A Gunner’s Tale (1944-45)

t-square 26 1CHAPTER III
Bombing Japan

by S/Sgt. Francis (Frank) E. Reynolds
498th BG [T-Square], 874th Squadron, Saipan
1944-45
[From a manuscript e-mailed to me by Gib Buckbee, whose father was a friend of Reynolds.]

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(Some disturbing graphic content has been redacted thus: [. . .])

In mid-October we departed for Saipan. American forces had taken Tinian,
only two miles from Saipan, and Guam located 100 miles [south] of us. All islands were 1500 miles from Japan with the Japanese stronghold, Iwo Jima, being midway.

874th squadron
874th Squadron

When we arrived on Saipan, it was hot and rainy. We spent a few days in tents while we built quonset huts near the shoreline to live in. The officers and enlisted men lived in separate huts but close to each other. Showers were saltwater and located on the beach. We filled our canteens from steel drums. The food was all canned—no fresh food. Flight lunches were individual packets of canned food called K-rations.

We dug trenches outside the huts that we could get in if we had air raids. On November 2 at 0130 Japanese bombers dropped bombs for the first time. There were plenty of scares, but no aircraft destroyed, and two enemy were shot down by antiaircraft guns. We got bombed or strafed every few nights. The strafing was the worst. The enemy planes would come in low under the radar and start shooting. I remember one night we awoke with tracers going by the end of the hut. I was the first one in the trench and landed on the bottom with three or four guys lying on top of me. I thought the bullets would have to go through them before getting to me. I did not even notice the coral digging into my back.

Those raids did kill some people and destroyed aircraft. At night we took turns guarding the aircraft. Usually an officer and an enlisted man paired up to guard against Japanese still hiding in caves. One night in December, I was guarding our plane with an officer when the plane next to ours was hit by a rocket, fired from an attacking plane, and started burning. We got out of the bunker and ran to escape the coming explosion.

iwo jima
Iwo Jima (Mt. Suribachi)

After a big raid on us New Year’s Eve the raids ended, due to B-24s bombing the airfield on Iwo. Planes would fly from Japan to Iwo, land, refuel, load bombs, and bomb us. B-24s were given the job of keeping the airfield on Iwo knocked out. They dropped bombs every hour and the Japanese could not fill in the bomb holes as fast as the B-24s made them.

We flew two practice missions to enemy occupied islands. The Marines made certain there could be no possibility of a tipoff from Japanese holdouts on Saipan by conducting a “rabbit hunt” around the runways, which netted them over 200 killed. Then the planes were loaded for our first mission. Bad weather caused delays, but finally on Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1944, 100 aircraft in nine plane formations, flew over Tokyo and dropped bombs on an aircraft factory. This raid was the first such attack since the Doolittle strikes in April, 1942.

The B-29 was under-powered, and taking off fully loaded with fuel, bombs and ammunition was hazardous. We had a 10,000 foot runway ending with a 300 foot cliff drop-off. All of the runway was used, and sometimes the 300 feet altitude that could be lost before hitting the water saved us. We flew low altitude to a climb point off the coast of Japan and then climbed to 30,000 feet bombing altitude. We had never made a maximum weight takeoff or been higher than 25,000 feet until that first mission. Flight time was 15 hours [round trip].

We saw many enemy fighters, but only had a few attacks on the first mission. On our third mission the fighters were more aggressive, and I shot down the first confirmed fighter in our Squadron. I shot down two others on later missions. The Japanese were doing anything to knock us down. They put up heavy flak, swarms of attacks, kamikaze rams, and even dropped phosphorous bombs above our formations. Major Krause was our well-liked operations officer. What happened to him as stated in official records illustrates their determination.

This is an eyewitness story given by Lieutenant Webster, who was in the flight commanded by Major John E. Krause which was flying over target 357, Tokyo December 27, 1944. His plane, T-Square 25, was leading the third element of a nine ship tight formation at 31,500 feet on the bomb run between Mount Fuji and Tokyo when they ran into trouble at 0425, one minute before bombs away:

“A Japanese Tony came in head-on with a closing rate of 700 mph or better, slightly high with guns blazing. The top gun sight blister blew off from gun fire, probably killing the gunner instantly. The right side of the ship, from nose to leading edge of the wing, was torn open with a gash three feet wide and emitting a sheet of yellow flame, no doubt killing co-pilot, engineer and radio operator. Parts and pieces of equipment came flying out of the wide cut in the side section. It is possible the Tony rammed the nose with his right wing, no one knows for sure. The ship held formation for 30 seconds, then dropped out abruptly losing speed and altitude faster than accompanying planes could slow down for her.

Fighters swarmed in from all sides, levels, and directions, each pressing home their attacks, trying for the kill like a bunch of hornets. At approximately one minute from the time T-Square 25 left formation, a Tony rammed it on the right side knocking off parts of the wing and either No. 3 or No. 4 engine, which came off and tumbled through the air. This was at an altitude of 28,000 feet and they were going down fast when another Tony rammed them from underneath in the belly near the gunners’ compartment. They finally went out of control and were heading nearly straight down until last seen at 20,000 feet. None of the crew was reported to have bailed out. Nine Japanese Tonys were seen to be shot down by the crew of T-Square 25.”

[. . .]

On a mission to Tokyo in February of 1945, we were under heavy fighter attacks when a 20mm cannon shell exploded against the fuselage just above my head. It knocked the plexiglass blister out and I hit the gun sight with my chest breaking it off as I was blown* outside the plane. I was pinned against the outside of the fuselage by the slip stream. The only thing that saved me was the seat belt. It was just above my knees, holding my legs inside from the knees down. The rest of me was outside.
*explosive decompression

God gave me superhuman strength and I got my hands on the rim where the blister was mounted and pulled myself back into the ship. The slip stream had stripped my flak vest, helmet and oxygen mask off, and tore the oxygen hose off the outlet. I had to have oxygen or pass out in 30 seconds and die in 3 minutes. Again, God came to my rescue. I unsnapped the seat belt, ran into the radar room where there was an extra outlet and mask and got on oxygen.

The plane took more hits; the controls were shot out, and the order came “Prepare For Bail Out.” Everyone was getting their chutes on. Mine was blown out in the explosion so I was trying to put on the spare, but it did not fit and I could not adjust it. In sheer desperation, I grabbed the radar operator and pleaded, “Don’t leave me!” He adjusted the chute for me. The pilots regained control of the plane by alternate controls and canceled the bail out.

Outside of some small shrapnel in my hands and neck, I was in good shape when we landed. The flight surgeon picked the flak out and gave me a tetanus shot.

I thank God for saving my life.

When word got around about what happened, for several days people would yell at me, “Hey, Reynolds. Don’t leave me!” Followed by loud laughter.

goat gulch theatre
Goat Gulch theatre

A Wing of B-29s moved into Tinian across the water about two miles from us in January, 1945. They flew a few bombing missions and then switched to dropping mines. We were envious of their “milk runs” as we called them. Dropping mines in harbors could not be as dangerous as bombing Tokyo. One night I was sitting on the hillside that faced Tinian to watch an outdoor movie. The Wing started taking off on a mission. Just as the first plane got a short distance from the runway there was a blinding flash and the aircraft blew into a million pieces. The second and third — the same thing. Ten out of the first fifteen planes blew up before the takeoffs were stopped. It was the most horrifying thing I ever saw.

Later we learned the mines they carried were detonated by sound, and the salt air had affected their fusing, causing aircraft engine noise to trigger the explosions.

In January, 1945 we lost an engine soon after takeoff and aborted the mission. The standard procedure was to salvo the bombs, and land. But our crew had worked hard the day before using hand-cranked hoists to load the bombs, and hated to see all that work wasted. Why not land with the bombs and use them on the next mission? The pilot requested permission to land with the bombs. Permission was granted.

The weather was dear with gusty winds. As the plane neared the cliffs, which as also the end of the runway, the wind abruptly decreased. This caused the heavy plane to drop onto the runway extra hard. The gasoline tanks located in the wings were almost full, and the hard landing ruptured the inter-connections between the tanks. Gasoline poured from the underside of the wings as we rolled down the runway. Engines and electrical power were quickly cut off to prevent a fire. The airplane was stopped. We evacuated and ran a safe distance from the gasoline-leaking ship. Crash crews hosed down everything. A refueling crew unloaded the remaining gasoline. The plane was towed to a hard stand and we unloaded the bombs.

The next morning the eleven-member flight crew reported to the crew chief and were given screwdrivers. The bottom wing panels had to come off so the mechanics could repair the connections. There were easily 1000 long screws on each wing that held the panels in place that had to be removed. After repairs by the mechanics, we reinstalled the panels and screws. There were a lot of sore hands and arms when it was over. To my knowledge no aircraft was ever allowed to land with bombs again.

Our mission to bomb industrial targets was costing heavy losses. Some missions were running at ten losses. Also, we were not hitting the targets. Weather was the main problem. Clouds covered the target area time after time. Frequently, 200mph jet streams played havoc with the bomb runs. If it was downwind, the ground speed was greater than what the bomb sight was designed for. Upstream antiaircraft fire was deadly or the planes ran low on fuel to return home.

The Air Corps Commander, General Arnold, decided a change in the command was in order. He assigned Major General LeMay, the most innovative Air Corps General of WWII, as Commander [of the 20th Air Force]. The General and his staff made a study and found that a high percentage of the buildings in Japan were constructed of wood. Also, there were very few antiaircraft guns suitable for defense against low altitude attacks. New tactics, copied after those the British used against Germany, were developed. Instead of high altitude precision bombing against industrial targets, it would be low altitude night area bombing of the cities, using incendiary bombs to burn them down.

March the 9th of 1945 was the first mission. Bomber streams of 300 planes from Saipan, Tinian, and Guam, their first mission, bombed assigned sections of Tokyo at 7,000 to 8,000 feet altitude with incendiaries. The glow from the fires could be seen for over 100 miles as we flew home. Fifteen and a half square miles, an area equal to Dallas, Texas, was laid waste. Within ten days five raids had taken place against the major cities of Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe and Nagoya the second time, causing incalculable damage. Aircraft losses were low. Fire bombing was such a success it became the tactic that destroyed Japan’s war capability.

The fire raids were frightening to the bomber crews. When we arrived over Tokyo it was a sea of fire. Looking down at it, we knew if something happened to the plane we would have to parachute out and would probably land in the fire. What was terrifying was to get caught in the heat thermals from the burning fires. The airplane would suddenly shoot up 1,000 feet in altitude and just as suddenly sink 1,000 feet. We were tossed about like toys, with the pilot fighting for control of the plane. One plane was flipped on its back and miraculously the pilot got it righted. The fuselage and wings were warped. Another plane had the bomb bay doors torn off and one of them bent cross-wise with the leading edge of the wing and stayed there until the plane landed. A gunner on a new crew caught in a thermal was sure the plane was going down and he bailed out. Those thermals were much worse than any thunderstorm I was ever in.

In March, 1945 we were taking off overloaded with bombs, as usual. We used all the runway and went off the cliff still below flying speed. We lost the 300 feet altitude from diff to ocean and skimmed along on top of the waves so close that the propellers were throwing water on the gunners’ blisters. The nose of the plane was unusually high, but the pilot had to hold that altitude or we would hit the water. The flight engineer said, “Everybody get up front!” The five of us in the rear scrambled through the tunnel and joined the navigator and radio operator in the cockpit. The airspeed slowly built up as the tail lifted from the shift of our weight, and the pilot managed to climb enough to get the nose down.

Full power from the engines was only used for take-off which only took two to three minutes. The use of full power was not to exceed five minutes under emergency conditions because it could cause engine failure. We used full power for ten minutes.

Target 357, the [Musashino] aircraft factory on the outskirts of Tokyo, had been our first mission’s target and we had been back several times, but had inflicted very little damage. Now our Wing was told to destroy that factory. Low altitude bombing had been so successful it was decided to try it on [target] 357 with 500-pound explosive bombs.

Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945 [Atkinson’s first mission] was the date I was promoted to staff sergeant and this was our crew’s 17th mission. Take-offs started at 0700 at 30-second intervals. We were near the end of the stream. The plane in front of us crashed on take-off at the end of the runway and bulldozers pushed the burning debris off the cliff into the water so we could takeoff. This caused a 45-minute break between aircraft arriving at the target. All antiaircraft guns knew our route and could concentrate on us. It was a beautiful fall moon, as forecast, and I could clearly see the small island in Tokyo Bay where we began the bomb run over. There was probably only one gun down there and their first shell knocked out No. 2 engine. As we proceeded, searchlights picked us up and shell blasts rocked the plane. The interphone went out, which meant the pilot could not communicate with us. Another engine on the other side went out. The bomb bay doors came open, the bombs fell out but the doors would not close. The plane turned left, as briefed, toward the coast. We ran out of [the] searchlights and antiaircraft fire.

For a few brief moments it looked like we were going to make it. But in the center wing section a few sparks grew into a stream and quickly into flames. I grabbed a fire extinguisher and went into the bomb bay hoping I could reach the fire, but could not. With horror I saw flames licking around a hung-up bomb and knew we were doomed.

I went back into the gunners’ compartment and said, “Let’s get out of here, this thing is going to blow up!” We proceeded to the rear escape hatch. The tail gunner had come forward and was crouched in the door. The last thing I did was take my .45 caliber pistol from its holster and leave it in the plane, thinking, they may kill me but not with my own gun.

We jumped through the hatch one by one. I delayed opening the chute until well below the flames, now shooting past the tail. When the ripcord was pulled the chute opened with the expected jolt. I swung around to see the burning plane just in time to see it explode with a loud boom.

A Japanese fighter had been trailing below and behind us, and he passed below me. I fell through his propeller wash which started me swinging violently. I fought the swinging, using the shroud lines, as taught in training. I observed a chute on each side of me, and tried to see where I was going to land. Suddenly, I was brushing tree branches and came to a halt with the chute caught in the top of a tree, but I was hanging in the clear. After my vision adjusted, it looked like I wasn’t very far off the ground, so unsnapping the harness, I lowered myself as much as possible and finally let loose and fell about ten feet.

I thank the good Lord for getting me out of that burning plane and safely on the ground.

It was 0400, April 2, 1945. I was on a hill and moved up to the tree trunk and sat down awaiting daylight. I was unhurt with only a couple of scratches. I had a lot of melted metal on my clothes, but no bums. It was cold, probably around freezing, but I wore a khaki uniform, covered by flight coveralls and flight jacket so I was fairly comfortable. I thought we were on the briefed withdrawal route from the target, and this must be the foothills of mountains northwest of Tokyo.

When it got good and light, I decided to go toward one of the chutes I saw while descending. I found the chute but no one was there. So, I climbed up a hill, saw a village and a path leading to it and headed that way.

As I approached the village, I saw someone on a bicycle. We both stopped. I saw it was a boy who must have been twelve to fourteen years of age, and approached him slowly and smiling not wanting to scare him. I had a couple of coins in my pocket and gave them to him. He turned his bike around and rode ahead of me a few feet. The path turned into a road. As we approached the village, an old man in a robe with writing on his long shawl was waiting for me. I saluted him and he bowed to me. He motioned me down the street. People started coming out of the houses and lining the streets, looking at me and laughing. A big teenager grabbed my arm and tried to twist it behind my back. I resisted and pushed him away, firmly but gently, and he walked along beside I thought, this is not too bad.

CHAPTER IV
Japanese Prisoner

by S/Sgt. Francis (Frank) E. Reynolds
498th BG, 874th Squadron, Saipan
1944-45

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After walking about two blocks, I came to two policemen at [a] train station. They blindfolded me and tied my hands behind my back. School children started gathering around us and when the train came, we all got on it. Several of the kids came by and greeted me with a kick or punch. After a thirty- to forty-five minute ride, I was led off the train and walked to a police station. The blindfold was removed. Five or six policemen were in the room. One of them in very broken English asked me a few questions. The last one was, ‘”Who do you think will win the war?” I replied, “America.” He translated my answer and they all laughed.

About two hours passed before a truck stopped outside and military personnel came in. I instinctively knew the good times were over. The blindfold went back With shouts, punches, and kicks I was driven like a blind animal onto the truck bed and placed with no support for my back. I heard other voices and knew there were prisoners and guards aboard. Every time the truck took a sharp turn, I fell over— which gave the guard an excuse to jerk me back up by my hair and abuse me for falling over.

The truck finally stopped after a long ride, and we were herded into a field and tied to posts. I could hear voices and knew we had an audience. I thought, this is public execution time. I hoped they would shoot us and not behead us with swords.

A voice shouted with the equivalent of “Attention!”. The crowd grew quiet. Another voice gave a short speech and when he stopped, the guards started beating us. The crowd cheered. This was repeated four or five times. Then we just stood there for a while. We were untied and herded towards the crowd. They were lined up in two long rows and as we walked between them, they hit and kicked us. At one point my blindfold was knocked down and I saw our tormentors were high school age kids. It was a very terrifying experience.

They put us back on the truck and after another long ride we were unloaded and taken through a gate into a courtyard. We stood there for hours waiting our turn at interrogation. I learned by listening that five of my crew were there: Lieutenant Houghton and sergeants San Souci, Le Marca, Evans and myself. Lieutenant Houghton was injured and burned. I could smell his burned flesh. There was also a flyer from another plane. Sergeant Peterson, the top gunner, was missing. As we were going to the rear of the plane to bail out Peterson approached me, very scared, and without his parachute on. I told him he had better get his chute on, the airplane was going to blow up. I thought he probably had time to get it on and bail out before it did explode.

When my turn came I was led into a room, untied, and the blindfold removed. The interrogator was in civilian clothes, looked to be about 55 years old, and shouted every question at me in very hard-to-understand English. At the slightest provocation he would bang me on the head with a three foot long stick. If I flinched or anything he shouted, “Act like a soldier!.” I learned immediately I was never to show fear or pain or I was treated worse. The interrogation was a list of questions and he wrote down the answers.

I was led back to the courtyard. The whole time we were there people were coming out of the building, looking at us, laughing and getting in their kicks and hits. Probably around 2000 my guard said something, and a voice answered him in perfect English by spelling my name. He explained to me the guard wanted to know what the name tag on my jacket was.

Again, I was led into a room, my blindfold removed and wrists untied. This time I was facing a young Japanese officer. He told me that I was in Tokyo, in the hands of Military Police, that I was there for interrogation; and after they had obtained their information, which would take about two weeks, I would be moved to a Prisoner of War camp where conditions would be better. He was drinking hot tea and offered me some. He filled his cup and handed it to me. That was the best thing that happened to me all day.

The guard again blindfolded and tied me up and we returned to the court yard. After waiting an hour or so I was herded into another building. When the blindfold was removed I was standing in front of a wooden cell. After removing my shoes I crawled through a three-foot by three-foot door onto a wood floor. The door closed and was locked with a huge padlock. I was alone. In the left comer was a hole in the floor with a cover on top and a box below which was the toilet. There was a blanket and wrapping myself in it, I lay on the floor and slept soundly all night.

The building was a long single story, that had a concrete walkway on one side and six cells on the other. The cells were ten-feet wide and twelve-feet deep. The front was wood posts set about one inch apart. A small opening six inches high and twelve inches long at floor level cut in the posts was used to pass food and water into the cell. The walls were wood planks dividing the cells and you could see or whisper through the cracks in some places. The back wall had a small window placed against the ceiling that could not be reached, but at least you could see daylight. A light bulb was placed in the center of the ceiling and burned all the time. Behind this building was a pig pen. The pigs ate the Japanese mess hall garbage and supplied the cells with swarms of fleas, ticks and flies.

The main building where we were interrogated was the Kempi Tai Headquarters of a special military unit, like the Gestapo in Germany. It was a two story concrete structure with cells in the basement similar to those in the wooden building in the rear. We had a routine enforced by a patrolling guard which changed every eight hours. No talking or moving about in the cells. We were awakened at 0600 in the morning, sat with our backs against the walls until 2100 when we lay down. We were fed a baseball-size rice ball at 0800, 1300, and 1600 supplemented with a tablespoon full of greens, beans or vegetable one or two times a day. A small cup of water followed the food.

The Japanese never released any names or information about their prisoners. My mother and Rickie only knew that I was missing in action. But God gave my mother a dream. In this dream she saw me in a wooden cell counting out beans to other cell mates. This is exactly what we did and each person might get ten or twelve beans. From that dream she believed I was alive.

In the next few days I underwent three or four interrogations during which the Japanese wanted to know my personal history, military training, information on each mission flown, where the bombs hit, etc. When it came to the five fire-bombing missions, the interrogator insisted I say the fires killed innocent civilians. In the process, with him shouting, “Act like a soldier”, I asked him why I wasn’t being treated like a soldier under the Geneva Convention for treatment of POWs. Bang! Bang! Bang! Came the club. ‘”You are not a soldier! You bombed and killed innocent civilians! You are a criminal!”, he screamed at me. In the end I signed a fourteen-page confession containing the statement that I had killed innocent civilians on the five fire raids.

The flight engineer, Lieutenant Houghton, was in the cell to my right. I could not see him through the cracks but knew he was injured and burned. I tried to find out what happened to those in the front of the plane. But he was in shock and could not tell me. After about two weeks the Japanese knew he was dying and came and got him. They told me he was going to a POW camp. He was never seen again. [. . .]

On my second or third night in prison at 0900 P.M., the guard came down the cells telling us it was “lie down and sleep time.” When he came to my cell he told me goodnight in Japanese, and asked me how to say goodnight in English. I pretended to not understand that he wanted me to learn the Japanese phrase and teach him the American phrase. He repeated the phrase three or four times and started getting angry at no response from me. Thinking he understood very little English, when he said in Japanese, “Goodnight and American ……..?” I said, “American go to hell.” He immediately started cursing me in Japanese, ran down to the end of the cell block, filled a bucket with water, ran back to my cell and threw the water on me. My clothes were soaked, the floor in the cell was wet, the temperature was probably 40° and I was cold, wet and miserable for two or three days and nights. I caught a cold that lasted two weeks. I learned to be more cautious with the guards.

From that time on he became my personal tormentor. I named him “Double Ugly.” When he came on duty he delighted in coming to my cell and making me stand against the wood posts while he shoved his bayonet at me through the space between the posts. I would jump back avoiding the thrust. It was a big game to him, but could have been deadly for me if my timing was off.

[. . .]

I had been in the cell about a week when an injured P-51 pilot from Iwo Jima was brought to my cell. His forehead had a gash about three inches long and deep into the skull. Also his face and hands were burned. He was doing low altitude strafing and collided with some utility lines and crashed.

I poked food into his mouth, gave him water, helped him use the toilet, and kept him from scratching the scabs off his face and hands. He said the itching was almost intolerable. He lived but healed very slowly due to malnutrition.

[This] pilot attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology before entering the Army Air Corps. He told me he recognized the young Japanese officer, who had given me the cup of tea the first day, as a graduate of M.I.T., class of 1941 and that he had obviously just returned to Japan a few months before Pearl Harbor. No wonder he spoke perfect English.

San Souci, the right gunner, was added to the cell after about ten days of captivity. About four or five days later we got a shock when the guard came to the cell and said, “Reynoldo, we have your friend.” There stood Peterson, the top gunner. We had been wondering what had happened to him.

Like the rest of us, he had landed in the hills but he had decided to evade capture. (There was no escape plan from Japan.) All he had to eat was some plants and one craw fish. After fourteen days hunger drove him to approach a farm house. He saw the farmer and family were just starting to eat supper so he held his gun on them until he ate their food. Then he gave the startled farmer his gun and surrendered. The farmer got the police and then gave Pete a good beating for eating his food.

Pete had lost more weight than we had, but looked pretty good except for his foot. In his evasion he had gotten his foot wet and it had frozen and was black and swollen. It started paining him badly, so San Souci and I thought if we could get it lanced it would drain and reduce the pain. We talked the guard into lancing it by sticking his bayonet in it. We got the guard to get us a paper concrete bag from the construction outside and wrapped it around his foot to hold down the odor and drippings. We got a bag change whenever we could from a cooperative guard.

Prisoners were being brought in every day or so and they were segregated from the older prisoners. One time I was moved 10 the basement cells in the Headquarters building. When the cell door opened, I saw that the cell contained six or eight Japanese. One of them wore a military uniform. When the cell door closed, one of them asked if I was American. I replied, ‘”Yes.” He immediately stuck out his hand to shake hands with me. I backed away from him wondering what was happening. He said, “I Socialist. I Socialist.” It finally dawned on me he was talking about a political party. I got into a shoving hassle with the soldier about food once. I did not sleep very well lying down beside the enemy, but we shared the common miseries of hunger, cold, lice, and fleas.

By late April there were thirty to forty flyers in the jail brought in from all over Japan. One morning several guards came to the cells and started calling out names, giving them shoes, and saying they were being taken to a POW camp. Peterson was on the list. But six of us were left behind: four from my crew, the crew member captured the same day we were, and the P-51 pilot.

We were very disappointed. The next time the young Japanese officer came by I asked him why we were not taken to the POW camp. He said, “It has been determined that you six people have killed innocent civilians and are war criminals. You will be put on trial and executed.”

The propaganda radio program known as Tokyo Rose had said that flyers that attacked Japan would be killed. Some of the captured Doolittle flyers had been executed. We did not bother putting on our parachutes for the first three or four months of combat missions. But we were briefed in March that some flyers were being taken prisoner. We were not too shocked by his statement.

Again, captured flyers were brought into Kempi Tai a few at a time until the cells held thirty to forty. About May 20th all prisoners were again taken to a POW camp, we were told, except the six of us.

I found out after the war was over that both groups of prisoners did not go to a POW camp as claimed, but were in fact taken to another part of Tokyo and put in another jail. The building they were in caught fire on the 24th of May from the 600 B-29s fire raid and all were killed. U.S. authorities eventually identified sixty- six airmen that had perished.

I praise and thank God that He prevented the Japanese from carrying out their threats.

I spent most of my four and a half months at Kempi Tai in my original cell. It had contained a Doolittle flyer in 1942. On the wall he scratched his name, the date he arrived, and a calendar of sorts with thirty-seven scratches representing his days there. Below he had scratched, “I TRUST IN GOD.” I used to look at that and wonder what it really meant to trust in God. It was 1954 before I found out.

On May 24th and 26th, six hundred B-29s fire bombed Tokyo and destroyed the rest of the city. Fire bombs rained all around us, but none hit our wood building. The flames and smoke nearly choked us and the heat was almost unbearable, but we survived.

Thank you. Lord, for your mercy.

The Japanese defenses had been strengthened against the low-flying bombers. Antiaircraft guns had been moved on top of all concrete buildings and many into open lots. Since electrical power always failed, they devised a primitive but effective warning and firing plan.

The city was divided into small areas. Gongs were put in these areas to alert the gunners. When a B-29 was sighted, a gong would sound. The guns would start shooting at the plane if they could see it; if not, they shot as fast as they could with shells set to explode at the bombing altitude, expecting the plane to run into their fire. They shot down twenty-four planes the first night and twenty-eight the second night.

The planes carried canisters similar to fifty-gallon oil drums, loaded with little five-pound fire bombs. These canisters were dropped and then detonated at 2,000 feet altitude, raining burning fire bombs over a large area.

This is what it sounded like to us on the ground. We would hear the gong, the antiaircraft firing, the B-29 engines; then if the plane was hit, the crowds in the street would clap their hands. This was followed by the explosion from the detonator, and the little bombs exploding like firecrackers and falling down with a whistling sound. Then we would hear the shrieks of the people and the clatter of their wooden clogs as they scurried about dodging the falling bombs and the pools of fire.

In the next few days a lot of flyers were brought into Kempi Tai, several in bad condition. They were burned, injured and beaten by the population. Three or four that had inhaled flames died in a day or so. One flyer two cells from me was badly burned and in terrible pain. He alternated screaming with pain, begging the guards to kill him, and taunting them with every four-letter word imaginable, for two days and nights, before he quieted down. After about a week when it seemed like he was going to live, two guards took him out of his cell and killed him with their bayonets.

A co-pilot, who was the only survivor on his crew, told how as he was descending in his chute that the crowd followed under him on the ground. When he landed he was beaten, hung from a lamp post with his parachute shrouds, choked unconscious, cut loose and rescued by a soldier.

The cells became crowded as more flyers were brought in. We had fourteen in my cell. The small cells did not allow much floor space per man. With heads against the walls our legs overlapped to the knees. Most of us had to lie on our sides all night. For months after liberation I could not sleep on my sore sides, and to this day I cannot sleep with anyone touching me.

Abuse by the guards was getting worse. If we were caught talking, a common punishment was to do the Japanese kneel-down. On days when bombings had taken place, we all were made to kneel by the hour. Or they would make us stand up with arms raised. As things got worse for them, they retaliated against us more. Our water was reduced to three men per cup full, and one time we went without water for three days.

Another day around this time, there was a dull thud in the court yard and the guards were laughing. They told us a flyer had been pushed off the Headquarters building balcony and was killed when he struck the pavement in the courtyard.

I had a strong will to live fueled by two motivating forces—hate and love. I hated those Japanese guards. I spent hours upon hours planning how I would get even with them, finally deciding that when we were liberated I would capture the civilian interrogator and the guards, and put them in the cells we were in, and treat them like they treated us. That was the worst punishment I could think of.

My love for Rickie was the strongest motivating force. I could dose my eyes and visualize her in all her beauty. Though I could not feel her touch, I could just see her and know that she would be there when I got back to her.

In July the guards started telling us that the day U.S. forces invaded Japan all prisoners would be killed. It was obvious orders had come down from higher authority to this effect.

The Japanese were preparing for the invasion. Concrete pill boxes were being built in the prison area. Civilians were undergoing military training. We could hear a formation that met in the early morning once a week. They started off by singing their national anthem, then did exercises and close order drill, followed by bayonet practice with bamboo spears. If an invasion had taken place the loss of life would have been horrifying for the Americans and Japanese.

Around August 10th a Navy aircraft carrier pilot was brought in. Word from him got around that he heard on the radio just before take-off that some kind of new bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima and destroyed the city. We could not imagine that, and thought perhaps it was an exaggeration.

On August 15th we were awakened at 0500 in the morning, one hour early. Breakfast rice was brought at 0600 instead of the usual 0800. Shortly thereafter a group of guards came in and started calling off the names of prisoners, one cell at a time. Shoes were made available, blindfolds were put on and arms were tied as usual. But it was strange that the guards were not knocking us around. I complained that the rope around my wrists was too tight and it was loosened. We were told we were going to that long awaited POW camp. There were 125 prisoners.

After a long truck convoy ride, followed by a wait on the trucks for an hour or so, we were unloaded, untied, and blindfolds removed. We were near a sandy beach on a small island in a bay. Next, we gladly obeyed the order to strip our filthy lice and flea-ridden clothes off and get in the water. It was warm salt water and felt wonderful. A couple of tanned and muscled British POWs appeared and with sticks gingerly loaded our clothes on a cart and left to wash them.

After wading around in the water for a while, we were directed to a fenced compound and taken to a barracks. A fiber mat was provided to lie on and we were ordered to stay in the barracks. Lunch was brought to us on a cart. The rice was hot, tasteful and more than we got for all three meals previously. Our clothes were returned dean and bug-free. The British said they boiled them to kill the lice.

That afternoon a Colonel Charmichael came to our barracks. He was a B-29 Group Commander in China when he was shot down. He told us another Group Commander from Saipan named King and forty-eight other flyers were in a nearby barracks, but were kept segregated from the British. Even so, he heard from the British that Japan had surrendered, but the guards were not saying anything. He said if we were patient we would surely know something in a few days. Sure enough, in a day or so a Navy fighter buzzed the camp and dropped a carton of cigarettes with a note that said the war was over and they would be in to get us in a few days.

In the meantime we were living in hog heaven. Our hair was clipped down to the scalp because we had scabies. Razors were supplied and we shaved. A big wooden tub was filled with hot water. We soaped up and rinsed off and then entered that steaming hot water for a few minutes. All of this was a first in five months for us six “war criminals”. The food remained plentiful and tasty. We relished the freedom of lazing in the sun and talking to each other until we were hoarse.

I was a skeleton, but in good health, except my knees and ankles were swollen and ached. Also, my lips and the end of my tongue had bad cracks in them. We got to see the British doctor in three or four days, and he said my condition was caused by malnutrition and vitamin shortage. The Japanese gave us some Red Cross supplies they had been withholding, and we got several boxes containing 3000 vitamin tablets which we ate like candy.

powdropAfter a few days the guards painted large PW letters on the roofs of our buildings. General McArthur had ordered them to identify all POW camps by this means.

A couple of days later a B-29 appeared flying low and parachuted us oil drums filled with food. So, during the last week in captivity we had all the meat, vegetables, and fruit we could eat. With all that good food for two weeks, I gained at least ten pounds, but I was still very weak.

The last few days we mingled with the other group of flyers. There were 3000 flyers missing in action during the air war on Japan. Only 175 lived to the end of the war. I thank God that I was one of those who survived.

-o0|0o-

francis e. reynolds
S/Sgt. Francis (Frank) Reynolds was a B-29 gunner in the 498th BG, 874th Squadron based on Saipan. He retired with the rank of Lt. Col. USAF.

From a manuscript e-mailed to me by Gib Buckbee, whose father was a friend of Reynolds.

 

498th Bombardment Group Info (1944-1946)

498th Bombardment Group Book
498th Bombardment Group Book

If you visit here please take a minute to scroll down this page to my Seeking 498th Veterans section in the hope that you may be able to provide information to relatives seeking traces of their fathers, uncles, and brothers of the 498th.

The 498th Bombardment Group was a B-29 group that was based on Saipan and operated against Japan from late in 1944 until the end of the Second World War.

The 498th was formed in November 1943 as part of the 73rd Bombardment Wing, the second B-29 combat wing to be formed. The group was originally meant to accompany the 58th Bombardment Wing to India, but that plan was abandoned in April 1944 and instead the wing was assigned to the Mariana Islands.

Saipan was captured after a battle that lasted from 15 June to 9 July 1944. Work on airfields for the B-29s began well before the Japanese had been defeated, and between 24 June and 6 August a 6,000ft long by 150ft wide runway had been completed at Isley Field. The first elements of the 73rd Bombardment Wing arrived on 24 August, and the four bombardment groups soon followed. The 498th was the first group to arrive, officially taking up residence on 6 September.

On 28 October the 497th and 498th Groups took part in the wing’s first combat mission, sending eighteen B-29s to bomb Truk. Fourteen aircraft bombed the Dublon submarine pens, with the 498th getting a quarter of its bombs in the right area. The 497th and 498th returned to Truk again on 30 October, although this time poor weather obscured the target. A third raid against Truk on 2 November was also unsuccessful.

The next target for the group was Iwo Jima, which was hit on 5 and 8 November.

On 24 November the wing carried out its first attack against Tokyo, aiming at the major aircraft engine factory at Musashi. This mission, code named San Antonio I, was very carefully planned, although bad weather on Saipan delayed it for a week from its original date of 17 November. All four of the wing’s groups were involved and 111 B-29s took off from Saipan. The Japanese managed to put up around 125 fighters, but there was only one success, when one fighter appeared to ram a B-29 in the tail. Only 24 aircraft actually bombed Musashi, with another 64 hitting other parts of Tokyo. Overall the wing lost two aircraft destroyed and another 11 were damaged (three by friendly fire).

After this first raid the wing spent the next four months carrying out high level daylight precision raids against Japanese aircraft factories. These didn’t have the expected result, and XXI Bomber Command began to experiment with low-level incendiary raids. The last of the high altitude attacks on the aircraft industry was another failed raid on Musashi on 4 March. After this General LeMay, commander of XXI Bomber Command, decided to shift to night incendiary bombing, beginning with a raid on Tokyo on the night of 9/10 March. The new tactic was a dramatic success – losses dropped as the Japanese fighter force struggled to deal with night fighting and Japan’s cities burned. The group focuses on low level night bombing for the rest of the war.

The group was awarded two Distinguished Unit Citations. The first came during the daytime period and was for a raid on an aircraft engine factory at Nagoya on 13 December 1944. The second was for nighttime raids against Kobe and Osaka in June 1945.

The group returned to the United States in November 1945. It was assigned to Strategic Air Command on 21 March 1946, but was inactivated on 4 August.

(Source: http://www.historyofwar.org/air/units/USAAF/498th_Bombardment_Group.html)

More history: 498th Bombardment Group
498th BG book: “The Twenty Niner”
Photographs: 498th BG, 873rd Squadron


Below are some 498th BG veterans, whose families, and friends have graciously lent me pictures and names to put up on this site.

If you visit here please take a minute to scroll down this page to my Seeking 498th Veterans section in the hope that you may be able to provide information to relatives seeking traces of their fathers, uncles, and brothers of the 498th.


J. Creedon's Crew
T-square 36 “Tokyo Raiders” (25 missions)

T-square 36 “Tokyo Raiders” (25 missions)
J. Creedon (AC), W. King (CP), R.V. Thomas (N), A. McNicoll (B), F.L. Ackerman (V), C. Moden (FE), C. Cary (RO), C.N. Schultz (TG), L. Devries (RG), E.R. Jenkins (LG), D.W. Perkins (CFC)
T-36 shot-up from enemy aircraft and flak on 5 June 1945 over Kobe. After an emergency landing on Iwo Jima crew reassigned to T-33
Information courtesy of George Schultz (son of C.N. Schultz)


R.Stickney's Crew
Crew-T42, 875th Bomb Squadron

Crew-T42, 875th Bomb Squadron
H.A. Brandt*, R.C. Stickney (AC), L.E. Winslow, R.F. Thompson, J.N. Herowitz (Hurwitz?)
J.L. Boyd, J.P. Quinn, Thomas*, J.O. Merriwether, P.M. Haines (Haynes?), E.M. Zeohe (Zeone?)
T-42 Crashed in the Marianas on Anatahan on their first mission (no survivors).
*Not on fatal flight.
Information courtesy of Curt Kessler.


R.Livingston's Crew
R. Livingston’s Crew, 874th Bomb Squadron

R. Livingston’s Crew, 874th Bomb Squadron
R.A. Livingston (AC), R.D. Town, C.E. McCoy, O. Baskin, M. Melbostad, S. Cook
N. Cure, M.A. Palmer, F.J. Whitney, B.O. Hopsan, J.B. Comeaux
Information courtesy of Sue Erickson.


H.Taylor's Crew
H. Taylor’s Crew, 874th Bomb Squadron

H. Taylor’s Crew, 874th Bomb Squadron
R. Mossholder (LG), J. McDonald (CFC), R. Northrup (RN), D. Miller (TG), C. Green (RG), W. Clecker (RO), J. Damm (B), W. Blume (N), H. Taylor (AC), A. Nevotti (CP), M. Gardner (FE)
Information courtesy of Bill Blume (Son of W. Blume).


Cassady Crew
Cassady Crew, 874th Bomb Squadron

Cassady Crew, 874th Bomb Squadron


Devil's Darlin' Crew
Devil’s Darlin’ Crew, 873rd Bomb Squadron

Devil’s Darlin’ Crew, 873rd Bomb Squadron
Silk, Burton, Malone, Kossoff, Woods, Clarke, Schiffine, Osborne, Dayoff, Ritchie, Dijeweke


McClendon Crew
Lee McClendon Crew, 874th Bomb Squadron

Lee McClendon Crew, 874th Bomb Squadron
David Beckett, Paul J. Sobonya, Lee McClendon, Arthur J. Petro, James W. Bissantz, Travis P. Watkins, J. Edwin Barnitz, Edward C. Kane, Hubert C. Nalcton, Virgil L. Young, Alfred D. Peck.


MoosmannGroup
Unidentified crew, 874th Squadron
1., 2., 3. Pilot, 4., 5. Tsgt. Roger Moosmann (CFC), 6., 7., 8., 9.-11. (not shown).


If you visit here please take a minute to look below in the hope that you may be able to provide information to relatives seeking traces of their fathers, uncles, and brothers of the 498th.

Seeking 498th Bombardment Squadron Vets

These are people who have e-mailed me seeking information about their 498th Bombardment Group fathers, uncles, and friends who, for whatever reason, were unable to pass on much information to their children and siblings before their deaths.

If you have any information about these Saipan 498th BG veterans please e-mail me.

1. Barbara Bernier seeks service information about her father:
498th BG, 875th Sq.
1st. Lt. Donald M. Bernier (Pilot, AM)
Box 275, Whitefish, MT (1945)

2. Elizabeth Young seeks information about her father:
498th BG, 874th Sq.
1st. Lt. Frank Mitchell, Jr. (Nav./bomb., DFC-2, AM-4, OLC)
7243 Stoney Island Ave., Chicago, IL (1945)

3. Jeffrey Dale seeks information about his grandfather:
73rd Wing, Saipan (BG and squadron unknown).
Sgt. Raymond L. Dombrzal (Tail gunner)

4. Annette Boose seeks information about:
498th BG, 873rd Sq.
Cpl. Edward Boose (Capt. Kilgo’s crew, MIA 10/27/45)
121 H West St., Norwalk, OH

5. B-29 Crew Photo
I have a photo of Crew #42 of the 875th:
Brandt; Richard L. Stickney; Landon E. Winslow; Richard F. Thompson, Jr,; Julius N. Hurwitz (Herowitz?); Jack L. Boyd; John P. Quinn; Robert J. Thomas; James O. Merriwether; Paul M. Haynes (Haines?); Edward M. Zeone (Zeohe?)
It is possible that Howard H. King and John E. Burns were at one time also on this crew which is listed as missing in action in the 498th BG record book “The Twenty Niner.”


B-29 Combat Mission Logs of Wm. C. Atkinson, Radar Navigator (1945)

20th Air Force, 73rd Wing, 498th Bombardment Group, 874th Squadron, Isley Field, Saipan, Marianas

IMG_4606
Crew #121
Mission- 5, Tachikawa
Milne, Atkinson [author], Shaw, Harris, Foster, Spiller, Hyman, Norris, Jensvold
Wasowski (VanWormer, photographer?)
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

Southern Belle 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.

B29Navigator
B29 Navigator

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. 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.]

Everyone smoked.

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.

Brief Cover [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 paralled it and then broke out on the Tokyo plain with Musashino and #357 dead ahead.

Fuji San [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
individually.


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].

'Torchy' [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.

The plan:
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.”
“Roger.”
“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.

45050501_IwoWhiskey
Walter Wasowski and Mt. Suribachi (of flag-planting fame)

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.

[Everyone talked about “foo-fighters but I never heard any rational description of one or whether they existed at all. Here is another link.]

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.
0111- Futtsu.
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.


Group BookReference: 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.