The Gathering Storm
The B-29 Bombing Offensive Against Japan
The first B-29 bombing raid took place on June 5, 1944. Led by General Saunders himself, 98 B-29s took off from bases in eastern India to attack the Makasan railroad yards at Bangkok, Thailand. This involved a 2,261 mi (3640km) round trip, the longest bombing mission yet attempted during the war. The engines of the B-29 were still causing problems, and fourteen B-29s were forced to abort because of engine failures. The target was obscured by bad weather, necessitating bombing by radar. The formations became confused and dropped their bombs at altitudes between 17,000-27,000 ft (5200-8200m) rather than the planned 22,000-25,000 ft (6700-7600m.) Only eighteen bombs landed in the target area. Five B-29s crashed upon landing after the mission and 42 were forced to divert to other airfields because of a shortage of fuel. The B-29 campaign was off to a bad start, although none of the bombers were actually lost to enemy action.
Under heavy pressure from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Washington to mount an immediate attack on Japan proper. General Wolfe attempted to delay the next mission until late June when he would have a larger force and more supplies in place at the forward bases in China. However, Washington demanded that he put a minimum of 70 B-29s over Japan by June 15. One of the problems was that only 86 B-29s could be equipped with the bomb-bay tanks needed for the long flight to Japan and, based upon previous experience, more than 20 of them would fail to leave the base in China while others would fail to bombs the target.
By mid-June, enough supplies had been stockpiled at Chinese forward bases to permit the launching of a single sortie against targets in Japan. It was a night time raid to be carried out on the night of June 14/15, 1944 against the Imperial Iron and Steel Works at Yawata on Kyushu. This plant was considered to be the most important single objective within Japan's steel industry, and had long held top priority for the first strike. This facility produced nearly a quarter of all the rolled steel for Japan. The secondary target was Laoyao harbor, an outlet for much coking coal, manganese and phosphates. Because of the long distance (3,200 mi) (5150 km), Washington had ordered a night mission with planes bombing individually. Bombing was to be done from two levels, 8,000 to 10,000 ft (m) and 14,000 to 18,000 ft (m.) Two pathfinder aircraft from each group were to light off the target. Takeoff was scheduled for 1630 (4:30 pm) local time, June 15, 1944, permitting the aircraft to arrive over the target during darkness.
Staging at the forward bases in China began on June 13, 1944 and was completed shortly before H-hour on June 15. The B-29s had left India fully loaded with bombs, requiring only refueling at the forward bases in China. Each plane carried two tons (1815 kg) of 500 pound (226 kg) general purpose bombs, considered powerful enough to disrupt the fragile coke ovens by either a direct hit or by blast. Of the 92 aircraft leaving India, only 79 had actually reached China, with one plane crashing en route. The staging bases were:
Hsinching for the 40th Bombardment Group ( Very Heavy)
Kwanghan for the 444th Bombardment Group ( Very Heavy)
Chiung-Lai for the 462d Bombardment Group ( Very Heavy)
Pengshan for the 468th Bombardment Group ( Very Heavy)
Takeoffs from the forward bases in China began early in the evening 1616 (4:16 pm) and two groups approximated the schedule of two-minute intervals between takeoffs. The other two groups were slow in getting their aircraft airborne.
Of the 75 B-29s dispatched, one crashed and four were forced to return to base due to mechanical problems. At 2338 (11:38 pm China time) the first B-29 over the target reported bombs away with less than 50% cloud cover. Of the 68 aircraft that had left China, only 47 attacked the intented target. One B-29 crashed in China (cause unknown), 6 jettisoned their bombs because of mechanical difficulties, 2 bombed the secondary target and 5 bombed targets of opportunity.
Yawata was blacked out and haze and / or smoke helped to obscure the target. Only 15 aircraft bombed visually while 32 bombed by radar. Only one bomb actually hit anywhere near the intended target. This was a bomb which had hit a power house some 3,700 ft (1120 m) from the coke ovens. Some damage had been done to the Kokura Arsenal, to miscellaneous industrial buildings, and to business-industrial areas. The steel industry was essentially untouched. One B-29 was lost to enemy fire and six were lost in various accidents.
Although very little damage was actually done, the Yawata raid was hailed as a great victory in the American press, since it was the first time since the Doolittle raid of 1942 that American aircraft had hit the Japanese home islands. Soon afterwards General Wolfe was replaced by Brig. Gen. LaVerne G. Saunders temporarily until a new permanent commander could be found.
On July 7, while under temporary command of General Saunders, eighteen B-29s attacked targets at Sasebo, Nagasaki, Omura and Yawata with ineffective results. On July 9, 72 B-29s hit a steel-making complex at Anshan in Manchuria. Of the 72 aircraft launched against Anshan, one crashed on takeoff and eleven suffered mechanical failures en route to Manchuria and had to abort. Four aircraft were lost and results were poor. On the night of August 10 / 11, 56 B-29s staged through British air bases in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) attacked the Plajdoe oil storage facilities at Palembang on Sumatra in present-day Indonesia. This involved a 4,030 mi (6490 km), 19 hour mission from Ceylon to Sumatra, the longest American air raid of the war. Other B-29s laid mines in the Moesi River. At the same time, a third group of B-29s attacked targets in Nagasaki. These raids demonstrated a lack of operational control and inadequate combat techniques with no coordinated strategy and were largely ineffective.
Many of the accidents which plagued the B-29s operating out of China and India were caused by engine fires. It was found that the combination of very high ground temperatures ( 100 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit ) and inadequate cooling of the giant engines would often result in overheating and
mechanical failure resulting in an engine fire. The key to getting around this
persistent problem was found to be in using the entire length of the runway to gain as much airspeed as possible and then after taking off gradually climbing to a higher altitude after gaining even more speed in near level flight.