THE DAYLIGHT RAID
In the morning of September 19th we were awakened very early by the C.Q.(Charge of Quarters) - Corporal Price - barking "everyone down to the Flight Line ... with flying gear ... chop chop!" Oh damn, another training mission and we had just flown a five hour formation training flight on the 15th, only two days after our return from Suiho ... what are the trying to do to us? A hurried scooping up of oxygen masks , head sets, throat mikes etc, but NO cold weather gear or survival kits since we were certain it was only another training flight ... particularly at this early hour of the day!
Upon our rather casual arrival at the briefing room, our usually mild mannered A.C. was livid with us and asked "where the hell is your flying gear, you were told to bring your flying gear so now get back in that truck and get your flying gear and be back in time for briefing!" "Uh oh, for Captain Cheney to be mad it must be something big" ... and it WAS! The noise in the very crowded briefing room was loud, many crews, like for a MAX EFFORT! "Group ATTENHUT!" The entourage sweeping to the front of the Briefing Room included General Curtis LeMay ... .ol' Iron Ass! My God, the Commander of the United States Air Force Strategic Air Command ... of World War II Fame in Europe and The 20th Air Force in the Pacific ... the guy who took the B-29s down from high altitude to 7,000 feet over Tokyo for accuracy and results! SHIT! Goddamnit ... we knew there was something to all those formation flight training missions of last month ... DAYLIGHT AGAIN! We're going back to Daylight raids again! And we were!
The target that very afternoon was a Max Effort for all aircraft and crews from the three B-29 Bomb Groups in FEAF (Far East Air Force), the Yonpo Barracks Area And Airfield on the East Coast of North Korea just north of Wonsan, with formation formup of the 19th and 307th out of Okinawa over the East China Sea, and rendezvous and formup with the 98th out of Yakota Air Base Japan, over the Sea of Japan. A total of about 40 B-29's were going on the first daylight raids since October 23rd 1951, when several B-29s were shot down and several others badly damaged, with many crewmembers lost and wounded over the airfield of Namsi! The murmur through the crews was very strong and somewhat ugly ... all relating that this was strictly for show ... for LeMay!
After a short briefing there was a great rush for the waiting crew trucks to get to the aircraft hardstands and a hurried preflighting, shortened by hours, making the need for thoroughness even more desperate if urgent! Usually preflighting came many hours BEFORE briefing, not so today! The constant thought while working over engine pressure checks and turret operations was overwhelming and singular ... what about AIR COVER ... Fighters? We had been told that several Squadrons of fighter Aircraft from the Fifth Air Force in South Korea would escort us in and out of North Korea and that enemy opposition should be light ... the east coast being a long way from MIG ALLEY!
The spectacle of so many aircraft forming up in great swooping turns and dog-leg maneuvers, to have stragglers catch up was in itself a sight to behold, a graceful waltz of ugly black- bottomed aircraft all so carefully seeking their place in the chorus line! And then the turn north to repeat the dance over the Sea of Japan with the 98th, another 20 or so aircraft jockeying for position! And now at "coast in", the landfall point of the formation turn, at least 440 pairs of regular crewmembers eyes, and many more of those along for the ride, were peeled looking for the fighter cover ... NO WHERE TO BE SEEN!
At some point very soon, interphone silence was broken over "where are they" ... and Joe B. , our Tail Gunner said "Bud, look up at about 7 0'clock high ... in the sun ... " ... and there they were, the most spectacular formation of aircraft that I have ever seen, at about 40,000 feet and above, stacked in a SINGLE line High Left, like a flight of Ducks, not in the standard formation or V of V's ... one single solitary long sparkling line of about 120 to 150 F-86 Sabre Jets in perhaps what may have been the very last great formation of Fighter and Bomber Aircraft since World War II ... and forevermore! They sparkled in the sunlight like jewels ... .too high to get a picture but engraved in my mind ever since! And there were NO MIGS that day!
As the only daylight combat mission we ever flew, we had the opportunity to see things that we had never been able to observe in the darkness of the preceding 11 missions. As the formations of "Vs" of B-29s all dropped their 10 ton loads at the same time, on the signal of the lead aircraft, the whole flight of ships seemed to undulate, surfing on a wave of air as the ships were greatly lightened of their bomb burden, some appearing a little less under control than others, probably with all crews concentrating on the majesty of these massed aircraft in formation rather than on their own position. The target was plastered and we had a very smooth and uneventful flight back to "the rock", perhaps the easiest 9 hour mission of all, and one that we wouldn't have missed for the world ... in hindsight! Losses were NIL, morale was high, spirits were great, and LeMay had done it again! The legend continued with his having supposedly flown in one of the lead ships but I have never confirmed that ... but know he would have if allowed!
I had for the past several weeks concealed a dangerously infected ingrown big- toenail and padded it with an extra second heavy wool sock so I could even walk on it and not get grounded by the Flight Surgeon. By now my own somewhat serious "surgery" - with a sheath knife - was beginning to heal just in time for the big Fall Campaign push by the Chinese, and the mission rate and target severity had been increasingly difficult!
Cousin Vic Dunn was in Bunker Hill area in September 1952 and during the Fall/Winter Campaign, wounded in late Fall. We flew front line support "Primer" missions in the immediate area and could very clearly see the searchlight marking the Panmunjom Truce talk neutral zone, approximately 4 miles from Vic's position.
- George Orwell -
- A VETERAN's Blog -