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Boeing B-29 Superfortress: For the National Offense

Jeffrey Syken

“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve”

So stated Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto, Commander-in-Chief - Combined Fleet, in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack. The December 7, 1941 surprise raid on America’s Pacific bastion would bring America, with all its “righteous might,” into the Second World War and wake Americans from their isolationist slumber. The “terrible resolve” would take many forms, not least of which was the determination of the American people; from FDR down to the man-in-the-street, to have their revenge. In the Pacific theater-of-operations, where the war against Japan would be fought island by bloody island, the most terrible weapon of that terrible resolve would be the atomic bomb/s dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which brought the Pacific war to an abrupt end; to the relief of many an American serviceman and a war-weary world.

The first strike-back against the Japanese Empire’s homeland took place on April 18, 1942, when sixteen B-25B Mitchell medium bombers were launched, without fighter escort, from the U.S. Navy's aircraft carrier USS Hornet, deep in the Western Pacific. With a crew of five men each, the plan called for the planes to bomb military targets in Japan and then continue westward, landing in Nationalist China. Of the sixteen aircraft, fifteen reached China but all crashed, while the 16th landed at Vladivostok, in the Soviet Union, where it was interned. Although the raid caused negligible damage to Japan and its war machine, it had important psychological effects. In the U.S., it raised morale considerably while in Japan, it cast doubts upon the ability of Japan’s military leaders to defend the home islands. The raid was planned and led by Lt. Colonel James Doolittle, who received the Medal of Honor for his leadership and was promoted to Brigadier General as a result of the so-called “Doolittle Raid” (a/k/a “Tokyo Raid”).

Most significant would be the lessons learned from the Doolittle Raid. Given the vast stretches of the Pacific and Japan’s perimeter of island defenses, carrier-based assaults on the Empire were not feasible. Instead, land-based attacks by long-range heavy bombers were called for. However, based on the successful European model, the U.S. Army Air Forces’ B-17 “Flying Fortress” and B-24 “Liberator” bomber/s did not have the wherewithal to achieve the prime objective of bringing Japan to her knees via aerial bombardment. However, the Boeing B-29 “Superfortress,” under development since the late 1930s, with its superior range, ceiling, speed, armament and payload, could strike at the heart of the Empire; if it came within striking distance. At first, flying from bases in the China-Burma-India (CBI) theater-of-operations, the B-29s met with mixed results, given the logistical problems of “Flying the Hump.” However, with the taking of the Northern Marianas, the stage was set for a “Rain of Ruin” from skies filled with America’s terrible resolve: the Boeing B-29 Superfortress – a marvel of engineering prowess and manufacturing skill.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

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