PART I | Pirates Log Historical Record
A RARE HISTORICAL RECORD OF THE 6TH BOMBARDMENT GROUP
EDITORS NOTE | This is the most important of 6th Bomb Group documents because it was written as an official memoir of the war for 6th Bomb Group veterans by officers immediately following the war. It was written by 2nd Lt. W.M. Rice under the supervision of 6th Bomb Group Deputy Commander Lt. Col T.W. Tucker (Commanding Officer at the time of writing). It was first printed in April 1946 just following the transfer of the 6th Bomb Group from Tinian to Clark Field in the Philippines. Most of the photographs are from Pfc. William (Bill) Webster who used a professional large format 4×5 Speed Graphic camera exposing 4″ x 5″ format film. The 6th Bomb Group Association offers high quality lithographic prints (using the original negatives, shortly after its formation in 1984) of the Pirate’s Log for $30 per copy. Scroll down for PayPal link. The story of those photographs and the Pirate’s Log is included in the Bill Webster Photos video on our website: Bill Webster Photography from Tinian Island
“The Pirate’s Log attempts to tell the story of the people of the Sixth Bomb Group from reactivation. of the Group in April 1944 to its departure from Tinian for the Philippines in February 1946. We tried to refresh your memories not only of the long bombing missions to the Empire but also of the little things that make reflections pleasant. Our purpose was to give those who lived the events related herein a fitting souvenir booklet.” –Lt. W.M. Rice
The history of the Sixth Bombardment Group (Very Heavy) is a success story best described with the phrase – “Mission Accomplished!” Like the hero of an Horatio Alger story the Sixth Pirateers had a humble beginning and a glorious finish.
Early in the war the Sixth Group was stationed in the Caribbean area and assigned the laborious duty of the air defense of the Panama Canal, flying medium bomber type aircraft. Compare this with the Sixth Group of August 1, 1945, a B-29 Very Long Range bombardment group of three squadrons stationed at North Field, Tinian of the Marianas Islands, one of four bomb groups in the 313th Wing. On that day forty-seven crews were being briefed or a maximum effort, Army Air Force Day, night incendiary mission against the Japanese manufacturing center at the city of Nagaoka, northwest of Tokyo.
Brigadier General John H. Davies attended the briefing to commend personally the Sixth Bomb Group. His statement: “During the month of July the 313th Bomb Wing led all the Wings of the XXI Bomber Command in performance records and the Sixth Group led all the groups in the 313th Wing” The best group in the 313th Bomb Wing by accurate, devastating damage done to the Japanese nation. The best group in the XXI Bomber Command by actual results. A commendable accomplishment! A job well done!
The original Sixth Bomb Group was organized at France Field in the Panama Canal Zone, in September, 1919. Several redesignations occurred between that date and January, 1923, when the group was changed to the Sixth Composite Group. In September of 1937, the Group was redesignated the Sixth Bombardment Group and served in Panama as one of the air force units charged with the defense of the Panama Canal. During the summer of 1943 the Group was inactivated and returned to the United States.
On 1 April 1944 the Sixth Group was reactivated by the Second Air Force under direction of the War Department as the Sixth Bombardment Group (Very Heavy) and was one of the units destined to fly the new, secret B-29’s. Reactivation took place at the Dalhart, Texas, Army Air Field. Reactivated as subordinate units assigned to the Sixth were the 24th Bombardment Squadron, the 39th Bombardment Squadron, the 40th Bombardment Squadron, and the 22nd Photo Laboratory. Many of the men who made up the embryo organization were originally members of the Ninth Bombardment Group stationed at Orlando, Florida, or former members of the Orlando AAF base sections. The movement of the men making up these cadres from Orlando to Dalhart by troop train was under the command of Capt Thomas Stryker, who later became Major Stryker, Executive Officer of the 24th Squadron.
At the time of the reactivation Major William E.Taylor was Commanding Officer. He was later succeeded by Lt Col Howard D. Kenzie. While at Dalhart, various sections were sent to training schools in different parts of the U.S. A cadre under Lt Col Kenzie’s command returned to AAFT AC at Orlando to be trained in the organization of sections; mechanics went to the Almagordo AAF in New Mexico and to the B-29 training school at Boeing Aircraft’s Seattle factory. This was to be a B-29 Bomb Group, yet no one had seen a B-29 or was familiar with any part of the new ship. These were the days of fanciful speculations and exaggerated rumors. Some typical stories were: A B-29 could fly non-stop around the world; it carried armament equal to a light cruiser; it carried the bomb load of a B-17 squadron.
MOVE TO GRAND ISLAND
On 23 May 1944 the Group, consisting of five officers and 475 enlisted men, left Dalhart for Grand Island, Nebraska, by troop train. Grand Island Army Air Field was to be the scene of their transitional training under the supervision of the Second Air Force through the 17th Bombardment Operational Training Wing. Grand Island was a town of 20,000 people on the plains of south-central Nebraska. It offered the usual amount of recreational facilities. The Capital, the Grand and the Island theaters…the Yancey Hotel, Hotel Stratton and the Palmer House…the Glovers’ Ball Room and the American Legion Club… all served the off-post entertainment needs of the Sixth.
Soon after arriving at Grand Island, on the 17th of June, the man who was to guide the Group through seven months of aerial combat, Colonel Kenneth H. Gibson, assumed command of the organization. At this time the, squadron commanders were Major William C. Taylor, 24th; Major John W. Osborn, 39th; Major Louis M. Sowers, 40th. Early in July, Lt Col Theodore W. Tucker joined the Sixth and assumed command of the 40th Squadron on the 12th of the month. Major Sowers became the squadron operations officer and later moved to the 24th Squadron in the same capacity. On the 29th of July, Lt Col Carlo C. Pratt succeeded Major Taylor as Commanding Officer of the 24th Squadron.
The greatest problem confronting the Sixth at Grand Island was training. Fifty per cent of the pilots came directly from school while seventy per cent of the bombardiers and ninety-four per cent of the navigators were newly commissioned. Lack of extensive experience was also true of the line personnel. Schools were set up in all the phases of technical training for the ground echelon by Capt Forest P. Johns, Group Plans and Training Officer. Training of the air echelon was to begin 1 August when enough of the new crews would be on hand to make it practicable. All maintenance personnel underwent twenty-five hours of classroom training directed by specialists who had returned from the Boeing School in Seattle and by a staff of civilian technical representatives. Boeing Aircraft sent two experts; Wright Aeronautical, two; and Minneapolis-Honeywell and General Electric, one each. The special projects section was given the task of constructing the various trainers required by the extensive training program.
The communications section studied cryptographic security and teletype operation, but early classes in radar were delayed for lack of suitable equipment. Meanwhile all personnel were being trained in basic military subjects such as Safeguarding Military Information, First Aid, Malaria Control and Chemical Warfare. By the end of July ninety-five per cent of the men had qualified on the carbine and had completed the familiarization course on the sub-machine gun.
The Group’s first B-29 came on 13 June 1944 and was looked upon in awe by everyone as if it were a museum piece. Previously most of the Group’s flying time had been in B-17’s. New air crew members were arriving daily. Gunners and pilots from Lincoln and Clovis. Navigators and bombardiers from San Marcus and Deming. A combat organization was being built. For training missions the Group sent flights to the Central City or Broken Bow ranges for bombing and gunnery practice, or to nearby large cities on “Camera Bombing” missions. Longer missions for practice in over-water flights were made to the Borinquen AAB in Porto Rico and to the Batista AAB near Havana, Cuba. Maintenance was divided into three shifts under the direction of Capt Robert 0. Baum, Group Engineering Officer. The daylight shift worked from 0800 to 1600; the swing shift from 1600 to midnight; and the graveyard shift was on duty from midnight until 0800. Routine of the daylighters was broken by trips to the Esquire Room for coffee and doughnuts. The swing shift took time off for supper at 1800, while the graveyard shift had their early morning work pleasantly interrupted with chow at 0300.
On 31 July 1944, General Henry H. Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Forces, dropped in at Grand Island for a quick look at the Sixth. At this time General Hap was also Commanding Officer of the Twentieth Air Force and kept a close check on the progress of the early B-29 Groups. Col Gibson of the Sixth and the Base Commander, Col Downs E. Ingram, were on hand to greet “The Chief.”
Ground military training reached its highest point early in August when the three squadrons of the Group marched ten miles from the base to a campsite near the North Platte River for a three day bivouac. The bivouac featured flour-sack bombing and an attack by an infantry regiment as all personnel were put to the test of living in the field.
Late in August the men of the three squadrons were given a new way of identifying each other. Mr. Arthur S. Storz, an Omaha brewer, donated over 1,800 brightly colored baseball caps to the Group. Yellow caps for the 24th Squadron; red for the 39th; and blue for the 40th. From that day on it was a simple matter to spot the members of the different squadrons as the caps were made a part of any uniform worn on the Base. The squadrons were henceforth referred to by their color. This was an influential factor in boosting squadron esprit de corps.
Another incidental event which occurred during August was the new policy of the Group intelligence section of presenting world news and interpretations of the news to include new military tactics and weapons. These interesting programs were presented thrice weekly. The overseas movement of the Sixth, originally scheduled for some time in September, was postponed about two months. However, soon after the first of September, cadres of the 502nd Bombardment Group, (VH), the unit which was scheduled to train at Grand Island following the Sixth’s departure, began arriving at the base.
COLORS PRESENTED TO GROUP
On Sunday, 10 September, the Sixth received and dedicated its official standard. The day’s program included a review by officers and men of the Group, convocation by Chaplain C. F. Murphy, and short addresses by Col Gibson and Col John H. Davies, Commanding General of the 313th Bombardment Wing. A crowd of approximately 500 civilians attended the impressive ceremony in addition to the military personnel present. The Group’s standard had been received on 5 September 1944 from Brig Gen Ezal G. Ent, in a ceremony at Second Air Force Headquarters, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Later in the month an Organization Day program of athletic events and a picnic was held for everyone in the Group. Athletic events included tug-of-war, relays, tent-pitching contests, volleyball and softball championship games. Fried chicken and free beer were features of the picnic. September also found the Sixth chosen as the subject group for an Army Air Forces’ motion picture, “Target Tokyo,” to be used in training other B-29 groups in the future. Personnel of the AAF’s First Motion Picture Unit arrived at Grand Island on the 15th of September and began production of the film. Gen Arnold’s selection of the Sixth for the movie brought another honor to the Group. In connection with production of the film a mock mission against Osaka, Japan, from a mythical base on the mainland of China, was conducted complete with briefing as it was to be in combat days. This served as an invaluable training device as well as furnishing excellent material for the movie.
On the 7th of October the Sixth experienced its first near tragedy when Capt Jeffrey Richards was forced to crash land soon after takeoff. Fire broke out in two engines immediately after the ship was airborne and on the first landing approach the nose gear failed to descend leaving a crash landing as the only alternative. The burning plane skidded to a perfect wheels-up landing, and eleven men emerged safely with only minor injuries. The fire was quickly extinguished, but 843 never flew again.
All through the fall the Group was busy packing and crating equipment for overseas movement, and complying with POM (Preparation for Overseas Movement) regulations, processing individuals for records and proper clothing issue, and the various tactical and administrative inspections to determine the fitness of the Group for overseas .service. In addition to the official T/0 & E materials, there was the secret storage of favorite tools or favorite liquids in the airplanes which were scheduled to fly overseas.
An opportunity for officers of the Sixth and of the 313th Bomb Wing Staff to become better acquainted was provided on 14 October by a pheasant hunt held at a farm about twenty miles northwest of Grand Island. A barbecue and campfire followed the hunt and helped to make the even a pleasant stag party. An entertainment highlight for everyone concerned during the month of October was the George Jessel USO show. On the 17th of the month this show, consisting of movie star Carole Landis and the young British actor, Roddy McDowell, presented two performances for the Sixth, one in the 39th Squadron hangar and another on the parade grounds. It was one of the best shows presented for the Group.
All this time training missions were being flown from Borinquen Field in Purto Rico, which was under supervision of the Sixth for training operations. One mission here was memorable for the unusual experience which happened to Lt Charles Gipson and crew of the 40th Squadron. While in flight over Porto Rico one engine caught on fire, melted free of its moorings, and fell loose from the aircraft. Lt Gipson’s meritorious skill in effecting a safe landing earned him the Air Medal. The Sixth became the first Group to complete all the requirements of the Second Air Force’s B-29 training program by virtue of its many over-water flights from its Porto Rican base.
Just as men in the Sixth had speculated about the B-29 and its abilities before their airplanes arrived, they now wondered where their overseas station would be. At the time, two B-29 Wings were in action; the 73rd on Saipan and the 58th in China and India. The scheduled Port of Embarkation for the Group was on the Pacific Coast and this marked off the CBI Theater, as units headed there left the United States from east coast ports.
The clothing issue was tropical thus eliminating the possibility of the Aleutians. This simple logic narrowed guesses down to one place – The Marianas Islands, so the generally accepted belief was Saipan. Only the Marines and cartographers had heard of Tinian. During November, as the ground echelon was receiving final processing a group of P-63 fighter planes, part of a so-called “flying circus,” arrived at the field to assist in the training of gunners. Cameras were mounted on sights and connected with the gun triggers. Comparison of resulting photographs by the 313th Wing staff proved the Sixth rated highest of the Wing’s four bomb groups in gunners’ skills. At this time key positions in the Group were held by the following men:
Group Commanding Officer, Col Kenneth H. Gibson;
Deputy Commanding Officer, Lt Col Howard D. Kenzie;
Group Executive Officer, Lt Col Charles L. Cone;
Group Operations Officer, Lt Col Rudolph K. Ort;
24th Squadron Commanding Officer, Lt Col Carlos C. Pratt:
39th Squadron Commanding Officer, Lt Col John W. Osborn;
40th Squadron Commanding Officer, Lt Col T. W. Tucker.
The Sixth was to move overseas in three echelons ground, air, and ATC. The ground echelon was to go by rail to Seattle and then by water. The air echelon, consisting of the air crews, was to fly its own planes overseas via Kearney AAB in Nebraska and Mather Field, California. The third echelon was to consist of critical ground personnel flown overseas by ATC after a trip by train to Hamilton Field, near San Francisco.
GROUND ECHELON LEAVES
On the 18th of November members of the ground echelon marched to the railroad siding in the quartermaster warehouse area where they boarded troop trains for Seattle. The Base band was on hand to play for the occasion. Morale seemed to be very high. The adventure for which they had been training for months was now beginning. The movement to the port was in two separate troop trains. One left in the morning and took the middle route by Union Pacific through Wyoming, Idaho and Oregon. The other departed in the evening of the same day and took the northern route by Burlington and Northern Pacific through Montana and across Washington from Spokane. They arrived on Monday, 20th of November. The new station was Ft. Lawton Staging Area, Army Transportation Corps post in North Seattle.
The nine days spent here were busy, but pleasant. Ft. Lawton with its tall pines and steep hills and Puget Sound on all sides, was the site of final processing, and of final passes to a U.S. city. Food was excellent, post recreational facilities superb, and downtown Seattle a pleasant city in spite of mist and rain. Everyone, told by natives to look for Mt. Rainier’s white cap toward the southeast, never did see it. Fog and rain constantly obscured the peak. After dark on 29 November, seventeen officers and 1106 enlisted men went by truck convoy in a heavy rain to the POE docks, boarded the USAT Sea Marlin, and sailed the same night about 2330. The Sea Marlin was launched in April1944 and was making its third Pacific run. On the same ship were the 72nd and 77th Air Service Groups, fellow units in the 313th Wing. The Sixth personnel were commanded by Major Tatum, with Capt Stryker in charge of the 24th, Capt Chapman, the 39th, and Major Ravenburg, the 40th.
The first three days of a sea voyage on a crowded ship are awful. No other word describes so well the days of long mess lines to eat poor food, rough seas with the resulting endless swaying and rolling of the ship’s deck, and uncomfortable living conditions. Seasickness honors went to M/Sgt Russell East of the 24th Squadron who could scarcely move for days. Details for the men consisted of KP and washing down the deck with a fire hose. Two full meals were provided each day with a third meal of soup. All three meals were served from head high tables. The meals were supplemented with candy from the ship’s exchange.
On the 8th of December the Sea Marlin docked at Honolulu, the city harbor, and later moved over to Pearl Harbor where the ship’s passengers viewed the damage of three years previous. One day here, the men, one squadron at a time, stretched themselves on shore with about twenty minutes of exercises. After five days spent in cargo adjustment and resupplying, the ship put to sea again on the 13th.
Crossing the International Dateline on December 17th with everyone initiated into the “Domain of the Golden Dragon,” the Sea Marlin moved on to its next stop, the atoll of Eniweitok. This was a rock in all the bitter, desolate meaning of the word. No vegetation, just sand, coral and Navy quonsets with a harbor filled with ships of all descriptions. The Eniweitok stop brought one of the first joys since Seattle MAIL!
This mail, the first overseas, was flown back from the new APO in the Marianas. One day here a detail of this mail, the first overseas, was flown back from the new APO in the Marianas. One day here a detail of twelve became the envy of the ship. They worked on a Navy barge and ate a Navy dinner. Before embarking another unit, about two hundred men of an air force engineering battalion, came abroad and occupied the deck space over the hatch. After three days the voyage continued with Christmas, 1944 spent aboard ship somewhere between Eniweitok and Tinian. On the afternoon of the 28th the Sea Marlin arrived at Tinian Harbor. The next morning amphibious trucks and ducks came out to the Sea Marlin. The men in full field regalia climbed down rope nets into the vehicles driven by Seabees which carried them over the water and then over the land through the streets of wrecked Tinian Town to the cane field area that was to be the home of the Sixth.
HISTORY OF THE MARIANNAS
Tinian was a little, green, flat, semi-tropical island formed by pre-historic volcanoes and coral animals. It lay just three miles southwest of Saipan with its clearly visible harbor of ships and its high mountain, and about 125 miles northeast of Guam. Of the fifteen islands in the Marianas group, Tinian was one of the four largest. It averaged four miles in width and eleven miles in length. Heavy growth of cane greeted the Sixth, but the vegetation was not tropical; the trees were evergreen, mostly pine. The Marianas first appear in recorded history as a stopping place for Magellan’s around-the-world voyage in 1521. As a result of this discovery the islands were a Spanish possession for four centuries. The early Jesuit priests named the islands for their patroness, Queen Maria Anna. Natives were called Chamorros. In 1898 the American Navy captured Guam and the United States bought it from Spain at the close of the Spanish-American War. The other islands were sold to Germany.
The islands, except Guam, fell to Japan as mandated territory at the end of World War I. In violation of the Versailles treaty Japan fortified the islands and brought in Japanese, Okinawans and Koreans to till the rich black soil and to construct the concrete blockhouses. Under the Japanese, Tinian consisted of sugar cane farms, a concrete town, and the harbor, with ox-cart trails and a narrow gauge railroad connecting them. In later developments small airfields were constructed.
After invading Saipan in June 1944, the Marines assaulted Guam on 22 July and Tinian on 24 July. The Navy had shelled the harbor and other defense installations for several days. When the initial landings were made on the northwest corner of the island a tank battle developed in the fields west of North Field. The Japanese retreated to the southeast and made their final stand on the high ground on the southern tip of the island. Tinian was declared “safe” by the Fourth Marine Division on 2 August 1944. In the Japanese Army’s retreat to the high lands near Lalo Point thousands of Japanese civilians retreated with them. Crazed by the fear of capture by the Americans, a fear which had been built by Japanese propaganda, the Japanese civilians began jumping off the high cliffs to the rocky ledges and the ocean below. Mothers threw their babies over the cliff, and then followed them into the sea. The Navy sent LST’s and other small craft off shore with loudspeakers and Japanese language experts to persuade the people to surrender to the Marines and give up this fanatical idea. In spite of their humanitarian efforts hundreds of Japanese men, women and children hurled themselves into needless destruction. This is the story of the “Suicide Cliffs” of Tinian featured prominently in national magazines. All enemy civilians who surrendered were crowded into the Camp Churo area at Eighth Avenue and 96th Street.
Men of the Sixth ground echelon spent their first days at their new home cutting down cane, making coral paths, and erecting pyramidal tents for orderly rooms and messhalls, New Year’s Eve, the special service section, with Capt Robert M. Williams, Jr., in charge, provided two cans of cold beer per man. A very welcome relief from long hours of work and C-rations. That night also, Tinian was alerted for a Japanese air raid. The raid was made against Saipan with the Betty’s making their bombing run over Tinian. Men watched anti-aircraft bursts over Saipan bring down a Japanese plane. The first week saw two other air raid alarms, but no bombs were ever dropped on Tinian while the Group was there.
Meanwhile, back at Grand Island the air echelon and key ground personnel were continuing their training in late November and in December. One group of air crewmen returned from Borinquen Field just in time for Christmas. All men had returned from last leaves or furloughs as of 23 December and the air was full of expectancy. There was little to do but wait for orders and the flyaway airplanes. Christmas dinner at the Grand Island messes was a Santa Claus treat. Turkey and the trimmings for every man and his guest.
Like all warriors soon going to war, the members of the Sixth air echelon tried to crowd as much of life as possible into their last few weeks…last few days…last few hours stateside. Expecting to have many long months of time for intellectual adventures, they emphasized emotional experiences in this waiting period. The combat crews began finally processing at GlAAB on 31 Dec 44. This was completed by 8 January for combat crews. Six flyaway planes had arrived in December and the crews assigned these ships spent considerable time taking out the cargo racks and pulling thorough acceptance checks.
FLIGHT ECHELON DEPARTS
On the 2nd of January these crews began clearing Grand Island and flew to Kearney AAB about forty miles west. Other crews cleared that day and moved to Kearney by Army truck or bus. All combat crews had left Grand Island by 10 January. Between the 7th and 22nd of January, while their fellow Sixth men were constructing the permanent campsite on Tinian, the combat crews were flying to the Aerial Port of Embarkation, Mather Army Air Field at Sacramento, California. Here the airplanes were given final checks and personnel were supplied with such equipment as had not been issued previously. They flew from Mather Field to Tinian with stops at John Rodgers Field, Honolulu, T.H., and Kwajalein – the ATC route. On the 18th of January the first airplanes of the Sixth landed at Tinian. Three in number, the first to land was Capt Clark A. Preston of the 24th Squadron in Airplane No. 4825. Colonel G1bson arrived with the crew of Lt Percy U. Tucker, 40th Squadron airplane commander on the 27th. By 31 January all but thirteen of the crews had arrived and the flight echelon was completed 12 February when the last ship and its crew reached Tinian.
The air echelon, consisting of fifty-one officers and over 300 enlisted men, was processed at Grand Island early in January. These men began leaving Nebraska for Hamilton Field, the Air Transport Command’s west coast Port of Aerial Embarkation, by troop train on 9 January. This was the Headquarters Squadron rear echelon. They were followed by the rear echelons of the 24th, 39th and 40th squadrons which departed Grand Island on 11, 14 and 17 January respectively. At Hamilton Field the ATC took command and moved the echelons in periods varying from three to eight days in groups of twenty in C-54’s to their overseas destination. Brief stops were made at Hickam Field, on Oahu, Johnston Island, Kwajalein and Saipan. They began arriving on the 18th and continued to do so until about the 26th when the last members reached their destination. At various stops along the way they would see other members of the Group either the combat crews or others moving by ATC. It was a game of ocean-wide tag or a medley relay spread over 6000 miles.
The month of January 1945 for the Sixth ground echelon was a month of building. This task was accomplished so well that Squadron commanders upon arriving by air were so well pleased they wrote letters of commendation to their men. The job had not been easy. Three days before they arrived Naval Construction Battalion bulldozers had leveled the cane field but no other preliminary work had been done. Early facilities for living quarters, messing, showers, and latrines were temporary permanent installations were being completed and put into use. By 31 January all headquarters administrative sections were housed in six quonset huts in the center of the Group area. Squadron orderly rooms were also in quonsets. The 107th Seabees who had been in charge of permanent construction were doing excellent, speedy work. Construction of the Briefing Hall and mess halls had begun.
The lack of tools made long hours necessary to accomplish tasks which the possession of the proper tools with which to work would have made an easy matter. One major project was the transportation of supply and equipment boxes from Tinian Harbor to the Sixth area where they had to be stored and sorted. When this equipment had arrived, pyramidal tents were erected for those present and for the air and flight echelon personnel expected in a few days. By the time the flyers arrived coral roads and paths had been built and one mess hall completed. A well established bivouac area greeted the latecomers. In addition to the improvement of the living area, the line personnel attempted to set up maintenance facilities. The B-29’s were due soon and shops would be needed to work in. Tools and heavy equipment must be unpacked, distributed to various shops and made shops and made ready. Everything from tech orders to wing jacks had to be uncrated and ready for use.
Headquarters of the Sixth was reorganized 12 January to add two officers to the Table of Organization. The positions of assistant operations officer and flight engineer, calling for a major and a captain were added to the bomb group quota. Major Wilfred W. Wagner and Capt L. C. Sentker took these positions. Civilian personnel attached to the Sixth at this time were:
- Zebulon M. P. Inge, Field Director for the American Red Cross
- Ralph L. Freeland, technical representative for General Electric Co
- Lowell L. Houtchens, Boeing Aircraft Co; and Charles
- N. Miller, Minneapolis-Honeywell Regulator Co.
- Flying for all crews the first few days on Tinian consisted of local flights for calibration and formation.
On the 27th of January the Group’s first overseas training mission was flown. The target was East Island in the Maug Group of the Northern Marianas. Sixteen ships were scheduled and fourteen bombed the target by visual observation and radar from 28,000 feet. Two days later a second mission was flown against the same target. Seven airplanes scheduled; six, airborne; two, aborted. On the 31st of January three ships of the 40th Squadron participated in a third Maug mission. The Northern Marianas are small, sparsely-populated, volcanic islands lying in a chain toward Iwo Jima north of the larger southern Marianas. The islands were of no military significance except as a bombing range for B-29’s, but were Japanese-held until almost the end of the war.
At this time the 73rd Bomb Wing, the original Wing in the XXI Bomber Command, had been striking against the Japanese homeland from Isley Field across the channel on Saipan since 25 November 1944. The 313th Wing, of which the Sixth was a member along with the 9th, 504th, 505th Bomb Groups and four service groups, was the second wing to arrive in the Marianas. It was soon followed by the 314th Wing, which went to North Field, Guam. The 313th’s first Empire strikes came in February 1945. During the night of 30 January thousands of pounds of TNT exploded near the center of Tinian, jarring and shaking the ground all over the island and waking everyone asleep. Several Marines were killed in the terrific explosion which authorities believed to be the result of sabotage by Japanese soldiers still at large.
FIRST COMBAT MISSION TO TRUK
The first participation of Sixth Group aircraft and personnel in a mission for which combat credit was given occurred on 3 February. Three crews of the 40th Squadron flew as navigational escort for fourteen P-38 fighters on a strafing mission to Iwo Jima. Airplane commanders were Capt Frank, Capt Parsons and Lt Steel. The second combat-credited mission was flown on the 8th to bomb the airfield on Moen’ Island in the Truk Group. Thirty ships bombed the primary target hitting it with hundreds of 500 lb. general purpose bombs. Enemy opposition was negligible and strike results were fair. Sixth combat crews got their first look at flak bursts on this mission, however no planes were damaged and all returned safely. The Group was tuning up for the Empire concerts.
Following the Truk mission the Sixth flew a series of three radar search missions on the 11th, 12th and 14th of February in cooperation with the Navy to determine the amount and type of Jap shipping between Tinian and the Empire. This was in preparation for the Navy’s carrier-based strikes. Observation were made visually and by radar. Lt Bernard A. Casaurang and crew of the 39th Squadron crashed into the ocean about forty-five minutes after takeoff on the 12 February mission. Crew members of other ships in the formation observed the plane lose No.4 engine and fire break out on the starboard side. They also saw the ship explode as it struck the water. Dumbo search planes found only small bits of wreckage near the scene. This was the Sixth’s first combat loss.
Commendations were received by the Group from the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Areas and the Fleet Commander through the XXI Bomber Command for the contribution of Sixth operations in materially aiding the Navy carrier strikes on Japan. The Group was earning its spurs. The next bombing mission was another attack on Truk-the airfield on Moen Island. Nineteen aircraft with 500-lb general purpose bombs completed the mission, however results were poor, as disclosed by strike photographs.
The first Empire strikes by any Sixth ships occurred on 19 Feb when planes of the 40th Squadron participated in a Tokyo raid with the 504th and 505th Groups. Considerable enemy opposition was encountered with flak intense and accurate, and over 400 enemy fighters attacked the formations. Sgt Joseph D. Duggan, radio operator, was wounded when a shell fragment hit his right shoulder. He became the first Sixth man to qualify for the Purple Heart. Airplane commanders were Capt Frank, Lt Gipson and Lt Steel.
On 25 Feb the Group flew its first major strike against the Empire when twenty-one aircraft, with the other groups in the Wing, carried out a high altitude (24,000 feet) daylight attack against the port and urban area of Tokyo. General purpose bombs and a few incendiary clusters were used. Complete undercast at the target area caused bombing to be by radar and strike results were impossible to photograph. Enemy opposition was light–eleven single-engine fighters were spotted but none attacked the formations; anti-aircraft fire was moderate and inaccurate.
No damage was sustained by any of the Sixth ships and all returned to the home base safely. Flight commander for the 24th Squadron was Capt Edgar McElroy, who had bombed Japan as a member of Gen Doolittle’s raid in April 1942. On that raid Capt McElroy bailed out over China and was rescued by the Chinese. Now he had returned to his original target. Immediately upon receipt of strike reports from the Group’s crews the news was broadcast over the loud-speaker system. The announcement began: “Attention Sixth Bomb Group! Attention Sixth Bomb Group! The Sixth struck its first real blow of the war today against the Japanese Empire. The strike report of the attack was flashed back to Tinian from the lead plane carrying Col Gibson and piloted by Capt D. H. Frank of the. 40th Squadron” and ended, “…there are fires burning in Tokyo today because the Sixth Bomb Group–its air and ground personnel, its men and officers, its flying crews and maintenance crews, its clerks and cooks, its adjutants and medics, its hundreds of specially trained men all helped to deliver those bombs to Tokyo.”
The following day congratulations were received from the Commanding General of the 313th Wing. What they had worked for had happened, but the struggle was only beginning. From that day on until the war’s end a day seldom passed without a mission or preparation for one. Earlier in the month all members of both the air and flight echelons had arrived and the organization was intact once more. In addition, two more civilian technical representatives were added to the Group. They were: Merrill W. Braun, Western Electric, and Guy W. Vaughan, Wright Aeronautical. Other personnel changes sent the 22nd Photo Lab to WingHeadquarters with the Sixth retaining Lt Banhart P. Harder as Group Photo Officer.
NORTH FIELD BUILT BY SEABEES
The pace of activity at North Field in its construction days was maddening. The line area was a dust bowl with air force and seabee personnel at work day and night. Several Navy Construction Battalions were on the job building four runways, four taxi strips, and the CfOSS runways. The hardened surfaces were made of coral blasted out of hillsides and moved by truck over “haul roads” to North Field. The CB trucks ran every thirty seconds from coral pit to runway. Blasting was everywhere and constant. Airplanes had to be moved frequently to escape flying debris. Day and night work by the Seabees finished the “world’s largest airfield” with its four 8,500 feet runways in an amazingly short time. Before the end of February, the Sixth flight line was moved to the No. 4 (southernmost) strip. In the area the field exchange had sold the first beer on the 20 Feb and by the end of the month construction was complete on all three squadron mess halls.
During the early days of the month before Iwo Jima was invaded, the Navy practiced landings and massed its invasion armada off the west side of the island. Thus, the Sixth had a ringside seat to an invasion rehearsal. Training during the month of February consisted of numerous practice bombings of the Northern Marianas and two series of lectures. Lt Com Congdon, Navy liaison officer for the Wing, told of air-sea rescue methods and conducted classes in recognition of naval craft. Lt James E. Simpson, Group Personal Equipment Officer, taught classes in the proper use of the oxygen mask and other equipment in ditching and crash landing.
The opening days of March saw a number of personnel changes in key positions in the Group. Major Louis A. Sowers replaced Lt Col Carlos C. Pratt as 24th Squadron Commander, when Lt Col Pratt was ordered to Headquarters, XXI Bomber Command. Lt Col T. W. Tucker replaced Lt Col Ort as Group Operations Officer when the former was also ordered to Guam. Major Elmer A. Dixon succeeded Lt Col Tucker as 40th Squadron Commander. Major Berry of the 39th Squadron replaced MaJor Wagner as Assistant Group Operations Officer. These changes took place 4 March. On 11 March, Lt Col Cone, Executive Officer, was transferred to the Wing Service Center and was replaced by Major Tatum. Capt Bowman succeeded Major Tatum as Group Adjutant.
March brought the real beginning of large-scale bombing operations against the Empire. Nine missions, each involving twenty or more aircraft, were flown during the month. The first mission, the first since 25 Feb, was flown on 4 March. It was a high altitude daylight attack on Target 90.17-357 – The Nakajima Aircraft Factory at Musashino on the outskirts of Tokyo. Twenty-two ships, carrying a total of 238 five hundred pound GP bombs, were airborne with two aborting shortly after takeoff. Difficulty was experienced in assembling the formations off Daio-Zaki due to the great amount of aircraft at this point and a lack of adequate means for accurate identification of the leaders. Aircraft were forced to form flight squadrons as best they could and a complete undercast at the primary target forced bombing of the secondary target-the urban area of Tokyo. Little enemy opposition was encountered and all planes returned safely. Sgt James R. Clark, radio operator on Major Layson’s crew of the 39th Squadron, sustained flak wounds on the raid. He was presented the Purple Heart a few days later and in May, Sgt Clark was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroism in saving the life of another crew member. Sgt Clark shared his oxygen mask with Sgt Keenan until their plane reached a lower altitude. Two hours later with the radar and Loran sets inoperative and in spite of his wounds, Sgt Clark manned his station, secured a position fix by radio, and stayed at his post until the plane landed at Tinian.
FAMOUS MARCH BLITZ BEGINS
The next mission was flown five days later on 9-10 March and was the beginning of the famous March Blitz. This was a result of Major Gen Curtis Lemay’s great strategical decision-a definite change in bombing tactics. The B-29 was designed, with its pressurized cabin, for high altitude precision bombing, but unpredictable weather gave the Superfortresses only one opportunity for visual bombing all through February. High-altitude attacks consumed more fuel and were a cumulative strain on men and equipment. Gen LeMay’s new strategy was announced to flyers in their briefing rooms 9 March. Concisely, it was this: a series of maximum effort night incendiary attacks were to be made on major Japanese industrial cities. Bombing altitudes would be 5,000 to 8,000 feet. No armament or ammunition would be carried and the size of the crew would be reduced. Aircraft would attack individually. Tokyo, heavily defended by fighters and anti-aircraft artillery, would be the first target.
The Sixth’s answer to Gen LeMay’s call to arms was thirty-two B-29’s winging their way to the 1,500- mile distant Empire, carrying a total of 989 five hundred pound incendiary clusters for Tokyo’s urban area. Takeoff for “Enkindle 5” was at 1853; bombs were released between 0201 and 0313 on the lOth. Opposition by enemy aircraft was surprisingly light. Considerable flack was encountered but no damage was sustained by any of the planes, all of which returned safely. Pilots said Tokyo was burning like a “forest of pine trees.” Col Gibson led the attack and received an Oak Leaf Cluster to the Distinguished Flying Cross for his action on the raid. The second “Blitz” mission came soon afterward on the night of 11-12 March. The target: Nagoya. Thirty-two aircraft dropped incendiaries visually with excellent results. No fighter opposition harassed the formations and all planes returned safely to North Field, except one. It landed at Iwo Jima and marked the first use of that island as an emergency field by the Sixth.
Third Blitz target was Osaka. Twenty-nine planes reached the target and bombed successfully, using radar. One plane was lost on takeoff when No. 3553, 40th Squadron, crashed and burned. Lt Steel and the entire crew escaped from the flaming plane with only minor burns. Sgt Charles R. Albert and Sgt Charles S. Lyczko, returned to the burning airplane, believing the tail gunner was trapped inside. They searched the entire rear compartment but the gunner had already escaped. For this act of heroism both men were awarded the Soldier’s Medal in May. On the 27 March this crew failed to return from a mining mission over Shimonoseki Straits and are all listed as missing-in-action.
Next came the urban area of Kobe on the night of 16-17 March. Thirty-three Sixth ships bombed the primary target, dropping 1,038 incendiary clusters by radar. Two planes were damaged by machine gun fire from fighters. Sgt James H. Wiseman, 40th Squadron gunner, was wounded during the attack. All planes returned safely, with five stopping at Iwo Jima on the return flight for refueling. Tail gunner on Capt Rodenhouse’s crew got the first claim on an enemy fighter. A ship exploded when hit by fire from his guns.
The fifth and last Blitz mission was a repeat performance at Nagoya on the night of 18-19 March. The bomb load was mixed: 4,883 x 100 lb and 135 x 500 lb incendiaries were carried. Enemy opposition was moderate with two planes damaged by flak. The Blitz was over. March had begun with a spark and was becoming a month of inferno for the Japanese. Thirty square miles were burned out of Tokyo, Nagoya, Kobe and Osaka, and a large number of highly important industries were destroyed. The Bomber Command as a whole lost only 1.3 per cent of its aircraft over the target. The Sixth suffered only minor damage. Greatest source of alarm to flyers was the terrific hot air currents that arose from blazing targets and sent their aircraft into dense black smoke. On the Osaka raid Capt Parks’ plane went out of control and Capt Jones’ ship was turned over in the air by thermals. All members of the Sixth had just reason to be proud of their contributions in this ten-day period. Long strenuous hours were put in by all personnel. The greatest work load was handled by maintenance, ordnance and armament sections. For their work in directing engineering during the period, the. Bronze Star Medal was awarded to Capt Robert 0. Baum, Group Headquarters; Capt Floyd M. Deterding, 40th Squadron; Capt Paul M. Mudroch, 39th Squadron and to M/ Sgt. Clarence R. Beach, 24th Squadron line chief.
After the Blitz everyone was given a five-day breathing spell. On 20 March the Group personnel celebrated an Organization Day. A program including ball games, a picnic lunch and a band concert was conducted in the athletic area below the Starlite Theater. Sgt Warren Williams, 40th Squadron, was drowned when he fell from the nearby cliffs after being hit by a high wave while taking pictures. Holiday over, the attacks on the Empire’s industries began again on 24 March with a night attack on the Mitsubishi Engine plant at Nagoya. Eighteen planes reached the target and bombed by radar. Results were good, and all planes returned with only three damaged.
Mining Missions Start 27 Mar
On the same day two aircraft were dispatched to obtain radarscope photos of western Honshu and the Shimonoseki Straits. The photographs were needed for future aerial mining missions, the first of which came 27 March. Thirty aircraft flew to the Straits, the western entrance to Japan’s Inland Sea, and dropped mines at night by radar. Two crews were lost on this mission. Both crews were from the 40th Squadron. The airplane and crews of Lt William C. Grounds and Lt Paul A. Steel were lost over the target. Very little information is available concerning the loss of Lt Grounds’ plane, however, since V -J day the entire crew has been found in a prisoner of war camp and liberated. Five minutes after “Bombs Away” Lt Steel’s crew sent a distress message telling of “one engine out,” but this was the last report received. Twelve search sorties were flown by the Sixth with only negative results. The second mining mission was flown 30 March to the Inland Sea area south of the Kure Naval Base. Results, as assessed by radarscope photographs, were excellent. All ships returned safely. The mining operations were part of a large scale plan to deny the enemy the use of the Shimonoseki Straits. Reconnaissance flights revealed shipping through that point was cut 75 per cent. This forced Japanese shipping to go longer routes and to be exposed to U.S. submarines.
The Sixth received a great number of awards during March. In addition to the Purple Heart awards mentioned above, Sgt Theodore Malzolm and Sgt Wallace L. Peeble, both of the 39th Squadron, were presented this medal for wounds sustained on the 28th of March mission. The Bronze Stars to maintenance personnel were the outstanding awards of the month, but 215 Air Medals were awarded to combat crews for flights during March. March was the month of long hours of work for maintenance men.
The ten days of the five Blitz missions (one every other day) proved the strength and ability of engineering personnel to give the maximum effort. In the mess halls, clerks and medics pulled KP for days at a time so that their comrades with more technical skills could be free to work on · the precious weapons – The B-29’s. Additional planes had been added to the Group without an increase in personnel to maintain them. The overall system was also undergoing a change to Production Line Maintenance during this period. In the Group area the following events boosted morale: Group critiques to get the “know” on missions and to correct errors; posting of strike photos so that all might see the results of their labor; Red Cross post-mission refreshments; the Briefing Hall reading room for combat crews; and work started on the building of pre-fabricated living quarters. March 6 a mission resume was presented at the theater for ground personnel followed by a native stage show. At this time rumors abounded concerning a Japanese suicide attack on Tinian. Precautions were taken with extra guards on the line and around the area. Men leaving the area were ordered to wear helmets and to carry a weapon. Fortunately, the attack never materialized.
By this time another concentration of shipping layoff Tinian and Saipan. This was the pre-Okinawa invasion task force. The initial landings were made there 2 April. On 25 March a false announcement of the German surrender was made over the public address system. A great deal of shooting and shouting, but it soon quieted down when the truth came through. April, the second full month of the Sixth’s Empire attacks, increased the tempo of activity. Contrasting April with March, the Sixth flew seven more combat missions; sixteen as compared to nine. Operations continued on the night of 3 April after a four-day rest with a precision attack on the Nakajima Aircraft engine works at Ota-Koizumi, northwest of Tokyo.
The target was obscured by an undercast and bombing was by radar. Subsequent photo reconnaissance showed 10.5 per cent of the target’s roof area damaged. On 7 April the Sixth contributed thirty of a total of ninety-eight Wing Superforts which attacked Mitsubishi Aircraft plant at Nagoya. GP bombs were used with excellent results. Photos later revealed 90 per cent of the roof area destroyed. About twelve aircraft were hit by flak fragments with estimated time needed for repair varying from an hour to several days. Shortly after takeoff, Victor 5347 of the 24th Squadron, crashed and exploded in the ocean about two miles east of the island. Sgt W. P. Ford, CFC gunner, Sgt E. E. Birsner, radar operator, Sgt T. F. Wipperman, right gunner, and Sgt J. A. Douglas left gunner, were only slightly injured and were recovered by rescue boats along with the body of Lt Lloyd E. Rinne, navigator. Listed officially as killed in action in the crash are Capt Clark A. Preston, airplane commander, and five other members of the crew in addition to Lt Rinne. Sgt Joseph L. Slotter, Jr. and Sgt Arthur B. Fannon, 24th Squadron gunners, were wounded by flak during the raid. In spite of their serious wounds these men stayed at their positions and continued to man their guns as the plane was forced to leave the formation, becoming a target for enemy fighters. Fire from their guns kept the enemy fighters at bay. They were awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action.
Tactical Bombing of Kyushu
The next day, April 5, ten other planes of the Group attacked Kanoya East Airfield on the southern tip of Kyushu. This was the first of a series of missions for the purpose of neutralizing airfields from which the enemy was staging aerial attacks against navel units supporting ground forces on Okinawa. These airfields were the homes of the Kamikaze flyers. During April, eight such tactical missions were flown with an average attacking force of twelve B- 29’s Kanoya East Airfield was hit four times-on the 8, 17, 21 and 22 of April. Miyakonojo Airfield was attacked twice-on the 27th and 28th. Matsuyama Airfield was bombed once-on the 26th. Bombing results were excellent with bomb patterns placed on building areas and runways. Effectiveness was further demonstrated by the diminished intensity of enemy air attacks at Okinawa.
On the night of the 22nd the plane manned by Lt Dean J. Mutch and crew of the 24th Squadron, had an engine catch on fire on takeoff. Lt Mutch circled the island and when an attempted landing at West Field resulted in a crash, several members were knocked unconscious. After escaping from the burning plane, Lt Mutch reentered the ship through a hole in the nose and with the aid of the engineer, Lt W. E. Reed, succeeded in removing the unconscious bombardier, Lt C. A. Juskiewicz. A second entry into the plane was made to rescue the co-pilot, Major Alton P . Donnell, also unconscious. Lt Mutch entered the burning ship a third time and searched for other crew members he thought were still trapped. Lt (now Capt) Mutch was awarded the Soldier’s Medal in July for his heroism in saving the lives of the two crew members.
Empire strikes continued during the month also. The arsenal area of Tokyo was hit on 13 April and the urban area of Kawasaki (suburb south of Tokyo proper) felt the result of Sixth bombs on the night of 15 April. Both of these raids were incendiary attacks. Twenty-nine ships carried out the arsenal strike and twenty-four reached the target at Kawasaki. On the Kawasaki raid four enemy aircraft were claimed to be destroyed. Gunners credited with fighter kills were Sgt Jones, 24th Squadron, and Sgt McCrea, Cpl Podolny, and Cpl Fields, all of the 40th Squadron. Intense anti-aircraft fire included automatic weapons and rockets but all aircraft returned with only slight damage.
Three precision attacks with high explosive GP bomb were made in April. One, on 2 April against the Hodagaya Chemical Company at Koriyama, 110 miles north of Tokyo, was the longest raid thus far for the Sixth. Another, against the Hitachi aircraft engine plant at Tokyo on the 24th, and a third, against the Tachikawa Army’ Air Arsenal on the 30th, were carried out with only twelve and seven aircraft respectively. Two flight squadrons on the Koriyama attack hit the primary target but the leading squadron was forced to bomb Motomiya, a secondary target. Victor 3533 had its bombs hanging due to a mechanical malfunction and broke away from the formation to let them go. No enemy opposition was encountered on the mission.
Twelve B-29’s flew the Hitachi mission, three were returns. Thirty-nine Japanese planes were sighted with twenty-seven attacks resulting. They were described as moderately aggressive. No Japanese fighters were shot down. All planes returned safely with a few damaged. The Tachikawa arsenal raid was carried out by seven aircraft in a daylight attack. The raid was without incident. All Superforts returned safely. During April the T /0 for combat crews was changed to allow commissioned officers to fill the positions of flight engineer and radar operator. As a result, replacement crews carried more officer personnel than in the past. Other organizational changes in the Group created the utilities section and the position of maintenance control officer. The latter position was filled by Capt Deterding of the 40th Squadron. At the same time engineering sections equipped and staffed to maintain thirty B-29’s were overloaded with the care of forty-eight ships without additional personnel. Also in April, upon the recommendation of an Air Technical Service Command representative from Wright Field all airplane engines showing signs of “blow-by” were changed.
Such a great number of engines were changed by the Sixth that the supply of built-up engines at the Wing Service Center was exhausted and thus in the weeks following the Group was compelled to build up its own engines. Maintenance crews were working sixteen to eighteen hours a day building up their own engines and keeping the normal maintenance program going. Seeing hours of working time lost by men having to travel to and from the living area for their noon meals, the Group took steps to save this lost time. Under Lt Col Tucker’s supervision a mess hall was built in the line area so that engineering personnel might eat dinner there. Many times while men worked late evening hours to meet the deadline of a night takeoff they ate supper there as well. Capt James S. Walley, 40th Squadron adjutant, became line executive officer and mess officer.
On the 14th April while Sixth Superforts were attacking the Tokyo arsenal news of President Roosevelt’s death was announced to Group personnel. Also about this time 58th Wing planes from India began arriving and setting up camp just south of the Sixth’s area. Seabees were rushing construction on West Field. April brought the first construction of quonset for living quarters, but the most important addition to the Group’s facilities in April was the completion of the Starlite Theater by the special service section. Movies were shown nightly. Previously they had been shown in the open area behind the unit personnel quonset. On 9 April the first USO show played at the theater. Charles Butterworth, movie star, was presented in “Three is a Family.” The next stage entertainment at the theater was Claude Thornhill’s Navy show with Dennis Day and Jackie Cooper.
Gen Davies Presents Awards
Brig Gen Davies, 313th Wing Commander, attended a decoration ceremony on 23 April. Col Gibson was awarded an Oak Leaf Cluster to the Distinguished Flying Cross in recognition for his having led the Group on the Tokyo mission of 9 March. At that time it was the greatest number of B-29’s ever dispatched against a single target. This was the first low-altitude March Blitz mission. At the same ceremony Oak Leaf Clusters to the Air Medal were awarded to 229 combat crews and 268 Air Medals were awarded. The Sixth’s combat operations during May included three different types of Missions. Two minelaying missions to reinforce the blockade of the Inland Sea were flown. Three attacks were made on Kyushu airfields to continue the tactical support of ground forces on Okinawa. Six missions were attacks carried out against urban areas of Nagoya, Tokyo and Yokohama.
During May, 80 per cent of the Group’s assigned airplanes were airborne on each bombing mission. More sorties were flown; more planes reached the primary target, and fewer ships aborted than in any previous month. Over 1,700 tons of bombs, an increase of 400 tons over April, were dropped on the Japanese Empire although five less missions were flown. May also saw an increase in the number of enemy aircraft destroyed although fewer attacks were made. Fourteen Japanese fighters were credited as shot down and nineteen were listed as probably destroyed.
One-fourth of all Japanese aircraft attacking were destroyed or damaged. Simultaneously, the Group had fewer aircraft damaged in spite of heavy damage on the last three missions. The Sixth was improving daily. Its third month in the big league found it out of the second division and well on its way to the Bomber Command pennant won in July. The first mission in May was flown on the night of 3-4 with thirty-three planes carrying a load of 232 aerial mines in a late afternoon takeoff to Mine Field “L” just east of the Shimonoseki Straits. The field had been mined· previously and this operation was for reinforcement, i.e., replacing mines swept away or exploded. Thirty-two aircraft were effective with mission results classified as good. Enemy opposition was light, and all Sixth planes returned undamaged. Two days later another mining mission was flown. This time the “drop area” was Mine Fields “B” and “F” in the Bingo Sea just north of Shikoku Island.
Twenty-five airplanes were airborne-~one lost an engine after takeoff and was forced to jettison its load and return early-and planted 201 mines in the Inland Sea. These mines were largely 2,000 pounders with a few 1,000 pounders for shallow water. It was a night operation with mines laid by radar and the radarscope showed excellent results. No aircraft were damaged and all returned without mishap. On 7 May the attacks on enemy airfields on Kyushu were resumed. The tar~ts were Kanoya Airfield and the Ibusuki seaplane base. One squadron of twelve planes attacked each. Two thousand pound GP bombs were carried. Opposition was moderate and although eight ships were damaged, there were no personnel casualties. Results were good.
Two days later V -E day, victory over the Germans, was announced. Joy and celebrations reigned for several hours, but the grim business against Japan was still unfinished and operations continued with a new determination. Target for the next mission on 10 May was the airfield at Usa on northern Kyushu, (named for “Made in U.S.A.”). Missiles were 1000 and 200 pound GP bombs with fusings ranging from instantaneous to thirty-six hour delay. Bad weather caused .difficulty in making assembly. Only fifteen planes hit the primary target, but results were excellent as reported by visual observations. Other planes bombed targets of opportunity. Fighter opposition was aggressive as twelve to fifteen twin-engine fighters attacked the Sixth formations but only two planes were damaged. Sixth gunners shot down three enemy planes.
The following day, eleven B-29’s were dispatched against Nittagahara Airfield with delayed-fuze bombs in the bomb bays. Bad weather was encountered after the assembly point and the formation was forced to break up. Five ships hit the primary radar target, Miyashi, with unobserved results while six others bombed targets of opportunity. The next mission, flown against the urban area of Nagoya on 14 May, was the beginning of a second blitz. Objective? To force Japan’s immediate surrender. Thirty-two planes, carrying E-46 incendiary clusters, Chemical Warfare Service’s superb fire weapon, were airborne at 0200 and proceeded individually to the assembly point off Daio-Zaki. Between this point and the target about fifty fighters were sighted. Their fire and the moderately heavy flak damaged seven planes but all returned to Tinian, while destroying three Nip fighters and obtaining excellent bombing results. Lt Clinton L. Wride, 24th Squadron navigator, later missing-in-action, sustained wounds when his plane was attacked by fighters.
Two mornings later, in conjunction with the Wing’s other bomb groups, Nagoya was visited again for a pre-dawn strike. Thirty-three Sixth Superforts were effective over the urban area with both visual and radar bombing. No personnel casualties were suffered and only one plane was damaged. Fires were rekindled in another section of Japan’s third industrial city. Reconnaissance photographs indicated Nagoya could be crossed off the list of incendiary targets although a few industrial targets within that area might need precision attacks with GP bombs to complete their destruction. Switching to precision bombing for one· mission, Sixth crews were briefed for a raid on the Tachikawa Army Air Arsenal. Bad weather caused a change of targets and thirty planes carrying 668 five hundred pounders bombed the primary radar target, the city of Hammamatsu, with unobserved results. Five of the airborne Sixth ships were early returns.
Sixth’s Roughest Missions
Then came the Sixth’s two roughest incendiary missions. Both were directed at Tokyo. They were on the nights of 23-24 and 25-26 May. On these two raids the Sixth lost three crews, had a part of one crew bail out over Japan, one plane ditched at Iwo Harbor and the crew of another plane bail out over Iwo Jima. The first mission’s cost was twenty-eight crew members missing, and five wounded, one of whom died later. The second mission has been labeled the 20th Air Force’s roughest mission. Seventeen Superforts in all were lost by the four Wings participating.
The first mission sent thirty-five Sixth planes to Japan. Two were early returns, and thirty-one bombed the target. Enemy opposition, especially anti-aircraft fire was heavy and nine planes were damaged. Two 24th Squadron planes failed to return.
Lt J. B. Boynton and Lt J. M. Snyder were the airplane commanders. Of Lt Boynton’s crew all but Sgt Stephen Spega, Jr., were found in PW camps and repatriated. Sgt Spega is still missing as well as all of Lt Snyder’s crew. In addition to these losses, six members of Lt Jay K. Anderson’s crew, of the 39th Squadron, bailed out over the Empire. Their plane was hit by both flak and fighter fire. The ship caught aflame, went into a spin, and dropped from 10,000 to approximately 3000 feet before Lt Anderson could get it under control. The men who bailed out-Lt Harold Anderson, F/0 Mitchell, Sgt Boyko and Corporals Lounsbery, Sasser and Costello–mistook the command “Stand by to bail out” and left the plane over enemy territory. Fortunately, they were found as prisoners of war and are alive today. Subsequently, the remaining crew members were able to bring the aircraft back to Iwo Jima and effect a safe landing in spite of a seventy-five foot ceiling.
Lt Anderson received the Silver Star for this action. On the same raid Lt Joseph Novak Jr., 24th Squadron, co-pilot on crew No. 3906, was wounded by 20 mm cannon fire from a Japanese fighter and later died in a hospital on Tinian. Lt Sam Parks, airplane commander, although suffering from a flak wound, brought the plane back to the Base unassisted. For this gallantry, he was later awarded the Silver Star. Five other men were also wounded on this raid: S/Sgt Daniel V. Manfredi, a wound in his left arm; S/Sgt Clarence E. Hitchcock suffered a fractured skull; Sgt Herman L. Anderson, a flak wound in the leg; Sgt Alfred Bienert, received a broken arm in a crash landing at lwo. The cost was high for the Sixth, but much higher for the enemy. Uncontrollable fires raged over Tokyo for hours after the attack. Eye witness reports written after V-J Day describe the 23 May raid as Tokyo’s most terrific pounding. Two nights later Sixth Superforts were again winging their way toward Tokyo with their sleek bellies laden with forty-nine tons of incendiary bombs. Almost every type of Japanese opposition was thrown against the attacking planes including ground-to-air rockets, air-to-air rockets and Baka’s. A new high was set in number of enemy planes destroyed for one raid. Nine were destroyed, three damaged. Fourteen of the Group’s planes were damaged, which was over one half of the attacking force, and one was lost over the target. This was the airplane manned by Lt Donald M. Fox’s crew of the 39th Squadron. Today only Sgt Harry D. Magnuson of this crew has been found as a prisoner of war. The others are listed as missing-in-action.
In addition to Lt Fox’s aircraft, two other ships were lost, but their crews were rescued. Lt R. F. Moulton, 40th Squadron, was forced to ditch his battle-damaged plane near Iwo Jima when he found the field there closed and was unable to return to Tinian. A controlled ditching was made near a naval vessel and all crew members were picked up within a short time. The crew commanded by Capt Arthur M. Clay Jr., 39th Squadron, had a nerve · wracking, dramatic experience. Its plane was badly damaged over the target both by flak and fighters, and three gunners were wounded. Despite the fact that rudder controls at all stations were knocked out, No. 2 and No.3 engines had been hit and had to be feathered, and a fire was burning in the radar compartment, Capt Clay and crew brought the ship back to lwo Jima. There they found the field Closed in. After three unsuccessful passes at the field, Capt Clay bailed out his crew over the· island. Since he was the last to leave the plane, Capt Clay landed in the water beyond the island but was picked up within an hour by a mine sweeper attracted to him by the sound of his whistle. Capt Clay later received the Silver Star for his heroic action.
The deeds of the Sixth personnel on this maximum effort mission earned the Distinguished Unit Citation for the Group. Awarded in November 1945, the Citation was presented to the Sixth by Major General James Parker a month later in an impressive ceremony at North Field. The last mission in May was flown against the urban area of Yokohama. This was a daylight incendiary strike with twenty-seven Sixth planes taking part. Enemy opposition was light, and total battle destruction was nine planes with minor damage. Results of the mission were excellent as reported by visual observations and by reconnaissance photos.
On 25 May several personnel changes occurred in the Group. Lt Col Kenzie, the Group’s Deputy Commander since June 1944, was assigned to 313th Wing Headquarters as Wing A-2. His position was filled by Lt Col Tucker, Group Operations Officer, who was replaced by Major Sowers, 24th Squadron Commander. Major Charles Blankenhorn, the Group Air Inspector, became 24th Squadron Commander and Major John Layson filled the Air Inspector position. Sixth personnel were awarded 428 medals in May. Three-hundred-one men received Oak Leaf Clusters to their Air Medals and 123 received Air Medals. Sgt James R. Clark was awarded the DFC for his heroism on the 4th of March raid. Soldier’s Medals were awarded to Sgt Albert and Sgt Lyczki for their deeds on 13 March in searching for a comrade they thought was trapped in a burning aircraft. Both were members of Lt Steel’s crew lost 27 March and are still missing-in-action. In the Group area, construction was begun on the Officers’ Club and the Enlisted Men’s Service Club. On the line, the Sixth used No. 4 runaway for the first time, all 58th Wing planes having begun independent operations from the newly-completed West Field.
Record Improves Monthly
The results of the month of June show that the Sixth was becoming better and better in its part of the task of destroying Japanese industry. In June, eleven bombing missions were flown against the Japanese homeland with an average of thirty-two aircraft airborne each mission. Of these, an average of twenty-eight effectively bombed the primary target with 1,821 tons of bombs which surpassed the record of previous months set in May-1712 tons. Yet only ten missions were flown. Combat losses in June were the smallest yet. Two men died of wounds and only three others were wounded. No aircraft were lost in the entire thirty days. Statistics prove the history of the Sixth is a story of progress and ever-increasing efficiency. Operations consisted principally of seven incendiary attacks against six different Japanese cities. Only Osaka and Kobe of the larger cities were enkindled as the major effort was against the secondary industrial cities such as Amagasaki, Yokkaichi and Moji. Early morning on 1 June found twenty-eight of the Group’s B-29’s airborne against Osaka. Between the assembly point and the target a front was encountered forcing the formations to breakup and reform haphazardly beyond the weather block. In spite of this unexpected difficulty, Osaka had an additional 3.15 square miles burned out while enemy opposition by fighter and flak was only moderate.
Six planes were damaged and all returned with no personnel casualties suffered. The next mission on 5 June was also a daylight incendiary. This time the target was the urban area of Kobe. The Sixth had twenty-nine planes hitting the target area against very active enemy defenses. A total of forty-eight air attacks were reported while flak was moderately heavy. Photo reconnaissance later showed 4.35 square miles burned out, bringing the total destruction of Kobe to 56 per cent or 8.75 sq. mi. All of the Group’s losses for June were suffered this day. Sgt Raymond L. Merritt, 39th Squadron, was killed instantly by a flak burst and S/ Sgt Charles P. Magnuson, also of the 39th Squadron, died in the hospital at Iwo Jima from wounds. Both were members of Lt Catt’s crew which had two other men wounded on the raid. They were S/Sgt John C. Ward and S/Sgt James L. Morgan. Also wounded on this mission was Lt Zeno A. Uhle, bombardier on another 39th Squadron ship.
Two days after the eventful Kobe mission twenty-six Sixth Group Superforts struck Osaka for the second time in a week in a daylight incendiary mission in coordination with the other Groups in the Wing. An undercast forced bombing to be by radar only, but in spite of this handicap to bombing accuracy 2.27 sq mi of Osaka’s urban area was destroyed by flames. This brought the total destruction for this target to 13.5 sq mi. On the 9th of June the Kawasaki aircraft company at Akashi was attacked by twenty-six of the Group’s planes. Twenty-four ships bombed the cloud-obscured target by radar. Results were poor as later photos showed little damage to the target. Weather proved a greater obstacle than Japanese resistance. Two planes bombed the Kochi Airfield on southern Shikoku and returned to the base. June 15 found the Sixth returning to incendiary missions with an attack on Amagaski, just west of Osaka. Weather again played havoc with the formations and made visual bombing impossible, but fortunately eliminated most of the Japanese opposition. Damage was small with only 0.76 sq mi of the urban area destroyed.
Yokkaichi was next on the list of secondary industrial cities scheduled for the same incendiary raids which had virtually eliminated large cities such as Tokyo as B-29 targets. The city of Yokkaichi, lying twenty miles southwest of Nagoya, was attacked on the night of 17-18 June with twenty nine planes bombing individually and dropping a total of 231 tons of incendiaries. Enemy opposition was negligible with no fighter attacks and anti-aircraft fire from automatic weapons only. Photographs later showed 59 per cent of the city’s built up area burned out by 313th Wing raiders. Continuing the attack, Fukuoka’s urban area on northwest Kyushu was hit by twenty-nine Sixth planes on the night of 19-20 June. A total of 264 incendiary bombs fell on the target. Results were 1.37 sq mi destroyed. The Japanese offered only light opposition, and the Group suffered no personnel casualties or battle damage to its aircraft.
On 22 June, the Group again went after the Kawasaki plant at Akashi with thirty aircraft, carrying three 4000 pounders each. Formations were successfully obtained and bombing was visual, but results were mediocre as only 10 per cent of the roof area of the plant was damaged. Enemy fighters attacked, but did little damage, and three attempts at air-to-air bombing with phosphorous bombs were also ineffective. Three ships received minor damage. The same factory was bombed again on 26 June. The bomb load for thirty-eight aircraft was the same, but two ships were forced to jettison their bombs and five planes hit other targets. Weather again ruled out a formation and bombing was individually by radar. An additional 16 per cent of the plant was damaged or destroyed, bringing the three-mission total to 26 per cent. Three fighter attacks were reported and one Frank was credited as destroyed by Sixth gunners. All of the Group’s Superforts returned safely.
Final mission in June for the Sixth was flown on the 28th. Late that afternoon thirty-two B-29’s took off to bomb Moji on the southern shores of the Shimonoseki Straits. Planes on the night incendiary attack found a 10/ 10 undercast over Moji, which removed all enemy opposition and striking clusters, aimed by radar, burned out 0.3 sq mi of the urban area. June was also a month of building. The field exchange was improved and the Red Cross booth with girls to serve the post-mission refreshments was in operation. Construction of the Service Club and Officers’ Club was almost completed. Opening came early in July. Also tents with floors and walls with screen wire, pre-fabs, and quonset huts were completed improving the living quarters for everyone.
Entertainment at the Starlite Theater included the enjoyable Dick Jurgens show on 2 June and the “Shape Ahoy” USO show on the 20th in addition to nightly movies. Only personnel change of the month was the move of Major E. G. Berry to the 24th Squadron as operations officer and the shift of Major H. M. LaTourette to Group Headquarters to the Group Training Officer position. Combat awards to Sixth personnel in June totaled 191. Eighty-one were Air Medals awarded for five combat missions and 104 Oak Leaf Clusters to the Air Medal were awarded to those having thirteen combat missions. Four members of the 40th Squadron were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for their achievements as a bombing team in leading three highly successful precision missions in April and May. The men were:
- Capt Irvin M. Parsons,airplane comander; Lt Hubert B. Connell, navigator;
- Lt Carl J. Manone, bombardier
- Sgt Valentine Chepeloff, radio operator.
- Silver Star Medals were awarded Sgt Arthur B. Fannon and Sgt Joseph L. Slatter for their deeds on the Nagoya raid of 7 April.
In June the XXI Bomber Command’s “Special Projects” booklet gave the Sixth’s dressed-up Briefing Hall with its combat crew reading room a four page display. It praised the building as one of the outstanding.- group briefing halls in the command. Visiting officers, who wrote the article after a trip to the Sixth area, also gave favorable comment to the S-2 section’s interrogation form filled out by combat crews in flight to assist and speed that activity.
July Record Leads Wing
At the beginning of July the Group was committed to fly 370 sorties. Records on 31 July show that 417 sorties were airborne and of these, 396 were effective against the enemy. One-hundred-eight were bombing sorties, 210 were mining, and the remainder were such miscellaneous missions as SuperDumbo, weather, radarscope photograph, radar counter-measure, and wind-run. This gives an idea as to the many extra missions the Sixth was flying in addition to the actual strike missions. Total flying time logged by Sixth crews in July exceeded that of other groups in the 313th Wing by a large margin. The total, 6669. hours, exceeded the nearest rival by more than 1000 hours. Sixth figures for average flying time per aircraft, 138.1 hours; for average weight of bombs and mines, 15,600 pounds; for total tonnage dropped on the Empire, bombs and mines, 2634 tons; all led the Wing.
Enemy opposition in July was light. Only twelve fighters attacked our planes and of these one was shot down. Damage to aircraft from anti-aircraft fire was meager as only two planes received major damage. Ten received minor damage. Two airplanes and their crews were lost this month. Capt Robert K. Schmid’s airplane with the 40th Squadron Commander, Lt Col Elmer A. Dixon, went down on the 9 July mining mission and Capt Gordon P. Jordan’s ship, 24th Squadron, was lost on the 19 July mining of Niigata, Honshu. Operations in July fall in two categories. The month opened with a continuation of the incendiary attacks against secondary industrial cities and ended with the same. The other type raid was a series of seven mining missions, flown from 9 July to 23 July.
Target for the 1 July mission was Ube, located on Honshu about fifteen miles east of Shimonoseki. Thirty-nine airplanes were airborne with a bomb load of 1399 one hundred pound incendiaries. Two ships lost an engine soon after takeoff and were forced to jettison their bombs and become early returns. The thirty-seven others bombed the primary target, and striking clusters burned out 1.8sq mi of the built-up area. The Japanese offered little defense-four fighters were sighted but none attacked the formations. On the night of 3 July, Sixth Superforts attacked the city of Himeji, on the northern shore of the Inland Sea. Of the city’s 1.92 sq mi, 76 per cent was totally destroyed by fire. Opposition was negligible with only small caliber ack ack fire and no fighter attacks. Results were superior. The secondary city raids, such as this one to Himeji, were becoming easy. The next incendiary mission was flown on o July.
Takeoff was in the late afternoon and the target: Shimizu. Thirty-six planes were scheduled, thirty-six were airborne and thirty-six bombed the primary target, dropping 6616 bombs. Fifty-two percent of the Shimizu’s total area was destroyed. No opposition encountered; no aircraft experienced trouble; all returned safely. Performance of the Sixth on this mission neared perfection. Then on 9 July the Group returned to mining Japanese waters. This time the objective was an interruption of shipping between the Asiatic mainland and Japanese home ports. To accomplish this, ports must be mined on the coast of Korea and on northern Honshu. These missions brought the Group its second Distinguished Unit Citation. The first mission of this nature was flown to reinforce mine fields in the Shimonoseki Straits area. Flak was heavy and one plane was shot down. The crew and aircraft lost was commanded by Capt Schmid and carried as a combat observer, Lt Col Dixon. Reports from members of other crews on the mission reveal that one B-29 in the formation was caught in a number of searchlights, sustained several direct flak hits and was seen to spiral down and crash in flames. Since the Sixth was the only group operating in the area, it is a reasonable assumption that this was Capt Schmid’s plane.
Other missions flown in this period were to the Korean ports of Rashin, Seishin, Gensan and Fusan and to the Jap ports of Fushiki, Nanao and Niigata. The last mining mission was flown on the night of 21-22 July. The Rashin mining missions were the longest missions flown by any aircraft in the war. The mine fields were 2050 nautical miles from the home base on Tinian. On the first mission to Rashin on 11 July one B-29 flew the entire 4100 miles non-stop and landed at North Field 19 hours and 40 minutes after takeoff. This was undoubtedly the longest non-stop mission of the war. Other aircraft flew the mission with a stop at Iwo Jima for refueling either on the trip to Korea or on the return flight. Initial points on these missions were sixty miles south of Vladivostok, Siberia, and involved six hours of flight over the Empire.
On the night of 19 July Capt Gordon P. Jordan and crew, 24th Squadron, failed to return from a mission to mine field “Zebra.” The only information available is reports of other crew members who stated they saw a burning plane over Niigata. As of 1 Jan 1946, seven crew members had been found as prisoners of war and repatriated. They were:
- Capt Jordan, Lt P. A. Tramp
- M/ Sgt G. E. McGraw
- S/ Sgt W. W. Wiernik
- S/ Sgt Robert J. Burkle
- Sgt Robert A. Grant and S/Sgt W. W. Dickerson.
The four other crew members are still missing-inaction. This loss proved to be the last of the war for the Sixth. These mining missions earned the Sixth’s second Distinguished Unit Citation which was awarded for outstanding performance in armed conflict with the enemy. The missions to blockade enemy shipping involved extremely long hours of low-altitude flights over such heavily defended centers as Yawata. These deeds brought great credit to the organization and great praise from higher commands. The 19 July mission marked the thirty-fifth mission for the crew of Capt James D. Ezell, 39th Squadron. This was the first crew to complete its tour of duty and soon afterward they were on their way to the States. From this date until the end of the war over twenty crews from all three squadrons successfully completed their thirty-five missions and were returned to the Mainland. Their goal was thirty-five missions; they had achieved it and were rewarded.
The Sixth Officers’ Club opened on the night of 3 July with a party and buffet supper. A Sixth Group dance band furnished music for dancing. Many officers had dates with nurses newly-arrived at Tinian hospitals. The Enlisted Men’s Service Club had opened”a few nights earlier with the help of the Red Cross. On 17 July Brig Gen Davies, Wing Commander, presented trophies to Sixth enlisted men who won a Wing contest for the best improved barracks. The sixth won the Group award and the 39th Squadron with “Casa Marino Casino” won the award for the best individual quonset. Several personnel changes were necessary following the loss of Lt Col Dixon. Major LaTourette, then director of training, was assigned to the 40th as Squadron Commander. Major R.M. Booth became director of training. Another change came on 24th July when Lt Col Blankenhorn, 24th-Squadron Commander, was returned to the U.S. on an emergency leave and was replaced by Major Erskine G. Berry Jr. At the same time Major Robert 0. Baum, who had directed Group Engineering activities for a year, was placed on detached service with the 72nd Air Service Group. He was replaced by Capt Deterding.
Also in July, Mr. Eugene A. Birkmeyer, replaced Mr. Inge as Red Cross Field Director in the Group. The outstanding award made in July was the Soldier’s Medal, presented to Capt D. J. Mutch for his heroism on 22 April. Other awards included forty-seven Air Medals and 359 Oak Leaf Clusters to the Air Medal. Many of these awards were made by Col Gibson at a ceremony at the Starlite Theater on the night of 21 July. Award of the Western Pacific Campaign Star to 1892 people was also made this month.
Final Phase of the War
What proved to be the final phase of the war began on the night of 26-27 .July. With mining missions completed, the Group returned to night incendiary strikes against the Japanese industrial cities. On that night the target was the urban area of Tokuyama. Thirty-four Superforts were effective; dropping over 1250 five hundred pound clusters. The result was 53 per cent of the built-up area destroyed. The pattern of light enemy opposition continued. One Baka was sighted and was shot down by the tail gunner of Aircraft No. 9857 of the 40th Squadron. The next secondary city raided was Uji-Yamada, south of Nagoya on Honshu. Twenty-nine of thirty-three airborne aircraft were effective over the target. Post-strike photography disclosed 40 per cent of the city burned out. Enemy opposition of every nature was negligible.
On the 1st of August, Army Air Force Day, combat operations continued with a maximum effort night incendiary mission. The Sixth’s target was Nagaoka, machine tool manufacturing center of 75,000 people on northern Honshu. Brig Gen Davies attended the Sixth briefing and told combat crews that the 313th Wing’s July record led all wings in the 20th Air Force and that the Sixth Group had led all Groups in the Wing in performance records. On the day that the 20th sent its greatest number of B-29’s (823) against Japan, the Sixth was rated the best B-29 Group in the Marianas. This was not one man’s opinion but cold, uncompromising statistics.
Forty-seven Sixth ships were airborne by 1840 that day, but engine trouble forced two to return to the base shortly after takeoff. The remaining forty-five, except one which bombed a target of opportunity, hit Nagaoka at 0100 with excellent results. The last crews over the target reported smoke and thermals rising from the burning city to a height of 20,000 feet. Later photographs showed 2.03 sq mi, 65 per cent of the city burned out. Opposition from the Japanese was negligible as only six night fighters were seen. The Group’s contribution to the Air Force Day raid was forty-five planes over the Empire, its greatest number thus far.
The Group’s second mission in August, flown on the 5th, was also a night incendiary attack. The target was Maebashi, a city of 87,000, fifty miles northwest of Tokyo. Thirty-eight planes were airborne at 1642, carrying a mixed load of E-46 clusters and GP bombs. Results showed 71 per cent of the planned target area destroyed. Only two aircraft reported fighter attacks and anti-aircraft fire was only meager Japanese resistance was becoming less and less. On 7 August the Group changed to a daylight precision attack on the Toyokawa Naval Arsenal, thirty-seven miles from Nagoya. Only twelve Sixth ships were scheduled and all bombed the primary target. No post-strike photography was made for damage assessment but strike photos indicated 90 per cent of the Sixth’s bombs fell within 1000 feet of the main point of impact.
Then came the long-dreaded mission-an attack on the heavily-defended city of Yawata. Crews had been sweating out the “Big Y” since early B-29 days when the XX Bomber Command bombed it from China. Yawata, the fourth most important industrial center of Japan, contained the largest steel works in the Empire. Of the 245 20th Air Force planes on the mission, the Sixth contributed twenty-seven over the primary target. Enemy opposition was aggressive from fighters with some thirty attacks made against the Group’s formations. Two fighters were destroyed; two credited as probably destroyed. One of the Group’s planes, piloted by Lt Jack A. Henshaw, was badly damaged by machine-gun fire from the fighters and was forced to proceed to Okinawa for landing. Lt Henshaw received the Silver Star for his gallantry in action. Heavy flak was also encountered, but cloud conditions made it inaccurate and only three Sixth planes were damaged. Later photos show 21 per cent more of the city destroyed.
By this time the atomic bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Russia had entered the war. Tokyo and Washington were communicating about the Potsdam Declaration and the surrender terms. Members of the Sixth had known the 509th Composite Group, one of the other groups in the 313th Wing, for several months. They had flown missions with 509th ships and when they wondered enough about the Group’s differing from other Groups to ask questions they were told that it was preparing to drop some “big bomb.” What kind of a “big bomb” no one knew, not even the 509th itself. During the week of 5-11 August they found out what that “big bomb” was and were grateful for its results and significance in ending the war. They also knew that atomic bomb or no atomic bomb, the Japanese wouldn’t have lasted much longer.
The last mission of World War II was flown on the night of 14 August. Sixth ships flew to the Marifu railroad yards at Iwakuni on Honshu. Forty-two planes took off at 0619 with bomb bays loaded with 500 pound general purpose bombs. One ship returned early and two bombed the town of Sanagoseki. No enemy opposition of any nature was encountered. All radio operators were briefed to listen for a coded message indicating the war had ended which meant all airplanes were to return to their base. The message, “Break Utah Utah Utah Break” did not come, and the mission was carried out as planned.
Operations in August after the Japanese surrender on the 15th consisted of missions to Allied prisoner of war camps in Japan, Korea and China. Purpose of the missions was to parachute supplies of food and clothing to Allied prisoners in Japanese hands. One such mission was flown to Weishin, China, via a stop at Iwo Jima. Final Empire mission of maximum effort was flown 2 Sept as the Japanese signed the surrender terms on the Battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay. It was a V-J Day show of air power.
Col Gibson Leaves Group
The end of the war brought a number of personnel changes. Col Gibson was ordered to AAF Headquarters in Washington, D. C., on 28 August and was succeeded by Lt Col Tucker. Major Sowers became Deputy Group Commander. The remainder of August and the months to follow found officers and men going home on the point system. Major Koser became 39th Squadron Operations Officer in July 1945 and Squadron CO in September when Lt. Col. Osborne departed.
Awards in August were greater in number and distinction that for any month previous. Highest award was the Legion of Merit, presented to Col Gibson “for exceptional meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services from 16 June 1944 to 15 August 1945.” The fine record of the Group and general all-around proficiency were due in a large measure to the leadership of Col Gibson. Lt Jay K. Anderson, 39th Squadron airplane commander, was awarded the Silver Star for his deeds on the Tokyo mission of 23 May. The story of his achievements is given in the account of the mission. Capt Robert P. Johnston was awarded the Bronze Star Medal in recognition of his superior accomplishments in carrying out the duties of Group Ornance Officer throughout the combat period. In addition to these awards 292 combat crew members received the Distinguished Flying Cross and twenty received Oak Leaf Clusters to the Distinguished Flying Cross. One-hundred-twenty-two Air Medals and 686 Oak Leaf Clusters to the Air Medal were also awarded.
In six months of combat operations the Sixth had flown sixty-four major missions. Bomb bays of its B-29’s had carried general purpose bombs, incendiary clusters and mines. Total statistics showed 1, 799 aircraft airborne and only 123 abortions out of 1876 ships scheduled. Over fifteen hundred Sixth planes had bombed Empire targets. From eighty-one tons of bombs dropped in February the monthly tonnage increased to 2634 tons for July with a grand total of 10,103 tons of bombs and mines dropped on Japan.
Combat losses of Group personnel showed the best record of any B-29 group in the 20th Air Force. Figures on 1 Jan 1946 show twenty-two men listed as killed in action, thirty-three men prisoners of war and liberated after V-J Day and fifty-one men still listed as missing in action. It goes without saying that everyone would wish the ideal-no combat losses, but it would be unreasonable to expect such a condition. Viewed from the standpoint of statistics, the loss ratio was remarkably low when considered in the light of damage inflicted on the Japanese Homeland. A fitting statement of the contribution of the Group toward shortening the war could well be “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!”