Today in History, March 9, 1945:
US B-29 Superfortress bombers drop over 200,000 lbs of incendiary bombs on Tokyo, igniting a firestorm much more damaging than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, causing as many as 130,000 deaths as the mostly paper houses of Tokyo went up in flames.
Many of the houses had been used as independent manufacturing facilities to support the Japanese war effort.
16 square miles went up in flames (about the size of Tulsa now). In retrospect we could deem this as a war crime; however, if we look at it in the perspective of the times involved, as horrific as it was, it likely saved lives. Without the graphic wake-up call, the Japanese would have fought on…and millions would have perished.
Today in History, March 7, 1945:
The Bridge at Remagen, or the Ludendorff Bridge Battle.
The American 1st Army arrived in Remagen to a surprise…that the last remaining bridge leading into Germany stood undamaged.
They quickly took the railroad bridge, which was strong enough for American tanks, trucks and artillery to move quickly into the German heartland. Once the bridge was taken, as always, it had to be kept.
And this bridgehead was important…and that is an understatement. The American forces had to fight against air attack, artillery, and sabotage. They moved quickly to take enough territory so that German artillery was out of range, set up sentries with powerful searchlights to catch enemy commandos, set up anti-aircraft batteries, and the bridge had it’s own Combat Air Patrol from the Army Air Corps. Engineers worked around the clock to repair any damage done to the bridge.
Today in History, February 23, 1945:
After a hard fought battle, the US Marines reach the top of Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima.
5 Marines and 1 US Navy Corpsman raised the US flag at the peak, and photographer Joe Rosenthal caught it on camera.
3 of the flag raisers would be dead before the Battle for Iwo Jima was won. After many deaths and the earning of 27 Medals of Honor (half posthumous), the tiny island was deemed “secure” on March 16. Then B29 Superfortress bombers and long range fighters could use the airstrip in the bombing of Japan.
The photo became famous, and inspired the US Marine Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.
The first flag was considered too small, and a second larger flag, scrounged up from one of the landing ships, was raised to replace it.
Admiral Chester Nimitz described the battle as one “where uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
Today in History, January 7, 1945:
The Battle of the Bulge.
After the American 101st Airborne held out against overwhelming German forces for days, refusing to surrender (Gen. Anthony McAuliffe replied Nuts! to a surrender command, confusing the hell out of the Germans); after American Gen. George S. Patton turned his entire 3rd Army 90 degrees and ran full tilt through winter conditions to reach his comrades; after American air power helped save the day when the weather cleared,
British Gen. Bernard Law Montgomery held a press conference during which he took credit for the hard won victory.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill had to address Parliament to assert the truth that The Battle of the Bulge was solely an American victory after the political fall-out of Montgomery’s typically arrogant statements.
Today in History, April 16, 1945:
Picket duty in the seas off of Okinawa was a very dangerous place. Destroyers were stationed in exterior positions from the US fleet to provide radar warnings for the carriers, bombardment and landing groups. That also made them the first targets for Japanese Kamikaze aircraft inbound.
The USS Laffey (DD 724) was on picket duty. She was already a veteran of D-Day where she served with Pearl Harbor survivor USS Nevada, and then several other actions in the Pacific.
A flight of approximately 50 Japanese suicide planes attacked the fleet, and many of them chose to target the tiny destroyer. Val diver bombers and others repeatedly dove on the desperately maneuvering ship while the Laffey’s gun crews kept up a killing fire. The crew kept fighting, shooting down several of the bombers, taking numerous bomb hits and being impacted by six of the Kamikazes.
A flight of 4 Grumman Wildcat F4F’s and a squadron of 12 F4U Corsairs from nearby carriers raced in the help, shooting down some of the attackers. A couple of the fighters went down in the melee, including one Corsair which clipped the destroyer’s antennas before crashing into the sea. Fortunately all of the flyers were rescued.
The Navy’s most notable Historian, Samuel Eliot Morrison, said, “Probably no ship has ever survived an attack of the intensity she experienced.”
The Presidential Unit Citation awarded to the Laffey’s crew read:
CITATION: “For extraordinary heroism in action as a Picket Ship on Radar Picket Station Number One during an attack by approximately thirty enemy Japanese planes, thirty miles northwest of the northern tip of Okinawa, April 16, 1945. Fighting her guns valiantly against waves of hostile suicide planes plunging toward her from all directions, the U.S.S. LAFFEY set up relentless barrages of antiaircraft fire during an extremely heavy and concentrated air attack. Repeatedly finding her targets, she shot down eight enemy planes clear of the ship and damaged six more before they crashed on board. Struck by two bombs, crash-dived by suicide planes and frequently strafed, she withstood the devastating blows unflinchingly and, despite severe damage and heavy casualties, continued to fight effectively until the last plane had been driven off. The courage, superb seamanship and indomitable determination of her officers and men enabled the LAFFEY to defeat the enemy against almost insurmountable odds, and her brilliant performance in this action, reflects the highest credit upon herself and the United States Naval Service.”
For the President,
/s/ James Forrestal
Secretary of the Navy
You can still walk the decks where these brave men fought and several died aboard the Laffey at Patriot’s Point in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. Her museum location is significant as she was named for US Navy Seaman Bartlett Laffey, who earned the Medal of Honor during the Civil War, which began in Charleston Harbor.
Today in History, March 9: 1945:
The Firebombing of Tokyo. General Curtis Lemay, hero of the air war in the Pacific, had been given the task of using American air power to end the war without losing untold numbers of American lives.
As part of that effort, on this date in 1945, over 300 B-29 Superfortress bombers took off from Tinian and Saipan in the Marianas en route to Tokyo. A little after midnight, they began dropping thousands of tons of incendiary bombs.
The result was a firestorm that engulfed 15 square miles of the city, which was composed mostly of wooden structures with paper walls. The numbers vary from 90,000 to 120,000, but the death toll was enormous. The citizens of Tokyo were unable to escape the flames fueled by 30 knot winds.
As much is made of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, neither matched the death toll of the firestorm in Tokyo. The only difference was that the atomic attacks took one bomber with one bomb rather than thousands of bombs with hundreds of bombers.