The Fog of War – Lesson #4: Maximize efficiency

Early in World War II, the B-29 bomber was developed to remedy some of the shortfalls of the B-17 and B-24. It was thought that this plane could destroy targets much more efficiently and effectively. Planes were flown from bases in Kansas to India. The bombers were then loaded with fuel in India and flown into China to Shang-tu to build up fuel stocks there. (Shang-tu was to be used as a mounting point for attacks against Yawata, Japan.) It turned out that, due to a lack of personnel training on maximizing efficiency, many of the B-29s were loaded with fuel for the return trip from Shang-tu to India. The entire effort “wasn’t worth a damn” and General Curtis LeMay quickly figured this out and transferred the operation to the Mariana Islands.
LeMay was, according to McNamara, focused solely on target destruction.

“He was the only person that I knew in the senior command of the Air Force who focused solely on the loss of his crews per unit of target destruction.”

It was LeMay who oversaw the horrific firebombing of Tokyo which killed more than 100,000 civilians. LeMay took the B-29s down to 5,000 feet and decided to bomb with firebombs — greatly increasing the effectiveness of these planes and their incendiaries. McNamara shared an anecdote of a pilot who returned from the firebombing of Tokyo in March of 1945 and complained that, by flying the mission so low to the ground his wingman had been lost to enemy fire. LeMay rebutted the pilot’s complaints by explaining that, while he lost one wingman, the mission had destroyed Tokyo.

“Tokyo was a wooden city, and when we dropped these firebombs, it just burned it.”

(Emphasis added.) Incidentally, the choice to use firebombs was also specifically LeMay’s decision — a further indication of his focus on maximized efficiency.