of training in the Pacific area. Six short training
missions were flown against Truk and Iwo Jima. In spite of all the obstacles, the XXI Bomber
Command declared itself ready to meet combat commitments exactly on time, by
the middle of November.
In the early morning of 1 November, an F -13A, photoreconnaissance version
of the B-29, took off from Saipan and became the first U.S. plane over Tokyo since April 1942. Called “Tokyo Rose,”
the aircraft flew above the Japanese capital at an altitude of 32,000 feet,
photographing a complex of aircraft and engine plants just west of Tokyo and another on the outskirts of Nagoya. They were excellent and priceless
photographs. Before the first strike on Tokyo on
24 November, 17 sorties had been flown over Japan by F-13s. Many of the
missions were hampered by bad weather, but enough information on the location
of aircraft factories was obtained for the first bombing missions. Copies of
the photographs were provided to General Arnold for the JCS and to Admirals
Nimitz and William Halsey.
Mosaics were made, strips laid out, initial points and target approaches
selected. Every crew was required to trace its photo map, mark landmarks and
target runs, and then redraw them from memory—over and over.
As the day for the combined operation against Japan
approached, the Navy found itself in serious combat trouble in its movement
into the Philippines.
The Navy announced that it was unable to participate in the planned combined
air operation against Japan.
The XXI Bomber Command declared itself ready to g ahead on its own. The mission
The strike, the first on Tokyo
since the Doolittle raid on 18 April 1942, was labeled “San Antonio One,” and
the second was to be called “San Antonio Two.” I was to lead the first, and
Brigadier General Emmett (“Rosey”) O’Donnell,
Commander of the 73d Wing, was to lead the second. However, General O’Donnell
was shifted to the first strike after I was ordered not to lead the mission
because of my extensive knowledge of the Pacific campaign plans.
The morning of the planned assault, “San Antonio One,” 15 November, dawned
with an ominous calm, which changed suddenly into a tropical storm. A typhoon
hit Saipan and lasted six days. The island and
the base became a sea of mud. In the meantime the B-29s were sitting on their
hardstands, fully loaded and the orders for the mission had been distributed.
The prospect of a security leak became a nightmare.
During this time members of General Arnold’s staff and at least one field
commander continued to express doubt of the planned offensive from the Marianas. I received a letter from General Arnold
forwarding these expressions of doubt and the conviction of their authors that
the missions as planned could not be carried out. It was contended that the
airplanes lacked the necessary range and that the Japanese would shoot them out
of the air. General Arnold did not countermand the mission or the plans. He
simply forwarded these warnings which others were expressing. The decision to
carry out the planned mission or to change it was left to my judgment.
It was quite true that until the time for take-off of “San Antonio One” the
XXI had never flown a formation as large as a squadron a distance as far as Tokyo and back, even
without bomb loads and without enemy opposition.
The potential impact of the mission on Pacific strategy
and the future of the Air Force extended far beyond the XXI. The Army
Air Forces, at the JCS planning and command level, had been advocating primary
reliance upon the effectiveness of the air offensive, with provision for an
invasion of the Japanese mainland only if the air offensive proved
inconclusive. This viewpoint did not follow Army and Navy
planning. To admit at this late juncture that the air offensive could not even
attack its intermediate objectives would have grave repercussions indeed. The
whole command structure of the Twentieth Air Force as a worldwide command
reporting directly to the JCS, in a role parallel to that of the U.S. naval
fleet, was in delicate balance. To subject it to re-examination resulting from
a major degradation of capability would have had very serious aftereffects. To
those who believed that the air offensive was not only the most effective
avenue to victory in the Pacific but also the cheapest in terms of American
lives, the abandonment of the planned mission would be a disaster almost as
great as the tactical disaster of failure might have been. But there was no
denying that the decision to carry out the plan was extremely risky.
I thought I understood why General Arnold had sent me this message. Disaster
on the first missions of the XXI Bomber Command would have changed Pacific
strategy and delayed recognition of coordinate air power by many years. Since
there seemed to be a high probability that such disaster would actually ensue,
the ill effects would be less severe on the future of the air forces if the
responsibility were borne by a subordinate field commander. It was not an
unreasonable precaution to take, under the circumstances.
On 24 November, 111 B-29s of the 73d Wing, XXI Bomber Command, took off on
the trip toward Japan,
representing over 90 percent of the B-29s on Saipan.
Some of the crews had arrived less than a week before, and their first take-off
was for Tokyo.
Each take-off was an ordeal. The B-29 was originally designed for a gross
weight of 120,000 pounds. By urging and pleading, we convinced Wright Field to
raise the allowable gross to 132,000 pounds. In order to carry every gallon of
gas that could be pumped aboard, they were taking off at 140,000 pounds! A
faltering engine would spell the end for any airplane.
Primary target for the B-29s on “San Antonio One” was the Nakajima Aircraft
plant on the outskirts of Tokyo, and the
secondary targets and “last resort” areas were the docking facilities and urban
area of Tokyo.
A total of 277.5 tons of bombs was carried by the 111 B-29s. Seventeen bombers
turned back because of fuel problems, and six missed bombing because of
mechanical troubles. Flying at 27,000-33,000 feet, the bombers picked up a
120-knot wind over Japan,
giving them a ground speed of 445 miles per hour. This speed taxed the limits
of the optical bombsights. Twenty-four planes bombed the Musashino
plant, and 64 unloaded on the dock areas. Only one B-29 was lost in combat. U.S. gunners
claimed 7 enemy fighters destroyed and 18 probables.
Final count for the XXI listed 2 B-29s destroyed, 8 damaged by enemy action,
one man killed, 11 missing, and 4 injured.
After the war ended, it was learned that 48 bombs had hit in the factory
area; one percent of the building and 2.4 percent of the machinery were
damaged; and 57 persons were killed and 75 injured.
The weather at the target was far from favorable, and the bombing left much
to be desired. However, the losses were small, and the operation was carried
out in spite of the hazards and obstacles. Not the least of the hazards was the
return to base. The mission lasted 12 to 14 hours, and the return was at night.
There were no runway lights, only smudge pots along the single runway strip.
The next nearest landing strip was at Kwajalein,
over a thousand miles away. If a B-29 splattered itself on the runway, the rest
of the aircraft behind it were all through.
In my judgment this first attack by the 73d Wing was a very real
achievement, and the crews who flew it were men who should be marked for
praise. From a newly assembled unit in Kansas,
newly equipped with an untried airplane, trained for single-aircraft
night-bombing by radar, they had progressed to daylight bombing information at
30,000 feet over a Japanese target, operating from a half-prepared base in Saipan, 1200 miles away. All in two and a half months! The
bombing was only fair, but the men who performed the job were magnificent.
The decision to launch the offensive in the face of such adverse conditions
and recommendations seems to reflect recklessness and good luck more than sound
judgment. But this first great gamble proved the feasibility of the assault.
Momentum and confidence and improved efficiency would come with experience and
“San Antonio Two” was staged on 27 November, with the same target
priorities. The crews of the 81 B-29s that flew the mission found Tokyo completely covered
by clouds, so the bombs were dropped by radar on the secondary targets. The
Japanese were provoked into trying to halt the bombing by making air raids on Isley Field, and they destroyed some B-29s. The Japanese were
realizing that their home islands were indeed susceptible to sustained attack
and that their fighters could not turn back the B-29s.
The next three months were frustrating, to say the least. Schools were
established to train the lead crews, in a determined effort to improve bombing
accuracy. Enormous efforts were made to improve maintenance. The depot had to
start all over again, and in the meantime the air supply from Sacramento had to be improved. More missions
were run against aircraft and engine factories. But the weather was a terrible
opponent, and there was no intelligence of its movements. Japanese fighter
opposition was desperate but not very effective, at least in comparison with
German fighters. Air kamikaze ramming tactics were tried with some effect.
Morale was a critical problem. The airplane engines were still unreliable.
Airplanes that were disabled from combat or from other causes were 1200 miles
from friendly territory, and crews had the choice of drowning or bailing out
to be executed by maddened Japanese. The U.S. Navy made a tremendous
contribution to morale by stationing rescue submarines at intervals along the
On 13 December, 74 B-29s of the 73d Wing were credited with doing
significant damage to Japanese aircraft plants. Most of the bombers carried
500-pound general-purpose bombs, while others were loaded with incendiary
clusters. The primary target was the Mitsubishi engine plant at Nagoya. Photographs
failed to show the entire damage. Later reports indicated that engine assembly
shops and auxiliary buildings were destroyed or damaged. A total of 246 people
were killed and 105 injured. Aircraft engine production capacity was reduced
from 1600 to 1200 per month. The Mitsubishi No.4 Engine Works no longer made
parts. The Japanese also began the transfer of plant equipment to underground
facilities. It was the most destructive mission to date for XXI Bomber Command.
The order for succeeding missions was for maximum strikes against
top-priority targets by high-altitude precision bombing when weather was
acceptable. When this was not possible, secondary targets were to be hit, and
time was also given to night attacks by use of radar. But still, bombing
effectiveness was hard to assess because of cloud cover. Reports of
effectiveness were deliberately played down by the XXI Bomber Command
headquarters to counterbalance the known tendency to exaggerate.
Night incendiary attacks against Japanese urban industrial areas in early
1945 were part of the original plans for employment of the XXI, but they were
scheduled for performance after the Japanese aircraft and engine factories had
been knocked out. One wing of the XXI, the 315th, had been equipped exclusively
for such operations. Its aircraft were delivered without armor or armament,
except for a tail turret, and they were equipped with a new radar bomb sight
that permitted more accurate bombing. All the XXI units were equipped and
trained for radar bombing of those area targets that rendered good radar
Preparation for aerial mining operations against shipping in Japanese waters
was also initiated during this early period. The program, which turned out to
be one of the major contributions of the Twentieth Air Force met with some
opposition to start with.
Mining of rivers and harbors in the Netherlands East Indies by the B-29s of
the XX Bomber Command had been one of the first operations carried out by that
command from bases in Ceylon.
Admiral Nimitz’s staff proposed a much more extensive campaign for XXI Bomber
Command in Japanese home waters. In fact the Navy’s initial proposal would have
absorbed most of the total command capacity in the first three or four months.
I objected to this on the ground that it constituted another major diversion
from the principal purpose for which the command had been created and deployed.
The objection was directed not primarily to the idea of mining but to the
magnitude of the diversion at a time when utmost endeavor was needed to develop
our primary capability. The problem was settled when General Arnold issued a
directive calling for a mining effort at a much reduced initial level and
postponed somewhat in time.
Even while the problem was being discussed at high level, initial steps were
undertaken to prepare for a mining campaign of some intensity. I directed the
313th Wing, whose aircraft began to arrive on Tinian
in December, to undertake development of techniques and tactics for this type
of operation. One group of the wing was designated to carry out this work. The
XXI Bomber Command owes a debt of gratitude to the Navy personnel for the fine
assistance they rendered in adapting Navy mines to installation in B-29s and in
helping the development of dropping techniques and tactics.
The first three months for the B-29s in the Marianas helped lay the
groundwork for the much larger bombing offensives against Japan during
1945. If it is conceded that initial periods are always the most difficult
ones, then the initial period of XXI Bomber Command was marked with reasonable
success. It cannot be denied, however, that such success as was achieved was
accompanied by a full measure of good fortune. It might so easily have been a
period of disaster. If one of the initial operations, from uncompleted bases,
had returned to find our single, partially paved runway blocked out by weather
or obstructed by a crippled B-29, the whole force would have been lost. The
only alternative base was 1500 miles away.
The Twentieth Air Force and the B-29 air offensive were experimental
ventures. Most of the senior veteran commanders of World War II were on record
as saying that a strategic air force which was not under a theater commander
was wrong and that an air offensive against Japan
from the Marianas could not be carried out
with the B-29. But that air offensive against Japan was launched by the men of
XXI Bomber Command, and the later success of the XXI and the Twentieth Air
Force owes much to the modest achievements of those first fine combat crews and
the men who backed them up.
Major General Haywood S. Hansell, Jr., USAF
(Ret), (B.S., Georgia Institute of Technology) is a consultant with General
Electric Company. He completed flying training in 1929 and was assigned to the
2d Bombardment Group, Langley Field, until 1931. Then at Maxwell Field he flew
with the “Men on the Flying Trapeze” pursuit demonstration team. He graduated
from the Air Corps Tactical
School in 1936, then served on its faculty. After graduating from the
Command and General Staff School in 1939, he was assigned to the Office of the
Chief of the Air Corps and served as a Special Observer in England in
1941. As a member of the Air War Plans Division, Hq
Army Air Forces, he assisted in preparation of AWPD-l and AWPD-42. Wartime
assignments were as Air Corps member, Joint Strategic Committee, Joint Chiefs
of Staff; Air Planner on General Eisenhower’s staff in England (1942);
Commander, 3d Bomb Wing and 1st Bomb Wing, Eighth Air Force (1942-43); Deputy
Commander, Allied Expeditionary Air Forces (July 1943); Air Corps member, Joint
Plans Committee, JCS (November 1943); Deputy Chief of Staff, Hq AAF, and Chief of Staff, Twentieth Air Force (April
1944); Commander, XXI Bomber Command (August 1944); and Commander, North
Atlantic Wing, Air Transport Command (January 1945). General Hansell retired in 1946 but was recalled at the outbreak of
the Korean War and served with the Mutual Defense Assistance Program and
Weapons Systems Evaluation Group until 1955.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this
document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression,
academic environment of Air
University. They do not
reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense,
the United States Air Force or the Air
Home Page | Feedback? Email the Editor