The U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II

Hitting Home

The Air Offensive Against Japan

Daniel L. Haulman

AIR FORCE HISTORY AND MUSEUMS PROGRAM

1999


The strategic bombardment of Japan during World War II remains one of the most controversial subjects of military history because it involved the first and only use of atomic weapons in war. It also raised the question of whether strategic bombing alone can win wars, a question that dominated U.S. Air Force thinking for a generation. Without question, the strategic bombing of Japan contributed very heavily to the Japanese decision to surrender. The United States and her allies did not have to invade the home islands, an invasion that would have cost many thousands of lives on both sides. 

This pamphlet traces the development of the bombing of the Japanese home islands, from the modest but dramatic Doolittle raid on Tokyo in April 1942, through the effort to bomb from bases in China that were supplied by airlift over the Himalayas, to the huge 500-plane raids from the Marianas in the Pacific. The campaign changed from precision daylight bombing to night incendiary bombing of Japanese cities and ultimately to the use of atomic bombs against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The story covers the debut of the spectacular B–29 aircraft—in many ways the most awesome weapon of World War II—and its use not only as a bomber but also as a mine-layer. 

Hitting Home is the sequel to High Road to Tokyo Bay, a pamphlet by the same author that concentrated on Army Air Forces’ tactical operations in Asia and the Pacific areas during World War II. Taken together, they provide an overview of U.S. Army Air Forces’ operations, tactical and strategic, against Japan.


Thousands of miles separated the United States from ultimate victory in the Pacific during World War II. Lt. Col. James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle led the famous raid on the Japanese home islands early in the war, but spanning the vast oceans with concentrated air power proved a daunting task. American naval and ground forces had to secure bases in China and wrest far-flung islands from the tenacious grip of the Japanese. From these bases, the U.S. Army Air Forces (AAF) launched specially designed, very-long-range bombers against the home islands. The strategic bombing campaign, climaxed by the destruction of enemy cities with incendiary and atomic bombs, forced Japan to surrender and spared the United States a bloody invasion. The U.S. air offensive against Japan is the central story of the Pacific war—a drama of human courage and sacrifice and of a unique partnership among modern air, sea, and land forces.