Jack Bartlett was shipped out with the brand new B-29 serial number 42-24593, with A square 7 on the tail whom his crew named the “American Maid.” They flew from Kansas to the West Coast for further training and testing. Once the preparations for combat were completed and the airstrip sufficiently completed on the Marshall Island known as Saipan, the “American Maid flew from the West Coast, September 1944 to Hawaii, Kwajalein and Saipan to join the 20th Air Force Command 73rd Bomb Wing, 497th Bomb Group, 869th Squadron. Lieutenant Bartlett’s plane was the 2nd B-29 to land on Saipan and he served as a deputy squadron Commander 869th Squadron.
The capture and building of the B-29 base on Saipan was a tremendous effort by all three branches of the services. The Japanese occupied the island for twenty-six years prior to our capture of the island and as described by war correspondent Clinton Green published in the New York Times December 10,1944(3). The transformation from a battlefield to an operational base for B-29’s to bomb the Imperial Empire of Japan homeland was an “Epic Job” (3).
The correspondent landed with the Army on the beaches of the sugar mill village of Charen-Kanoa. He describes the rebuilding effort as “the work and sweat of clerks, Army men and Marines, Seabees, the Navy, engineers, Medical Corps men, bakers, truck drivers, doctors, anti-aircraft and artillery men, fliers, mechanics, storekeepers and natives… The labor will go on as it has—by daylight and by arc-light at night, every day, seven days a week every week in the month”. He further describes,” only five months ago the bitterest and greatest blood letting of the Pacific War up to that time was taking place on the seventy-two-square-mile island. Our fighting men fell by the hundreds and Japanese troops by the thousands. The Americans swung open the gate guarding the way to Tokyo.
This was the base for our Superfortresses, a base, which had to be won despite the cost.
The aerial blows already struck against industrial Tokyo from this tremendous base are now history. The day came exactly five months and nine days after we invaded.” (3)
The American Maid and its crew September 1944
LT Bartlett far left back row, SGTS Kranz, far left front and Wilson 3rd from right front row will play an important role in future missions.
Shortly after the American Maid landed on Saipan, stories from the war effort starting reaching home.
“Things were pretty rugged during our first few months on Saipan,” Jack said. “We had to cut down cane fields and help get thing in shape.”(4)
Four hundred B-29s were based on Saipan. Lieutenant Bartlett was a member of the 20th air force of which Maj. Gen. Curtis E. LeMay was in charge.
Bartlett and his crew members had their toughest times when they encountered headwinds over Japan.
The headwinds made us almost a sitting duck,” he explained. “The ground seemed to freeze beneath us.”
It was under such conditions that the plane ran into its toughest encounter over Nagoya. “A 20-mm bullet went through the No. 2 motor.” Captain Bartlett recounted. “We couldn’t feather the propeller because the oil was running out. The propeller flew off about 100 miles south of Japan. There were still a couple of fighters on our tail. We couldn’t lose altitude because the Japs still were after us and they still had Iwo Jima at that time. The No. 1 engine fell off near Iwo Jima. “We kept our spirits up by tuning our radio in on a Russian station and getting Russian music. We came home on two engines, very slowly losing altitude all the time. We had 20 minutes gas left. We must have been in Gods pocket.”
Battle damage repair of the American Maid from raid over Nagoya Japan 1944.
In the early raids, the B-29s concentrated on Japanese engine factories. In these raids they flew at about 20,000 feet. In March however, they began a new phase of attack, the purpose of which was to burn down the main Jap cities. Where they hand flown in close formation on the earlier raids, they were instructed to go up individually at night in the new phase and fly over the targets at 6,000 or 7,000 feet while dropping their incendiaries.
“It was ticklish business,” Captain Bartlett declared.
On June 1, after Captain Bartlett had returned to the United States, his co-pilot and seven members of his crew were shot down over Osaka during a daylight fire raid. They were not flying the American Maid at the time (4).
Ground crew of the American Maid
The following article describes many of the missions from October and May 1944-45.
Historic B-29 Raid Described, Rockford Register Republic Sept 3, 1945 as told by Capt John D. Bartlett:
The going was very tough during the early B-29 raids over Japan’s home islands, Capt. John D. Bartlett veteran of 23 bombing missions as pilot of the famed superfortress, “American Maid”…”The Japanese Chamber of Commerce had done a good job,” he said with a smile. “They gave us a very hot reception.”
The American Maid and her crew proved they could take it on those long combat journeys from Saipan. The plane was shot up over Nagoya on three consecutive missions. On one occasion the crew nursed the big ship back to Saipan minus a propeller and two engines and with 132 bullet holes to show the fierceness of the Japanese fighter plane and anti-aircraft attack.
It was on a raid last February that Sgt. James Krantz was blown out of the plane when his “blister” was shot away. Home made straps he had designed saved him from plunging to death and he dangle for 15 minutes over Nagoya before his fellow crew members could pull him back into the ship. An alert aerial photographer in another plane snapped the now-famous picture of the plucky gunner hanging by his straps from the American Maid while the fighting went on about him. “We were struck by two twin engine Jap fighters that rushed our tail,” Captain Bartlett said in describing the stirring incident. “The tail gunner called up and said one of his fingers had been shot off but he dropped his cap over the blood stained stub on the floor and shot down one of the planes. The second one came in and blew the waist gunner out of the ship along with his gun-set.
Krantz dangling out of American Maid
“We were 27,000 feet up at the time and the temperature was about 45 degrees below zero. Krantz lost a few fingers from frostbite but other than that he came out all right.”
Captain Bartlett won the air medal and the distinguished flying cross for bombing missions over Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe, Nagoya and other Japanese industrial centers. The 30 year old pilot flew his 23 Combat mission between October and May when he was recalled to the United States to help train experienced B-29 crews assigned to atomic bombing.
Krantz with his buddies in the Medical Treatment Center in Saipan, February 1945
The following letters were written home to his Mother and Sister:
Sunday – January 21, 1945
Dear Family & Bookers;
A few hours of leisure at hand in which to endeavor to bring you up to date on the happenings out here. We completed a period of intense work getting the Maid back into shape after her close scrape of the 3rd. You have most of the story from the papers, I imagine. All that I wish to add is how magnificent the crew was, so completely unselfish. They all displayed the finest air-discipline when the chips were down.
Sgt Wilson is out of the hospital and will go to Oahu for final treatment to loosen up arm and hand muscles. His hand has healed up quite well considering the fact that torn bodies seem to heal very slowly here. He had the opportunity to take a ground job but seemed insulted at the offer and elected to continue his air job. We are, of course, all extremely happy as we trust no one else in the tail. Krantz was evacuated to Oahu, just as soon as he could stand the trip. He will rest there and then flown on to the states and placed in a hospital near his home, probably Louisville. We all feared dry gangrene from his areas of frozen skin but the surgeons informed us that pain was starting to enter these regions indicating that appendages may be O.K. If he should, for any reason, end up in a hospital near you I will inform you of this so you may visit him. Got letters of to their parents and wife as they are so often miss-informed and are want to worry needlessly.
We led our flight to the mainland again Thursday with two replacement gunners. They did a good job. The target was an aircraft factory west of Kobe and Osaka which we knocked out completely—one of the best jobs we have done to-date. Ack-ack was heavy and annoying as hell but fighter opposition was light. We could see vapor trails over in the direction of Nagoya – fighters waiting for us there. It was a tremendous relief to know that we had outsmarted them again. All of our planes returned for a change, giving morale a much- needed boost. I have been quite unhappy over the disappearance of a fine friend and his crew recently. Our squadron came along in good shape and then the cleaver hit in one fell swoop removing several crews from the roster. I cannot mention any names until the proper period has elapsed.
Sorry to hear of the lousy way the OPA has handled rationing. I know it’s tough but since being in this theater, I can appreciate reasons for much that is being done to get all available supplies out to the combat theaters.
As for we who are operating from this island things are very comfortable. By supplementing our diet with vitamins we are able to legally steal from the hospital we believe we can hold these old bodies together.
Ran into a chap in the Merchant marine at the Navy Club the other day. He is George Dutro who used to frequent the Bungalow a good deal and was a salesman for Nash-Finch. He took Frank and me aboard his tanker for dinner. Needless to say, a fine meal, with the first fresh, green vegetables in three months. Afterwards the ship’s cook presented us with a fine chocolate cake.
Chuck walked into the hut the other day and we had a fine visit. He is looking forward to going home soon. He looks well but is sick of the Pacific war. I hope to get over to visit him on his island before he leaves. (Chuck Anceney, brother in law, served as a pilot in the U.S. Navy air-corps on Tinian.
Things we can use when possible to find are, of course, 616 film, chocolate powder in cans to mix with hot water, instant coffee, canned sweets etc. Anything that comes this way that is edible and not in tin gets pretty well stuck together. However the Gobelin chocolate came through in fine shape and were well received. Have no idea how long our tour will be but have a hunch that some of us will be returned stateside after a few more months to pass on to others coming on our experiences and this learned about this operation. We have been the first and know we are the Guinea pigs. Our trials and tribulations will save many another crew or outfit. The efficiency of operation we then be such that Japan will have to sink beneath this broad Pacific.
Your letters are coming thru in good style and are certainly appreciated. I hope some good luck will befall you that will allow a trip to Santa Fe to materialize. I want you and Clara to meet and know one another. She is presently keeping busy in a doctor’s office – a smart move on her part to eliminate boredom.
Give my best to friends there and my love to the Bookers. Does Clint collect stamps?
With all Love, Jack
P.S. Badly need a 35Z5 Radio tube for our record player. Is useless without it. If you can find one it is perishable to send it airmail.
This was sent to me by John D. Bartlett, MD, Capt. MC, USN Ret the son of LCOL John D. Bartlett USAF. . He can be reached here.