Near the end of World War II, the American began launching perhaps the most extensive bombing operations in the entire Pacific theater to the island of Taiwan, then a Japanese colony since 1895. The U.S. objective was to eliminate the threat from the land-based special attack units, or the Kamikaze, and to destroy the logistic support to Japanese war efforts as its naval forces were preparing for the landing of Okinawa and the Japanese mainland. After the war, many regarded that such indiscriminate air attacks targeted not only the military but civilian population were more revengeful than militaristic.
Early in 1945, the closest air strike units to Taiwan were American bombers deployed in mainland China: the B-29 strategic bombers under the XX Bomber Command in Chengdu, Szechuan and General Claire L. Chennault’s 14th Air Force in Kunming, Yunnan. However, only limited attacks could be launched to Taiwan because of the combat range of their aircraft. After the US had occupied the Philippines, the job of bombing Taiwan fell on the shoulder of the Fifth Air Force stationing there. The Fifth Air Force then had 140 heavy bombers, 200 light bombers, 150 fighters and 60 reconnaissance planes, with combat radius able to cover the entire island of Taiwan.
At the time when the US was about to bomb Taiwan, the once invincible Imperial Japanese Army and Navy were powerless to drive away incoming American air armada. The few Zero fighters left were obsolete. Without experienced pilots and enough fuel, these aircraft were not expected to produce any significant effect in air defense except turning them into suicide planes. Although there were a few Nakajima J1N1 Gekko (“Moonlight”) two-engine night fighters that might pose some threat to US bombers, they were soon wiped out. By the end of April 1945, Japan could only rely on ground anti-aircraft forces to defend Taiwan. Some army AAA batteries that were shipped in from Japan and as many as 5,000 heavy machine guns were deployed at about 1,600 vital facilities like fuel depots, sugar plants, train stations, bridges, and fortifications, etc. From January to August 1945 the US sustained a ratio of 3% of combat loss raiding Taiwan. Ground fire downed over 200 US planes, proof that the Japanese ground air defense power still posed a considerable psychological threat to low-flying US air crew on bombing or strafing missions.
It was known that Taiwan did not produce oil. However, the 49 sugar plants in Taiwan could produce ethanol as substitute aircraft fuel by refining residual product of sugar canes. In WWII Taiwan’s such refining technique was well known internationally. Therefore, these sugar plants, like the Sixth Fuel Plant of the Imperial Navy located at Zuoying, Kaohsiung, were the primary targets of US attacks. Besides refineries, oil storage facilities were also targeted. By early 1945, after the US Army Fifth Air Force had successfully blocked Taiwan’s littoral shipping, the Americans turned to attack Taiwan’s railway and road transportation systems. Bridges, tunnels, train stations, marshaling yards, repair facilities and all sorts of vehicles, even the buses on the road ferrying civilians were their opportunity targets. Three months before the Japanese surrender, Americans indiscriminately bombed all military and non-military targets which included residential areas thus creating huge losses of properties and lives.
In total, the air raids conducted by the Fifth Air Force destroyed 46,000 houses and left 277,000 Taiwanese homeless. Over 90% of Taiwan’s industrial production facilities was destroyed along with almost all power generating plants. Other infrastructures like bridges, railroads, and ordinary highways were seriously damaged.
Among all the raids, what was the most controversial was the one of May 31, 1945, in the city of Taipei, the capital of Japanese colonial government. On that particular day, 117 B-24s dropped 3,800 bombs over Taipei destroying many buildings and killing over 3,000 citizens. After the war, some local historians considered such bombing atrocious and creating only terror to the civilian population.
In war times, extreme measures must be taken to annihilate the enemy’s physical strength and to resolve further conflicts if possible. However, Americans’ indiscriminate bombings added only more pain to the Taiwanese long-suffering Japanese militarism and colonization.