20th Air Force, 73rd Wing, 498th Bombardment Group, 874th Squadron, Isley Field, Saipan, Marianas
Cover photo on this page: 13 April 1945. B-29’s of the 874th (T-square) Squadron based on Saipan, Marianas, passing north of Mount Fuji. Picture taken from #4 in a formation of 12 aircraft. The B-29 intersecting the left ridge of Fuji is piloted by Capt. Jas. R Norris and crew (T-23) with Lt. Wm. C. Atkinson as radar navigator. This photo appeared first in TIME magazine and subsequently became part of an advertisement for the Boeing Aircraft Corp.
What follows are logs from my notes taken at the time. Selected sophomoric, ungracious, and puerile passages have been expunged. The writer was 20 in 1945.
Strike #1 (night) 1-2 April, 1945 Target- No. 357, Musashino Engine Works of the Nakajima Aircraft Company, Tokyo, Japan Bomb Load- 35 500 lb HE's and 4 parachute flares. (Gross weight on takeoff 140,000 lb) Aircraft- T(square)-35, "Southern Belle" Opposition- Flak moderate to intense, very accurate and coordinated with searchlight batteries. No Fighters
This was our first strike, our inauguration into the clan of combat flyers we had looked upon as out of our sphere of experience. We “rhubarbs” could not join in the tales and yarns of the missions to Japan. We were looked down upon and were told what it would be like, what the “score” was, but now we were off on our own to bomb the [Japanese] mainland. At last we, too, would have a tale to tell, we would “belong.”
It was not without due apprehension that we took off that night and watched, with eyes to remember all we saw, the lights and the hum of Saipan drop below under the wing and slip into the limbo [of] the night. The course was 341 true; Iwo Jima the first radar checkpoint.
[At Isley Field it was common on take off for the pilot of a fully loaded B-29 to hold the wheels to the runway until the final few hundred feet (the last two percent of the runway’s length); hauling back at the last possible instant to lurch over the road along the cliff edge; then diving full throttle for the sea far below, gaining airspeed while retracting the wheels; and finally beginning the long takeoff climb as the belly of the plane virtually skimmed the water. More than one of the crews failed at this maneuver, especially at night.]
Unlike the later missions no one slept on the 7-1/2 hour trip to the target. We were eager, ever so eager. Things had to work out; we dared not miss a trick. John (Shaw, navigator) did celestial all the way and there wasn’t an island or a ship that I missed on the radar for a wind [determination] or a fix to determine our position. Iwo appeared as a yellow ghostly friend on the scope to the right of us. John made a correction to course and we droned on [cruising airspeed 195 mph] between the stars and the vast chasm of the sea. The sea an enemy, the stars our guardians of position and course.
The time? About 0200 or thereabouts. Three hours later Norris [Capt. James R., pilot] informed us that we were within 50-100 miles of the Empire. For the first time since before takeoff the tension again became evident. Our stomachs tightened. I needed a drink of water. ‘Chutes, Mae-Wests, and flak suits were donned. Everything was checked. The C-1 set up again, RPM and manifold pressure juggled to the satisfaction by Van Wormer [Alan, copilot] and Gins [Ruskin Jensvold, flight engineer]. Spiller [Bill, central fire control], Whiskey [Walter Wasowski, left gunner], Harris [Henry, right gunner], and Rocky [Gerry Foster, tail gunner from Rock Island] checked [gun] turret operation and ammo. Max [Hyman, bombardier] turned on his switches, and checked his [Norden bomb] sight and the intervalometer. Milne [Dwight, radioman] made sure he cold get in touch with the air-sea rescue facilities by radio, John went on VHF. God, my heart was beating to beat Holy Ned.
I was to make a radar approach to the target while Max bombed visually by moonlight. It was the first time it had been tried in the Bomber Command. Gen. Curtis LeMay had taken over the 20th AF and [had] its tactical procedures changed to obtain better bombing results which [had been] fouled by the terrific winds and inaccuracies connected with the previous strikes from 30,000 ft. Tonight we were going in at 6,800 ft. Untried, damn low for B-29’s, and risky, we [were soon to discover].
[The radar was the Western Electric Eagle AN/APQ-7 or APQ-13 developed for navigation and for bombing at night and through cloud cover. It was electronically linked to the Norden bomb sight and the autopilot. By twisting a knob I could (alone) direct the plane.]
We came in over O-Shima, the first enemy island of any size, on course. John had done us proudly. The control point showed in radar and I strained my eyes for the coast. Gradually it made itself evident and the IP [Initial Point] at Eno Shima appeared. We altered course. First flak! Capt. Norris and Max could see the orange flashes ahead of us. Although we weren’t in the [search] lights they could see icy fingers of light probing the sky in search of the “enemy”. We were alone as all night missions were flown as individual ships, formation being out of the question. Max saw the Tama River gleaming in the moonlight and the radar confirmed the position. He said he thought he could see the target and he set the sight telescope on it. Time hung motionless. Another minute. He started the rate motor and began to synchronize.
Then it all happened. Like a dream. “Lights converging on the boys ahead! Flak!” The intercom clicked and crackled. A light flashed momentarily on the wing from below and immediately snapped back. In an instant every searchlight in the area [they were radar coordinated] was on us. The ship must have shone like a Christmas tree in that intangible fingertip grip. Flak. We could hear it now. Thumping and rattling outside the ship. Odd. You’ll never hear anything like it on the ground. Max called up, “I can’t see; the goddam lights; I’ve lost the target.” Then there was a rock, a loud thump and number four [rightmost] engine roared into a mass of flame. The whole wing seemed afire and the radar compartment was alive with the angry orange light. Harris [right gunner], terrified, and justifiably so, screamed over the intercom. We were panic stricken. This was “It” really fitted in here. Max took a chance and said “Bombs away!”. Bill slithered out of his position and fumbled with his ‘chute, his hand on the bomb bay door, all set to jump. I was almost paralyzed with fear. We waited for the order to jump [I had my chest ‘chute on and my hand on the rear door handle.]. It never came. Harris broke in to say that the fire seemed to be lessening. Waited. The bombs had not gone away! The intervalometer was stuck. In the next instant Max salvoed. Everyone was confused and scared stiff, blue. Capt. Virgil Olds took over [he was from operations as backup co-pilot for support].
All this took less than a minute. The second that we were hit the Japanese lights went out! They must have been sure that we were cooked geese and gone after the ship behind us. We turned off the bomb run with the fire almost out. We never understood why [but Gins’ quick thinking with the fuel system controls can be probably credited with having saved us.] In nine cases out of ten a tank fire is fatal. The grace of God was with us. The turn was left; the bombs must have dropped a half-mile or so over.
A new scare developed. Although the fire was out the wing and flap were glowing around the edges of a hole the way a paper napkin continues glowing from a cigarette burn. It increased in size slowly and Harris kept the intercom alive and jumpy with reports of the increasing size of the hole behind #4 engine. Finally, even this ceased.
[We learned later that we had almost lost Rocky. He jerked his head left to see the sudden plume of flame pass the tail and then waited, patiently like the rest of us, for the order to bail out. Everything seemed to him suddenly eerily silent as the ship droned on for minute after minute. Finally, assuming that everyone else had bailed, and just as he put his hand on his ejection lever, he noticed that his sudden head rotation had unplugged the intercom connection to his helmet.]
The crew settled down, we made land’s end and headed for Iwo.
We had lost nearly 500 gallons of gas and the ship was so beat up that Norris and Olds decided to land at Iwo which was then only a week or so declared “secured” from the enemy. A three-engine landing on the dirt and muddy runway was successful, although it was discovered later that a Japanese shell had pierced the right wheel-well door resulting in one flat tire. Why the other didn’t blow will always remain a mystery.
[This photo appeared on the cover of the Air Force magazine “Brief” showing us coming in with #4 feathered at Iwo Jima that day. Iwo Jima had fallen to the Marines on March 17th.]
Iwo Jima was the most desolate and battle-scarred island I have ever seen. Nothing but volcanic ash, steaming fissures, and shell holes. The runway was dirt but plenty long [having been bull-dozed to 10,000 feet just days before].
The Marines crowded around as we marveled at the Japanese flak accuracy. We felt a blissful happy-go-luckyness that accompanied a safe return but in this case our bliss was strictly from ignorance. We didn’t know the half of it. The right inboard tire was flat, the rear section of #4 engine nacelle was blown off and the [upper] flap [skin] burned out in the resultant fire. The props were pitted with flak hits and there was a shell hole in the radar compartment; one in the floor and one in the top right over my head [evidently fused for a higher altitude]. A straight line between them missed me by about six inches.
A while later we heard the crack of a rifle and the twang of a bullet. The Marines unslung their carbines, squashed out their fags, and sauntered over to a clump of bushes not very far distant. At gun point three Japanese appeared, hands in the air, and were driven off in a 6×6 [truck].
It drizzled and rained coolly most of the time and Mount Suribachi was a sombre lump of indistinct grey rising at the end of the runway.
All thirteen of us piled into one Jeep with all our equipment and were driven to a Tinian ship. The boys serviced it, pulled the props through and we said so-long to Iwo, its war-weary soil and Marines. Back to Saipan and the sack with, at last, a story to tell. We “belonged.”
We only hoped that we were doing the Marines as much good by bombing the mainland as they did for us by securing Iwo.
T-35 returned two weeks later, flyable, but with much needed repairs still in evidence.
Lt. Pound and crew were ahead of us over the target and caught no small portion of hell themselves. Their ship T-38. They had a flap blown up and Summer sported a flak burst under his feet in the radar compartment.
[T-35 “Southern Belle” was originally assigned to the 462nd Bomb Group in China.]
Strike #2 (daylight) 12 April, 1945 Target- No. 357, Musashino Engine Works of the Nakajima Aircraft Company, Tokyo, Japan Bomb Load- 5 2,000 lb HE's Aircraft- T-23 ["Pocahontas"] Opposition- Flak meager to moderate and accurate. Fighters neutralized by P-51 escort.
This time it was a daylight formation strike with P-51 fighter cover. The same old target, #357 [Musashino Engine Works of the Nakajima Aircraft Company, Tokyo, Japan], the bane of the 20th Air Force.
Sofu-Gan was the assembly point. Sofu-Gan is an item in the very damn middle of the Pacific and at the end of the vast Nanpo Shoto extending south from Tokyo Bay. It is an item so small that it didn’t appear in the radar until we were almost on top of it and even that never would have occurred if John hadn’t had a small bit of luck on his last LoRaN fix. It is a mere finger of rock that sticks out of and breaks the surface of the sea like a stump in a swamp. Actually higher than it is wide. There is reported a Japanese navigation light thereon.
After circling in vain for some minutes we found a large formation of “T” ships, tacked on in the “slot”, and went into the CP [Control Point] at Omaezaki and thence to the IP at at Oso-Saki on the Shimoda Peninsula. I could see the land at Numazu where we picked up our first flak. I was not on the [radar] set and thus could sit by Harris in the right blister to see what went on. The land was barren brown save for a few spots of side-hill cultivation and twisting roads. Then the coast again at Odawara as we paralleled it and then broke out on the Tokyo plain with Musashino and #357 dead ahead.
[This photo taken 13 April 1945. B-29’s of the 874th (T-square) Squadron based on Saipan, Marianas, passing north of Mt. Fuji. Picture taken from #4 in a formation of 12 aircraft. The B-29 intersecting the left ridge of Fuji is piloted by Capt. Jas. R Norris and crew (T-23) with Lt. Wm. C. Atkinson as radar navigator. This photo appeared first in Time Magazine and subsequently became part of an advertisement for the Boeing Aircraft Corp.]
It was then that I saw a black plane come barreling down through our formation with large red circles on the wings. The left engine and underside of the wing was afire. It spiraled astern and down, out of sight. I remember noticing how cracked and worn the paint seemed. It looked for all the world like a toy.
The next one was closer and exploded as I watched, the tail drifting more slowly than the fluttering fuselage and wings. Two P-51’s recovered from pursuit in a sweeping arc, slow rolled and shot up behind the formation. Lord it was a good feeling to have those “brothers -in-arms” near at hand.
Our formation neared the target. More flak. Heavy now. Then, “Bomb bay doors coming open; Bomb bay doors open, Sir,” replied the scanners and we waited, watching for bombs away. A minute or so and we saw the lead ship drop and as though the formation were one the 2,000 pounders fell away, to the rear, and to the target. I craned my neck over Harris’ shoulder in the blister. The water filtration plant the Japanese had tried in vain to camouflage drifted by. There was the stadium and the neat rows of buildings and test cells of the plant—#357. The train of explosives ripped across the eastern end—the assembly wings—like an angry stampede. All was obscured then by heavy smoke.
We turned and passed the inscrutable Fuji San riding all-wise, immortal, and serene it its perpetual bath of cloud. It gave me a sense of peace so out of tune with the work we were doing. Snow-capped and silent Fuji drifted to the rear—the symbol of the Empire of Japan.
Gins figured closely on the gas and we really sweated these last few minutes to Saipan. We could almost see the gas disappearing at its 400 gallons per hour rate. We got down with just enough to fill our cigarette lighters. Gins was OK.
Strike #3 (night) 15-16 April, 1945 Target- Industrial Kawasaki and southwestern Tokyo. Bomb Load- 184 70 lb gasoline gel incendiaries. Aircraft- T-29 Opposition- Flak heavy but generally inaccurate.
Here we were on another night strike to the Tokyo area. This time not without knowing what we were getting into after having been pretty well shot up on the first two strikes. I was told later by one of the boys in Squadron Operations that after our two first raids they really were worried about our safe return on this night.
The IP was made at Manazuru-Misaki and we made a “precision” radar turn [a 1/4 needle-width turn] on to the bomb run heading. We were reported to have had P-51 fighter cover but we never got so much as a look at any such comforting element in the battle.
It seems that since the last time we pulled a “nighty” the Japanese had by no means been out of practice with their damned lights and the long bluish beams groped around and finally caught us! Ow! Not again! Our props were de-synchronized to throw off the sound directed lights but there was no foiling the radar controlled ones. We climbed, turned, and twisted in a vain attempt to escape the lights. Not this time were we going to stick to the bomb run and get shot to hell. It sounded as if all the flak in Nippon was exploding in the bomb bays and returned the icy fear as it had on the first strike to the same target.
All this evasive action was doing my run no good. I had a fixed dropping angle set on the bomb pip and was to wait, make course corrections [at the radar I was connected to the Norden sight and the autopilot], and finally to tell Max to drop when the pip touched the mouth of the Tama river at Kawasaki. Every time the Capt. racked the ship up on a wing to dodge a light the [radar] scope picture would blank out. It was awful. “Bomb bay doors coming open” and that was the end of my efficiency as a “V” on that trip. The doors reflected the radar energy and produced an “H” indication on the scope. Hell’s bells! Target, coastline, and aiming point completely disappeared. The resulting confusion and maddening casualness of my intercom conversation with Max was humorous but nonetheless effective. Lucky? The bombs tacked right on to the end of a large fire and walked on through the city.
Well—then a funny thing occurred. Capt. Norris kept calling, “What’s draggin’, what’s draggin’?” and put the turbo’s and power settings to the limit. I couldn’t figure it. The air-speed crept from 250 indicated to 290! The ship was vibrating and straining in every rivet. Thence to almost 310, the red-line speed. Wow! Gins said “What the hell,” half to himself, and then Norris said “Oh!” in a very self- effacing manner. The needle on the IAS [indicated airspeed] dial crept back to normal. He had misread his airspeed by 100 mph.
The glare of the lights and the crack and thump of the flak dropped behind as we made for the sea south and east of Chosi Point. The coast slipped invisibly behind us for there were no lights to give away its position.
However, our worries were not over. About 100 miles out towards Iwo Whiskey reported a light following, it seemed, in our wake as though searching. “A light,” he said ,”like a star.” It would appear at 5 or 7 o’clock low, gradually gain altitude and move ahead to 3 or 9 o’clock level then turning as though making a pass on a pursuit curve. Switches and sights ready Rocky, Whiskey, Spiller, and Harris waited, sweating him out. Not to mention the rest of us. Finally they observed a burst of 50 cal. fire but could not tell whether it was directed at us. Either we lost him or he gave up and returned [owing] to our evasive action.
Saipan landing, interrogation, and coffee all in due course and without [further] event.
Barlow’s crew from Tinian went down over the target on this strike along with Pankin (N) and Charlie Barr (V).
Strike #4 (daylight) 27 April, 1945 Target- Miazaki Airfield, Kyushu, Japan Bomb Load- 17 500 lb HE's Aircraft- T-23 ["Pocahontas"] Opposition- Flak moderate and inaccurate. A few Japanese fighters.
We were sweating out assembly as usual. Why? He who misses assembly flies over target very much alone. We had found Sofu-Gan the time before but this was a little easier. Okino Shima was right on the tip of Shikoku (south western) and should have given a good radar return. John told me we were north of course. So, with the set on, I strained my eyes for the coast of Shikoku and finally it came in. I gave the Capt. his heading for Okino Shima.
Gad! It was close. Our ship caught the “T” Square formation on the last wheel before taking off for Ho Soshima and the target. We were at 20,000 feet and on oxygen (depressurized) so it was almost too much trouble to sit in [Harris’] blister to watch goings on.
The Japanese received us with plenty of flak though the squadron ahead picked up more than we. There was a burst or two fairly close but we heard nothing.
Those old bombs hit right squarely on the target in a beautiful pattern stating at the aiming point (a new runway) and stalking right on up through the hangars and barracks. The 497th BG ahead of us wrecked the east side of the target with an equally good pattern.
Some of the Japanese fighter pilots got pretty eager though we had only one closely pressed attack. John was looking out his window just in time to get a head on view of the attacker with his fifties flickering and ducked. Max had one hand on his sight and the other on the toggle switch and dared not relinquish the latter as bombs away was near at hand. Bill fired a burst from the upper aft and forward [turrets] (six guns) but could not depress them enough and the tracers streamed harmlessly over the Japanese’s canopy.
The formation split at sea to the south after a left turn and we returned to Base
Strike #5 (daylight) 30 April, 1945 Target- Tachikawa Airfield west of Tokyo (primary). Hamamatsu prop[eller] works at Hamamatsu, Honshu, Japan (secondary) Bomb Load- 23 500 lb HE's Aircraft- T-27 (But not the original "Torchy") Opposition- Little flak. No fighters.
If it was clear, no undercast, we were to fly up to Suraga Wan, make landfall at Masaki and turn to the right of Fuji San for the bomb run on the airfield at Tachikawa. However, there existed a complete overcast over all of visible Japan with only Fuji’s cone sticking out of a sea of cloud. We weren’t very long on course, Fuji had not dropped very far behind before we made a 1/4 needle-width turn in formation to the left with the volcano in the center [of the turn].
[T-27, “Torchy“. Capt. James R. Norris and crew. VanWormer standing 2nd. from left.]
The secondary target was urban Hamamatsu on the coast west of Omae- zaki. The banjo factory there now makes propellers. Since it was socked in the run was by radar. We made IP at Motosu-ko, the southernmost of a string of lakes northwest of Fuji, and rolled in over the cloud blanket to bombs away. Of course we dropped on the lead ship. Altitude 20,000 feet. Neither flak nor fighters were observed.
Hamamatsu is the most bombed city in Japan as it has often been used as a “secondary” for strikes to both Nagoya and the Tokyo area targets.
Scenically the trip was a flop but the clouds are a godsend as far as flak is concerned. This, our longest time over enemy territory, lasted 53 minutes.
On the weary way to Iwo Jima Milne picked up radio Shanghai and we listened to the Japanese news in English. Some reference was made [to] a probable weather strike. “They dropped their bombs an fled”. The news of the Okinawa campaign was given an unusual air by their reference to us as the “enemy”. “We attacked the enemy last night with dive bombers and strafing attacks with good results, etc.”. To be called the enemy is a little out of the ordinary on English speaking radio. I have yet to hear the Tokyo Rose.
Strike #6 (daylight) 5 May, 1945 Target- Naval aircraft works at Kure Naval Base, Kure, Honshu Bomb Load- 17 500 lb HE's Aircraft- T-37 [never named] Opposition- Flak from naval units in Inland Sea moderate to intense.
In our minds there were misgivings about this mission. It looked like another “Cook’s” tour of Japan in the briefing and that is just what it turned out to be.
Assembly at Shingu on the cycloidal tip of Shikoku.
Control point at Muroto Saki.
Turn over 34-15’N, 133-33.5’E.
IP at Mihara.
Target, Kure Naval Base.
Then a left turn to the south, back across Shikoku, and back to Iwo and Base. As it happened we were over Japanese territory for 0137 hours.
We assembled over, or rather, just off Shingu as the boys found a little flak. Very inhospitable of the Japanese. It was a rat-race! We looked and searched and circled and flew for 30 minutes looking for an extended nose-wheel or the flash of a red Aldis lamp on a “T” ship. At long last it was located and a close three minutes later we were off across the great peninsula south of Osaka to the sea between Honshu and Shikoku and on to the CP at Muroto-saki. Thence north to a TP [Turning Point] somewhere to the north and east of Mihara, the IP.
The bomb run was a good one though some of the squadrons dropped short. We encountered heavy flak from some naval vessels in the bays. Most of it was directed at B-29s ahead of us. The puffs of smoke were multi-colored, probably to identify the ships from whence [they were] fired.
I could not see the bomb impacts as we were on oxygen again but Photo-recon reported 95% damage to the target. There is another batch of aircraft that will never leave the assembly-line.
Our bombing has improved greatly in the last two months of combat operations.
Leaving the target we turned south and left in such a manner as to avoid the city of Matsuyama on the north west coast of Shikoku where heavy flak has been reported in the past. Land’s end and not a scratch.
I took the navigation to relieve John and we struck out for Iwo Jima. The sea was smooth [no whitecaps] and as a result we were unable to take accurate drift readings with the B-3 [drift-meter]. Nevertheless our DR [dead reckoning] was fairly good and we came in 20 miles right of course and Iwo. I gave Gins the ETA [estimated time of arrival] to Saipan and there followed a problem.
We hadn’t enough fuel to make Base. So to Iwo. Man, were we surprised! The air and traffic pattern was so full of B-29s short of gas and with flak damage that Walnut and Maple [control] towers at Iwo’s north and south fields were going mad trying to get all the ships in. I turned to VHF and listened to the tower calls:
“Maple tower from Happy 52. We have 300 gallons of gas and cannot stay in the air much over 45 minutes. When can you get us in?”
“Happy 52 from Maple tower. Keep circling, keep circling. There is a dreamboat at the end of the runway. This field will be closed for ten, one-zero, minutes, over.”
“Walnut tower from Mascot 35. In an upwind leg, over.”
“Mascot 35 from Walnut tower. Where are you? What is your position?.
“Mascot 35, repeat, 35 to Walnut tower. We are north of the field, we are north of the field. Give me instructions for landing.”
“Give us a call on base leg, over.”
“Brrsksk-k-k sput skt-tsnut tower to all dreamboats. Keep circling; come in over the fr-rs-st-stk and watch for a green light from the tower, over.”
“Walnut tower from Happy 52. We cannot stay up much longer, over.”
“R-akt-t skkatz-z immediately!”
Substitute and add at least 100 more calls, call signs. and ships to this and you will have some idea of the bedlam that reigned that day. The air was crowded with superforts, creaming all over the sky and nearly out of gas. Mt. Suribachi (Mt. Sonofabichi to the Marines) sat like a duck on a rock, silent but undoubtedly amused.
We circled for almost two hours and finally Mascot 37 received the OK to land. Gradually the bees were getting into the hive. Turned off the base leg and onto the landing glide with full flaps and gear down. Mushed in–and hit the runway. It was rough as hell, dirt-surfaced and filled with pot-holes and water. The mud sprayed from the wheels in a thick cloud and the dust from the prop-wash of the ship ahead obscured the strip. The ship lurched and sat back on its tail with an awful scrape. Then. “Walnut tower to Mascot 37, 37. Throttles, throttles! There is a dreamboat close behind you.” “Roger.” The props revved up and we moved ahead and pulled to the right as a ship ground past with its brakes screaming in short yelps.
Our ship joined a long line of B-29s taxiing to the parking area on a new, half-finished, “black-top” to the southeast. The dust was foul. We passed, it seemed, more B-29s than on Saipan in all four Groups. There were tail markings from all over the Marianas and all the [combat] Wings. A mess! Many minutes later a linesman waved us into a spot. Gins cut the engines. The immediate lack of noise seemed perfectly calm though the ships kept roaring and screeching by to park farther down the line.
Everyone piled out into the cool afternoon air of Iwo, stretched and had a smoke.
Rochet’s plane was sitting across from us with a crowd of interested spectators about. An ambulance had stopped by to take the tail gunner to a field hospital. He had a bit of flak in his thigh and a 50 cal. through the calf of the same leg. They had lost an engine over the target by a flak hit in the prop hub. The oil had leaked out and the engine could not be feathered [to prevent wind-milling] as the mechanism had been destroyed. It wind-milled until the engine froze with a terrific jolt. They were unbelievably lucky that the prop did not twist off and tear a gash down the side of the plane [as happened later to another]. [Rochet went down in May, rammed by an enemy fighter.]
Another ship, besides Creedon and “our boys”, had encountered an active [weather] front with severe turbulence and was almost thrown out of control. His bombs (2,000 pounders) had swung up on the shackles as the ship dropped suddenly, flattening the “tunnel”, and had then snapped down, torn off the racks, and gone away through the closed bomb bay doors. The doors hung in shreds.
[The “tunnel” was a long, padded, and severely restricted crawl-way over the bomb bays connecting the rear and forward main compartments of the airplane. [Once in the tunnel it was not possible to turn around.]
Although we were refuelled in an hour or so the field closed in. Isley Field was also rumored to be socked in. We were destined to spend the night.
Iwo was the same only that men and machines had been at work since our first landing. There was still the drizzling rain, the grey volcanic ash, and the ever steaming fissures of sulphur and stink. We could see Minami Iwo to the south. A great volcanic cone rising from the horizon, misty purple and partly shrouded in clouds. Suribachi’s mute form receded into the mist and gloom as the last vestige of the day just gone lingered for a second and faded in the damp murk. Evening and we were still sweating out chow of sorts. Hey, bub! How about a wee bit of C- ration or a banana peel? Ignored. Nothing happened so we walked about a mile to the operations tent–this time they had one–but no chow. On the return trip to the ship we got lost but found at last the large black “T” and the 37. Just as we were getting to sleep on various piles of ‘chutes and in the tunnel a truck rolled around to take us to XXI BomCom HQ where we were fed C-ration and lousy coffee. Ran into Dick Drill and Adams, his bombardier.
The night was a long one as I tossed on the floor of the aft pressurized compartment with Harris’ feet in my face. Every so often a star shell arced into the sky–still Japanese hunting.
The morning crept in cool and mist-cloaked. The moisture dripped from the glistening ship and the silent shadows of the other planes could be seen row on row across the strip. All was at peace.
After breakfast Norris got a clearance for Saipan and at 1000 we were set to go again. Milne found and salvaged a life raft and bought a Japanese bicycle from a Marine for $20 which items we loaded in by the put-put [hatch] and left for Saipan.
The last thing I saw was Iwo’s tremendous cemetery from the air outlined in white like a great cross. Iwo is prayed for by every B-29 man in the Marianas. [The Marines suffered the heaviest casualties (50%) on Iwo Jima of any engagement in their entire history.]
Strike #7 (daylight) 10 May, 1945 Target- Oil storage depot at Tokuyama, Honshu, Japan Bomb Load- 17 500 lb HE's [largest overall B-29 raid to date] Aircraft- T-37 Opposition- Flak meagre to moderate and inaccurate. One fighter.
Heretofore we had been concentrating on the aircraft industries of Japan and the airfields of Kyushu in support of the Okinawa [offenses]. Now we were after the oil of the Empire. Our strategic bombing was following the pattern of the ETO [European Theatre of Operations].
We were eager and this looked like a good raid. It was! The Group won a commendation from the CO [Commanding Officer].
I slept most of the trip up but did get a radar run on Minami Iwo [to find the wind]. Iwo means rock, I think, and Minami means little. “Little Rock”. Only it’s not so little.
We assembled at the island of Okino-shima off Shikoku as we had done on the Kyushu strike. There was a small bit of flak from the island so we stayed reasonably clear of it. Got there on time this time. No sweating. Heck, Capt. Norris saw the damned point before I picked it up on the set. This T-37 hain’t got such a good radar set.
Immediately after turning on course for Oita on Beppu Wan I established myself in the blister beside Harris. We were pressurized [owing] to low oxygen in the aft tanks.
For the first time on a strike I had no fear or apprehension. I was merely interested to see what went on. I took notes and times (GCT) as follows:
0037- A flattop in Beppu Wan headed east.
0038- T-23 with Creedon and #3 smoking. He is dropping to the rear of the formation.
0042- We hit the control point at Oita or Kanuki-bana and turned for IP.
0045- I could see a fighter far to the right in a suspended pursuit curve attack on another formation. He fell away, came closer, and slid under us low at 4 o’clock. No attack.
0046- Creedon in T-23 smoking more violently.
0051- Bomb bay doors open on the deputy. Over the inland sea on course for Royodo-hama and Tokuyama.
0053- First flak for the day. Rather meagre and seemed to be only the smoke remaining from previous shots at the squadron ahead.
0054- Bombs away! Long lines of 500 pounders strung out in vertical lines below each ship simultaneously. As they fell away I saw a black object flash by twisting and spewing gas. Hell! Laugh? T-28 had salvoed his bomb bay gas tank.
I couldn’t see the impacts until we made the turn off target to the south. Those I did see were those of the 869th who were right behind us. The smoke was black and billowed in a pillar to 15,000 feet. The column was topped with a cap of white vapor. It mushroomed out at our altitude. When the bombs of the 869th struck the orange, boiling angry flames seethed up to 5,000 feet! God, what a fire oil makes. Gad, what a fire, period.
0100- Ships in the small harbors of O-shima put up a heavy flak to our left.
0104- Three flak bursts at 9 o’clock. Brown.
0112- Unidentified planes at 10 o’clock low about a mile away.
0115- Observed T-29 with one bomb bay door hanging open. We crossed the island of Shikoku south of Mitsugahama. And at
0117- we made land’s end over Tanoura and a river’s mouth.
I got a good look at Japan’s three main islands this time and all I can say is that it is the most god-awful rough and rugged country I have ever seen. Mostly barren with a few tree covered slopes. The roads seemed to be dirt for the most part and wound aimlessly through the hills. A few rice steppes and groups of houses scattered hither and yon in the valleys.
The Group won a commendation from the Colonel (Ganey) for its excellent results.
[GCT- Greenwich Civil Time]
Strike #8 (daylight) 19 May, 1945 Target- Tachikawa Aircraft Works, near Tokyo (primary) Bomb Load- 25 500 lb HE's Aircraft- T-37 Opposition- Little flak. No fighters
After the abort on the Nagoya strike of the 15th and after not being scheduled for the strike immediately previous to this one we were reasonably eager to get off on this daylight mission to Tachikawa. Not, however, through any burning desire to sit and smoke cigarettes over the mainland. It was more nearly one of those “another day, another dollar” propositions. Our strikes are beginning to pile up–almost into the two digit bracket. Barlow’s crew went down with Pankin and Barr on the Kawasaki mission, their first. When buddies are lost you can’t help but wonder if perhaps you won’t be next on the list and that beaverish gleam pales and vanishes.
Briefing was, as usual, in that miserable hour between night an day when you’ve just about dropped off to sleep. The lights, the eye- rubbing, the groans, and the process of dressing in a half stupor find you presently in the briefing formation by S-2. Hardly able to stand. Off to the over-sized briefing Quonset hut at 0030.
We were to assemble this time at Aoga Shima in the Nanpo Shoto and north of nature’s insular prank, Sofu Gan. Thence to climb to 20,000 feet on course to target at Tachikawa. It didn’t look like a very rough raid.
The mess hall sported the usual [powdered] eggs, tomato juice, and coffee [with evaporated milk]. At 0130 we entrucked and drove the three or so miles to the line and T-37. VanWormer has been taken off the crew and we now have Lt. Seavey from Bangor, Me [an] extraterritorial province. Seavey found that the left outside wheel bearing was the wrong size and needed switching to get even brake clearance all around. The ground crew went to work and had the thing fixed just as we started to pull props and load. The Southern Cross hung low in the southwestern sky. We took off.
I checked the set and dozed most of the way up to assembly. Aoga came in on the set and after 15 min of circling we made formation and started for the mainland. At the start of the climb we ran into the weather that was to alter the entire mission. At 6,000 feet we disappeared into solid cloud. Wow! The formation dispersed like a broken string of pearls on a marble floor! We kept our course and climbed higher and higher. Higher still and finally at 22,000 feet we broke into the sunshine and burning blue of the sky. We leveled out at 25,000 feet. 16,000 feet of cloud!
This was all very interesting–when I found out about it. I had no more idea than the Man in the Moon that we had broken formation until Norris called up and asked me what the course was to the IP for Hamamatsu! I had assumed we had been in formation and hadn’t figured out a thing. My heart sank and I was a real beaver for the next many minutes.
The nearest B-29 must have been ten miles away. The formation was gone. The whole of Japan socked in like a cup of lousy coffee. After straightening out my muddled bombing problem [we] turned up Suruga Wan and [I] figured it would be just as easy to cross the bay with a long bomb run to Hamamatsu as to go to Motosu-ko and make a near 180 [degree turn]. We turned left and with a few course corrections were zeroed in on the yellow-green blob [on the radar] that was Hamamatsu. We passed Omae-zaka. Course 141 true.
There were, all of a sudden, ships all over hell and back. A lone wolf here, [a] three ship element there, some more single planes and a few larger groups that had managed to reassemble after making it into the clear. Some fellows were even creaming around below in the soup at the risk of an “egg” down the astrodome.
Hamamatsu was a strong indication on the scope and as soon as we came to the first sighting angle I gave Max the hack and he clutched [the Norden sight] in. It went perfectly as far as we could tell. Max’s pre-computed data needed very little adjustment on rate to check with my sighting angles. We must have hit the city dead center.
Bombs away. Just as a 17 ship formation slid in from the right and below us. They dropped at the same instant and were almost hit by our bombs. Later I heard Bob Hayes telling a wild tale of a ship that had almost dropped through their formation. Us, natch. That was an “A” Group. The 869th.
The only flak we saw was way off to the left and seemed to be tracking an imaginary ship across the sky . No fighters were seen.
Strike #9 (night) 23-24 May, 1945 Target- Southern Tokyo between Kawasaki and the Imperial Palace. Bomb Load- M47-A incendiaries Aircraft- T-37 Opposition- Heavy flak. Ground-to-air rockets and a lot of stuff we never did figure out.
Well–we’ve definitely got our own ship now, T-37, and undoubtedly will have it for the rest of our strikes.
This was the first fire raid we’d been on since Kawasaki and ,in fact, the first night mission since then. Landfall at Omae-zaki as is the habit on all or most strikes to the Tokyo area. Some one of these days they’ll get wise; I hope not. From Omae-zaki we were briefed to proceed to a set of coordinates near the town of Toya and turn onto the run on the aiming point from there.
As we approached landfall we could see the glow of the fires, the flak, and the searchlights criss-crossed against a background of smoke. Even though we had “rope” to foil the radar controlled lights we knew darn right well that we were in for a hot time.
[“Rope”, “window”, or “chaff”: short lengths of aluminum foil in packages cut in strips of a width to match the enemy radar wavelength (0.5 in.). To be tossed periodically in handfuls from the aft camera hatch.]
At landfall the Capt. did a 1/4 needle-width turn rolling out on course for Toya right over Omae-zaki. I had to fix the IP position with ranges and bearings from Hachioji and Fuji San as coordinates are real hard to see on the ground, much less in the scope. Max and Capt. Norris could see Fuji off to the left in the moonlight and decided that it would be overcast right up to the target. Not so lucky.
We turned on the IP and just in time. Spiller and Max let out a sigh of relief as the ship leveled out between the two concentrations of lights; one to the north at #357, and the other to the south at Kawasaki. Neither saw us for a moment anyway. Harris worked his way to the camera hatch to toss out the rope at the prescribed intervals. He looked like an overgrown beetle in the flak suit and helmet. Then the lights. Max said that they’d seem to be coming toward us, almost touch the wings and then drop to the rear [fixed on the bright return from the chaff]. Wow. The rope was working and we all liked to think that it was. “Bomb bay doors coming open.”, Max informed us. The ship shuddered and lost some airspeed. It now indicated 230. The door showed somewhat on the scope though I could still see the AP. The bomb pip was lost in the ground return.
Flak could be heard now. That meant it was close. It sounded like sheets of tin, big ones, being snapped. The bursts not quite so close were like [heavy boots] being dropped on the floor of the apartment above. I could see the glow of the fires below on the fixtures in the blisters.
The intercom clicked and those dearest of all words were heard– “Bombs away.” No longer were we slaves to fixed course and airspeed. Scanners confirmed, I turned off the set and went to the blister like a two-year-old with a piano on his back. Harris was still dispensing rope.
We had a show on that night. Ground-to-air rockets were arcing upwards in white, fiery pursuit of the ship behind us. The fires cast a redness on the sky. Individual blocks and streets could be seen burning and elsewhere whole masses of city blocks were afire in sections with right-angled corners like the black spaces in a crossword puzzle. We had just flown through the smoke, rough like a cumulus cloud, and its acrid odor lingered in the plane.
Out over the bay. Safe for just a minute until we hit the opposite shore on the other side of Tokyo.
Whiskey cut in. “Sir, there’s a ship, a B-29, behind us at 7 o’clock level. She’s afire and going down. Wait. I see three, no four, ‘chutes. No more.” I craned my neck but could see nothing. Whiskey had a voice of rock over the intercom. Never rattled in the least. You’d never know but that he was as cool as a cucumber. Togane on the east side of the Tateyama was land’s end.
When your nerves are on edge you’ll fall for anything. Whiskey called in a light at 9 o’clock level and everyone got set for a night fighter pass. The amplidynes [remote gun turret motors] hummed as all the turrets swung to the left. We all waited for further developments. John, the brains of the outfit this time, quietly informed us that it was “just Venus rising in the east.”. And so it was.
Two crews from the 874th were missing. Both were pathfinders and had gone in ahead of us at about 5,000 feet which was murder. Zweifel went down with Faivre as his co-pilot. He was one of the oldest crews here with but a few missions to complete his tour. The other missing aircraft was flown by Capt. Olds, operations, and Capt. Miller, group navigator.
Olds was our stand-by co-pilot on the first of our raids and it was his quick action on the feathering button coupled with Gins results on the switch and fuel shut-off that saved us.
A submarine was reported to have picked up five guys who bailed over Tokyo bay. 875th boys.
Bill Hain on Thomas’ crew from the 499th also went down last night. He was a radar operator from Pittsburgh.
This was no “milk-run”.
Strike #10 (night) 25-26 May, 1945 Target- West Tokyo near the Imperial Palace. Bomb Load- M47-A incendiaries Aircraft- T-37 Opposition- Rockets, flak, "foo-fighters," lights in a concentrated mass.
This strike was very much like the one before it on the 24th. There was a slight alteration of IP this time and also of the axis of attack. We were to [attack] west Tokyo in the vicinity of the palace.
Bombing altitude was 11,000 feet. A slight improvement in safety over the lesser heights of some previous nights I could mention. At least we were out of range of that god-awful automatic fire, the 20s and 40s [40mm anti-aircraft shells]. Omae-zaki is getting rather to be a joke by now but nonetheless, it was the Control Point again. We nearly missed it! John called me up to say that we should be within radar range of the coast, that is, not more than 100 miles out. I turned on the set, switched to the 100 mile range and waited. In about 15 minutes or so I was rewarded with a faint indication on the scope. It grew stronger and closer. I switched again to the 50 mile range, called up John, and spread my map. Nothing looked in the least familiar and we couldn’t match the [scope] picture with the map at all! Shaw was baffled. I unfolded the map to the east, studied it, and then the two sections to the west. The first was futile, but in the last and westernmost section there was a note of similarity to the scope indication. I called Johnny and we concluded that we were where it was almost impossible to be. True. We were west of Nagoya!!! At least 100 miles off course! Wow. West of Nagoya and about 30 miles south of Nakiri, Honshu on a raid to Tokyo. The [magnetic] variation had been set in wrong on the flux-gate compass [used by the autopilot].
The Capt. altered course along the coast to the CP. In 15 minutes we were opposite Hamamatsu and they could see the glow of the fires now at Tokyo 75 miles away. Hamamatsu was partly afire. I guess some of the boys had used it as a target of opportunity. A left correction took us over the Control Point and on course for IP. Again the boys up front could see the lights, flak, and fires. Course was checked on Ihaitake and its big brother Fuji San which glowed palely in the half-moonlight. The moon was slightly past [the] zenith.
IP. We turned. We wished we hadn’t. Lord, what a show! The Japanese had this one all figured out and we prayed that this was a one- night-stand instead of the show’s world premiere. Rockets, lights, flak, foo-fighters, phosphorous explosions and I don’t know what all.
I got the position on Hachioji which checked out with the briefed bomb run.
“Pilot, pilot. See that thing out there? Looks like a rocket.” We wheeled up on one wing in an attempt to avoid it.
“It’s turning in. Looks as though it were following us.” Norris took the ailerons and Seavey the elevators. The ship went crazy in the air. Up, down, over, and back. Suddenly the “thing” exploded in mid-air and we never did find out what it was. Next on the program were the lights. We had no desire to see our names “up in them” nor in smoke either. The results were disastrous as far as my bomb run was concerned. In spite of the rope and de-synchronized props we couldn’t shake them. The scope was so screwed up from the turning and we were so seldom in straight and level flight that I stopped looking at the damned thing. I watched the dancing shadows on the top of the ship over the open camera hatch where Harris was tossing out the rope. Again we could hear the thump and whack of the flak as it exploded around our ears. The ship would heave on the close ones.
Excitedly Seavey called up all out of breath, “Drop the bombs and let’s get the hell out of here.” I don’t blame him. I was scared stiff. The bombs went “away” and we made tracks. Heading was about 40 degrees true and we were headed right for the heart of Tokyo. I told the Capt. that it was OK to turn but he didn’t hear me or something. I watched with my heart in my mouth as the transmitter pip [the scope center] slid over the very center of the enemy city. The flak was closer and louder. This took about a minute at the end of which I called again and we swung to the north, out of the lights and guns. As soon as the lights left us I turned off the set for the required 45 minutes and we turned right again to head for the sea over Chosi Point. We were confused and doing night pilotage. Harris, the Capt., Whiskey, John, and Max all had their ideas on the lay of the land and, as a result, we must have passed north, south, and under at least six Chosi Points before the grey moon glitter showed us to be indisputably over the sea.
We continued on the 090 heading for 100 miles or so then turned south to [fool] the fighters. We saw none. After turning on to a reasonable facsimile of the heading for Iwo we watched the glow of the great fires at Tokyo until we were more than 200 miles at sea. The bomb flashes were still visible at 100 miles.
T-37 had a flak dent in the wing and that was all.
Strike #11 (daylight) 29 May, 1945 Target- Yokohama Bomb Load- M47-A incendiaries Aircraft- T-37 Opposition- Flak moderate and continuously pointed. Few fighters.
The first mission of any kind to Japan’s greatest port, Yokohama. Furthermore it was the first daylight incendiary raid we’d been on. Tokyo and Kawasaki were gone and now it was Yokohama’s turn.
For a break briefing was in the afternoon. This meant that we could sleep right up until chow time at 0100 and get in an extra hour. The reason for last minute briefings is the fact that the weather data had to be up to date. Evidently they expected no changes this time. When the awful hour rolled around we were nevertheless POed for all of that extra hour and the eggs and bacon left us stumbling around like sleeping pills.
Trucks, stations, engines, taxi, and at last take-off came around 0400. Later than usual so that it was daylight before we’d gone as far as Pajoros [northernmost of the Marianas]. Between Pajoros and assembly at Aoga Shima I read the latest TIME and drew a sketch of Harris as he slept in the sun by the right blister. I took a wind run on Iwo and Kita Iwo and a few hours later picked up Aoga and thanked my stars that it was daylight and not Sofu Gan.
We assembled without difficulty and climbed to 19,000 feet as we neared the coast. When the Capt. told us to don our armor-plated skivvies and ‘chutes I turned off the set and settled myself in the blister with much trouble and sweat. I had an oxygen bottle and a fouled up intercom connection. When we made landfall at Minami-Osaka (just west of old friend Omae-zaki) we depressurized and I started breathing through my Martian bagpipes all set to take notes with much effort:
0044- Landfall and general confusion as my headphone cord came undone and caught on the goddamn flak suit.
0046- Harris reports a fighter at 5 o’clock low. I almost broke my neck in a vain attempt to see it.
0055- Long pause while I proceed to get blue around the gills as I drag on an empty oxygen bottle at 20,000 feet thinking that my supply is OK as the gauge reads 350 lb/in2. I guess this… huff… thing is… whuff, whuff… broken, empty! Gotta get to the filler valve, filler valve. My head swam and buzzed, I got scared. I forced myself to crawl, well scrambled in cords, cables, maps, and armor plate to refill my empty bottle. With much exertion and completely out of breath I took deep gulps of O2 and came around in time to note that we were now over Manazawa and Fuji-gama. Whew!
0100- IP at Fuji San. Much effort expended with no rewarding view of the crater directly below us. Nothing but rice paddies.
0102- Over Sagami-gawa at Atsugi.
0103- Bomb bay doors.
0104- Fugisawa and Chogo.
0105- First flak. It was exploding just ahead of us and low and all we could see [were] the brown smoke puffs drifting by. It seemed to be continuously pointed fire.
0108- Kamakura to right, on course to target.
0108- Bombs away.
More flak, continuously pointed, and more audible than before.
0109- Over target. I leaned out and could see many fires on the south side of the city with white smoke plumes hugging the ground in a south wind. The smoke rose to the north in a great pillar with top about 20,000 feet.
0112- A 58th Wing ship with flak in the wing between #1 and #2 engines headed earthward and exploding in a blaze of flame.
0117- Land’s end at Amatzu.
I navigated to Base while John got in some well deserved sack time in the radar room. Milne got a radio report on some dye-marker 30 miles from land’s end well behind us. We had a wind shift and [Gins] sweated out the gas on let down from Agrihan to Saipan.
Strike #12 (abort) 5 June, 1945 Target- Kobe Bomb Load- M47-A incendiaries Aircraft- T-37 Opposition-
Our second abort. This would have been our twelfth strike to Japan. We preflighted [inspected] the ship in the dark of morning, pulled props and took off for Iwo and the target. I was sleeping when I was awakened by an awful vibration in the ship. It stopped and I asked Harris what the score was. I seemed we had swallowed five valves in #3 engine and were headed back to Saipan. Just an hour or so out of Iwo. Norris made a successful three-engine landing at Isley Field and after getting all our equipment returned to personnel supply we hit the squadron area and the sacks.
Strike #12a 7 June, 1945 Target- Dock area of Osaka, Honshu, Japan. Bomb Load- Aircraft- T-37 Opposition- Six flak bursts. No fighters.
We all had misgivings about this one after the bad time the boys, including Creedon, had on the last Kobe raid on the 5th.
With no trouble at all we made it to assembly at Kita Iwo on time. We led the right element with Czerwinski right, Rich left, and Lt. Pound in the slot to fill in the box. Why they assembled [us] at Kita we will never know as the pilots had to fly formation [tiring] all the long way to Japan.
On arriving at Wing assembly at Okina-shima I turned off the set and went to the blister for the bomb run. There was a beautiful sight outside . The entire mass of Japan as far as you could see was solidly overcast and silhouetted against the whiteness were the P-51s. There must have been fifty of them though Max only counted 43.
That’s about all there was to the mission. On the way down the run we saw six bursts of flak, inaccurate. We dropped [bombs] and returned to Saipan without event. Definitely a
milk-run; no aircraft lost.
Strike #13 10 June, 1945 Target- Musashino Engine Works of the Nakajima A/C Co. (#357) Bomb Load- 7 2,000 lb HEs Aircraft- T-37 Opposition- Flak moderate to intense. Moderate Japanese fighter activity
Three-five-seven again. This time out to get the reinforced concrete western section. The engine test cells. This time or never as far as we were concerned. On previous strikes the eastern, assembly, wings had been almost completely destroyed. Our Group and most of the 73rd [Wing] were out to cream this while in the XXI BombCom were to hit nine other targets on Honshu.
A yawn, a muttered curse, and early morning takeoff as usual saw us at Aoga Shima around 0700. The radar was inop, kaput, with a burned out crystal as I only later discovered, but we had no difficulty locating the island. Our headache, however, was in finding the squadron formation. We milled around for some 20 minutes looking for the flash of a green Aldis lamp or an extended nose wheel on a “T” ship. No go. Rats–this business of tacking on to another bunch or going up in hopes of mission credit alone is PP. After a little we saw on the horizon a formation on course for the target. We made off in pursuit on the chance that it was the 874th and also for a little company. Finally after 170 miles of running we pulled into formation, our boys, at landfall though not in our correct position as lead of the right element.
Since the radar was on the foul [I] could take no scope photos so, with time on my hands, I went to the right sighting station. We were bombing from 19,000 feet but were partially pressurized at 12,000 feet. Seavey and Harris reported P-51s abroad which fact put everyone at ease to some extent.
And here I stopped writing on Saipan. It was six months ago that this all happened. The position data and much else has been forgotten. I shall, however, with the use of a sectional chart and some imagination, do my best.
We made landfall at, or somewhere near, Omae-zaki or Shizuoka on Suruga Wan. The IP was, I believe, Kofu north of Fuji. Thence we headed on [a] course that included a turning point and a CP to cross up the poor souls on the ground. Fuji had lost a good deal of its whipped cream to the increasing sweet-tooth of Old Sol and looked very un-Fujiish. Black with just a trace of snow in the crevices and fluting of the cone. The ground was spotted with cloud shadows. It looked as though the target would be overcast.
As we turned, by radar I guess, over Kofu I saw what looked to be P- 51s. Specks against a brilliant, steely blue sky bit I couldn’t say for sure. The overcast increased as we crossed the mountains and approached the Tokyo coastal plain from the west. The target lay about half way between the mouth of the Ara-kawa at Tokyo and the mountains at Ome. near Musashino. Max called up to say that it looked as though the overcast ended just beyond #357 and that we probably would have to proceed to secondary. This was not good news. Using one of the most heavily flak-defended area of Japan was considered generally a poor risk from the standpoint of longevity.
The lead and deputy lead [planes] opened their bomb bay doors and the squadron followed suit. Synchronization was impossible [here] and therefor the order was given to proceed to Hitachi.
Flak. Right over #357 we broke into the clear and I could see the continuously pointed fire exploding somewhere under our right wing every two seconds or so. Smoke brownish-black.
Next, and completely without warning, the Japanese fighters appeared. I guess the P-51s had stayed back in Tokyo to strafe. There was formation off to our right, same altitude. I saw a lone fighter buzzing around it in lazy roll-throughs and breakaways. Distance slowed down motion. He disappeared. I dozed off. Z-z-z-z.
The vibration and racket of Spiller’s twin fifties snapped me to consciousness again. The turret was right behind me. The intercom was buzzing with clock position calls, high, low, level, and everywhere as the Japanese pressed the attacks.
Creedon was hit and smoking in #3 (feathered). We gathered that he was hit; King flying. Norris dropped back for top cover and the fighters dropped back to jump on Creedon who was now lagging formation. Target yet a couple of minutes away.
Several attacks were called in by Whiskey, Spiller, Max and Seavey. The guns rattled and the [empty] shells clattered into the turret covers on the bottoms. All this was a great help to John on the navigation and Gins on the panel. Bill called in a twin-engine “Tojo” at 9 o’clock high and turning in. “Yeah, I see ‘im.”, Rocky answered an instant later. The ship shook. “We got him, goddammit we got him!” I couldn’t see but Whiskey confirmed the fact that the Japanese had spun in and gone down through the overcast.
Bomb bay door opened again. King managed to overtake the squadron though McNicholl had salvoed the bombs and closed his doors to gain speed. We both fell [back] in [to formation] just in time to drop with the squadron on the engineering works. The lead did a bang-up job–every bomb right in there.
We turned right and held a course to sea before we turned again on course for Iwo. Norris stayed back for a while with King and Creedon until they made Iwo. We landed at Saipan.
Rocky and and Bill Spiller got credit (1/2 apiece) for the fighter they shot down.
The Group got two commendations, one from Wing to all Groups at Hitachi, and one from Group Command. Every bomb in the Wing had struck within an 1,800 foot circle from the AP.
Creedon, King, and the boys had a mission they’ll never forget! It all happened in the same split second. 20mm shells from a fighter at 2 o’clock low. Number three engine shot out, Creedon severely wounded in the calf, the co-pilots throttle box wrecked, all fuel and oil pressure gauges shot out, and a 20mm explosion in front of “Killer” McNicoll’s flak curtain. Mac was spun around in his seat and dazed. He [evidently scuttled] the bombs and closed the bomb bay doors and then passed out. He doesn’t remember a thing about it at all.
At this date I know that Creedon is OK and will be able to walk after several skin grafts.
After a month-long tour at Lead Crew School (special radar bombing training) in the US during July at Muroc Army Air Field in California the T-37 crew returned to Saipan in early August having heard of the dropping of the Hiroshima bomb at Hickham Field on the way back across the Pacific.
There was one more combat mission from Saipan (Number 14 to Osaka Arsenal, August 14th) and, after V-J Day, we flew two or three times to Japan to drop supplies to prisoner of war camps. On several occasions we crawled out into the bomb bay to stuff notes into the duffel and, months later, received several grateful and humorous letters from the recipients–mostly English and Aussies.
We had close friends in the 497th BG whose ship was A-16 “The Fickle Finger of Fate” piloted by Capt. Dick Fate (Bob Hayes, V; Will Kessler, N; Lonnie Snowden, CP). A-16 took off on the night of October 5th for Kwajalein on its way home to the States. They had an oil leak a few hours out and decided to return to Saipan where they crashed on Kobler Field in the early hours of the great typhoon of that date. Twenty were lost.
Reference: “The Twenty Niner” the Combat Story of the 498th B.G., edited by Capt. Michael J. Ogden and published ca. 1946.
A letter of appreciation from Alan Richtmeyer whose father was a B-29 Central Fire Control (CFC) gunner in the Marianas. [Link pending]
Letters home from James A. Rafferty, a maintenance man of the 874th. They kept Torchy and other planes in the air.
75th Anniversary, Atomic Bomb, Hiroshima. By Aug. 5, 2020, Washington Post.
New (2021): Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War”