Littérature et civilisation des pays de langue anglaise
par Philippe Rouyer
Pilote de B 29
par le commandant du T49 (20th Air Force)
Mis en service en 1944, après une gestation difficile, trop tard pour participer au bombardement stratégique de lAllemagne, le B 29 a été utilisé principalement dans la guerre du Pacifique. Cet avion géant de 43 mètres denvergure était propulsé par 4 moteurs en double étoile Wright 3350, denviron 2200 cv. Le poids maximum au décollage était de 60 tonnes, pour un poids à vide de 32 tonnes et l'équipage était composé de 11 hommes. Beaucoup plus rapide (640 Km/h) que son prédécesseur le B17, il volait encore plus haut (36 000 pieds), avec un rayon daction qui pouvait dépasser 6000 Km. Les capacités demport étaient en revanche, relativement limitées : 8 tonnes en moyenne. Cétait le premier bombardier stratégique pressurisé.
Les pages qui suivent nous ont été envoyées par "le commandant du T49", de la 20th Air Force, aujourdhui âgé de 83 ans, qui a souhaité garder lanonymat. Nous tenons ici à le remercier davoir bien voulu consigner pour nous ses souvenirs, dautant plus précieux que les témoignages authentiques deviennent plus rares à mesure que le temps passe. Nous les livrons telles qu'elles ont été transmises par "le commandant du T49", notre tâche s'étant limitée à développer quelques sigles spécifiques à l'aéronautique.
Il rappelle les nombreux incidents quont connus les B29 au début de leur carrière militaire. Selon lauteur, ces problèmes ne résultaient pas dune mise en service trop hâtive, mais de ce que les moteurs étaient utilisés à la limite de leur potentiel. Les avions décollaient le plus souvent en surcharge, et tout incident mécanique pouvait avoir de lourdes conséquences.
On voit, à travers ce récit, comment lUSAAF abandonne progressivement la doctrine du « high altitude daylight precision bombing » pour en venir, contrainte par la nécessité, au bombardement de nuit à basse ou moyenne altitude de zones urbaines, en ayant recours aux bombes incendiaires.
I would be happy to dredge up what I can from memory after 56 years with the caveat that as an airplane commander I was not very high in the chain of command, nor was I privy to the strategic planning of the 20th Airforce. For these reasons I would prefer if at all possible to remain anonymous. If anything I provide is useful to you. you could perhaps refer to me as the airplane commander of airplane T49, Long Distance which had completed 60 missions by the end of the war, thanks in no small part to a great crew chief who fussed over it as if it were his own child. I flew the prescribed 35 missions before completing my combat tour. Most of my missions were in T49. Events mentioned are not in any chronological order as I had kept no log or journal at the time.
The airplanes we were given for training in our Kansas bases had an overheating problem mostly in ground operation. On a hot summer day in Kansas, the engines could overheat by the time we could get to the end of the runway for takeoff. We had to shut them down and let them cool off before continuing. This was not necessarily an engine problem but also a cowling design problem. For obvious reasons projected operations against The Japanese homeland required a much higher level of performance for the B-29 than was available in previous bombers. So the engines had to be tightly cowled to minimize aerodynamic drag. Our experience led to modifications in cowling and engine design. When we finally got the planes we flew overseas they had corrected the problem. Additionally the atmospheric environment in the Marianas was favorable. We were able to operate at higher BMEPs [Break Mean Effective Pressure] without excessive cylinder head temperatures. Personally, I think the engines were adequately tested given the wartime needs. During our transition to B-29s in Kansas we flew a simulated bomb mission to from Great Bend, Kansas to the Isle of Pines off the southern coast of Cuba and return. We were on the return leg and as we were crossing Louisiana, and I was relaxing with the auto pilot on when I noticed the yellow paint on the left inboard engine cowling turning color. Within seconds the flight engineer told me the engine was way overheated. We shut the engine down and made a precautionary landing at Barksdale Field, near Shreveport, Louisiana. This was an isolated failure and not the result of pushing the performance envelope as we were gradually losing altitude on the return to Kansas.
One of the problems we did encounter with the planes we trained in was poor lateral control at final approach speeds. This was corrected with aileron modifications. I was pleased with the improvement when I first test flew the plane I took overseas.
In the fall of 1944 our group, the 498th Bomb Group, was assigned to the Air Force base in Kearny, Nebraska to be outfitted for our combat tour on Saipan in the Marianas. In our squadron, the 498th, there were twenty crews. Ten crews were assigned to airplanes, five were sent to Saipan using the Air Transport Commands (ATC) transport planes and five remained behind for two weeks to wait for additional planes. I was in the latter group. We finally got our airplane and took it for a test flight. We had a problem with the oil temperature in the red. So the oil cooler was replaced.
The next day we took off for the ATC base at Mather Field outside of Sacramento with an overnight at Albuquerque. No problems. On the way to Sacramento next day we listened to the Army Navy football game on the radio, cruising along at 17000 feet in beautiful weather. Unfortunately, we had an oil temp in the red again so we reduced power to that engine and reported it when we landed. Again the oil cooler was replaced. This was replaced again when we landed.
I had never been in California before and was really taken with the balmy weather and moved by the view of the snow capped Sierra Nevada to the east and longed to come back here some day. We relaxed the next day while our plane was being serviced and the following day we took off for the war enroute to Oahu. As we flew over the lights of San Francisco in the pre-dawn darkness I had a lump in my throat and I said to the crew, Take a good look men. Who knows when well get back here again.
About nine hours later we landed at John Rogers airfield (now greatly built up and known as Honolulu International Airport). My impression of it at the time was a single long runway amidst grass-thatched buildings and banana trees. We had no oil temp problems.
We were briefed next morning and on our way to Kwajalein in the Marshall Group. Again we had no problems.
Next morning we took off for Saipan and as we were passing Enewetok Atoll we encountered the same old oil temp problem and returned to Kwajalein where we spent another night. Next day we took off again and finally landed after an uneventful flight. Our plane was turned over to another squadron that needed it and we reported in to our own outfit. I later found out the source of our oil temp problem. It wasnt the oil cooler. Somewhere along the line a wooden plug had become entrained in an oil line and sometimes it would become lodged in an elbow or bend and restrict the flow of oil to the cooler.
The island of Saipan is about 15 miles long and about seven miles at its widest point with a 1500-foot peak (Mt. Tapochau) in the center of the island. The eastern side is fairly steep and rugged and exposed to the northeast trade winds. Isley Field is on the south end on a plateau with two 8800-foot parallel runways. The terrain drops off abruptly at the eastern end and gave us the advantage of over a hundred feet of altitude at take off. Isley Field is still in service today as an international airport. It seems strange now to think of Saipan as a vacation destination but many visitors do, especially from Japan. From Isley Field the island of Tinian is visible three miles to the south and Guam is about 100 miles further south.
We rejoined our squadron, the 875th and started our tour of duty. When we arrived the squadron had several missions completed and the airplane commanders of us newly arrived crews were sent on two missions as copilot on another crew.
I think the B-29 may have been designed for a TOGW [TakeOff Gross Weight] of 120,000 pounds. Later this was about 135,000. Typically we had TOGW s of about 138,500. Above this takeoff performance started to fall off rapidly and in my opinion was really marginal as loads approached 140,000 lbs. I was grateful for that 100 plus drop off at the end of the runway. Once airborne it was necessary to maintain a high power level to avoid getting on the backside of the speed power curve. We called it being on the step which is not technically accurate (theres no such thing) but everyone knew what you meant when you said it. Gradually as fuel burned off we gradually climbed to a couple of thousand feet cruise altitude and, during daylight takeoffs, proceeded in a very loose widespread formation on our way to the Japanese mainland. Later in the campaign we encountered a period of weather where it wasnt feasible to maintain visual contact on the way so wed rendezvous on Lots Wife, a precipitous needle of rock sticking out of the sea in solitude with nothing around it. The Japanese called it Sofu Gan. Sometimes the muck would persist up to mission altitude requiring some pretty intense concentration on the element leader.
After completion of the bomb drop wed turn and head for the coast and south toward Saipan. Shortly after leaving the coast wed proceed individually and start a very gradual let down (50 to 100 fpm) and gradually reduce RPM [Revolution Per Minute] to conserve fuel.
During combat missions each crew was assigned precise times to start engines, taxi and take off. We all had hack watches and received a time hack during briefing so we were well coordinated. Takeoff was on alternated runways 30 seconds apart between runways with 60 seconds intervals on each runway to avoid turbulence from the preceding plane. There was a flag officer directing the process signaling engine run up and brake release. If the mission was a daylight raid the formation leader started his climb at the appropriate distance from the coast to reach designated bombing altitude by the time we crossed the coastline.
The basic squadron formation was three elements of three (nine planes). These were staggered vertically so as to provide maximum covering fire against fighters. Additionally, depending on mission ready status another plane or two would be dispatched in case of aborts. If there were no aborts the extra airplane(s) would take up a position slightly below and to one side of the left or right element leader referred to as the slot.
The slot was extremely difficult for formation flying because of turbulence from the other airplanes and because youd be at the end of the chain four planes behind the formation leader. In hostile territory maintaining close formation was crucial for survival. As one of my colleagues remarked, When the shooting starts it gets awfully clubby up there! There was photo posted in our briefing area showing a B-29 squadron formation with one airplane badly out of position. The caption read, Two minutes after this picture was taken, the straggler was shot down! A great incentive to be sharp! When flying these missions my attention was so taken up with maintaining formation position on the element leader that I couldnt look around and the only way I knew we were under fighter attack was from the sound of my gunners firing their guns.
On my third combat mission (the first with my own crew) I was assigned the slot and there were no aborts. So were heading up flak alley between Mt. Fuji and Tokyo to bomb a Nakajima engine factory. We were flying at about 30,000 feet and I was having a terrible time with the prop wash from the planes in front of me and had to constantly adjust throttle settings causing a lot engine surge. Suddenly I heard a bang. The turbocharger waste gate on one of our engines had blown out starving it for air and resulting in greatly reduced thrust. The resulting thrust from the engine was about equivalent to an engine out feathered prop situation so there was no point in feathering and advertising our predicament. At that point a decision was required increase power to the remaining engines and try to keep up with the squadron or get the hell out of there. Since running on increased power in my situation presented a very real risk of blowing another turbo or losing and engine in which case wed almost certainly have to ditch (this was before we had Iwo) I chose to get the hell out of there. As we left the formation all the fighters around came at us in head on attacks. The machine guns in the leading edge of their wings were flashing and I had the crazy thought that they looked like toy airplanes. It was surreal. At 30,000 feet their performance was not much better than ours so they could only make one pass and couldnt get around to make another before left the coast. They didnt have the range or the relative speed. We dropped our bombs on a target of opportunity and we were on our way home.
At our squadron debriefing next day our squadron CO, Lt. Col. Griffith asked about my leaving the formation and I explained the reasons as noted above. He accepted my explanation although he did think he would have tried to keep up with the squadron. To this day Im glad I did what I did. A short while later Col. Griffith was on a mission with one the squadrons crews and was missing in action. He was a good CO and was missed but the war went on. I was only 26 at the time and he must have been in his early thirties and I thought of him as an older man. But just two years ago I was watching a TV documentary on the 20th Air Forces B-29 operations in the Marianas and it showed a clip of a pre-mission briefing. In it was a shot of a young officer listening intently and I exclaimed, Good Lord, that kid is Col. Griffith! Everything is relative I guess.
Initially, our bombing was proving to be ineffective because of the extremely high ballistic winds at our mission altitude. Accordingly, General LeMay decided that we would bomb at lower altitudes, as low as 12,000 feet. We airplane commanders were quite apprehensive about this development because our exposure to battle damage or worse from fighters and anti aircraft fire would be greater at the lower altitudes. But it turned out to be a trade-off between the operational losses we were experiencing from high altitude operation and combat losses. So our overall losses did not change appreciably. The successful invasion of IwoJima in February of 1945 also helped by providing an emergency landing field halfway back to Saipan. Several missions stand out in my mind during this time period.
On one mission to that damned Nakajima engine factory we encountered an undercast protecting us from any serious anti aircraft threat. As we approached the target there was one small break in the cloudbank beneath us and there was an AA battery down there that was able to get off a few quick bursts at us and one shell got us right in the tail.
Standard procedure called for wearing oxygen masks over the target but I could still feel the rush of air as we lost pressurization. We also completely lost elevator trim but retained longitudinal control. We had become very tail heavy causing me some difficulty flying formation. I had the copilot give me some forward pressure on the control column and we were able to stay with the formation, continuing to our secondary target. We were carrying seven 2000 lb. demolition bombs so I had the bombardier retain one 2000 pounder in the forward bay to alleviate our tail heavy condition. I had no idea of the extent of damage to our tail, so once off the coast I got on the radio and asked one of the squadron members to take a good look back there. I was relieved when the pilot reported a lot of holes back there but no apparent structural damage. We let the autopilot take over the job of maintaining trim and just before landing, we jettisoned the remaining bomb in the ocean. On final approach when we lowered the flaps we became nose heavy and the copilot helped me maintain back pressure on the elevators as we flared for touchdown. Once back at the hard stand we found holes all around the tail gunner. How he escaped unscathed is a miracle.
During the debriefing the Group operations officer gave me hell for breaking radio silence. The radio is only to be used for emergencies he told me. I was just trying to find out if we had an emergency, Sir I replied. I dont think he was too happy but he let it go at that. Next I was admonished by the squadron ops officer for only dropping 6 of the 7 bombs on the target. Im not sure he agreed with my reasons but Im sure I made the right decisions and went on to enjoyed my post briefing shot of Scots whisky dispensed by the Red Cross ladies.
A word about flak it looked like so harmless when it burst into big greasy black puffs of smoke but of course that was illusion. There were a lot of nasty pieces of metal in there and when it burst close by you could hear them over the noise of the engines. It sounded like Crump, Crump. Some of the antiaircraft batteries at the enemy naval bases fired colored flax so each battery could identify their own shell bursts.
One of the vulnerabilities on the bomb run was having the bomb bay doors open exposing the plane to a higher probability of flak damage. Early on in the campaign the flaps were actuated by electrically motors and opened and closed fairly slowly. Eventually, a retrofit modification to a hydraulic piston actuated system was incorporated and the doors popped open and closed very quickly.
During the course of our combat tour we had problems on landing twice. Once we suffered damage to the flap actuating system from a stray piece of flak. We couldnt get more than 10 degrees of flaps and landed smoking hot. Took all of the 8800 feet of runway, standing on the brakes to get stopped. Another time we had a burned out hydraulic pump and only one or two brake applications in the emergency accumulator. We touched down at the very end of the runway and we made it to a turnoff and used our emergency pressure to stop. Had to get towed back to the hard stand.
One day as we were preparing to board old T-49 for a mission our crew chief told me one of our engines was not up to snuff and he had wanted to change it, but could not get the Group engineering officers approval. Off we went and sure enough, when we got up to altitude and crossed the enemy coast it became clear that the engine wasnt going to keep running properly to keep us in formation over the target. So we aborted and returned to base on a wasted 14 hour trip for which we got no mission credit.
The 73rd wing was the first wing to operate out of the Marianas. As time went on additional wings arrived on Tinian and Guam. A mission with all wings participating could involve a stream of 500 bombers. After Tinian was activated we could see their squadrons taking off on days when our crew was not scheduled. Frequently some unfortunate crew would crash on takeoff and it was chilling to watch the rising column of black smoke that signified the fate of 11 crewmembers. I heard from my folks back home that a kid from my home town had perished that way.
Before Iwo was taken from the Japanese, they would often fly bombing raids against Saipan at night. We had crude air raid shelters excavated in the ground and topped off with sandbags and sections of steel landing mat. When the sirens went off, wed stand outside the shelter and watch our antiaircraft shell bursts marching across the sky and when they started to get near our position wed duck into the shelter and listen to the shell fragments falling on the steel matting. We had P-61 night fighters based on Saipan and one night one came tearing by our place, caught in the searchlights and dodging friendly fire which he managed to evade. I think the enemy may have gotten to ruin a plane or two on the field, but I dont trust my memory on this.
Prior to our taking Iwo Jima some crews had to ditch after running out of fuel on the return to base. The Pacific Ocean hardly lives up to its name in the latitudes of the northern Marianas. The constant 25 to 30-knot trade winds keep the sea surface pretty choppy. I have no data on the number of successful rescues, but a very recent issue of the Museum of Flight (Seattle) monthly magazine tells of a B-29, still floating after being ditched, that had to be sunk by friendly fire. This had to be a one of a kind occurrence. One of our 875th squadron crews radioed in that it was out of fuel and ditching north of Saipan. This happened after dark. They were never heard from again. Next morning we flew out to their last reported position and searched the area. Its hard to imagine the difficulty of sighting, from the air, things on the surface of a very choppy sea. We did see a partially inflated life raft with no survivors and circled back but never could find it again.
After Iwo was secured we had an emergency landing field which was a boon to crews in trouble because of low fuel or other emergency situations. That saved many of our crews from an otherwise uncertain fate.
On one mission as we were passing Iwo my flight engineer informed me we were low on fuel but he estimated we had enough to make it home. After reviewing his data I decided we were too marginal and elected to land on Iwo and refuel. Leo, my flight engineer was a bit put off because I ignored his recommendation. It was a fortunate decision because it turned out that the weather had deteriorated on Saipan and one plane had crashed into Mt. Tapochau. We spent the night on Iwo and as I was led to the tent assigned to transient officers I was informed that someone had been murdered several nights previously by one of the hostiles still at large. Being young and tired I slept soundly anyway. Years later, at a reunion of the 73rd bomb wing, I asked Leo if he ever forgave me for ignoring him and he just grinned.
Iwo also provided a base for a wing of North American P-51 fighters within range of Honshu enabling them to provide fighter escort for daylight B-29 raids. The P-51 with its Rolls Royce Merlin engines was arguably the best fighter to come out of WWII. It was developed in the astonishingly short time of eighteen months for the RAF and the US Airforce didnt lose any time buying them also.
One day as we were returning from mission weather had moved into Saipan and Tinian and we headed towards Guam, which was still open. As we passed over North Field, Tinian I saw a hole in the cloud deck and there was the runway below. We dropped down and landed to find that others from Saipan had already landed there. We were stuck on Tinian for three days until the weather cleared enough for the three-mile hop back to Saipan.
On January 27, 1945, the 20th Air Force staged a daylight mission over the port of Yokohama on Tokyo Bay. Mission altitude was 18,000 feet. A steady stream of bombers flew over the target area squadron by squadron. The Japanese didnt have the resources to take offensive action against all of us and we had a free ride that day but we could see the formation ahead of us catching hell. This mission stands out in my mind because a good friend of mine in the 497thBomb Group, 1st Lt. Walter S. McDonnell, was lost on that mission. The day after the Yokohama strike I went over to the 497th to see him and his buddies told me he had been shot down. Writing these recollections prompted me to do some research on the web and I found a source that provided the following information:
Five of the 497th BG planes were lost on this particular mission. Three were downed before they reached the target; one ditched while returning from the mission, and one was demolished when it crash-landed upon its return. Eight others received battle damage.
1st Lt. Walter S. McDonnell's A-22 was apparently damaged by an enemy fighter plane as it approached the target. It turned northward with a fire in its bomb-bay, and disappeared.
The members of this particular 870th Squadron crew were as follows:
1st Lt. Walter S. McDonnell
2nd Lt. Davis (or David) C. Williams, Jr.
2nd Lt. Joseph Bena
1st Lt. William Pleus
2nd Lt. Graydon (or Craydon) V. Hardy
S/Sgt. John J. Connel
S/Sgt. Vere D. Carpenter
Sgt. Albert W. Preisser (or Prusser)
Sgt. James F. Campbell
Sgt. Olinte (or Olinto) F. Lodovici
The 497th Honor Roll lists S/Sgt. Carpenter and Sgt. Lodovici as POW-EUS (Prisoner of War - Evacuated U.S.), and 2nd Lt. Bena as KIA (Killed In Action). The other 9 are listed as DED (Determined Dead).
I think this very dramatically illustrates the luck of the draw in our operations. Our squadron suffered no attacks that day. I have no data on how the other squadrons in our (the 498th) bomb group fared. But the 497th group suffered 5 down and eight battle damaged out of about 40 planes over the target, a significant loss for one mission. The fact that this information was available with a little digging suggests theres a rich source of data available on the net for historians to mine before the people who maintain it gradually die off.
In early 1945 the 20th Air Force turned to the incendiary bombing of Japanese including the major cities. These raids were conducted at night from altitudes of about 7000 feet. This generally involved attacks on the civilian population which was rather disturbing although our enemies in Europe and Asia had shown no qualms about killing civilians. But it was explained to us that much of the Japanese war material effort was taking place in civilian homes. Small parts were being produced for shipment to factories for assembly into weapons and other war materiel. These home operations were referred to as shadow factories.
We dropped incendiaries on all the major cities of Honshu except Kyoto because it was a religious center rather than an industrial target. If my memory serves me correctly, we took off from our bases in the late afternoon at designated times scheduled to ensure a steady stream over the target of the 500 or so bombers taking part in the mission. Our usual load for these missions was 40 500 lb. clusters of napalm bomblets set to scatter after they were released. So our total payload was 20,000 lbs.
We flew as individual sorties with no exterior lights showing so there was a always a concern about colliding with another friendly aircraft or having a load of incendiaries dumped on us from a B-29 flying slightly higher than us. Antiaircraft fire was supported by searchlights was directed against the fleet of bombers, but the enemy resources were limited and could only direct fire at a few of the planes over the target at any one time. We got caught in the searchlights once or twice but generally we were lucky and got a free ride most of the time. Initially we were told to drop our bombs in the dark spaces between the fires started by the B-29 ahead of us. Intelligence determined that this wasnt particularly effective because this created many small fires that the Japanese could deal with. So on subsequent missions we were redirected to drop on fires already started. This created such an intense fire that fire fighters simply could not handle and the fire spread rapidly through the wooden buildings typical of the Japanese cities of that era. On one mission, I think it was over Nagoya, we flew through the column of smoke coming off the fire and the world suddenly turned black and it was like flying through the middle of a thunderhead. It must have been a horrible inferno down below. Years later I read an account of what it was like in Tokyo during these raids. The article claimed that people fleeing the fires literally exploded from exposure to the intense heat. Thousands must have died in these raids.
On one night mission we dropped incendiaries on one of the naval bases at the southwest end of Honshu. Our route to target required us to fly to an IP [Initial Point] west of the target and then turn back toward it for the bombing run. This afforded an excellent view of the target on the way to the IP. It looked like a scene from hell (or so I thought). It appeared to be large pieces of burning debris falling to the ground. I envisioned one B-29 after another being shot down. I truly did not want to go there, but go we did. It all turned out to be an illusion. There was virtually no enemy hostile action (surprising for a naval base) and the pyrotechnics I had observed were merely the small explosive charges set to break the bands that held our clusters of bomblets together.
The major threat to the bombers on these night missions was from flak and from the possibility of mid air collision. But I also know there were night fighters up there, although probably not a major threat. On one night raid I saw a stream of tracers coming straight at us. One of them glanced off my side window with a ping. On the trip back to Saipan, as the daylight arrived I could see a long gash at head levelin my side window. Luckily the bullet hit at a glancing angle and didnt penetrate. The Japanese at that time were reported by our intelligence people to be sending out manned winged bombs called Baka bombs (Baka is the Japanese word for fool). Their job was to intercept bombers and do a Kamikaze type job on them. One night, after we left the target behind, the crewmen in the rear of the plane reported that some glowing object was following us. Whatever it was it was behind us for about a quarter of an hour keeping me on edge until the crew finally said it had disappeared. Just what it was Ill never know.
Losses on these night missions were not insignificant. On a 500 plane raid as many as 25 planes (275 crewmen) would fail to return. Perhaps even more were missing. I have no data on this. But Im sure 25 is not too high a number.
When we first got to Saipan our tour of duty before being rotated back to the states was to have been 25 missions. However, one day the squadron CO called all the airplane commanders to a meeting and informed us that except for the first five crews to complete 25, wed have to fly an additional ten missions because the replacement crews to cover operational losses was not coming as fast as planned. I guess the first five got to leave for PR [Public Relations] purposes. Every one was silent. What was there to say? We were left with the not so pleasant task of notifying our crewmembers.
My radar operator was from Los Angeles and had an identical twin brother who was also a radar operator in another crew. When the other crew go shot down my radar man had kind of a breakdown and couldnt fly combat anymore. About a year after the war ended I was in Pasadena studying engineering at Cal Tech and went to visit him and his family in LA. His twin had been beaten up by the civilians who found him after he bailed out, but then he was picked up by the military and taken prisoner. Life in the Japanese prison camps was pretty harsh and when he was finally picked up he weighed only 90 lbs. When I saw him in LA he still looked like a skeleton but eventually recovered completely.
Not all our missions put us in harms way. We had two types of missions that were virtually milk runs. These were spread around the crews so that everyone had a chance for a couple of easy ones. One of these was a weather strike missions. A meteorologist joined the crew and was flown up to Japan to take meteorological readings of rhe temperatures and other weather data aloft at about 31, 000 feet, as we struggled to get up there. We dropped our load of demolition bombs on a designated target although the probability of hitting anything from that altitude was minimal. The fighters didnt even bother to come up for us and the only hostile activity was a little half-hearted anti aircraft fire exploding far below us. We then proceeded to Guam for the meteorologist to turn his data into 20th Air Force HQ and then returned to Saipan.
The other milk run involved providing navigational escort for the P-51s on Iwo, on their 750 mile trip to Japan and return. These great fighter planes werent equipped for long over-water navigation, particularly finding on their return such a small destination as Iwo in the vast reaches of the Pacific Ocean. So they would formation on us up and back. Wed fly up to Iwo the day before the mission and spend the night. The next day wed attend their briefing and then take off and circle until they were airborne. When they were ready to go The fighter formation leader would fly ahead of and signal (wag his wings) and off wed go. Their normal cruise speed being quite higher than ours necessitated a compromise for this operation so we sped up and they slowed down permitting us to stay together. When we arrived at the designated coordinates (just outside Tokyo bay both times we flew escort) weremained circling on station and the fighters peeled off and proceeded to their tasks. We were quite safe on station as the enemy fighters never flew too far past their shoreline. As we circled I could see the Navy Dumbo (PBY flying boat) circling around near the deck to pick up any survivors that had ditched or bailed out successfully. When the P-51s had completed their assignment they came out to meet us, and when they were all accounted for, their leader signaled us to head back to Iwo. As we neared Iwo and the fighter leader had visual on Iwo he pulled ahead of us, did a slow roll, and led his planes in for landing while we continued on to Saipan. Seven hour flights in those single seaters must have been rough duty. We, in the bomber could at least stretch out, eat, smoke and drink coffee.
During the aerial campaign every one was security conscious. As we were returning from a mission one day our IFF system (Identification Friend or Foe) that let everyone know we were good guys went out. As we got to the northern Marianas, we radioed ahead to inform the base. Soon several fighters were in close formation and giving us very close scrutiny. They stayed with us and didnt break off until our landing gear was down on final approach.
Another time we were flying around the local area around the Marianas for some reason that escapes my memory now. We were In the vicinity of Rota, one of smaller of the Marianas at 18 000 feet and managed to fly over a Navy heavy cruiser. They did not like us being in their vicinity and let us know by firing an anti aircraft salvo at us. It was low (on purpose, Im sure because our IFF was on and they should have been able to read it). We got the message and went elsewhere.
I have often wondered about the level of casualties experienced by the 20th Airforce compared to those by the 8th Air Force over Germany. This data must be available somewhere, but I havent done any research on it. My perception regarding our squadron is that of the 20 crews starting operations in the fall of 1944 half were missing by June of 1945 and of the replacement crews a number of them were missing also. Of course some of them were POWs but I wouldnt have any idea what percent of the missing that would be.
Eventually the day came in late June 1945 when we had completed our 35 missions and were eligible for rotation back stateside. We stood down from combat duties and waited for transportation and waited, and waited and waited. Not too much transport was available. In the meantime I was assigned to go on three simulated bombing missions as instructor/observer with one of the newly arrived replacement crews. They were quite capable, of course. The most important thing I had to teach was a sense of just how close they had to fly in formation. The pilot had a tendency to slowly drift further away from the element leader and Id take the controls and move the plane back to the correct position. Im sure he remembered that when the shooting started. At the end of the third mission I landed the airplane and that was the last time I ever flew a B-29
I think the B-29 was a great airplane for its time. It had its limitations and mission requirements in some cases necessitate pushing it to the limits of its performance envelope. In my opinion there would be no justification for claiming the plane was rushed into service without adequate testing. We were not required to operate under civilian airworthiness regulations (FAR [Federal Aviation Regulation]) nor could we afford to.
The B-29 continued in use after the war ended and evolved into the B-50 and saw service in Korea.
One day toward the end of July I got orders to get on a liberty ship bound for Pearl Harbor. I can still in my minds eye see the island of Saipan slowly dropping below the horizon in the late afternoon light. The trip to Pearl took nine days. At sunset the boatswains recording would come on the loudspeakers, All hands darken ship. The smoking lamp is out on all weather decks. We ran blacked out at night because there were still enemy subs roaming the western Pacific. On August 1st we heard rumors of some new kind of bomb being dropped on Japan. Just before dawn on August 2nd we crossed a coordinate called Point Diamond in safe waters and turned north into Pearl Harbor. Running lights on many ships were visible all around us. Shortly we docked in Pearl to a scene of mass hysteria. It was VJ day. World War II was over! A few weeks later I rode a C-54 to Hamilton Field outside of Vallejo, California. After a couple of days of living it up in San Francisco I had orders to catch a train to Fort Dix, New Jersey where I became a civilian once more.
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