Part II

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Ex-CBI Roundup
April 1994 Issue

By Lt. Col. Gary Gray

Editor's Note: This is the second segment of Colonel Gray's story on the 20th Air Force and the B-29 aircraft. The first part of this story appeared in the March 1994 issue.


Twentieth Air Force's XXI Bomber Command began operations in the autumn of 1944 when it was constituted and placed under the command of Brig. Gen. Haywood S. Hansell. He Hew the first B-29 into Isley Field, Saipan on 16 October 1944. The XXTs first mission was against the submarine pens on the island of Turk on 28 October 1944. Missions were also launched against Iwo Jima which was about 730 miles north of Saipan between the Marianas and the home islands. Iwo Jima was an important staging area for the Japanese fighters.

It was Japan itself that the XXI Bomber Command was aiming for, specifically the aircraft industries. On 1 November 1944 the "Tokyo Rose" appeared over Tokyo. It was an F-13 - the reconnaissance version of the B-29. It was the first American aircraft to fly over the Japanese capital since April 1942 and lazily passed back and forth over the city taking photographs for 35 minutes.

Twenty-four days later, "Dauntless Dotty" took off from Saipan and headed for Japan. At the controls were the wing commander, Brig. Gen. Emmett O'Donnell and his co-pilot. Major Robert K. Morgan, whose B-17, "Memphis Belle" had been the Eighth Air Force's first Flying Fortresses to complete 25 combat missions. Behind them were 110 Superfortresses ready to meet an expected 500-600 Japanese fighters. (Actually, there were only 375 in the entire home islands.) Eighty-eight bombers made it to Tokyo to drop their bombs. Anti-aircraft fire and more than 100 fighters rose to give battle. When it was over, American gunners claimed seven kills, eighteen probables and nine others damaged. Of the 94 B-29s that made the full trip, only two were lost in combat. Of the eleven damaged B-29s which returned to Saipan, eight had been hit by Japanese gunners and the other three bore the hits from their own sister ships.

The mission was not militarily very significant, but it was the opening blow of the Battle of Tokyo. Once again American bombers had dared to appear over the Emperor's palace. And this time it would not be years before the deadly silver birds would appear again. The renewal of the attack on Tokyo by the Twentieth Air Force may not have opened very impressively, but it was a quick preview of the devastation that was to come from the skies within the next few months.

Because of the weather, the long combat missions could only be made every 4-6 days. During those missions, as the B-29s flew at 30,000 feet, high winds of near-gale velocity, plus obscuring cloud cover, would be characteristic of practically every mission to Japan.

When General Arnold moved Gen. LeMay to Guam to command XXI Bomber Command on 20 January 1945, it only consisted of three wings, but new wings were forming almost monthly. Another bomb wing was formed on Tinian on 4 February 1945 and the unique 509th Composite Group arrived there in May. As was customary, as soon as he arrived, LeMay got a tough training program under way.

LeMay sent his B-29 out 16 times after he had replaced Gen. Hansell but his bombing results were hardly improved. It was only after Brig. Gen. Thomas S. Powers took his wing on a mission to Tokyo on 25 February 1945 that a new idea came to LeMay. Reconnaissance photos taken after the raid showed that one square mile of Tokyo and nearly 28,000 buildings, had been obliterated. Where the incendiaries had been concentrated, results had been impressive.

LeMay developed new tactics which called for the B-29, designed to bomb from an average altitude of 30.000 feet. to come in at low levels of between 5.000 and 7,000 feet. The mission would be made at night - the B-29 was designed for daytime operations. To avoid crashing into each other, the B-29s would fly singly, not in LeMay's combat boxes. They would carry only incendiary bombs (napalm or oil) and no guns and no ammunition. The last point was important, no guns and no ammunition meant more bombs could be carried and the B-29s couldn't shoot at each other in the night.

Unlike Germany, a large proportion of Japanese military and industrial targets were concentrated in a few major metropolitan areas and these targets were surrounded by the flimsy dwellings of the workers. Also, hidden among the dwellings were small "shadow" factories also devoted to turning out war material. In this environment, defining the boundary between purely industrial and residential Japanese targets was all but impossible.

On the afternoon of 9 March 1945, 332 Superfortresses, carrying 2,000 tons of fire bombs, took off from Guam's North Field, Saipan's Isley Field, and Tinian's North Field. Shortly after midnight, a total of 325 aircraft reached the target. LeMay said, "If this raid works the way I think it will, we can shorten this war." Their main weapon would be the M69 oil bomb. The M69 was a cluster of bombs which would burst at a 2,000 feet altitude and spread the smaller blazing parts around the area into which it fell.

Once they were over Tokyo, over 40 fighters closed in for attacks but no serious damage was attributed to them. Anti-aircraft fire damaged 42 B-29s and 14 others were shot down with nine crews lost. When it was over, 16 square miles of the main section of Tokyo had been wiped out, along with 22 industrial targets which had been marked for pin-point destruction by the Twentieth Air Force. One-fourth of all the buildings in Tokyo had been destroyed.

LeMay's plan had worked splendidly and shortly thereafter, the Joint Target Group in Washington approved a major change in bombing techniques and compiled a target list designating 33 urban areas of Japan where its industries would suffer most from incendiary attacks.

As always, LeMay had another conception in the back of his mind; he believed that with proper support - supplies, crews, and B-29s - air power alone could force a Japanese surrender. In fact, LeMay was so confident that he started dropping leaflets on the cities they were planning to bomb, to reduce the lose of life. In both tactics and strategy, he was right. Japan was finished as a warmaklng power. But Japan still had a 2 million man army awaiting the expected American Invasion of the homelands. It was estimated that each side would suffer one million casualties during the planned invasion. But the Japanese warlords were determined to fight on. They would not sacrifice "face" even at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives.

The tempo of Twentieth Air Force's attacks were ever Increasing. But fighter escort was desperately needed for the B-29s, especially in light of reports of a new and heavily armed fighter interceptor that the Japanese were developing. Air Force planners had long coveted the three Japanese airfields on Iwo Jima. Less than 800 miles from the Japanese homeland, Iwo Jima was a threat to the Twentieth Air Force's B-29s because of radar warning stations on the island and the Japanese fighters stationed there.

In American hands, this three-by-five mile dot in the Pacific could serve as an emergency landing field for distressed B-29s. Also, navigational aids could be set up, fighters could be based there to escort the Marianas-based Superfortresses, and it could be used as an air-sea rescue base.

The Marines took Iwo Jima in February 1945 and it was then possible to provide fighter support for the B-29 operations over Japan from the Twentieth Air Force's newly assigned VII Fighter Command. The VII's five long-range fighter groups made a quick changeover from P-47D "Thunderbolts" to P-51D "Mustangs," and a detachment of P-61 "Black Widows" night fighters was moved from the Hawaiian area to Saipan and then on to Iwo Jima. The VII also supported air sea rescue and reconnaissance units that were assigned to the island. Since the fighters had an extremely limited navigation capability, each fighter group had B-29s and crews assigned which escorted them to their designated rendezvous point off the Japanese mainland.

Using LeMay's new tactics, XXI Bomber Command began to operate mostly at night. The combined effect of the fighter escorts, the night attacks, and the lack of Japanese night fighter capability proved very effective. By 5 June 1945, the Japanese mounted their last effective air opposition against the B-29s. Thereafter, the Japanese yielded complete air supremacy, electing to hoard their remaining aircraft for suicide attacks against an expected surface invasion. General LeMay later commented. "The record will show, that in the last two months of the war, it was safer to fly a combat mission over Japan than it was to fly a B-29 training mission back in the United States."


In June 1945, General of the Army Air Forces Arnold paid a visit to Harmon Field on Guam to see Gen. LeMay. LeMay told him that 30 to 60 of Japan's cities and every industrial target in the home islands would be destroyed by 1 October 1945. In the air over Japan, the B-29s were virtually unopposed.

During the next few months, the B-29 Super Fortresses of Twentieth Air Force would take a massive toll on the Empire of Japan. But inter-service rivalry continued. In late July and early August, LeMay was frequently required to support naval carrier aircraft operations against the Japanese homeland. On one support mission, the Third Fleet requested that he attack airfields in the Tokyo-Nagoya areas. The plan required his B-29s to drop 6,500 tons of bombs to protect the carriers while their aircraft dropped 500 tons of bombs on the mainland. Fortunately, "bad target weather" prevented the LeMay's B-29s from attacking the airfields and they were forced to divert to their secondary targets.

Following Nazi Germany's surrender on 8 May 1945, Emperor Hirohito told his war council on 20 June that it was time to draw up plans to end the war at once. Early in July, the Japanese government asked the Soviet Union to intercede with the U.S. to stop the war, but the Soviets refused to relay the proposal. The Soviet Union had agreed to enter the war against Japan 90 days after the Germans surrendered. In return, they would receive some territorial concessions in East Asia. The Japanese militarists wished to continue the fight, believing they could secure a negotiated peace, once massive American casualties began from the expected surface invasion. On 26 July 1945, at the end of the Potsdam Conference, the Big Three, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin, reiterated their call for an unconditional surrender.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff had authorized on 2 July 1945, the establishment on Guam of the U.S. Army Strategic Air Forces (USASTAF), Pacific with General Carl A. Spaatz as the commander. Under the plan, the XXI Bomber Command at Harmon Field, Guam was designated as the new Headquarters, Twentieth Air Force. On 16 July 1945, Maj. Gen. LeMay replaced Gen. Arnold as the Commander of Twentieth Air Force.

B-29 CREW shows strain of 15 hour mission to Singapore.
Photo taken at interrogation table. Airman seated at lower right is your
Roundup editor. Photo courtesy Dwight O. King.

Also under the plan, the Eighth Air Force was to be redeployed from Europe to command the new B-29 wings based on Okinawa. The Joint Chiefs would direct USASTAF operations again, as in April 1944, General Arnold would act as the Joint Chiefs' executive agent for the USASTAF.

Under the new command, the Twentieth Air Force had 923 B-29s in five wings and two groups along with fighters based at Iwo Jima. General Jimmy Doolittle, the new commander of the Eighth Air Force arrived on 19 July 1945 and General Spaatz arrived on Guam on 29 July to organize the USASTAF. LeMay became his Chief of Staff on 2 August 1945 and Lt. Gen. Nathan F. Twining took over the Twentieth Air Force. Together, Twentieth and Eighth Air Forces would have control over a total of 49 B-29 groups, but the war was to end while the two were still organizing their headquarters staffs.

Before reaching the theater, Gen. Spaatz had been briefed on the atomic bomb which the Twentieth Air Force's 509th Composite Group on Tinian Island would drop on a Washington-selected target as soon as it could be delivered from laboratory production. The 509th Group, with 1767 men, had 15 specially modified B-29s assigned to it. They flew special training missions of only three aircraft and dropped oddly shaped bombs called the "pumpkin."

The first atomic bomb had been successfully detonated in New Mexico on 16 July 1945 during the Potsdam Conference. On the day of the Potsdam Declaration, 26 July, the cruiser INDIANAPOLIS delivered the Uranium-235, plutonium, and other materials for use in the atomic bombs. The Japanese continued to reject the call for surrender. So, President Truman, aboard ship in the mid-Atlantic and on his way home from the conference, approved the dropping of the bomb on the first possible day after 3 August.

Flying from Tinian and escorted only by two photographic planes, the B-29 "Enola Gay" dropped "Little Boy" an atomic bomb made from Uranium-235, on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. Hiroshima, ironically, was where Admiral Yamamoto had directed the Pearl Harbor operations. It had suffered very little bomb damage during the war because it had been reserved as a target for the 509th Group.

The world waited for the Japanese to reply. No word came. So, three days later, another Twentieth Air Force B-29, "Bockscar" dropped the plutonium "Fat Man," the second atomic bomb. This time against the secondary target Nagasaki. Three bomb runs had previously been made against the primary target of Kokura without sighting the target before the decision to divert to Nagasaki, the alternate target, was made.

As the Japanese deliberated, preparations continued on Tinian Island to prepare the third atomic bomb for delivery, should the war go on. This time the target would be Tokyo!

After the first bomb was dropped, the Soviet Union promptly declared war on the Japanese Empire and seized the Kuril Islands. On 10 August, the Japanese government officially announced its decision to accept the Potsdam surrender terms, provided the surrender would not alter the institution of the Emperor. On 14 August 1945, Emperor Hirohito announced Japan would surrender but Twentieth Air Force bombers were already in the midst of their last bombing missions of the war. In fact, on that last mission, elements of the Twentieth made the longest unrefueled combat mission of the war, striking the Nippon oil refinery near Akita in the extreme northwest coast of the island of Honshu. On their trips home from these last missions, the bomber and fighter escort crews received the coded signal "Utah" and they knew the end had come. The formal surrender of the Japanese Empire took place on 2 September 1945 aboard the battleship MISSOURI in Tokyo Bay.

A total of 3,975 B-29s, B-29As, and the postwar B-29B were eventually built by Boeing, Martin, and Bell. Additionally, a total of 5,092 on order were cancelled at the time hostilities ended. During the war, the Superforts flew 33,041 sorties against enemy targets and dropped 170,000 tons of bombs, over 90 percent of which fell on metropolitan Japan.

The price paid for by the Twentieth was 3,041 casualties - dead or missing airmen, 485 lost in combat or other operations, and 2,707 damaged from all causes. In turn, the gunners of the B-29s destroyed 1,128 Japanese aircraft in defending their own formations.

The challenge of supporting the logistical requirements for the Twentieth were enormous. Just one bombardment group of the Superforts actually required more fuel in its ten months of operations against the enemy than the entire stock of gasoline consumed by private and commercial vehicles In the United States in all of 1943.

The war which had begun and ended with an aerial attack was over. The air pioneers of the day believed that Twentieth Air Force's conventional bombing campaign would have ended the war "certainly prior to 31 Dec. 45, and in all probabilities prior to 1 Nov. 45" even without the atomic bomb. But the use of "the bomb," in General Arnold's opinion, had "provided a way out for the Japanese Government" to end the war.

Immediately after V-J Day (Victory over Japan), the Twentieth Air Force was assigned to the Far East Air Forces in the Pacific. On 16 May 1949, Headquarters was transferred from Harmon Field, Guam to Kadena, Okinawa, where the Twentieth became responsible for the air defense of the Ryukyus Islands. Several changes of command took place in the post-war years: Maj. Gen. James E. Parker on 15 October 1945; Brig. Gen. Frederick M. Hopkins, Jr., on 19 March 1946; Maj. Gen. Francis H. Griswold on 10 September 1946; and Maj. Gen. Alvan C. Kincaid on 8 September 1948.

During the Korean War, the Twentieth Air Force was assigned to the Far East Air Force's (FEAF) Bomber Command which was led by Maj. Gen. O'Donnell. The Twentieth briefly participated in the conflict starting in June 1950 when the North Koreans invaded South Korea. To permit outnumbered United Nations (U.N.) ground forces to "trade space for time" and to prevent the North Korean People's Army from overrunning all of South Korea, FEAF Bomber Command's B-29s devoted an exceptionally large proportion of their capabilities to the support of U.N. ground troops. In the early days of the conflict, the Twentieth's air bombardment actually had to compensate for deficiencies in the Army's artillery support fire.

GREAT EASTERN HOTEL in Calcutta where G.I.s went for good meals.
One of the few places in Calcutta where the food was acceptable.
Photo by Frank A. Bond.

On 31 July 1950, Maj. Gen. Ralph F. Stearley assumed command and in early August 1950, Supreme U.N. Commander, General MacArthur ordered the B-29s to begin a comprehensive interdiction campaign against the enemy's overextended supply routes. Throughout the war, Twentieth Air Force units carried out further logistics missions in support of the combat operations of other U.N. units.

Maj. Gen. Fay R. Upthegrove took command on 8 February 1953, and presided over the inactivation of the Twentieth Air Force at Kadena, Okinawa, on 1 March 1955.


During a major functional realignment of Strategic Air Command's Number Air Forces on 4 September 1991, the Twentieth Air Force was reactivated at Vandenberg Air Force Base. It was fitting that the Twentieth become the designation for this new Air Force, for it had dropped the first atomic bombs on Japan in 1945, ending World War II without further loss of lives. Thus, it could truly be said that the Twentieth Air Force really ushered in the era of nuclear operations.

This new Twentieth Air Force was commanded by Brigadier General Thomas E. Kuenning Jr. and was given the responsibility for all the operational command and control, management, equipping, training, and testing of the America's Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Force. At that time, the Twentieth Air Force had 50 Peacekeeper, 500 Minutemen III, and 450 Minuteman II ICBMs on day-to-day alert. The explosive force of just one of the Twentieth's modern nuclear warheads far exceeded the combined power of all the bombs dropped by the Twentieth's B-29s during the entire war in the Pacific.

On 1 June 1992, a new chapter in the Twentieth Air Force's distinguished history was written when the 14,000 missileers: operations, maintenance, security, logistics, civil engineering, communication, and support warriors at Twentieth's seven wings became an integral component in the United States Air Force's new Air Combat Command which was headquartered at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia.

Then, on 1 July 1992, the billet of Commander of the Twentieth Air Force was elevated to the rank of Lieutenant General as Arlen D. Jameson assumed command of the Twentieth Air Force. This important event was further recognition by our leaders of the unique standing and needs of the ICBM weapon systems and the people who operate, support, maintain and secure them.

Important changes continued in the new United States Air Force. On 1 July 1993, the Twentieth Air Force moved from Air Combat Command to Air Force Space Command headquartered at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and for the first time in history, the space and missile forces were in their own major command. Ironically, Air Force Space Command which was established in 1982 was now the new Air Force's oldest major command, because ADC, SAC, TAC, MAC, and ATC had all been deactivated and replaced with different commands!

Also, on that day at Vandenberg, the new United States Air Force reactivated the famous Fourteenth Air Force, the Flying Tigers, and assigned them to Air Force Space Command. Fourteenth Air Force would now be responsible for all the new Air Force's space units which are located at 54 sites spread throughout the globe. Then finally, one more important change. On 1 October 1993, the Twentieth Air Force moved its headquarters from Vandenberg to the famous cavalry, now missile base, at Francis E. Warren Air Force Base at Cheyenne, Wyoming.

In the future, the Twentieth Air Force's ICBM Force will continue to train and equip our ICBM Force, providing Global Power and Global Reach to America as a key element of Air Force Space Command. It will also provide day-to-day alert forces - Minuteman and Peacekeeper missiles and their combat crews - to the new United States Strategic Command which is headquartered at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska. Strategic Command is now also responsible for the Navy's Submarine Fleet Ballistic Missile Force and the targeting of our missile force.

United States Strategic Command was destined to become, from its very inception, the most potent and versatile military force the world has ever known. Its mission was awesome - to continue to keep our freedom and liberties. But if that mission should ever fail, then the men and women of the Twentieth Air Force, superbly trained and equipped, will enable the new United States Strategic Command to take the battle to the very heart and soul of any potential enemy - exactly the way the original Twentieth Air Force won the war in the Pacific.

Today, the Twentieth Air Force is thousands of men and women standing guard on the nuclear ramparts, steadfast and poised, at hair-trigger readiness, entrusted every minute of every day to provide nuclear deterrence. And although the mighty strategic bombers of World War II have been replaced by the strategic intercontinental ballistic missiles of today, the Twentieth Air Force continues to serve this nation well, ensuring the peace, and protecting the liberties and freedoms which were so valiantly defended by an earlier generation of Twentieth Air Force warriors. This is Twentieth Air Force's mission. This is their legacy. This is their sacred trust. They will never allow themselves to forget their awesome responsibilities.

Lt. Col. Gary Gray is currently (when this article was written) the Chief of Staff for the 30th Support Group at Vandenberg Air Force Base and is also Vandenberg's Community Liaison Officer. Col. Gray enlisted in the Air Force in 1966 and his first enlisted assignment was to England where he first became fascinated with World War II history. Upon his return to the States, he served tours with both the Air Defense Command at Duluth, Minnesota, and the North American Air Defense Command at Cheyenne Mountain Complex near Colorado Springs. Colorado. While in Colorado, Tie was assigned to the Fourteenth Aerospace Force before the unit was inactivated. Commissioned in 1976, he was assigned to F. E. Warren as a missile maintenance officer and other missile assignments included SAC Headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska, and Ramstein Air Base in Germany. He arrived at Vandenberg in 1986 to plan for new missile acquisition programs and later served as General Jameson's Special Assistant.

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