315th Bomb Wing

The following is from the 315th Bomb Wing (VH) history book. It was researched and written by Major Ralph Swann as partial fulfillment of his requirements for graduation from the US Air Force Command and Staff College. It is "Adapted from Air Command and Staff Research Report 862460 entitled A Unit History of the 315th Bomb Wing, 1944-1946."


Twelve hundred sorties flown;
nine thousand tons of HE bombs dropped;
and four airplanes lost. Quite a record

- General Curtis E. LeMay

      The devastating impact of air power marked the beginning and the end of World War II for the United States. Japan's stunning, debilitating attack at Pearl Harbor instantly proved the offensive value of air power. In response, America built the world's most powerful air arsenal, and Gen. H. H. Arnold ensured the B-29 Superfortress was part of it. Despite early developmental setbacks, American industry provided the B-29 to its military forces so they could carry the war across the vast Pacific Ocean to Japan's homeland.

The Superfortress, pride of the AAF, did all this and more, but the road to victory had been a long and tedious one. History books will say little about the men who conceived, modified, and produced World War II's most intricate and effective aerial weapon. Yet the midnight oil they burned in laboratories and factories in America was the pilot flame that ignited all of Japan in the conflagration that reduced that nation s economic and social life to ashes.

      America's first very heavy bomber had been placed in the hands of the Twentieth Air Force, and its leaders charged to use it effectively against Japan. They did!

      The Twentieth Air Force decisively accomplished its strategic bombardment mission. In 14 months of combat operations, it amassed a force of over 1,000 B-29s and repeatedly struck Japan's industrial heart. Its leaders built bases in the Pacific and carried the war right to Japan's doorstep, destroying Japanese military claims that American B-29s would never strike Japan from the Marianas.

In 1945, concentrated American air power forced an enemy's surrender without land invasion for the first time in military history. Because of the precedent-shattering performance of the 20th Air Force from March to August 1945, no United States soldier, sailor, or marine had to land on bloody beachheads or fight through strongly prepared ground defenses to ensure victory in the Japanese home islands of Honshu, Kyushu, Hokkaido, and Shikoku. Very long-range air power gained victory, decisive and complete.

      Its concentrated strategic bombing campaign not only destroyed Japan's capacity to wage war but also undermined the will of its people to continue the war. Thus, Twentieth Air Force accomplished the strategic mission assigned to it by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

      Twentieth Air Force fulfilled its mission through the dedicated efforts of its very heavy bombardment (VHB) wings. The arrival of the 315th Bomb Wing (VH) in the spring of 1945 brought Twentieth Air Force up to full strength with more than 1,000 B-29s and 83,000 men. This large striking force conducted an around-the-clock bombing campaign against Japan, dropping a total of "165,000 tons of bombs and mines, plus 2 atomic bombs." Approximately 90 percent of this tonnage was delivered during the final five months of the war and was the final blow that reduced Japan from an antagonistic world power to a vanquished enemy. The success of this campaign was made possible by the courage and untiring efforts of the members of Twentieth Air Force with each VHB Wing, making a notable contribution. The 315th's special assignment was the destruction of one type of target, the petroleum industry.

      The 315th's strategic campaign against the Japanese oil industry was highly successful. The wing's bombing effort left 11 of Japan's newest refineries inoperable or completely destroyed. The 315th destroyed or badly damaged 5 percent of Japan's total square footage of oil industry buildings and knocked out 6,055,000 barrels of storage capacity.

Oil targets are reported as only 5 percent destroyed. However, due to the fact that most production was confined to a relatively few modern facilities, the 315th Wing, by concentrating on 11 of Japan s newest refineries, reduced overall output by 30 percent in little more than a month of operations. Synthetic production sagged even more sharply with a drop of 44 percent, which represents an actual loss of 265,000 barrels.

      Japan's petroleum industry had provided the life blood for its military machine, but its capability was decimated by the end of the war. As a result. Gen. LeMay stated that he was "ready to switch the 315th to other targets" when the war ended.

      Although postwar analysis revealed the strategic effects of the 315th's oil industry campaign were more apparent than real, the operation was necessary. Since most of Japan's oil supplies came in from overseas, the American blockade and mining operations had dried up the supply that might otherwise have been stored and struck by the 315th. Thus, by the time the 315th began its operations, many oil tanks were empty, and Japan's oil refining production had fallen to only 4 percent of capacity. Nevertheless, Gen. LeMay's decision to attack the oil industry was logical based on military intelligence estimates. Unfortunately, military intelligence on the state of Japan's economy relied on photo-reconnaissance efforts often hampered by Japan's cloudy weather. Thus, "In the absence of adequate intelligence on the actual state of Japan's war economy, the strategic bombing attacks served as guarantee that the oil industry had been eliminated." As a result, the 315th's attacks on the oil industry not only contributed to strategic bombing efforts, but it also provided an opportunity to test the wing's special radar capability.

      The 315th proved the feasibility of all-weather, selective precision bombing, while the other VHB wings continued the area saturation bombing tactic, the 315th tried to show it was unnecessary to destroy an urban area just to hit a specific part of it. The wing's APQ-7 Eagle radar gave the definition and resolution required to pinpoint a target. Japan's oil refineries provided ideal test targets because they were relatively undamaged, well-defined, and located near the coastline. Although the oil targets were less than a mile square and frequently hidden by clouds, the 315th repeatedly hit the target using the APQ-7 synchronous radar bombing technique.

The operations of the 315th Wing showed conclusively that it was feasible to destroy targets by radar bombing when the target location is well known and the radar returns of the target itself are clear or its location relative to a prominent radar feature is well known.

      The 315th's remarkable performance revolutionized heavy bombardment by showing it was possible to destroy small, difficult targets without seeing them visually. "The 315th and the Eagle radar reaffirmed and assured the U.S. Air Force philosophy that 'we can sink a battleship' not only in daylight, but anytime regardless of visibility to the naked eye."

      The 315th Bomb Wing's Pacific campaign was relatively short but impressive. Between April and August 1945, the 315th transitioned from a "green" combat unit with no operational runway or aircraft to a B-29 unit carrying the heaviest payloads on the longest missions of the war. The wing flew 15 missions in 50 days between 26 June and 14 August. Of the 1,225 aircraft scheduled to participate, 1,200 planes became airborne and 1,114 (or 93 percent) bombed the primary target with 9,084 tons of bombs. The average bomb load increased from 14,631 pounds on the first mission to a record setting 20,648 pounds on the 9 August strike against Amagasaki. The wing lost only four aircraft, or .33 percent of the 1,200 airborne planes, with 66 damaged. Unfortunately, 27 men were listed as killed or missing in action during the 15 Empire strikes. The 315th also flew five major POW supply missions, including a record setting 4,000-mile trip to camps in Mukden, Manchuria. In sum, "Twelve hundred sorties flown; nine thousand tons of HE bombs dropped; and four airplanes lost. Quite a record." Several factors help to explain this outstanding performance.

      Despite numerous adversities, the 315th's demanding and lengthy training program was a key element in its success. By the time the unit left for overseas, the men had received eight to ten months of intensive instruction. Throughout this period, the 315th had to surmount the manpower, supply, equipment, and facility shortages afflicting all units in the massive AAF B-29 program. The reorganized, streamlined air service groups were thoroughly trained to provide integrated combat support for B-29 operations. Although he did not have operational control over the groups during training. Gen. Armstrong knew what it took to perform in combat and made it abundantly clear what training standards he expected the men to meet. Even though the Gypsy Task Force created immense logistical problems for the bomb groups, it provided an ideal, and crucial, training environment for the 315th. In the Caribbean, the bomb groups trained intensively to develop and perfect the revolutionary APQ-7 synchronous radar bombing technique. Due to unit reassignments in the Pacific, the 315th's operational date was delayed. "But the delay was used to good effect in terms of training. The training in radar bombing accuracy was particularly intense. As a result, the performance of the 315th with the AN/APQ-7 bombing system was spectacular." This performance reflected Gen. Armstrong's demand to have the 315th "go out the best trained Wing in the B-29 program."

      Leadership was another important factor in the success of the 315th Bomb Wing. Although each leader had his own style, they all led by example with Gen. Armstrong setting the pace. He set high standards but never asked anyone to do anything he would not do. Gen Armstrong and his bomb group commanders were out in front on the tough missions, thus letting the crews know their leaders were supporting them on every mission. The air service group commanders led their men through the difficult, demoralizing reorganization period on Guam and established a well organized and responsive wing service center. The 315th's leaders were also concerned about the welfare of their men and did everything they could to satisfy their needs. This was particularly difficult during the lengthy deployment and early days on Guam. The 315th's leaders embodied the high standards they set, earning them the respect and support of their men.

      Finally, an intangible and dominant factor leading to the 315th's success in combat was the spirit and dedication of its men. Despite the often unpleasant living conditions and long duty hours in the States and overseas, they met every challenge and worked together to complete the task at hand. Although the bomb groups and the air service groups trained separately, they united to form a potent combat unit. On Guam, they not only had to build their own base facilities, but they did it while readying the wing for the start of combat operations. The wing flew 15 combat missions in 50 days and achieved a remarkable record of bombing accuracy using new equipment and procedures. This is a tribute not only to the men who flew the Superforts, but also to those who ensured the planes and crews were ready to fly the long missions to strike Japan. There were many unsung heroes in the 315th's revolutionary air campaign against Japan, but every member's skill and sacrifice contributed to its success in combat. This is their story.

"The wings of victory are yours. Wear them proudly."

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Content 2003-2004, Larry Miller
ljmiller at charter dot net
September 14, 2004