MOSS AT FIVE O'CLOCK
Hungtze Lake on the Grand Canal north of Nanking, China, was often used in 1944 as the rendezvous point where B-29 bombers assembled into a bombing formation for a strike against the Japanese Empire. On one mission, our 45th Bomb Squadron planes began to join with its Lead aircraft just after sunrise at 15,000 feet. Since radio silence was in effect, the Lead Pilot extended his plane's nose gear as a visual means of identification. Visibility was limited, so he started an extra circle to pick up a few stragglers who had not arrived with the main group. When the last of the 10-ship formation was spotted at a distance, he retracted his plane's nose gear as the signal that he was turning on course to the next check point.
The Pilot of the last plane to arrive at the rendezvous point was Major Bob Moss. He approached the formation too fast at a right angle from the three o'clock position. Several Gunners and Copilots, realizing the danger of Major Moss' approach, warned their Pilots by interphone. Then they watched in horror as the approaching B-29 was racked up into a steep, right turn as Major Moss attempted to align his plane with the formation's course. The turn was too late! The B-29 careened through the middle of the formation, barely missing each plane that it passed. It finally skidded past the lower flight of planes, then slowly approached the formation from the rear at a proper closure speed. Eventually, Major Moss stabilized his plane in his assigned position near the end of the formation. A major catastrophe had been averted. The formation continued to the target, and bombed it as planned.
At the mission debriefing, many crew members commented on the near-misses that occurred as Major Moss flew through the formation. A couple of Pilots testified that the errant flight path of the B-29 had been so close to them, they heard its engines as it passed by. Many critical remarks were made about the incident, and some people were heard to say that Major Moss should have his eyesight checked.
A few weeks later, our squadron assembled over Hungtze Lake again. Radio silence was in effect. This time, Major Moss approached at the proper speed from the rear and to the right of the formation. Suddenly, radio silence was broken when someone blurted out, "Moss at five o'clock. Be on the alert!" The formation Leader demanded, "Stay off the radio!" Major Moss joined the formation, and the mission was completed as briefed.
During mission debriefing, Major Moss said that he did not appreciate being treated like a Japanese fighter. No one ever admitted braking radio silence over Hungtze Lake.
* From Ira V. Matthews' Eighty-one War Stories. *