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The United States and World War II: The Road to Victory, 1943–1945

For the embattled Allies the winter of 1943–1944 was the best of times and the worst of times. The prospect of ultimate victory had never been brighter, yet that prospect depended on operations not yet mounted, on campaigns not yet successful. Moreover, the strategic opportunism of 1942–1943 had not produced decisive victories comparable with the Allied effort. Only the campaign in the south Pacific had brought a major shift in enemy strategy dictated by the power of Anglo-American arms. The war’s greatest change, in fact, had come in Russia, where the Soviet armored hosts had bludgeoned the Wehrmacht onto the strategic defensive. Josef Stalin complained that the two “second fronts” that the Allies had thus far created—the Mediterranean campaign and the strategic bombardment of Germany—had not produced wounds mortal for the Third Reich.

If the second-front issue weighed heavily upon the Russians, it also burdened FDR and his military planners, for the British—spearheaded by the persuasive Churchill—continued to argue for the expansion of the Mediterranean campaign, which could not occur without a diversion of American assets from the buildup in England. Churchill’s fertile imagination and the dexterous British planning staffs produced offensive projects that extended from the Balkans to the Istrian coast at the head of the Adriatic Sea to the west coast of Italy. The only operation the Allied chiefs approved, an amphibious envelopment at Anzio in January 1944, did not alter the stalemate in Italy. Limited forces, tactical caution, and German combativeness ended Churchill’s dream of a dramatic success. Although the Americans still saw some marginal advantages in continuing the Italian campaign, principally in opening additional air bases, they opposed any substantial reinforcements for the Mediterranean, especially troops and ships needed for a cross-Channel attack.

Despite persistent questions about the size and location of the invasion of France, the Tehran conference (December 1943) ended the debate about whether the offensive (OVERLORD) would occur in 1944. With General Marshall carrying the brunt of the argument, the Americans, seconded by the Russians, persuaded the British that the invasion should take the highest priority in allocating Anglo-American forces. As FDR boasted to Secretary of War Henry Stimson, “I have thus brought OVERLORD back to you safe and sound on the ways for accomplishment.” Army ground and air units still held in strategic reserve in the United States would go to northern Europe, with only minimal reinforcements to the Mediterranean and the Pacific war. (In 1944 the Army sent twenty-six divisions to Europe, seven to the Pacific.) In addition, the preponderance of American forces in the Allied expeditionary force made the British concede that the commander of the invasion would be an American general. Marshall hoped he would be that commander, but FDR reluctantly concluded that he could not spare the chief of staff from his councils of war. He chose instead Marshall’s most trusted subordinate and proven coalition commander, Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The accelerated preparations for OVERLORD did not end the often tense strategic discussions between the Americans and British about how a campaign in Europe should develop. While Eisenhower and his coalition staff wrestled with the tactical and logistical problems of OVERLORD, the Combined Chiefs of Staff argued about an American proposal for a simultaneous invasion of southern France (ANVIL). The military planners did not see how the Allies could find enough ships, transports, tactical aircraft, and divisions to mount two major invasions at the same time unless operations in the Pacific halted for the summer of 1944. That prospect was anathema to the American planners, especially Admiral King. Supported by Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, chief of the Imperial General Staff, Churchill lectured the Americans about using the forces for ANVIL (largely American and Free French) for intensified operations in Italy or other Mediterranean locales. The Americans, however, held fast to the ANVIL concept, for a second “second front” in France would force the dispersion of German divisions and perhaps cut some of them off if the Allies could quickly link their armies along the Rhine frontier.

Despite British claims that ANVIL was additional evidence of American naiveté, Roosevelt rejected Churchill’s anti-ANVIL position for the same reasons he ultimately turned away from the entire Mediterranean strategy: He saw no reason to divert American forces from the war with Germany in France to other operations in central Europe, which the Allies would enter from the Adriatic. FDR did not think Churchill was pathologically opposed to the Russians, but he feared that the British would antagonize the Soviets by entering an area of Europe that the Russians seemed determined to dominate. FDR’s political judgment coincided with his planners’ preferred strategy. The president did not believe his constituency would support American military intervention in central Europe, let alone a postwar military presence. Moreover, he wanted to ensure that the Russians would enter the war with Japan, whose armies were still relatively strong. Superficially the eternal optimist, Roosevelt privately doubted that the United States had the political will and military resources to block the Soviets in central Europe at the same time it was fighting the Germans and Japanese.

The Pacific war exerted its pull upon America’s military leaders, their commitment to OVERLORD notwithstanding. Through the end of 1943 the Army deployed almost as many divisions and air groups (heavy bombers excepted) to the Pacific as it did in Europe. Except for its antisubmarine escorts and support groups, the Navy built its forces for a climactic battle with the Japanese, assisted by the divisions and aircraft wings of the Fleet Marine Force. In the summer of 1943, pressed by King and all the Pacific commanders, the JCS authorized Nimitz to begin operations in the central Pacific, which meant a “second front” along the eastern edges of the Japanese defense perimeter. The Pacific theater and JCS planners crafted plans that would take the Navy’s new carrier and amphibious task forces across the central Pacific through the Gilberts and Marshalls to the western Carolines, capturing or isolating the major naval base at Truk. Further negotiations between the planners produced an additional set of objectives: the large islands of the Mariana group (Saipan, Tinian, Guam), coveted by both the Navy and the Army Air Forces as naval and air bases. Hap Arnold—an apostle of strategic bombing—and King made strange allies, but both wanted to take the war to the Japanese homeland as quickly as possible. Arnold would have a new long-range bomber (the B-29) to use against the Japanese home islands, and King wanted to put his carrier groups and submarines between Japan and its raw materials in the south. The Marianas would provide bases for both forces, leading to economic strangulation and demoralization. In addition, the Navy believed the Imperial Japanese Fleet would have to fight again somewhere in the western Pacific, and it felt confident that it would finish the work it had begun at Midway and in the south Pacific.

U.S. Overseas Deployments December 1943


 

AGAINST GERMANY

AGAINST JAPAN

Personnel

1.8 million

1.8 million

Divisions

   

U.S. Army

17

13

Marine Corps

0

4

U.S. Army Air Forces

   

Strategic bombers

2,263

716

Tactical bombers

1,251

723

Fighters

3,456

1,897

Transports

849

545

Naval aviation

   

Land-based aircraft

204

1,662

Carrier aircraft

366

1,941

U.S. Navy warships

   

Battleships

6

13

Large carriers

1

7

Light carriers

0

7

Escort carriers

9

14

Heavy cruisers

2

12

Light cruisers

8

20

Destroyers

120

188

Destroyer escorts

112

57

Submarines

40

123

Amphibious transports

10

34

LSTs

92

125


Threatened with a shift of strategic priorities away from his own southwest Pacific theater, General MacArthur presented the JCS with a series of plans (RENO) that would take his command from the coast of New Guinea to the Philippines. As the south Pacific theater closed down in early 1944, MacArthur received additional Army divisions and air groups from the JCS. MacArthur unloaded his own strategic arguments on Nimitz, King, Marshall, and even FDR, whom he met in Honolulu in a classic confrontation of great egos. The recapture of the Philippines, MacArthur argued, would interdict Japan with land-based aviation as effectively as any naval blockade. At the root of MacArthur’s persuasiveness, however, was the emotional appeal of wiping away the stinging defeat of 1942 and freeing both Americans and Filipinos from the harsh grip of their Japanese captors. Authorizing a dual drive into the western Pacific also allowed FDR and the JCS to postpone again the question of overall command in the Pacific, an issue neither wanted to resolve. As Nimitz’s forces turned west across miles of ocean and low coral atolls, MacArthur aimed his own American-Australian divisions and air forces, supported by the 7th Fleet, toward the Philippines.

The dual Pacific drive also reflected the JCS’s disillusionment with the Nationalist Chinese. Early in the war FDR and his planners envisioned Chiang Kai-shek’s primitive but numerous army as the foundation of an offensive against the Japanese on the mainland of Asia. By the end of 1943 this optimism had gone aglimmering in a cloud of distrust, broken promises, wasted aid, and reciprocal contempt. If Chiang wanted to fight at all, he wanted to fight fractious warlords and his Communist rivals, not the Japanese. Having no confidence in Chiang, the British avoided extensive operations in Burma, which Chiang championed. Even a limited offensive in 1943 by the Anglo-Indian army along the southern Burmese border came to nothing.

The American interest in the China-Burma-India (CBI) theater changed from a war carried by the Nationalists to a war carried by American strategic bombers. The requirements for the bombing offensive against Japan (MATTERHORN) were disheartening. To maintain a B-29 force of 700 aircraft in China, so USAAF planners calculated, would require an airlift force of 3,000 transports to fly the awesome “Hump” of the Himalayas from India. The American air bases in western China would need both ground and air protection from Japanese attacks, which were sure to follow the first raids. Even if the Chinese provided the ground defense forces, the logistical requirements for MATTERHORN would probably exceed 15,000 tons a month, far in excess of American airlift capacity in 1943. The alternative was to open an overland route from Ledo, a railhead in India, to the Burma Road, but this option would require a ground campaign in northern Burma, since the Japanese held the Burma Road. Except for skilled (but small) Anglo-American “long-range penetration forces” and Burmese hill tribe guerrillas, the ground offensive depended upon the Chinese divisions organized and trained by General Stilwell’s military mission in India and Yunnan, China. Aware that Chiang did not want them to waste their troops against the Japanese—as long as the USAAF would fly the “Hump”—Stilwell’s Chinese generals showed minimal enthusiasm for a harsh jungle campaign.

Back in Washington, General George C. Marshall fretted about “localitis” and “theateritis,” a virulent condition of limited perspective that seemed to infect all the principal Allied commanders. But the war was still an odd lot of minimally connected operations mounted from an initial position of weakness. Whether all the theater campaigns could now be linked and pursued to victory remained the challenge to the Allied grand coalition.

The War Against Germany and Japan

If the cross-Channel attack was the future foundation for German defeat in 1944, the strategic bombing campaign against the Third Reich had been part of Anglo-American strategy since Pearl Harbor. In the uncertain winter of 1943–1944 it had not yet produced victory. Prewar theorizing suggested that an aerial campaign might make traditional warfare obsolete; under the press of actual experience strategic bombardment seemed less likely to defeat the Germans. The most enthusiastic bombardment champions in the RAF and USAAF still believed that bombing might make an invasion unnecessary. The experience of the RAF’s Bomber Command before 1942 did not, however, augur well for the Americans. Prohibitive losses in daylight bombing had forced the RAF to switch to nighttime operations and to change its targeting doctrine. Instead of striking specific industrial and military targets, the RAF bombed the central areas of German cities on the theory that killing and “dehousing” civilians would demoralize the Germans and stir internal resistance to the Nazi regime. Against a progressively sophisticated German air-defense system, the RAF sent streams of bombers into the blackness above the Continent to blast and burn the Third Reich.

The forward elements of the USAAF 8th Air Force deployed to England with the American doctrine of strategic bombardment unmodified by the European air war. American airmen, led by prewar bombing advocates Carl “Tooey” Spaatz and Ira Eaker, believed that the B-17 could conduct precision, daylight operations against specific industrial targets and do so beyond the range of escorting fighters. They also believed that their first task was to ruin the German air force by destroying its aircraft before they were ever assembled. Factories manufacturing airframes, engines, and specialized component parts should receive first attention. The next most important targets—whose destruction would cripple the German economy—were electricity-generating plants, the petroleum industry, and the transportation system. While the bombing might affect German morale, the American air planners did not regard public demoralization as an appropriate objective. In this conviction they differed from the RAF, which wanted American bombers to join its city-busting campaign.

The initial American bombing efforts in 1942 were too modest to produce conclusive evidence on the ultimate success of the air campaign. With TORCH approaching, units assigned initially to the 8th Air Force went instead to North Africa for the Mediterranean campaign. In addition, the 8th Air Force changed target priorities, for the CCS demanded that it bomb U-boat pens and construction yards. Since most of their early targets were in France, the 8th Air Force bombers had fighter support on their raids, and the Luftwaffe, by its own admission, had not trained to attack mass formations of B-17s. Yet even in its limited early operations the 8th Air Force lost an average of 6 percent of its bombers per raid, a loss rate that had led the RAF to abandon daylight operations. The promise of the bombing campaign, on the other hand, still carried the B-17s forward into the fighters and flak. After a raid in which he had lost almost a third of his bombers, one wing commander asserted, “There is no question in my mind as to the eventual result. VIII Bomber Command is destroying and will continue to destroy the economic resources of Germany to such an extent that I personally believe that no invasion of the Continent or Germany proper will ever have to take place.”

FDR, Churchill, and the Combined Chiefs of Staff did not share such unrequited optimism, but at Casablanca (January 1943) they included the strategic bombing of Germany among their most important offensive priorities. A “Combined Bomber Offensive” (POINTBLANK) appeared critical to any invasion and ground campaign, since the limited Allied ground forces would require clear air superiority and a weakened Wehrmacht. The CCS statement on POINTBLANK was modest and very general: “The aim of the bomber offensive is the progressive destruction and dislocation of the enemy’s war industrial and economic system, and the undermining of his morale to the point where his capacity for armed resistance is fatally weakened.” Arguing that limited bomber numbers and unperfected bombing techniques had made an assessment of the campaign difficult, the CCS said that larger raids would reduce bomber losses. They also thought that the bombing campaign would not win the war by itself or destroy German morale, but that “it already has an appreciable and will have an increasing effect on the enemy’s distributive system and industrial potential.” The bomber offensive also had its political dimension, for FDR and Churchill presented it to Stalin as a “second front in the air” that would cripple the German armies fighting in Russia: The British would bomb at night, the Americans by day.

Stripped of bombers and fighters for the North African operations, the 8th Air Force started POINTBLANK with attacks on targets in Western Europe, especially naval bases, airfields, and railroad marshaling yards. Usually the bombers had fighter escorts. The Luftwaffe’s response was intense enough for General Eaker, who had succeeded General Spaatz as the 8th Air Force commander, to order his available medium bombers and fighters to attack German airfields and maintenance depots. Guided by British intelligence and JCS targeting orders, Eaker placed highest priority on attacking the German aircraft industry, especially fighter assembly plants, engine factories, and ball-bearing manufacturers. Petroleum targets and transportation systems dropped down the priority list, while submarine targets remained close to the top. Frustrated by erratic weather (which limited attacks to about ten a month) and crew and aircraft shortages, 8th Air Force did not mount a very impressive effort until the summer of 1943. It did, however, help to divert about half of the Luftwaffe’s fighter force to antibomber operations.

When he received additional B-17 groups, Eaker ordered major missions into Germany, since the airfield bombings were not appreciably reducing German fighter strength. On August 17, the 8th Air Force launched its deepest raids against factories at Schweinfurt and Regensburg. The bombs destroyed some of the factory complexes, but the Luftwaffe destroyed and damaged much of the bomber force. The raids cost the 8th Air Force 60 of 315 bombers—and the ten crewmen in each bomber. After more raids on Luftwaffe airfields, the 8th Air Force made another massive effort the next month. Of 262 bombers sent against Stuttgart, 45 fell. Although the Americans proved—weather permitting—that they could put some of their bombs on target, their losses in unescorted raids suggested that the 8th Air Force might not find planes and crews to replace its losses and maintain efficiency and morale.

The 8th Air Force’s frustrations had many authors. Allied intelligence had underestimated the resiliency and unmobilized capacity of German industry; in 1943 German manufacturing had yet to hit its peak wartime productivity. The dispersion and hardening of factories (some even went underground) made them less vulnerable, and, as the Allies would eventually learn, bombs might destroy structures but not necessarily machine tools and assembly lines. The Luftwaffe also proved a hardy, sophisticated foe. With radar warning systems and centralized control of interceptor forces, the Luftwaffe could mass its fighters along the bombers’ routes. Once engaged, the German interceptors had a variety of techniques to blow holes in the B-17s’ formations of interlocking machine-gun fire. Head-on and underneath attacks exploited gaps in the B-17s’ firepower as daring German pilots, flying the agile Me-109 and FW-190, whirled through the American formations. Other stand-off German interceptors pummeled the bombers with rockets and cannonfire. The results were catastrophic.

Undaunted, General Eaker reorganized his force for another maximum effort into Germany in October 1943. Reinforced with bomber groups redeployed from North Africa, the 8th Air Force once again flew unescorted into the heart of industrial Germany. Losses in the second week of “Black October” climbed, until the second mass raid upon Schweinfurt capped the slaughter. On October 14 a force of 230 B-17s flew into Germany and lost 60 aircraft; of the survivors, another 138 bombers suffered damage and casualties. The loss trends spelled disaster, for 8th Air Force crews were disappearing at a monthly rate of 30 percent. Luftwaffe pilots perished at half that rate. At his Schweinfurt debriefing a pilot stated one clear solution: “Jesus Christ, give us fighters for escort!”

The combined effect of the bad weather and tenacious German air defenses created pressure upon the 8th Air Force to adopt urban-area bombing. The British, Eisenhower, and Arnold suggested that the USAAF should switch targeting concepts; but first Eaker, then Spaatz, still believed that industrial targets should be bombed. As one of their planners characterized terror-bombing, it was “a baby-killing plan of the get-rich-quick psychological boys.” Although the USAAF did participate in city-area bombing in Germany before the war’s end, most of its senior leaders held to the view that daylight precision bombing was the only sure way to defeat Hitler because it destroyed his ability to wage war.

The reform of POINTBLANK in 1944 came from several sources, and in the first six months of the year the USAAF turned the tide against the Luftwaffe. In October the USAAF activated the 15th Air Force, a strategic bomber force flying from Italy that could reach targets in south-central Germany and the oil-refining targets in the Balkans; 15th Air Force attacks forced the Germans to defend against two major bomber threats during daylight. American aircraft production was finally meeting the USAAF’s needs, and the USAAF training establishment was producing increasing numbers of bomber crews and fighter pilots. In December 1943, the 8th Air Force mounted its first 600-plane raid.

The bombers also received fighter escorts in increased numbers and ranges. For three months Arnold ordered all new fighters to the 8th Air Force, which meant a force of 1,200 operational fighters for escorts. Building on engineering projects in 1943, the 8th Air Force mounted wing and belly tanks on its P-38 Lightning and P-47 Thunderbolt fighters. The USAAF also discovered that by placing a new engine in the P-51 Mustang, a ground attack fighter-bomber, it had an optimal long-range escort fighter. In the meantime, the 8th Air Force had redesigned its formations for more accurate bombing and mutual self-protection; it had also made strides in defeating the cloud cover by using radar-guided bombing.

With a new headquarters—U.S. Strategic Air Forces (General Spaatz)—coordinating 8th and 15th Air Forces raids, the American bombing campaign reached a new peak effort. Testing all its reforms in early February 1944, the 8th Air Force mounted a third Schweinfurt raid and lost only 11 bombers of 231; three other raids on the same day sent 600 bombers against Germany with minimal losses. The USAAF mounted six major raids during “Big Week,” the last week of February. With fighters that could fly beyond the Rhine and both protect bomber formations and sweep ahead to engage the Luftwaffe interceptors, the 8th Air Force formations reversed the loss ratio with the German fighter force; bomber losses fell well below 10 percent of each raiding force, and German pilot losses mounted to around 25 percent a month for six months. American bombs hit their targets, but monthly German fighter production climbed from 1,000 to 3,000 in 1944. The difficulty for the Luftwaffe was that it was running short of skilled pilots, for it could man only one-quarter of the new planes. Moreover, the Americans changed target priorities in May 1944 and concentrated on the petroleum industry. Fuel shortages squeezed the Luftwaffe, which curtailed pilot training to save fuel. The German fighters and flak could still be dangerous: 69 of 658 bombers fell in a March raid on Berlin. But the Americans could now make good the losses in planes and crews, and the Germans could not.

Despite the hope that “Big Week” killed the Luftwaffe, the air battle over Germany continued with unabated ferocity through the first five months of 1944, but it produced the minimal objectives spelled out by the CCS. On D-Day the Luftwaffe did not menace the Normandy invasion, and the Allies enjoyed air superiority over the battlefield for the rest of the war. In the meantime, the remnants of the Luftwaffe fighter force battled with the RAF and the USAAF in the skies above the German industrial heartland. For American bomber crews the experience had a numbing sameness: pre-mission tension; the grip of cold and thin air; the scream of air battle as B-17s filled with machine-gun smoke and, too often, flames and electrical sparks; a safe return or a plunge to earth—all to be repeated in each mission. In 1944, however, the sacrifices seemed bearable and the risks diminished as German air defenses found fewer victims. Just the size of the American effort boosted confidence. From 600-plane raids, the 8th Air Force mounted first 1,000-plane, then 2,000-plane raids by the end of 1944. Surely, planners and aircrews reasoned, the Germans could not take the pounding.

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Yet the Combined Bomber Offensive paid limited and costly dividends. It definitely ruined the Luftwaffe and forced the Germans to allocate much of their industrial production to air defense and their transportation system. The 8th and 15th Air Forces lost over 29,000 crewmen killed and 8,237 heavy bombers in order to destroy the German petrochemical and transportation systems and thus cripple the Wehrmacht, but the destruction came too late to decide the battle for Europe. In sum, German war industry continued to produce war materiel until the last days of the war, but the Germans could not ship their fleets of Panzers and 88-mm guns to the front. Their munitions industry cried for chemicals and coal, and their vehicles ran low on gasoline. Weighed against its loss of 47,000 crewmen and 8,325 heavy bombers, RAF Bomber Command’s contributions were even more limited. Its night campaign of city destruction brought untold suffering to urban Germans and drove the survivors underground. Under Nazi control and conditioned to a life of privation by the gradual escalation of the bombing, the German people did not crack under the explosions and firestorms that swept their cities. Strategic bomber commanders complained that they did not have ample men and aircraft soon enough to make their doctrine work. They also argued that German air defenses diverted men and weapons from the land battle. Critics of the campaign, who judged the 600,000 civilian deaths disproportionate to the military results, thought that POINTBLANK had not affected the war’s outcome at all. Both extreme viewpoints ignored the doctrinal, organizational, and technical limitations of the Allied bomber forces as well as their ultimately awesome destructive power. In the war of attrition fought at 30,000 feet the Allies won another narrow victory that contributed to the final collapse of the Third Reich.

Strategic Change in the Pacific

With the general strategic outlines of the Pacific war established in 1943, the American armed forces massed in early 1944 for a year of climactic campaigning against the Japanese. As Admiral Yamamoto (killed by USAAF fighter pilots in April 1943) had feared, Japan could not stop the military might of an aroused United States. By the end of the year, the Americans had permanently ruptured Japan’s mid-Pacific defense perimeter and destroyed its ability to fight a conventional air-naval-ground war. The dual advance toward the western Pacific mixed long-range plans and strategic opportunism, a combination made possible by the sheer size of the American forces and their increasing operational skill. In 1944 the Americans won the major campaign of the Pacific war but did not yet win the war itself.

General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz organized their forces for extended and unrelenting operations in their theaters. MacArthur’s ground forces combined American and Australian infantry divisions, supplemented by additional artillery and logistical units. MacArthur eventually formed two American field armies (6th and 8th), which he used for the western drive into the Philippines, while the Australians continued the ground operations against the isolated Japanese bases in the southwest Pacific. MacArthur’s land-based Far East Air Forces (FEAF) included Lieutenant General George C. Kenney’s U.S. 5th Air Force and elements of the Royal Australian Air Force; this force provided the full range of air support from interdiction bombing to battlefield close support. MacArthur’s navy was the U.S. 7th Fleet, task-organized for amphibious operations, but Admiral King made sure that MacArthur would not control the fast-carrier task forces. Instead Nimitz remained responsible for directing the major naval campaign, which would occur in the central Pacific theater. Although Nimitz’s warships and amphibious task forces left the war only for essential refitting and brief rests, his naval forces fell under two different commanders, Admiral William F. Halsey (3d Fleet) and Admiral Raymond A. Spruance (5th Fleet). While one commander conducted operations, the other planned the subsequent offensive. Nimitz’s command also included the USAAF 7th Air Force and land-based Navy and Marine aircraft. His ground forces for 1944 included four Marine divisions and a separate Marine brigade and four Army infantry divisions, all amply supported with artillery and other supporting arms, organized as two amphibious corps commanded by Marine generals.

The Americans in the Pacific had by 1944 also developed a logistical system capable of supporting continuous operations. In MacArthur’s theater the system was traditional, for it depended upon eleven major fixed bases and the forward shuttling of supplies by ship and plane, which moved from island to island behind the fighting forces. Shipping shortages, exacerbated by limited port and storage facilities and inefficient management and manpower, plagued MacArthur. Working from fixed bases in the jungle islands, his forces had a voracious appetite for supplies. FEAF was an especially heavy consumer, since its commanders kept it in continuous action against Japanese shipping routes and isolated bases. In the central Pacific Nimitz’s fleet depended upon a sea-based logistical system capable of replenishing warships at sea and of utilizing extemporized bases among the captured atolls of the theater. Islands with suitable anchorages and airstrips were the key objectives of the central Pacific war, first to deprive the Japanese of their use, then to develop them for fleet operations. The service force that supported the 3d, 5th, and 7th Fleets grew to 3,000 vessels in 1945. It included specialized ships of all sorts: tenders, fast oilers, ammunition and stores ships, floating dry docks, and hospital ships. The Navy also formed special construction battalions (“Seabees”) to build new facilities with their bulldozers and scrapers as soon as the former occupants had ceased to exist. Logistical demands accelerated throughout 1944, but the Navy and Army service commands managed to keep pace, thus assuring a high tempo of operations the Japanese could not match.

Still uncertain about the intentions of the Japanese fleet and their own ability to operate without superior land-based air power, MacArthur and Nimitz opened their dual advance in conservative fashion. Nimitz started the campaign with amphibious assaults upon the Tarawa and Makin atolls in the Gilbert Islands in November 1943. Despite suicidal Japanese resistance, the two American divisions took their objectives in only four days; Japanese air and naval forces did not contest the landing except for sporadic air and submarine raids. The Marine landing at Tarawa demonstrated that amphibious assaults still needed refinement. Japanese fixed defenses needed the special attention of pinpoint, methodical air and naval gunfire bombardment if landing force casualties were to be reduced. In addition, the assault troops required amphibian tractors to cross the coral reefs that barred the way to troops and supplies. In February 1944 the central Pacific amphibious forces showed they were quick learners, for the assault on the Marshalls occurred with greater sophistication. One Marine division and part of one Army division overwhelmed Kwajalein atoll. Both divisions were relatively inexperienced, but both profited from improved fire support, more numerous “amtracs” (amphibian tractors), and their own enthusiasm for close combat. Again the Japanese fleet did not come out. Impressed by the 5th Fleet’s ability in amphibious operations and confident that his fast carriers would best the Japanese, Nimitz scrapped his original timetable and ordered an additional February assault a thousand miles to the west. In a week’s time a landing force of one Marine and one Army regiment seized Eniwetok, another anchorage and air base. The ratio of American to Japanese dead in these assaults climbed to well over one to ten, a more than acceptable price for the Americans. In addition, the seizure of Kwajalein and Eniwetok allowed Nimitz to isolate the four remaining Japanese base complexes in the Marshalls. These bases were bombed and starved into impotence by Marine and USAAF aircraft throughout the rest of the war.

In the southwest Pacific General MacArthur in early 1944 combined the final stages of the isolation of Rabaul with the first moves toward the Philippines. In February he too found the Japanese reluctant to fight more than a delaying action when he sent three American divisions into the Admiralty Islands. Covered by his own air strikes and deep raids by Nimitz’s carriers, MacArthur accelerated his own operations along the coast of New Guinea. With relatively light casualties, he leapfrogged westward from Hollandia and Aitape (April 1944) to the island of Morotai (September 1944), which placed him within air range of the Philippines. The Japanese rushed aircraft south to contain the American advance, but the FEAF had become too numerous and skilled for the Japanese to best. In addition, the Japanese learned that the Americans had mounted simultaneous operations against the Marianas, so the force that might have inconvenienced MacArthur returned to the north to face the more menacing offensive.

In June–August 1944 the 5th Fleet dealt the Japanese armed forces another critical defeat by capturing Saipan, Tinian, and Guam and destroying the enemy’s naval aviation force at the Battle of the Philippine Sea (June 19–20). As the American amphibious forces (523 vessels, 127,000 troops) approached the twin objectives of Saipan and Guam, Admiral Spruance sent Task Force 58, which included his fast carriers, west of the Marianas, since he expected a major effort by the Japanese against the invasion force. The four carrier task groups (fifteen carriers and their escorts) ranged north and west of Saipan. On June 15 the amphibious assault forces (two Marine and one Army divisions) plunged ashore at Saipan and engaged the Japanese army in a hard-fought ground battle that included mountain fighting, mass suicide attacks, and artillery barrages given and received in a magnitude not faced in the jungle and atoll fighting. So fierce was the fighting that Nimitz postponed the landing on Guam. In the meantime the Japanese fleet sortied from its western Pacific bases for another major engagement with the U.S. Navy. American radio intelligence and reconnaissance by aircraft and submarines prevented any surprise, and, despite Spruance’s cautious conduct of the battle, the 5th Fleet’s aviation annihilated its Japanese counterpart. With better aircraft and radar and more experienced pilots, the American carrier forces and escort vessels downed 480 Japanese aircraft and lost only 130 aircraft and 76 airmen. In addition, the Americans sank three large Japanese carriers of the nine engaged. “The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot” ended the threat of Japanese naval aviation in the Pacific. Secure from enemy attack from the sea, the amphibious expeditionary forces took Saipan, then Guam and Tinian. The USAAF immediately began to turn the Marianas into an air base complex for its B-29s.

The Pacific commanders moved quickly to exploit the Marianas victory, scrapping their previous timetables. Admiral King wanted a move directly to Formosa, but he lost the argument to MacArthur, who wanted the next effort (as planned) against the Philippines. The Americans did not have the fresh amphibious forces and logistical shipping for an operation so near China and the Japanese home islands. When Admiral Halsey’s 3d Fleet raids into the western Pacific revealed the Japanese shortages of aircraft, the JCS and MacArthur agreed to bypass Yap in the western Carolines and Mindanao and to strike directly at Leyte in the central Philippines. In October 1944 MacArthur’s 6th Army (six divisions) and the 7th Fleet—with Halsey’s 3d Fleet carriers in support—attacked Leyte. The Japanese navy made one more effort to inflict a decisive defeat upon the Americans but failed at the Battle of Leyte Gulf (October 23–25). The Japanese fleet approached the Americans from three directions. The center force, running a gauntlet of submarines and air attacks, actually passed through the San Bernardino Strait and engaged the escort carrier groups of the 7th Fleet. Lured past Luzon by reports of large carriers in the Japanese northern force, the 3d Fleet could not rescue the invasion force, which fought back so fiercely that the Japanese retired. To the south an American task group of surface warships caught the Japanese southern force in the Suriagao Strait and demolished it in a classic night bombardment. Successive attacks by Japanese planes based in the Philippines could not turn the tide. The defeat spelled the end of the Japanese fleet, which lost four large carriers, three battleships, nine cruisers, eleven destroyers, and 500 more aircraft. The 3d and 7th Fleets, by contrast, lost only two small carriers and three destroyers. The Marianas pattern then reemerged ashore. The isolated Japanese army fought with skill and devotion and perished. True to his word, MacArthur had returned in considerably greater strength than he had left in 1942.

The first great American offensive in the western Pacific, however, brought a major change in Japanese tactics that did not bode well for the rest of the war. Recognizing that they could not match American firepower and tactical skill in the air, on the sea, and in conventional land warfare, the Japanese decided to fight on new terms. In island fighting they demonstrated their new tactics against the 1st Marine Division and 81st Infantry Division on Peleliu, a rocky island in the western Carolines, in September 1944. Exploiting an interlocking defense system of caves and concealed weapons bunkers, the Japanese turned what might have been another week-long battle into a bitter two-month campaign that ruined the 1st Marine Division. The Japanese defenders forced the Americans to kill and bury them with demolitions, flame-throwers, and close assaults. To eliminate about the same size force (6,000) they had faced at Tarawa, the Americans lost almost twice as many killed in action (1,800) as they had suffered at Tarawa. The battle was even more unpalatable, for Peleliu was part of the planned Mindanao operation, which had been canceled.

As a minor part of their counterattack at Leyte Gulf, the Japanese introduced the kamikaze corps, a fleet of new planes and novice pilots who did not need to master air-to-air tactics or return landings since their sole purpose was to crashdive into Navy vessels. As Admiral Nimitz admitted after the war, the kamikazes took the Navy by surprise, since designed suicide had not been a part of American air doctrine. It had not been in the Japanese repertoire until the summer of 1944, when the losses in experienced pilots doomed conventional Japanese air attacks. The Divine Wind Special Attack Corps made its auspicious debut on October 25, 1944, when fewer than twenty kamikazes sank one and damaged four escort carriers of the 7th Fleet. With no bombs to drop or torpedoes to launch, the kamikazes could penetrate the blanket of antiaircraft fire at any angle. As a floating bomb of aviation gasoline and ordnance, an American carrier needed only one kamikaze crash into its hangar deck to set off secondary explosions, which at the very least would halt flight operations. Escort vessels were somewhat less vulnerable but not immune. For the first time since the Solomons campaign, it looked as if the Navy faced prohibitive warship losses. The Japanese cave tactics ashore now had their counterpart at sea, giving the Japanese a faint hope that the war of attrition could be turned back to their advantage. Although the American public was only vaguely aware of the new tactics—obscured as they were by the great victories in the Marianas and Leyte—the war in the western Pacific had entered a new phase that increased the cost of a continued American advance.

From Normandy to the Rhine

The driving rain and whistling night winds were no more grim than the mood of the senior American and British commanders meeting in a manor house outside Portsmouth, England. The June 4, 1944, conference had one purpose: to decide if the weather would force another postponement of the cross-Channel invasion. At the cutting edge of months of preparation and years of planning, Dwight D. Eisenhower bore the responsibility for the decision. His ground commanders wanted to get on with the battle; the air and naval commanders were less enthusiastic. Eisenhower listened again to their advice, to familiar arguments about surprise, morale, and logistics. Promised a slight improvement in the weather—critical for air and naval gunfire operations—he made his decision without flair: “I’m quite positive we must give the order. I don’t like it, but there it is. I don’t see how we can possibly do anything else.” D-Day in Normandy would be June 6.

Under serious consideration for more than a year, OVERLORD attempted to exploit Allied air and naval superiority and to mislead the Germans about the place of the actual landing. Only a substantial degree of surprise could prevent what the Allies feared most, a mass armored counterattack on the landing force. Even with additional amphibious ships and landing craft, the Allies could not hope to match the six German Panzer divisions in northern France if these were quickly committed. Yet the opportunity for surprise was limited by the iron demands of logistics and air basing. To wage offensive war with an expeditionary force of millions of men and hundreds of thousands of vehicles, the Allies required fixed port facilities. For example, the Allies’ 250,000 vehicles burned more than 7,000 tons of gasoline in one operational day. American logistical planners, using wartime data, cut their estimates of the Army’s needs but still produced awesome estimates: An infantry division needed one ton of supplies per soldier per month, and an armored division’s needs were five times greater than an infantry division’s. The Allies also counted upon fighter-bombers to give them a big edge in maneuver warfare, and the optimal use of tactical air meant not only high logistical requirements but also forward bases in France.

The location of the invasion narrowed inexorably to Normandy, since a landing there would allow the Allies to capture the port of Cherbourg at the tip of the Cotentin peninsula. An attack to the north around Calais was a bit too obvious, and the Germans had already emphasized the defense of the Atlantic Wall north of the Seine by reinforcing their 15th Army and fortifying the beaches. The Brittany coast to the south offered five major port facilities that the Americans knew well, since they had used them in World War I, but an attack so far south would slow the liberation of France and allow the Germans too much time to reinforce their western armies. The Allies planned to use the Brittany ports but only after they were safely ashore in Normandy. The German obsession with the Pas de Calais, on the other hand, could be exploited by a complex deception plan utilizing the full range of Allied capabilities: air attacks, dummy military installations and shipping, misleading radio communications, false agent reports, and other intelligence ploys. If the Germans did not redeploy before D-Day, the Allied invasion forces would face just six German divisions in Normandy, only two of which were first rate.

The success of the landings depended upon air superiority over the amphibious force and air interdiction to prevent German reinforcements. Three months before D-Day the Anglo-American air forces initiated the “Transportation Plan,” a massive attack upon the French railway system and the bridges across the Seine and other major rivers. As part of the deception plan two-thirds of the bomb tonnage fell on targets in the Pas de Calais area. The 9th Air Force executed the American portion of the plan, joined in the last two months before D-Day by the 8th Air Force and RAF Bomber Command. The interdiction campaign also profited by the sabotage and espionage activities of the French underground. In all, rail traffic in northern France and western Germany fell by 70 percent before the invasion. The air campaign also had a special urgency, since the Germans had introduced the first of their “V” rocket-bombs, which might disrupt the invasion and discourage the British.

The actual assault placed more than 100,000 Allied troops ashore in France by the end of D-Day. Three American infantry divisions and two airborne divisions fought their way into positions behind two beaches at the western half of the Allied landing area; on “Omaha” beach the Germans inflicted shocking casualties, but on “Utah” methodical naval gunfire, weak defenses, and the confusion created by the massive airborne assault allowed the Americans to anchor the right flank. The British attack seized the left flank with three divisions, three armored brigades, an air assault division, and various commando formations. Montgomery, however, did not take Caen, the city that controlled the road network south of the Seine and the gateway to open tank country, for the conservative British general feared a massive Panzer counterattack. It did not come, largely because Hitler thought the Normandy attack was only a diversion and would not allow his front-line commanders to commit the Panzer reserve or draw troops from the 15th German Army in the Pas de Calais.

American and German Divisions, Manpower and Equipment 1944


 

U.S. INFANTRY

U.S. ARMORED

U.S. AIRBORNE

GERMAN INFANTRY

GERMAN MECH. INFANTRY

GERMAN PANZER

Men

15,768

11,581

8,533

12,700

13,800

13,700

Infantry

8,800

4,700

6,700

5,500

7,000

5,200

Machine guns

950

940

376

656

1,101

1,231

Antitank rocket launchers

663

669

182

108

Mortars

145

94

140

163

76

72

Towed antitank guns

93

46

21

30

Self-propelled antitank guns

36

12

44

44

Artillery howitzers

70

54

36

78

54

54

Artillery guns

12

83

82

Armored cars

49

80

35

35

*Tanks

76

307

48

92

150

Trucks and light vehicles

1,560

1,496

408

615

2,637

2,685

Horse-drawn wagons

1,466


*A U.S. and German infantry division often had one tank battalion attached to it.

The Normandy campaign quickly changed into a bitter, two-month slugfest, with the tide turning to the Allies’ advantage. In the American sector the hedgerow country, characterized by narrow roads and textbook defensive terrain, slowed the advance to a bloody crawl to the south to link and expand the beachhead area. The only dramatic success was the seizure of Cherbourg, but even there the German defenders held long enough to destroy the port facilities. In the British sector, Montgomery’s 21st Army Group took Caen and destroyed the German piecemeal armored counterattacks, but the British won no striking victories that allowed an Allied breakout. Moreover, the Allies had difficulty building their logistical base, for a severe storm ruined their extemporized port facilities along the beaches, and the land battle did not secure enough ground for adequate air bases and depots. Nevertheless, by early July the Allies had a secure lodgment on the Continent, packed with more than a million men and protected by superior air forces.

Frustrated by Montgomery’s penchant for bold promises and weak accomplishment, Eisenhower looked to Omar Bradley’s 12th U.S. Army Group to open the enclave to the west and south with an overwhelming attack by the 1st U.S. Army, to be followed by an exploitation by George S. Patton’s 3d U.S. Army. In the last week of July, Bradley launched Operation COBRA, which used the full range of American armored and air capabilities, including saturation attacks by heavy bombers. Although the bombers had the unfortunate habit of dropping their loads on friend and foe alike, the one-corps attack slugged its way forward against weakening German resistance. With one flank on the ocean and the other in the Normandy hills, the American divisions penetrated the enemy positions, and within a week the 3d U.S. Army had plunged through the gap, sending one corps on to Brittany and another corps to the northeast to envelop the whole 7th German Army position around the Normandy enclave. Finally alert to the severity of the German position, Hitler ordered a major counteroffensive against the exposed American left flank in the Mortain area. But warned of the impending attack by ULTRA, the 1st U.S. Army and tactical air attacks ruined the Panzer assault. Although a fit of caution prevented the Allies from trapping the whole 7th German Army and Panzer Group West, the battle ended with the Allies free to exploit their victory for one ecstatic month. While the 21st British Army Group drove north across the Seine into the Pas de Calais, the 12th U.S. Army Group drove north and east on either side of Paris, which was liberated by the Resistance and French and American divisions on August 25.

Images

Everywhere in Europe the Allies seemed close to victory. The German high command was in disarray. In late July a group of German generals and civilians attempted to kill Hitler and end the Nazi regime. Although unsuccessful, the attempted coup, coupled with the Allied victories in France and the Russian advances in the east, brought extensive confusion to the Nazi war effort. Two German field marshals committed suicide rather than face Hitler’s tender mercies, and Hitler sacked his supreme commander in France, Gerd von Rundstedt. In Italy the Allies had finally taken Rome (June 4) and moved north before the Germans could restore their position along another fortified belt. The new stalemate in Italy was no comfort to the Germans, for the Americans had at last overwhelmed Churchill’s reluctance and their own shipping shortages to mount ANVIL, the invasion of southern France. On August 15 a Franco-American invasion force, built around divisions redeployed from Italy, landed without serious resistance and drove north as part of a vast double envelopment of all the German forces west of the Rhine. The drive up the valley of the Rhone River brought the new 6th U.S. Army Group up to the flank of the 3d U.S. Army in early September, which meant that the Allies now had a continuous front from the German frontier to the English Channel.

The race across France slowed in September. At the root of the Allies’ problems was the voracious appetite of their highly mechanized and motorized armies. The American armies especially had outrun their supply lines. Patton, whose 3d U.S. Army had already reached Lorraine and the approaches to the Rhineland, argued that the rest of the Allied armies should surrender their gasoline and ammunition to his divisions. Montgomery was equally insistent that his army group receive highest priority in supplies, and he tried to reverse his reputation for conservatism with Operation MARKET-GARDEN, an airborne-armored thrust through Holland across the lower Rhine. Although MARKET-GARDEN brought the 21st British Army Group to the Rhine, the German counterattacks showed special ferocity and deprived the Allies of the bridge at Arnhem, which ended the operation. Eisenhower’s logisticians extemporized as best they could as the two Allied army groups in the north cried for supplies. Nonstop truck operations (the “Red Ball Express”) shuttled critical supplies forward, and transport aircraft performed similar services. Nevertheless, the Allied Expeditionary Forces could not maintain wide, continuous offensives without pipelines and railroads. The former took time to build, and the latter took time to repair. The Germans, on the other hand, profited from a shortened front and supply lines as well as the special ardor that comes from fighting for one’s own national territory. Along the vaunted West Wall, or Siegfried Line, the Allied advance stalled.

As German resistance stiffened along the approaches to the Rhine, Eisenhower’s command faced three major, interrelated problems. One was operational, one logistical, and one organizational, and all three influenced the character of the campaign. The operational difficulty occurred when Montgomery, promoted to field marshal and supported in Britain by even those who found him insufferable, urged Eisenhower to reinforce the 21st British Army Group with at least one American army and to give the British the Allied supply priority. Montgomery would then advance on a narrow front through Holland and the northern Rhineland to the north German plain in what he described as a “Schlieffen plan in reverse.” Montgomery’s plan had at least the advantage of strategic concentration, since he had pointed the 21st British Army Group at the heartland of the Third Reich. Patton’s proposed offensive into Bavaria boasted élan in the pursuit of secondary objectives. The logistical crisis of autumn 1944 would not allow a full offensive all along the Allied front, so Eisenhower had to choose some concentration.

Eisenhower also had reason to worry about his ability to fight the Germans on even terms, for he could see an end to the number of divisions he could deploy in Western Europe. His shortage stemmed from decisions a year old, which limited the Army ground forces to 90 divisions. Assuming that Allied aviation and the Russians would compensate for limited ground forces, the War Department had cut division activations and in the autumn of 1944 had only twenty-four divisions left to deploy worldwide. In September Eisenhower had thirty-four divisions, and he received only fifteen more before the war ended. (Six American divisions remained in Italy.) The British had no more deployable combat divisions at all.

The administrative and logistical demands of the Army’s overseas effort also limited the numbers of combat troops, a situation worsened by the Army’s inability to manage its own manpower system. One general characterized the manpower pipeline as “an invisible horde of people going here and there but seemingly never arriving.” In late 1944 the combat ground forces worldwide numbered 2.1 million, with another million men in supporting units, in an Army of about 8 million. Only about a quarter of the ground army’s total strength at any one time was assigned to units engaged with the enemy; the infantrymen in these units suffered 90 percent of the casualties. The War Department took drastic action in late 1944 to meet the immediate crisis, which was finding replacements for the existing divisions. It deactivated units of marginal utility (e.g., antiaircraft battalions), stripped service units of combat-fit replacements, and shipped marginally trained (fifteen to seventeen weeks) eighteen-year-olds and physically limited older men to Europe.

If American divisions had consistently performed in battle with superior effectiveness, their limited numbers would not have been serious, but such was not the case. The best American divisions were as good as any in the war; several infantry and armored divisions and the 82nd and 101st Airborne clearly fell into this category. But the majority of American divisions needed overwhelming artillery support (another logistical drain) and close air support to best their German opponents. Operations at night and in bad weather thus were not good risks. An infantry division also had only one attached tank battalion, which limited tank-infantry operations. American armored divisions had more tanks than the Panzer divisions but were outgunned by most German tanks in 1944–1945.

Army personnel assignment policy also penalized the ground forces and limited American combat effectiveness. From the war’s beginning the Army assigned people to military jobs on the basis of both intelligence and physical capability, but intelligence reigned supreme in allocating the physically fit to overseas duties. The most intelligent men went into technical billets, the others into the infantry. In 1944, 40 percent of the enlisted men in an American division were classified as below average in intelligence. This policy made it especially difficult to find and keep competent NCOs, who bore the brunt of combat leadership and suffered disproportionate casualties. The lack of small-unit leaders had not been a special problem in the divisions that had fought in the Mediterranean campaign, since they produced able leaders from their own ranks. The newer infantrymen, however, were younger and less intelligent than their 1943 comrades, which restricted the leadership pool. In France the rate of casualties among veterans and replacements alike eroded the quality of tactical leadership. Leadership problems, for example, contributed to a persistent American weakness: a minority of infantrymen fired their weapons in any one engagement.

Faced with such structural problems, Eisenhower was loath to attempt any dramatic battles in late 1944 until his American divisions (now two-thirds of his ground combat force) could regroup and his logistical system could catch up with the battlefield. He had no confidence that Montgomery would use his scarce combat troops with any greater competence than his American generals. His major adjustment was to adopt a variant of Montgomery’s strategy by committing the new 9th U.S. Army and most of the 1st U.S. Army north of the Ardennes while curbing Patton’s 3d U.S. Army and instructing the 6th U.S. Army Group to the south to limit offensive operations. With autumn mud and winter cold slowing forward movement and restricting air support, Eisenhower planned to capture at least a bridgehead over the Rhine before the year ended. With the once beaten Germans fighting with desperate effectiveness in the Hürtgen Forest, in Aachen, and the Roer Valley, the Allied campaign reverted to a war of attrition that resembled the Meuse-Argonne offensive of 1918. The battle for the Siegfried Line promised to offer nothing more than mounting casualties.

The Isolation of Japan

As its carriers and amphibious forces advanced to the western Pacific in 1944, the United States launched devastating attacks upon the economic life and morale of the Japanese people. The accumulative destruction ruined Japan’s ability to maintain a wartime economy, but not its will to fight on. The American assault on the home islands came in two forms: submarine warfare against the Japanese merchant fleet and bomber attacks on Japan’s highly flammable industrial cities. In a sense, the Japanese experienced the combined pain of the German U-boat attacks on Britain and the Allied bombing of Germany. So obvious were the effects of the submarine and bombing campaigns by 1945 that some American planners believed that economic collapse would make an invasion of the home islands unnecessary.

Beginning the war with no combat experience and limited numbers, the submarine force of the Pacific Fleet had every reason to be a “silent service.” Despite the heavy demands placed upon the submarines to attack the Japanese fleet, virtually every phase of the submarines’ early efforts was flawed. Despite its limited numbers (fifty boats, about evenly divided between Pearl Harbor and Cavite), the submarine force sortied against the entire periphery of the Japanese defensive area. When the Asiatic Fleet’s boats fell back to Australia in 1942, they patrolled the full length of the Malay Barrier while the Pearl boats roamed the Pacific from the home islands to the equator. Too few submarines patrolled too much ocean.

Doctrine and tactics combined to limit the effectiveness of American submarine attacks. Since submarine forces were supposed to concentrate on attacking warships, they planned to launch their torpedoes from deep beneath the sea. Surface attacks, even at night, were officially discouraged. The difficulty with deep submerged attacks was that American subs did not yet have adequate ranging sonars and computing and tracking equipment. Instead, the Navy had attempted to develop a torpedo that made a near miss as good as a direct hit: the Mk XIV torpedo with the Mk VI exploder. This theoretically deadly combination was supposed to explode when the torpedo entered the magnetic field of its target; it also carried a contact exploder in case the magnetic detonation did not take place. Submarine commanders discovered that neither of the exploders worked very well. Their 1942–1943 patrols experienced a bewildering number of problems: torpedoes that prematurely exploded, others that did not explode at all, torpedoes that ran underneath their targets (the Mk VI’s depth setting was also flawed), torpedoes that even circled back upon the submarines that had launched them. In a fit of anger at the designers, Rear Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, commander of the Pearl submarines, suggested that the Navy design a special boathook with which submarines could rip off the sides of Japanese vessels.

Even with the hardiest of souls, the early submarine offensive would have had problems, but the submarine force was not commanded by the Navy’s fiercest warriors. Weighted down by the stress of command, the fear of losing their crews and boats, and their peacetime-bred operational conservatism, the submarine captains habitually failed to close with the enemy and sink ships. One-third of them were relieved in the war’s first year. The submarine force, however, had attractions that allowed the Navy to man its boats with its finest sailors, officers and enlisted men alike. Submarine sailors were all volunteers, attracted by the force’s elite standards, casual discipline, technical challenges, and extra pay. All volunteers had to pass rigorous physical, mental, and psychological tests to qualify for the demanding submarine training program, for the Navy knew that undersea warfare created stresses that weak personalities could not handle. With experience and the proper weapons, therefore, the submarine force had the human potential to carry the undersea war right into Japanese waters.

The Pacific submarine force spent much of 1942 and 1943 sorting out its problems and mustering its strength for a maximum effort in 1944. The size of the force doubled, and its commanders increased both the number and length of their patrols. The Navy finally fixed its errant torpedoes, and the quality of its boats and crews to endure and survive Japanese ASW attacks had been proved. Younger, more aggressive captains replaced their cautious seniors. Moreover, submarine planners had enough data to analyze operations and change them. With Admiral Nimitz’s approval (Nimitz himself was an experienced submariner) and encouraged by the accuracy of their signal intelligence, especially ULTRA derived from the broken Japanese Army Water Transport Code, the planners massed their patrols along constricted shipping routes in the western Pacific. The destruction of the Japanese merchant fleet became the submarines’ primary mission, and they deployed for fleet action only when a major engagement seemed likely. The submarine force also had sufficient influence to limit many of its secondary missions, like transporting guerrillas and raiders, carrying supplies to guerrillas behind enemy lines, and performing reconnaissance duties. One secondary mission that submariners actually relished was rescuing downed Allied airmen; daring snatches from underneath Japanese guns became an operational tour de force.

The statistics on operations for 1941–1943 demonstrated both the disappointments and achievements of the Pacific submarine force. In 700 patrols the Americans sank 515 ships of 2.25 million tons, but it required an average of ten torpedo firings to result in one sinking. The offensive, however, reduced Japanese merchant tonnage, which slipped from 5.2 million tons to 4.1 million tons by the end of 1943. In one critical vessel category—oil tankers—the Japanese actually increased their fleet from 686,000 to 863,000 tons with conversions and new construction. Oil tankers, then, were the optimal target for 1944. On the hopeful side—despite improved Japanese convoy operations—American submarine losses were bearable: twenty-two boats (and nineteen entire crews) in the war’s first two years.

In the war’s last two years the Pacific submarine force effectively ended the Japanese economy’s ability to sustain a major war effort with imports from Southeast Asia. Operating from new forward bases in the Marianas and Philippines, patrolling submarines could saturate the straits and inland seas from the home islands to Malaya. Enjoying new technological improvements in torpedo operations, the Pacific subs exacted a rising toll on merchantmen. In total tonnage the Japanese merchant fleet declined from 5 million to just over 2 million. Heroic efforts kept tanker tonnage about even, but only at the expense of all other building programs. In the war’s last year (September 1944–September 1945) the subs finally took out the tanker fleet, cutting it from almost 900,000 to under 200,000 tons. When the war ended, the Japanese merchant marine was reduced to less than 2 million tons, mostly wooden-hulled coasters and fishing boats of limited carrying capacity. By postwar reckoning based on Japanese figures, the submarine force destroyed 60 percent of the merchantmen and 30 percent of the Japanese warships sunk by the Americans. It inflicted these losses in exchange for 3,500 lives and forty-five boats lost on operational patrols. In no other part of the American war effort was the relationship between cost and great results so clear.

For all the statistics, submarine service in the Pacific remained a highly personal experience, filled with memories of the smell of sweat and oil, the wracking concussion of exploding depth charges, the controlled chaos of an emergency dive, the quick peek through a periscope at a flaming tanker or the peak of Mount Fuji, the bittersweet tension of a submerged attack amid a Japanese convoy. And, finally, there was the thrill of victory.

For the Japanese the growing signs of defeat in the maritime war—shortages of food and oil—paled in comparison with the direct impact of American bombs upon Japan’s cities. From the war’s earliest stages, American military planners viewed strategic bombardment as an essential element in Japan’s defeat. The instrument of the bomber offensive was the very long-range bomber, the B-29, rushed into production without full testing in 1943. The B-29 was a giant. With a wingspan of 141 feet and 99 feet long, the four-engined bomber could fly 2,000 miles and drop 10 tons of bombs from 30,000 feet. It carried machine guns and cannon enough to intimidate all but suicidal fighter pilots. Although plagued by mechanical problems, inherent in its shortened testing period, the B-29 gave air-war planners their weapon. Their major difficulty was to place the aircraft in range of the home islands.

In 1943 the best available site for bases was China. Already in operation, the 14th Air Force had been conducting bombing operations within the range of its B-24s and B-25s. In June 1944 the “Superfortresses” of the XX Bomber Command, controlled directly by the JCS, bombed Japan for the first time, while other B-29s in India attacked targets in Southeast Asia. The difficulties of supply and relations with the Nationalist Chinese made China an unattractive basing site, and after October 1944, B-29 operations in the CBI theater did not expand. Already in the process of redeploying to the Marianas, XX Bomber Command withdrew in greater haste in January 1945, when the Japanese launched a ground offensive that overran most of the USAAF bases in China. When the B-29s staged their last raid from China in March, they had mounted only forty-nine missions in all. Operation MATTERHORN ended as a molehill.

In 1944 the USAAF shifted the weight of its strategic air offensive against Japan to four major bases in the recently captured Marianas. At the same time that MacArthur waded ashore at Leyte, B-29s arrived on Saipan. XXI Bomber Command, whose parent 20th Air Force also controlled XX Bomber Command, began raids against Japan in November 1944. Using concepts borrowed from the air campaign against Germany, XXI Bomber Command ran precision-bombing, high-altitude raids against the Japanese steel and aircraft industries. Plagued more by weather and headwinds, engine problems, and low numbers than air defenses, the bombers did little damage. Poststrike analysis of the major raids showed that only 20 percent of the bombs landed on target. Impatient for results, General Arnold ordered Major General Curtis E. LeMay, a seasoned bomber commander from Europe and China, to the Marianas with orders to make the air war effective. After three months of experimentation and analysis, LeMay completely changed the character of the strategic bombing campaign.

Based on target analysis conducted in Washington and his own observations of B-29 operations, LeMay adopted—with Arnold’s encouragement—the night area-bombing operations pioneered by the RAF against Germany. In part, the city busting and burning had an economic objective, for Japanese factories and assembly plants were dispersed throughout the cities. Incendiary bombs rather than high explosives appeared to be the optimal weapons to destroy Japan’s military industries. The campaign also had larger purposes than weakening Japan’s military forces as a prelude to invasion. USAAF planners believed that the air-submarine campaign against Japanese shipping and strategic bombing would bring the Japanese to such a low state of morale and general poverty that the imperial government would surrender. An island nation dependent on imports, its industrial work force and factories concentrated in six major cities, Japan appeared especially vulnerable to strategic bombing. In a war that had already killed millions, little patience remained for ethical arguments. As one USAAF explanation of the campaign stated in 1945, “There are no civilians in Japan. We are making War and making it in the all-out fashion which saves American lives, shortens the agony which War is, and seeks to bring about an enduring Peace. We intend to seek out and destroy the enemy wherever he or she is, in the greatest possible numbers, in the shortest possible time.”

On March 9–10 XXI Bomber Command attacked Tokyo with incendiaries, passing over the city in a bomber stream of more than 300 B-29s. The low-altitude night attack devastated one-quarter of the city and killed 84,000 people. Despite its own growing losses, unavoidable in low-level attacks even with escort fighters, XXI Bomber Command expanded its raids until in June all of Japan’s major cities lay in ruins. LeMay worked his crews to the point of exhaustion, with weather and bomb shortages the only factors affecting scheduling attacks. As XXI Bomber Command increased in size toward 1,000 B-29s, it ran both night and daylight operations, pulverizing cities and military targets throughout the summer of 1945. The Japanese air force no longer contested the raids, husbanding its remaining planes for kamikaze assaults on the Navy. For all the suffering they endured, including as many as 900,000 deaths and the destruction of 80 percent of their cities, the Japanese people had no direct influence over their government, whose military diehards had not yet accepted defeat. Instead, the Japanese military steeled itself for a suicidal resistance against the Allied invasion. It would take even greater shocks than B-29 fire raids to end the war.

The Axis Last Stand

Satisfied with the grand strategic designs they had created in 1943–1944, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin saw no reason in late 1944 to rethink their approach to total victory. Even though he was predisposed to tinker with operations to the war’s closing days—largely for postwar political advantage—Churchill reminded his collaborators in August 1944 that everything they “had touched had turned to gold.” The war against Hitler had certainly taken its final shape, a vast east-west dual invasion compressing the Wehrmacht to its death within Germany’s prewar borders. The war against the Japanese had the most loose ends, complicated by the potential role of the British and Russians and the Americans’ divided command in the western Pacific. Nevertheless, in the autumn of 1944 the Allies saw victory ahead.

Given the overwhelming nature of their victories, the Allies had some reason to underestimate their foes’ capacity to resist, even when that capacity became apparent in the Philippines and along the Siegfried Line. Both political and military calculations led the Anglo-American leadership to misjudge the resilience of the German army and unconventional strategic instincts of Adolf Hitler. Conceding irreversible strategic losses to the Russians, Hitler ordered his limited tank production and manpower reserves into the skeleton divisions that had fallen back to the Rhine. Drawing his inspiration from the desperate defensive campaigns of Napoleon and Frederick the Great, who also had faced implacable coalitions on two fronts, Hitler planned a massive offensive against the Anglo-American armies in the west. His geographic goal was the port of Antwerp, his psychological goal to divide the Allies in the confusion of defeat. Under his personal supervision, his commanders formed two Panzer armies and one infantry army of twenty-five divisions (250,000 men) capable of offensive action and deployed them in the Ardennes, weakly held by the 1st U.S. Army.

Although some American intelligence officers found signs of a counteroffensive, the timing, size, and place of the German attack remained obscure. The Germans masked their preparations with an elaborate deception plan and benefited from the fact that their internal communications had become more secure. Moreover, Hitler deceived the Allied generals by calling Gerd von Rundstedt from retirement to command his western armies. Rundstedt’s appointment pacified the German army high command, which favored (as did Rundstedt himself) a limited offensive to restore the breaks in the Siegfried Line. The Allies assumed that the aged Feldmarschall, a consummate professional, would fight a delaying action west of the Rhine rather than launch a major counteroffensive. German and Allied generals once more underestimated Hitler’s fevered fascination with the bold stroke.

“The Battle of the Bulge” began in mid-December, and for two weeks it appeared as if the Germans might at least reach the Meuse River, if not Antwerp. Penetrating the extended front of four American divisions, the two Panzer armies broke the 1st U.S. Army’s front and drove fifty miles toward the Meuse. Showing a desperate courage that surprised the Germans, the American infantrymen and tankers fought back with a ferocity fueled by true tales of SS atrocities and stark anger at their predicament. While many American service units clogged the roads with panicked convoys, combat units from isolated platoons to the better part of divisions ruined the German timetable and forced the penetration into a narrow corridor. Both shoulders of “the Bulge” held, and ferocious defenses at St. Vith and Bastogne cost the Germans precious time and troops. Starved for fuel and continuous air support, the Panzer divisions reached the limit of their offensive endurance, the best Christmas gift the Allies received in 1944.

As soon as he assessed the scope of the German attack, Eisenhower organized an overwhelming riposte against both flanks of “the Bulge.” To simplify command arrangements and draw British armored divisions into the fray, he gave Montgomery temporary control of the 9th U.S. Army and all but one corps of the 1st U.S. Army along the northern flank. Montgomery’s unfortunate manner and thirst for publicity irritated the Americans, but he managed the battle with skill, blunting the attacks of the right-flank Panzer army with the right mix of delaying actions and counterattacks. On the southern flank, which required less cautious action, Bradley unleashed Patton, whose 3d U.S. Army changed the direction of its operations and slammed into the left-flank Panzer army. As Eisenhower urged, his generals fought the battle as “one of opportunity for us and not disaster.” Enjoying air superiority when the weather cleared, the Allies regained the initiative and by the end of January had driven the German remnants from “the Bulge” in a hard-fought campaign made more taxing by snow and bitter cold. When the battle ended, the Americans had lost 100,000 men, the Germans 120,000. The German losses in skilled troops, tanks, self-propelled artillery, and mechanized vehicles made their defeat a catastrophe. “The Battle of the Bulge” ended the Wehrmacht’s ability to disrupt even a broad-front Allied offensive into the heartland of the Third Reich.

As the Allied armies in Europe beat back the last great German offensive, MacArthur’s 6th Army and the 7th Fleet turned north toward Luzon to liberate the most populated island of the Philippines. With air support from USAAF fighters on Mindoro, captured in a follow-up of the Leyte operation, and from the carriers of the 3d Fleet, the 7th Fleet would have been undisturbed by conventional Japanese attacks. The kamikazes, however, made January 4–15, 1945, the worst period in the Navy’s war since the battles in the southern Solomons in 1942. Intercepting the 7th Fleet (an armada of 164 vessels) on its way to Lingayen Gulf, the kamikazes sunk an escort carrier and damaged four other warships on January 4, damaged nine vessels the next day, and sank a destroyer and damaged eleven warships the next day. In three days the Navy suffered 1,100 casualties, many of them burned and dismembered by explosions. Despite concentrated air strikes on Luzon’s airfields, the suicide attacks continued—with more sinkings and destruction—until the Japanese ran out of airplanes on January 15. When the raids ended, the Navy had lost five ships sunk, eighteen severely damaged, and thirty struck at least once; 738 sailors died and 1,400 had been wounded. Concerned about the kamikazes’ effectiveness, the 3d Fleet’s fast carriers doubled their fighter strength by disembarking their dive bombers.

The land campaign for Luzon showed no diminution of the Japanese willingness to die for the Emperor. In six months of combat, the 6th Army endured nearly 10,000 casualties while killing over 100,000 Japanese. When the war ended, another 50,000 Japanese were still holed up in Luzon’s mountains. In conventional battle on the Luzon plains, the Americans crushed the Japanese with close air support, armor, artillery, and infantry assaults, but in the mountains the war became more equal, with Filipino guerrillas a plus for the 6th Army. The battle for Manila, however, demonstrated the dogged character of Japanese resistance. Although General Tomoyuki Yamashita had declared Manila an open city, some 20,000 Japanese naval and army service troops disobeyed his orders and fought the Americans block by block. It took three American divisions a month to capture the city at a cost of 1,100 dead; almost all the Japanese defenders perished in the rubble, for Manila became a shambles. Caught in the battle, more than 100,000 Filipinos died in the city, many massacred by the Japanese. The battle for Manila again demonstrated that the Japanese armed forces might be doomed by Western standards, but they would use every opportunity to kill Americans and Filipino civilians in the faint hope that their very ferocity would demoralize their enemy. As MacArthur’s 8th Army liberated the Visayans and Mindanao, the Americans and their guerrilla allies showed little inclination to take prisoners, and the Japanese did nothing to attract mercy, often murdering wounded and prisoners as part of their thousands of last stands.

If the Luzon campaign dramatized the kamikaze danger, the capture of the volcanic island of Iwo Jima (February 19–March 26, 1945) proved the damage that Japanese cave and bunker defenses could deliver upon even the most determined, skilled American landing force. Three crack Marine divisions slugged their way with blast-and-burn tactics across and up the island. They seldom saw the Japanese, who shelled and machine-gunned them from belts of fortified positions hidden in thousands of caves and bunkers. Although the island had real value as a haven for stricken B-29s and a base for their escort fighters, Iwo Jima cost the Marines about 6,000 dead and 20,000 wounded. For the infantry regiments, the campaign was a nightmare of incessant shelling, sudden death from hidden positions, relentless attacks, and pestilence, for the island became infested with flies feeding on the dead. As one Marine despaired, “They send you to a place . . . and you get shot to hell and maybe they pull you back. But then they send you right up again and then you get murdered. God, you stay there until you get killed or until you can’t stand it anymore.” Although the 21,000 Japanese troops on Iwo Jima perished almost to a man in their caves, they had for the first time in the central Pacific campaign inflicted more casualties than they suffered. Their defensive system frustrated both naval gunfire and air attack, leaving the Marines no choice but to fight the battle with flame-throwers, hand grenades, and demolitions. Such tactics demanded that uncommon valor become a common virtue. It also meant that three Marine divisions had to be rebuilt with teenage replacements before they could fight again.

The war in Europe also reached a new frenzy as the Allies and the Russians opened the continuous offensives in January 1945 that would end the war against Hitler in May. Russian armies of nearly 7 million men pushed forward from the Baltic to the Balkans, and in the same month the 4 million men of the Anglo-American armies surged against the last strongholds on the Siegfried Line on their way, finally, across the Rhine. Two-thirds of his divisions and tactical air wings were by now American, but Eisenhower gave the 21st British Army Group the place of honor in the offensive and used the 9th U.S. Army for reinforcement. Eisenhower accepted Montgomery’s theory that the weight of the Allied attack should be north of the Ruhr; the Germans agreed and defended the Rhine River line in front of 21st British Army Group with fierce skill. As Montgomery organized a “big push” in his best World War I style, the 1st and 3d U.S. Armies to the south broke the German forces west of the Rhine into isolated pockets and punched across the last great barrier of the Third Reich. Exploiting success, Eisenhower planned to envelop the Ruhr and trap about half the remaining Germans on his front. Shuttling scarce Panzer reserves from one Allied penetration to another, German operations had become (as even Hitler recognized) “moving the catastrophe from one place to another.”

The last month of the European war found the armed forces of the Grand Coalition mounting exploitation campaigns on three fronts. In Italy the Allies reached the Po Valley and soon received the first major German surrender. The Russians drove to within thirty miles of Berlin by April, only to face stiffening German resistance. Benefiting from the general collapse of the Wehrmacht and Hitler’s last, desperate dispatch of reserves against the Russians, the American armies roared eastward from the Rhine to the Elbe, the prearranged place to meet the Russians. Some forces went even farther, as the 1st and 3d U.S. Armies crossed the Czech and Austrian borders. In the Ruhr the Americans captured over 300,000 Germans. So fluid had the front become that one German corps commander tried to reorganize a mass of Wehrmacht soldiers until an American MP politely informed him that he, too, had just become a POW. Only fierce national and military pride, the effectiveness of the Nazi police-security organization, and Hitler’s mad determination preserved a semblance of resistance. After briefly celebrating FDR’s death in April, Hitler made himself the Third Reich’s most important war death before the month was out. His successors surrendered to the Allies on May 7 amid a ruin of death and fire Germany had not seen since the Thirty Years’ War. The conflict in Europe had ended.

The Asian Götterdämmerung came at Okinawa, only 350 miles south of the home islands, in a campaign that pitted the 5th Fleet and the 10th Army against the most savage Japanese resistance of the war. For the Navy the campaign developed as a battle of attrition, pitting the fast carriers and their escorts against the kamikazes. In ten major attacks the Japanese threw 2,800 aircraft of all kinds against the fleet and lost most of them. In sheer numbers the kamikazes punished the Navy as the Imperial Fleet had not; when the battle ended in mid-June, the 5th Fleet had lost around 10,000 casualties (half of them killed) and 28 ships and craft sunk by air attack. Of the 325 ships damaged, 43 had to be scrapped. Six fast carriers took successive hits, two so many that they had to leave the war. Although the kamikazes sometimes reached the amphibious task force and destroyed American vessels, they poured their worst havoc upon the destroyers and smaller escorts along the antiaircraft picket line. The kamikazes that escaped the combat air patrols dove in succession at American warships, penetrating the curtain of antiaircraft fire often enough to turn destroyers into flaming junkheaps manned by bloody remnants of their crews. Although the kamikazes did not slow the land battle, they impressed the Navy and made the prospect of future amphibious operations grim.

The battle for Okinawa itself (April 1–June 21, 1945) again allowed the Japanese army to employ its cave-and-bunker defense system and forced the 10th Army to pay dearly for its victory. Defending only the lower third of the long, thin island, the Japanese (with one exception) fought from their prepared positions without major counterattacks. Rejecting the option of amphibious flanking attacks for reasons that remain arguable, the 10th Army’s commander committed five Army and two Marine divisions to a series of bloody offensives against the Japanese defenses. Although the Americans enjoyed massive close air support and artillery superiority, the Japanese positions could not be eliminated except by infantry assault. Veterans of Peleliu and Leyte remembered the seesaw battles along the muddy ridges as the worst of the war. Before it had killed more than 100,000 Japanese soldiers, the 10th Army lost around 40,000 men, about a fourth of them killed in action. High and low shared the slaughter. Both the American and Japanese commanding generals perished, as did an estimated 100,000 native Okinawans. As the campaign staggered to a close, the Army began to redeploy divisions from Europe for the invasion of the home islands in late 1945. The Japanese defeat was inevitable, but the orgy of death seemed equally unstoppable if the war in the Pacific continued in its new form.

The American government, now led by President Harry S. Truman, had one unused weapon: the atomic bomb. Warned of the military implications of German nuclear research by two refugee scientists, Enrico Fermi and Albert Einstein, Roosevelt in 1939 had arranged minor government subsidies for similar research in the United States. Convinced of the theoretical possibility of causing an atomic chain reaction, scientists at five major universities pursued their basic research into the explosive properties of the uranium atom until the University of Chicago group created the first chain reaction in December 1942. Proven theory did not a weapon make. Throughout 1943 and 1944 the Office of Scientific Research and Development and the Army Corps of Engineers’ “Manhattan Project” assembled thousands of scientists, engineers, and skilled craftsmen—at Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Hanford, Washington; and Los Alamos, New Mexico—to fabricate a working atomic bomb that could be dropped. Without knowing its mission, a special B-29 group practiced dropping a bomb that had not yet been built, let alone exploded. The organizational and security aspects of the project fell to Major General Leslie R. Groves, but Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer provided the scientific leadership at Los Alamos that turned theory into reality. On July 16, 1945, the Los Alamos team exploded the first nuclear device in the desert. As he watched the mushroom cloud boil upward, Oppenheimer recalled a Hindu quote: “Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds.”

To Harry Truman, a man of modest attainments and simple instincts, fell the task of deciding to use the bomb against Japan. Informed of the bomb’s likely existence after becoming president, Truman arranged careful consideration of the issue by a civilian Interim Committee, which considered scientific and political opinion, and by the JCS. With the exception of a dissident group of scientists who counseled nonuse, the advisers assumed that the weapon would be used to end the war. Most of the arguments dealt with postwar concerns, especially relations with the Soviet Union. One group of scientists suggested a demonstration of the weapon, but Oppenheimer and others feared a misfire. With only two working bombs available in August 1945, there was little margin for miscalculation. Faced with the prospect of an invasion of Japan and millions of Japanese and American casualties, the JCS preferred the bomb, since economic blockade and the air war had not yet brought peace.

Truman had every reason to seek a quick end to war, for his advisers pointed out that the Soviet Union would soon enter the war with Japan, which promised to complicate peacemaking in Asia. According to an agreement made with FDR at Yalta in February, Stalin pledged to break his neutrality pact with Japan and enter the war three months after Germany’s defeat. The Japanese government sensed Russia’s new policy when it tried to find some third party to negotiate peace with the Allies after April 1945. All the principals saw only part of the politico-strategic problems of the period. Truman, for example, saw that the preservation of the institution of the Emperor did not endanger postwar reconstruction of Japan, but he knew that the American public saw Hirohito as a war criminal. His advisers thought unconditional surrender might in practice be modified, but only after a military capitulation. The Japanese peace faction around Hirohito wanted to retain the Emperor and saw their nation as an impoverished state with 13 million bombed-out refugees; their opponents (largely army generals) saw Japan as a nation with 2.3 million soldiers and 4 million paramilitary fighters ready to die fighting the Americans, rallied by their commitment to the Emperor’s divine being. Already aware of the American bomb and committed to nuclear weapons development of their own, the Russians did not quail at Truman’s hints about a “super weapon” when they again met the Americans at Potsdam in July. They instead hastened preparations for their planned offensive into Manchuria and Korea. An Allied declaration from Potsdam threatened the Japanese with worse war but also hinted at a negotiated settlement. The Japanese response was equally subject to misinterpretation. Although the Japanese intent was to explore the terms, the American government thought the response a contemptuous declaration of continued war.

With no presidential order to delay its atomic bombing attacks, XXI Bomber Command organized its last raids. The target list came from Washington; the exact cities to be bombed and the timing rested in the USAAF’s hands. On August 6 the first bomb fell on Hiroshima, and the second exploded over Nagasaki three days later. The explosions killed 135,000 Japanese and razed the two cities. In between raids the Soviet Union abrogated its neutrality treaty and declared war on Japan. Despite a desperate attempt by army diehards to seize the government by capturing Hirohito and assassinating his advisers, the Emperor rallied the peace faction and in a rare demonstration of imperial action ordered his government to sue for peace on August 10. As the Truman administration had hoped, the two atomic bombs had shocked the peace faction into decisive resistance against the war faction. To save the remnants of the Japanese nation, Hirohito ordered his armed forces to surrender. Equally relieved by the sudden end of the war, the Allied high commanders in the Pacific met a Japanese delegation aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2 to bring an end to the modern world’s most devastating conflict. As General MacArthur observed in his radio announcement of the surrender ceremony, “We have had our last chance. If we do not devise some greater and more equitable system, Armageddon will be at our door.”

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