The Last Bomb


Early in 1945, our B29s began full-scale operations against Japan.
1500 miles to the target and 1500 back from bases in Saipan, Tinian and Guam.

Here, 21st bomber command concentrated its massive airpower and planned
the ultimate crushing defeat of Japan. Down to the last bomb.
Here was the beginning of the end of The Road To Tokyo.

After 6 months of re-occupation, there were few signs of war,
along the quiet summer shores of Guam.
The liberated Chamorros were back in their clean native villages,
American citizens again.

Smiling and friendly, unaware that a miracle had happened around them.
A miracle that moved mountains of material, equipment and supplies across
the Pacific.
That changed their dirt roads into broad highways.
That manicured their jungles into acres of blacktopped airfields.

And nearby, new communities of American citizens had set up housekeeping
with various types of self-service.
The latest labor saving devices, few laundry problems and no modern inconveniences.

By mid-summer, 21st bomber command was in business.
Big business!
Under General LeMay’s direction,
the long arm of bomber command began punching the enemy with appalling power from Guam, Tinian and Saipan.

600 plane missions increased the bombing weight 100% in 2 months.
Behind this expanding power was planning.
The LeMay plan began on the ground, with maintenance.
Assembly line technique cut engine change time from 3 days to less than half a day.
In shops and hot stands, ground crews worked day and night during the blitz weeks to keep more B29s on the line.
By July, LeMay’s bomber command is an efficient,
well-oiled, well-drilled machine of destruction.
Here’s a vital cog of that machine,“11 men and a bomber.”

While they wind up for action, let’s find out where they’re going,
and some of the things that they’re going to do, and why, and with what.
How do they set up the longest、 toughest bomber mission in history.


It began about 12 hours ago in the war room in Guam、with General LeMay and his staff, receiving a report on tomorrow’s weather in Japan.
Tomorrow’s forecast is typical.

“Nagoya, 8/10th cloud about 10,000feet.
In the east, Tokyo area will be 6/10th at 22,000, 3/10th at 14,000 feet,
closing up solid after 11 AM.
Osaka and everything west is reported completely socked in.”

How will the General solve that one?

His B29s are up against a blank wall except for a possible opening around Tokyo.
The old man considers every vital factor and makes his decision.

Four wings will strike Tokyo at 10 o’clock.
They will go in under that weather and bomb at 12,000.
Now it’s a question of target selection.
First priority in the Tokyo area is No.573.

Intelligence informs the General that 573 is already 3/4 destroyed.
At the moment, No.574 still untouched, would seem more important.
Operations checks the tactical plan for 574.
General LeMay orders the required changes,
OK’s the target and commits all the executive details to his staff.
Operations with his deputy chief of staff and project officer goes to work, setting up the changes.

In that plan’s folder is a mountain of preparation by special sections of
intelligence and operations.
A thousand hours of research, collated fax and figures have been distilled
in the Tactical Plan 574.

1. Air craft will assemble as briefed with 3 groups of P51s for escort.
Smoke markers at 1 minute intervals will be dropped by lead planes
to expedite departure from the assembly point.

2. One squadron of each wing will carry M47 incendiary clusters.
Balance of squadrons 500 and 1,000 pound GP (General Purpose) bombs,
fused a quarter seconds nose and tail. Altitude of attack: 12,000 feet.

3. Planes of 314th wing will carry capacity fuel loads of approximately
7,300 gallons per plane.
Calibrated airspeed of 210 miles per hour will be flown by all aircraft
on bombing run.

4. Rader landfall 34°50 North and 140°east will be the same for all planes
to afford a good land water contrast checkpoint.

5. The Navy is requested to furnish the following facilities for air-sea rescue purposes.
3 surface vessels to proceed to positions X.
4 submarines assigned a lifeguard duty at positions Y.
2 Dumbos to orbit at station Z.
he following positions.

Each section of the plan is double checked.

To supervise certain aspects of planning, Lieutenant Colonel Cabin,
a former lead crew pilot was recently brought over to staff as project officer.

This officer’s extensive combat experience now helps to iron out operational kinks.

He will accompany this mission to observe new smoke signals at assembly points.

A field order is now dispatched to the wings.
Take off time is flashed to the controller,
who co-ordinates the vast network of communications gathered here at the heart
and nerve center of command.

Here in the control room, status panels on a mission board are
maintained to show at a glance the countless up-to-the-minute details
of all daily operations.

Prior to take off, each mission is set up on a board to afford a visual
progress of the flight from take off to target and return.

Colored yarns, one for each wing are laid out to indicate the flight lines,
which pass close to Iwojima, the halfway point.
And proceed as specified in the field order, to the proper target.
Other symbols are used to mark air-sea rescue positions.

A timetable of statistics for each wing is planned and flown,
as recorded from hourly reports on the status panel,
beginning with take-off time.

To veteran crews, it’s just another day’s work. One more 1,500 mile
haul up and down the ruddy Pacific.
15 hours, 7,000 gallons, 4 engines, 11 guys.

Knock wood!!

A water-jump across 20 degrees of a globe. A continent of ocean.
Destination: Tokyo.

It’s like taking off in Mexico for targets in Canada. The 314th is airborne.
145 planes, 1 minute apart, 67 tons each.

Those B29 take-offs are a tough sweat. That first long moment is the worst.
Some swear it takes luck, like a wife’s stocking, to beat it.
At Tinian, a 100 miles north, 2 more B29 wings prepare for take off.

134 aircraft from the 58th wing. A 100 more from the 313th wing.

At Saipan, a few minutes later, the veteran 73rd wing lines up for take off. 153 more bombers are added to the Mission Striking Course.
The last B29 is airborne at 15:40.
The tower at Saipan relays this information to the controller back at Guam.
First and last take off times of each wing are recorded here.

Copies of these reports are dispatched to headquarters,
Washington and posted on the control room report board.

During that first hour, the B29s have settled down for the big grind,
saving precious gas, cruising a 1000 feet off the water.

Ability, experience, confidence ride in each plane.

A plan of action for 11 men, trained and tested to function as one.
The navigator sets the course, logging island checkpoints as they climb past
the Northern Marianas,
Pagan, Asuncion, Maug, (Farallon) de Pajaros.

After about 4 hours of flight, the bombers pass close to Iwojima.
The hot rock, a black pretty pork-chop, halfway to Honshu.
8 square miles bought and paid for by our marines.

We made some quick changes, cutting away that sulfurous volcanic crust,
and rolling Iwo’s surface into one enormous blacktop.

3 big airstrips now launch our P51s for bomber escort over Japan.
General Moore’s staff of 7th fighter command run the show and direct
all air-sea rescue operations in close collaboration with bomber command.

A last minute briefing check, just to make sure today’s fighter escort knows
all air-sea rescue positions.

Out on the line, General Moore’s P51s are warming up for the longest fighter
flight on record. 7 hours on one engine.
Extra belly tanks. Extra nerve and stamina in the cockpit.

About the time our bomber wings are passing Iwojima,
the P-shooters are taking off, scheduled to join them 3 and half hours later
off the shores of Japan.

After a rendez-vous at Kita, the P51s head for assembly point.
Led by B-29s designated as navigator ships.

Farther west our bomber wings grind ahead on the last lap to the Empire.

Reports to the controller back at Guam give their flight position,
which is kept up to the hour on the mission board.
Still at low altitude, the B29s are approaching the bad weather belt,
where unreported storms and cold fronts appear suddenly across the bomber course.
“Pilot to crew, we’re gonna start our climb. Check oxygen equipment.
Tell him he’d better get out of his doghouse.”

As they begin their slow climb to altitude,
the crews prepare for vital business ahead.
And from now on, till they come off target and head home, it’s all business.

The central fire control system is warmed up.
Super human brain power at the flick of a switch.
Each gunner flexes its sights.
And tries the co-ordinated fire controls with a few short bursts to clear the guns.

After pushing up to altitude, the bombers arrive close to assembly point.
Air in the pressurized cabin is comparable to 8,000 feet,
but oxygen masks are adjusted and ready for instant use.

From the southeast our fighter escort appears with its navigator ships、
which now turn off to wait for the fighters’ return to rally point.

The Mustangs climb in formation to take positions above the boxes of B29.
Lead bombers begin to circle, dropping the new smoke markers for assemble.

The project officer observes this part of the Tactical Plan in action.
From various zone positions, the groups separate, and form on their lead
ships in 9 or 11 plane waves, which head for initial point.
The big parade is on.

Landfall is picked up. Along with the first flak burst,
from enemy coastal batteries.

Fujiyama, the familiar white beacon marks the turn for initial point.
Flak becomes heavier and more accurate.

And now the first Jap snoopers appear, diving head on into the formations.
Some are suicide fighters, trying to ram our bombers.
Other Jap fighters drop phosphorous bombs,
set to explode in front of the on coming B29s.

Our P51 go out after them, and know they’re tangling with experts.
The P51’s job is to protect the B29s.
But some of those Jap fighters filter it through
and meet the blast of bomber guns.

A tail gunner pleads with a Nip fighter to come in a little closer.

From the turn at initial point, the tight bomber waves move steadily on,
and get ready for business.

Flaks and fighters fall off, but those clouds are beginning to close in
and it looks worse ahead.
Then just east of Hachioji, the Tokyo area breaks clear.
The bombardiers begin to draw a bead on 574.
The planes sit tight for the bombing run.

Here’s where we pay off.

2 Jap aircraft plants and an airdrome,
12,000 feet below, are about to receive 4,000 tons of destruction.

The first waves of B29s have already found their objective.

Succeeding bomber groups add their devastation to the smoking targets.

Tactical Plan 574 is now an accomplished fact.

The bombers turn and go down wind, across the burnt acres of Tokyo.

Close-up camera shows the scars of those spectacular fire strikes last March.
51 square miles of LeMay treatment.

Across the bay, a tail wind speeds them south down the Chiba Peninsula.

This is fighter country.
With the first call on the intercom our Mustangs peel off.

With the big bombers homeward bound, our P51s drop down for strafing runs,
concentrating on definite objectives from here to the enemy coast.
Skimming along at maximum speed, the fighters pair off and go to work cutting
vital Jap lifelines,
blasting away communications, radio installations, power-lines.

Swooping down on enemy transportation, railroads, marshalling yards,
small suburban factories and air-fields,
then on to shipping targets. Freighters, fishermen, trawlers, harbor
and coastal craft, destroyer or lugger, it’s the same enemy.

After strafing, our fighters climb back to rally point,
and the waiting B29 navigator planes.
With the first sight of Iwo, fuel gages are down close to empty,
but fighters’ spirits begin to rise.

They wind up and finish with a kick, coming past Suribachi at whiplash speed
and zoom into their victory rolls.
Once over for each Jap kill.

After the last fighter groups are in,
all hands sweat in those first limping B29s.
That runway is a beautiful sight, as they let down with engines out,
blowing gas or beaten up by flak and fighters.

In 3 months, nearly 2,000 crippled or gas-shy B29s havened at Iwo.
You can understand why those 4 fan boys bless those marines.
And even name their planes after them.

The lucky ones have fueled and depart for their home bases in an hour.

But Iwo still has its hazards. Weather can turn this station into a hopeless
Fog and quick overcast often blacks out the airstrip during these crucial
periods. That means orders to bail out.

Or with luck the B29 might drop in for a copybook pitching.
From here, you can see how the cloud cover-up there smothers the runway,
and realize what one pilot went through.

Sometimes a battle-scarred-bomber staggers back to Iwo,
only to flatten out the last heartbreaking second.

By some miracle, the whole crew got away from their stations to safety
before 2,000 gallons of flaming gas envelop them.

Fire fighters risk their lives to save the ship.
This, too, takes courage beyond the line of duty.

Far to the south, most of the wings are nearing their bases.

Exhausted crews wait out the last endless hours, when time seems to stop.

Their position is radioed in, and the controller gets word of the approaching flight.

At last, the familiar Marianas appear on the horizon.

The bombers fly across Guam and turn into the landing path.

15 hours ago, they left the other end of that runway.
It’s a pleasure to be back. A pleasure to roll on solid familiar black-top.

It’s good to feel a sudden humid heat, to be among the living,
swapping details with the ground crew.
 Flak, fighters, the close call, the one that got away.

But some of those B29 crews won’t be able to talk it over today.
11 men on a bomber, that didn’t quite make it.

The rescue squads tear away the hot metal.
Somehow in that burning wreckage a man lived to feel those eager gallant hands.
One life saved and 10 lost.
 That’s part of today’s toll.

And there were many other days and nights that took their toll of
young American lives in the service of our relentless expanding airpower.

By the end of July, our B29s had all but obliterated the enemy’s ability
to make war.
 1,000 plane missions were going to hit Japan with twice the monthly
tonnage that ever fell on Germany.
 The question was how much longer would a beaten Japan hold out.

In August, we made a test that never was applied to Germany,
while great land, sea and air forces gathered for the last invasion.

Our B29s dropped 2 atomic bombs, which hastened the surrender of Japan
and saved untold 1,000s of American lives.

So, the mission of our air forces, which began nearly 4 years ago,
was accomplished!!

―――THE END ------

     ナレーションの聞き取りとテキスト化:神垣惟秀(かみがき のぶひで)

“THE LAST BOMB”「最後の爆弾」目次に戻る