Surprising World War II Facts and Statistics

29 Jun
  • One third to one half of the people killed in the Second World War were civilians.
  • The first German serviceman killed in the Second World War was killed by the Japanese. He was a military adjutant who was killed during a Japanese bombing raid in China in 1937.
  • The first American serviceman killed was killed by the Russians. He was a military adjutant stationed in Finland and was killed during the Winter War in 1940.
  • Only eight American submarine captains during the Second World War were awarded the Medal of Honor. All were awarded posthumously.
  • All American submarine crews were composed of volunteers.
  • In order to successfully complete a tour of duty as a bomber pilot or crewman in the American Army Air Force in Europe, one needed to complete 25 bombing raids. One’s chance of being killed on a single raid hovered between 70 and 80 percent.
  • One in five American submariners did not return from combat.
  • The German Kriegsmarine commissioned 40,000 men in its U-boat fleet by war’s end. 30,000 of them would not return.
  • The American 101st Airborne Division was the only division to hand out two Medals of Honor. Traditionally, only one is allotted per division. Private First Class Joe Mann received his Medal of Honor after throwing himself on a German grenade in the Netherlands, while Lieutenant Colonel Robert Cole was killed attempting to move orange identification panels under fire to show American planes where the Americans were and where the Germans were so the American aircraft did not strafe the Americans by mistake.
  • Contrary to popular belief, more men in the United States were drafted during the Second World War than in Vietnam. Two thirds of the men who fought in World War II were draftees, while two thirds of the men who fought in Vietnam from 1965-1972 were volunteers.
  • Four out of every five German soldiers killed during the Second World War were killed on the Eastern Front in combat against the Red Army.
  • The American 8th Air Force sustained 60 percent casualties during the war. Traditionally, American bombers had a crew of ten men, meaning only four would come back alive.
  • The nation with the highest number of casualties was the Soviet Union, suffering 26.6 million dead, missing, or wounded.
  • The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were hotter and brighter than the surface of the sun.
  • American Air Force officers insisted on daylight precision bombing in order to target German facilities used to construct weapons of war, and so, when the first American bombers landed in Great Britain, the British gave them control of daylight bombing, leading to larger quantities of American casualties, as the British took night bombing and insisted on a strategy of “block busting”, or dropping explosive or incendiary ordinance on residential areas to break the will of the civilian population.
  • 3.4 million tons of explosives were dropped on Germany during the Second World War.
  • The battle of Stalingrad was the largest urban battle in history, while the battle of Leyte Gulf was the largest naval engagement. Operation Overlord was the largest amphibious landing, Operation Market Garden was the largest airborne invasion, Operation Barbarossa was the largest land battle, and the battle of Kursk was the largest tank battle in history. The largest single day airborne landing was Operation Varsity, and the bloodiest battle in American history was the battle of the Bulge.
  • American Lend-Lease, put into effect in March 1941, committed over $3.1 trillion in aid to the Allied powers, most notably Great Britain and the Soviet Union. Repayment began in September 1945, with the final payment of a little over $80 million being made by Great Britain in December 2006.
  • China suffered the second highest number of casualties, with between 10 and 20 million civilians and soldiers being killed, mostly due to Japan’s brutal, near-genocidal campaign against the Chinese in the years leading up to the war.
  • The Japanese and Russians actually went to war with one another. In May 1939, Russian troops along the Mongolian frontier engaged Japanese troops of the Kwantung Army at Khalkhin Gol. The battle proved the military genius of future Marshall of the Soviet Union Georgy Zhukov, the hero of the battle of Berlin, who had actually been exiled to Siberia for his position against Stalin. The battle also prompted the Japanese and Russians to seek peace before the Japanese attacked the United States.
  • Operation Overlord was actually not the first nighttime drop of Allied paratroopers, contrary to popular belief. That credit goes to Operation Husky in July 1943, where the American 82nd Airborne and British 1st Airborne were dropped behind the British and American landing beaches at Gela and Syracuse respectively.
  • Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the mastermind behind the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, was actually opposed to the war. He had actually studied at Harvard and worked as a naval attache in Washington, D.C., leading to his selection due to his supposed understanding of the Americans.
  • The Russians had prior knowledge of the attack on Pearl Harbor. A German-born Russian spy in Tokyo, Richard Sorge, had acquired knowledge of the future attack in October 1941 due to Russian fears that the Japanese may attack the Russians while they attempted to fend off the German assault on Moscow as winter set in. Sorge’s intelligence confirmed the Japanese had no designs on Russia, and allowed the Russians to free up infantry stationed in Siberia to counterattack the Germans outside Moscow in December 1941.
  • When Richard Sorge was captured by the Japanese after handing intelligence over to the Russians in October 1941, the Japanese initially thought him a German spy, as he had been under the employ the German embassy in Tokyo and was a member of the Nazi Party, but in reality, those were covers allowing him to gain access to the embassy and solidify his spy network. The Japanese made multiple overtures to the Soviet Union for potential prisoner or information exchanges, but the Russians continued to deny Sorge’s existence. He was hanged at Sugamo Prison in November 1944.
  • One of the sixteen American bombers participating in the April 1942 Doolittle Raid against Tokyo crashed in Russia outside Vladivostok after it was caught in a cloud bank. The bombers were slated to land in China, like the rest. The crew was discovered by Russian troops, captured, and imprisoned for over a year. They managed to escape, elude capture, and make their way to friendly territory in China.
  • Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was missing two fingers on his left hand, an injury he had suffered during the 1905 Battle of Tsushima Strait against the Russians during the Russo-Japanese War. He was also a master of judo.
  • During the battle of the Atlantic, British and American ships utilizing sonar to hunt submarines discovered odd underwater geological features. Up to that point, it was a generally accepted theory that the ocean floor was flat. After the war, massive mid-ocean ridges and deep ocean trenches were discovered, justifying the theory of plate tectonics first proposed by German meteorologist Alfred Wegener in 1915.
  • All warships sunk at Pearl Harbor, except for the battleships Arizona and Oklahoma, which were too badly damaged to be salvaged, were present during the Japanese surrender aboard the Missouri  in September 1945.
  • The cruiser U.S.S. Juneau, sunk during an engagement off Guadalcanal in November 1942, a victim of friendly fire, went down in twenty seconds, leaving just 100 of her crew alive. Only ten were later rescued. Five of the men killed aboard the Juneau were brothers.
  • The British cruiser H.M.S. Hood, sunk during an engagement with the German battleship Bismarck and her cruiser escort Prinz Eugen near the Denmark Strait, went down with all hands except three men. She had a crew of 1,418 men.
  • A Japanese submarine surfaced off Santa Barbara, California, in February 1942 and bombed an oil field at Ellwood.
  • The Japanese landed men on the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska in June 1942 to distract American attention away from Midway, making it the first infantry assault on the United States by the full military of a foreign power since the War of 1812.
  • The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was actually a tactical failure. The Japanese targets were the American aircraft carriers U.S.S. EnterpriseLexington, and Saratoga. All three were absent from the battle. The Lexington was undergoing repairs in San Diego, while the Enterprise and Saratoga were taking aircraft to American air bases on Midway and Wake Island. Both were attacked on the same day as Pearl Harbor, December 8th on the opposite end of the International Date Line.
  • The garrison on Guam fell in one hour to the Japanese.
  • Adolf Hitler was color blind.
  • American forces landing in North Africa during Operation Torch did not know the sympathies of the Vichy French defending Morocco and Algeria. They did not know whether or not the French would open fire on American forces or welcome them, and so, when they landed, they wore American flag armbands to assist in the identifying process to avoid unnecessary casualties if the French did hold their fire. The French opened fire regardless.
  • After the French surrender in June 1940, the Vichy French government was formed in southern France, with its capital in Vichy. The government was collaborationist, a quid pro quo scored with the Germans. The Vichy French would cooperate if the Germans left them alone. This led to fear among the British that France’s relatively modern fleet might fall into German hands, even though there were provisions in the French-German alliance that stipulated against this, and the French fleet had been broken up to prevent it from falling into German hands all at once if it did. One portion was stationed in Syria (owned by the French), and another in Mers-el-Kebir, in Algeria, while another half sailed straight to Great Britain and surrendered shortly after the surrender terms were signed. The British attacked Mers-el-Kebir in July 1940 to prevent the ships from falling into German hands. This led to Anglo-French animosity that would bleed over into American relations with the French, leading American planners to not know the true allegiance of the Vichy French when they chose to storm ashore in North Africa. British troops who landed with the Americans during Operation Torch were issued American uniforms and were under the command of American forces, in an attempt to dupe the French if they did indeed sympathize with the Americans instead of the British.
  • In order to mask the landings on Sicily in July 1943, British planners working for the intelligence organization MI6, dumped the body of a London vagabond who had committed suicide with rat poison in the Mediterranean off the coast of Spain. Although the Spanish had pledged neutrality at the onset of the war, German assistance for the Spanish dictator, Francisco Franco, did not go unnoticed, and the Spanish and Germans often swapped intelligence. The body was clothed in the outfit of a British major, and had a suitcase tied to its wrist encasing letters signed by Field Marshall Harold Alexander, the commander of operations in the Mediterranean Theater. The body even had personal effects, including letters and photographs from a sweetheart back home. The letters between Alexander and the fictitious major spoke of potential landings in Sardinia, north of Sicily, and Greece, prompting the Germans to reinforce those areas. Operation Mincemeat, as it came to be known, allowed American and British forces to come ashore on Sicily against relatively light resistance as opposed to what could have been awaiting them earlier.
  • Operation Fortitude, a deception plan in which inflatable tanks and wooden planes were built in northern England to confuse German spotter aircraft into thinking of a potential landing in the Low Countries or Norway was to be executed rather than the actual landing in Normandy prior to June 6th, 1944, was devised by a magician.
  • Prior to the Normandy landings, actor M. E. Clifton James, who shared an astonishing likeness with Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, was dispatched to the Mediterranean to the British port at Gibraltar in Spain to confuse the Germans into thinking of another potential landing in the Mediterranean rather than one in France.
  • The famous French fashion designer Coco Chanel was a German spy during the war.
  • Special Operations Executive Station T, which conducted operations in Belgium, was run by Lieutenant Colonel Hardy Amies, a fashion designer, who would later utilize fashion terms as code words in conducting covert operations.
  • American airmen participated in the battle of Britain. They were American pilots who had resigned their posts in the United States Army Air Force, were commissioned in the Royal Air Force, wore Royal Air Force uniforms, and were known as the Eagle Squadron.
  • The Germans designed the first assault rifle, the StG. 44. Its design would later go on to be utilized as the base for the AK-47, M16, FN FAL, H&K G3, and more.
  • A British cryptanalyst, Tommy Flowers, constructed the first computer, the Colossus Mark I, to shatter the German Lorenz cipher. Contrary to popular belief, the Colossus was never utilized to break the Enigma. The Enigma code was shattered by Alan Turing’s Bombe.
  • The band of the battleship U.S.S. California, sunk during Pearl Harbor, was commissioned by Lieutenant Commander Joseph Rochefort of Pearl Harbor’s Station HYPO code breaking center. Their ears were fine-tuned to music, and were perfect to listening to and shattering Japanese JN-25 code, which utilized similar rhythms.
  • The first jet engines were manufactured in Germany as early as the mid-1930s. The jet engine was designed to outdo any Allied piston engine fighter in combat, yet the Messerschmitt Me-262 Schwalbe, or Swallow, which was designed for aerial combat and bomber interception, was instead converted to a light bomber at Hitler’s insistence. In any case, jet fighters could not win the war, but Hitler’s altering the design forever shaped Germany’s destiny when it came to aerial combat.
  • The first rocket powered aircraft, the Me-162 Komet, was also designed by the Germans. It was an incredibly risky aircraft, with the fuel types, T-stoff and C-stoff, which were composed of hydrogen peroxide and methanol-hydrazine respectively, was so corrosive, it would burn through skin in a similar fashion to hydroflouric acid. Pilots were trained to operate in high altitudes, primarily as high as the stratosphere, without pressure suits. The aircraft was not fitted with permanent landing gear, and instead was jettisoned down a runway fitted with dolly-type landing gear that it would shed upon takeoff. The aircraft would then take a near vertical climb to extremely high altitudes before the fuel burnt off, and it would gradually fall back to earth in a controlled glide. Many pilots, including its first test pilot, a former stunt pilot drafted by the Luftwaffe, were killed attempting to fly this dangerous aircraft.
  • The Luftwaffe possessed its own equivalent to Japan’s Kamikaze program in the form of the Sonderkommando Elbe, a unit formed in April 1945 with the specific goal of enlisting inexperienced pilots, placing them in the cockpit of German fighters, and ramming them into British and American bomber aircraft over Germany. The idea was not to kill the pilot in a one-way suicide mission, as was the case with the Japanese, but instead ram the aircraft and bail out, although most pilots failed to complete this task. Trained pilots and fuel in Germany in 1945 were in short supply, and desperate times, it is said, call for desperate measures. The Germans wished to suspend the American and British bombing campaign long enough to manufacture more revolutionary jet fighter aircraft (although American P-51 Mustang fighters could keep the pace with Me-262’s, and on numerous occasions, shot them down), although by April, it was clear the war had been lost.
  • Werner von Braun, the legendary German rocket scientist, had, during the 1930s, originally wished to pursue space travel, and even drafted designs for space-faring aircraft, yet as the Second World War dawned, he was instead drafted by the scientific research station at Peenemunde Air Force base to design rockets for Nazi Germany, and they came in the form of the V-1 “Buzz Bomb” and V-2 rocket, many of which descended upon Amsterdam and London. As the war came to a close, von Braun was captured by the United States to prevent his falling into Russian hands, and he was drafted into the fledgling National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or N.A.S.A. Throughout the 1960s, he finally achieved his wish of space travel, with his own design, the Saturn-V, landing American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin on the moon in July 1969, while Michael Collins orbited in the command module.
  • The Russians knew about America’s atomic weapons before they were dropped on Japan. Even as the war was coming to a close in late 1944 and early 1945, the Russians and the Americans, who would become and were always philosophical enemies, had begun to place spies within each other’s governments, and when the weapon “Trinity” was tested at Alamogordo, New Mexico, in July 1945, Josef Stalin was informed of the blast. The Russians would not achieve the power of splitting the atom until 1949, a feat which could only have been achieved by a double agent working inside the United States, as the German scientists captured by the Russians could not split the atom effectively. The blame fell on Julius Rosenberg. Following a lengthy trial, he and his wife, Ethel, were executed for treason in 1953. The execution has often been blamed on America’s fears of Bolshevism following the end of the Second World War, yet there is actually substantial evidence stating that the Rosenbergs did, in fact, supply the Russians with their knowledge of the bomb.
  • During the war, the Imperial Japanese Navy constructed submarines capable of carrying bomber aircraft. Dubbed the AM class, also known as “samurai submarines”, these craft could carry multiple bomber aircraft. Only two were completed. One was captured and sunk during testing off Hawaii in 1946, and the other was sunk during the war and found in 2009 by a research team in the Pacific.
  • Several German U-boats were lent to the Imperial Japanese Navy during the Second World War. They were operated by German crews and fought alongside Japanese submarines in what became known as the “Monsun Gruppe“, or German for “Monsoon Group”. They targeted British shipping around Malaya and the Dutch East Indies to tighten the noose around the last Allied bastion on continental Asia, British India. To prevent friendly fire, German and Japanese submarine crews operating in the area were strictly forbidden to fire at other submarines.
  • The first submarine-to-submarine kill during the war was made in the North Sea in February 1945 by the Royal Navy submarine H.M.S. Venturer. They had unwittingly sunk the German submarine U-864, which was en route to Japan carrying supplies for the construction of a Japanese jet fighter from German pieces, as well as a supply of mercury. The U-864 had been ordered to push from Kiel straight to Japan through the English Channel, a treacherous route patrolled incessantly by the Royal Navy that the Germans believed a single submarine could slip through due to the lack of logic of a submarine even attempting it, in December 1944, yet due to a faulty engine, she was forced to put into Bergen, a friendly port in a fjord in Norway, for repairs. Following that period of lost time, she put out to sea once more, and was overtaken by the Venturer in the North Sea, which sank her with all hands on February 9th, 1945, with neither submarine surfacing during the engagement, making it the first submerged submarine-to-submarine kill.
  • Shortly before Adolf Hitler committed suicide on April 30th, 1945, in the Fuehrerbunker of the Reichstag, he poisoned his prized German shepherd, Blondi, to test the potency of cyanide capsules received from Doctor Werner Haase, Hitler’s acting physician who had superseded Theodor Morell in that capacity in early April. Blondi had been given to the Fuehrer as a gift in 1941 by Martin Bormann, and in April 1945, shortly before Russian troops entered the beleaguered capital of the Reich, she gave birth to a small litter of puppies.
  • The highest ranking United States military officer killed in combat was Lieutenant General Leslie McNair. He was killed by friendly fire when American bombers leading a raid on German positions near Saint-Lo in late July 1944 mistakenly dropped high explosive munitions on American forces.
  • More Russian civilians were killed during the siege of Leningrad from September 1941 to January 1944 by forces of Germany’s Army Group North than the combined total number of American and British combat casualties.
  • The largest rifled weapon ever constructed, the Schwerer Gustav, was utilized during the siege of Sevastopol. The Schwerer Gustav, or “Great Gustav”, fired the heaviest shell in history. Her caliber was roughly 800mm, and it took 2,000 men two weeks to assemble the gun, which had to have its own stretch of rail line laid down to allow it to fire on Russian positions at Sevastopol. Only 48 of the massive 80 centimeter, or 31 inch, shells were fired, and during the course of the siege of Sevastopol, lasting from October 1941 to July 1942, the weapon leveled the port city, manned by men of the beleaguered Black Sea Fleet, and even breached the floor of the Black Sea and exploded a subterranean ammunition magazine under the seafloor thought to be impenetrable. She had worn out her original barrel, and was fitted with a replacement during the siege. Gustav was moved in the winter of 1942-43 to Leningrad in preparation for an assault on the city, whose static siege of lasted nearly two and a half years. Just as Gustav was being prepared, the assault was cancelled, and the gun was taken back to Germany and dismantled. Her sister gun, Dora, was constructed under order from the OKW, Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, and, once completed, was dispatched to assist in the siege of Stalingrad from September 1942 to February 1943, yet when the Soviet 62nd Army under Vasily Chuikov overran the Romanian 2nd and 3rd Armies defending the northern and southern flanks of Friedrich Paulus’s 6th Army and threatened the Germans with encirclement, the gun was withdrawn to prevent its capture. Both were later dismantled, with the Gustav and Dora being discovered by American forces in 1945.
  • Three 283mm Krupp K5 guns were utilized to shell British shipping in the English Channel from emplacements in the Pas-de-Calais during the war. The guns were relatively ineffective in completing this task, but one did sink a British transport. Two more of these guns were utilized to shell British and American positions at Anzio during the siege there from January to May 1944, known as the infamous sister guns “Anzio Annie” and “Anzio Express”. Much like the guns in the Calais, both Annie and Express were sabotaged to prevent their falling into Allied hands, but both guns, known to the Germans as Leopold and Robert, were later captured by American forces. Robert, known to the Americans as “Anzio Express”, had been too badly damaged by her crew, while “Annie”, Leopold, was still comparatively undamaged, and is still on display at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds outside of Baltimore, Maryland. A second K5, one utilized to shell British shipping in the Channel, was captured by the French and is on display at the Batterie Todt Museum in France.
  • Had Germany’s Army Group North entered Leningrad immediately instead of digging in for a lengthy siege, they would have been up against no Russian military resistance. The nearest Russian positions were those of the 14th Army defending Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula, and the 7th Army stationed in Ladoga Karelia, acquired from the Finns in 1940 following the Winter War.
  • 80 percent of Russian males born in 1923 were killed during the Second World War.
  • When American paratroopers landed in the Netherlands in September 1944, friendly Dutchmen flew orange flags from their windows. Orange was the color of the Dutch royalty, and since May 1940, the Dutch monarchy, led by Queen Wilhelmina, had been in exile in London and the color orange was forbidden by the occupying Nazis.
  • On Hitler’s 50th birthday, April 20th, 1939, a four hour military parade was held. During the parade, pieces composed by Richard Wagner, Hitler’s favorite composer, were played. Martin Bormann, Hitler’s secretary, gave to him the Kehlsteinhaus, the Eagle’s Nest, a mountain-top retreat astride Hitler’s residence in Berchtesgaden that possessed a meeting room constructed of red Italian marble and a brass-plated elevator. Hitler was afraid of heights.
  • The E.L.A.S. and E.D.E.S., two organizations constructed in Greece during the war to fight in a guerrilla fashion against the occupying Nazis, actually went to war after the German occupation ceased. The E.L.A.S., a communist group, had a falling out with the Republican E.D.E.S., leading to a civil war. The postwar fear of communism led to the passage of the Truman Doctrine in the United States, with America pledging its support to any government in southern Europe (most notably Greece and Turkey), that was combating communism.
  • Hitler was a vegetarian.
  • Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler were married for only forty hours before they committed suicide together in the Fuehrerbunker.
  • The Imperial Japanese Navy commissioned the two largest surface warships in history, the sister super-battleships Yamato, Japanese for ‘god’, and Musashi, evoking the name of a famous samurai. Each warship was fitted with nine eighteen-inch guns, the largest ever fitted on a warship, that could strike targets twenty five miles away. Each warship was manned by a crew of over 2,000 men. The Musashi was sunk during the October 1944 engagement at Leyte Gulf after being stricken by nineteen torpedoes and seventeen bombs. Yamato was sunk  during a seven-ship suicide raid on the American fleet near Okinawa in April 1945. She was stricken by eleven torpedoes and six bombs. By the time of Yamato‘s destruction, American aircrews targeting her were aware of her class’s weakness, an open patch of belt armor in the bow, and they exploited it.
  • Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution forbids the utilization of warfare to settle disputes, and outlaws the construction of a military, although a small defense force is maintained.
  • The first casualty during Operation Overlord, Lieutenant Den Brotheridge of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry of the British 6th Airborne Division, was killed at Pegasus Bridge just after midnight on June 6th, 1944.
  • The world’s first pressurized aircraft, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, first flew in 1942, and by 1944 was raiding Japan from airfields in China. The bomber had originally been constructed for long range flights targeting Nazi Germany, but the first combat ready bomber did not roll off the assembly line until months before the landings in Normandy, although the operation was in the planning stages (it had been for nearly two years) and once executed, would sound the death cry of the Third Reich. At the behest of Claire Chennault, the former commander of the 1st American Volunteer Squadron, or “Flying Tigers”, and friend to Chiang kai-Shek, the first B-29s landed on airfields in Kuomintang-controlled China, much against the continued voiced concerns of General Joseph Stilwell, commander of Allied forces in southern China and Burma. Stilwell insisted that if raids were to get underway from fields in China, the Japanese would discover the bases and overrun them, neutralizing the bombers’ effectiveness. Chennault disregarded Stilwell’s warnings (the two had been rivals since Stilwell’s arrival in Burma in the spring of 1942. Chennault tended to take sides with Chiang kai-Shek, the leader of the Kuomintang Chinese forces, as the two had known each other for nearly five years by the time of Stilwell’s arrival. Stilwell was constantly at odds with Chiang kai-Shek, as his corrupt behavior, poor treatment of his military, and abysmal strategic decisions made Stilwell an almost instantaneous enemy, while Stilwell’s frank and uncensored demeanor regarding the dismal Allied situation in Indochina put him at odds with Chiang kai-Shek, who tended to dance around the glaring issues of the campaign) and the first B-29s touched down in fields in India and China in April 1944 in what was known as Operation Matterhorn. On June 15th, 1944, the first bombing raid against the Home Islands since the Doolittle Raid of April 1942 struck Yawata, on Kyushu. The next raid did not come until July 7th, and an average of one raid per month would be the general style of raiding from China until the next year. The raids sapped tremendous amounts of fuel, which needed to be transported over the Himalayas from India, and, coupled with mediocre commanders, crippling mechanical defects (the Wright R3350 engines sometimes caught fire due to a high level of magnesium in the engine and flammable alloy around the crankcase), and a lack of ample bombers to conduct large scale raids, the Chinese raids largely failed to reach any discernible success. In October 1944, the first B-29, Jostlin’ Jotie, landed on the 8,700-foot expanse of Isley Field on Saipan, in the Mariana Islands. The bombers in China could only attack targets in Japanese-controlled Manchuria or on Kyushu, the southernmost island of Japan, as both were within the 1,600-mile operational range of the aircraft, but major targets north of Kyushu, most notably the main island, Honshu, containing Tokyo, were over 2,000 miles away and out of the bombers’ range. But in the Marianas, all four islands were within the B-29’s operational range. Within weeks, full scale, hundred bomber raids were being conducted from North Field on Tinian and Isley Field on Saipan, mainly utilizing strategies borrowed from the strategic bombing campaign in Europe, mostly daylight, high altitude, precision bombing, targeting factories and industries of war to shatter Japan’s industrial output and its ability to wage war. Yet the B-29 flew at altitudes in excess of 30,000 feet, and as the bombers came over the Home Islands, they were being buffeted by winds that exceeded sixty miles per hour, throwing bombers and bombs off target. The B-29 crews had unwittingly discovered the jet stream, something no one knew existed yet. Curtis LeMay, the commander of the 20th Air Force, the newly developed Air Force in Asia, devised a new strategy, in which bombers would be stripped of their guns (the B-29 was fitted with revolutionary remote-controlled guns operated by computer in four turrets along the fuselage) to save weight and fuel consumption, and attack fast at low altitude in an area bombing campaign similar to that being utilized by the Royal Air Force against Germany: they would target residential areas to shatter the will of the Japanese people to fight. And instead of relying solely on high explosive ordinance, they shifted to utilizing incendiaries as well, dropping the flammable explosives on residential areas in major Japanese cities, where homes were made primarily of paper and wood, starting massive conflagrations, the most infamous of which being the February 1945 fire bombing of Tokyo. The B-29 was the first pressurized aircraft in history, meaning the crew did not have to wear large, cumbersome clothing to conserve heat or oxygen, and the aircraft was fitted with revolutionary remote-controlled guns. The Superfortress, as it was known, was also fitted with two bomb bays, each one capable of carrying 10,000 pounds worth of high explosives, a full payload of 20,000 pounds. The B-17 Flying Fortress, on the other hand, was fitted with one bomb bay capable of carrying only 4,800 pounds of bombs, while the B-24 Liberator could hold 8,000 pounds. The first B-17 flew in 1936, the first B-24 in 1939. The first B-29 flew in 1942, a massive jump in technology in such a short period of time.
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