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Illusive Target (5)

Despite this inauspicious start, B/G Kenneth L. Wolfe, commander of the XX Bomber Command, was ordered to initiate the bombing campaign against Japan by 15 June. Like the Bangkok attack this first strike on Japan since the Doolittle raid was a night mission. Eighty-three Superforts deployed to China and 75 were detailed for the mission. Sixty-eight B-29s got airborne from Chengtu to strike the steel works at Yawata. The B-29s were from the 40th, 444th, 462nd, and 468th Bombardment Groups. Each bomber carried eight 500-pound general purpose bombs. Planned bombing altitudes ranged from 8,000 to 18,000 feet. Only 47 B-29s made it to the target where 15 bombed visually and 32 bombed by radar. The steel works proved to be a poor target for radar bombing. Bombing results were even worse than at Bangkok. In this raid seven B-29s were lost. One loss was attributed to anti-aircraft fire and six to accidents. Type 2 two-seat fighters (Ki 45) of the Japanese army's 4th Flying Regiment (FR) intercepted this raid and claimed four victories, three by Warrant Officer Sadamitsu Kimura.

The attack results suggested that either the B-29s, the tactics used, or the crews' training left something to be desired. When Wolfe balked at ordering follow up attacks he was recalled to Washington. B/G LaVerne Saunders, commander of the 58th Bombardment Wing, and an experienced combat leader, took over the XX Bomber Command in Wolfe's absence. Saunders got off one B-29 strike against Japan in July. On the 7th eighteen B-29s bombed separate targets at Yawata, Sasebo, Omura and Moji with little to show for their efforts. No losses were suffered. A couple days later 81 B-29s bombed Anshan in Manchuria.

On August 10th 47 B-29s bombed oil installations at Palembang, Sumatra, losing four bombers. On the same date 23 B-29s carried out a night raid on Nagasaki losing a single bomber. A change of tactics occurred on August 20th when 75 B-29s left China in daylight and carried out a dusk attack on Yawata.

The B-29s were met by 87 Japanese army fighters. In addition to the twin-engine fighters of the 4th FR, these included Type 4 (Ki 84) fighters of the 16th Flying Brigade (51st and 52nd FRs), Type 3 (Ki 61) fighters of the 59th FR and a few Type 1 (Ki 43) fighters of the 48th FR. The Japanese navy was represented by 33 Zero fighters and four Gekko night fighters from Air Group 352. Japanese army fighters claimed 12 sure victories for two fighters lost. Navy fighters claimed four including two by Lt (j.g.) Sachio Endo whose Gekko went down in a crash landing with Endo surviving. A total of ten B-29s were lost to all causes. They claimed 15 Japanese fighters destroyed.

Flying one of the B-29s (No. 42-24474) that went down was Col. Richard H. Carmichael, commanding officer of the 462nd Bombardment Group. Carmichael was one of the pioneers of heavy bombers operations in the Pacific. He commanded the 19th Bombardment Group in 1942 when it was the sole B-17 Group in the Southwest Pacific. During that tour he personally flew many combat missions and more than once returned from raids in a damaged bomber with dead or wounded crewmen aboard. Carmichael survived and spent a year in Japanese captivity.

This mission was also notable for a ramming incident. Sgt. Shigeo Nobe of the 4th FR crashed his Type 2 two-seat fighter into the lead B-29 of the 468th Group bringing down the big bomber as well as a second B-29 hit by debris from the collision.

On 29 August 1944, M/G Curtis E. LeMay arrived in India to take command of the XX Bomber Command. LeMay was the youngest Major General in the Army Air Forces and had a reputation as a tough and intelligent bomber leader. Unlike Wolfe who was closely associated with the technical development of the B-29 and was a close associate of General Arnold, LeMay's credentials were solely those he had won on operations. After a quick tour of his new command LeMay found plenty of room for improvement and quickly began to implement changes.

No missions were flown to Japan in September. Two daylight missions to Anshun, Manchuria both encountered fighter opposition and during one of them two B-29s were lost. The first three missions in October were flown against Formosa in support of a U.S. Navy task force attacking Formosa and the northern Philippines. Fighter opposition was encountered on two of the missions and three B-29s were lost to all causes.

B-29 night attack
Type 2 two-seat fighter attacking B-29s

LeMay's stamp on the XX Bomber Command was first clearly seen on 25 October 1944 when 56 B-29s inflicted severe damage on the 21st Naval Air Depot at Omura. Fifty Zeros, 13 Raidens, and six Gekkos of Air Group 352 intercepted but claimed only one B-29 for certain. One crippled B-29 crashed in China and a second was listed as an operational loss. The B-29s claimed nine Japanese fighters destroyed.

During November five B-29 missions were launched by the XX Bomber Command but only two of them involved targets in Japan and on one of these (Omura, 11 November) bad weather caused most of the bombers to abort or attack targets in China and only 29 actually bombed the primary target.

The B-29s returned to Omura on the 21st. This time 61 out of 100 bombers made it to the primary target where unusually aggressive interceptors were encountered. These were Japanese navy fighters and most (69 Zeros, Raidens and Gekkos) were from Air Group 352 which claimed nine of a total of 12 sure kills recorded by the Japanese. Ten B-29s went down and gunners claimed twenty Japanese fighters in return.

December saw five more B-29 missions but in only one did a few B-29s actually attack a Japanese target. The final appearance of the XX Bomber Command over Japan came on 6 Janauary 1945 when 45 B-29s bombed Omura and secondary targets at Nanking, China. On the same day General Arnold announced that Curtiss LeMay would take command of the XXI Bomber Command and direct B-29 operations from the Marianas. The B-29s based in the CBI would also be shifted to the Marianas to join B-29s that had been attacking Japan from the Marianas since November 1944. The bombing campaign against Japan from China was over.

The logistical challenges of mounting air attacks from China had been understood from the beginning. The logistic difficulties had indeed been just as daunting as expected. The limitations involved in operating from a base deep in the interior of China had also reduced the utility of XX Bomber Command operations. Even with its long range, the B-29 could reach but few targets beyond Kyushu. Moreover, early operations had been handicapped by weak leadership, poor tactics, questionable target selection, and, continued teething problems with the B-29.

The initial attack on Yawata had been hailed in the Allied press and was a fillip to morale but the military effectiveness of many of the bombing missions flown from China had been mediocre at best. Once B-29s were established in the Marianas, there was simply no military reason to continue operations from China. With the B-29 and the Twentieth Air Force, American air leaders thought they had a weapon with which they could win the war and they intended to use it as effectively as possible. Bombing Japan might be the key to victory but it would not be bombing from China.

In the final analysis it is probably not too harsh a judgment to say that B-29 operations from China were a tactical failure. Even if that judgment be correct, the B-29 campaign in China had important results. The early operations may be viewed as experimental in nature and they certainly demonstrated how not to use the B-29. Technical adjustments as well as modifications in operating techniques worked out most of the kinks in the B-29. It should be kept in mind that initial B-29 operations from the Marianas encountered problems as well. In combining LeMay's leadership with B-29s operating from the Marianas a winning combination was eventually achieved.

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