Section 1: The Twentieth Air Force and MATTERHORN
Chapter 1: The VLR Project
On 15 June 1944 a force of half-a-hundred B-29’s of XX Bomber Command struck at the Imperial Iron and Steel Works at Yawata in Kyushu. On the same day the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions swarmed ashore at Saipan. The two attacks, widely separated in space, were synchronized for tactical reasons. They were connected too in a wider strategic sense, for together they signalized the inauguration of a new phase of the air war against Japan. The Yawata mission initiated a program of strategic bombardment against the Japanese Inner Zone from Chinese bases; the Saipan operation opened an assault on the Marianas which was to provide more effective bases for that program. In a press release on the following day Gen. George C. Marshall remarked that the B-29 attack had introduced “a new type of offensive” against Japan, thereby creating “a new problem in the application of military force.)”1 For the new problem the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) had evolved a new answer – the Twentieth Air Force, a Washington headquarters for a striking force based in India and staging through China to hit at Japan and for a second force subsequently to operate from the Marianas. All was new-weapon, bases, controlling agency.
Even the mission was Novel in that area. In the ETO the Army Air Forces had thrown its most substantial efforts into a bomber offensive against the industrial sources of the Nazi war machine. As yet there had been no such effort in the war against Japan. Bombardment by the several Army air forces in the Pacific – the Fifth, the Thirteenth, the Seventh, and the Eleventh – had been almost exclusively tactical, directed against the enemy’s air strips, at the shipping whereby he nourished his advanced forces, at his supply dumps and island defenses, against his troops in the field. Those operations had helped
ground and naval forces to check the Jap’s advance, then to thaw him back; by the seizure or neutralization of island bases his perimeter had been constricted. In the CBI the Tenth and Fourteenth Air Forces had been successful in their primary mission of keeping open the air link between India and China; they had cooperated with ground force operations and the Fourteenth had been able, by staging through fields in east China, to reach out with heavy and medium bombers and take toll of Japanese shipping in the China Sea. But the important targets of the Inner Zone had been immune to land-based air attacks, girded about with a formidable chain of island bases and lying far beyond the range of the B-17 or B-24 from any U.S. airfield. A few strikes against oil installations in the Netherlands East Indies (NEI) had most nearly approximated the AAF’s classic concept of strategic bombardment, but those targets, at the very edge of the tactical radius of Liberators, were far from metropolitan Japan. Now as summer of 1944 came in, joint U.S. forces had set the stage for a new type of air operation.
For the air strategist the controlling factor was distance. He could inscribe on a chart of the Asia – West Pacific area two arcs with 1,600-mile radii – one centered at Chengtu and one at Saipan – and see within the two segments the whole heart of the Japanese Empire. Very long range bombers based at those foci and properly supplied could subject the very source of the Japanese war effort to the same sort of attack which had paved the way for the recent invasion of Europe. By 15 June VLR bombers,* in moderate numbers, were available. One of the base areas had been developed, the other was being wrested from the enemy. For the former a system of supply, fantastically uneconomic and barely workable, had been devised; for the latter the logistical problem appeared in prospect much simpler. From the point of view of those who saw in the airplane a strategic weapon, all that had passed was prologue. And that prologue had begun with the development of the weapon itself – Boeing’s B-29, officially labeled Superfortress and designated in coded radio messages by such fanciful titles as Dreamboat, Stork, or Big Brother.
* To describe the B-29 and B-32 the AAF used indiscriminately the terms Very Long Range (VLR) bomber and Very Heavy Bomber (VHB). The latter term was the official designation of units, as in 58th Bombardment Wing (VH), but in most of the early planning papers VLR was the favored term, and rightly, since it was range rather than bomb load that was stressed.
The inception of the B-29 program can be traced back to 10 November 1939. On that date General Arnold, then Chief of the Air Corps, asked permission of the War Department to initiate action for experimental development of a four-engine bomber of 2,000-mile radius and superior in all respects to the B-17B and the B-24.2 The desired authority was granted on 2 December, and on 29 January 1940 Request for Data R-40B was circulated among five leading aircraft manufacturing companies.3 During February the stipulated requirements were in several instances revised upward, and on the basis of specifications of 8 April preliminary designs were submitted by several companies. An evaluation board appraised the designs and rated the competitors in this order of preference: Boeing, Lockheed, Douglas, Consolidated.4 Contracts for preliminary engineering data were issued to the firms on 27 June5 and their planes were designated, respectively, the XB-29, XB-30, XB-31, XB-32. Lockheed and Douglas subsequently withdrew from the competition. Orders placed on 6 September for two experimental models each from Boeing and Consolidated were later increased to three. Mock-up inspections occurred on 7 April 1941.6
The XB-32 was first to fly, its initial model being airborne on 7 September 1942. After thirty flights that model crashed on 10 May 1943. The second and third models flew first on 2 July and 9 November, respectively. Frequent changes in design so retarded the development of the B-32 that only in the closing days of the war did a few of them get into combat;* hence, in the present context the B-32 is of interest only as it appears in plans as a possible teammate of the B-29. The first XB-29 model made twenty-two test flights between 21 September and 28 December 1942. The second model, airborne first on 28 December, caught fire and crashed on 18 February 1943 in a costly accident which wiped out Boeing’s most experienced B-29 personnel (including test pilot E. T. Allen and ten engineers) and a score of workers in a nearby factory.7 This tragedy delayed the program by several months while changes were made to cut down on the fire hazards, but in June the third model made eight successful flights, after which both it and the first number were turned over to the AAF at Wichita for armament and accelerated flight testing.8
* See below, p. 332.
Months before this a tentative production schedule had been drawn up, and the first production model rolled off the line in July. This was a highly unusual procedure in air procurement, a token and a result of the urgency felt by the Air Corps as war clouds had gathered in 1940. Ordinarily, a plane must pass rigorous service testing before purchase contracts are made: it had been six months after the first successful test flight of Boeing’s B-17 before the Air Corps placed an order for thirteen planes, another year before the first was delivered. But time seemed short in 1940 and the development of a very heavy bomber was a slow and unpredictable task. General Arnold’s estimate that the B-29 could not be procured by normal processes before 19459 was grounded on experience – the XB-19, latest forerunner of the Superfortress, was contracted for in 1936, first flown in 1941, and never put into production. In the emergency, with a new emphasis on heavy bombers in defense plans, the Air Corps decided to order the B-29 into quantity production even before the plane had been airborne. This radical departure from long established custom – called familiarly “the three-billion-dollar gamble” – not only involved a huge financial risk, it threatened to disrupt schedules of desperately needed aircraft models already in production. Nonetheless, the Air Corps on 17 May 1941 authorized Boeing to begin manufacture when ready. This authorization, based on a mass of blueprints and a wooden mock-up, came six months before the XB-29’s maiden flight. When the plane first lifted off the runway, 1,664 Superfortresses were on order.10 Long before the first combat mission, that number had been sharply increased.
The story of B-29 development and production is a complex one. In magnitude and boldness of design the program was remarkable in a war replete with production miracles. Four years, not the five originally expected, elapsed between submission of preliminary designs and departure overseas of the first B-29 units. The ultimate success of the gamble derived in no small part from closest cooperation between the Air Corps Matériel Center, Boeing, and a host of other participating civilian firms. The huge size of the Superfort, the extraordinary performance demanded, and a number of revolutionary features (most notably the pressurized cabin and remote-control turrets) presented numerous engineering difficulties. Here Boeing’s experience with heavy commercial transports, with the various B-17 models and with the abortive XB-15 proved invaluable. To a large degree the failure
of the XB-15 and Douglas’ XB-19 had stemmed from lack of sufficient power. A new engine designed by Wright promised to obviate that difficulty for the B-29, but the engine, like the plane, had Novel features and long remained an uncertain factor. Delays inevitable in developing a new aircraft were aggravated by numerous modifications which the Air Corps ordered – a change in the type of gun turrets, for example, cost weeks of time in 1943-44. Suggested by tactical experience, these modifications sacrificed performance as well as time in favor of crew survival. Here as in most cases the conflict between the engineer’s desire to retain purity of design and the airman’s wish for a plane which would bring him back alive ended in a compromise heavily weighted in the airman’s favor. As W. E. Beall, the Boeing engineer in charge, said, “When I put myself in the place of the guy in the cockpit, I can see his point.”11
Quantity production involved intricate arrangements within the aircraft industry. Boeing devoted its Renton and Wichita factories exclusively to B-29 production and eventually, as Douglas and Lockheed assumed responsibility for building the B-17, its No. 2 plant at Seattle. Bell Aircraft (at Marietta) and Fisher Bodies (at Cleveland) and later Glenn L. Martin (at Omaha) built airframe assemblies. Engines were made by Wright and Chrysler-DeSoto-Dodge; dozens of other firms furnished components, instruments, and equipment.12 It was an all-American team which sent the B-29 against Japan.
Eventually the Superfortress became as familiar to the American public as the Flying Fortress. For all its deadly mission the B-29 was a thing of beauty, its lines as sleek as a fighter’s and its skin, flush-riveted and innocent of camouflage paint, a shining silver. Its size could best be appreciated when it stood near a B-17, which General Arnold soon came to call “the last of the medium bombers.” Even the dry recital of the B-29’s characteristics and performance data, as they were used by tactical planners in 1944, appeared impressive. The B-29 had a span of 141’ 3”, a length of 99’, an over-all height of 27’ 9”. It had a basic weight of 74,500 pounds, combat weight of 120,000, maximum war weight of 135,000. Four Wright R-3350-23 engines with turbo-superchargers developed 2,200 horsepower each at sea level to turn 16’ 7” four-bladed Hamilton propellers. The plane was armed with twelve .50-caliber machine guns and a 20-mm. cannon carried in the tail. The remote-control turrets were power-driven.13
Performance, as in any plane, varied with a number of factors.
Standard estimates gave it a service ceiling of 38,000 feet and at 33,000 feet a maximum speed of 361 m.p.h. Its range (a subject of much debate until combat experience provided incontrovertible data) was calculated at 4,400 miles without bombs, 3,500 miles with a four-ton bomb load. In spite of very heavy wing-loading and a stalling speed of 125 m.p.h., landing speed was brought within practicable limits by tremendous flaps, partly retractable.14 Pilots with B-17 or B-24 experience found the B-29 “hot” to handle and at first compared it unfavorably with their former planes, Eventually, however, they swore by, rather than at, the Superfort.
Early Plans for the use of the B-29
In November 1943 an AAF general remarked that “the B-29 airplane was thought out and planned as a high altitude, long-range bomber to attack Japan, her cities and industrial key points.”15 When he wrote, it appeared that the B-29 would be dedicated solely to that mission and so time was to prove. But his statement needs some qualification. When the Superfortress was conceived, the Air Corps was faced with responsibilities of more immediate concern than the destruction of Japanese cities. In the feverish telescoping of research, development, testing, and procurement which followed, it was inevitable that uncertainty should exist as to when the B-29 could be committed to action. Plans for its use fluctuated with readjustments in the production schedule and with changes in the strategic or tactical situation. Only in late 1943 were those plans firmly oriented toward Tokyo.
The theory that strategic bombardment constituted the prime function of military aviation had received much emphasis within the Air Corps during the 1930s and had stimulated interest in the development of long-range heavy bombers.* Yet the argument most often advanced to secure funds for such planes as the B-17 and XB-15 had been based on the security they could afford, through long-range reconnaissance and sea strikes, against an attempted invasion of the United States or its outlying possessions. As the concept of hemisphere defense developed in the years 1938-41, Air Corps thought turned increasingly to the dangers of an Axis lodgment in some other American country from which aircraft could strike at points vital to our national safety. Counter-air operations then took on top priority
* See Vol. I, Chapter 2.
among the missions of the Air Corps, whose strategists proposed to meet the new responsibilities with a force of long-range bombers. Successive reports by various Air Corps boards from 1938 to 1940 stressed the necessity of developing bombers with performance characteristics superior to those of the B-17 and B-24; suggested operating radii varied from 1,500 to 4,000 miles.16 The specifications from which the B-29 and B-32 were developed approximated most nearly those of a 2,000-mile radius bomber recommended by the Kilner Board in the summer of 1939 when large sums were being appropriated for hemisphere defense.17 It was the allocation of $4,700,000 from those sums for the procurement of five experimental heavy bombers that had enabled General Arnold to inaugurate the competition which eventually produced the B-29.18
Ostensibly at least, the B-29 grew out of a responsibility for defending the two Americas and that mission predominated in early discussions of its use. But in an organization so thoroughly imbued with a doctrine of the offensive as was the Air Corps, it was natural that the so-called “Air Board heavy bomber” should be viewed as a weapon capable of carrying war to our enemy’s homeland. As early as September 1939 Col. Carl A. Spaatz suggested that this plane (i.e., the future B-29) might be used against Japanese industry from bases in Luzon, Siberia, or the Aleutians.19 The progress of the war in Europe, particularly after the fall of France, stimulated concern for the safety of the Americas; at the same time it gave impetus to consideration of means of attacking potential enemies in their own territory. The grave danger that Britain might fall gave point to an examination of the possibility of employing, from bases in North America, a projected 4,000-mile radius bomber, but its completion was not expected before 1947, and more immediate needs would have to be met by existing models and by the B-29 or B-32.20 Those planes could not bomb Germany from North America but they could from England or the Mediterranean. When in the spring of 1941 the U.S. and British military staffs began to plan for collaboration should the United States be drawn into the war, the VLR bomber became, in anticipation, the AAF’s most potent offensive weapon. In the Air Staff’s first war plan (AWPD/I, 11 September 1941),* the original defensive role of the B-29 no longer figured: by 1944 twenty-four B-29/B-32 groups were
* AWPD/I formed the AAF section of the Joint Board Estimate of US. Over-all Production Requirements, 11 September 1941. For a fuller analysis, see Vol. I, pp 145-50.
to be engaged in bombing Germany from bases in Great Britain and Egypt; two groups might operate against Japan from Luzon.
This heavy weighting in favor of European targets derived from the cardinal principle of Anglo-American strategy: that the Allies should concentrate their main efforts against Germany until that country succumbed, Japan being meanwhile contained in a defensive war in which naval forces would predominate. In spite of Japanese successes in the months which followed Pearl Harbor, AAF strategists adhered staunchly to this concept of the war. Forced immediately to divert air strength to the Pacific, and in autumn of 1942 to the Mediterranean, they still looked on the bomber offensive against Germany as the AAF’s most important mission. Hence in long-term over-all plans emanating from the Air Staff during the first year of the war – AWPD/4 (15 December 1941) and AWPD/42 (9 September 1942) – B-29’s and B-32’s were assigned almost exclusively to Europe.* Only when victory there should free them for redeployment and bases within striking distance of Honshu could be won, would VLR bombers be used against Japan.
This design for employment of the B-29 persisted in AAF Headquarters without serious challenge until the spring of 1943. The North African campaign with its heavy demand for air forces had seriously weakened Eighth Air Force efforts against Festung Europa, and projected operations in the Mediterranean would continue to drain off needed air units. But at Casablanca the Combined Bomber Offensive against Germany had been approved in principle and B-29’s could add to the impact of that campaign. Rather than go on to invade Sicily and Italy, Air Staff planners would have preferred to use Tunisia bases for VHB operations against German industry, shuttling B-29’s between England and North Africa as weather conditions might dictate.21
This concept was indorsed by theater AAF leaders. Lt. Gen. Carl A. Spaatz of the Northwest African Air Forces had developed on Arnold’s prompting a scheme for an over-all theater air force linking units in England and North Africa.† Maj. Gen. Ira C. Eaker of the Eighth Air Force, charged with developing a plan for the Combined Bomber Offensive, attempted in March 1943 to secure from Washington a tentative deployment schedule of B-29 groups. Neither
† See vol. II, especially pp. 60-66.
this nor subsequent requests brought definite commitments. No groups would be combat-ready before the end of the year at best and by summer plans for using the B-29 were favoring Japan. So long were those plans in crystallizing that it was December before Arnold could inform Eaker definitively that VHB’s would not be used in Europe.22
Meanwhile, both before and after the reversal of Air Staff plans, AAF Headquarters had been besieged by requests for B-29’s from other theaters and agencies. In April 1943 the Antisubmarine Command tried, unsuccessfully, to have twenty-four B-29’s earmarked for early delivery.23 Similarly the Navy wished to obtain Superforts to supplement its AAF-procured B-24’s in long-range reconnaissance and in their war against the U-boat. This request, hardly in keeping with the Navy’s long struggle against high production priorities granted the B-29, drew from AAF authorities on 7 July the curt comment that “the Army Air Forces will not discuss the allocation of B-29’s to the Navy.”24 Queries came from every theater in the war against Japan, where distances lent special value to the B-29’s range: from Brereton in the CBI in March 1942;25 from Emmons in Hawaii after the battle of Midway had taxed the endurance of his B-17’s;26 from Harmon in the South Pacific who would have used VHB’s out of Borabora;27 from the North Pacific after U.S. victories in the western Aleutians revived earlier designs for bombing Japan from that area.* The Southwest Pacific received most serious consideration. Maj. Gen. George C. Kenney of the Fifth Air Force had helped develop the B-29 while serving with the Matériel Division at Wright Field (1939-42), and he seems to have entertained priority in plans for its use. In June 1943 he began seeking information on the special type of airfield required and on 28 July wrote to Arnold: “I hear that the B-29 is flying again. I assume that I am still to get the first B-29 unit.”28 Three months later Arnold asked Kenney his views on the best use of the B-29 in the war against Japan. In a long and enthusiastic letter Kenney outlined a plan for striking at Japanese petroleum installations, shipping, and military bases from airfields in Darwin and Broome. He concluded: “If you want the B-29 used efficiently and effectively where it will do the most good in the shortest time, the Southwest Pacific area is the place and the Fifth Air Force can do the job.”29 There were some in Washington who agreed
* See Vol. IV, pp. 399-400.
both to the area and the targets,* but when Kenney’s letter arrived, AAF Headquarters was firmly committed to another use for the B-29, and he was so informed.30 The new plan had grown out of a threatened crisis in CBI.
When President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill assembled their advisers in Washington on 11 May 1943 for the TRIDENT conference, the war against Germany was still their primary concern. The Tunisian campaign was just finishing, belatedly, with the Axis surrender on Cap Bon, and the invasion of Sicily was in the offing with Italy as the next logical objective. From England the Combined Bomber Offensive was getting under way, and in spite of diversions to the Mediterranean the build-up of huge forces in the United Kingdom must be provided for if the continent was to be invaded in 1944.
Nevertheless the two leaders and their Combined Chiefs of Staff were confronted with serious problems in Asia and the Pacific. The war against Japan had been so far a defensive one. American forces had checked the Japanese advance eastward at Midway, southward in the Solomons and New Guinea; with the successful termination of the Guadalcanal and Papua campaigns and the recent landing on Attu, the Allies could begin to think of the long trek back to the Philippines and on to Japan. Except for naval forces, allocations for the Pacific and for Asia would continue to be subordinated to the needs of the European war, but it was time to take stock in the Far East.
Deliberations followed two correlative but distinct lines – one general, the other specific and more immediately urgent. First, since some hope existed that Germany might be defeated by the end of 1944, plans must be formulated for the redeployment of forces from Europe and for a strategic offensive against Japan both before and after that move. Meanwhile, Japanese armies were consolidating gains in war-weary China. British failures in Burma had damaged the Allied cause in China, and the deteriorating tactical situation there was proving embarrassing to the Chungking government. A more vigorous policy in CBI, both by the western powers and by China, seemed imperative if the latter country was to be kept in the war.
No final solution for either of those related problems could be found at TRIDENT, and they were to reappear at the Quebec conference
* See below pp. 28-30.
in August and at Cairo in November. In the meanwhile, a fairly dependable estimate of the readiness date of the initial B-29 groups had become available. Too late to allow those groups to play any considerable part in the preinvasion bombardment of Europe, that date could readily be fitted into a schedule of operations against Japan. So it was that the B-29 came to figure prominently in discussions both of long-term Pacific strategy and of immediate aid to China. Little opposition was voiced at high planning levels over the proposed diversion of VHB’s from Europe to the Far East. But among the several services, agencies, and individuals concerned there were dissident opinions as to where and how the B-29 could best contribute to the defeat of Japan, and a final decision was not reached until after months of planning and debate. To understand how the B-29 fitted into the general pattern of the Japanese war, it becomes necessary to follow the development of strategy for China and for the Pacific from May 1943 to April 1944. The story is an involved one and, worse, it is a story of words and papers rather than of actions, but it is an important one nevertheless.
From the outset of the war Anglo-American authorities had refused to commit strong forces in China. The war could not be won there; supply was exceedingly difficult and available units were needed elsewhere. With China’s unlimited manpower, it seemed preferable to furnish munitions through lend-lease and to provide minimal air forces and technicians and training in the use of modern equipment. Thus China might be saved to serve later as a base area for the eventual assault on Japan. The Japanese conquest of Burma in 1942 had closed the Burma Road, cutting down the flow of lend-lease supplies to a thin trickle delivered “over the Hump” by air. To break the Japanese blockade would require the reconquest of northern Burma to open a road to Kunming, or a sharp increase of air transport out of Assam. At Casablanca in January 1943 Anglo-American leaders had promised substantial aid toward both these goals, but performance had fallen far short of promises.* In April Chiang Kai-shek asked Roosevelt that Maj. Gen. Claire L. Chennault be called to Washington to present a new plan for an air offensive by his Fourteenth Air Force. Other top U.S. and British commanders were summoned as well and met with Roosevelt, Churchill, and their chiefs of staff in the TRIDENT conference.31
* See Vol. IV, pp. 435-49.
Two strategies were presented. Lt. Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell, US. theater commander and chief of staff to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, wished to bend all efforts toward regaining Burma, opening the truck road to China, and utilizing much of its tonnage to equip a large modernized Chinese ground force to drive the Japanese out of China. Chennault’s plan called for a greatly increased airlift into Kunming, with most of the additional tonnage going to an augmented air force in China. Thus reinforced, Chennault thought he could maintain with existing Chinese armies an effective defense against Japanese air and ground forces by cutting their inland supply routes and at the same time could reach out from airfields in eastern China to harass the enemy’s sea lanes.32 In the Washington debates Chennault’s arguments won out; the British were not eager for intensive campaigns in Burma and, according to Stilwell, Roosevelt “had decided on an air effort in China before we reached Washington.”33 New promises were made.34
This decision, favored by Chiang Kai-shek, was a concession to the immediate need for encouraging China; that nation was also important in the long-term offensive strategy recommended by the Combined Planning Staff (CPS).35 This strategy called for an intensification of operations currently projected in China and Burma, but its chief concern was to carry the war to Japan. Hong Kong was to be recaptured to serve as a port of entry, and from bases to be prepared in east China the Allies were to conduct against Japan an overwhelming bomber offensive preparatory to a final invasion. Hong Kong was the logistical kingpin of this plan; capture and use of the port depended upon Allied control of the China Sea, which in turn must await advances from the Central and Southwest Pacific by U.S. forces. At the direction of the Combined Chiefs of Staff, their planners undertook to elaborate this general concept of operations.36 They completed the task on 8 August 1943 in anticipation of the next general conference.37
The finished plan counted heavily on the naval and air superiority of the Allies, which would be overwhelming after redeployment from the ETO. The destruction of Japanese sea and air forces, the blockade of Japan, and the long-range bombardment of strategic targets in the home islands from bases in China or Formosa – these were considered as absolute prerequisites, perhaps even as substitutes, for a final invasion. The timing was slow. Consciously accepting the most conservative date for each operational phase, the CPS expected the bomber offensive to begin only in 1947. Because of the minor part assigned to
ground forces one critic was moved to label this a “Navy plan.” But the strategy, with its emphasis on the recapture of Hong Kong and its preference for indirect methods of attack over an assault in force on the Inner Empire, was essentially British, repeating for the Far East the pattern of operations which they had supported in Europe. American strategists favored, in the Japanese war as in the European, a faster pace.
A week after this plan was finished Roosevelt and Churchill met at Quebec in the QUADRANT conference (14-24 August 1943). Again the related problems of immediate aid to China and preparations for the eventual defeat of Japan were associated in the agenda. Further commitments to the Generalissimo carried a plea for stronger Chinese cooperation.38 The CCS tabled the over-all plan offered by their planners because of its slow tempo.39 To advance the target date for landings on the east China coast, the US. Chiefs of Staff submitted instead an accelerated schedule of operations in the Pacific.40 The final report of the CCS to the President and Prime Minister reflected this more aggressive attitude.41 The new strategy was predicated on the assumption that Japan could be defeated within twelve months after Germany’s surrender. So early a victory would require rapid redeployment and a willingness to capitalize on Allied air and naval superiority and on “Novel methods of warfare.” For planning purposes, the JCS revised schedule of Pacific operations was accepted. Briefly, this contemplated an advance by U.S. naval and amphibious forces through the Central Pacific via the Gilberts-Marshalls-Ponape-Palaus, coordinated with a parallel sweep by MacArthur’s forces from southern New Guinea and the Solomons through the Bismarck Sea and Admiralties and along the New Guinea coast to Vogelkop. The feasibility of attacks on the Marianas and Kurils needed further study.42
Meanwhile, the British were to carry the main combat burden in the CBI. Chief objectives for the Americans were to drive a land line of communications (LOC) through from India to China (Ledo Road), to improve air transport routes, and to build a Calcutta-Assam-Kunming pipeline. The common end of these operations was to maintain China as an effective ally and to allow U.S. and Chinese air forces to increase the intensity of their strikes against the enemy. This emphasis upon the air war, prefigured in the TRIDENT decisions, was climaxed by a paragraph calling for a study of the possibilities of developing the air route to China on a scale which would permit the full
employment in and from China of all heavy bombers and transports made available should Germany capitulate by autumn 1944.43
This last item had been suggested by an AAF plan for defeat of Japan which the JCS had circulated, without endorsement, on 20 August.44 In spite of a continuing preference for using the B-29 in Europe, AC/AS, Plans (Maj. Gen. Laurence S. Kuter) in March 1943 had initiated detailed studies preliminary to a plan for the VLR bombing of Japan out of China bases.45 Concurrently General Arnold had directed the Committee of Operations Analysts (COA) to prepare an “analysis of strategic targets in Japan” whose destruction might end the war.* In the early months of the war the AAF had been interested in a number of schemes for bombing metropolitan Japan: the celebrated Doolittle raid from a Navy carrier and the HALPRO and AQUILA projects, abandoned because of emergencies elsewhere, which had counted on using B-24’s to stage through east China airfields.† With the forces available and the logistical difficulties involved, neither project could have conducted a sustained bombardment program, but there was hope that strikes at Japanese cities would have a marked psychological effect in Japan, China, and America. These designs, like the Doolittle mission, had the President’s sanction, and in the summer of 1943 he was still anxious to use U.S. bombers against Japan as a spur to China’s war effort.46 Air Staff planners coupled this morale factor with the new concept of a short war in the Far East. Current estimates indicated that ten B-29 groups (twenty-eight planes each) might be available by October 1944, ten more by May 1945. According to existing schedules, no Pacific islands within B-29 radius of Honshu would be in U.S. hands in 1944, but China offered bases within practical operating range and with the requisite capacity and dispersion.47 Political and strategic considerations reinforced this choice. The AAF planners believed that “the initiation of the bomber offensive, and even measures in preparation therefore, [would] tremendously stimulate Chinese morale and unify the Chinese people under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek.”48 The latter’s support of Chennault’s proposals at TRIDENT might have seemed to justify such a hope.
At any rate, the AAF proposed to build a chain of airfields along a 400-mile axis north and south of Changsha. Within a radius of 1,500
* See below, pp. 26-27.
miles from these fields – that is, within reach of the B-29 with a theoretical ten-ton bomb load – lay most of Japan’s industries. With groups performing 5 missions a month at 50 per cent strength, 168 group-months would suffice to destroy the designated targets and that effort could be applied within the 12 months allowed. Unwilling to await the recapture of Hong Kong, the air planners expected to operate without benefit of an east China port.49 Logistical support must come via India, and without prejudice to other operations. Defense forces – a U.S.-trained Chinese army and the Tenth and Fourteenth Air Forces – would tax present and projected supply lines. For the bomber offensive all supplies were to go by air, Calcutta to Kunming to Changsha. In this task B-24’s released by victory in Europe and converted into transports (C-87’s) were to be used at the rate of zoo per B-29 group – that is, 2,000 by October 1944, 4,000 by May 1945. Port facilities were thought adequate for the estimated requirements of 596,000 tons per month.
The Combined Chiefs referred this ambitious design, coded SETTING SUN, to their own planners for a report by 15 September.50 Meanwhile, queries as to the practicability of some of the proposed measures elicited from the CBI commander a detailed and unfavorable critique: Stilwell cited logistical difficulties (including the limited port capacity of Calcutta) and thought the time schedule entirely too optimistic.51 On request from Washington, Stilwell offered an alternative plan, coded TWILIGHT.52
This called for the use of several airfields along the Kweilin–Changsha railroad (Liuchow, Kweilin, Suichwan, Hengyang), but as advanced rather than as permanent bases. For security and better maintenance facilities, the B-29’s would be stationed in the Calcutta area. Much of the fuel required for a mission to Japan could be carried by the combat planes. Extra fuel, bombs, and other supplies would be hauled by 45 “converted B-24’s” and 367 C-54’s or C-87’s direct from Calcutta to Kweilin. By April 1945 these transports could sustain 10 B-29 groups flying 500 sorties per month. Calcutta could handle the 58,000 tons monthly of dry cargo and the POL (petrol, oil, and lubricants) for this program. Installations could be built on time with U.S. aid. Later B-29 groups might be stationed in the Mandalay area.
TWILIGHT bore the stamp of CBI. Drafted by men who knew from bitter experience the difficulty of meeting commitments in that theater, the plan called for more time, a smaller effort, and less logistical
support than that outlined by AAF Headquarters. Only in the matter of security forces was the theater lavish. Stilwell had argued at TRIDENT – and Doolittle’s Tokyo raid seemed to bear him out – that the Japanese would react sharply against a bomber offensive with large-scale air and ground campaigns in China.53 Now Stilwell insisted on fifty US.-trained and -equipped Chinese divisions for ground protection of the airfields, and for air defense a reinforced Fourteenth Air Force plus five fighter groups attached to the B-29’s. With those forces China might have become an active theater regardless of the performance of the VHB groups, and it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that theater commanders had that purpose in mind.
Having outlined his proposals in a long radio message on 11 September, Stilwell immediately sent Brig. Gen. Robert C. Oliver of India-Burma Sector, AAF to give a more detailed description in Washington. There Oliver found the CPS ready to consider TWILIGHT, but desirous also of examining any proposed B-29 operations in the whole context of the accelerated strategy.54 In accord with this latter attitude, General Kuter’s office prepared a new outline plan which was sent to the Joint Planning Staff on 16 September.55 This indorsed the general concept of TWILIGHT, but set an earlier target date. Without ruling out the possible use of the Mandalay-Rangoon area for the second contingent of ten B-29 groups, the AAF planner went on to consider other base areas. In so doing he gave an entirely new twist to U.S. strategy.
At QUADRANT the JCS had evinced some interest in seizing the Marianas, perhaps in early 1946, as a site for a naval base.56 The AAF later suggested, on 10 September, that D-day be advanced to mid-1944 by neutralizing and bypassing, rather than capturing, certain Pacific islands; the “basic mission” of the Marianas operation would be to provide VHB bases.57 The Air Staff planned to station eight B-29 groups in the Marshalls-Carolines area and stage them through the Marianas to strike at Japan – beginning by March 1945 or earlier.58
Directed by General Arnold, a special board reviewed this outline plan and on 20 September recommended the immediate elaboration of a modified TWILIGHT plan.59 This was without prejudice to the design for later use of the Marianas, but for a year China would remain the sole area from which the B-29 could reach Japan. That argument, perhaps sufficient alone to have outweighed the obvious logistical handicaps of the CBI, was supported powerfully by the political factor,
the need to strengthen China’s morale. Accepting the board’s report, Arnold called in Brig. Gen. Kenneth B. Wolfe and asked him to prepare an operational plan calculated “to initiate strategic bombardment of Japan with the maximum of available B-29’s at the earliest possible date.60 The choice of Wolfe, like the directive, indicated that planning had reached a more urgent phase.
At Wright Field, Wolfe had earlier been responsible for the B-29 production program. In April 1943 General Arnold had set up a B-29 Special Project with Wolfe as chief; his task now included organizing, equipping, and training B-29 units for combat. With production schedules promising 150 B-29’s early in 1944 – enough to provide for 4 VHB groups – Wolfe had organized the 58th Bombardment Wing (H) and in September was training his combat groups in airfields near his headquarters at Salina, Kansas.* By 24 September he had sketched in the main outlines of his plan, basing it on TWILIGHT but advancing D-day for the first mission to 1 June 1944 by making several important changes. He proposed to make his project virtually self-supporting by transporting supplies for 100 B-29’s based in the Kweilin area with 150 other B-29’s working out from fields near Calcutta.61 Since June was too late to comply with the President’s desire for an immediate show of force in China, Wolfe revised his plan, making some considerable alterations and adding details on logistics, organization, and operations. This he submitted to Arnold on 11 October.62
Wolfe expected to have a force of 150 aircraft and 300 crews by 1 March 1944, 300 planes and 450 crews by 1 September – plus normal replacements. These he proposed to organize into a bomber command with two wings of four combat groups each. Stilwell was to provide bases in India and China and to improve certain transportation facilities – air, ground, and water. All B-29’s were to base in the Calcutta area, staging through advanced fields around Kweilin. Operations would begin about 1 April 1944 with the arrival of the first wing. After 3 closely spaced 100-sortie missions, the weight of attack would be maintained at 200 sorties per month until September when the arrival of the second wing would support 300. Supply would be by the B-29’s themselves, aided, until an initial stockpile had been accumulated, by the Fourteenth Air Force’s 308th Bombardment Group (H) reinforced by twenty C-87’s. The Superforts would be utilized
* See below, pp. 53-54.
for transport and combat in the ratio of three to two, but without modification so that any plane could serve in either capacity. After the first three missions, the B-29’s would maintain operations at the rate of three Calcutta-Kweilin transport sorties for each combat sortie with double crews supporting this constant activity. No additional ground defense was called for. Air defense would be furnished by Chennault’s air force, strengthened by two fighter groups supplied by increased ATC tonnage and the reinforced 308th Group.
Wolfe pointed out certain weaknesses in his plan – its logistical inefficiency and the vulnerability of advanced airfields and of supply lines – but thought it acceptable as a calculated risk.63 Discussion with AC/AS, Plans on 12 October turned largely on the site of the advanced bases. Col. G. C. Carey of that office, pointing out Stilwell’s insistence that fifty first-class Chinese divisions would be needed to defend Kweilin, suggested that Chengtu in Szechwan province be used instead. Anxious to get an immediate approval of such general features of the plan as were necessary for initiating action, Wolfe accepted this change and temporarily reserved judgment on other “minutiae which may be controversial at the moment.”64
On 13 October General Arnold approved in principle the “Wolfe project,” indorsing it in his own hand: “I have told the President that this will be started (in China to Japan) on March 1. See that it is done. H.H.A.”65 Even this further advance in the target date did not satisfy President Roosevelt. He wrote to General Marshall on the 15th, somewhat querulously:–
I am still pretty thoroughly disgusted with the India-China matters. The last straw was the report from Arnold that he could not get the B-29’s operating out of China until March or April of next year. Everything seems to go wrong But the worst thing is that we are falling down on our promises every single time. We have not fulfilled one of them yet. I do not see why we have to use B-29’s. We have several other types of bombing Planes.66
At Marshall’s request, Arnold prepared a reply explaining that the difficulties always encountered in getting a new plane into combat had been complicated by labor difficulties in a Wright engine factory; he offered to divert B-24’s to China but reminded the President that only B-29’s could hit directly at Japan.67 His offer was not accepted and the March-April target date held.
Asked to compare the merits of TWILIGHT and the Wolfe project, Stilwell rated the latter as more immediately feasible in view of
the lighter defense forces required at Chengtu – only two fighter groups and no extra ground troops. He did not think it possible to deliver a knockout blow from Chengtu (nor did Washington!) but accepted the plan, asking for an early decision since he needed four to six months to prepare the airfields.68 Thus assured, Air Staff personnel continued to refine and elaborate the Wolfe project until 9 November when they presented to the JPS the finished plan, called “Early Sustained Bombing of Japan”69 and eventually coded MATTERHORN.*
The timing was inconvenient. Roosevelt and Churchill had scheduled two important military conferences for the immediate future: one at Cairo (SEXTANT, 22-27 November; 2-7 December) which Chiang Kai-shek would attend, the other with Stalin at Tehran ( EUREKA, 28-30 November). MATTERHORN, as an all-American show, needed the approval only of the JCS and the President. Because it must be fitted into any over-all strategy adopted at the conferences, however, it was desirable that U.S. authorities be agreed on MATTERHORN before assembling at the council table. Furthermore, preliminary actions must begin at once if the new timetable was to be met. Because of the CBI’s low priority in shipping and service troops, those actions would require much shuffling of allocations, and quick decisions were difficult during the general exodus of Cairo-bound staff members. What with lack of agreement among those officers and the complicated negotiations which transpired at SEXTANT and EUREKA, it was only after four weeks that MATTERHORN was finally approved. For four months thereafter the project was subject to intermittent attacks by opponents, and before the first B-29 mission was flown, Wolfe’s original plan had been materially scaled down.
When the JPS reviewed the plan on 9 November, objections arose at once: from the Navy member because of overriding priorities demanded for B-29 production, from the Army member because of the proposed diversion of four battalions of aviation engineers to build the Calcutta bases. Unable to reach an immediate agreement, the JPS turned the paper over to the Joint War Plans Committee, asking for a
* TWILIGHT had been used in Stilwell’s cable of 11 September to designate the Kweilin plan. That code name continued to be used loosely for any plan to base B-29’s in China until the Cairo conference when MATTERHORN was assigned to Chengtu, TWILIGHT to Kweilin. Soon thereafter, TWILIGHT was changed to DRAKE. To avoid confusion, the terms are used in the text as they were defined at Cairo.
report at SEXTANT by 17 November.70 The senior members of JWPC, also headed for Cairo, delegated this task to their “Home Team.” Meanwhile, necessary practical measures were taken, usually in a tentative fashion. The Joint Chiefs, pending advice from their planners, agreed to support preliminary negotiations for obtaining airfield sites in India and China.71 In this matter Roosevelt acted more directly. Briefed on the MATTERHORN plan, he approved it in principle and on 10 November apprised Churchill and the Generalissimo of its salient features, asking for aid in securing the airfields. Both promised the needed sites and aid in construction.72 Theater commanders, advised of these negotiations, turned to the task of preparing the installations against an early D-day.73
Other actions followed rapidly. Orders went out for the activation of XX Bomber Command, Wolfe commanding, with two VHB wings, the 58th and 73rd.74 At Arnold’s request, the War Department alerted for shipment on 15 December certain designated service units for building the Calcutta installations.75 Actual assignment of the units was contingent upon favorable decision by the JCS, but that was expected by AAF Headquarters because of the President’s attitude.76 The Joint Chiefs continued to discuss the plan on board the Iowa en route to Cairo and in the preliminary meetings there; they confirmed earlier provisional allocation of service troops and attempted to find the necessary shipping.77 In a schedule of operations for 1944 which they drew up on 18 November for presentation to the CCS, they suggested the establishment of a VHB force in China, but without designating either the Chengtu or Kweilin area.78 Firm commitment still hinged upon the general trend of the conference.
The report of JWPC’s Home Team came in a series of four radio messages, beginning on 19 November. The gist of the earlier messages, based on ad hoc studies made by the Joint Intelligence Committee, was that MATTERHORN was feasible but uneconomic; current target selection (the steel industry’s coke ovens) did not promise early decisive results.79 If these messages implied a lukewarm approval, the fourth radio on the 24th was a sharp negative. Using a new and pessimistic estimate of the B-29’s tactical radius, the Home Team concluded that few of the proposed targets could be reached from Chengtu.80 They advised, therefore, a more careful study of MATTERHORN and of other possible base areas, notably Calcutta, Ceylon, and Australia. Base construction in the CBI might proceed, but
the Wolfe project should not be brought before the Combined Chiefs. The quoted range data was challenged by the AAF (justly, as events were to prove),81 but on 25 November the JPS, in accord with JWPC’s advice, directed the Home Team to prepare a new study on “Optimum Use, Timing and Deployment of VLR Bombers in the War against Japan.”82 Meanwhile, the practical details of MATTERHORN were submerged in general debates concerning CBI.
On 23 November the Chinese, with General Stilwell attending as Chiang Kai-shek’s chief of staff, met with the CCS to discuss China’s role in the defeat of Japan.83 To become an effective ally, China needed modern equipment and training. These could be provided in significant quantities only by improved air transport facilities and a truck road from India. For the latter, the reconquest of northern Burma (TARZAN) was a prerequisite. Anglo-American leaders expected to build up their combined air forces for that campaign, and to commit a strong British ground force plus some U.S. units. They asked the Chinese to cooperate by sending two columns, the American-trained X Force from India, the Yoke Force from Yunnan. The Chinese held out for a large-scale British landing in south Burma ( BUCCANEER) as necessary for success in the north, and for 10,000 tons of Hump air freight per month. Chiang Kai-shek carried these demands to his meeting with Roosevelt and Churchill as the minimum price of Chinese participation.84 Marshall, after lunching with the Generalissimo on the 24th, reported next day to his American colleagues that he “had received the definite impression that pressure would be brought to bear on the President to make some contribution to China sufficiently conspicuous to serve as a fitting conclusion to the Generalissimo’s visit to the conference.”85 If he returned with only routine concessions, he would lose face in China. BUCCANEER would be a “conspicuous” contribution. So also would a 10,000-ton airlift a month, and the lend-lease it would provide. And so also, one might guess, would be MATTERHORN. At any rate, the British agreed to BUCCANEER, the Americans to the vast increase in ATC tonnage, and Chiang Kai-shek left for Chungking without tarrying for the final rounding out of Allied strategy.86
Then on 27 November Roosevelt, Churchill, and their staffs went on to Tehran to meet with Stalin. There momentous agreements were made: the western Allies would invade Europe in the spring of 1944, both in Normandy ( OVERLORD) and on the Riviera ( ANVIL);
the U.S.S.R. would enter the war against Japan after the defeat of Germany.87 These agreements promised eventually to shorten the war in the Pacific, but they snarled up plans for Burma. Stalin’s insistence on ANVIL meant that landing craft must be diverted from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean, knocking out BUCCANEER; the British said, in effect, no BUCCANEER, no TARZAN.88 Chinese reaction to this change could hardly be enthusiastic.*
Back at Cairo, the CCS turned again to the Japanese war. On 6 December they adopted, as revised, the JCS schedule of operations for 1944.89 They also accepted for further study an over-all plan for the defeat of Japan which took cognizance of Stalin’s promise of cooperation.90 Summaries of both papers were included in the final report to the President and the Prime Minister and were approved by them as the conference adjourned on the 7th.91 Plans for China stood thus: the Allies agreed to postpone (in effect, to cancel) BUCCANEER, and to follow a course of action to be determined on advice from Louis, Lord Mountbatten (Supreme Allied Commander, Southeast Asia) and Chiang Kai-shek. Either they would mount TARZAN, with carrier raids and land-based bombing attacks substituted for the amphibious assault in southern Burma; or they would increase Hump tonnage materially and conduct a heavy B-29 campaign from the Kweilin area. This second alternative was the CBI’s TWILIGHT plan – now called DRAKE – which continued to enjoy some support among the planning agencies.
But the reversal of commitments made to the Generalissimo at the earlier Cairo session put a premium on a more immediate assignment of B-29’s to China; the prestige value of receiving the first force of so impressive a plane as the Superfort might salve wounded pride. At any rate, the Joint Chiefs on returning to Cairo had included MATTERHORN in their list of approved operations,92 and it was accepted at the governmental level. The wording of the JCS paper, with an indirect reference to Wolfe’s peculiar logistical system, reflected perhaps some qualifications by approving “the establishing, without materially affecting other approved operations [italics added], of a very long-range strategic bombing force at Calcutta, with advanced bases at Chengtu to attack vital targets in the Japanese ‘Inner Zone,’ ” target date 1 May 1944.93
This commitment to MATTERHORN confirmed the preliminary
* See Vol. IV, pp. 495-97.
measures taken for its implementation; as a member of the JPS said later, “Construction of airfields in the Calcutta and Chengtu areas is already under way and ... in general events had overtaken the report.”94 But MATTERHORN was still not beyond challenge. The final report at SEXTANT had approved as well the capture of the Marianas, with B-29 operations from those islands beginning by the end of December 1944; interim strikes from Ceylon (after 20 July) at POL installations in the Netherlands East Indies; and preparation of bases in the Aleutians whence to hit the Kurils and Hokkaido. The over-all plan for defeat of Japan suggested other possible base areas, but delayed further recommendations until JWPC should complete its study on optimum use of VLR bombers. That study was to revive the earlier resistance to the MATTERHORN plan.
JWPC’s Home Team had begun its new study on VLR operations early in December. The AAF had contested the accuracy of some of its assumptions and particularly had complained of its ignoring the recent report of the Committee of Operations Analysts on strategic targets in Japan. Target selection in MATTERHORN had followed preliminary conclusions of the COA, and now the Home Team was directed to utilize the COA’s final report of 11 November.95 Because much of the story of MATTERHORN revolves around this document, some analysis of its contents may be given here.
The COA had been established in December 1942 as an agency for the study of strategic bombardment targets.96 Its membership comprised representatives of the several services and of civilian war agencies, as well as a few special consultants.* Reporting directly to General Arnold, the committee could tap military and governmental intelligence sources without following formal channels. The inclusion of distinguished civilians promised to provide certain funds of experience not to be found in military circles, and incidentally to give indirect support to strategic bombardment policies. The first COA study, on Germany, had profoundly influenced the nature of the
* The members signing the report of 11 November were: Brig. Gen. Byron E. Gates (Chairman); Maj. Gen. Claton Bissell (AC/AS, Intelligence); Capt. H. C. Wick, USN; Col. Thomas G. Lanplier (G-2); Col. Malcolm W. Moss (A-2); Col. Guido R. Perera; Col. Moses W. Pettigrew (G-2); Comdr. Francis Bitter, USNR; Lt. Col. W. Barton Leach; Lt. Comdr. A. E. Hindmarsh, USNR; Fowler Hamilton (FEA); Edward S. Mason (OSS); Edward M. Earle, Thomas W. Lamont, Clark H. Minor, and Elihu Root, Jr. (special consultants).
Combined Bomber Offensive.* On 23 March 1943 General Arnold directed the committee to prepare an “analysis of strategic targets in Japan,” the destruction of which would knock that country out of the war.97 Intelligence concerning Japanese industrial and military objectives was more meager than that for Germany, but the COA brought to its task a rich experience and a tested methodology. They brought also, inevitably, a point of view. In two respects their interpretation of their directive was significant. First, Arnold’s “strategic targets” became in their report “economic objectives” – industries geared closely to the war effort – without reference to purely military installations. Second, where the directive referred to targets located in Japan, the COA accepted this to include production and processing areas in both the Inner and Outer Zones, and the sea and land routes connecting those areas.
Individual industries were assigned to subcommittees, which worked through spring and summer of 1943.98 Plans for early use of the B-29 against Japan lent point to their studies and from September they were in touch with Wolfe and his staff.99 Both Wolfe and Kuter’s office utilized their preliminary findings; MATTERHORN followed their recommendations explicitly. The COA’s final report was presented to Arnold and Kuter on 11 November as they headed for SEXTANT, and copies were sent on to the conference.100
In this report the COA described thirteen industries which did not “now appear profitable aviation target systems.”101 They listed six other preferred target systems: 1) merchant shipping, in harbors and at sea; 2) steel production, to be attacked through coke ovens; 3) urban industrial areas, vulnerable to incendiary attacks; 4) aircraft plants; 5) antifriction bearing industry, highly concentrated in six main factories; 6) electronics industry, whose interruption would have immediate military effects.102 Japanese industry was vulnerable in general as well as in the stipulated particulars since much of it was war-born, without a substantial civilian backlog and not yet at peak production. Any of the chosen industries might be knocked out by a heavy initial concentration of bomber effort and a follow-up persistent enough to prevent recuperation or substitution.
The COA listed target systems in the order given above but without intending thereby any order of preference; for sake of security they preferred ambiguity in this respect. But in regard to the steel industry
* See Vol. II, pp. 349-70.
their judgment had been strongly registered: “The timing of the war against Japan justifies attack upon industries lying relatively deep in the structure of war production. When limitations of time do not require exclusive concentration upon immediate military effect, the most serious long-term damage can be inflicted by disrupting the production of basic materials like steel.” Two-thirds of all Japanese steel was produced from coke coming from a limited number of ovens, highly frangible and highly concentrated in Kyushu, Manchuria, and Korea. Hence the COA had said: “Those coke ovens are the prime economic targets. They should be attacked as soon as the forces necessary to destroy them in rapid succession become available.”103
From Chengtu the B-29 could not reach Tokyo or the other industrial cities of Honshu. The main coke-oven concentrations, however, were well within tactical radius and hence the MATTERHORN planners, committed to the west China base, had found in this implied priority for the steel industry a rationale for their plan. The COA had approached their problem without any great concern for the time element; the subsequent decision of the CCS to speed up the Japanese war now raised questions as to the practical value of such a long-term objective as steel.
That at any rate was the judgment of JWPC, charged with determining the best timing and deployment, as well as employment, of the B-29. In this task, they had to consider military as well as economic targets, and the tactical problems involved – bases, base defense, logistics, aircraft performance – which the COA had deliberately ignored. Again in December, as in the previous month, JWPC turned to the Joint Intelligence Committee for a preliminary study, and again received a report unfavorable to MATTERHORN.104 The JIC declared against any long-term economic objectives in favor of antishipping strikes which by forcing the Japanese to retire to the Inner Zone would affect both their industrial and military potentials. After shipping, the steel and petroleum industries (they incorrectly accused the COA of neglecting the latter) were the most vital economic targets. As to base areas, they rated Chengtu the worst, the Marianas the best. Until those islands could be won and developed, interim operations could best be conducted out of Darwin, Broome, and Port Moresby against merchant shipping and petroleum refineries. Chengtu might be used later if supply and defense difficulties could be overcome.
Following this report in the main, JWPC on 24 January recommended to the Joint Planning Staff the following disposition of VHB groups: the first four groups to go to the Southwest Pacific; then four to Chengtu; then twelve groups to the Marianas, which were to have an overriding priority when operational; then two groups to the Aleutians and two to be held in reserve.105 Within the JPS, opinion was divided.106 The naval member was inclined to support the JWPC report, the air member – Brig. Gen. Haywood S. Hansell, Jr. – to oppose it. Hansell thought JWPC had made insufficient use of the COA report and had neglected to consider some possible base areas (Kweilin, Kunming, Ceylon). Performance data accepted by JWPC did not agree with that furnished by B-29 project officers.107 On 9 February the JPS, on Hansell’s request, sent the paper to JWPC for revision.108 The paper was returned on 15 February without significant change in tone.109 Balancing all factors, JWPC still believed that the best use of the B-29 prior to deployment in the Marianas would be first from Australia bases against shipping and oil, and that its employment from China bases against coke ovens and shipping would be a poor second. Recognizing the priority which the JCS and the President had given to Chengtu, they did so reluctantly and with the warning “that it should be emphasized, however, that the implementation of MATTERHORN first is not in consonance with conclusions reached from the detailed studies.”
The Joint Planners adhered more closely to Hansell’s ideas in the report they sent to the JCS on 2 March.110 They reversed the order of preference for initial target systems, listing coke ovens before POL installations. Because of decisions “at highest level,” they recommended that MATTERHORN get the first eight groups. None were to be deployed in the Southwest Pacific, but units stationed at Calcutta were to stage through Ceylon to hit refineries in Sumatra. Twelve groups would be assigned to the Marianas; then perhaps two to the Aleutians, and two to other regions – Luzon, Formosa, or Siberia.
Continued resistance to MATTERHORN within inter-service intelligence and planning agencies reflected a wider current of opposition. The one point of agreement among most persons concerned was that the Marianas, when available, would provide the best base area. It was the interim use of B-29’s which they debated, and the several proposals made represented varying opinions as to the broad strategy
of the Japanese war. JWPC, in holding out for operations from Australia, reflected what was essentially a Navy point of view. Attrition of shipping and oil supplies, and the bombing of such strongpoints as Truk, Yap, and Palau, would facilitate the Navy’s westward move through the Central Pacific. Those tactics would aid as well MacArthur’s drive from the Southwest Pacific – indeed, they resembled closely the plan for B-29 operations which Kenny had suggested in October 1943.* In supporting MATTERHORN, AAF Headquarters had found that plan, in spite of its admitted flaws, intrinsically preferable to alternative proposals. Shipping they recognized as a vitally important target, but not as a proper B-29 objective. The plane and its equipment had been designed for high-altitude bombardment. The B-17 and B-24 had enjoyed but indifferent success in high-level attacks on Pacific shipping, and to use the B-29 for a job which a dive bomber or B-25 could do better did not seem economical. AAF doctrines of strategic bombing called for attacks against the enemy’s economy at home; only from China bases could that be done in early 1944, and in the last analysis that was the reason for the AAF’s continued support of MATTERHORN. That was the air planners’ way of winning the war, and they were content to leave to Nimitz and MacArthur blockade and island-hopping.
At the end of January the Chief of the Air Staff felt there was enough evidence of “a widespread effort to discredit MATTERHORN” to warrant a “counter-offensive” in the form of memos to Roosevelt and Marshall.111 Diversion of B-29’s from MATTERHORN would require presidential sanction, but in early 1944 plans for the Japanese war were still in a state of flux. The schedule of operations adopted at SEXTANT had been kept flexible to allow for possible short cuts. The assault on Saipan, listed for October – after Ponape and Truk – might be stepped up; if so, B-29’s might be diverted from CBI to help in winning their own bases. In February dissident views on Pacific strategy and the role of the B-29 were aired in conferences at Washington, at Honolulu, and at Brisbane.† General MacArthur wanted all currently operational B-29’s for the Southwest Pacific and was inclined to question the wisdom of their initial use from the Marianas.112 Lt. Gen. Robert C. Richardson113 in Honolulu believed that only a few groups could be stationed on those islands. The
* See above, pp. 12-13.
†See Vol. IV, pp. 550-53.
Navy was still undecided whether to turn northward to the Marianas or go on directly island by island to meet MacArthur at Mindanao.114 On 15 February General Hansell presented to the Joint Chiefs the AAF’s concept of the Pacific war, stressing the importance of the Marianas and the bomber offensive which could be conducted therefrom.115 Meanwhile, the role of the B-29 was discussed in a conference at the White House on the 11th, and again on the 19th.116
Finally on 12 March the JCS arrived at a firm decision on Pacific operations.117 Forces in the Pacific Ocean Areas (POA) would bypass Truk, seize the Marianas, and advance via the Carolines and Palaus to join SWPA forces in an assault on Mindanao on 15 November. D-day for Saipan in the Marianas was set at 15 June. This schedule, by advancing sharply the operational date of the best VHB base, offered a final solution for assignment of B-29 units. MATTERHORN stood, but cumulative delays in the United States and in the CBI made it clear that the May target date set at SEXTANT could not be met, and with Saipan airfields operational by early autumn the problem of “interim employment” shrank in importance. When Pacific commanders were notified of changes in their directives, MacArthur (Nimitz concurring) reduced his previous request for all operational B-29’s to a mere thirty-five with which to strike oil refineries in the NEI.118 That request too was refused; instead, Calcutta-based B-29’s would stage through Ceylon to hit Palembang, Sumatra’s great petroleum center.119
MATTERHORN as well as SOWESPAC felt the impact of the new strategy. After tinkering with the JPS paper of 2 March, the Joint Chiefs passed it to the Joint Strategic Survey Committee for review.120 On that committee’s recommendation, JPS again revised their plan to fit the new Pacific schedule: the MATTERHORN force should be cut to the 58th Wing’s four groups (just beginning their flight to India); the second wing should be sent to the Marianas, which should be reinforced, as units and bases became available, to a total of ten or twelve groups. On 10 April the Joint Chiefs informally approved the plan. This time, it was for keeps.121
And it was high time. A full year had passed since Arnold had set up the B-29 Special Project and had told Wolfe to get the B-29 ready for combat. Already the first B-29’s had landed in India, where Wolfe had long preceded them to ready his fields and gather his supplies against the first mission. The diversion of his second wing to Saipan
meant of course that his plan could not be fully implemented; moreover, there was already an indication that the 58th Wing might not be permanently stationed in the CBI.
With these last-minute changes in plans AAF Headquarters was well content. The political purpose, always an important factor in MATTERHORN, might still be served by the 58th Wing. Missions out of China would test the B-29 and the organization using it while hitting something of a blow at Japanese economy. By fall, Saipan bases, easily supplied and within tactical radius of Tokyo, might well supplant Chengtu completely. The reassignment of units from the CBI theater to the Pacific Ocean Areas could readily be effected by means of the unusual command structure for B-29 units embodied in the Twentieth Air Force. The problem of control of the B-29 force had appeared, explicitly or implicitly, in discussions of deployment, and the final solution bade fair to eliminate such protracted debates in the future.