Huerfano County, Colorado
Lovdjieff Collection

NOTICE All data and photos on this website are Copyrighted by Karen Mitchell. Duplication of this data or photos is strictly forbidden without legal written permission by the Copyright holder.

Chapter VII

"I AM THE B-29"

15 June 1944: On this day when Saipan was "being bombed, shelled, and invaded by our forces, "B-29 Superfortresses of the USAAF 20th Bomber Command bombed Yawata, 'Pittsburgh' of Japan, from Chinese Bases." "On my first mission," says S. Sgt. Saul Shaviro of New York City, "in order to keep the guns clean I taped up the barrels. On the mission the tape froze on so the barrels couldn't pull back and the guns couldn't fire. Lucky we didn't need to use them. After that no one in the CBI theater ever taped guns."

7 July 1944: "Superfortresses again raided Japan, hitting vital steel works and naval base at Sasebo."

10 August 1944: "Superfortresses raided Japanese mainland island of Kyushu and Nagasaki factories."

20 August 1944: "B-29's raided Yawata in first daylight attack on Japanese homeland since General Doolittle's raid; four bombers lost."

14 November 1944: "B-29's based on Saipan raided Tokyo for the first time." "For two hours the big B-29's circled over the Japanese capital in perfect flying weather, dumping 'substantial bomb tonnages' on the Nakajima aircraft plant in the northwest part of the city and 'other selected targets in the industrial area.'

"When the dust had cleared, six violent fires blazed in the rectangular buildings composing the factory which, with the Mitsubishi works, is the principal supplier of Nipponese military aircraft."

"The first Tokyo mission was a highlight in Mickey's life (Cpl. Mickey Rovinsky of Pennsylvania). The pilots are always tense the night before a mission and Mickey has his troubles (for he is a cook) . . . The crew have trouble sleeping the night before a mission, and they're tense before the take-off. As one of them laughingly said at the plane before take-off one morning, 'How do you get rid of that empty feeling in your chest?'

'"They took off six times for Tokyo,' Mickey says, 'I mean they was scheduled to go every day for six days, and they'd all be short-tempered and wanting things just so at night, and then next morning the mission would be postponed.

“'It was their first mission up there and they'd heard a rumor they was to be 1300 Jap fighters lined up across the sky just like a wall, and they was nervous and grumpy.

“'Like Captain Gifford here, I can always tell when he's going the next day. He don't say much at supper like he usually does. He just wants that sharp attention and keep your mouth shut and leave him the hell alone.

"'Well, them pilots was tense and worried and they didn't drink any beer or anything for five nights and then finally on the fifth night they was up half the night yellin' around, and then the next morning they really did take off. Boy, they didn't feel good, either.

"'It's a good thing they finally went or I was gonna mutiny. I got sick and tired puttin' grub in them damned planes. I was gonna refuse the seventh time. I said I'd take a court-martial before I'd put grub in them planes a seventh time. But they went that time.'

"Then Captain Gifford took up. 'You should have been here that morning. The mission was called so fast there wasn't time to warm up the engines a few at a time and they shook from the vibration.

“'When I took off I had to weave around through bulldozers and between jeeps and across cane patches and I kept thinking about those 1300 fighters we'd heard about. I sure was put out about ever getting into this business in the first place. But it turned out all right.'

"'When Captain Gifford gets back," Mickey went on, "he's, a changed man. He's still full of nerves but he wants to talk and he wants me to keep the beer comin' out of the icebox.'"

18 November 1944: "Industrial targets in Tokyo have been struck for the second time in 72 hours by American Superfortresses.

"The speed with which the second raid followed the first has perhaps set a record for such large-scale operations. Certainly the fact that a force comparable to the one which opened the drive . . . was followed so soon by a second attack gives some indication of the resources behind the new XXI Bomber Command.

"Scarcely had the Superforts set their double-tired landing wheels onto the strip . . . than ground crews, mechanics, armorers, and gasoline gangs were at work getting the planes ready for the second strike. All day . . . and through the night, gasoline tank trucks were pumping thousands of gallons of high-octane power into Superfort fuel reservoirs, while armorers racked hundreds of bombs in the gaping bays . . .

"The route from here to Tokyo is 1600 miles--representing one of the longest bombing missions in the world.

"The first man to get 'bombs away' over Tokyo was Captain Vincent Evans, bombardier of 'Dauntless Dottie,' which was flown by Major Robert K. Morgan of Asheville, North Carolina. (Hooray for Asheville and Earl York!) . . . Major Morgan had flown 25 missions over Europe in the legendary ''Memphis Belle.'"

10 March 1945: "The War Department announced early this morning that a force of more than 300 B-29's smashed at Tokyo in a series of night raids that stunned the Japanese capital.

"More than 350 B-29's and a strong force of Pacific fleet carrier-based planes raided Japan Sunday and Monday (18 and 19 March) in continuation of the air war against the heart of Japan.

"B--29's returned to Japan in a Sunday pre-dawn raid to finish the job at Nagoya and made low-level bombing runs with 2000 tons of incendiaries.

"Guam reports that the bomb tonnage dropped on Nagoya may equal or exceed recent 2500-ton Kobe lashing. It was the fifth B-29 blasting of Japan's homeland in the last ten days. During that time 2300 tons of bombs have been dropped on Tokyo, 2,000 on Osaka, 2,000 on Nagoya, 2,500 on Kobe, and now, 2,500 more tons on Nagoya. Japan is receiving the fire test."

All these accounts may mean nothing more to you than dramatic news stories, top far removed from 210 West Cedar Street to be very real. It is understandable that most civilians back in the States, and many Japanese I suppose, have long ago ceased being amazed at the might and magnificence of the Superfortress. Certainly to Americans it is rapidly becoming only another symbol of their country's vast capacity of industrial technology. But to us stationed on these Marianas bases the "flying castle" is something more than a symbol of America and her economy. The B-29 is our arm which daily reaches out across great stretches of ocean to strike the enemy. We are the corpuscles in its blood, nerves which give it sight, direction, purpose, and life. Each of us from the duty soldier to the pilot, from the cook to the top gunner, from the warehouse clerk to the crew chief is a spark whose energy and activity makes possible the flight of a single plane, a squadron of planes, and finally a wing of groups of squadrons. The B-29 is our weapon, our “piece.” It is to us what the rifle is to the Infantry. At times our own respect wavers between fear and love, so awful is this mighty ship.

You who see and hear with more than your eyes and ears, you whose hearts still thrill with visions of rising above land and sea into magnificent oceans of air and clouds, listen with us to the voice of this plane . . .

"I am the B-29, the most powerful bombing airplane on earth. I fly higher, faster and farther than any other bomber now in existence, though undoubtedly the children yet in my loins will outstrip me. I fly so far that on a single mission I actually pass from one climate into another, and so I am prepared for tremendous ranges of humidity, heat and cold.

"More men and more money are being employed on me than on any other instrument of warfare in the history of the world. . . . Two of the plants which turn out my 2200 horsepower Wright Whirlwind engines between them cover a floor space equal to 275 football fields. Man-hours on me have gone down since my birth from 157,000 to 50,000 with 30,000 expected soon. Not counting rivets or other minutiae, I have 55,000 numbered and identified parts. They go into a ship originally intended to weigh 27,000 pounds, which has gone up by slow stages to an operation weight of 63,000 pounds, of which, on shorter flights, as much as 20,000 pounds may be bombs. In making a round-trip flight from the Marianas to Tokyo I consume about 2000 gallons of 100-octane gasoline . . ."

"In his report on the Army Air Forces in the Pacific, General H. H. Arnold revealed some new facts about me. One of the most impressive is the number of men required to keep me in combat: 14 air crewmen, 18 operations men, 20 maintenance men, 12 'housekeeping' men (i.e., cooks, etc.) -- a total of 85. Included among the pictures in the report is an awesome one of a B-29 demolished by Jap aircraft in a raid on Saipan--a vast ruin of such unthought-of things as 15,000 feet of electric wiring, 129 electric motors, 26 motor generators. . . which had . . . cost at least $600,000.

"You may have read of my pressurized cabin for the crew--that is, one in which the air pressure is that of the ground level, or more probably, that of 6,000 or 8,000 feet, even while I fly in the rarefied atmosphere of 30,000 feet or more. Perhaps you thought the designers were being pretty nice to the crew. On the contrary, it was a matter of grim necessity, and a terrible job it was, too, when every gun vent, bomb-bay door or other aperture of any sort had to be made practically airtight without interfering with its workability. In my flights of 3,000 miles or more I require a long ordeal in the air for my crew. Nobody could fly this distance in a heavy, electrically heated suit, using oxygen, without becoming completely groggy. If the gunners had to curl up in a plastic bubble with the hand-operated machine gun, they would be too tired to hit anything, least of all a Jap Zero coming in for the kill at 40 miles per hour. Incidentally, I fly so fast that no gunner, nor any two of them, could hold a machine-gun barrel steady if it were exposed to the slipstream.

"Therefore, with a series of mechanisms, designers have made it possible for the entire crew (five officers and six enlisted men), including all the gunners, to sit comfortably, in light clothing, in a cabin where warm fresh air is circulated constantly at low-altitude pressure, and do their work under conditions which allow maximum freedom from fatigue.

"One of these mechanisms is a system of remote firing-control. Scatter about me are five gun turrets, each mounting two machine guns which can be pointed anywhere in slightly more than a complete hemisphere. There are also five plexiglass blisters which are sighting stations for the gunners. Both the gun turrets and the sighting stations are so arranged in my nose and tail and dorsal side as to give complete visibility and complete firing range from every point at every moment. Indeed, the fire of several turrets can be concentrated upon any enemy fighter, approaching from no matter what angle. Although normally each gunner controls only one turret, an electronic device permits him, in a split second, to take over the guns of one or more additional turrets. He could do this if one of the gunners were knocked out, or merely if, because of superior visibility or for any other reason he could make better use, temporarily, of the other man's guns. About thirty of these combinations of gun turrets in series are possible.

“This is remarkable enough, but it is only the beginning. I have an unparalleled accuracy in my aerial guns, and this is no accident. In the Pacific War, 14 bombing missions were completed before the first B-29 was shot down by an enemy-fighter plane. On one occasion I alone fought off 79 fighters in a four-hour running battle, shooting down seven, and returning home safely.

"This record has been achieved as a result of a new mechanism, the “electronic” computer. Firing a machine gun from one rapidly moving airplane to another presents some complicated problems. For example, if the enemy plane is 800 yards away and is going 400 miles an hour, a bullet fired point-blank will miss its target by 110 yards. If I am going, say, 300 miles an hour, I create a wind which by itself will deflect a bullet by 35 yards. Gravity will pull the bullet down by more than 13 feet. Moreover, the gunner and his gun may be far apart since I am tremendously long (the distance between my wing tips is greater than the total distance the Wright brothers flew at Kitty Hawk.) Therefore, if the gunsight and the gun were exactly parallel, the bullet might miss the enemy plane for this reason alone. Finally, bullets act differently in dense air at low altitudes and thin air at high altitudes, and they are affected by temperature, which may go down to 60 below zero, even in the tropics, if you are high enough.

"All these problems are met by the electronic computer with the utmost accuracy and with, literally, the speed of light.

"Since each pair of guns has an area of fire greater than a hemisphere, some of them sometimes point at a part of my fuselage and tail assembly. For instance, the upper midships turret has part of my tail assembly within its range. But the computer in its squat black box is equal to the occasion. Let us suppose the guns are firing (800 bullets in a minute, or about 13 a second) at a plane in the rear, and are swinging from left to right past the tail. As they come to the fraction of an inch of the range where they might cut into the fabric of their own ship, they automatically stop firing. As they come to the fraction of an inch where they can shoot past the tail, they start firing again. To swing the guns through a 180 degree turn needs only two seconds, so you can imagine how rapidly this process of interrupting the fire is carried out. But this is not all. The two guns are mounted parallel and a few inches apart. In order to lose as little time as possible, as the guns swing from the left toward the tail, the right-hand gun cuts out a fraction of a second earlier than the left-hand one, and as they emerge into the clear field again, the right-hand gun resumes firing a fraction of a second before its mate.

"The gunner in his plexiglass blister is also within range of his own guns. He might, for example, control two turrets, and be seated between them, so that the guns behind him, if he were shooting straight forward, would blast his own head off. The engineers consider this undesirable and so do the gunners. Therefore they have called in the squat black box again. When the guns, pouring forth their stream of bullets, come within a couple of inches of the plexiglass blister, the muzzles are elevated they etch with bullets a flattened semicircle in the air, thereafter resuming their level course. No bullet is more than a couple of inches from the gunner's bubble; but none is any less. This process, also, is only a small fraction of a time interval of a couple of seconds.”

"Nor is this quite all. To give you another idea of how complicated I am, listen to this story. 'It was just a half hour before supper when Giff got an emergency order to beat it to the airstrip right quick and take a ship up on a half-hour's test hop.

"He made the flight all right but, when he got ready to land, the wheels wouldn't come down. That's very annoying, you know.

“Well, Giff radioed the field, and then began working on those wheels. Of course these big B-29's are so complicatedly automatic that you do everything by little, electrical switches and levers, and not by hand.

"'"Some guy must have spent all day crossing up wires on that airplane,” Giff said in his comical exaggeration when he got back.

"'"Instead of the wheels coming down, the bomb bay doors opened. When I tried to shut them, the upper turret gun started shooting. I hit the light switch by mistake, and the tail skid came down. Just for the hell of it I tried to lower the flaps, and instead the bomb bay doors went shut.

"'"By that time. I'd turned it over to the co-pilot and was back in the bomb bay trying to make some sense out of the switch box and get things working again.

"'"But I couldn't make head nor tail out of it. I worked on the damned thing for half an hour and was getting madder every minute.

"'"Finally, I just got so disgusted I hauled off and gave the goddam switch-box a good smack with the screw-driver, and started to walk out. And just like that, the wheels came down and everything was all right."'

"Many accounts of my flight experiences and those of my crews have already been written. When you read that a single mission often takes fourteen hours perhaps you wonder what that means, what it is like to the men, 'How long is a mission?' you wonder.

"'It's a long, trackless road between home field and the target in Pacific air war. Always over water, the flights are the most monotonous in the world. But many a pilot and crewman has admitted to fearing the sea almost as much as the Jap opposition he is sure to meet. They know that there are no stop-offs, no staging areas, no auxiliary air fields where they may land in case of trouble. Crews fly anywhere from eight to fourteen hours over the wastes of the Pacific only to spend a few seconds, or at most minutes, of destruction over Jap targets.

"'To relieve the monotony, they have adopted numerous measures of sweating the time to and from the objective. Some sleep, some write letters to their wives or girl friends, others read and still others just sit and watch, searching vainly for something different in the never-changing seascape below them. There is always a tenseness in the trip to the target; but once away and safely on the road home the tenseness gives way to a sense of relief, sometimes of hilarity if the going was particularly rough. Always there is food on the way back, and sometimes the crew has loosened up enough to break into a songfest.'

"'Aerial warfare over Japan is as tough or tougher than the worst stage of the great aerial assault on Europe last spring (1944). The Japanese fighter pilot is a more formidable opponent than the Nazi aces of the Luftwaffe.

"'Those are the sober conclusions of the most seasoned and experienced of my crew in the Pacific.

“'S. Sgt. Charles R. Alleman of Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania, radio operator, recently told this story of the persistence of Jap fighter pilots.

They tried one stunt on us which I'd encountered before in Europe. But no Nazi would have done it the way they did. They lined up 12 planes above and behind us in single file. Object is to peel off at five-second intervals and dive straight through our formation. Of course they figure they'll scatter the formation or at least loosen it up enough to ruin our system of interlocking fire.

"'"It's a wonderful idea if it works because naturally other fighters hanging on the flanks can swarm in at the same time to try to pick off the outside bombers.

"'"Well, down they came. The first plane ran into our terrific blast of firepower and simply disintegrated. So did the second. But the rest didn't even hesitate. When their turn came, they peeled off like automatons and roared on down into the same blast of fire. One after another, all twelve.

"'"No German would have had the guts for that. The last few would have said the hell with it, it doesn't work, we'll try another angle. That's why I'd call the Nazis smarter pilots, maybe. But they haven't the Japs' single minded recklessness and push."

"'Pooling their expedience on both sides of the world, all agree with Colonel Haynes' judgment that aerial warfare over Japan is worse than that over Europe--but they're a lot more emphatic about it. . .

"'I face another enemy over Japan which is sometimes worse than all the Nicks and Tonys in the Jap air force--weather. One of my crew endorses to the hilt, the recent statement by Lt. General Milliard F. Harmon, Commanding General of AAFPOA (Army Air Forces Pacific Ocean Area), (who since this was written was lost at sea, and has been succeeded by Lt. Gen. Barney M. Giles), that the weather over Japan is the worst in the world--and that Tokyo is proving to be the most difficult precision bombing target of World War II.

"'"The weather over Japan is brutal," said Captain Smith. "It's worse than the Aleutians in many ways, and that's saying all there is to say on the subject. I've flown in both and I know."

"'A bombardier, Lt. Raleigh B. Phelps of Windsor, North Carolina, explains some of the difficulties. “Weather over Japan isn't the kind of trouble for a B-29 that it would be for medium bombers . . . At our operating altitudes of 30,000 plus feet, we are above ordinary turbulence, in the clear air of the sub-stratosphere. But the extremely variable weather underneath us can play hell with visibility.

"'"Half a dozen different decks of clouds, at varying altitudes and maybe moving in opposite directions, sweep across each other like camera shutters, and the target is alternately clear and obscured so that we may have to bomb by instrument.

"'"It can change in a flash too. The lead plane may find the target wide open. The trailing planes may find it completely socked in by clouds. In addition, as you approach Japan at B-29 altitudes, you encounter great westerly gales that whip with unbelievable force across the big islands from the mainland of Asia. They hit velocities of as much as 250 miles an hour, sometimes even higher.

"'"Bucking head winds in the approach, we have had a ground speed as low as 60 miles an hour, even with the terrific power of our engines. One B-29 actually found itself flying backwards on one occasion.

"'"It's a kind of Buck Rogers war at those altitudes and under those conditions. Temperature may be down to 66 below zero, and those terrific winds and heights, a bad weather condition underneath, a complicated plane handle--and then flak all around and sometimes hordes of Jap fighters to make things really difficult. The speeds are amazing too, with those winds.

If we fly downward we sometimes hit better than 500 miles an hour in level flight and you can see how much time a bombardier has for his computations. Why, we're 10 miles past our target before the bombs even hit it."

"Freak occurrences sometimes take place on my flights. For instance, one ship--the only one known to do this and survive--turned a barrel roll while over the target, i.e., rolled over on its back, and dropped from 6000 to 1800 feet before it righted itself and resumed flight.

"Another experience took place on a mission to Osaka. While his plane was over the target, Lt. Arthur Schnell, bombardier, was trying to close the bomb-bay door by hand. The vacuum set up by the on-rushing plane ripped his chute out of its pack and it blossomed out behind the plane. While struggling tenaciously to the bomb rack which he clutched on the way out of the plane, Lt. Schnell managed to cut the shrouds and set the chute free.'

"Another harrowing experience was recently reported. It seems that flak over the target was particularly heavy during one raid, and in addition to being liberally bathed with it, one plane was hit by some kind of Jap shell which pierced its nose. The shell lodged somewhere underneath the pilot's seat, and none of the crew could get at it. For the entire return trip they sweated out the explosion of that shell. It never did go off, but, whew!

"This is the story of the Marianas-based B-29's but even this is only the beginning. The air-war over Japan is hardly beyond its opening phases. I am still young and new, and my life and career are still before me. My purpose is definite, my course determined, my crew resolute. The story of my mission and value lies not only in what I am, but in what I do as well, tonight, tomorrow …

"'One common complaint . . . is the exaggerated accounts of the B-29's exploits given by home-front commentators and headline writers in the press.

"'General Hansell said that "during 30 days we have a rough average of more than 100,000 pounds of bombs per day on urban industrial centers of Japan--including aircraft factory areas."

"'The Hatsodoki plant, largest of its kind in Japan," he added, "is at this time out of business with at least 40 per cent of its buildings destroyed or gutted by fire. The Kokuki plant has also suffered extensive damage.”

"'The General went on to say, however: "We haven't put all our bombs exactly where we wanted to put them, and therefore we are by no means satisfied with what we've done so far. We have much to learn, and many operational and other technical problems to solve. Some of our experiments, however, have been gratifying, if not satisfying, and the B-29 has proved itself a magnificent weapon of war.”

“'He went on: "The first Tokyo raid, of November 24, did a good deal of damage, although after that raid, and the December 3rd attack on the Masashino plant, the damage was inconclusive. A few buildings were destroyed and plant production possibly interrupted, but the factory was not knocked out."

"'General Hansell's remarks were underscored by Brig. Gen. Emmett O'Donnell on the latter's return from leading the first B-29 raid.

"'"It was a good practice mission," he said, "and a good starter, but it wasn't by any means up to the standard we have set ourselves. I don't think the B-29's alone are going to swing this war," he added. "I think we have a contribution to make. They have set the pace we are aiming at, and with practice they will grow to it. But I know it is going to take the whole team to lick those guys." . . .

"'That is the characteristic attitude of the men who are flying Tokyo missions, and the generals who are commanding the operations. They know they will not achieve their maximum effectiveness of either pin-point bombing accuracy or the number of planes over a target for some time, perhaps a matter of months.

“' . . . It isn't present publicity from which the Superforts are suffering today, perhaps, so much as the past buildup during the long period when the public was waiting for the sky dragons to appear.

“'False hopes may also have been built up about the destructibility of the target itself. Tokyo often has been described as a 'match-box city.'

“'Japanese officials have been warning their people of imminent United States air raids for more than a year. It seems entirely feasible they also have been improving their fire-fighting service and, wherever possible, strengthening walls and roofs of their factories just as the Germans did.

" 'Reconnaissance photos show where the Japanese have burned their own buildings in certain districts to make fire breaks.

"'It must be remembered that facilities for receiving and storing quantities of bombs, gasoline, and other supplies needed by the Superforts are severely limited, so that area bombing by thousands of planes, such as practiced from England, is impossible from the Marianas."

“From what my men will learn of earth and sky, of clouds and winds; what new knowledge they wrest from the sea and the stratosphere, the stars and space, because of me, because of what I am, it is my wish that they will surpass the high pinnacles on which they stand today. Not to a fortress more than super, but to a ship designed for peace, for a world devoted to human development and to the conquest of the unknown. That is my prayer. I am the B-29.”

Return to the Huerfano County Home Page
© Karen Mitchell