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.
Today in History, February 13: 1945:
British bombers stage a night attack on Dresden, Germany. Later American bombers would stage a daytime attack. Most recent studies indicate 25,000 civilians died, not 500,000 as the Nazis claim.
What is a fact is that the incendiary bombs caused a firestorm that destroyed most of the city.
1965: President Johnson authorized “Operation Rolling Thunder”, the strategic bombing of targets in North Vietnam in an attempt to stem the tide of enemy troops and supplies streaming into the combat zone. More tonnage of bombs would dropped than in WWII before the operation was called off in 1968.
Today in History, January 19, 1915:
Germany begins aerial bombing of Britain using dirigibles, mostly Zeppelins during WWI.
The attacks would cause many deaths, but would be mostly ineffective and inaccurate.
The Zeppelins would eventually be replaced with aircraft. The bombings would lead to an early warning system and tactics by the Royal Air Force which would carry into the Battle of Britain during WWII.
Many civilians would die in the Zeppelin raids, leading to them being labeled “baby killers”, raising anger rather than the intended demoralization.
Today in History, December 8: 1941 –
The US Navy Task Force focused around the USS Enterprise (CV-6) aircraft carrier, short on supplies and fuel, enters Pearl Harbor in the dark of night to re-provision as quickly as possible. Uncertainty reigns; nobody knows if the surprise attack by Japanese aircraft was the precursor to an invasion…
The men of the Task Force are horrified by the destruction they are witnessing; mighty ships they had seen just days before lay smoldering and efforts to rescue untold numbers of their friends trapped in the ships were ongoing. The stench of burning oil and bodies permeates the night air.
The commander of the Task Force, Vice Admiral William Halsey observes the carnage from the bridge of the Enterprise and angrily utters one of what will be many memorable quotes from him during the war, “Before we’re through with ’em, the Japanese language will be spoken only in hell!”
Today, of course, Japan is one of our closest and most faithful allies. But on December 8, 1941, and for years to come, the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and other allied basis left no room for anything but battle.
Today in History, November 11: 1940 – A History changing event. The British aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious launches several obsolete aircraft, “Fairey Swordfish” torpedo aircraft…flying kites, really, in an attack on the Italian Naval Base at Taranto, Italy.
The Harbor was shallow, so the Italians thought they were safe. In this, the first attack by aircraft from a carrier, the Italian navy was devastated, by what many naval officers considered a gimmick…the airplane. On the other side of the world, someone took notice of the successful attack. The Imperial Japanese Navy was encouraged in their plans against Pearl Harbor…also a shallow anchorage considered safe. Naval History was changed…tactics forever adapted by those few British pilots.
The Senate was expected to be in session late, but managed to finish early, around 7 PM. A few hours later a bomb which had been placed beneath a bench outside the Republican cloakroom exploded. The device blew the doors off of the office of Democrat leader Robert Byrd and nearly destroyed the painting of Senate legend Daniel Webster.
A five year investigation led to the arrest of six members of the “resistance conspiracy” for the Senate bombing, and bombings at Ft. McNair and the historic Washington Navy Yard.
Shocking, but not as unusual as one might think.
In 1971 a bomb was set off in the Senate by the “weather underground”, another radical group.
In 1915, a German Harvard University professor planted 3 sticks of dynamite in the Senate building in protest of American financiers who we assisting Great Britain in WWI. He then attempted to assassinate JP Morgan. After being arrested, he committed suicide.