THE RAMA VI BRIDGE
The Siamese government named a railway bridge over the Chao Phraya River near Bangkok, Thailand for their venerated King Rama VI. Since supplies for the Japanese armies in Burma and South-west China were delivered by train over the Rama VI Bridge, the Supreme Commander of South-east Asia, Lord Louis Mountbatten, ordered it to be destroyed. On February 7, 1945, the 40th Bomb Group launched 10 B-29s from Chakulia Air Field, India to hit this key bridge. My Lead Crew led the formation to the target's Initial Point. When our Bombardier 1st. Lt. Marshall Norton took control of the bomb run, he led the formation to score a bomb pattern that British and American surveys listed as an example of classic strategic bombing.
Lt. Norton was a small man from San Antonio, Texas. Shorty, as we affectionately called him, had been on my crew in the 45th Bomb Squadron since 1942 when we flew B-18 bombers on patrol missions in the Caribbean Theater. We often ribbed Shorty about his being only five feet three inches tall, and asked him how he slipped by the Army Air Corps minimum height standard. Such good-natured banter never fazed Shorty. He not only was the group's best Bombardier, but he also was an expert marksman with every type military weapon. His expertise with B-29 turret guns during a combat mission was especially appreciated by his fellow crew members. Our crew considered Shorty a friend, a cool airman in combat, and a great human being.
The Rama VI Bridge mission went exactly as briefed. It was a classic example of high altitude, formation, strategic bombing. The ten B-29s were in a tight formation when Shorty Norton took control at the Initial Point, and he made such smooth course corrections on the bomb run, that we never seemed to change heading. As always, Shorty ignored the flak and fighter opposition we met on the way to the bomb release point. The other Bombardiers released their bombs when they saw Shorty's bombs leave our bomb bays. By the time the last bomb had exploded, the center span of the Rama VI Bridge was on the bottom of the river. Strike photos showed a perfect bomb pattern that was every Bombardier's dream.
That was the last combat mission for our crew. A few days later, we flew a war-weary B-29 back to Morrison Field, West Palm Beach, Florida. During customs inspection, an Intelligence Officer confiscated Shorty Norton's only copy of his strike photo as classified material. When Shorty objected, he was threatened with a court-martial. Overjoyed to be back in the States, Shorty surrendered his precious souvenir. Later, he was assigned duty as a B-29 Instructor Bombardier in a combat training school.
* From Ira V. Matthews' Eighty-one War Stories. *