Chapter Six

First Daylight Mission from Tinian

Date: 26 June, 1945 Target: Kagamighara, Japan

Aircraft Airborne: 79 from the 58th Wing Bombed Primary Target: 60

Time over Primary: 1012-1055 (A.M.) Bombing Altitude: 15000-16900 ft

Aircraft Lost: 1 Enemy Planes Claimed 6-3-3

(Statistics from The 20th Air Force Album)

"This is just like the movies."

Regardless of the success of the low-altitude night raids targets remained that had to be pinpointed in the daylight, aircraft factories for example. A daylight mission was scheduled to go over the target before noon so the planes could have 6 hours to fly home and arrive before sunset. This also improved the chance of good visibility before the clouds built up over Japan. Therefore, the mission would have to get underway from Tinian about 3:00 to 4:00 A.M. A notice would appear on the headquarters bulletin board that a mission was scheduled soon and there were guys who checked that board very often. So it didn’t take long to hear if your crew’s name was listed.

The combat crews that were selected to fly the mission assembled in the briefing building after supper. Large maps on walls and bulletin boards revealed the target, as well as the assembly area and initial point. Specialists discussed the expected weather plus enemy defenses in the air and on the ground. Each crew was given a take off time and altitude to fly. We also received our compass headings to the target and home again. Our plane was assigned a position in the formation. Finally we learned about air-sea rescue procedures. There wasn't much information on capture or escape. I did not bother to check out my gun from the armory. I thought it would only get me in trouble if captured in Japan and I couldn’t see any reason to carry a weapon if we were forced down at sea. The crews then broke up for specialized briefings interesting to pilots, bombardiers, flight engineers and the rest. We were then free to return to our living areas to read, relax, or nap (although not many could sleep) for a few hours. The mess hall opened at midnight for those that wanted breakfast and most did.

About an hour before take off the trucks picked us up and delivered us to the flight line. There we "pre-flighted" the plane. My job was to visually inspect all exterior surfaces for damage or wear. I always chinned myself on each engine nacelle to look in the air scoop. I don't know what I expected to find but we just wanted to make sure that there was nothing there. If you wore a ring, this was the time to slip it off because it could catch on plane parts and injure your hand. Everyone shared the chore of pulling the huge props through a few rotations. We were testing for resistance that meant oil was leaking into the cylinders. After a last check to confirm each crewmember had a parachute and life preserver vest (called a "Mae West"), we climbed aboard. Then we went through a long flight checklist. Included was the response of the rudder, elevator and ailerons to the controls. We could not see them from the flight deck and depended on the crew in back to report over the intercom. Now it was time to start the engines one by one as a ground crewman pointed a fire extinguisher at each in turn. We were finally ready to go.

The Crew

Aircraft Comdr. Richard Primm Radio Opr. Robert Etzinger

Pilot Robert Sanders CFC Gunner Edward Zuba

Navigator John "Doug" Howell R Gunner David Cameron

Bombardier Ernst Stark L Gunner Don Delmanzo

Radar Officer Warren Burger Tail Gunner John Dugan

Flight Engineer Clyde Vanderslice

We moved out of the hardstand slowly in the pre-dawn darkness to the taxiway where we joined a single file of B-29's proceeding nose to tail. One by one we turned onto the main runway by tapping the brakes and "revving" an outboard engine. Then we stopped and waited for our signal from the tower. At one-minute intervals a green light flashed at us that meant, "Go now or get out of the way." When we began rolling down the runway with the crescendo of the engines roaring in our ears I always felt the familiar "rush" of excitement. The veteran flyers told us to hold the nose of the airplane down until we reached airspeed of 130 miles per hour. This was a critical time for it took every ounce of power from all four engines to get the fully loaded plane airborne. If any of them lost the slightest power we had to make an instant decision to chop the throttles back and stand on the brakes or try to get in the air and go around. We estimated the point of no return at halfway down the runway. There was a 50-foot hill about one-half mile off the end of the runway. We joked that clearing this obstacle meant 50% of the mission was accomplished and there was some truth in it.

Once we were underway, I began calling off the air speed so Primm wouldn't have to look away. Since he wanted both hands on the control wheel, I blocked the throttles so they couldn't slip back. Over the little hill he gave me the command, "Gear up" so I toggled the switch that raised the landing wheels. You could feel the plane settle a bit and I held my breath. Making a slow turn to the right over the sea we began a gradual climb to cruising altitude. After setting our course for Iwo, we settled back for the 6 hour-long ride to Japan. Primm chain-smoked all the way up and back. That was too much for me so I tried hard candy but even that made my mouth sore after a few hours. The gunners had a chance to test fire all the gun turrets on the way. The staccato roar seemed to send us a wake-up call. It meant this flight was the real thing and we would be facing danger ahead. Along the way I kept busy fine tuning the autopilot for course and altitude corrections. I also monitored some radio channels but since all planes maintained radio silence I heard little. Sometimes I was surprised to pick up Jap radio stations broadcasting their eerie string music. It sounded weird and spooky, especially in the dark.

When we finally arrived at the assembly area, where we were supposed to join up in formation with our squadron, we were in for a surprise. It was completely socked in (with clouds) at that altitude. Now what should we do? Well, we noticed the light looked brighter below us so we descended a few hundred feet. Sure enough, we soon broke into the open daylight. We scanned the area all around but saw nothing. Now we were flying only one hundred feet under the overcast. I thought I saw a flicker of movement far ahead but when I looked again, it was gone. Suddenly a Jap fighter plane dove out of the clouds right in front of us. His guns were blazing but he was gone in the blink of an eye. We didn't even have time to alert the gunners and he escaped without our firing a shot. I thought he missed us but I heard the voice of the flight engineer on the intercom say, "Lieutenant, look out your window at number 3 engine." There was a black-rimmed hole about the size of my fist in the aluminum skin! That maneuver took considerable skill and I salute the pilot of that "Tony."

The engine seemed to be running O.K. so we decided to continue the mission. However, we had been cautioned against going over a primary target alone. We finally sighted two other B-29's ahead and tried to catch up. Flying behind them we got caught in their prop wash (turbulent air). Primm called on me to help fly because the controls weren't responding. It was a helpless feeling trying to maintain even flight. I felt my mouth go dry. We climbed a little and it was easier to fly but we weren't catching up. The two planes in front had their bomb bay doors open so Primm told Ernie (the bombardier) to open our doors and drop when they did. Black puffs of anti-aircraft fire began appearing at our level, dangerously close. When the two ahead dropped their bombs, Ernie toggled ours away. Although we could see the ground through scattered clouds, I never recognized a target. We hoped those guys knew what they were doing.

As we turned to a new course for home, we got some company again. On the intercom we heard the gunners in the back talking about at least two more enemy fighter encounters. Dave Cameron and Dugan, the tail gunner, both claimed their guns damaged enemy planes. They were both credited with "possibly damaged" aircraft. In his own mind, Dugan was convinced he had destroyed an enemy fighter and was very upset when he was only awarded the "possible" later. At any rate the remote controlled guns performed well and we were all very pleased. As we crossed over the coast again and headed back to the sea, Dugan piped up on the intercom, "This is just like the movies." Nobody had any comment on that and dead silence followed.

However, our problems weren't over. Vanderslice reported that two engines were showing a drop in oil pressure. This was a very dangerous situation if they both quit. How the second engine was damaged we never found out. Since we found a number of small holes in the plane later, it may have been from the guns on the ground at the target. The immediate goal was to make them last for 3 hours and make an emergency landing on Iwo Jima.

I tried to contact the other 2 B-29's on the radio but they weren't listening to my frequency. Finally I used the signal light and some rusty Morse code. It worked! One of them throttled back and flew with us all the way to Iwo. We wanted them to know if the engines failed and we had to ditch in the ocean. Then they could have reported our position and possibly stayed over us until help arrived.

We made it to Iwo with no further trouble. They had been open for B-29 traffic only a few weeks. The main runway wasn't paved yet and had some hills and valleys but it looked wonderful anyway. We stayed overnight and lived like everybody else there. That meant using mess kits at field kitchens and sleeping in small tents. The next day, they offered us another plane to fly back to Tinian. It had landed there some time earlier with battle damage and since been repaired. Since it had not been checked out yet, we were concerned about flying the 600 miles home over the ocean. The engineering officer told us to fly around the island and come back in if we found something we didn't like. If everything looked O.K., we could continue on home. We accepted his offer and took off for a test hop, flying a large circle around the island. Everything seemed to be working smoothly so we crossed our fingers and set course for Tinian, landing a few hours later with a collective sigh of relief.

We hiked back to our living area three abreast, tired, dirty and disheveled. I had tied a handkerchief on for a sweatband. It probably resembled a bandage. Some joker called out, "You guys look like The Spirit of 1776." About this time I noticed all the colors seemed brighter than before, the grass was greener and the sky looked bluer. I suppose going in harm's way made me see the "bright face of danger." We told each other, "Well, so much for the first daylight mission, now only 32 more to go before rotation!"

The next day, the leader of our crew went on sick call. Dick Primm had aggravated an old wrist injury and he complained of pain before we left India. Now he obviously thought it was bad enough to affect his flying. He was relieved from duty, shipped out and I never saw him again. One week later, Captain S.M. Viner joined our crew as aircraft commander. He was a veteran of about 25 combat missions. We were uncomfortable with each other at first but he was a thorough professional and quickly earned our respect. I guess the feeling was mutual because when he completed his tour six weeks later, he recommended several of us for promotion.