On this day in 1944, 111 U.S. B-29 Superfortress bombers raid Tokyo for the first time since Capt. Jimmy Doolittle’s raid in 1942. Their target: the Nakajima aircraft engine works.
Fall 1944 saw the sustained strategic bombing of Japan. It began with a reconnaissance flight over Tokyo by Tokyo Rose, a Superfortress B-29 bomber piloted by Capt. Ralph D. Steakley, who grabbed over 700 photographs of the bomb sites in 35 minutes. Next, starting the first week of November, came a string of B-29 raids, dropping hundreds of tons of high explosives on Iwo Jima, in order to keep the Japanese fighters stationed there on the ground and useless for a counteroffensive. Then came Tokyo.
The awesome raid, composed of 111 Superfortress four-engine bombers, was led by Gen. Emmett “Rosie” O’Donnell, piloting Dauntless Dotty. Press cameramen on site captured the takeoffs of the first mass raid on the Japanese capital ever for posterity. Unfortunately, even with the use of radar, overcast skies and bad weather proved an insurmountable obstacle at 30,000 feet: Despite the barrage of bombs that were dropped, fewer than 50 hit the main target, the Nakajima Aircraft Works, doing little damage. The upside was that at such a great height, the B-29s were protected from counter-attack; only one was shot down.
One Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded as a result of the raid. It went to Captain Steakley.