Operation Bombing of Utsunomiya

The 'Bombing of Utsunomiya' by Major General Curtis E. LeMay’s US 20th Army Air Force was part of the strategic bombing campaign waged by the USA against military and civilian targets and population centres during the Japanese home islands campaign in the closing stages of World War II (12/13 July 1945).

Utsunomiya was the location of a major garrison of the Imperial Japanese army (it was the home base of the 14th Division and 51st Division, and also a regional command centre) and the location of numerous war industries, including a factory of the Nakajima aircraft company. The city was also a regional commercial and transportation hub on the Tohoku main line railway connecting Tokyo with destinations in the northern part of Honshu island. In the early stages of the US bombing campaign, however, the city remained untouched as the US strategic planners concentrated their efforts on major civilian population centres in southern and western Japan. This situation changed in July 1945 and Utsunomiya was attacked five times between 10 July 1945 and the end of the war on 15 August 1945.

Utsunomiya was first attacked on 10 July 1945 by carrierborne single-engined fighter-bombers, which strafed a farmhouse on the southern outskirts of the city, killing five civilians.

The major attack on Utsunomiya came on the night of 12 July 1945. A total of 133 Boeing B-29 Superfortress four-engined heavy bombers of Brigadier General Roger M. Ramey’s 58th Bombardment Wing departed Tinian, in the recently captured Mariana islands group, and arrived over Utsunomiya in several waves starting from 23.19. The weather over the target was overcast with rain. Using the Utsunomiya central elementary school as the aiming point, the aircraft dropped 802.9 tons of bombs, including 10,500 E46 incendiary cluster bombs and 2,204 M47 napalm bombs. The result was a firestorm which destroyed much of the city centre including the Utsunomiya city hall, the Tochigi prefectural hall and Utsunomiya station. However, in conditions characterised by poor visibility, many bombers released their payloads blindly (one crew reported that they released bombs when the smell of the burning city was strongest), and damage occurred over a wide area, including many farming villages surrounding the city. The 58th Bombardment Wing lost one aeroplane as it flew back toward Tinian, with two casualties, as a result of mechanical failure.

As a result of the bombing, the Japanese suffered 628 persons killed, 1,150 persons severely injured, and 9,490 buildings destroyed, thus rendering homeless 47,976 people. A year after the war, the US Army Air Forces’s Strategic Bombing Survey (Pacific War) reported that 43.6% of the city had been totally destroyed.

Utsunomiya was attacked again by fighter-bombers operating from the island of Iwo Jima on 28 July 1945, with minor damage and five people killed in an industrial park. However, another 30 civilians were killed when a US warplane strafed a train at Koganei station.

Fighter-bombers strafed Utsunomiya again on 30 July 1945 and 13 August 1945, killing some 10 civilians in each attack.