ERIC MUNDAY, colour plates by TERRY HADLER, JERRY SCUTTS, TOM BRITTAIN, CHRIS WARNER
USAAF BOMBER UNITS PACIFIC 1941-45
On the night of 16-17 March, 307 Superfortresses dumped over 2,300 tons of fire bombs into Kobe, one of Japan's most important ports and transport centres. The attack lasted only 128 minutes, and almost three square miles of the city were left in ruins. Although the staff of the 21st BC considered that the a tuck was not as damaging to the city as they hoped, many industrial targets, including a shipyard, were badly hit.
The fifth and last attack in this series was a second fire raid on Nagoya. Launched on the night of 19 March, one- third of the aircraft carried two 500 lb HF. bombs to disrupt the fire services of the target city - by now, practically all stocks of incendiaries in the Marianas were becoming exhausted. Of the force of 313 dispatched, 290 Superfortresses burned out three square miles of the city, and several important targets, amongst them Nagoya arsenal, the rail yards, and an aero-engine factory , were destroyed.
In ten days, the 21st BC had dispatched 1,595 aircraft against Japan, and had dropped over 9,000 tons of bombs, practically all of them incendiaries. Four of Japan's major cities were left with huge areas of fire-blackened devastation. The Superfortresses had won a major victory and the March 'fire-blitz' had succeeded in a manner which could hardly have been foreseen when such raids had been planned. Some of LeMay's crews had flown on all five missions, and all aircrews were tired. Ground crews had been involved in hours of almost non-stop work and were exhausted.
However, after a short rest, the Superfortresses were out in force after different targets. The 21st BC. was called upon to support the Okinawa campaign, with the landing due on 1 April 1945.
From 29 March, B-29s attacked airfields in Kyushu, the southernmost island of Japan proper, airfields from which the Japanese launched many attacks against the US fleet off Okinawa. As the threat from Kamikaze attacks increased, so the B-29s of the Marianas-based 21st BC increased their attacks on the airfields in southern Japan. By mid-May. however, US airfields on Okinawa were handling enough aircraft to release the Superfortresses from their airfield strike task.
At the same time as the airfield attacks on Kyushu were launched, the command launched the first of many sea mining sorties, which had been in the planning stage for several months. LeMay delegated the task to Brig.-Gen.
John H. Davis of the 313th Wing, the first mission being flown on the night of 27-28 March by 105 Superfortresses. Each bomber carried a six-ton load of 1,000 and 2,000lb mines, which were released by parachute at heights of 5,000 to 8,000ft, using standard AN/APQ-13 radar. Some flak was encountered from enemy shipping in the target area, the Shimonoseki Strait, and three B-29s were lost. Many further mining operations were flown by the 313th Wing, which proved to be a most effective method of destroying Japanese shipping. By the end of the war, in conjunction with submarine operations of the US Navy, practically all Japanese shipping activity had been strangled. Eventually the mining task fell to the 504th BG of the 313th Wing, which, except for a short period of twelve days in July 1945, successfully completed the B-29's anti-shipping activities single-handed.
Following the raids on airfields in support of the Okinawa operations and the inauguration of the mining campaign, the Superfortresses returned to the destruction of cities. Stocks of incendiary bombs were built up after the March blitz; and the command launched a series of strikes on the major Japanese cities beginning in April 1945. This included daylight precision attacks, daylight urban area incendiary attacks and night area attacks on the March pattern. Parts of the major cities which had remained undamaged in earlier raids were bombed, and the aiming points were moved around to eliminate whole areas of commerce and industry.
In mid-June, a series of attacks was begun against smaller Japanese cities (those with populations of 100,000 to 200,000), following the established pattern of fire raids at night. One combat wing of Superfortresses attacked each city, and on most occasions four cities were bombed on the same night.
By early May 1945, the operations of the 20th BC in India and China had been closed down, and the entire 58th Wing, with its four bomb groups, the 40th, 444th, 462nd and 468th. was moved to a newly built airfield on Tinian. The 58th Wing flew its first mission from the Marianas on 5 May, a raid on Kure.
The 21st BC now consisted of four Superfortress wings, the 73rd, 313th, 314th and 58th, each based on its own airfield. A further wing arrived in the Marianas and began operations in June 1945. This was the 315th, the fifth and last B-29 consisting of the 16th, 331st, 501st and 502nd Bomb Groups, which was based on a second airfield on Guam. Earlier, the 21st BC had experimented with night precision attacks on small targets, but the AN/APQ-13 radar proved unsuitable for this technique, although it was used for the urban area fire raids. However, the aircraft used by the 315th Wing were B-29Bs, the fastest version of the Superfortress. Built by Bell at Atlanta, this model deleted all defensive armament except the tail guns, which had a built-in radar-controlled fire system. Removal of the heavy turrets and Central Fire Control (CFC) system of the earlier Superfortresses saved much weight and in addition the B-29B had the new high-definition AN/APQ-7 (Eagle) radar, which could seek out small, specific targets. Training of the four groups of the 315th had emphasized precision night attacks by radar instead of formation flying and visual bombing.
The 315th Wing was allocated the task of destroying the Japanese oil industry, and flew all its missions against such targets. After a few initial shakedown strikes against Japanese-held islands, the wing flew its first mission against a Japanese oil refinery on 26 June and by 14 August (VJ Day) it had flown fifteen missions against ten oil refineries, losing only four Superfortresses. Over 1,200 sorties were dispatched in these attacks and very heavy bomb loads, up to ten tons per aircraft, were carried.
In May 1945 another unit, known as the 509th Composite Group, came to Tinian, with only one Superfortress squadron instead of the usual three per group and, unusually, a C-54 Skymaster-equipped transport squadron. It moved into a hardstand area on Tinian, adjacent to the 313th Wing, and promptly used its own tough military police unit to bar a number of buildings to non-509th personnel. No outside personnel knew anything of the 509th, and all its activities were cloaked in the utmost secrecy.
The unit's orders were received direct from 20th AF headquarters, and its tactics differed from those of all other Superfortress groups. These consisted of attacks by small numbers of B-29s, each aircraft dropping a single large bomb on a Japanese city. The bombs were released at a great height, and the release was followed by a rapid turn and dive away from the target.
Because of the secrecy surrounding its operations, and the fact that its aircraft and crews did not take part in the mass raids flown by the other groups, the 509th inevitably became the object of some barbed witticisms from other units on Tinian.
In July 1945 came a number of wholesale organizational changes to the command structure of the B-29 force. The 21st BC became the HQ 20th AF, and the Washington- based command was discontinued. General Doolittle brought a nucleus of his European-based 8th AF to Okinawa to establish a Superfortress organization on that island, many of his staff coming from the now defunct 20th BC. headquarters in India.
The Commander of the US Army Strategic and Tactical Air Force was Gen. Spaatz, who was to control 20th and 8th Air Forces' attacks on Japan. He had had a similar function in Europe, controlling the UK-based 8th AF and the Italian-based 15th AF. The way was now clear for an invasion of Japan, planned for 1 November 1945.
However, on 6 August came the news that the city of Hiroshima had been devastated by a single bomb dropped by an aircraft of the 509th Group. The bomb was an atomic weapon. American scientists had perfected the bomb under conditions of the greatest secrecy, and a test weapon had been exploded in the desert at Alamagordo in New Mexico on t6 July. The crews were briefed to expect an explosion equivalent to about 10,000 tons of conventional high explosive, but this estimate was, as later events showed, much too low.
The first bomb, a uranium weapon, was ready for use on 6 August 1945, and the 509th Composite Group was ordered to drop it on either Hiroshima, Kokura or Nagasaki. The 509th Group's Superfortress squadron, the 393rd BS, consisted of fifteen specially prepared aircraft, and a task force of seven aircraft was briefed to make the attack.
B-25Js lined up on Iwo Jima, 27 June 1945. Each strafer model mounts no less than twelve fixed forward-firing guns, a formidable battery without flexible guns, which brought the type's gun armament to eighteen. When even this weight of firepower was boosted by eight high-velocity aircraft rockets, the B-25J was the most heavily armed aircraft in the US inventory at the end of WWII. With a single glazed nose J model in the line, these aircraft are almost certainly from the 7th Air Force's 41st BG and may have later received OD and grey camouflage in common with the vast majority of Pacific-based medium bombers.
Three of these bombers were to fly over the three target cities, and radio a weather report to the strike aircraft. This B-29, captained by Col. Paul W. Tibbetts, carried the bomb. Two others were to act as instrument and photography aircraft, with a seventh in reserve. The latter was to be positioned on Iwo Jima, in case Tibbetts's aircraft had to divert there with any kind of malfunction.
Shortly before the take-off for Hiroshima, Tibbetts had his mother's name 'Enola Guy' painted on the nose of the bomb-carrying aircraft, a name by which the most famous Superfortress has been known ever since.
The 'Enola Gay' arrived over Hiroshima, the primary target, at 0815hrs after a completely uneventful flight. The bomb had been armed in flight by Capt. William S. Parsons, USN, in case a take-off crash caused an atomic explosion on Tinian.
The bomb was released at a height of 31,600ft, and immediately it had left the aircraft, Tibbetts pulled his B-29 into oft-rehearsed 150-dcgree turn away from the target. The bomb was exploded by radar proximity fuses at a height of 1,850ft. A scaring flash and enormous explosion was followed by the now-familiar mushroom-shaped cloud, which reached a height of over 50,000ft, the top of it being visible from the Superfortresses at a distance of 390 miles. The reason for the unusual tactics of the 509th was now apparent. 'Enola Gay' made an uneventful landing back on Tinian, to be met by senior staff officers, pressmen and their cameras.
It was fully expected that the Japanese would surrender following the first atomic attack. When no such move was forthcoming, the 20th AF ran a 131-aircraft mission against Tokokawa on 7 August and an incendiary mission against Yawatta on the 8th. With still no word of surrender from the Japanese, a second atomic strike was scheduled for 9 August, using a plutonium bomb, identical to the weapon tested in the New Mexico desert on 16 July except for the addition of fins.
The primary target was Kokura and Nagasaki the secondary; planning for this second strike was similar to that for the first. Weather reconnaissance aircraft were to precede the weapon carrier and indicate whether the target was clear for visual bombing. As on the Hiroshima strike, the orders specified a visual drop. However, the trouble-free flight of 'Enola Gay' was not to be repeated for 'Bock's Car', the bomb carrier on the Nagasaki strike. Just before take-off, it was found that 600 gallons of much-needed fuel were trapped in a bomb bay fuel tank by a faulty fuel pump. On the trip up to Japan, more fuel was used while fruitlessly circling when a photographic aircraft missed a rendezvous.
Kokura was covered by cloud, but three runs were made in case a lost-minute break in the cloud cover made a visual bomb run possible. After the third run, the task force left for Nagasaki. As that city was also clouded in, a radar run- in was started, a method of attack decided upon because of the now urgent fuel situation. However, at the last moment, the bombardier of 'Bock's Car' got a good sighting of the city, and made a visual drop. Again a huge mushroom cloud rose above the stricken city.
The B-29's combat career began and ended with supply flights, the latter being to prisoners of war immediately after the Japanese surrender, With the lettering 'PW SUPPLIES' barely visible under its port wing, 'Re-amatroid' also exhibits the last four digits of the serial on its fin and the identifying markings of the 6th Bomb Group, which include red cowling panels und fin tip. The pirate's head badge of the 6th is carried on the distinctive flaming comet on the nose.
The pilot of the atomic bomb carrier, Maj. Sweeney, circled for a short time and then turned for an emergency landing on Okinawa to refuel. Here emergency radio calls were not heard by the tower and various coloured flares were shot from 'Bock's Car' before those on the ground realized the aircraft was in trouble. There was very little fuel left apart from the inaccessible 600 gallons, and the aircraft only just made a safe landing on Okinawa. After refuelling it flew back to Tinian the same day.
The second atomic attack convinced the Japanese that there was no other course open to them except capitulation. After some delay, they accepted the Allied unconditional surrender terms on 15 August. Between 9 and 14 August, however, other conventional attacks were made by 20th AF's Superfortresses.
After the Japanese surrender, which was broadcast by Emperor Hirohito, the Superfortresses, along with other aircraft, flew over Japan and located many prisoner-of-war camps. These were followed by low-flying formation flights to parachute food and medical requirements into the camps.
The surrender stopped many planned operations and deployments of bomber units. The 'new' 8th AF did not fly a bomber operation, although it controlled some fighter operations by groups reassigned to it from the 7th AF. The redeployment of the 8th's bomber groups from England had barely started. The first 8th AF bomber wing headquarters, the 316th Wing, had arrived on Okinawa, and was in process of setting up its organization. Aircraft of two of the wing's component groups, the 346th and 383rd, had started to arrive, but were too late to fly combat missions before VJ Day. The two groups did make a few 'show-of-force' and reconnaissance sorties just after 15 August, however.
In the 5th AF, the 319th Group, equipped with A-26 Invaders, had arrived on Okinawa and had just become operational. This group had flown B-26 Marauders and B-25 Mitchells in combat in the Mediterranean, and was the first ex-European group to move to the Pacific theatre.
The A-26 had begun to replace the A-20 Havoc in the 5th AF; the 3rd Group was converted to the new attack bomber by VJ Day, and the 417th would have followed suit if the war had continued.
A quartet of A-26 Invaders of the 319th BG, with the nearest aircraft retaining the white numerals on black marking of the Mediterranean area, where the group had previously been based. Along with the 3rd BG, the 319th operated Invaders in the Pacific during the closing weeks of the war.
A planned re-equipment of the 312th BG from A-20 Havocs to B-32 Dominators had just begun, and the latter had carried out a few raids from Luzon bases, before moving up to Okinawa. Only the 386th Sqn. had been re-equipped by VJ Day and the B-32 had more than its share of teething troubles. Conceived as a back-up design in case the Superfortress failed, the Dominator reached the 5th AF when Gen. Kenney asked for this type after B-29s were refused him, Despite its poor engineering record, the Dominator claimed the last Japanese aircraft shot down by US bombers, during reconnaissance/show-of-force flights on 17 and 18 August, after the Japanese surrender. There was considerable confusion at this time and some Japanese units did not believe the surrender orders. On the 17th, one enemy fighter was claimed and two more the following day; the losses among Dominator crews were one killed and two seriously wounded.
Superfortresses continued their air drops to PoW camps until 20 September 1945, by which time the camps had been reached by ground forces. With this work of mercy the activities of the US bomber fleets in the Pacific ended, and the aircraft were either scrapped or flown home. In the USA many were scrapped, but a large number of B-29s were 'cocooned' in plastic against the future requirements of the USAAF. The war was indeed over.