The sight of US fighter planes sweeping over what was then called Taihouku during the latter part of World War II was nothing new to Chen Wan-yi (陳萬益). Chen and his family had been forcefully evacuated by the Japanese colonial government to a location between what is now New Taipei City’s Banciao (板橋) and Tucheng (土城) districts several months before the end of the war, but Chen could still see what was happening above his home city.
Starting from late 1944, he said, US planes would fly by twice a day, 20 or 30 of them at a time.
But on the morning of May 31, 1945, when Chen was 14 years old, something was different.
“The entire sky had turned white,” Chen said, referring to the more than 100 B-24 Liberator heavy bombers that had arrived to wreak havoc on Taipei.
Chen was too far away to hear or see the bombs or the explosions, but he said he could hear Japanese anti-aircraft guns returning fire.
“I wasn’t scared,” he said. “Japan never reported anything about losing battles in the news to keep us calm. Historically, Japan had won most of its wars — so we weren’t too worried. Of course, I was afraid that I might get hit and die. But in my heart, I wasn’t afraid. We knew that Japanese soldiers were brave warriors.”
CITY IN RUINS
Chen didn’t know how serious the incident — which has come to be known as the Taipei Air Raid (台北大空襲) — was until he listened to the news the next day.
About two months later, World War II ended, and with it 50 years of Japanese rule over Taiwan. Chen returned to Taipei in September 1945 and recalls seeing large, neck-deep bomb craters around what is now Chongqing South Road (重慶南路) and Hengyang Road (衡陽路 ), across from what is today known as the 228 Peace Memorial Park (二 二 八和平紀念公園). The Governor-General’s Office (today’s Presidential Office) was also damaged — and wouldn’t be rebuilt until 1948. Chen’s family home, behind Taipei Train Station, however, was left unscathed.
Chen never gave a direct answer when asked how he felt about the Japanese. But his position toward the US during the war was clear: “We believed that they were the bad guys.”
The Taipei Air Raid reached its 70th anniversary on last Sunday. While the most devastating, it wasn’t the only US bombing of Taiwan. The first US attack took place on Nov. 25, 1943, when 30 US planes destroyed the Hsinchu air strip.
Regular bombings of various cities began in late 1944 and continued until the war ended. Official documents from the colonial Taiwan Governor-General’s Office show that US strikes between Oct. 12, 1944 and Aug. 10, 1945 killed a total of 5,582 people and wounded almost 9,000. A total of 45,340 buildings were destroyed or damaged.
These numbers are controversial — most sources claim that more than 3,000 people died in the Taipei Air Raid alone, while Japanese records indicate that 1,768 people died from airstrikes in Taihoku Prefecture (encompassing today’s Taipei City, New Taipei City, Keelung and Yilan County) over the course of 10 months.
Deleted from history books and not taught in schools, this event only returned to public consciousness in recent decades.
For example, the official Taiwan History (台灣史), published by the Historic Research Committee of Taiwan Province in 1977, meticulously chronicles events in Taiwan up until the beginning of the war — then suddenly skips to the Japanese surrender and the arrival of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). There is no mention of life in Taiwan during World War II.