A Bombing Mission to Japan

The Army Air Forces made significant efforts to document its operations in World War II, to include extensive data collection and reporting, detailed historical writing, and even filming of operations conducted worldwide.

Many will be familiar with documentaries about the air war in the Europe Theater of Operations in “The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress” (1944) and the air war in the Mediterranean theater in “Thunderbolt” (1945).

B-29 operations against Japan were also recorded in film, captured in a 36-minute color film documentary from 1945 titled “The Last Bomb,” at:

https://archive.org/details/TheLastBomb1945

Most of the film gives coverage to what might be described as a typical XXI Bomber Command late-war daylight raid, from the planning to the execution of a mission. Although the target in this particular example is not Osaka, it does reflect the standard operating procedures, tactics and employment of AAF combat aircraft against Osaka and other targets in Japan, including both the B-29 very heavy bomber and the P-51 Mustang fighter, during the strategic bombing campaign of 1944-1945.

Summer Heat in Early June

The First Raid in March

Osaka was first struck by the Boeing B-29 Superfortress very heavy bombers on the night of 13-14 March 1945. Osaka was the third urban area attacked with incendiary weapons in General Curtis E. LeMay’s “Fire Blitz” that month, on what was called XXI Bomber Command’s Mission 42.

Beginning just after midnight and continuing for over a three hour period, 274 of 301 B-29’s dispatched on the mission bombed by radar through an undercast, from altitudes between 5,000 and 9,600 feet. The bombers destroyed over eight square miles of the city, with the destruction concentrated in the heart of it, in the area southwest of Osaka Castle, where some 13 numbered targets were obliterated.

Some 8.1 square miles of Osaka were burned in the urban incendiary attack on the night of 13-14 March 1945.  (Source US Army via Fold3)
Some 8.1 square miles of Osaka were burned in the urban incendiary attack on the night of 13-14 March 1945. (Source US Army via Fold3)

Some 134,744 houses were destroyed, another 1,363 houses damaged. Japanese casualties in this raid numbered 3,987 to 12,451 dead (two sources differ) and 678 missing (same two sources agree), far less than the Tokyo fire raid a few days earlier but still terrible.

Loss in the attacking force consisted of one B-29 bomber. One Japanese fighter was claimed by the bomber gunners. The only B-29 loss was:

42-24754, 499th Bomb Group, 878th Bomb Squadron, V-30, Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) 13017, Ellingston crew, nine Killed In Action (KIA), two survived according to one source. The MACR shows nine crew members total, which was the crew number for the lower altitude night incendiary raids in this timeframe.  One source shows the aircraft was shot down by anti-aircraft fire and crashed in Minami kyuhoji-cho, Osaka City, WSW of Osaka Castle.  Another source (Takaki and Sakaida) indicates the aircraft was probably shot down by Ki-61 Hien (Allied codename TONY) fighter pilot M/Sgt Tadao Sumi, and that the wreck came down in the downtown area of Sakaisuji, in Osaka. *

A Brief Relief

The city then enjoyed a short respite, though B-29’s continued to hit other strategic targets in Japan, as well as operational targets in support of the Okinawa landings. But in June, 1945, after much destruction was achieved in the Tokyo and Tokyo Bay areas and the Okinawa campaign support requirements decreased, the B-29’s returned to Osaka.

Friday, June 1, 1945

In a variation from the March attack, on 1 June 1945 the B-29’s returned in the daytime. There were still significant targets in the Osaka metro area, though they were not concentrated due to their lying outside of and around the area destroyed in the March fire raid.

As Mission 187 of the XXI Bomber Command, it was a maximum effort daylight raid of 458 B-29’s (16 more attacked other targets). Around 200 Japanese fighters were assessed to be defending the Osaka area, with maybe half of them thought to be operational due to pilot and fuel shortages, in addition to maintenance issues. So fighter escort from Iwo Jima was tasked to support the mission. Three fighter groups, the 15th, 21st and 506th, sent 148 P-51 Mustang fighters. In addition, a variety of air-sea rescue assets were positioned at various points along the route, including five submarines, four B-29 Superdumbos, five Dumbos, and two surface ships.

A weather front proved a significant obstacle for the fighters, most of which were unable to complete the mission. Because of it, 27 fighters were lost in the ensuing chaos of turbulence, poor visibility, mid-air collision and extreme down and updrafts, along with 24 pilots.

The bombers continued on, with the 27 fighters that managed to work themselves through the weather front and struck their targets, but it was not quite as easy as the March mission.

B-29A-45-BN 44-61784 "Incendiary Journey" of the 6th Bomb Group flies over Osaka during the 1 June 1945 daylight raid.  Note Osaka Castle at bottom of photo, with North to the top of the photo.  (Source:  )
B-29A-45-BN 44-61784 “Incendiary Journey” of the 6th Bomb Group (VH), 24th Bomb Squadron, flies over Osaka during the 1 June 1945 daylight raid. Note Osaka Castle at bottom of photo with an almost pentagon shape.  For orientation purposes, North is roughly at the top of the photo. (Source:  Wikipedia)

B-29 crewmember Lee Florence of the 499th Bomb Group noted it in his diary: “T .0. 0330 for incind raid on Osaka. Flew deputy lead for 879th Sqdn. Flew behind 877 Sqdn. Bombed at 1132. Intense flak and very accurate. Capt Wilkinson hit over target. No parachutes. Slight fighters. One fairly large hole in right aileron and wingtip. Smoke from target topped 22,000’. Bombed at 20,000’.”

Bombs from B-29s fall upon the harbor area of Osaka during the 1 June 1945 daylight raid.  (US Army, via Fold3)
Bombs from B-29s fall upon the harbor area of Osaka during the 1 June 1945 daylight raid. Fires have already started from previous waves of bombers across the target area.  For orientation, North is roughly at the top of the photo (US Army, via Fold3)

Ten B-29’s were lost on the mission, in exchange for over three square miles of the city destroyed by the 2,788 tons of ordnance the bombers carried and expended.

Post-strike photo taken after the 1 June 1945 daylight raid on Osaka, Japan.  (US Army, via Fold3)
Post-strike photo taken after the 1 June 1945 daylight raid on Osaka, Japan. (US Army, via Fold3)

B-29 Losses on 1 June 1945

42-24524, “Super Mouse,” Triangle N 17, 444th BG, 676th BS, MACR 14598, Anderson Crew, 10 KIA, one Saved. Lost at 0206Z in vicinity of 32 degrees 50 minutes North 136 degrees 55 minutes East. On way to target formation was attacked by fighter aircraft. Super Mouse was hit by an unidentified single engine fighter and damaged in the cockpit area; flight engineer and pilots instruments were knocked out, the aircraft depressurized, but no one reported wounded. Aircraft remained in formation, bombed target, then left formation after reaching the ocean again. The aircraft headed for Iwo Jima but about 60 miles from Japan it suddenly went into a violent left bank and the bailout alarm sounded in the aircraft. Tail gunner T/Sgt Daniel J. Serritello initiated bailout and was part way out of compartment when he lost consciousness, came to in the air wounded and with aircraft wreckage all around him. He deployed his parachute and was picked up after an hour and 46 minutes in the water by a Lifeguard submarine, which saw the explosion, about 45 minutes after a B-29 saw him in the water and circled the area. A search of the area yielded no other survivors and T/Sgt Serritello was returned to Guam by 10 June 1945.

42-24542, “Lady Hamilton II” 468th BG, 794th BS, MACR 14600, Johnson Crew, 11 Missing In Action (MIA). The aircraft was last seen at 0300Z entering a weather front 200 miles south of the Japanese mainland on a heading of 152 degrees to Iwo Jima (32 degrees 15 minutes North 138 degrees East). At that time no trouble was reported by the Johnson crew. Cause of loss unknown.

42-24741, 497th BG, 869th BS MACR 14595, Campbell Crew, two KIA, nine Saved (rescued). Aircraft experienced an in-flight emergency immediately after takeoff due to engine #1 issues, which eventually ran away and caught fire. Crew bailed out approximately 60 miles northwest of Saipan. Surviving crew members were picked up by a Navy destroyer escort (DE) and at least one by another vessel, an AOG. The body of the tail gunner S/Sgt Robert E. Martin was recovered but the right gunner S/Sgt Clayton A. Schnecker was never found.

42-63496, “Naughty Nancy” 444th BG, 677th BS, MACR 14599, Sisson Crew, 11 KIA. May have been (likely was) one of two aircraft involved in a mid-air collection observed at the Assembly Point.

42-65348, A Square 16, 497th BG, MACR 14593, Crowe Crew, 12 KIA. Hit by flak over the target and an engine set afire, last seen losing altitude and headed out to sea. Subsequent report indicated aircraft radioed in distress when 91 miles away from Shino Saki light (about 85 miles south of Osaka), on a bearing of 155 degrees. Of the 12-man crew, “Four were captured. Of these two were executed right away: Lt. H.K. Wittee (Bomb) and T/Sgt Al Hart (CFC). Sgt. Larry Beecroft (Tail Gun) was executed July 20, and S/Sgt Russ. Strong (radar) was executed Aug. 15, the last day of the war.”

42-65364, “City of Roswell” aka “Skyscrapper” 39th BG, 61st BS, MACR 14594, Orr Crew, one MIA and 10 Saved. Upon making landfall enroute to target at 1200, crew noted oil leaking from #3 engine. By the time the aircraft reached the Initial Point, the flight engineer reported a loss of 20 gallons of oil on that engine. Just before bombs away hit by flak in left wing, no apparent serious damage. Aircraft departed target but then #3 would not feather, and shortly afterward a runaway prop damaged aircraft and flight controls. Experienced multiple engine failures afterward and crew bailed out in vicinity of rocky crag called Sofu Gan (aka Lot’s Wife).

The rocky crag called Sofu Gan, also known as Lot's Wife.  (Courtesy Wikipedia)
The rocky crag called Sofu Gan, also known as Lot’s Wife. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

All of the crew bailed out but when Flight Engineer T/Sgt. Edward M. Kanick bailed out his cute failed to open. B-17 Super-Dumbo found them 90-minutes later and dropped a Higgins lifeboat which surviving crew boarded. US Navy Lifeguard submarine USS Tinosa recused the crew on 2 June 1945, later transferred to USS Scabbardfish and returned to North Field, Guam.

US Navy fleet submarine USS Tinosa underway circa 1945.  (Courtesy NavSource)
US Navy fleet submarine USS Tinosa (SS-283) underway circa 1945. She rescued the Orr Crew of the 39th Bomb Group after the 1 June 1945 Osaka mission.  (Courtesy NavSource)

42-65270, “BIG POISON 2nd Dose” 444th BG, 678th BS, MACR 14597, Arnoult Crew of 11 men. One of two aircraft involved in mid-air collection at the Assembly Point at approximately 0950K. “They were in a mid-air with another B-29. I saw it happen. We were trying to form up the formation and were still off the coast of Japan in and out of the soup…….No survivors.”

42-93995, K-37, “City of Osceola/Behrens’ Brood”, 330th BG, 458th BS, Behrens’ crew. Damaged by flak over the target, made it back to near Iwo Jima thanks to an Iwo-based P-61A Black Widow night fighter of the 548th Night Fighter Squadron. Capt. Behrens was dead, but the remaining crew bailed out near the island and the P-61 then shot down the lifeless bomber which was still flying.

44-61666, T Square 16 of the 498th Group, “Sweet Sixteen”, ditched on 1 June 45. Yount crew, survived.
MACR 14194 conflicts with this, indicating that 44-61666, 498th BG, 873rd BS, Alexander crew was lost on 4 September 1945 on a mission to deliver former prisoner of war supplies to Fukuoka, Kyushu, Japan. Aircraft loss due to unknown causes.

44-70083, 499th BG, 877th BS, MACR 14596, Wilkinson Crew, all 11 crew members KIA. “While over the target area at an altitude of 20,000 feet, the nose of his aircraft was hit with flak by anti-aircraft guns from a Japanese warship in Osaka Bay and crashed, with no parachutes seen opening.” The MACR reported the aircraft was hit by a burst of heavy flak just forward of the bomb bay at 1301 hours, about 15-30 seconds before bombs away. The aircraft pulled up and to the right to avoid collision with the aircraft on its right wing then fell off. The nose section burned off and no parachutes were seen.

Thursday, June 7, 1945

Less than a week later, on 7 June, the B-29’s were back over Osaka in daylight on XXI BC Mission 189. Four hundred and nine B-29’s carrying 2,592 tons of ordnance were escorted by 138 P-51 fighters of the VII Fighter Command – nine B-29’s attacked other targets.

P-51 Mustang fighters of the 21st Fighter Group accompany a B-29 over the Pacific in 1945.  The fighters were based on Iwo Jima from which they conducted Very Long Range operations against Japan's Home Islands.  (Courtesy Defense Media Network)
P-51 Mustang fighters of the 21st Fighter Group accompany a B-29 over the Pacific in 1945. The fighters were based on Iwo Jima from which they conducted Very Long Range operations against Japan’s Home Islands. (Courtesy Defense Media Network)

The gigantic Osaka Army Arsenal, transportation and industrial targets were on their target list that day. Three of four B-29 combat wings employed incendiary weapons while the 58th Combat Wing’s aircraft carried high explosive bombs to try and demolish the Army Arsenal – the Osaka Army Arsenal was the largest Army arsenal in Japan. Since there was a heavy undercast, the aircraft bombed by radar.

This aerial photograph was taken 27 February 1945.  It shows the vast Osaka Army Arsenal complex immediately to the East (right) and North (above) the Osaka Castle grounds and moats to the left in the picture.  It was the Imperial Japanese Army's largest arsenal.  (US Army, via Fold3)
This aerial photograph was taken 27 February 1945. It shows the vast Osaka Army Arsenal complex immediately to the East (right) and North (above) the Osaka Castle grounds and moats to the left in the picture. It was the Imperial Japanese Army’s largest arsenal. (US Army, via Fold3)

Lee Florence of the 499th BG noted in his diary: “T .0. 0502 for incind raid on Osaka. Bombed at 1314 through clouds. Alt. 20,700′. Meager flak. One fighter attacked as if ramming from the nose. He put three shells through the right fuel cells and one through the #4 props. No trouble coming home. No losses in group. “

Over two square miles of the city were burnt out, with over 55,000 buildings destroyed.

Damage assessment derived from post-strike aerial photographs taken after the 7 June 1945 daylight raid on Osaka.  (US Army, via Fold3)
Damage assessment derived from post-strike aerial photographs taken after the 7 June 1945 daylight raid on Osaka. (US Army, via Fold3)

Two B-29 bombers and one P-51 fighter were lost, though P-51’s claimed two Japanese fighters shot down and another damaged.

42-24834, “The Moose Is Loose,” 504th BG, 421st BS, MACR 15700, Collier Crew, one KIA, four MIA and six Saved. After exhausting gasoline, at 1930K time all of the crew bailed out 40 miles from Saipan on a bearing of 315 degrees.

B-29 Unidentified. The Aviation Archaeological Investigation and Research (AAIR) accident database shows two B-29s involved in accidents on Marianas airfields on 7 June 1945. 42-93964, 330th BG, 459th BS, K-52, Heid Crew, North Field, Guam, was involved in a takeoff accident. The extent of damage is not indicated. Over on Tinian’s West Field, 42-63455, 40th BG, 25th BS, Turner Crew, was involved in a taxiing accident. Again the extent of damage is not indicated. It is possible that one of these aircraft was written off and could be the second loss associated with the 7 June 1945 Osaka mission.

P-51D loss was possibly 44-72871, from the 21st Fighter Group, 46th Fighter Squadron. Pilot 2nd Lt. Walter J. Wojtassek bailed out over the ocean between 20 and 30 miles north of Iwo Jima. He was picked up at 1016 that morning by the destroyer USS Case (DD-370) and returned to Iwo Jima by mid-day.

USS Case (DD-370), underway off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California on 20 February 1942.  (Courtesy NavSource)
USS Case (DD-370), underway off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California on 20 February 1942.   In 1945 she served on radar picket duty off Iwo Jima as well as Lifeguard duty for downed aircrews.  (Courtesy NavSource)

Friday, June 15, 1945

One week later on 15 June the B-29s attacked Osaka again, for the last time in June. Mission 203 saw 446 B-29’s with 3,157 tons of incendiaries and high explosives tasked against two aimpoints in Osaka and three in neighboring Amagasaki, just north of Osaka and in between in and Kobe to the west. Another 25 B-29’s attacked other targets. One hundred P-51 Mustangs were launched as escort but turned back due to adverse weather.

The mission was captured in a succinct description in Lee Florence’s diary: “T.O. 02356 for incind raid on Osaka. Bombed at 1005 through clouds. Very bad weather. Results unobserved. No fighters. No flak. No losses. Bombed at 21,000′.”

In this 15 June 1945 attack, two more square miles of Osaka were burnt out, and a 1/2 square mile of Amagasaki, in this raid.

One B-29 was damaged and two others were lost on this mission in crashes near their island bases.

42-93928 “City of Hartford,” 29th BG, 43rd BS, Heyke Crew, 11 MIA. Crashed 12 miles north of Guam, all 11 crew members were lost in the sea. MACR 14265 is associated with this aircraft loss in some sources but appears to correlate to a 35th Fighter Group, 40th Fighter Squadron P-51 Mustang loss on 13 April 1945. Accident report #45-6-15-506 is associated with this aircraft on the 29th BG website.

42-24800, 462nd BG, 769th BS, Sullivan Crew. Crashed on takeoff, destroyed by fire at West Field, Tinian.

So ended a fiery June in Osaka, though it would not be the last time that B-29’s raided the city. The city was hit hard on three occasions, with over five square miles and a number of targets destroyed; Japanese casualties are unknown at the time of this writing. This was in exchange for 14 Superforts with over 80 aircrew killed or missing, and 27 Mustangs and 24 fighter pilots lost in the weather fiasco of 1 June (and at least one more P-51 lost on 7 June). War is a deadly, destructive scourge and one hopes that the leaders of nations will do all they can to avoid it in the future.
Supplementary Note

* 42-24610, “Bedroom Eyes,” 498th BG, 874th BS, T Square 22, is sometimes indicated as a loss on the Osaka mission of 13-14 March 1945, based on the filing of MACR 13018. This MACR simply indicates the unfortunate loss of one of the 11-man Zeller crew, Left Gunner Sgt. Harold L. Newell. This aircraft was on a mission un-related to Osaka, a weather reconnaissance flight, and was at a location of approximately 30 degrees 45 minutes North, 131 degrees 10 minutes East in the vicinity of Tanega-shima Island, off Kyushu when the left side blister blew off. Left Gunner Sgt. Newell’s combat belt snapped and he was sucked out of the aircraft in the resulting decompression. The tail gunner, Cpl. Ralph H. Tejada, saw that Newell managed to open his parachute, but prevailing winds were carrying him out to sea, and he was never found. He is remembered in the Courts of the Missing, Court 7, Honolulu Memorial at the National Cemetery of the Pacific. He received the Purple Heart and Air Medal for his service and sacrifice.
References

Birdsall, Steve, Saga of the Superfortress, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1980.

Griggs, Allen L., Flying Flak Alley: Personal Accounts of World War II Bomber Crew Combat, McFarland & Co., Inc., Jefferson, NC, 2008.

Takaki, Koji and Sakaida, Henry, B-29 Hunters of the JAAF, Osprey Publishing Ltd, Oxford, UK, 2001.

Bombing of Osaka, Wikipedia entry, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_Osaka

506th Fighter Group – 1 June 1945 Black Friday, at: http://www.506thfightergroup.org/missionjune1blackfriday.asp

56 Years Ago website, 1 – 15 March 1945, at: http://user.xmission.com/~tmathews/b29/56years/56years-4503a.html

56 Years Ago website, 1 – 15 June 1945, at: http://user.xmission.com/~tmathews/b29/56years/56years-4506a.html

Memorial Page for Thomas C. Wilkinson, Fold3 website

Mention of Ellington crew survivors from 13-14 March 1945 mission, at: http://b-29.org/73BW/bomb-wing-data/499-group.html

Harold L. Newell, MIA, in the American Battle Monuments Commission database, at: http://www.abmc.gov/search-abmc-burials-and-memorializations/detail/WWII_159242#.VX4k00ZdC70

War Diary of USS Case, DD-370, June, 1945, on Fold3 website

USAAF accidents overseas, June, 1945, database extract at Aviation Archaeology and I Research website, at: http://www.aviationarchaeology.com/src/AARmonthly/Jun1945O.htm

Lot’s Wife (Sofu Gan), Wikipedia entry, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lot%27s_Wife_%28crag%29

June 1945 Mission Summaries, at: http://user.xmission.com/~tmathews/b29/56years/missionsummary4506.html#15jun45

Heyke Crew loss on 15 June 1945, 29BG website, at: http://www.29bg.com/planeinfo.cfm?pid=19
Aviation Archaeological Investigation and Research (AAIR) webpage, at: http://www.aviationarchaeology.com/

P-51/B-29 picture at:  http://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/very-long-range-p-51-mustang-missions-to-japan-taxed-pilots/

USS Tinosa picture at:  http://www.navsource.org/archives/08/08283.htm

USS Case picture at:  http://www.navsource.org/archives/05/370.htm

A Missing Piece

Recently, news from Japan told of a significant change in the exhibits of the Osaka Peace Museum. Having visited this museum back in 2008, this web log writer was interested to read about the change. Seeing that the news was carried on the Asahi website, a left-leaning new organization in the view of some, made the story from that source one to carefully consider.

Unfortunately, if what the Asahi reports is true, what appears to have happened is that the essential context of the origins and extent of the Pacific War, in which the air raids on Osaka during the war were presented, have essentially been sanitized. Information about Imperial Japan’s atrocities committed in Asia has been removed, and additional displays on the air raids have been added.

Students check out exhibits relating to U.S. air raids in Osaka Prefecture at the Osaka International Peace Center on April 30, the day the renovated museum reopened. (Courtesy Asahi Shimbun, Gen Hashimoto)
Students check out exhibits relating to U.S. air raids in Osaka Prefecture at the Osaka International Peace Center on April 30, the day the renovated museum reopened. (Courtesy Asahi Shimbun, Gen Hashimoto)

The change was attributed to political pressure by leaders in Osaka Prefecture and the city, and those that support views that refuse to acknowledge the devastation japan inflicted on many lands and peoples during the Pacific War. This is, in this writer’s opinion, an unfortunate development, as it detracts from the historical record and accents the victim mentality of Japan. It will be interesting to see how Japanese leaders today respond during the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II later this year.

You can read the full article “Peace museum, caving in to threats of closure, scraps wartime ‘aggression’ exhibits,” published 1 May 2015 (May Day, surprise, not!), at: http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/social_affairs/AJ201505010073