Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Moscow has conducted a bombing campaign aimed at its neighbor’s civilian population. The world was shocked by the strategy, but targeting civilian sectors with artillery or terror bombing from the air is nothing new. Attacks on Spanish cities by German planes during the Spanish Civil War, for instance, immortalized in the painting “Guernica” by Pablo Picasso, were a prelude to the horrors of WWII.
The U.S. was not exempt from this ruthless strategy, mapping out a bombing plan that virtually destroyed some German cities and wiped out many more in Japan.
To compile a list of cities destroyed in whole or in large part by the United States during WWII, 24/7 Wall St. used sources such as PopHistory.com, History.com, WorldHeritagesite.com, and The Guardian to compile our list. We limited our list to cities that sustained damage in excess of 50% – which excludes Berlin, where the damage was 33%. Casualty figures for some cities, in particular for Japan, were not available because of inadequate data.
The United States Army Air Forces – successor to the U.S. Army Air Corps and predecessor of the U.S. Air Force – worked in concert with the Royal Air Force to bomb German cities throughout the war. Among the major metropolises that were laid waste by U.S. air attacks were Dresden and Cologne, and an aerial attack on Berlin by the Americans marked the first military use of napalm. Allied bombing raids killed more than 400,000 civilians in Germany. (These are the countries that suffered the most civilian casualties in World War II.)
In the Pacific, American strategic bombing of Japan took place between 1942 and 1945. By August 1944, U.S. forces had captured Guam, Saipan and Tinian in the Mariana Islands south of Japan and built airfields there for its B-29 bombers. The planes would be able to make bombing runs to Japan without refueling. (These are the 18 biggest battles of World War II.)
In the last seven months of the war, napalm firebombing resulted in the destruction of 67 Japanese cities – many made of just wood and paper. As many as 500,000 Japanese were killed and another 5 million made homeless.
Click here to see the cities destroyed by the USA in World War II
Click here to read our detailed methodology
Though napalm claimed more Japanese lives than the two nuclear bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, those attacks overshadowed the firebombing campaign. The firebombing nonetheless remains controversial to this day. Filmmaker Errol Morris examined the topic in the 2003 Oscar-winning documentary “The Fog of War.” In the film, former secretary of defense, Robert McNamara, who provided data analysis for the American bombers attacking Japan, discussed the moral consequences of the decision to firebomb Japan and what constitute the “rules of war.”
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