39th Bomb Group (VH)

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Tokyo Arsenal

Mission Date:  13-14 April 1945

The first mission of the 39th to Koriyama had taught the men many things. The combat crews had their first look at the home island of Japan, saw their first Nip flak and fighters and had their first taste of the long over-water flight to Japan and Guam. People on the ground learned things, too. They learned little things about airplane mechanics, and in general how to get ready and to fly a combat strike.

Whatever lessons everybody learned on 12 April, they were called on to put into practice within twenty-four hours. On the night of 13-14 April the 39th Bomb Group really hit the big time. That was their first participation in the by then famous Le May low-level, night incendiary attacks on major cities - this time the granddaddy of them all, Tokyo.

The specific target in the Japanese capitol was the enormous Tokyo Arsenal Area in the northwestern part of the city. The area was comprised of probably the greatest arsenal complex in all of Japan. There were over a dozen large and important arsenal targets in there, interspersed with industrial and scientific research installations transportation centers and worker's quarters, this made a fat juicy target for the E46 incendiaries.

The Koriyama attack had been a daylight formation mission. This Tokyo operation was a night affair and the big Superfortresses went in, as usual on missions of this kind, individually. With the large arsenal complex, the target assigned to the four groups of the 314th Wing - the 19th, 29th, 39th and 330th - was the savory Japan Artificial Fertilizer works, probably converted since the outbreak of war to the manufacturer of war chemicals.

Eight B-29s from each of the 39th's three squadrons took off at 19:05 on the 13th. Of the twenty-four planes airborne twenty-one bombed the target, there were no losses of personnel or aircraft, although three had to land away from base.

The Tokyo mission that night was all that rumor said it would be. Flak was reported meager to moderate, 120 enemy fighters were seen. The eerie panorama of searchlight beams, Japanese fighters with running lights winking, the smoke and flame of the fires, and the flak bursts were sights that the bombing boys would never forget. The weather was clear over the target, but because the smoke obscured the ground for some of the latter airplanes, they had to bomb by radar.

Bombing results were excellent. For several days smoke obscured the whole target area and it was impossible to assess accurately all the damage done by the group, but visible new damage to Tokyo was estimated officially at 10.7 square miles, raising damage to Tokyo to that date to 27.5 square miles.

Aside from the fact that this was the first experience the 39th's crew had had of the night attack technique, they met for the first time with the most dangerous hazard they were to encounter in the bombing of Japan - the tremendous thermal currents and smoke over the target generated by the massive fires below. When a B-29 flew into one of these thermals, visibility was nil, and the airplane would suddenly and violently gain several thousand feet of altitude and might possibly flip over on its back. Oftentimes it would take all the strength of the airplane commander and pilot to right the plane after it had gone out of control in a thermal.

One of the best stories to come out of the Twentieth Air Force relating to the dangers of the thermals was told by the crew of aircraft number 21, whose commander was Captain William "Buck" Senger of the 61st Squadron. After bombing Tokyo on this attack, all the men swear that their plane did two loops over Tokyo Bay before it was righted at an attitude of about 4,000 feet. Some of the people say that a B-29 cannot be looped under any circumstances, but the men of Senger's crew think otherwise. They said they did it!

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Source: "History of the 39th Bomb Group" by Robert Laird, (crew 5) and David Smith (crew 31)
This page was revised on 14 April 2001
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