Mr. Johnson, USMC – Part I


“Koji, funerals don’t do a damn thing for me anymore.”

That was Mr. Johnson’s reply while I was driving us to Old Man Jack’s funeral.  I had asked him to help hold me together as I knew I would fall apart.

“Oh-oh,” I thought to myself when I heard that curt reply.  “I guess I hit a nerve…”

_____________________________

Old man Jack on the left, Mr. Johnson on the right. Taken June 30, 2005.

Mr. Johnson was Old Man Jack’s next door neighbor.

Since 1953.

Nearly SIXTY years.  Hell, I ain’t that old yet.  Well, I’m close.

They got along real well for those 60 years… except Jack was a sailor… and Mr. Johnson was a Marine.  They reminded each other of it often.

Lovingly, of course.

Old Man Jack happily reminisced that “…us white caps would also tussle with them Marines ‘cuz they thought they were better than us”.  But Jack would have gotten the short end of the stick if he took on Mr. Johnson.  He towered over Jack and me…

And Mr. Johnson was a decorated WWII Marine.

Decorated twice…that I know of.

_____________________________

The neighborhood called him “Johnnie”.  I always addressed him as Mr. Johnson…He used to say, “Damn it, Koji.  I wish you’d stop calling me that.”

I never did call him Johnnie.

But in the end, we found out his real name was Doreston.  Doreston Johnson.

Born August 1, 1923 in Basile, Louisiana.  A tiny town, he said, and everyone was dirt broke.

But I wish I knew why he wanted to go by “Johnnie” but later, I discovered Doreston was his father’s name.

_____________________________

After Jack passed away, I visited with him.  He opened up a bit.

The Depression made it tough on everybody but then war…

When war broke out, he was gung ho like many young boys at that time.

It was expected.  You were branded a coward if you didn’t enlist or eluded the draft.  You were at the bottom of the heap if you got classified 4F.

He said went to the Army recruiting station.  They said they met their quota, couldn’t take him right away and to try again next week.

He then went to the Navy recruiter.  They also said pretty much the same thing but that there was an outfit “over there that’ll take ya”.

It was the United States Marine Corps.

Notice the 1903 Springfield in this 1942 recruiting poster.

The Marines “took him”…right then and there, he said.

Mr. Johnson said, “I was a dumb, stupid kid at that time”  – slowly shaking his head…but with a boyish little grin.

____________________________

It was 1941…  When the United States Navy had their backs against the beaches…  MacArthur blundered after Pearl Harbor and thousands of soldiers were taken prisoner in the Philippines.

The country’s military was poorly equipped and poorly trained.  With outdated equipment like the 1903 Springfield and the Brewster Buffalo.  And most gravely, the US Navy was outgunned.

Mr. Johnson was in for it.

To be continued.  Mr. Johnson, USMC – Part II here

Two Old Men and a Father’s Day Anguish


It was Monday, Valentines’ Day 2001.  My wife was five months pregnant at the time we moved into this wonderful neighborhood smothered in US Naval glory.  After I came back from work the next day, she told me a kind old man stopped her as she was wheeling out the trash bin.  She said he hobbled from across our quiet, peppercorn lined street then kindly wheeled them out for her.

I found out the “old man” was a World War II combat vet.  Worse yet, he was a sailor in the Pacific – he fought the Japanese in World War II.

“Holy crap,” flashed through my mind, “What if he finds out we’re Japanese?”

Twelve years later, I was honored to have been a pallbearer at his funeral.

I was so far off base about my first thoughts on Old Man Jack that even George Burns could have picked me off without being called for a balk…and this while he was in his grave.

I felt so ashamed.

_____________________________

I snapped this picture of a happy Jack Garrett when we went to the Chino Planes of Fame in 2003.

“Young man, get over here and plant your butt in that chair,” barked old man Jack from his cluttered garage across the street.  Having lived in that house since 1953, it was filled with his life history.

“But I have my stogie going, Jack”, said I.

“Well, I can see it and I sure as hell can smell it.  Now shut up and sit down.  I want to tell you something.”

That was old man Jack, my dear neighbor who lived across the street.  I like to think we were close.

He was 87 years old by that summer’s day in 2010 when he called me over.  While he had become feeble, his barrel chest was still prominent.  He was a rabble-rouser in his youth.  He was always “mixing it up” throughout his young years…  Well, he was mixing it up even while working at Northrup in the 50’s.  That makes me grin.

His handshake was always firm and warm; you didn’t need to be psychic to sense his insight and outlook on life.  He always spoke his mind.  He earned that right having been shot at, strafed, and bombed on “those stinkin’ islands” during a most bitter war.

___________________________

Taken on Father’s Day 2010

I had invited Jack to Father’s Day dinner that summer just two years ago; my Dad who was 91 was coming as well.

Jack knew my dad was US Army but I fretted over what they would say to each other when they first met.  Or how they would react to one another.  It was more than just a concern over the centuries old rivalry between Army and Navy.

Dad was in the front room when Jack rang the bell – right on time as always.  Jack had on his favorite blue plaid shirt; he wore it often as it had a pocket for his glasses.  I often wondered how often he washed it, though.  Jack and Dad are shown here on Father’s Day 2010.

“Dad,” I said, “This is Jack, US Navy, Aviation Machinist’s Mate, First Class, the Pacific.”

“Jack, this is my Dad.  US 8th Army, sergeant, Military Intelligence Service.”

Although not as agile as they once were, they immediately saluted each other.

_______________________

You didn’t need a sound system to hear them.  Dad and Jack are both hard of hearing.

It was easy to hear Jack ask Dad what he did in the Army.  Dad explained he went into a room once a week and retrieved a crate from a room that reeked of dry cleaning.  (The crates contained documents, photos and other personal items written in Japanese.  They were removed from a WWII battlefield.)  He would then translate them for military intelligence.

I had to tend to cooking so I lost track of the conversation.  It was regretful I didn’t keep tuned in.

_______________________

So back to being called over by Jack.  He was sitting in his favorite blue wheelchair.  He didn’t need it but it belonged to his beloved wife Carol who passed away ten years before.  They married in the waning days of the war.  They had been married for 55 strong years.

“So what did you want to tell me, Jack?” I asked.

He then went into his trance – one signaling evident anguish and remembrances.  When he went into these trances, he always started by staring at his hands while picking at his right thumbnail with his left ring finger.  He would lift his once thick eyebrows then begin talking in a slow, deliberate pace, never taking his eyes off his hands.

“I went on ID patrol…” Jack whispered.

“ID patrol?  What is that?” I asked.

“They would issue six of us white caps M1s with bayonets…  Then we’d follow two Marines on a patrol into the jungle.”

“Patrol?  You?  You were ground crew, Jack,” I remarked.

“Ain’t enough of them (Marines) to go around on those stinkin’ islands so we got picked,” he said, still speaking in a lifeless monotone.  He added, “If you got killed, you rotted real quick in that heat.  And if you got killed with shit in your pants, you got buried with shit in your pants.”

His stare doesn’t change.  His eyes have glassed over.  He is in a different world – one that only combat veterans understand.  You and I never will.  Thankfully.

“The Marines had two bags – one small one and a big one.  When we found one, the two Marines would stand guard.  We’d hold the rifle by the butt end and use the fixed bayonet to fish out the tags.”

I then realized what he was painfully regurgitating.  They were going back into the jungle to locate the dead Marines they had to leave behind after a “tussle” with the enemy as Jack liked to say.  Jack was only 20 years old.  The Marines were likely younger.  Ponder that thought.

“We weren’t allowed to touch the (dead Marine) as the Japs would booby-trap ‘em.  We’d hand over the tags hanging on the the end of the bayonet to one of the Marines who would put a tag in the small bag.  They marked a map for the graves registration guys to come back later.”

Jack’s delivery dimmed even further.  “But we’d come across a dead Jap.  Nobody cared about them so they rotted where they were.  But we’d have to stick the bayonet into the rotting goo and try to fish stuff out.  The prize was a pouch or a satchel.  Those would go into the big duffel bag.  We headed back to CP and that’s the last I saw of those bags,” he said.

He abruptly ended but his unconscious stare didn’t change.  He was still picking at his thumbnail all this time.  His head hardly moved while he sat in the blue wheelchair that belonged to his beloved wife.

I thought to myself, “Is that the end, Jack?  That’s it?  Why did you tell me this?”  I knew not to pry any more so I kept the thoughts to myself.  He was in torment already.  Seventy years had passed but he was reliving the awfulness of a brutal war.  Nevertheless, I wondered why he chose that time to tell me about this horrific recall of something he experienced so very young.

It bugged me for several weeks.

____________________

About a month later, I understood why Jack told me the story.  Apparently, the items they recovered from Japanese corpses were dry cleaned to remove the rotting body fluids.  After getting dry cleaned, they ended up in the crates that were in the room my Dad went into once a week when he was in the Military Intelligence Service…and why the room reeked of dry cleaning.

The brief chat with my dad on Father’s Day sparked that memory back to life.  It had been eating at him since that day.  He wanted to get it off his barrel chest.

I lament to this day that a Father’s Day dinner had resulted in an unwanted recall of horror Jack was very much trying to forget.  More so, I lament he relived such horrors each night for the last 70 years of his life.  Seventy years.

Jack was a great man to have endured combat in the Pacific during World War II.  He was an immeasurable giant in learning to forgive – although he was never able to forget.

I miss him greatly.  I thanked him for all we have when I visited him today at his grave on this glorious Memorial Day.

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 4


p38

One of my WWII aviation lithographs; it shows a P-38 Lightning ironically over Leyte where my uncle was killed. Drawn by my good friend Mike Machat.

The View From the Ground

“うわぁ。。。二つの尻尾。。。それはその時代の飛行機だ。。。”, my Aunt Eiko said. “Oh, my… The twin tails… Its that plane from (the war).”

She just saw my lithograph of a WWII P-38 Lightning.  She and my parents had come for the first time after we moved into our house across the street from Old Man Jack. I had just put up my WWII aviation art gallery and she immediately recognized this US fighter plane with its distinctive twin tails from the war.  She said it strafed the high school that she was walking near.  She was about 18 years old.

Funny how things stick in your mind from war.

___________________________

Circa 1930

(L to R) Mom and Aunt Eiko, circa 1931. Tokyo.

Along with my mom and grandparents, Aunt Eiko lived within walking distance of the Imperial Palace in Shimbashi, Tokyo.  Back then, the Emperor was god.  To live so close to the Imperial Palace meant your family had some extra change.

Although a photo of their house from that time no longer exists, the home was typical of that time.  Beams and floors made of wood. Doors called “shoji” (framed in light wood with paper “windows”) slid open and close.  By sliding, they saved space as regular doors would have to swing open and close, taking away precious space.  The floors were “tatami”, or boards wound with rice straw.  Believe me, they are uncomfortable to sit on to say the least.  Many homes still sported thatched roofs, or kusabuki, made with layers of a type of reed.  But all in all, the homes were made with wood products or straw.  Not exactly fireproof.

image0-017retouched

My Aunt Mieko (dad’s side of family) standing in front of our traditional style home, circa 1936. Although my dad’s home shown here is in Hiroshima, the construction is the same as my aunt’s: wood and paper. Behind her are the “shoji”, or sliding door panels as well as the hard tatami mats. As a side note, all these shoji were blown out by the atomic shock wave.

________________________________

As three generations usually lived in a family home, Aunt Eiko had the same close knit circle of girl friends having stayed together through high school.  Families rarely moved back then.  The girls took classes in “kimono”, shamisen (a guitar of sorts) and cooking – very traditional fare for a Japanese girl.  To them, etiquette was to be followed, never to be broken.  I would think she had a crush on someone just as any girl would have…but she has not said.

image0-34

Aunt Eiko, front row, third from left, and circle of close friends. Her closest friend, standing to the left of her, was slightly burned during a firebombing.  Taken atop the Asahi Newspaper Building, Tokyo, Oct. 30, 1937.

__________________________________

Before the Firebombing

Sometime in late 1943, my aunt says my grandfather decided to move the family, a rarity, due to her illnesses.  Apparently, my grandfather thought the unhealthy downtown Tokyo air was exacerbating her ills so they moved into another wooden frame home in Higashi Senzoku, a couple of kilometers south of Shimbashi.  It does not appear potential bombings by US planes was the reason to move at this time.

Soon thereafter, though, the family received mandatory evacuation orders (強制疎開). My Aunt believes this to be late in 1944… Times were tough.  Food supplies had already dwindled to nearly nothing. To make it worse, only older doctors remained as many younger ones were conscripted into the Imperial Japanese Army as well.

They moved to her grandfather’s home in Omiya, Tokyo; it is about a mile due west of the Imperial Palace:

omiya visio

Omiya, the Imperial Palace and childhood home.

A drawing of the wood home in Omiya:

keizu crp

The actual traditional wooden home (立ての木) in Omiya, Tokyo where my family took refuge during the bombings. It is about a mile west of the Imperial Palace. This was drawn on extremely thin paper – much thinner than the old tracing paper we had here in the States – by my great-grandfather, Wakio Shibayama. Undated but post-war.

The Firebombing

bakudan1

My aunt’s writing. (Copyright Koji Kanemoto)

March 9, 1945 was about two weeks before my Aunt Eiko’s 19th birthday.  Due to the strenuous and meager living conditions, I doubt any birthday party was in the works.  I doubt there were many birthday parties at all.  There was little to be had as Japan was losing… and losing badly.

Aunt Eiko was at their grandfather’s house in Omiya that night when the pathfinders found their mark.  She says they all gathered in the front yard to gaze towards the Imperial Palace after hearing the first explosions.

She notes on the left:

東京大空襲が3月10日にあっておじいさんの家の庭でB-29の爆弾、焼夷弾が落とされる時の雨が降る様な音とその爆弾の数の多いことにだいたいおどかされた。そのおとのザ~ザ~というのが今でも耳にのこっている。

In doing my best at translating, she says:

We were in the front yard of my grandfather’s house when the firebombing started on March 10.  The B-29s were dropping shocking amounts of bombs and firebombs – so many that they sounded like heavy rain coming down.  I will never forget that sound (of the falling bombs); it is still vivid in my ears even today.

A year earlier, my youngest daughter was interviewing her for a 5th grade family biography project.  One requirement was that the family member’s history was interesting or unusual.  Naturally, since experiences like my aunt’s are not found in school textbooks today, I recommended she interview Aunt Eiko about her war experiences in Tokyo.

ちょうちん

提灯 or paper lantern.

During the interview, Aunt Eiko said the (AN-M69) incendiary sticks were like thousands of 撥 (bachi, or the drumsticks used for taiko drums) raining down from the sky… that there were so many of them that it looked like swarms of insects.  She also described the thousands of trailing streamers (attached to each stick) reminded her of ribbons fluttering in the breeze.¹  Unlike what many of us believe, she said the B-29s came for hours… that there would be a rash of explosions then the B-29s would disappear only to hear the now familiar drone of more B-29s approaching then more bombs.

In earlier conversations², she described seeing hundreds of flashes of light at roof top level during the firebombings.  It wasn’t clear to me then but it is clear now that the flashes she witnessed were likely the smaller high explosive bombs dropped from the B-29s hitting structures and exploding.  She also sadly described the homes burned like 提灯 (chouchin, or paper lanterns) and that the waves of heat (like looking through the heat waves rising from your street in summer) distorted distances.  It made it hard to judge how far – or how close – the fires were.

The Firestorm

The main concentrations of fire occurred not just in the area behind and to the left of the Imperial Palace; Aunt Eiko said incendiaries (possibly dispersed due to the heat thermals) ignited neighborhoods just to the left of her Omiya house where they were staying. (Embers would have achieved the same results, however, and may be more likely.)

Screen

The city’s fire department was largely staffed by women who were not professional firefighters. Importantly, note the clothing worn by the mother and child in the forefront. Source: “The Reports of General MacArthur“.

According to studies, death occurred through suffocation, incineration, and heat.

Fed by winds and with a fire department largely staffed by women volunteers, the fires spread rapidly and raged out of control. These firefighters attempted throwing dirt or sand on the incendiaries, a hopeless effort. When there was water pressure, the water pressure was low.  Reports indicated the firefighters tried to douse the civilians as they fled but the water would soon evaporate from the heat.

Suffocation occurred as the great fires sucked all the oxygen out of the air. They just couldn’t breathe.  Those that were able to find cooler river water tried to keep their faces above the water; but they, too, simply suffocated due to the lack of oxygen. In some instances, fleeing civilians attempted to seek shelter in areas that had pretty much burned but their bodies were found later in a small cluster.  They suffocated to death together as oxygen became depleted.

Extreme heat was another cause of death as temperatures soared to 1,800F.  Asphalt bubbled and steel bridges became frying pans.  People panicking ran or were herded towards bridges or rivers only to be pushed into the waters by the ensuing masses of humanity trying to flee.  Unfortunately, the water was at boiling temperatures and they were essentially boiled to death once they fell in.  Escape paths were blocked with debris, downed power poles, burning trees…and bodies.  If one could not escape the heat, that person simply burst into flames.  Horrifically, superheated air swirled down towards street level.  People would then literally burn from the feet up when their pants would catch fire.

taka-hide

A Japanese artist’s depiction. Note the pants on fire and the swirling heat.  While unsure, the name appears to be Takahide.

Incineration was the worst, the most painful death I would assume.  One aspect not widely known by the general populace is their type of clothing contributed greatly to their demise of burning to death.  Their cloth-based head gear (see painting of women firefighters shown earlier) was meant to protect their ears and head from bomb explosions – not a firestorm.  In the end, this protective head gear easily caught fire as did their loose fitting trousers.  Aunt Eiko reported a girl she knew ran from the fires with a baby strapped onto her back in traditional Japanese style.  Through all the noise, screaming and running, the girl was unable to notice until too late that burning jellied gasoline had landed on the baby’s face and died.

No photos of corpses are deemed necessary here.

Aftermath

tokyofires

A wall exhibit at the Tokyo History Museum, showing the extent of the area destroyed by firebombing. The Imperial Palace is just right of center. The Omiya house is in the burned zone, in the very center.

Aunt Eiko has never said whether the Omiya home survived the firebombings and I don’t intend to ask.  While this Tokyo raid was the first of several, I cannot understand why my great-grandfather would have sketched the home out, apparently from memory, unless it no longer existed.

Japanese reports of the aftermath indicate that due to the thousands of burned corpses or of those who suffocated, it was nearly impossible to walk through Tokyo without stepping on bodies.  Further, as the seared corpses disintegrated, their ashes would swirl up into the air.

She, my mother and grandmother finally fled the city on or about July 1, 1945; grandfather stayed behind for reasons never known to her.  They lived at another cousin’s yam farm in Fukui, helping to farm the fields while living on meager rations.

The war ended six weeks later.  What happened in between is another story altogether.

Part 5 of “The Firebombing of Tokyo” will be an epilogue.

I hope you will stay tuned.

Part 1 is here.

Part 2 is here.

Part 3 is here.

__________________________________

NOTES:

1. That even surprised me as I didn’t know the incendiaries had streamers, so much so that I asked her what she was talking about.

2. Just like Old Man Jack and many other combat veterans, Aunt Eiko (along with my father) suppresses many of the horrific war experiences she witnessed.  She “gives” things out little by little.

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 3


smisek-100-5

Actual photo of firestorm in Tokyo during a firebombing mission. Courtesy of S. Smisek.

The Long, Perilous Flight to Tokyo

Capt. Ray Smisek loved to fly above all else per his son, S. Smisek.  Indeed, he was a most capable pilot being the Aircraft Commander (A/C) of a B-29 of the 330th’s City of San Francisco (SN 44-69800)“, a gleaming silver bird that carried ten other young men.

But he didn’t ask to be in that pilot’s seat in 1945 let alone be responsible for ten other young lives.

smisek-10

A drawing by S. Smisek showing his father and the crew of the “City of San Francisco” at their respective stations.

He had his orders. Orders from General Curtis LeMay.

_________________________________

Per Aviation History Online Museum, “the B-29 (initially) had a maximum permissible weight of around 105,000 pounds which was quickly upgraded to 138,000 pounds. During the latter phases of the war with Japan, gross take-off weights of well over 140,000 pounds were fairly common for the Superfortress.

A whopping 40% of the fuselage was dedicated to carrying bombs. The double bomb bay could carry 16,000 pounds to a target 2,050 miles away and return to base. It took 6,988 gallons of 100 octane aircraft fuel to fill the tanks. The maximum capacity was 9,548 gallons with ferry-tanks in the bomb bays, in which case the range was extended to 6,000 miles.” [1]

If the crew was lucky to return, they would have logged over 15 hours in the round trip from their airstrip on Guam to Tokyo.

As you complain today about the leg room on your five hour flight to New York , think about their 15-hour flights.  No flight attendant.  No movie…and you certainly aren’t shot at. [2]

__________________________________

The Decision to Firebomb

Without getting into detail, Brigadier General Haywood S. Hansell  was in command of XXI Bomber Command in the Marianas in 1944. Dismal bombing results were being attained by the B-29s flying out of China, primarily due to only 5% of the bombs hitting target from 30,000′.  One other significant contributor to the poor results was the before-mentioned unreliability of the B-29 engines.  They had a tendency to overheat during the climb to bombing altitude or at other inconvenient times.  Many young lives were lost and not due to enemy fire.  In addition, the wind currents over Japan were wicked; bombs dropped from even 20,000′ would land nearly a mile away off target. [3]

Wind currents and cloud cover over Japan. National Archives.

Wind currents and cloud cover over Japan. National Archives.

The USAAF – particularly the cigar smoking and belligerent General Curtis LeMay – was dissatisfied with Hansell’s leadership of XXI Bomber Command.  LeMay took over in January 1945.  Even under LeMay’s command, the same poor results were initially obtained but after “successful” bombing missions over Kobe and Tokyo, LeMay officially changed his overall bombing strategy: he ordered the B-29s designed for high-altitude bombing to go in at 5,000′ to 9,000′…and to carry incendiaries along with smaller fragmentation bombs.  LeMay had also been inspired by the bombing of Dresden. [4]

Ray Smisek, Captain of the “City of San Francisco”, had his orders. His crew was bound for Japan.

__________________________________

The Flight

smisek-100-8

Capt. Smisek’s B-29 was at the upper left. For a detailed description of how these huge, bomb laden B-29s would take off for a mission to Japan, please see S. Smisek’s write up at https://flic.kr/p/49N5vr.

They say ballet is a difficult art form that yields beautiful results.  Timing, training and execution.  It all pays off at the end.

However, no one dies.

Indeed, to get hundreds of B-29s laden with jellied gasoline bombs and 8,000 gallons of high octane fuel into the air was like a ballet.  It took timing, intensive training and execution.

But men died.  It was not a simple task even when perfectly executed.

Because these laden B-29s were at their weights limits and powered by four unreliable behemoth engines, some planes crashed during take-off due to engine malfunction.

Perhaps you can imagine the thoughts racing through Capt. Smisek’s head as his B-29 thundered down the runway, straining to achieve sufficient airspeed to lift off – before he got to the end of the runway.

The Attacks

formation

B-29 formations such as this one rarely occurred for bombing attacks on Japan. Source unknown.

Pilots knew anything could happen during a mission.  A plane could have turned back due to mechanical problems or crashed.  No flight plan EVER went according to plan so two basic approaches to bombing Japan existed: one for daylight bombing and one for night time bombing.

Briefly, once in the air, B-29s would fly individually to an assembly point about 100 miles from Japan for daylight bombing.  They flew “on their own”, so to speak, as fuel was a high concern.  Flying in formation will consume more fuel and individual pilots could adjust for their own flight environment. Every gallon DID count. Upon a signal from the navigator, the captain would nudge the huge plane up to bombing altitude, normally 20,000′ to 30,000′.  This climb was also another precarious phase: engines could overheat and they did.  If they overheated too much, they would erupt in fire.  If not put out, the fire would quickly burn through the wing spar with disastrous results.

While no one knew exactly how many B-29s would make it to the assembly point, the planes that got there would line up with a “lead” plane at the assembly point then follow the lead to target (Capt. Smisek was such a lead plane.).  They would likely be in flights of three to four but no more than ten (i.e., three formations).  When the lead dropped their ordnance, so would the others.  S. Smisek reported his father “…comment(ed) once about how the B-29 would lurch up as 10 tons of bombs were released”.

For the night time firebombing raids, the B-29s would still take-off from Guam at one minute intervals but each would have their own course and altitude.  However, before the rest of the squadron arrived, pathfinders made their drops first.  They would literally criss-cross over their target and drop their incendiaries, a conceptual “X marks the spot” with fires. [5]  That general “X” area became the target for the ensuing planes.

While very few photographs exist of the B-29s that night for obvious reasons, perhaps these daytime images largely provided by S. Smisek will illustrate the deathly hazards his father and crew undertook during their bombing missions to Japan. Many other privately taken pictures – many of the men – can be seen in his photostream; merely click on the images.

smisek-100-7

(Lower left) Per S. Smisek, the cockpit had been sheared off and the B-29 has rolled over onto its back. All lost. (NOTE: that is smoke, not clouds; notice the double bomb bay doors are open.)

smisek-10-6

Another B-29, a squadron mate of Capt. Ray Smisek, disintegrates after suicide planes rams it. Although two apparently bailed, they were later killed.  All KIA. Courtesy of S. Smisek.

smisek-10-7

Flak bursts amongst B-29s during the dropping of bombs. Courtesy of S. Smisek.

342-FH-3A-42696-58275AC_iwo_b29_crash_20th_af

National Archives

nihon b crash

B-29 crash site in Japan. Undated. Tail number visible. Source unknown.

nihon b29

More wreckage from a crashed B-29 in Japan. Japanese citizens surround the tail. Source unknown.

All crew members knew their fate if they bailed out over Japan.  Pilots were urged to head out to sea if at all possible and ditch in hopes of being rescued by Allied ships.  If the damage was not excessive, their goal would be Iwo Jima, just taken by the US Marines. In fact, one landed while the battle for Iwo Jima was still going.  She would be the first of hundreds of B-29s to be saved.

Tokyo

The most devastating bombing attack in history occurred on March 9-10, 1945. While the actual number CANNOT be officially established, roughly 100,000 civilians perished that first night.  In comparison, the first atomic blast over Hiroshima claimed about 80,000 lives on August 6, 1945; many were Korean slave laborers while others were Allied POWs.  While this first firebombing mission is the most well known, other firebombing missions were just as terrifying – for those in the air or on the ground.  While Capt. Smisek made his first incendiary drop over Japan on April 12th, the terror was the same.

smisek-1-5

Ray Smisek’s handwritten mission log with daytime missions on the left, nighttime missions on the right. Aborted missions (two) are on another log page. The one mission not on his handwritten log was his last: the flyover of Tokyo Bay after the Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri. Indeed, Smisek was part of that great aerial armada.

The US military deemed the factories scattered about in Tokyo needed to be shut down.  The bombers’ primary target was the industrial district just inland of Tokyo Bay.  This is where intelligence determined the factories, docks and the homes of the workers who supplied the labor for Japan’s war industry were located.  The area was a heavy concentration of Japanese traditional style wood and paper homes. My aunt lived one of these in the target area through high school.

In the few days before the attack, solitary B-29s flew over Tokyo at night, setting off search lights and flak.  No bombs were dropped as these brave souls were testing Japanese reaction to their night time intrusion.  In other words, they were scouts that actually wanted to be found by the enemy.

smisek-10

Actual AN-M69 with its infamous ribbon-like streamers. Courtesy S. Smisek.

On the night of March 9-10, 334 B-29s weighing about 70 tons each began their 15+ hour flight to Tokyo; each plane took off in one minute intervals maintaining radio silence.  As each plane was loaded with 40 clusters, the potential total number of individual AN-M69s to be released over Tokyo that night would be about 450,000 sticks (small amounts of other ordnance was dropped).

Twelve B-29 pathfinders were deployed in this attack; their mission was to set up to five targets in Tokyo.  Depending on the report, the very first pathfinders arrived over Tokyo at about 10:30 pm flying into a strong headwind.  They were met with intense flak and searchlights.  The other pathfinders arrived in succession afterwards, each marking the targets for individual planes that were following.

One by one, the initial B-29s approached on their individual courses and altitudes ranging from 5,000′ to 9,000′, seeking out the fires set by the pathfinders.  Bombardiers released the incendiary clusters accordingly over target.  When the clusters broke apart between 2,500′ and 5,000′ and released the individual AN-M69 sticks, the swirling wind scattered them about.  As one stick would puncture through a roof or otherwise hit a building, these sticks – capable of shooting flame 100 feet if unobstructed – would ignite three to five seconds later.  This would happen 450,000 times that night if all ordnance had ignited without fail.

Tokyo-A3851a

Burned out areas stretched from the bay at left to the Imperial Palace. USAAF photograph.

The stream of B-29s stretched for hundreds of miles; the bombing continued for over three hours.  Fires raged out of control.  Winds fanned the fires so intensely that temperatures at street level reached over 1,800F, bubbling asphalt.  Fire crews were amateur, comprised mostly of women as the able men had been sacrificed for war.  If someone escaped the fire, the likelihood was high that person would still suffocate to death as the firestorm consumed oxygen to feed itself.

A view from a B-29 cockpit, or "Greenhouse" as it was nicknamed.  While the smoke rising above Kobe, it should give you an idea of what Tokyo may have looked like. Courtesy of S. Smisek.

A view from a B-29 cockpit, or “Greenhouse” as it was nicknamed. While the smoke rising above Kobe, it should give you an idea of what Tokyo may have looked like. Courtesy of S. Smisek.

By the time the trailing B-29s approached, the crews were tossed around by the swirling heat thermals rising from Tokyo.  Some reported their B-29 bomber weighing 60 tons was thrust upward by 1,800 feet.  Others vomited after smelling the intense stench of burning flesh permeating through their aircraft.  Another crew member described the inferno below as flying over a forest of burning Christmas trees.  These were young men just like Capt. Ray Smisek – if not younger.

Fourteen B-29s and their crews of eleven each did not return – 154 young men.  Most of the planes were lost from the intense updrafts from the firestorm.  Two collided over target from the effects of the dense smoke and heat thermals.  It was a miracle more were not lost. [6]

The fire ran out of things to burn once it reached Tokyo Bay and concrete structures.  Fire crews had nothing to do with it.  The all clear was sounded at about 5 AM.

__________________________________

The raid achieved General LeMay’s goals and his crews did as ordered.  Again, while estimates will always vary, about 13 square miles of Tokyo ceased to exist; that is more than half the size of current day Manhattan.  Over a quarter-million homes and buildings were burned to the ground – including my Aunt Eiko’s childhood home.

Hope you will stayed tuned.  The view from the ground in Part 4.

For Part I, click here.

For Part II, click here.

__________________________________

Notes:

1. B-29 specifications, courtesy of S. Smisek; an average load would be 20,000 tons:
smisek-10-2

smisek-10-8

Assembling the incendiary bomb clusters on Guam for the next mission. (NOTE: Depending on the article read, this B-29 in Capt. Smisek’s 330th BG was still armed with the .50 caliber Browning machine guns.) Courtesy of S. Smisek.

2. A sample flight plan to a Japanese target, courtesy of S. Smisek:
smisek-10-2

3. Per S. Smisek, a contributor to the initial bombing inaccuracy was the B-29′s encounter with what is now known as the Jet Stream; this occurred as the B-29′s pressurized compartment enabled the aircraft to fly at higher altitudes (in the 23-39,000′ range).

4. LeMay understood the consequences of his command decision.  If America were to lose the war, he would be charged as a war criminal. In addition to a “bat bomb” that was actually developed by the US military, S. Smisek reports LeMay’s planners came up with dropping delayed explosive ordnance.  These were anywhere from 20lb all the way to 500lb GP HE that had up to a 30 minute delay fuse.  These were employed to kill the personnel that were dispatched to put out the fires from the incendiary bombs.

5. Per S. Smisek, the pathfinders also carried a variety of GP (General Purpose) HE (High Explosive) bombs to break up the target area.

6. In WWII, over 250,000 US airmen were killed, far surpassing those troops lost on the ground.

Michelle’s Weekly Pet Challenge


c-10-26

Hermes

For Michelle’s Weekly Pet Challenge, I present Hermes!  He’s got dirt on his nose and lip because he pushes his tennis ball out from under this white picket fence, wanting you to pick it up and throw it back in for him to chase.  His snorting while running after the ball is the cutest thing!

petchallenge

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 2


Fifi 1

Fifi – the last flying B-29 Superfortress in the world. Taken by me flying over my house on November 13, 2010. Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto

Superfortress.

Or the “Superfort”.

That’s what we called them here in the States; nicknames for the Boeing B-29 bomber.

My aunt called them “地獄からのトンボ” or dragonfly from hell.

______________________________

Development

The development of the B-29 actually started before WWII began for the US – in 1939.  Perhaps there were some shenanigans back then but Boeing had engineered a pressurized cockpit for their B-17 Flying Fortress (from whence the nickname Superfortress hailed from) for the USAAF.  Conveniently, the USAAF put together in 1939 a call for a new bomber capable of 400 mph while carrying a 20,000 pound payload.  The B-29 was born.

frye

Destroyed Frye Packing Plant. Boeing archives.

Her development was not smooth.  Indeed, it was the most advanced aircraft design of its time with its pressurized crew compartment and ten remote control dual .50 caliber Browning machine guns.  The second prototype YB-29 crashed into the Frye Packing Plant in Seattle killing her pilot, Eddie Allen, all ten of her crew of engineers as well as 19 workers on the ground.  (In fact, two engineers managed to bail out over Seattle but they were too low for their parachutes to deploy.)  As an indication of things to come, an engine caught fire 20 minutes into the flight causing the horrendous crash.  As the plane was secret, there was a tremendous cover-up as well.

BI219398

Test pilot Eddie Allen from his cockpit of the XB-29. Boeing archives.

The production of the B-29 was a nightmare.  Due to immensity of the aircraft for its time, there were no manufacturing facilities large enough to house it let alone build it.  Four assembly plants were utilized with Boeing’s Wichita plant eventually becoming the hub.  The plane’s complexity exacerbated the production; over a thousand sub-contractors were involved.  Production changes were so prevalent, numerous and on-going that even when a B-29 had been assembled, it was towed to a holding area in Wichita to have major modifications done post-production.  The freezing weather also made work a nightmare.  Production was so poor that even when about 97 were delivered in 1943, only about 15 were flyable.

80172

Source unknown.

b29-superfortress-engine-assembly-line

Posed photograph of workers working on B-29 cockpit module. National archives. Undated.

b-29 hecd

First B-29 out of Wichita, Kansas, Fall 1943. National Archives.

Some examples of these major flaws included:

  1.  Defective pressure seals around cockpit windows and gunner blisters;
  2.  As each plane had about ten miles of wiring and electronics, there were numerous failures;
  3.  Wing structure needed post-production modifications;
  4.  Cockpit glass were distorted;
  5.  The analog computers used for the new “remote control” machine guns were problematic; and,
  6.  As as mentioned, the engines overheated to the point of being set on fire during flight.

Because production of the first B-29′s were done “on the run”, the first 100 built were really built by hand by unskilled laborers.  Each one differed from another.  One end result of this production on the run was that there were significant differences in weight between supposedly identical bombers.

Only personal intervention by the great General Hap Arnold improved the production problem… but it took months.

________________________________

The first combat deployment of the B-29 occurred from the China-Burma-India theater of war on June 4, 1944.  Ninety-eight B-29s flew to targets in Thailand.  However, the results were dismal (Reports indicate perhaps one bomb hit target. Most bombs landed two kilometers off target.).  As another indicator of things to come, five B-29s were lost during the mission.  They were not lost due to enemy fire; they crashed due to mechanical failure.

The first bombing mission to Japan occurred on June 15, 1944.  Sixty-eight B-29s took off from bases around Chengdu and bombed a steel plant in Yahata, Japan.  As a first indicator of an ugly pattern, only 47  of the 68 B-29′s reached their target.

As in the XB-29 prototype crash, the engines were the most serious operational defect.  They utilized the 2,200 hp Wright R-3350 Duplex-Cyclone radial engine with 18 cylinders in two rows. One central design defect rested within the top five cylinders of the radial engine.  These radial engines needed massive air flow to cool them off.  Unfortunately, engine shortcomings, i.e., engine failures, led to a number of crashes at take off when the planes were fully loaded with ordnance or at other unfortunate times during their long flights.  Engines needed overhaul or replacement only after about 75 hours of operation to give you an idea of their unreliability.  Bombing missions to Tokyo averaged 15 hours in the air.

Later models – the B-29B or ‘”Silverplate”¹ – would be stripped of all defensive armament except for the tail gun.

Imagine being on the plane during that time flying over thousands of miles of ocean…exponentially worsened if you were under attack.

I wonder what unpleasant thoughts kept gnawing at Capt. Ray Smisek and his crew during one of their missions.

He was flying the Chevy Citation of the skies.

__________________________

Ordnance

A38767

AN-M69 cluster incendiaries were shipped in metal tubes. Source: http://www.japanairraids.org/?page_id=3242.

AN-M69s

In essence, there were many combinations of bombs used in the bombing of Tokyo.  For the purposes of this blog, we will focus on a couple.

The AN-M69 Incendiary Bomb was a cluster-type jellied gasoline (napalm) weapon; the gel would be contained in a cheesecloth sack then enclosed in a metal tube.  The Standard Oil Development Company started work on the weapon two months before Pearl Harbor.  The engineering goal was to develop an incendiary device with as little magnesium as possible due to supply constraints.  The objective of this weapon was to simply burn things (and the enemy) up.  Ironically, German buildings were the initial target but as the war progressed, use against Japanese targets became the focus.

Test of an AN-M69 incendiary device against a “Japanese style” building. Undated.

The most common cluster assembly (the M19) held 38 individual AN-M69s, nicknamed “Tokyo Calling Cards” by her crews; the B-29s would release the M19s 5,000 feet above a target. As the M19 canister would break open, the force of the wind would deploy the streamer attached to each AN-M69 stick.  As the individual AN-M69s scattered in the air stream, they would orient themselves to the nose-down position.  The M1 fuse would activate after hitting the ground or target, then would lay there 3 to 5 seconds allowing the stick to lay on its side. After those seconds, the explosive charge would disperse the burning jellied gasoline, clinging to anything it touched.

ssms4

An excellent schematic of the AN-M69 with a 38 stick cluster. Courtesy of S. Smisek.

ssms7

A close up of an actual AN-M69 incendiary bomb. Courtesy of S. Smisek.

For a USAAF film taken of its assembly and testing:

Each B-29 could carry 40 M19 canisters in their bomb bays with each canister carrying 38 AN-M69s. Using simple (non-common core) multiplication, that would be 1,520 AN-M69s per each B-29.  A raid could involve hundreds of B-29s.

There were other variations of this concept, such as the M17s.

AN-M41

We have all been camping at one time or another.  When we try to start a campfire “the old way”, the kids would be sent about looking for smaller twigs and branches to be used as kindling.  Larger logs would then be placed upon the then burning kindling.

The AN-M41 was a 20 pound fragmentation bomb, held in clusters.  There is nothing very unique about this weapon.  Upon hitting a target, it’s mission was to simply break things up upon impact.  Smaller pieces would then be easier to burn, much like kindling in concept.

ssms5

A cluster of AN-M41 20 pound fragmentation bombs. Copyright and courtesy of S. Smisek.

ssms6

AN-M41 clusters above an armorer being readied in a B-29 bomb bay. They are flanked by M-19s each containing 38 sticks of the AN-M69 incendiary bombs. Copyright and courtesy of S. Smisek. (For another rare image courtesy of S. Smisek of the M-19s being assembled by her armorers, please click https://flic.kr/p/j2tpA7

__________________________________

I would think it would take immense courage to be flying in an aircraft being shot at while carrying these explosives.  In colloquial terms, it took balls.

Lots of it.  You were in a flying gasoline tanker.

ssms1

Captain Ray B. Smisek, standing at far right, and his gallant crew. Guam 1945. Copyright and courtesy of S. Smisek.

_________________________________

The perilous B-29 missions will be coming next in Part 3.

Hope you’ll stay tuned.

(For Part 1 of this series, please click here.)

NOTES:

1 Ironically, the secret codeword Colonel Paul Tibbetts of the Enola Gay was given by General Hap Arnold while assembling his atomic bombing group was “Silverplate”.  If Tibbetts encountered any administrative SNAFU, he could get anything ordered by using the secret codeword.

A Humbling Easter Sunday


Mustang.Koji:

Due to parenting duties, my story on the firebombing of Tokyo viewed from both sides had to take a temporary back seat for a few days… But it is Veteran’s Day. This is a story of the love for a WWII Marine’s wife who recently lost her veteran husband after 66 years of marriage. Cherish our veterans, I say…

Originally posted on Masako and Spam Musubi:

5th Marines

Easter Sunday turned out to be a tough day – emotionally for me, at least.

But it was even tougher for a 90 year old widow of the Greatest Generation.

Marge.

Marge Johnson.

We went to visit her husband’s grave site…

Mr. Doreston “Johnny” Johnson.  Sergeant, United States Marine Corps.  World War II.

________________________________

As I was cutting down trees and chipping the cuttings in the backyard this past Good Friday, Marge’s caretaker drove Marge up to see me.  What a pleasant surprise – besides, it gave me a great excuse to stop working.

After chatting, she brought up her husband.  It had been a year since his funeral with full military honors and that she hadn’t been back to see him.

She didn’t need to say anything more.

We agreed I would take her to see him two days later – Easter Sunday.

________________________________

Mostly, I will let…

View original 277 more words

Mr. Johnson, USMC – Part III


Mustang.Koji:

Today is the 239th Birthday of our US Marine Corps. In recognition yet in a selfish manner, I wish to bring back the story of Mr. Johnson, USMC in mid-stream. Happy Birthday, Marine.

Originally posted on Masako and Spam Musubi:

I figured if Mr. Johnson wanted to tell me more, he would have.

But as with Old Man Jack, I never asked for more.

I believe that’s how these combat vets want it.

They don’t want to be quizzed about what they said or asked to describe more.

They will tell you some things of what they experienced.  Probably to let the devils out that have been eating away at them for 70 years.

They have a built in limiter to keep more memories from popping back up…the things they saw or did that they try so hard to suppress to stay sane.  Every minute for the rest of their lives.

They deserve that respect.  Always.  And you feel honored they felt enough confidence in your character that you would accept what they were telling you as is.

I feel they appreciated that.

___________________________

I was alone with Old Man…

View original 1,092 more words

The Firebombing of Tokyo – Part 1


A View From Both Sides

IMG_5039-1

From left: Grandmother, Dad in US Army uniform 1947 and his youngest brother (seated), circa 1943. The writing is my aunt’s; you can see “B-29″.  Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto

My Aunt Eiko called me in April of 2011; you can tell she was crying.

“I’ve seen this before,” she said in Japanese.  She was watching the TV footage of the disaster caused by the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Dumbfounded, I asked, “How could you have seen this before?  The earthquake just happened.”

“完全な破壊。。。戦争思い出したわぁ。。。” or loosely translated, “From the war…  I remember seeing this (complete destruction) from the war…”

Ironically, she was recalling what she saw exactly 66 years earlier – April 1945 – when Tokyo and many other cities were firebombed in an all out world war.

She was there.

And so was someone else from the other side of the Pacific.

________________________________

Through the miracle of WordPress, many of us here have met in the most peculiar of ways -  the hub being World War II…  Perhaps ironic but nevertheless destiny.

For instance, pacificparatrooper‘s father was in the US Army’s 11th Airborne and parachuted into combat over the Philippines with my Dad’s youngest brother killed later on Leyte as a Japanese soldier.  JeanneRene‘s father fought on the wretched islands as a critical Seabee.  Of course, my neighbor Old Man Jack was a sailor fighting to survive in the thick of things on those “stinkin’ islands” – Guadalcanal, Rabaul, Okinawa and Green Island.  Mr. Johnson fought and was wounded on-board CV-6, the USS Enterprise, manning the 20mm AA guns as a US Marine.  Although they returned, they did not return home unscathed.

None of them did.

The Main “Human Beings” of this Story

This series hopes to present the ugliness of war as personally experienced by two human beings – one who was on the ground and one who was in the air.

…The scarring of a Tokyo teen-aged girl on the ground: my Aunt Eiko.

Circa 1932

(L to R) Aunt Eiko, Mom, Grandpa and Grandma. Circa 1938, Tokyo. Copyright Koji D. Kanemoto

…AND the scarring of a young B-29 Superfortress pilot in the US Army Air Force’s 330th Bomber Wing: Capt. Ray B. Smisek who flew bombing missions over Japan.

Capt Smisek 2

Ray B. Smisek (to right of nose gear) after a safe return from a bombing mission to Gifu. Behind him is the B-29 he captained with a crew of ten young men, the “City of San Francisco”. 1945. Courtesy of son S. Smisek (copyright).

There is one sad, dreadful thing about their fateful relationship: neither had asked for it.

Neither had asked for war.

A very bitter war.

________________________________

Ray B. Smisek, the Gent

Capt Smisek Catalina island

A “life is good” portrait of Ray Smisek on Catalina Island. Copyrighted photo courtesy of S. Smisek.

One person I met online was S. Smisek.  He has an extensive photo collection on flickr of his father’s service during World War II; that is where our paths crossed (his photo link is here).  His father was Capt. Smisek, the captain of “City of San Francisco”, a B-29 bomber flying out of Guam as part of the 330th Bombardment Group, 458th Squadron.  Born in Minnesota in 1920, he was also a lead pilot – a very heavy responsibility let alone if under attack.

His son shared with me his remembrances of his father.  He shared that Capt. Smisek liked flying above all else – especially open cockpit.

“(His dad) liked Czech and German food, like Sauerkraut, sausage and beer. Polka music. Baseball and football.  He loved baking bread and pastry.  Made amazing sourdough pancakes and Christmas bread. He loved gardening.  He could grow ANYTHING and liked to tinker on anything and everything around the house.  Fix it… or break it if it already was fixed.

Capt Smisek Football at 18 yo  Thrid from front right

A young Ray Smisek, third from right. Copyrighted photo courtesy of S. Smisek.

He hated hunting. Did not like to kill anything.  He would pick up bugs and release them outside.  Used to freak us kids out!

He liked his newspaper and watching the news.  He occasionally smoked a pipe.  Wore Old Spice aftershave all the time I knew him (I keep some around to this day.).  He loved licorice. 

He was honest as the day is long.  A man of his word.  A handshake was an agreement.  A promise.  A very strong Republican who loved Richard Nixon and John Wayne.  He liked Louis L’Amour books.  I think he dreamed of being a cowboy.

(Dad) hated racists.  Always gave everyone a chance. Maybe two and that’s it.”

Aunt Eiko, the Teenager

(L to R) Aunt Eiko and mom. Circa 1932, Shimbashi, Tokyo.

(L to R) Aunt Eiko and mom. Circa 1932, Shimbashi, Tokyo.

My Aunt Eiko and my mother had lived with my grandparents in Tokyo since their births in the mid-1920′s. Their childhood home was next to the Ginza at Shimbashi 5 Chome; think of it as Japan’s Beverly Hills.  It is within walking distance from the Imperial Palace.  My aunt says the picture to the left was taken near their Shimbashi home and next to a relative’s kimono shop in the Ginza.

As a child, she was apparently sickly.  They say she was quite skinny from this ailment and that ailment; the food shortage didn’t help much although my grandfather reportedly had black market connections to obtain food once in a while.  Nevertheless, she had a weak digestive system.  She has it to this day.

Like most Japanese “upper society” girls of that time, she was required to know how to play the shamisen, or a Japanese stringed instrument.  She was also trained on the silk kimono – it was an elaborate dress that took a couple of hours to put on properly.

Showa 14 Aki - Fall 1939 / Grandma in center, Aunt Eiko on right

Aunt Eiko on right playing the “shamisen”. Tokyo, Autumn 1939.

Aunt Eiko didn’t disappoint anyone’s ear drums when she saw a bug.  She screamed really loud when a bug got near her.  It was easy to see them since they get as big as footballs there in Japan.  Ok, I’m exaggerating – a little.

She had an artistic flair, with her grandfather being a noted painter and art professor.  She loved “ikebana”, or flower arranging.  In fact, she made it her career after war’s end, becoming one of the top ranked ikebana instructors in Tokyo.

Amazingly, in spite of her stomach ailments, she liked cooking; unfortunately, she had a knack for burning things.  I know.

Most of all, she loved dogs.  After feeding one with her chopsticks, she’d just go right back to using them to feed herself… but with food a scarcity, her love for dogs would have to wait until quite a while after war’s end.

________________________________

In Part 2, we will visit the B-29 Superfortress, her crews and the ordnance she would typically carry into battle above Japan.

Hope you’ll stay tuned.