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The Fire Bombing Raid Over Tokyo 10 April 1945;100,000 Dead

Updated on April 11, 2020
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A senior air warrior, graduate from the Staff College and a PG in military studies. He is qualified to write on war and allied matters.


When I woke up in the morning today I found a video sent by Jaggi Vasudev popularly called Sadhguru. He is an Indian Yogi who is involved in various activities including yoga, spirituality, and Hinduism. Sadhguru reminded people that today is 10 April and on this very day the American had carried out a massive inhuman bombing of Tokyo during World War II. He went on to add that as per the theory of Karma in Hinduism such a barbaric act is balanced by God and nature.

I have studied the 10th April raid of the United States Air Force over Tokyo and I find no justification for it. This campaign was also studied by us at the Staff College when we were getting ready to appear for our post-graduation in military studies.

President Roosevelt in 1938 had admonished all powers in Europe not to bomb civilian areas and follow a code of conduct in war. He forgot all about this when he approved orders to bomb Tokyo.

Early in the morning of 10th April, as the Japanese slept in their low-rise, wooden homes, the first bombers over Tokyo appeared and started five sets of marking fires, to identify the targets for the main bomber force. Between 1:30 a.m. and 3:00 a.m., the main force of American B-29s unleashed 500,000 M-69 bombs, each one clustered in groups of 38 and weighing six pounds. The clusters would separate during their descent and small parachutes would carry each bomblet to the ground.

Tokyo aflame
Tokyo aflame

The Raid

Once President Roosevelt had approved the bombing, the bombers began to leave their bases on Saipan, Tinian, and Guam on 9th April for the seven-hour, 1,500-mile flight to Japan. The plane used was the B-29, an engineering marvel at that time.

The B-29 had originally been conceived to strike at Nazi Germany direct from the continental US in the event of Britain being occupied by the Wehrmacht. The B-29 -- with its ability to fly for long duration and carry heavy bombloads was ideal for taking the war to the Japanese homeland.

After the marking raid, the main bomber fleet emerged. Between 1:30 a.m. and 3:00 a.m., the main force of American B-29s dropped 500,000 M-69 bombs, each one clustered in groups of 38 and weighing six pounds.

The USAAF used over 300 B-29 for this raid. As per records available more than 100,000 Japanese people were killed almost all civilians. A figure of one million injured would be a conservative estimate.

The bombs created an inferno that reduced an area of 15.8 square miles to ash. The human toll that night exceeded that of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki later that year, where the initial blasts killed about 70,000 people and 46,000 people respectively.

While the Allied bombing of Dresden in Germany in February generated a debate but the 75th anniversary of this raid has gone largely unremembered. The Americans would not like to be reminded of this attack and obviously, there is no mention of this in the American press.

At that time the Americans gloating over the success of the firebombing raid and they selected 10 more cities for similar treatment. This continued till August 1945 when President Truman authorized the use of the atomic bomb on Japan.

The commander of the US strategic air force was General Curtis Le May. Later he acknowledged the sheer brutality of the bombing. He was a hard realist and stated that if the USA had lost the war, he would have been tried as a war criminal. LeMay was hailed as a hero, awarded numerous medals and later promoted as full general to command the US Strategic Air Command.

Aerial view
Aerial view

Last Word

Important questions of ethics and propriety come up once this raid is discussed. The matter came up in the war crimes tribunal in Tokyo. The Indian jurist on the panel Vinod Rai Pal gave a dissenting judgment. He clearly stated that he found the Japanese leadership 'not guilty' of crimes against humanity or waging war. In his lengthy dissenting judgment he brought out that this tribunal was not representative of any form of justice as it did not include the war crimes committed by the American Generals like the atomic bombing and firebombing of Japan on civilian targets.

I will add one last word before closing. The chief of the directing staff a Brigadier who was leading the discussion on the sand model made a cryptic comment and asked all of us to think about it. He mentioned that would the Americans have used the atomic bomb on Germany if the war had continued for a few more months?

Now we have reams of evidence available that the Americans knowing Japan was defeated wanted to laboratory test their weapon in a real-life situation and they chose Japan for it.

Lord Krishna in his divine message in the Bhagavad-Gita states that everyone will have to bear the consequences of his karma action. Hindu Scriptures point out that war is a profession but at the same time it does not involve killing defenseless people.


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