Japanese Homeland: Firebombing

Evan Luke

HIST 4350 Narratives of World War II in the Pacific

Dr. Chrissy Lau

November 20, 2018

                                                   Allied Firebombs on Tokyo

During the Second World War, the allied powers frequently employed strategic bombings on military installations, industrial centers and civilian centers. Many hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians perished in allied bombings in major Japanese cities such as Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Kuri and Tokyo. Of these bombings the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the most well-known allied bombings on Japan. These two bombings were very notable because they were the only two times in history where nuclear weapons were used in warfare, their devastation was enough to end the war. These bombings often overshadow the Firebombing in Tokyo that claimed the lives of over 100,000 Japanese[1], an equitable number to the death toll of the Atomic bombing of Hiroshima. This Analysis will explore the firebombing of Tokyo as a wartime strategy of the United States, as well as exploring how the firebombing brought destruction to the Japanese homeland.

It Made a Lot of Sense to Kill Skilled Workers by Thomas Searle, states that the US military highlighted six critical strategic targets against the Japanese empire Steel, Aircraft plants, Electronics, merchant shipping, antifriction bearings and urban industrial areas.[2] No specific method of how these strategic targets would be attacked was said, but it should be noted that this report included several conclusions from the recently published “Japan, Incendiary Attack Data”. In 1944 the highest levels of US military approved the report, and authorized Japanese urban areas as targets for bombing. One of the Major reasons why Tokyo was chosen as a target was because the city of Tokyo met most, if not all, of the six critical strategic target criteria outlines. The second reason why the city was targeted was because of its high population of civilians. The mass casualties inflicted by the Firebombing of Tokyo was no incidental or a mere accident, its coincided with the US military’s explicit goal of inflicting significant casualties.  

       On the night of March 9th 1945, allied forces launched Operation Meetinghouse. The operation had over 300 B-29 superfortresses take to the sky loaded with napalm incendiary bombs. To maximize the payload the aircraft were stripped of heavy machine guns, gunner and ammunition other, increasing the payload by 3000 pounds. Each plane carried 40 clusters, and each cluster could carry about 38 bombs, roughly totaling to 1520 bombs per plane, an outstanding number of bombs considering there were over 300 planes. Firebombs were chosen over conventional high explosives because experimental raids and a previous fire in 1923 proved that Japanese cities were particularly vulnerable to fires due to the prevalence of wooden structures. This night was chosen in particular due to the heavy winds blowing across the city which would make the fires burn hotter. The bombs were dropped on a part of the city upwind, that way the wind would blow the flames downwind and spread across Tokyo.

Lars Tillitse, a Danish diplomat living in Tokyo was another survivor of the Firebombing who recounts the hardships that followed the firebombing in When Bombs Rained On Us In Tokyo. Lars had been living in Tokyo for several years and survived numerous bombing raids before and after the Tokyo firebombing, but remembers the firebombing on March 9th as the worst. Fire brigades desperately tried to extinguish the flames to no effect as more and more waves of incendiary bombs fell. When the flames were finally put under control, 100,000 had died and 1,000,000 people were homeless[3]. Men, Women and children that lost their homes walked the streets carrying what little belongings they still owned with nowhere to sleep. Access to basic amenities such as gas, electricity, telecommunication and water had been almost entirely nonexistent during the first few days after the bombing. Finding adequate food to eat had been especially difficult for survivors, rations by the government were not enough to sustain and the prices of food on the black market had been substantially inflated. With no homes, food and support from the Japanese government many of the homeless evacuated the city to be with relatives in the countryside. Reviews in American History by Richard Leopond explains how evacuation was difficult as no official Japanese evacuation plan was put into place[4]. Trains could only accommodate a small percentage of those leaving the city so the roads were filled with a great exodus of homeless taking what remained of their possessions on bicycles and carts. 

In conclusion the United States hoped that by causing significant damage to Japanese civilians, the morale of the Japanese would suffer. The Tokyo bombing in summary was aimed to both damage the means to conduct warfare as well as break the will of the Japanese people. The firebombing of Tokyo is seen to be the most destructive bombing raid in human history, those who survived were left devastated. The firebombs dropped on Tokyo brought death, suffering and altered the lives of the Japanese in ways we cannot understand. The aftermath of the firebombs left the Japanese homeland ever more ravaged and left survivors ever more desperate.




Rauch, Jonathan. 2002. “Firebombs over Tokyo.” Atlantic 290 (1): 22.

Searle, Thomas R. 2002. “‘It Made a Lot of Sense to Kill Skilled Workers’: The Firebombing of Tokyo in March 1945.” Journal of Military History 66 (1): 103–33. 


Tillitse, Lars. 1946. “When Bombs Rained on Us in Tokyo.” Saturday Evening Post 218 (28): 34–85. 


Leopold, Richard W. "The Second World War Revisited." Reviews in American History 16, no. 1 (1988): 110-14. doi:10.2307/2702073.

[1]Rauch, Jonathan. 2002. “Firebombs over Tokyo.” Atlantic 290 (1): 22.

[2] Searle, Thomas R. 2002. “‘It Made a Lot of Sense to Kill Skilled Workers’: The Firebombing of Tokyo in March 1945.” Journal of Military History 66 (1): 103–33. 

[3]Tillitse, Lars. 1946. “When Bombs Rained on Us in Tokyo.” Saturday Evening Post 218 (28): 34–85. 

[4]Leopold, Richard W. "The Second World War Revisited." Reviews in American History 16, no. 1 (1988): 110-14. doi:10.2307/2702073.


                                                                                                                               Oral history

Funato Kazuyo “Hiroko died because of me.” by Cook, Haruko Taya., and Theodore Failor. Cook. Japan at War: An Oral History. London: Phoenix, 2000.


Hiroko died because of me by Funato Kazuyo is an oral history that follows the story of Funato during the Tokyo Firebombing. Funato Kazuyo was a sixth grade school girl with three older brothers and three younger siblings living with her family in Tokyo.  Funato says that the city of Tokyo was in high spirits because it had been largely spared from significant allied bombings during the war. Funato awoke in the night to a terrible uproar as the bombardment began and ran to a shelter with her mother and her baby brother. Her Father was a member of the vigilance corps and ran to his duty station while her older brothers fought to put out the flames. Before long they had to evacuate the shelter because their only escape route out of the burning town was about to be engulfed into flames. Abandoning their home, Funato and her remaining family ran from the fires in a city she described as hell on earth. Houses burned, debris fell, electric wires sparked and a deadly wind blew across the city.

Funato found another shelter with her siblings, but the shelter did little to stop the heat of the fires burning outside. Her brother caught fire and ran out, her other brother went outside after him, both were blown away out of sight. Funato notes that the night the bombs fell there was a strong northern wind that had been blowing all day, the strong wind that blew throughout the day was strengthened by the raging firestorm. Funato and her only other sibling Hiroko in the shelter had no choice other than stay and endure the burning heat inside. Hiroko’s hands were badly burned and Funato tried to relieve the pain by putting Hiroko’s hands in a puddle of water. After the fires subsided Funato and Hiroko walked back to their home, passing blackened and charred corpses strewn over the city. The surviving family had suffered burns especially her mother, who still carried the burnt and dead body of Funato’s baby brother on her back. Two of her siblings and her grandmother were never found.

Funato’s mother was badly burned and Hiroko’s conditioning was worsening leaving them in desperate need of Medical treatment. The Firebombing of the City left extensive damage and there was only a small hospital left remaining to treat them. Supplies were meager so once bandages had been soaked in blood and pus they would be washed and reused. Hiroko had contracted the Tetanus virus from the puddle, the hospital lacked the medicine to treat it and Hiroko perished. For this, Funato has blamed herself for Hiroko’s death.





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