We Missed Kawasaki, Japan

by Charles G Chauncey

On April 15, 1945, Flying GOIN’ JESSIE we were part of a night stream of thirty-three 9th BG B-29s that departed North Field Tinian for a night incendiary attack against the Kawasaki Urban Area. During our briefing before the mission launched we were cautioned and shown two identical but separate bay areas that looked the same viewing radar on short range. Flying on the correct bomb run led to Kawasaki, while if on the wrong bomb run led to Yokohama, a large Navel sea base.

As normal AC John Fleming took off then I, as Pilot, took over and flew to Iwo Jima where AC John relieved me to fly to the Kawasaki target. Our navigator Jack Cramer directed us to the Initial Point where we were to begin our Bomb run. At the last moment before getting on the bomb run it was thought that we were being chased by a Jap night fighter. Their manner of shooting down a B-29 at night was to fly under the plane and fire their fixed guns up into the Bombay’s. AC John began doing some evasive flying maneuvers in hopes to escape the night fighter. If there was one, then he did a good job getting away from him.

Getting back to the business at hand we unknowingly were now headed towards the wrong bay area on radar. Continuing on we dropped our two Bombay’s loads of incendiaries on to Yokohama. Coming off the target I told AC John “Wow! Look over there . . . off on our left side, someone is really catching hell . . . glad that isn’t our target!”

Heading for home our gunners back in the rear section called on the intercom “Why didn’t you tell us that we would be taking pictures? When the camera doors opened all our beer dropped out!” Well we were just as surprised as they because we didn’t know either until the bright flare lit up the city to take pictures, that later became fortunate for us.

After landing back home that morning we were taken to the debriefing room and asked all the normal questions but especially did you hit the target? Of course we told them, yes. Well early afternoon we were called to report to headquarters and there were advised that we had bombed Yokohama, verified by the pictures taken, rather than Kawasaki. We missed a huge Navel Hospital by only a couple of blocks. Fortunately for us they counted it as a completed mission. The rule was to get credit for a mission you had to hit the primary target.

Read Maurie Ashland’s story below “A Memorial Story”. (Maurie was one of our 5th Sqd. Lead Crew Airplane Commanders, very knowledgeable, a great pilot, and fine fellow):

A Memorial Story

By Maurie Ashland 5/28/01

On April 15, 1945, thirty-three 9th BG B-29s departed Tinian for a night incendiary attack against the Kawasaki Urban Area. Three aborted leaving thirty to hit the target. The attack at about two o’clock the next morning not only devastated Kawasaki but also it would result in death to 43 crewmen from four crews either that night or about a month later while POWs. Only two survived the war.

As the B-29s returned to Tinian the next morning, the ground crews anxiously awaited their bird. One after another, the B-29s turned into their hardstands and the flight crews exchanged stories with their ground crew. “A piece of cake”, “no problems”, “did we ever run into a hornet’s nest”, reflecting their different experiences.

But, four hardstands remained empty as their ground crews continued to scan to the Northwest for a speck of another B-29 returning. With increasing anxiety, they hoped that maybe their B-29 was down at Iwo for emergency repairs and/or gas. Or, possibly, they had overshot Tinian and would find themselves as the Tutton crew had and landed three hours later with the last engine running out of gas on the runway. Other doubts were in their mind. Could the carburetor or magneto hurriedly changed prior to takeoff been a factor? Could the repairs to the battle damage on a previous mission have been at fault? Had the crew ran out of gas, ditched and were now in the ocean. Could there have been an in-flight fire or explosion? Possibly, in dropping the bombs, two had hit each other and exploded blowing the B-29 and crew to smithereens. Had there been a mid-air collision as they flew with all exterior lights off?

The other flight crews were completely oblivious to the loss of their comrades. They first went to the Intelligence Debriefing. Did you hit the target? Did you encounter any night fighters? Did you down any of them and how much ammo was used? How was the flak? How many searchlights picked you up and where were they located? How much fuel did you have on landing? Did you hear any distress calls or see anyone in trouble? No one had. Command sent messages to Iwo asking about the B-29s and Air Sea Rescue had no information on the missing B-29s. The four B-29s and their crews had vanished at some time during the 3,000 mile and 14 to 16 hour flight.

The Flight Surgeon poured a shot of whiskey for each crewmember to help them relax, as many had not slept since the morning of the day before. Then, it was off to a good breakfast. Most were dead tired and hit the sack for the rest of the day. One, a Flight Leader, liked to take his whisky bottle and with a companion find a quiet spot to work on it. As the crewmen dropped off to sleep, they continued oblivious to what their comrade-in-arms were going through.

Forty-five bunks remained empty that day soon to be filled by strangers – replacement crewmembers. The empty hardstands were filled with new B-29s fresh from the states. Umbriago, SN 635455, flown by the Sullivan crew had crashed at Shiratori Village killing two crewmembers. The rest of the crew, except one, were captured and made POWs only to die in a Tokyo prison fire on April 26. St Greenspan, left gunner, parachuted down on Kamishiki Village and was captured by the “Block Warden”. Greenspan handed over his pistol to the Warden but when a truck full of soldiers arrived to take him into their custody, had a change of heart and tried to wrestle his pistol back. He was subdued and Lt. Tamura was ordered to kill him and did so (beheaded?). At a War Crimes Trial, Tamura was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Sgt. Gazibara, tail gunner, escaped capture for 14 days before hunger forced him to surrender. By this delay, he avoided being sent to the Tokyo prison with his fellow crewmembers and survived the war. Major Chapel; Group staff, accompanying the crew on this, their first mission, also died in the prison fire.

The Jones crew flying B-29 SN 69834 crashed at Kanagwa-Ku, Yokohama. Lt. Jones and seven others were killed in the crash. Four parachuted and were captured. Lt. Nelson, navigator, died April 18 and Sgt. Griffin, flight engineer, died April 24 from serious burns. Both were buried at the Army Cemetery at Koishigawa, Tokyo. Sgt. Beck, right gunner, and Sgt. Sedon, radar navigator, died in the prison fire on April 26

The Carver crew flying B-29 SN 93962 crashed on a hillside at Minami-ku, Yokohama. The B-29 exploded when it crashed killing nine crewmembers and also caused 25 Japanese casualties who were in a nearby shelter. Lt. Carver had parachuted but his chute did not open. He was buried at Mitsuzawa cemetery, Yokohama. Two others parachuted. Cpl. Cristiano, tail gunner, landed in a rice paddy and threw his pistol in the water, was captured, sent to the Ofuna Naval POW Camp, and survived the war. Lt. Harry, pilot, was captured but died in the prison fire.

The Malo crew flying B-29 SN 93893 crashed at Kanagawa Ken (of which the capitol is Yokohama). Ten died in the crash. Sgt. Hill, central fire control gunner, was captured but died in the Tokyo prison fire.

The Tokyo prison fire on April 26 was started by a B-29 incendiary attack. As the prison burned, the guards unlocked the cells to the Japanese prisoners but would not do so for the Americans. Seventeen Americans were in a fenced compound and as they tried to scale the fence to avoid the fire they were shot or slashed with swords and were killed. Sixty-two B-29 fliers died during the fire.

This story is not meant to renew old hostilities or to reopen old wounds. Japan is now our close friend in a rather difficult world. Thanks to Tom Britton, volunteer at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, and Larry Smith for providing the specifics on how our crewmembers were lost on this mission.

I would say this turned out to be one very lucky birthday present for me, as I became 22 yrs. old the next day. Our losses at Kawasaki were the highest number in all our 9th Bomb Group’s.