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Burning Japan: Air Force Bombing Stategy in the Pacific

27 April 2021

Burning Japan: Air Force Bombing Strategy Change in the Pacific, Daniel T. Schwabe, 2015, ISBN 978-1-61234-639-7, 222 pp.

Burning Japan: Air Force Bombing Strategy Change in the Pacific by Daniel T. Schwabe

Daniel Schwabe writes an excellent book on a significant turning point both in the war against Japan as well as the seismic shift in the nature of strategic bombing. He, of course, tells the story of General Curtis LeMay’s command decision to abandon the B-29 Superfortress flight profile of conventional high altitude bombing entirely. The accuracy of the Norden bombsight was a well exposed myth by that point in time and it could not compensate for the variety of wind shears bombs dropped from 30,000 feet experienced during their free falls. During the long range air offensive against Japan more B-29s were lost to engine failures (which resulted in distastrous wing destroying fires if the magnesium engine mounts ignited)—not climbing to high altitudes would extend engine life and reduce in-flight engine fire potential.

How LeMay developed and implemented this new strategy is the story Schwabe tells well. It is a story of LeMay working toward a fire bombing strategy though higher brass in Washington DC were not for it. Schwabe’s detailing of LeMay’s logistic operations tells the tale of LeMay’s bureaucratic three card Monty manipulation-like amassing of incendiary ordnance defying DC orders, at least initially.

Much to his credit the author thoroughly addresses the U.S. Armed Forces incendiary munition types as well as testing accomplished at Utah’s Dugway Proving Grounds (a typical German architecture urban section as well as a typical Japanese urban section were built to measure destructive effects of various munition mixes). He does as well explaining the lack of effectiveness regarding Imperial Japan’s medium altitude flak capability. Both of these synergistically combined into shifting from high altitude high explosive bombing to medium altitude incendiary bombing (using some high explosive to open structures to the incendiaries).

Schwabe also does well bringing the reader into the moments of various discussions as well as LeMay’s thought process. He does not address the significant influence of LeMay’s aide Thomas Power who effected LeMay’s wishes (the difference between theory and application). But this book centers on LeMay and the effectiveness of the shift to fire bombing Japan—which it does well and completely.

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