The LeMay Bombing Leaflet

On August 1, 1945, over one hundred US B-29 Superfortresses flew over Japan at around 20,000 feet. At this height they dropped 500-pound containers, each holding leaflets that warned the Japanese civilians of the necessity of surrender. At around 4,000 feet the containers opened and released millions of leaflets that fluttered down to the people below.

These leaflets were produced in Saipan, a US occupied island just north of Guam, by the US Office of War Information. Walter J. Cox, Jr. was stationed in Saipan and was able to acquire the above leaflets from a Red Cross worker who went “ashore” to Japan and brought them back. Cox in turn sent them to his wife back home.

These leaflets in the collection of the Virginia Aviation Museum were used as a propaganda tool in order to cause Japanese civilians to distrust their military leaders and to push for an end to the war. Of the five pamphlets that Cox was able to send home, the most significant is the leaflet at the bottom center in the above photograph. This was called the “LeMay bombing leaflet” after Major General Curtis E. LeMay who was the commander of the Pacific Theater of war during this time. It was he who requested that this particular leaflet be dropped over Japan. This leaflet was dropped over 35 cities, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The front of the leaflet depicts numerous American B-29s with hundreds of bombs descending and a list of potential targeted cities. The reverse reads in Japanese:

“Read this carefully as it may save your life or the life of a relative or friend. In the next few days, some or all of the cities named on the reverse side will be destroyed by American bombs. These cities contain military installations and workshops or factories which produce military goods. We are determined to destroy all of the tools of the military clique which they are using to prolong this useless war. But, unfortunately, bombs have no eyes. So, in accordance with America’s humanitarian policies, the American Air Force, which does not wish to injure innocent people, now gives you warning to evacuate the cities named and save your lives. America is not fighting the Japanese people but is fighting the military clique which has enslaved the Japanese people. The peace which America will bring will free the people from the oppression of the military clique and mean the emergence of a new and better Japan. You can restore peace by demanding new and good leaders who will end the war. We cannot promise that only these cities will be among those attacked but some or all of them will be, so heed this warning and evacuate these cities immediately”.

Other leaflets include (clockwise from top left) a depiction of the Japanese Army pulling a Japanese civilian and home over a cliff; a description of the treatment the Japanese would receive with photographs of smiling Americans on one side, and smiling Japanese civilians on the other; a Japanese newspaper printed by the United States; the LeMay leaflet; and a list of radio stations to listen to for warnings and news.