About how many total bullets and missiles did WW2 era Japan have?
May 21, 2016 12:08 AM   Subscribe

I would assume that WW2-era Japan would have over 220,000 individual rounds of ammunition, but is that true? How many bullets would there be per plane, ship, individual gun, plus in storage, and how many planes, ships, etc?

A friend of mine argues that the dropping of the atomic bombs in Japan during ww2 saved thousands of lives (Americans, arguably) but since the death toll estimates are perhaps 220,000 deaths of Japanese civilians, for the sake of argument, I'm curious how many Americans could have been killed by the Japanese navy/air-force, even just as a guess, if every single bullet the Japanese had to fire struck a unique person.
posted by Quarter Pincher to Technology (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
According to Wikipedia near the end of the war the Japanese Navy had over a million people in it. I don't know how many bullets per each they had, but presumably they were outfitted to kill at least an equal sized opposing force.
posted by aubilenon at 2:24 AM on May 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Have a look at this. It quotes someone as saying that over the course of the war the US produced 47 billion rounds of ammunition.

Accordingly I'd say the number of bullets Japan had were significantly in excess of 220,000.

Another useful figure is that it takes (broadly) 20,000 bullets to make a casualty.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:51 AM on May 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

You can find the published reports of Gen. MacArthur (who headed the US occupation of Japan) online. Here is the chapter about demobilization.

According to this, the Japanese military reported posessing 1.37 million rifles and light machine guns shortly after surrender, with 230 rounds of ammunition for each, so something like 315 million rifle and machine gun rounds. In the actual event, the occupation forces ended up confiscating more like 2.47 million rifles and small machine guns, no word on whether the actual amounts of ammunition confiscated were similarly greater than initial reports. (And of course this is only one class of ammunition, it doesn't include pistol rounds, or artillery, or the 51 million reported grenade launcher rounds). The process of destroying all this materiel or dumping it into the ocean was itself a massive industrial endeavor, involving many thousands of Americans and Japanese all across the country.
posted by firechicago at 4:01 AM on May 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

Not all the leaders at the time thought we needed to use the bomb to save lives either, according to this recent Salon.com article . You might consider sending it to your friend.
posted by TheAdamist at 9:09 AM on May 21, 2016

I'm thinking that counting bullets isn't a half-bad way to assess possibilities. It's certainly something that I might want to know about an enemy entrenched in a bunker that I'm about to assault. When I was in basic training we were told that only a smallish percentage of American infantryman in WWII or Korea (can't remember, maybe 20%) ever fired their weapon. Our training (in the 60's) was designed to encourage us to shoot more, so I suppose we did. I have no idea what proportion of Japanese soldiers fired their weapons. Seems like you can't tell what might be important until you have some time to make a few charts and graphs.

Considering the arc of fighting in the Pacific, had I been an infantryman with a vote, I probably would have voted for continuing the bomb runs. Nuke or no nuke, just don't kick me off the landing craft with a fixed bayonet. If I were Truman I might have had to deal with loftier fictions, like impressing Stalin.

In a bombing raid the only American casualties would be those whose aircraft crashed or were shot down. Japanese military forces on the ground had proved to be more dangerous to Allied forces, in terms of raw carnage, than their anti-aircraft weapons. Americans had numbered their own casualties by the tens of thousands in the campaigns in the Pacific, and Japanese soldiers (for whatever reasons) pretty much preferred to die fighting rather than surrender. Similarly, on some of the islands and on the Asian mainland, "collateral damage" during the Pacific campaign was also high. An understandable notion among the Allies in 1945 was that killing Japanese soldiers on their home shore would probably be expensive in terms of Allied casualties, and horrendously so in terms of Japanese dead. By 1945 it was hard to be sympathetic toward the taking of Japanese lives, even if you were inclined to pacifism, so that was a palpable consideration in any analysis.

Argument about the use of the atom bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima seems to be filled with notions that pass one another--conflicting ethics, overly stressed moral objectivity, simply exhausted sensibilities--because of the horrors spread before people at that time. Nobody can determine what sort of casualties Allied ground forces may have endured if Japan had been assaulted by land, even if the assaults were supported by air strikes.

By August of 1945, Japan already had suffered millions in casualties from American bombers: incendiary bombs dropped in densely populated areas (in other words, mostly civilians, with an incidental destruction of war materials). Some single raids had inflicted over 100,000 dead and uncountable casualties. Two factors that distinguished the atom bombings from conventional bombings were, 1) one bomb, one plane for each attack, and 2) residual death and suffering from radiation effects versus residual effects of firebombings.

A third factor, the effect on moral, over time, by the prospect of yet another firestorm, doesn't seem to be interesting. I guess it could go either way: stimulate resistance to the foreign devils, or numb the sensibilities until the population as a whole just wants it to be over at any cost,

I can't figure how one might distinguish the suffering quotient by radiation from the suffering quotient by dismemberment or a body with 90% of its skin lost to a firebomb. Maybe there's some way to quantify that. Can you make a list of burn victims and radiation victims, compare them by numbers (perhaps), and some other quotient that compares the degree of suffering for each? The issue ought to be less complicated if the argument was whether to continue to bomb Japan until we ran out of bombs or they ran out of cities, or to invade Japan and kill them with bullets and bayonets until we ran out of infantry and they ran out of live bodies. Of course, the whole thing goes away when somebody surrenders.
posted by mule98J at 1:03 PM on May 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Paul Fussel's book about his wartime experience, and his support for using the bomb, probably has something. Unfortunately I don't have a copy to hand.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:37 PM on May 21, 2016

Wenestvedt, you may be thinking of Paul Fussell's 1981 WSJ column Thank God for the Atom Bomb, which can be found here. I haven't read his book on WWII, but this essay is famous.
posted by Hypatia at 8:24 AM on May 22, 2016

Ah, sorry, it was a New Republic essay, not WSJ.
posted by Hypatia at 8:42 AM on May 22, 2016

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