The Last Mission

An eyewitness account by
Jim B. Smith



smith
One hundred thirty two B-29s attached to the 315th Bomb Wing (very heavy), flew the last mission of WWII August 14/15—6 days after Nagasaki was struck by the second atomic bomb. This last raid took out 67% of Japan's remaining Inner Zone oil refining and by a bizarre twist of fate, foiled a military revolt whose intent was to kidnap the Emperor and keep the war going. The last mission placed the seal on the end of WW II. This story is an eyewitness account and features The Boomerang and crew

before

The Boomerang BEFORE the mission

The author, Jim B. Smith, was the radio operator on this 10-man crew attached to the 315th Bomb Wing. Smith had been a flying cadet and was caught up in the pilot surplus washout. He was reassigned as a B-29 radio operator. The crew represented 8 different States: Airplane Commander Carl Schahrer, Bakersfield,
California, copilot John Waltershausen, Colorado, Bombardier Dick Marshall, Tustin, California, Engineer Hank Gorder, Grafton, North Dakota, Radio Operator, Jim B. Smith, Des Moines, Iowa, Navigator Tony Cosola, Fremont, California, Radar Operator, Dick Ginster, Georgia, Right Scanner, Henry Carlson, Verona, New Jersey, Left Scanner, Henry Leffler, Ohio, Sid Siegel,
Lakeworth, Florida.


crew

Top Row: Jim B. Smith-radio, Hank Leffler-left scanner/gunner, Hank Gorder- flight engineer, Sid Seigel-tail gunner, Henry Carlson, right scanner gunner
Bottom Row
: Carl Schahrer-aircraft commander, Tony Cosola-navigator, John Walterhausen-pilot, Dick Ginster-radio operator, Dick Marshall-bombardier.

President Truman's comment after the atomic bombs destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Japan agreed to surrender on August 15th, 1945. "There will be no more atomic weapons used on Japan unless there is a "hitch" in the peace process. If that should happen other atomic bombs would be dropped beginning on the first clear day after August 17."

The hitch, which was only revealed to the U.S. after the peace was signed, occurred when War Minister Anami's Young Tiger military staff angrily rebelled after hearing that the War Cabinet had succumbed to the Emperor's plea for peace. The Tigers vowed to continue the war while the War Cabinet prepared to sign the peace treaty August 14 at 11:00 p.m. The Young Tiger conspiracy planned by Anami's brother-in- law, Lt. Colonel Masahiko Takeshita, plotted to take over the palace, kidnap the Emperor to protect him from his "traitorous advisors", confiscate his recordings of surrender, and issue false orders for the army to continue the war.

The 315th Bomb Wing triggered a Tokyo blackout in one precise moment of time that spared the Emperor and allowed his records of surrender to be safely hidden away. The great on-the-scene historian and professor at Harvard, Samuel Eliot Morison, in The Two Ocean War stated: "It was a very near thing."


If the revolt had succeeded, the war would have continued. Another atomic bomb was waiting in the wings while the US Third Fleet was gathering to invade Japan. Intelligence estimates that the invasion would have cost upwards of 500,000 Americans lives and ten times that number of Japanese.

crew2
Even after the Emperor had asked his War Cabinet for surrender, the No Surrender mentality of the Japanese placed peace squarely on the Razor's edge.

Military authorities say that any continuation of war would have meant a yard by yard, place by place fighting that would have incurred human losses never before seen. Moreover Russia, who entered the war after Nagasaki was bombed, would have been a full partner.

Experts believe that post-war Japan would have been divided up like Germany, and communism could have easily engulfed a defeated Japan. It was The Last Mission flown 6 days after Nagasaki that rang down the final curtain on WWII!

Letter from Hank

It's hard to believe but it's been 52 years since we flew the mission that ended WWII. It's amazing to me that the world still believes the atomic bombs closed out the war, even though as you pointed out in your book, it was our last mission August 14/15, 1945 that really ended the war. You explained that the last mission was not declassified until 1985. That document revealed that 779 B-29s bombed Japanese Empire targets beginning August 13, four days after the United States had dropped the last atomic bomb on Nagasaki. We of the 315th bomb Wing flew the last and longest mission from our base at Northwest Field, Guam to the Nippon Oil Refineries northwest of Tokyo. That would have been 6 days after Nagasaki.

boomerang2

 

Our airplane, The Boomerang, was the most faithful mechanical friend we could ever imagine—taking us safely through a dozen missions and then flying us on the last mission that covered nearly 4000 miles. The fact we flew at night and over water always pushed our normal anxieties ever higher. This unexpected last mission was particularly nerve wracking. We thought we had won the war, and then we were ordered back on the playing field to win it again.

You tuned in President Truman's Announcement of the Japanese surrender just a couple of hours before we landed back on Northwest. We carried 6300 gallons of gas and 20,500 pounds of bombs. That load took a heavy toll on fuel. We were all praying that we could make it back with the gasoline on board. I leaned every engine back as far as I could and each one was backfiring as we flew back to Guam. We were all in ditching positions on final approach. It was touch and go and number 3 quit as we taxied back to the hard stand. I dipped all the tanks and couldn't find any gasoline at all. We survived by a wing and a prayer—literally!

As you know we thought the war was over after Nagasaki and we were in the middle of a going-home party when orders came down to fly one more mission. It would be the longest continuous bombing mission ever attempted. As you recall, no one wanted to fly, but we were eager to get the war over

It was a long time ago Jim, but sometimes it feels like it was last night. I remember you coming up from your radio position and confiding in me that you were scared. I told you that I was scared too. We both smiled
a little and you returned to your radio. We were only kids, but we loved our country and we loved our reedom. We ran to war—ready to sacrifice our very lives to keep our country together.

The fact that the command had secretly stripped us of all turrets except the tail turret was a serious concern. If the Japanese had discovered our secret we would have been annihilated. To have been shot down over
the target meant we would have been Japanese POWs or worse. We survived all the fighter runs, the antiaircraft fire, and the many mechanical problems that were always plaguing our hot running 29s. By God's Grace we got through it all and we flew the last mission that ended the war once and for all.

All the anxieties lifted from our shoulders after peace was announced, and most of us rushed back to civilian life. Many of us wanted to share our experiences and many of us wanted to tuck away the trauma of it all.

We haven't seen one another since that last B-29 raid but you've been as close as my thoughts, and I hope I've been in your thoughts as well. I'm getting pretty old Jim and I can't get around like I did. My knees have pretty well given up on me, but I guess I shouldn't complain because God gave me the privilege of living to this old age. Many of our buddies didn't have that privilege and I'm ashamed when I complain.

North Dakota is so beautiful Jim, I wish you could see it especially in the spring. In the Spring North Dakota is the most beautiful place in the world.

I hope you're doing well. Our friendship was forged long ago when we shared life and death situations together, and our bond is eternal.

My wife Anne is a wonderful person. She and God have seen me through all the hard times. Our old dog just came over and licked my hand. He's given Anne and me his total love for 15 years—what a joy to have him. The old dog is beginning to move just like me—one limp at a time. None of us can escape the pruning knife of time I reckon.

Jim the world has changed a lot as we have all seen. It's different—sort of a free-for-all. When we were briefed for a tough but important target, the crews yelled like their home team had just made a touch down. We were all scared but God and country always came first. Sometimes I wonder how many would even
show at the briefing today. Some would for sure. There are some great kids out there and we have some very gifted and dedicated military men. We must give those folks our support and never give up on them. No one knows how long America can last, but it's the duty of all of us to keep the faith, and try to keep this great ship of state on a good and true course.

I hope we aren't forgotten Jim. I don't mean you and me of course, but every soldier and every American who was a part of WWII. It was a time of tears; a time of tragedy—of sacrifice—yet it was the very best of times.
It was a time of romance—a time of great music—and a time of great love for one another. We experienced the unspeakable magic that happens when men dip their oars in the water and row together. How dear to my heart were those dangerous days!

You and I are getting closer to the end of the trail Jim. I hope the others will take a look at our history once in a while and become inspired and uplifted as they review the sacrifices that were made for reedom

I've heard people say that they were unlucky in life. With all our country's imperfections, how can any American see that flag wave, and not know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he or she is the luckiest person in the world?

God richly bless you my friend, and may we see one another again before we are called by Him
who sent us here.

Long live freedom and this beloved land called America!! We did our best for our country Jim. My prayer is that those who follow will take care of it.

Salutes and blessings always,

Your buddy,

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