The 40th Bomb Group was having a difficult time during a 1944 bombing raid on the Japanese aircraft factory at Omura, Japan. It was a daylight raid, and enemy fighters were present in great numbers. Zekes, Tojos, and several new Jack fighters with their huge radial engines, swarmed around our B-29 formation. After bombs away, a damaged B-29 in my low flight dropped out of the formation and a Jack immediately pounced on it. Our crew left the formation, and descended to become a wing man in support of the crippled B-29.

The fighter pulled up abruptly from his first head-on pass, looped completely, and dived for a second head-on pass at our plane. Our Bombardier and Top Gunner poured dozens of rounds at the fighter. Several struck its engine. As the barrel-shaped fighter flashed by, all its engine's ring cowling flew off and fluttered beneath the nose of our plane. We could see the exposed front cylinders of an engine that looked to be as large as a B-29 engine. Our Intelligence Section had reported Jack's 1,820 horsepower was almost the same as that of a B-29 engine.

When the Jack disappeared beneath our plane, the Bombardier turned around, gave me an O.K. signal, then asked over the interphone, "Did you see that cowling fly off? I'm sure I got him!" Then he called the Tail Gunner for a report on what the fighter was doing. The Tail Gunner said, "You didn't get him. He pulled straight up in a loop. I think he's getting in position for a third pass." The Top Gunner called, "He's at one o'clock high. Here he comes again, head-on!" Sure enough, the fighter came into view, diving steeply, its engine cylinders visible, and all its guns flashing. Our Bombardier and Top Gunner were firing almost continuously. After the Jack disappeared beneath our plane, the Tail Gunner reported, "He leveled off and is headed back to Japan."

This was probably one of the first Japanese attacks consisting of complete loops and successive head-on passes at a B-29. Of course, our slow speed, a result of flying with flaps partially extended to enable us to stay with the crippled B-29, made his maneuvers easier. Even so, the new Jack was faster and more powerful than the Zekes and Tojos we were accustomed to fighting. Fortunately, our plane suffered only minor damage during the Jack's three passes. The crippled B-29 landed safely at a friendly Chinese Airfield.

During the mission debriefing, it was concluded that a Jack fighter plane could maneuver exceptionally well with its engine cowl missing -- if flown by a Pilot with the skill of the one who made loops and head-on passes at us over Omura.

* From Ira V. Matthews' Eighty-one War Stories. *