I’ve been reading Flyboys: a True Story of Courage by James Bradley about the pilots of World War II and the war in the Pacific. Bradley previously wrote Flags of Our Fathers about the raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima.

He starts out with the history of Japan. He notes that for two hundred years Japan was a closed book to the rest of the world by national law. A Japanese could not leave Japan and no outsider was allowed in. B-29 Death was the punishment for giving foreigners information about the land and no maps or books existed in the Western world about the country. In fact, he says, the Japanese word for foreigner is gazin which meant they were beyond subhuman. He explains the years of conditioning children to have a military attitude of following orders and that it was a disgrace of the worst kind to surrender or become a prisoner. Death by suicide was more honorable.

He points out the American soldiers of this war were children. The pilots were seventeen to nineteen years old. They all had the attitude that someone else, not them, would be killed. He says the Marines repeat the story of the Captain briefing men for battle and says "Two out of three of you will be killed" And each Marine looks at the others and says to himself "Those poor sons of bitches."

One of the most compelling parts of the book is the fire bombing of Tokyo with out of control fires destroying the paper and wood structures with massive deaths.. The airplane used in the raid was the B-29.

The B-29 was the biggest, longest, widest, heaviest, fastest and longest flying airplane in history. It’s four propellers were sixteen feet long. It could carry ten tons of bombs and still fly at 357 miles an hour. It could stay airborne for more then sixteen hours. The facts are impressive: Cruising speed 220 MPH, gross weight was 147,000 pounds, wing span 141 feet and fuselage was 99 feet with 2,200 horspower engines

The B-25 required bulky warm clothes and oxygen masks in B-29a minus 50 degree cold at thirty thousand feet. But, the B-29, the "cadillac of the skies" had pressurized crew areas and interior comfort that allowed the crew to wear regular clothes. It became the most devastating weapon of World War II. The cost $600,00 each.

 For the first raid, General Curtis LeMay decided to attack Tokyo at night flying low because he concluded the Japanese weren’t prepared with antiaircraft guns that were designed to shoot at that altitude. It turned out that the Japanese had built antiaircraft guns that fired from 5,500 feet and above, but not below that altitude. The planes flew in at 500 feet.

Three hundred thirty four B-29's carrying 3,334,000 pounds of deadly napalm were used in the raid. They dropped 8,519 bombs weighing 500 pounds each. They burst open at 2,000 feet releasing 496,000 individual 6.2 cylinders with jellied gasoline that floated down with little parachutes. The fires were so hot the superheated vapors killed victims before the flames reached them. The temperatures generated reached 1,800 Fahrenheit. 100,000 people died. It was the largest single day killing in world history. Only Hiroshima had slightly more dead after the atomic bomb was dropped.  

The first raid on Tokyo was in April of 1942 when B-25's were flown off of an aircraft carrier and dropped conventional bombs to the astonishment of the people and military. The fire bombing began in 1944 after the B-29 was developed and manufactured. The raids began in November of that year and lasted until August of the following year when Japan capitulated. The fire bombing probably had more to do with ending the Pacific war then the atomic bombs that were dropped. But, the horror of these raids and war in general should inspire all of us to seek peace and not war.

It's an entertaining and interesting book about an important part of our history.

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