Operation Starvation

'Starvation' was a US programme of aerial minelaying by Major General Curtis E. LeMay’s XXI Bomber Command of LeMay’s (finally Lieutenant General Nathan F. Twining’s) 20th AAF in the waters round Japan (27 March/17 July 1945).

In this effort, Japan’s most vital water routes and ports were mined from the air to disrupt Japan’s ability to move raw materials and weapons by ship. The mission resulted from pressure by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commanding the Pacific Ocean Areas, who desired to have his naval operations augmented by an extensive mining of Japan itself conducted by the air force. While General Henry H. Arnold, the USAAF’s chief-of-staff, felt this was strictly a naval priority, he nonetheless assigned the task to the 20th AAF. Instead of the single group suggested by Arnold, LeMay assigned the whole of Brigadier General John H. Davies’s 313th Bombardment Wing (four groups with about 160 Boeing B-29 Superfortress heavy bombers) on Tinian island in the Mariana islands group, with orders to lay an initial 2,000 mines by the end of April 1945.

Beginning with 'Starvation I' on 27 March, 1,000 acoustically and magnetically triggered mines were dropped, these being succeeded by many more including pressure-triggered models. Eventually most of the major ports and straits of Japan were repeatedly mined, severely disrupting Japanese logistics and troop movements for the rest of the war as 35 of Japan’s most important 47 convoy routes were so heavily interdicted that they had to be abandoned.

'Starvation' sank a greater tonnage of Japanese shipping in the last six months of the Pacific war than all other attacks combined. The 20th AAF flew 1,529 sorties and laid 12,135 mines (4,921 magnetic, 3,507 acoustic, 2,959 pressure-magnetic and 748 low-frequency) in 26 fields in the course of 46 separate missions. Directed primarily against the waters of the Shimonoseki Strait and off Kure/Hiroshima, Sasebo, Fukuoka/Karatsu, Harima/Nada, Kobe/Osaka, Hiuchi Nada, Nagoya, Tokyo/Yokohama, Niigata/Sakata, Maizuru/Tsuruga, Nanao/Fushiki, Hagi, Yuya, Senzuki, Sakai and Funakawa in the Japanese islands and off Fusan, Rashin, Reisui, Masan, Seishin, Konan, Genzan, Geijits Wan and Harnada in Korea, the mining campaign was extremely cost-effective for the US war effort, for while it demanded only 5.7% of the XXI Bomber Command’s total sorties and cost the US 20th AAF a mere 15 B-29 bombers, in return the mines sank or damaged 670 ships totalling more than 1.2 million tons. After the war’s end, the commander of Japan’s minesweeping operations noted that he thought this mining campaign could have directly led to the defeat of Japan on its own had it been launched at an earlier date.

'Starvation II' was flown between 3 and 5 May, and in this the US bombers began the second phase of the mining operation in this instance against Japanese industrial targets when 97 Boeing B-29 Superfortress heavy bombers dropped mines into the Shimonoseki Strait and the waters off Kobe, Osaka and Sua Nada. On 5 May 98 B-29 bombs mined the Inland Sea off Kobe, Osaka, Tokyo and Nagoya.

'Starvation III' between 13 and 27 May saw the laying of mines on 13, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 26 and 27 May, largely in the Shimonoseki Strait, and during the month the Japanese lost 51 vessels (mostly small freighters and one minesweeper) as well as suffering damage to numerous warships, auxiliaries and merchant vessels.

'Starvation IV' on 7 June saw the flying of minelaying sorties by B-29 heavy bombers over the waters off northern Honshu and Kyushu, and in the Shimonoseki Strait. Many ships were sunk or damaged over the following weeks.

'Starvation V' between 9 and 17 July began as 30 B-29 heavy bombers dropped mines in the waters off Niigata: one ship sank and another five were damaged on the same day. On 11 July a force of 27 B-29 bombers continued the minelaying, and in the meantime three more freighters and the destroyer escort Sakura were sunk off Osaka, and two ships were damaged. On 12 July three more freighters were sunk and another two were damaged. On 13 July a force of 31 B-29 bombers dropped mines off Masan and Chongjin in Korea and off Fukuoka, resulting in the sinking of four freighters. On 17 July a force of 28 B-29 bombers repeated the process.