America's B-29 Superfortress: The Bomber That Wiped Out Imperial Japan

Warfare History Network

Key point: America bombed Japan into submission, and almost oblivion.

As the Japanese delegation stood on the deck of the battleship USS Missouri on September 2, 1945, preparing to sign the documents that ended World War II, a large formation of Boeing B-29 Superfortress heavy bombers swooped low over Tokyo Bay as a reminder of the terrible destruction that had befallen their nation and turned Japan’s cities into ruins. It was a reminder the Japanese really did not need—the bombed-out rubble and steadily smoking crematories around the country were evidence enough of the violent firestorm that had befallen the Land of the Rising Sun.

The national morale in Japan was so low that almost 70 percent of the people interviewed by U.S. military personnel after the surrender reported that they had reached the point where they were unable to endure one more day of war. Most Americans, especially the young soldiers and Marines who had been slated to invade the Japanese Home Islands of Kyushu and Honshu, believed that Japan surrendered because of the atomic bomb. They were wrong. In reality, the country had already been brought to its knees before the first atomic test at the Trinity Site in the New Mexico desert two months before. Japan had been destroyed by fire from above, fire that had largely been delivered from the bomb bays of an armada of Boeing B-29s.

The B-29 Deployment: A Political Decision

The B-29 had come to symbolize American air power by September 1945 because of the role it played in the final defeat of Japan, but the large four-engine bomber had originally been conceived as a weapon for use against Nazi Germany. The initial invitation for bid had been issued in the fall of 1940 as the War Department began preparing for a seemingly inevitable entrance into the war in Europe. Design problems and production delays kept the very long-range bomber out of service until it had become obvious that such range was no longer necessary against Germany. The first production B-29s began rolling off the assembly lines in mid-1943, prompting requests for the new bombers from commanders in each theater.

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