On March 9, 1945, with the code name “Operation Meetinghouse,” 334 B-29 bombers under the command of Colonel Curtis LeMay, took off from USAAF bases in the Mariana Islands. Shortly after midnight on March 10, the B-29s flew over densely-populated areas of Tokyo at the relatively low altitude of 7,000 feet.
Prior to the raid, U.S. Army engineers at the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah had tested the firebombing technique on a mock-Japanese village constructed of wooden houses. As predicted, ~1600 tons of napalm-filled incendiary bombs released over Tokyo in the next 48 hours initiated enormous firestorms that engulfed 15 square miles of the city.
Although estimates vary, between 80,000-130,000 Japanese civilians were killed in the worst single firestorm in recorded history. Several times that number of civilians were injured and more than a million people were left homeless.
The death toll of the Tokyo raid was the highest of any air raid during the entire war, including Hiroshima (estimated 70-80,000 deaths) and Nagasaki (estimated 60,000 deaths). Although many people today are more aware of the bombing of Dresden than Tokyo, the bombing of Dresden a month earlier resulted in an estimated 18- 25,000 deaths.