“Black Snow brilliantly vivifies the horrific reality of the most destructive air attack in history, against Tokyo on the night of March 9-10, 1945. James Scott deftly employs sharply etched portraits of individuals of all stations and nationalities to survey the global, technological, and moral backdrop of the cataclysm, including the searing experiences of Japanese trapped in a gigantic firestorm. This riveting account illuminates an historical moment of profound contemporary relevance.” —Richard B. Frank, author of Tower of Skulls: A History of the Asia-Pacific War: July 1937–May 1942
Seven minutes past midnight on March 10, 1945, nearly 300 American B-29s thundered into the skies over Tokyo. Their payloads of incendiaries ignited a firestorm that reached up to 2,800 degrees, liquefying asphalt and vaporizing thousands; sixteen square miles of the city were flattened and more than 100,000 men, women, and children were killed.
Black Snow is the story of this devastating operation, orchestrated by Major General Curtis LeMay, who famously remarked: “If we lose the war, we’ll be tried as war criminals.” James M. Scott reconstructs in granular detail that horrific night, and describes the development of the B-29, the capture of the Marianas for use as airfields, and the change in strategy from high-altitude daylight “precision” bombing to low-altitude nighttime incendiary bombing. Most importantly, the raid represented a significant moral shift for America, marking the first time commanders deliberately targeted civilians which helped pave the way for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki five months later.
Drawing on first-person interviews with American pilots and bombardiers and Japanese survivors, air force archives, and oral histories never before published in English, Scott delivers a harrowing and gripping account, and his most important and compelling work to date.
In this immersive, meticulously researched history, Pulitzer finalist Scott (Target Tokyo) contends that the 1945 firebombing campaign against Japan marked a moral shift in U.S. military strategy and paved the way to the use of the atomic bomb. Drawing on oral histories and survivor diaries, Scott vividly recounts the air raid on Tokyo orchestrated by Maj. Gen. Curtis LeMay, which incinerated one out of every four buildings in the Japanese capital and killed more than 100,000 people. LeMay continued the campaign for 159 days, targeting Nagoya, Osaka, and Kobe, among other cities, destroying homes, factories, aircraft plants, and oil refineries. Scott carefully builds up to the firebombing campaign, detailing the pressure on American commanders to bring the war to a close, the capture of the Mariana Islands to be used as airfields, challenges involved in building the B-29 bomber, and Gen. Haywood Hansell Jr.'s refusal to shift strategies from high-altitude daylight precision bombing of industries to nighttime, low-altitude incendiary bombing of civilian neighborhoods. Also profiled is Army Air Forces commander Henry "Hap" Arnold, who thought that "crush Japan" would demonstrate the need for an independent air force and made the decision to replace Hansell with LeMay. Full of vivid action scenes and sharp character observations, this riveting WWII history reveals the staggering cost of obtaining peace.