21 had many experiences - some fun, some scary, as noted
by Vic Durrance, tail gunner on this crew, He relates a
particular combat mission that belongs in the latter category.
to the jet stream over Japan, high altitude bombing that
we had been trained for, did not prove successful. To
improve our effectiveness, LeMay decided to send the 314th
over Japan at low altitude. History would record that
such tactics were a brilliant strategic move, but at the
time we were sure it was pure and unadulterated suicide.
first of these low altitude missions was the fire bomb
attack on Tokyo. We, were about in the middle, timewise,
of the bomber stream, and by the time we made our bomb
run, the city was awash in fire. On either side of us,
I could see several B-29's being "coned" by searchlights.
Enemy night fighters were flying the searchlight beams,
directly through their own flak, attacking the silhouetted
B-29. We were at about 7,700 feet, dropping our load,
when we received a terrific jolt that seemed to be from
under our tail. I looked out my rear window and saw a
night fighter locked onto us and firing continuously.
Fortunately, he was shooting too low. We were then flipped
over on our back. I thought the nose had been shot away
as I sensed the engines dying. (The crew up front believed
the tail had been blown off). I prepared to jettison my
side hatch and jump. I felt around for my chute, which
was supposed to be near my right leg, but decided it had
fallen to the floor, which I later found to be true. Inasmuch
as the tall compartment was so crowded, I always unsnapped
my chest pack in order to operate the gun sight. Since
I couldn't get my chute on and the fire seemed to be a
solid mass below, I decided to ride it down. I called
on intercom but received no reply. The plane seemed to
stabilize for a second and I heard Senger ask Bates for
the altitude. He answered: "3,700 feet." We again flipped
over on our back and plunged downward uncontrollably.
When the plane righted itself for the second time, Senger
again asked Bates for our altitude. We were now at 500
feet! About the same time I heard one of the waist gunners
yell that he had been hit and was bleeding badly. In the
next breath, he muttered 'Oh!' - then there was silence.
began a very low and fast run down the length of Tokyo
Bay heading for the open sea. As we traversed the bay,
the gunners on the flak barges below never fired on us.
I suppose we were so low that we took them by surprise.
As we pulled away from the shoreline we began to slowly
climb as we assessed any damage to the aircraft. The interior
of the plane was an absolute mess with flight gear strewn
all about. The control cables were very slack literally
drooping between the pulleys. The side gunner who believed
he had been wounded so badly found out otherwise: he had
been doused with the "can" in the mid-compartment when
the aircraft flipped.
of us were sure that the plane had been an its back at
Reason One: the engine had died away as
though they were being gasoline starved. Reason Two: the
flak jackets that we used to cover the floors in the three
compartments were widely scattered.
engineer's flak jacket that he had been sitting on had
floated up and covered the main control panel as we tumbled,
he did some frantic rearranging to get to his controls
when the engines began to die. While we were flipping
over and falling, both pilots were struggling to gain
control, but their efforts were fruitless until we leveled
off at 500 feet over Tokyo Bay.
de-briefing, we recounted our experience. A civilian Boeing
representative overheard our account of flipping over
and insisted that, "it was an impossibility in a B-29."
We maintained that this had happened - not once, but twice,
and invited him back to the hardstand to inspect our aircraft.
He did so. We showed him where the gasoline from the tank
of the auxiliary generator ("Putt-Putt") had run out of
a vertical vent pipe and along the side of the plane.
More obvious was the discovery of the main wing spar twisted
at its center section, After a thorough inspection, the
Boeing man became convinced that a B-29 could be flipped
over on its back and still survive and indeed, this one
had done so. On a later test flight, when hands were taken
off the controls, the B-29 would go into a climbing turn..
This was corrected, and 'old 773', flew normally once
remembers vividly how a priest (probably Group Chaplain,
Chester Pelt: would be near the head of the runway for
each mission takeoff. He would bless each plane as it
approached the turn. He never failed to be there regardless
of the weather. Vic recalls that one night, as "we were
turning, we gunned number one and two engines to swing
the big bomber around to the head of the runway. I was
certain that the prop blast would blow him down, but he
stood his ground - giving the blessing - as we passed.
Even though I never met him, I developed a deep respect
for our padre" (It could be said that all of the other
crewmen probably had similar feelings)