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23 2 The Makings of a Mission With the pieces in place to strike Honshu, the need to overcome the basic challenges of bombing remained. Flak, weather, bombing accuracy, and fighters plagued a bomber in different ways, and the skies over Japan came as no exception. Experience in Europe taught several harsh lessons to the strategic-bombing adherents. Flak’s accuracy and volume proved a real danger to the bombers, and the accuracy of visual bombing in combat conditions failed to meet the theoretical and controlled test numbers determined before the war. Worst of all, fighter technology had not only caught up with bomber development but left it well behind. The ferocity of the fighting and the losses experienced over occupied Europe left American bomber commanders shaken. The men destined to lead the b-29 into combat over Japan all experienced the tribulations of the European campaign firsthand. Haywood Hansell commanded the 1st Bomb Wing (bw) and served as deputy commander in chief of the Allied Expeditionary Air Force. Curtis LeMay took the 305th Bomb Group (bg) to England and personally led them on the mission against the Messerschmitt aircraft factory in Regensburg, Germany, during the infamous Schweinfurt-Regensburg missions of August 17, 1943. Brig. Gen. (later full Gen.) Lauris Norstad, before taking his position as Hap Arnold’s righthand man, distinguished himself as chief of staff for operations of the 12th af in Italy. The challenges lurking over Japan offered no surprises to these men, men who knew the potentially frightful cost strategic bombing could incur over enemy territory. The challenges were the same but unique over Japan. Halfway around the world from Europe, the Japanese had the same basic tools the makings of a mission 24 as the Germans, but in different quantities and different qualities. A few geographical surprises added to the challenge. The omnipresent threat to bombers rose to meet them in the form of antiaircraft fire, solid or exploding projectiles at low altitude and exploding shells from larger-caliber guns at high altitudes. Attacking fighters came and left, but flak hounded the attacking force, with one unlucky hit sending a plane plunging to its doom. The Germans made antiaircraft fire an institution, coining the name flak as a shortened version of Fliegerabwehrkanone, meaning aircraft-defense cannon . Daily over occupied Europe, planes flew through flak said to be thick enough to walk on, creating a deadly reputation for the weapon. According to Curtis LeMay, though, this reputation was based more on perception than reality. A veteran of the European bomber war, LeMay had no respect for flak. In various interviews and his autobiography he relates how he sat up one night shortly after arriving in England with his b-17 group to calculate how likely the infamous German flak was to shoot down a bomber flying straight and level. Using his old field artillery manual for guidance, he accounted for rate of fire, altitude of the bombers, intelligence estimate of the number of guns, and typical artillery dispersion and came up with 372 rounds as the number needed to hit a bomber. “They’ve got to lift a lot of rounds upstairs to get a hit on a target our size,” he concluded. “We could take this.”1 Take it they could, and take it they did. What the Germans had in spades with flak weapons the Japanese simply did not have at all. As bomber war historian Kenneth Werrell points out, the Japanese “received only limited assistance from the Germans and also failed to fully mobilize their civilian scientists .”2 This limited their production and development of antiaircraft weapons and left their cities vulnerable. Like the Germans, the Japanese possessed flak for varying altitudes . Lower altitudes were covered by 20- or 25-millimeter guns with effective ranges out to 8,000 feet. With high rates of fire but minimal range, these guns protected against small fighter/bomber aircraft but provided no value against high-altitude strategic bombers . To hit altitudes above 20,000 feet, large-caliber guns with timefused exploding shells were required. In this category the Japanese possessed guns ranging from 75 to 150 millimeters, but they relied the makings of a mission 25 almost exclusively on the Type 88 75-millimeter cannon. Adopted for service in 1928, the Type 88 fired a 14.5-pound time-fused shell designed to explode at the altitude of the bombers. At a firing rate of ten to fifteen rounds per minute, the Type 88 could be...


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