Blankets of Fire: U.S. Bombers Over Japan During World War II, by Kenneth P. Werrell, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C,. and London, 1996, $39.95.
This is a well-researched and scholarly book that covers a lot more subject matter than the title suggests. The origins of American strategic bombing doctrine are explored, and a good bit of space is devoted to the creation and development of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, dubbed by the author the “best bomber of World War II.” The author manages to convey a sense of the tremendous industrial, economic and logistical effort that went into producing the Superfortress fleet, as well as describing vividly and in detail how this weapon was put to use against Japan. The first B-29 raids against Japanese targets were launched from Chinese airstrips in June 1944 with minimal results. The sustained bombing offensive against the Japanese homeland got underway in November 1944 from bases in the Marianas and later Iwo Jima. While Blankets of Fire is written as a history, Werrell has included personal anecdotes, bringing the human dimension of the bombing campaign, on both sides, home to the reader.
The strategic bombing of Japan was exclusively an American offensive. The long-held views of American officers on precision bombing were put to the test again and were once more found wanting, as they had been in Europe. Even so, through the use of area bombing with incendiaries, a total of 178 square miles of built-up area were destroyed by the B-29 raids in approximately eight months of bombing, exceeding the total area destroyed in German cities during the entire war. The Japanese defenses at this stage of the war were weak, but they were still deadly. And the American airmen encountered other enemies less personal but just as implacable: chronic equipment failures, flying times that were 21Ž2 times longer than those in Europe, lack of weather information, and the uncertain prospects of rescue if downed at sea.
John I. Witmer