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Fire Bomb Raids


On Jan. 20, 1945, Maj. Gen. Curtis E. LeMay took command of the 21st Bomber Command. Earlier, experimental missions using incendiary bombs had been carried out against Japanese cities with inconclusive results; however, a high-altitude "fire bomb" raid on Feb. 3 against the city of Kobe proved encouraging. Based on this and other trial raids, General LeMay took a calculated risk and radically revised bombing strategy, changing from high-altitude, daylight precision bombing with high-explosive bombs to low-altitude night missions using incendiary bombs.

The first target was Tokyo and on the night of March 9-10, 334 B-29s struck at altitudes of 5,000-9,000 feet, starting fires, which, aided by winds, burned out almost 16 square miles of the city. Destruction in other crowded industrial cities in follow-up raids was tremendous, wiping out thousands of war production facilities interspersed in the residential areas. B-29 losses to enemy action during these night raids were practically nil, despite the fact that B-29 bomb capacity had been increased by removing most aircraft defensive armament.

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