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Cataclysm

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In Cataclysm, Herman S. Wolk examines the thinking and leadership of General Henry H. (Hap) Arnold, Commanding General, Army Air Forces (AAF), during World War II. Specifically, Wolk concentrates on Arnold's role in crafting the weapons, organization, and command of the strategic bombing offensive against Japan. The B-29 long-range bombing campaign against the Japanese home islands dictated unprecedented organization and command; hence, Arnold established the Twentieth Air Force, commanded by himself from Washington and reporting directly to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Arnold excelled in his command of the AAF, relieving a long-time colleague (Hansell) in favor of a hard-nosed operator (LeMay). This crucial move was a turning point in the Pacific War. In the spring and summer of 1945, Arnold was a driven leader, almost willing the B-29 campaign and the air and sea blockade to collapse Japan before the scheduled massive invasion of Kyushu on November 1st. Arnold agreed that politically the atomic bomb shocked the Japanese to capitulation, but as the architect of the bombing offensive, he emphasized that Japan was already defeated in the summer of 1945 by the bombing and blockade, and that it was not militarily necessary to drop the atomic bomb. Wolk brings out important rationales and connections in doctrine, organization, and command not previously published. He also mines sources not previously exploited, including the author's interviews with General LeMay, Hansell, and Eaker; Arnold's wartime correspondence; documentation from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library; and postwar interrogations of Japanese officials and civilians. Cataclysm will prove an important addition to the history of the Pacific War, airpower, and the debate over the use of the atomic bomb against Japan.

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Chronology

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Cataclysm

June 3–6, 1942

In the battle of Midway Island, U.S. Navy aircraft put four Japanese aircraft carriers out of action.

January 14–23, 1943

At Casablanca conference, President Roosevelt vows to pursue the

“unconditional surrender” of Japan.

January 23, 1943

The final report of the Casablanca conference by the U.S. and British

Combined Chiefs of Staff states the importance of land-based air attacks against Japan from China.

August 1943

Gen. Arnold introduces “Air Plan for the Defeat of Japan” at the Quadrant conference.

November 11, 1943

Gen. Arnold’s Committee of Operations Analysts (COA) emphasizes

Japan’s vulnerability to incendiary bombing.

April 4, 1944

The Twentieth Air Force is activated, commanded by General Arnold, reporting as executive agent directly to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

June 1944

Start of B-29 Operation Matterhorn from Chengtu valley of western

China.

October 1944

Brig. Gen. Haywood S. Hansell, Jr. initiates XXI Bomber Command operations against Japan from the Marianas.

January 20, 1945

 

1. Roosevelt and Arnold

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Roosevelt and Arnold

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he roots of the strategic bombing offensive of the Twentieth Air

Force against Japan can be traced to the prewar doctrinal struggles at the Air Corps Tactical School and debate within the War Department itself. Despite the twists and turns in the evolution of doctrine, a clear strain can be illuminated between prewar evolution and wartime development and prosecution.

Arnold did not attend the Tactical School, but in the 1930s the struggle by the school’s faculty to define air doctrine held great import for the air forces that Arnold would lead in World War II. Instructors at the

ACTS—including Muir Fairchild, a future Air Force vice chief of staff— evolved the precision bombing doctrine, aimed to destroy the enemy’s war-making industrial base. What has been overlooked however, and will be pointed out in this chapter, is the emphasis the Tactical School also placed on morale or population bombing. It was the targeting of civilians and the workforce in 1945 by the Twentieth Air Force that played a major role in forcing the Japanese surrender. Thus, there is a clear connection between the prewar evolution of doctrine and the morale attacks by

 

2. Planning for the Defeat of Japan

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Planning for the Defeat of Japan

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merican war planning designed to oppose Japanese aggression was nothing new. Early in the twentieth century, the Joint Army and Navy

Board had promulgated a series of color designations for various countries. Japan was assigned the code color Orange. Over the years, these

Orange plans were revised, outlining strategies by which Japan could be defeated. Between the wars the Navy took the lead, with help from Army planners, to evolve theoretical plans to defeat Japan. Despite this early concern about Japan with its threat to American interests, corroborated in the 1930s by virulent Japanese aggression against China, it should be emphasized that Anglo-American planning in World War II rested on the firm, early decision—made in the ABC-1 discussions in January–

March 1941, well before the United States entered the war—that Nazi

Germany was the main enemy, Europe the decisive theater: “It should be a cardinal principle of American-British strategy that only the minimum of force necessary for the safeguarding of vital interests in other theatres should be diverted from operations against Germany.”1 Thus, the

 

3. Arnold Forms the Twentieth Air Force

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Arnold Forms the Twentieth Air Force

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uring the war, no other project exemplified Arnold’s determination and drive like the B-29 and his concerted attempt to make the revolutionary big bomber operational in the Pacific. He was determined to employ the Superfortress against the Japanese homeland, thus writing

“a new chapter in the history of the Army Air Forces.” The B-29 program has been called the greatest gamble of the war, greater than the Manhattan project that developed the atomic bomb, an investment of $3 billion compared to $2 billion for the bomb. Here Arnold enjoyed the firm support of President Roosevelt who during 1943 promised Premier Chiang

Kai-shek of China that the long-range B-29s would be deployed to China to undertake the bombing of Japan.

The development of the B-29 strategic bomber began prior to World

War II and continued during the war under the so-called Very Long Range

(VLR) project. The grave difficulties experienced by the Army Air Forces in the development and production of this revolutionary aircraft, together with Arnold’s own iron determination to deploy this weapon against

 

4. Arnold Places LeMay in Command

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Arnold Places LeMay in Command

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n July 1944, Brigadier General Hansell, then the Chief of Staff, Twentieth Air Force, wrote to the Joint Staff Planners: “Sustained B-29 operations against the aircraft industry of Japan from bases in the Marianas will commence on or about 1 November 1944. Within three months thereafter, the effects of these attacks will begin to be felt.” As it turned out, in a great irony, Hansell in effect had written his own epitaph as commander of the XXI Bomber Command.

As noted, the XX Bomber Command’s B-29 Matterhorn operation led by Wolfe and then LeMay, established under great pressure from

Roosevelt, suffered from major logistical difficulties. Similarly, operations in the Marianas under Hansell got off to a slow start. Arnold, already seem­ ingly anticipating a race in the summer of 1945 to force Japan to surren­ der without an invasion, had been quite clear in his marching orders to

Hansell. The AAF commander termed the effort to knock Japan out of the war with the B-29 campaign as the “The Battle of Japan.” He reminded

 

5. June 1945: A Meeting at the White House

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June 1945: A Meeting at the White House

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he spring of 1945 witnessed an intensive review of strategy and command by the Joint Chiefs. MacArthur continued to put himself forward as the potential supreme commander in the Pacific, the one to lead the ultimate invasion of Japan. Realizing that King and the Navy leadership would never accept it, MacArthur at the close of 1944 looked forward to the ultimate assault on Japan which would end the war. He wrote to Marshall: “I do not recommend a single unified command for the Pacific. I am of the firm opinion that the Naval forces should serve under Naval Command and that the Army should serve under Army

Command. Neither service willingly fights on a major scale under the command of the other. … The Navy, with almost complete Naval Command in the Pacific, has attained a degree of flexibility in the employment of resources with consequent efficiency that has far surpassed the

Army. It is essential that the Navy be given complete command of all its units and that the Army be accorded similar treatment. Only in this way will there be attained that complete flexibility and efficient employment of forces that is essential to victory.”1

 

6. Arnold, Potsdam, and the Atomic Bomb

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Arnold, Potsdam, and the Atomic Bomb

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rnold had only two weeks in Washington between his return from the

Pacific and the TERMINAL conference in July at Potsdam with Truman,

Churchill, Stalin, and the Combined Chiefs of Staff. This turned out to be the last major wartime conference, coming three months after Germany’s surrender, and featuring Harry Truman, the new American president.

Truman, who had been sworn in as president on April 12, 1945, and who for several years in the Senate had been Chairman of the Special Com­ mittee to Investigate the National Defense Program, had not known about the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb. Stimson had been en­ trusted by Roosevelt with supervision of the atomic project while Maj. Gen.

Leslie R. Groves managed it. On April 25, Stimson briefed Truman on the

“highly secret matter,” informing him that “within four months we shall in all probability have completed the most terrible weapon ever known in human history, one bomb of which could destroy a whole city.”1 After

 

7. Who Was Hap Arnold?

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Who Was Hap Arnold?

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n the Pacific, a time compression evolved in the strategic bombing campaign.1 Only two months of the incendiary campaign had passed between

LeMay’s Tokyo raid in March and the defeat of Nazi Germany in May 1945.

With the intensive B-29 campaign, Arnold and the American airmen overcame Japan’s will to continue in less time than was the case with Germany.

Ironically, what Arnold hoped for in Europe evolved in the Pacific: the B-29 incendiary campaign crumbled Japan.

The evolution of the B-29—going back to the report of the Kilner board well before U.S. entry into World War II—perfectly followed the march of aircraft technology. General Arnold and the Army Air Forces specified the requirement for a very long-range bomber that far exceeded the B-17 in all important categories. Based on the AAF doctrine of highaltitude precision bombing, the B-29 would fly higher, farther, and with a greater bomb load. There was no doubt that from early on, and through the war, Arnold and the air leadership viewed the potential success of the revolutionary B-29 as proving the case for a postwar independent

 

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