Saturday 6 September 2014

Old, unhappy, far-off things, And battles long ago

The map above shows the results of the B-29 bombing campaign by comparing Japanese cities to comparably sized cities in the USA and expressing their destruction as a percentage of how much of the city was burned out.

I've just completed the draft text of Ki-61/Ki-100 Aces for Osprey. As I wrote the last two chapters the experience was sobering and thought provoking. The air defence of Japan also featured in Ki-44 Aces and here I was again reading and writing about the aircrew experiences on both sides, trying to reconcile the often confused and contradictory testimonies, contemplating the horrible reality of what the statistics concealed, coming to terms with the extent of human tragedy and loss, as well as the paradoxical demonstrations of the finest qualities of the human spirit. It is all too easy to drift into viewing that terrible campaign through the prism of actual B-29 losses alone and to presume old clichés about the extent to which the Japanese fighter force was "finished" in the air. But that really does a disservice to the young men on both sides who endured and sacrificed so much in the name of duty and responsibility, determination for their homeland and desire to protect their families. 

That map and the B-29 losses are sobering enough but the statistics of damaged B-29s and wounded crewmen (physical and otherwise) are largely unknown. There is the darker aspect of the B-29 crews who survived the horrific experience of being shot down only to be executed by their captors, in some cases after the war had officially ended. This was an intense, vicious air campaign with little or no let up on either side. I don't particularly enjoy the experience of flying in modern airliners but the B-29 crews and fighter pilots, Japanese and American, accepted the danger of flying, in combat and in hostile skies, again and again knowing what they risked. My respect for them knows no bounds.

On 27 January 1945 the bombers attacking the Nakajima factory endured 984 individual fighter attacks, the 497th BG alone enduring 554 of them. The 530 B-29s that attacked Kobe on 5 June 1945 endured no less than 647 individual Japanese fighter attacks. The 862 B-29s that attacked Japan on the night of 1 August 1945 burned out an average of 78% of the built up areas of four cities, over six square miles, and dropped 1,025 tons of high explosive, 5,115 tons of incendiaries and 242 tons of mines. The single B-29 loss was the result of flak hits followed by two gun attacks and then a ramming or collision by a single fighter pilot almost blinded by the glare of the conflagrations below and lucky to survive afterwards. Most of the crew of that B-29 also returned home.

Some people have complained that my books contain nothing new - in fact they do, but it is impossible to write on the subject of past events using the recorded facts without treading some familiar ground. Or that they don't contain enough technical data about the aeroplane - the clue is in the series title. But in any case they are not so much written for the pundits who already have all the books and references as to hopefully introduce the subject to a broader and less specialist audience and to consolidate for an easier consumption. And a lot of very good people have helped enormously with that and been very kind.

Image credit: National Archives


Anonymous said...

Hi Nick,

nice to see you are preparing a new book.

I'm also glad that the blog is up and running again.

Keep up the good work!


Anonymous said...

Nick, it is wonderful to see your blog up again! As far as your books go I found a LOT of new information in the Ki-44 Aces book. I am looking forward to the new book with great anticipation. I think the Osprey books do a very good job with what they were designed to do, If a reader is still interested in more information there are places to go to get it. Technical data on the a/c is all over the place if one wishes to look for it. I would think is quite a challenge to condense a subject like this into a set number of pages. Best wishes, Pat Donahue

Stefan Sjöberg said...

Hi Nick,

I have the Ki-44 book, I like it a lot. I´m looking forward to your new book.
Keep up the good work!

Regards/Stefan Sjöberg

Danilo said...

Dear Nick,
I'm very happy to see your invaluable blog is again with us.
And I'm happy as well to read your next book is almost ready: it is a matter of fact that I would buy any title from you blinded eyes. Osprey's Aces' series is very interesting and well structured. I look forward to buy it.
Best wishes
Danilo Renzulli

Dan Salamone said...

Nick, glad you are back and as always looking forward to the upcoming book. Thanks also for the thoughtful comments on the topic of the B-29 raids.


WD said...

Nick, as others have said, thank goodness your blog is back up, and I'm glad to hear of your work. I can only speak for myself, but I have yet to read anything you write, post, etc. that I don't learn something.


Daniel Velázquez said...

I'm relieved to see Aviation of Japan back. Please keep us posted on the development of your new book; it will be another jewel, no doubt. Is Ronnie Olsthoorn the illustrator on this one too?

Bill Gilman said...

The map which accompanies this blog post may be the single most sobering thing I've seen with regard to WWII. Thank you for posting that. Being a Yank, I know most of the comparative American cities, and to think of what it would have been like if they were burned out to the percentages shown is, well, unthinkable. War really is hell.