Cheney's Crew up on the Mission Board but the only one scheduled for an early briefing and the Group is on for a Max Effort later. Whew, after missions on the 5th, 7th, 8th, and 10th, and Suiho 9/12, a test hop on the 15th, and the daylight "showtime" raid for Lemay on 9/19, a test hop on the 21st, and another combat mission on the 24th, what a break that we're not included in the big mission tonight! HA...WRONG!
We worked all day preflighting our ship and went to early briefing ... elated! We were the only crew there ... what's this? The Briefing Officers came in and went through the whole routine as if the whole Group WAS there ... "GROUP- ATTENTION!" ... WHAT GROUP ... CREW!
"Gentlemen, your target IS..."...with the obligatory secret curtains drawn back and the dramatic dreaded RED LINE...(whistles) "NAMSAN-NI , three miles down river from Suiho , a major chemical plant vital to production of materials used in manufacture of munitions ... previously untouched , a real opportunity"...groans ! "As you may recall (RECALL? ... hell it was only two weeks ago), this area, just a few miles southeast of Suiho, is very heavily defended and we have planned an advance Flak and Searchlight Suppression Raid two hours in advance of the main force, and you will be followed by ships from the 98th and 307th with the same objective...to knock out searchlight and gun crews. YOU are FEAF Bomber Command Lead Aircraft for 45 B-29's on this Maximum Effort, and your SECONDARY objective AFTER bombs away, is to orbit between the I.P. and the target, climbing to 28,500 feet, while the bomber stream comes through below you. Your Group E.C.M. (Electronic Counter Measures) man has been updated on the new Russian 'S-BAND Radar' ... and you will jam radar for the ships coming through and below you."
Had it occurred to them that the shit that missed the planes BELOW us might just come on up to US?
"You will also have a large supply of Chaff or Window", nine large cartons full of small bundles of Aluminum Foil strips about 6 inches long, looking very much like Christmas tinsel! "Your Tail Gunner will leave his position at 'Bombs Away' and come forward to the Rear Main Entrance Hatch and throw this stuff out manually."
Cripes, 25,000 feet at minus 45 degrees, unpressurized, damn lights , flak, and Migs...and there's Joe B. throwin' this shit out the rear main entrance hatch a hand full at a time...and leaving our tail unprotected! Ain't science wonderful!
"Gentlemen, to finish up quickly, you're loaded with 192 - 100 pounders with V.T. (Variable Timed) Proximity Fuses ( previous maximum loading of 100 pounders had been 144 but someone had figured out how to cable- cluster even more and get up to 192 ), set to go off above the ground within range of guns and searchlights for maximum effect on the light and gun crews. Gentlemen, you were on Suiho ... you know the necessity to reduce defenses for the following force...one aircraft is small enough risk for the potential return!"
"What the hell?" ... Captain Cheney was on his feet, livid over that comment ... "Are you calling this a suicide mission?" "Captain, you and your crew are going to have close -air support from the Marine Corps F-3D Skynight Radar Night Fighters of Marine Squadron VMF(N)-513. They will be orbiting above you in the area between the I.P. and target to take care of the Mig threat...and B-26's will be at low level to take out those lights and guns as soon as they come on. Your mission is crucial and we have done everything possible to assure the best odds for the WHOLE force! Gentlemen, Good Bombing, Good Luck"...and he forgot to add ... "And GOOOOD BYE!" HAHA ... but he did remember to add "And we'll be here waiting for you in the morning!" Well, wasn't that nice!
Takeoff was routine ... if ever they were...no crowds lining the flight line or runways as they would be later. I kind of missed the crowds, even the crude middle finger waving characters, perhaps "Yossarians" themselves! Hey, do you guys know what we're doing here? The trip was in the clear and we had a great plane, thankfully our usual ship, "NO SWEAT". We arrived in the I.P./Target area and the boulevard of lights started coming on and were almost immediately pounced by the low level 26's and we could see many of the brilliant lights flare up, smoke, and go out, just like a burning out light bulb, hit by the hard nosed 26's with up to 8 -50s in their nose strafing, and the Gunner probably at his periscopic sight taking a crack at light and gun positions with the Gunners two turrets and 4 more 50s , as they flashed by. And I wondered if Meldahl or Strand from our Gunnery School class could be down there in one of the 26's! (Remember, it wasn't 10 dollars they had paid to get into B- 26's...they were getting a 25 dollar thrill this night!)
Across the target some flak and lights in the same gauntlet bomb run as Suiho but no comparison...E.C.M. and the B- 26's were really working them over! Maybe it was the element of surprise of one plane being arrogant enough to come over the gauntlet by itself ... much as had happened with the Enola Gay in the first atomic bombing over Hiroshima in 1945 when they encountered absolutely no opposition, with the enemy then thinking it was just another reconnaissance flight! At "bombs away", the surge upward created by the sudden dump of 10 tons, 20,000 pounds, was always a point of huge relief, being rid of the bombs and coming off the target, and I always thought of having just gotten rid of the equivalent of 4 or 5 Cadillacs buried in your belly, a higher air and escape speed and no longer riding on "dynamite"!
After bombs away, we turned to start our climb back to our I.P. and our E.C.M. orbit. Our # 1 engine, on my side , started to "torch" very badly , a bluish engine -exhaust flame trailing almost from the cherry red exhaust stack to past my Plexiglas Blister, and well back toward the horizontal stabilizer , of no great mechanical consequence or hazard but a very bright beacon for searching Migs! Our Flight Engineer adjusted the fuel mixture, "leaned it out", but with no significant effect. The A.C. decided to shut it down, feather a perfectly good operating engine, and continue the mission, but of course we would have difficulty reaching our briefed altitude of 28,500 feet and finally leveled off at 27,000 or 27,500 feet, enjoying the light show of the Bomber Stream coming through behind and below us.
Well into our orbiting, John Lamire, the Group E.C.M. man with us, and stashed in the crowded nook behind the upper aft turret, and just behind the amplidyne and dynamotor panel in front of my position, had hollered and then flashed a light to get my attention through the small crescent gap between the fuselage and the panel frame. "HEY FARRELL...WATCH THIS " ... and at about that time it seemed like every scanning searchlight within a 5 mile radius LOCKED on us....CONED us !! "NOW WATCH"...and the lightcone broke up and the beams started scanning again..."NOW WATCH"...and he did whatever he was doing...AGAIN! "GODDAMN IT LAMIRE ... KNOCK IT OFF!" Frenchy was a crazy Cajun from Beaumont Texas, and fearless after more missions than I can imagine. He had been in the 19th when we arrived, was there when we left, and I wouldn't be surprised if he was doing the same thing over Vietnam 15 years later! He wore two pearl handled revolvers in a waist holster a la Ol' Blood and Guts Patton in WW II, and I am certain he was at least as fearless! He was a master of his art but he aged me about 10 years in TWO minutes!
The Marine F3D's were there and flew almost in our prop wash and God Bless 'Em! We saw no Migs, lost no aircraft, and two hours later headed toward Itazuke AFB at Fukuoka , Japan, for a planned refueling stop and a breakfast layover. "ITAZUKE HAM AND EGGS 25 CENTS!" After we landed and as we were taxiing to a hardstand parking area, Captain Cheney called on interphone and said "Hey Bud, look at the ship on the left that we're passing now" ... another 19th Bomb Group plane, one that obviously had passed under us as we orbited jamming radar, and which had gotten to Itazuke ahead of us, with a huge hole in the wing between # 1 and # 2 engines, with jagged metal erupted UP on the top of the wing, and DOWNWARD on the bottom of the wing, indicating an internal explosion that somehow did not blow the wing off or blow up the aircraft!
Many years later in correspondence with Clyde Durham of Pineville, Louisiana, and a 28th Bomb Squadron Gunner in 1952, I learned that this was his crew's brand "new" ship just out of the "boneyard" mothball fleet after 7 years in storage) and they had taken and survived a direct hit and made it into Itazuke. Later inspection on the ground revealed a hole approximately 4 feet by 2 feet, and of course the loss of all fuel from that wing tank. Standard Operating Procedure was to always transfer fuel from the center wing tank topping off the outboard tanks in order to have as MUCH fuel as possible in the wing tanks RATHER than fumes...fumes being far more explosive than raw liquid gasoline. At any rate, the fact that they had not had a more critical explosion and/or fire within the tank and wing was rather miraculous and gave pause to all observers, that we were ALL very lucky that night! Their previous ship was named "TOP OF THE MARK" after the very famous Hotel and Bar in San Francisco, and legend had it that any combat crewmember of the 19th Bomb Group returning from the Far East through San Francisco could claim a free drink at that bar ... something I never got to confirm!
We had our "HAM & EGGS 25 Cents" ... takeoff at 7:00A.M., and then a smooth and quiet 2 1/2 hour flight back to Kadena the next morning...and not one single crew member mentioned even once that this was our 13th mission ... until we were safely back on Kadena and finished debriefing! "Lucky 13"!
In August 2004, there was a posting related on a B-29 Internet site regarding FIFI, the "Commemorative Air Force (politically corrected from "CONFEDERATE AIR FORCE) B-29, the ONLY B-29 in the WORLD still flying. I responded that this virtually "stripped" 29 had FAR more room than a "combat equipped and loaded 29". Further postings included the following one from Clyde Durham of the NAMSAN-NI story, and Clyde had previously told me that when they took that direct AAA hit in their wing - one that ordinarily would have resulted in a catastrophic explosion - their attempt to salvo their bombload initially failed. Such a sudden salvo release rather than a usual "training" bombs out, would result in a dramatically sudden rise of aircraft due to loss of weight...enough to take your breath away, like a Roller Coaster ride!
The following map illustrates the proximity of the major Yalu River area targets of Sinuiju on the west coast and its Oriental Light Metals Works at the mouth of the Yalu River, with the giant Antung-Manchuria , China Mig-15 Base just 4 miles north of the river, and Namsan-Ni Chemical Plant upriver approximately 30 miles and only 5 to 10 miles downstream from the Suiho Hydroelectric Plant. All bomb runs on these targets were virtually the same direction with the "Gauntlet" of Anti Aircraft Artillery - as many as three hundred guns and , dozens of searchlights from both sides of the river, and Migs, knowing that our runs were "channelized" since we could NOT cross the Yalu River.
- A VETERAN's Blog -