The Air War Against Japan, 1942-1945
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Prologue OFF HONSHU, APRIL 18, 1942
REVENGE SPED TOWARD Japan at nearly four miles per minute, borne upon olive-drab wings.
Flown by America’s finest aviator, the lone bomber approached the enemy shore at 200 feet. Three hours after taking off from the aircraft carrier Hornet, the forty-five-year-old pilot was determined to do something that had never been done: bomb Japan.
Piloting the twin-engine B-25 was Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle, a stocky, balding flier often called a daredevil in the press but best described as master of the calculated risk. In his twenty-five years of flying he had proven both his cool head and his hot hands, winning prestigious races, setting records, and pioneering the crucial science of instrument flight. An oft-published photo showed him standing before his stubby Gee Bee racer with his Phi Beta Kappa key visible beneath his leather jacket. With a Ph.D. in aeronautics, he spoke with an engineer’s precision, saying “aeroplane” and describing friends as “chaps.”
Four months earlier, when Japanese carrier aircraft attacked Pearl Harbor, Doolittle had been a major conducting special projects for General Henry H. Arnold, the Army Air Forces chief. America was still reeling from Tokyo’s stunning blow against Hawaii as a nonstop onslaught rolled up U.S. and Allied forces across the Pacific: from Guam to Wake Island to the Philippines, East Indies, and the Asian mainland. The nation and President Franklin D. Roosevelt called for retribution.
Thus was born the First Special Aviation Project. Oddly, it was the brainchild of a submarine officer, Captain Francis Low. He conceived the idea of launching long-range Army bombers from an aircraft carrier and proposed a daring concept: a hit-and-run raid against Japan itself, launched well beyond the limited reach of Navy carrier aircraft. If all went well, sixteen B-25 MitchellsÑnamed for the late airpower advocate William “Billy” MitchellÑwere to land in China after bombing Japan.
It was a high-risk operation, calling for volunteer aircrews who were told only that they would be “out of the country for two or three months.” More men stepped forward than could be used.
© 2010 Barrett Tillman
Whirlwind is the first book to tell the complete, awe-inspiring story of the Allied air war against Japan—the most important strategic bombing campaign in history. From the audacious Doolittle raid in 1942 to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, award-winning historian Barrett Tillman recounts the saga from the perspectives of American and British aircrews who flew unprecedented missions over thousands of miles of ocean, as well as of the generals and admirals who commanded them.
Whether describing the experiences of bomber crews based in China or the Marianas, fighter pilots on Iwo Jima, or carrier aviators at sea, Tillman provides vivid details of the lives of the fliers and their support personnel. Whirlwind takes readers into the cockpits and gun turrets of the mighty B-29 Superfortress, the largest bomber built up to that time. He dramatically re-creates the sweep of wartime emotions that crews endured on 15-hour missions, grappling with the extreme tedium of cramped spaces and with adrenaline spikes in flak-studded skies, knowing that a bailout would put them at the mercy of a merciless enemy or an unforgiving sea. A major character is the controversial and brilliant General Curtis LeMay, who rewrote strategic bombing tactics. His command’s fire-bombing missions incinerated fully half of Tokyo and many other cities, crippling Japan’s industry while still failing to force surrender.
Whirlwind examines the immense logistics and construction efforts necessary to support Superfortresses in Asia and the Mariana Islands, as well as the tireless efforts of engineers to build huge air bases from scratch. It also describes the unheralded missions that American bomber crews flew from the Aleutian Islands to Japan’s northernmost Kuril Islands. Never has the Japanese side of the story been so thoroughly examined. If Washington, D.C., represented a “second front” in Army-Navy rivalry, the situation in Tokyo approached a full-contact sport. Tillman’s description of Japan’s willfully inadequate approach to civil defense is eye-opening. Similarly, he examines the mind-set in Tokyo’s war cabinet, which ignored the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, requiring the emperor’s personal intervention to avert a ghastly Allied invasion.
Tillman shows how, despite the Allies’ ultimate success, mistakes and shortsighted policies made victory more costly in lives and effort. He faults the lack of a unified command for allowing the Army Air Forces and the Navy to pursue parochial goals at the expense of the larger mission, and he questions the premature commitment of the enormously sophisticated B-29 to the most primitive theater in India and China.
Whirlwind is one of the last histories of World War II written with the contribution of men who fought in it. With tales of personal heroism and terror and a sweeping analysis of strategy, this book is destined to become a standard reference on the most important bombing campaign in history.
Hardcover Book : 400 pages
Publisher: Simon And Schuster, Inc. ( March 02, 2010 )
Item #: 12-805000
Product Dimensions: 6.125 x 9.25 x 0.8inches
Product Weight: 18.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
Many authors have discussed the various aerial battles that occurred in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II but Tillman ably brings all the threads of those stories to weave a complete integrated history of the Allied Air War against Japan starting from the symbolic but still important Doolittle Raid up through the massive show of air supremacy in the Summer of 1945 that burned down Japanese cities outside the use of the two atomic bombs which were no more horrific than the infamous March '45 firebombing of Tokyo. Tillman does an excellent job of showing how the Allies, especially the American forces, overcame the internecine rivalry between the USAAF and the Navy and some poor leadership decisions along with tactical errors to crush the Imperial Japanese Air Force and Navy's efficacy as well as help strangle Japanese shipping and industry. The vicious battle that took place for Okinawa helped persuade President Truman and other American leaders into using the atomic bombs to try to end this deadly conflict without having to implement Operation Downfall and invade Japan herself. Tillman shows that the huge investment we made in the B-29 was worth the gamble and in large part ended the war in 1945 without an invasion saving the lives of Allied forces as well as the millions of Japanese that would have perished in such an invasion. Tillman provides the reader with the whole picture of the air war from the strategic level down to those individual brave men who flew their bombers and fighters over Japan and the consequences of such actions. A great addition to my WWII History library.
Reviewer: Robert M