The Firebombing of Kobe and Osaka during World War II

1995 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the end of World War II. The decision to drop the atomic bombs, and their horrifying effects, can only be understood in the context of the American strategy for fighting World War II.

The following passage was written by a survivor of the firebombing of Osaka, who happened to be an American prisoner of war held in that city.

"On the night of March 13, 1945, Osaka was bombed. Our camp was barely one city block inland. The first firebombs hit about two blocks inland and continued away from us for four or five miles. The raid lasted much of the night. (Military records reveal that 301 B-29s hit Osaka.)

"In the morning, a vast area--later determined to be 25 square miles--was a smoldering desert. The firebombs would not have been effective against many of the "hardened" buildings at the waterfront, but they devastated the inland cottage industry. The bombs also reduced to rubble the homes of the population that supported Osaka's war effort. On the night of March 17, Kobe was hit. (This time the raid was carried out by 306 B-29s.) Kobe was now a mirror image of Osaka.

"Our food situation now became critical. The soup was always thin and frequently there was none. The rice ration was reduced to about two-thirds of a bowl morning and evening. I was beginning to feel weak and it became hard to concentrate. On occasion, my chest felt overfull. Visible heartbeats again appeared, sporadically, over much of my chest.

"We were made part of a frantic effort to salvage material from damaged warehouses, where we were always on the lookout for food but rarely successful. Roof damage had allowed water to attack the contents of many structures. Mostly, we salvaged commercially valuable items such as bales and bolts of cloth. Some warehouses were heavy with the odor of mildew or mold.

"What we assumed to be Japanese industrial officials were appearing at the work site more and more often. Surprisingly few Japanese were in the area. Groups of younger-appearing women came into the area several times to work, but their efforts seemed poorly coordinated.

"During the Osaka bombing in March, we all expected the camp to be hit momentarily. When it did not happen, it was for a while believed that our people knew where we were and had avoided hitting us. By this line of thinking, we attributed an accuracy to our Air Corps's night bombing that its daylight bombing never achieved.

"(Kobe was to be hit again the night of May 7, with high-explosive ordnance rather than firebombs. Osaka was to be firebombed again with 458 aircraft on June 2; Kobe with 473 aircraft on June 6; and Osaka again with 409 planes on June 8. After a June 16 firebombing by 444 planes, Osaka became a non-functional city. Although much of its industrial and commercial area had not been seriously damaged, its work force had been dispersed.)"

Robert E. Haney. pp. 131-132 of Caged Dragons: An American P.O.W. in W.W.II Japan. Published by Sabre Press, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Copyright 1991. Quotation used by permission of the author.

Navigational Assistance:

Jasper's home page is "up" from here.

A shorter version of this page is also available,
as are many other related links.

Copyright 1995-99 by John Paulsen. You can send him your comments.

Last updated July 23, 1999.