Anniversary of Tokyo mission comes in March

An important part of World War II history that isn't well remembered, the "Mission to Tokyo" is covered in a new book based on interviews with veterans including some in our local area.

March marks anniversary of Tokyo mission

by Robert F. Dorr

As we approach the night of March 9-10, my thoughts are on a World War II event that tested American airmen to the limit and may have altered the outcome of the Pacific conflict.

      It was the most destructive event of the war yet it's not remembered today by many of my neighbors in Oakton or by large numbers of Americans. It's the topic of my new book "Mission to Tokyo," which has been well received by reviewers on the national scene and by local civic and community groups. One reviewer called my book "'Band of Brothers' with planes."

      On the night of March 9-10, 1945, Maj. Gen. Curtis LeMay's XXI Bomber Command launched 334 B-29 Superfortress heavy bombers from bases in the Marianas islands of Guam, Saipan and Tinian for an all-out nocturnal attack on the Japanese capital. With a large number of planes navigating entirely over-water over vast distances, the mission was a test of flying skills and airmanship. It also meant confronting Japanese anti-aircraft fire and fighters.

      The planners saw themselves striking at a home-based cottage industry of war-making materiel pouring from homes and small factories. Critics say the United States was attacking a city and its people. The B-29s arrived over Tokyo in early morning hours of darkness carrying incendiary ordnance — firebombs — and striking from altitudes as low as 5,500 feet. It was a dramatic departure from the previous U.S. policy of high-altitude, daylight bombing of military and industrial targets.

      The mission was intended as one of many that would set the stage for the amphibious invasion of the Japanese home islands, with the first landings to take place near Kagoshima, Kyushu, in November 1945 and the largest invasion in history to occur on the Kanto Plain at Tokyo Bay in March 1946. The allied plan for the invasion was called Operation Olympic Coronet. In an extraordinary logistics effort, the allies moved more than a million men from Europe to the Pacific in preparation to invade Japan.




"We were all afraid LeMay was going to get us killed," said my Oakton neighbor George Wale (1920-1998) in an interview more than two decades ago. "Going in at low level would make us inviting targets for the anti-aircraft guns that formed a ring around Tokyo." Wale was a flight engineer on a B-29.

      It didn't happen that way. When the B-29s arrived over Tokyo beginning at about 1:00 a.m., they ignited the hottest fires ever to burn on the earth, razed 16 square miles of the city, and killed an estimated 120,000 —more damage than both subsequent atomic bombs put together. In "Mission to Tokyo," I wrote about the men in the air and the people on the ground, including a 13-year-old Japanese girl who survived the burning of her city: her name is Yoko Ono.

      Fourteen B-29s were lost on the mission — painful for the families of the 11-man crews but considered a surprisingly low casualty count.

      We know today that the invasion of Japan never took place. Because of the Tokyo mission and the B-29 campaign that followed, Japan was defeated from the air without allied troops ever placing their boots on its soil. Some historians say the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 and on Nagasaki three days later prompted the Japanese surrender. My view is that the B-29 aerial campaign made the surrender happen. It might have happened with or without the atomic bombings. Ending the war without an invasion may have saved more than a million lives on both sides.

      My book is about the experiences of American airmen, not the political or moral questions behind the bombing. My telling of these events is intended for general audiences.

      I'm scheduled to give a talk about "Mission to Tokyo" at George Mason Regional Library (7001 Little River Turnpike in Annandale, (703) 256-3800) at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 11. This presentation will be intended for audiences of all ages and everyone is invited.

      I would like to hear from anyone with an interest in this topic. Contact me at robert.f.dorr@cox.net or (703) 264-8950.

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Thomas cecchettini February 17, 2013 at 03:49 PM
Looking forward to this talk, hoping my flying schedule will allow my attendance.. I,m hoping you will have copies of the book available , would love a signed copy. I am an avid collector of WWII aviation history and books. I would love to hear more about our beloved heroes. Thanks for the invite. Tom
Bob Deis February 17, 2013 at 06:39 PM
I wish I lived close enough to Annandale to attend. I am a huge fan of of Mr. Dorr's books, especially his recent series of World War II history books: HELL HAWKS!, MISSION TO BERLIN and now MISSION TO TOKYO. They are all gripping, well-researched and well written. But if I had to pick a favorite of the three it would be MISSION TO TOKYO. It’s a truly epic account of the American B-29 "Superfortress" bombers and their crews during the war’s final phase.
Jim Escalle February 17, 2013 at 08:32 PM
Bob Dorr’s latest book “Mission to Tokyo” is perhaps the most eye-opening book I’ve read in a long time. I had always thought, like many people, that the dropping of the A-bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought Imperial Japan to its knees. After reading about the nighttime firebombing mission over Tokyo on March 9-10 and its aftermath, I had to reconsider my views. The book sheds light on the planning stages, the costly design and development of the B-29, and the problems associated with high-altitude daylight bombing, which was carried out successfully in Europe but was ineffective over the Japanese mainland. At the heart of Bob Dorr’s book, though, are the unique personal stories of the bomber crews, the men who had to carry out Gen. LeMay’s tactics by flying this low-level attack over Tokyo. Many of them never returned. For those of you who plan on being at George Mason Regional Library on May 11 to hear Bob speak, I highly recommend purchasing a copy of “Mission to Tokyo” and reading it. It’s a must-have book for those interested in the air war over Japan.
Doug Carter February 17, 2013 at 09:47 PM
I envy all those who live close enough to attend Mr. Dorr's talk on May 11th about his book "Mission to Tokyo". The book is outstanding !!! Mr. Dorr writes in such a way that history comes alive; the reader will share the emotions of B-29 crew members as they fly this historic mission.
Roburt Coates February 18, 2013 at 01:33 AM
Being a great fan of Mr. Dorr's writing, I am sure I will be utterly focused with "Mission to Tokyo" as I was with "Mission to Berlin" & "Hell Hawks". Due to prior commitments I regret I won't be able to attend his presentation in Annandale. I too envy those who will be in attendance!
F. C. Berry Jr. February 18, 2013 at 01:19 PM
Robert F. Dorr always presents the "big picture" accurately and in depth. He weaves into that fabric the threads of individual experiences. The result for the reader is enriched learning. "Mission to Tokyo" is a splendid example of his unique presentation that rewards the reader. The session on May 11 offers attendees the opportunity to hear how he does such wonderful work, and to buy a signed copy of the book.
Erik Gilg February 18, 2013 at 04:44 PM
I am a big fan of Bob Dorr's books. They offer the best of great historical writing - big picture analysis and also intimate stories of real men who you know by the end of the book. And I love that "Mission To Tokyo," which I read last October, made me think about the bombing raids of March 1945 more concretely. I didn't realize that these raids in March accounted for more Japanese deaths than the two atomic bombs. I am looking forward to reading more of Dorr's books...
R Parker February 18, 2013 at 05:03 PM
Robert F. Dorr is the most accomplished aviation history expert of our time. His books and other works are unparalleled in comparison to his competitors. After reading one of Bob's books, the reader leaves with a hypnotic feeling of actually experiencing the events contained in his books.
john sloan February 18, 2013 at 07:05 PM
HI Bob thanks for the link - I will forward this note to the other members of the book selection committee for our Military Classics Seminar that meets monthly at Ft Meyer. best wishes - john sloan
Devin Ezersky February 18, 2013 at 11:20 PM
This is a fantastic book. Much more that just an aviation history book, you learn more reading what happened first hand by the brave men that flew to Tokyo. I own four of Mr. Dorr's books and they are always great. I recommend this book to ANYONE! They will not regret it. -Devin.
Robert F. Dorr February 19, 2013 at 11:44 AM
Thank you to everyone who took note of the coming March 9-10 anniversary of the incendiary mission that sent thousands of American airmen to Tokyo. My new book "MISSION TO TOKYO" is based on personal narratives by Americans and a few Japanese. It may be the only book in which the gruff, tough, cigar-chomping Maj. Gen. Curtis LeMay appears in the same chapter as the future artist Yoko Ono (whose 80th birthday is today). I would love it if some local business would offer me a chance to sign books on a not-for-profit basis on March 10. Are you listening out there, Mountain Kim, Chesapeake Bagel Shop and Oakton Wine Shop? Let me know.
Nichole February 19, 2013 at 02:33 PM
Bob Dorr is one of my favorite authors... his writing is always captivating, insightful and engaging. Great job Bob!
matthew kuhns February 19, 2013 at 04:54 PM
As a former university educator, I am always searching for writers whose work appeals to scholars and enthusasiasts alike. Mr. Dorr's writing easily satisfies the needs of the most technical of readers and those just beginning their enjoyment of well written history books. I look forward to his presentation at George Mason Regional Library (7001 Little River Turnpike in Annandale, (703) 256-3800) at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 11 Dr. Matthew Kuhns
steven savino February 19, 2013 at 06:51 PM
i wish i lived closer to come hear you speak on this subject. the bombing of japan doesn't get the coverage it deserves unlike the airwar in europe. i'm totaly enjoying all 3 books you autographed for me. thanks so much. steve savino
Amanda February 19, 2013 at 11:38 PM
We're very pleased to be having Bob return to the George Mason Regional Library in May, to talk about "Mission to Tokyo"! It promises to be as engaging a book talk as his last one, for "Mission to Berlin." I would encourage everyone to attend.
Nate Wilburn February 20, 2013 at 02:34 AM
Bob Dorr has the ability to grab the reader by the collar, pull them into the pages of a book, and then drop them smack dab into the middle of the story. Mission to Tokyo is no exception. For an up-close and personal adventure which will educate as well as entertain, I highly recommend his latest book. Mission to Tokyo is a fresh view on the airwar over Japan and delves into the human aspect through a myriad of initimate anecdotes. For seasoned aviation/military historians or the merely curious bookworm, Mission to Tokyo will be a pleasing addition to the library and will be a fantastic companion volume to Bob's other works; Mission to Berlin, Hell Hawks!, and his detailed history of Presidential air transport, Air Force One. I am envious of those who will be able to attend Bob's presentation at the George Mason Regional Library on May 11th. Enjoy the book and enjoy Bob live!!!
jackie Flannery February 20, 2013 at 03:07 AM
I look forward to attending Bob Dorr’s talk about his latest book “Mission to Tokyo” , in Annandale Virginia on May 11, 2013. Like Jim Escalle mentioned in a pervious comment, I always thought that the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is what brought Japan to surrender and end the war. I caught myself immediately googling March 9-10, 1945, to learn more about these attacks on Tokyo, that as Mr. Dorr’s writing and research suggest had possibly a greater impact on bringing Japan to surrender and end the war then Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Authors like Mr. Dorr help to preserve history. It was very interesting to learn that Yoko Ono was a survivor of this bombing of Tokyo on March 9-10, 1945, where 334 B-24’s dropped their bombs and destroyed 17 square miles of the city of Tokyo , reducing it to ashes, killing between 80,000 and 200,000 . . I cant wait to read “Mission to Tokyo”. I just wish I could attend a book talk sooner in the Chicagoland area. I will be suggesting to all my friends in the DC area not to miss this important event. Thank you Mr. Dorr!
Andrew Antippas February 20, 2013 at 02:44 PM
I have known Bob for over 35 years and have thoroughly enjoyed his many books and articles on his passion, air combat. His three recent books on WWII aircraft and missions: "Hell Hawks"; "Mission to Berlin"; and "Mission to Tokyo" are noteworthy because of the research that was accomplished with primary documents, discussions with actual crew memebers and families. The general public over the years has not realized the casualty count involved in the air war in Europe and the Pacifiic. Bob has captured and preserved an important segment of our military history.
Seth Andrew Geller February 20, 2013 at 03:14 PM
If you're enthusiastic about aviation books and written, historical aviation ephemera, please check us out on Facebook at AVIATION BOOKS - COLLECTABLE RARE SIGNED. We welcome Bob Dorr and many other superb aviation writers as well. This is a non-retail Facebook site for aviation books and written, historical aviation ephemera enthusiasts. Thank you!
Frank R. Vondra February 21, 2013 at 11:51 AM
I have been an avid reader of Bob Dorr’s books since being introduced to them in 1995 with "Korean War Aces." It was apparent to me at that time Bob had conducted thorough research when writing the book and set the bar for other authors to emulate. In "Mission To Tokyo," Bob’s telling of personal experiences of the airmen and flight crews add much insight to the events that eventually fractured Japan's strength and diminished their will to fight. I believe that all of Bob’s books represent the most authoritative accounts of the American air war against Germany and Japan during World War Two.
Robert F. Dorr February 23, 2013 at 02:59 AM
World War II buff on your Fathers Day list, please note: Some readers have indicated confusion about the two dates that appear here. March 10 is the anniversary of the wartime event. May 11 is the date of the library event. The presentation at the George Mason Regional Library (a branch of the Fairfax County Library System) is free and open to all.
"Oakton Patch" reader George in Calif. February 23, 2013 at 08:59 AM
From the Osprey titles to the Air Force One book, Robert F. Dorr blends the human story with the right balance of technical and historical detail and omitting the heavy jargon that would alienate a general readership. We are drawn to the aircraft but we remain enthralled by the human touch. For the history of air campaigns in the Second World War, Bob has taken his place among the most authoritative military aviation historians. "Mission to Berlin" was excellent and the audience for Mission to Tokyo will be richly rewarded by an excellent human story of the Pacific Air War written and told by a master practitioner of the art of aviation history: Robert F. Dorr.
Robert F. Dorr February 24, 2013 at 11:56 AM
World War II buff? Fathers Day? Please note: Some readers have indicated confusion about the two dates that appear here. March 10 is the anniversary of the wartime event. May 11 is the date of the library event. The presentation at the George Mason Regional Library (a branch of the Fairfax County Library System) is free and open to all.
Glenn Loafmann February 24, 2013 at 09:30 PM
Wish I could attend. "Mission to Berlin" and Mission to Tokyo" are excellent reading for airplane buffs, historians, and real-adventure readers. Mr. Dorr weaves the technical, human interest, and historical ingredients of these events into rich, satisfying stories of real human triumph and tragedy. Well-researched, technically precise, and emotionally absorbing, his works are among the best on offer by any historian of military conflict or aviation.
Jerry Barker February 24, 2013 at 10:32 PM
I have most of Bob's books and have met him on several occasions. I have the most respect for accurate and interesting reditions of history, and his talent as an author. I'm sure his presentations will be fascinating.
Robert F. Dorr February 25, 2013 at 04:42 PM
History for Fathers Day! A lot of well-intending contributors have made this about the book "MISSION TO TOKYO" but my biggest hope for this Patch contribution is that it will generate interest in a presentation at the George Mason Regional Library (a branch of the Fairfax County Library System) in Annandale on May 11 (a Saturday afternoon), an event that is open to the general public and free of charge. Although I live in Oakton, my experience has been that the Annandale branch is one of the most user-friendly libraries in our County system.
Kathy Kang February 25, 2013 at 11:43 PM
"Mission to Tokyo" is a truly an eye-opening book for me, as I have been one of many who always believed that the dropping of A-bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced the Emperor to surrender. After reading this book I felt enlightened and profoundly touched by the up close and personal stories that are not known to general public. Despite my total lack of knowledge or interest on aviation, Mr. Dorr, with his masterful writing skill, was able to place me in Japan, even helping me feel the suspense and danger as though things were unfolding in front of my eyes. I am in full agreement with his view that the B-29 aerial campaign made the surrender happen. Once we allow ourselves get into the political and moral questions behind the bombings, there's no end to our discussions. Just as America is now facing the moral dilemma, while facing global criticism on our drone attacks, it;s nice to read a book that has given us, general public in particular, a clear and accurate picture of those historical events, as the author has intended.
M Powers February 28, 2013 at 04:05 PM
This book is a GREAT read!!! Stories told from an angle that make them truly personal and enthralling. Thanks, Mr. Dorr!
Robert F. Dorr March 10, 2013 at 11:48 PM
History. Father's Day. World War II. Yes, today is the anniversary of the event but remember that the library presentation, to which all are invited, is on May 11. Mark your calendars!.............Sixty-eight years ago, just after midnight on March 10, 1945, 279 B-29 Superfortresses from Guam, Saipan and Tinian arrived over Tokyo. It was the most destructive bombing event ever to occur before or since. The Facebook group and my World War II book "MISSION TO TOKYO" are about the B-29 campaign and especially about the great firebomb mission of March 9-10, 1945. Everyone's invited to the Facebook page: http://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/07
Robert F. Dorr March 26, 2013 at 11:21 AM
History book. Father's Day. World War II. Joint me at the public library in Annandale on May 11 for this discussion about the experiences of American airmen in the war against Japan.


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