As the 58th anniversary of the shoot down of Hap Halloran's Rover Boys Express drew near, I asked Hap if he would, or could, go back in time to those days and try to describe his own personal living nightmare as a captured B-29 crew member living in a POW camp in World War II Japan. Often times we see war depicted in movies and on television as either romance or machismo. As Hap describes here, it is neither. It is survival.

Hap Halloran grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio during the depression years, as did all WWII veterans. He came from a large, happy Irish Catholic family. I think I can safely say that Hap credits his survival as a POW to his tremendous amount of faith and the nurturing he received as a member of a loving family..................... (Click on photos below for larger view)



Hap in Saipan 1944

Hap was a member of the 878 Squadron, of the 499th Bomb Group (VH) and the 73rd Wing stationed at Saipan, which had been selected as a major US air base from which the new long range B-29s could attack and destroy mainland Japan.

The first combat mission from Saipan was November 24, 1944. The target was # 357, the Nakajima Aircraft Factory in Musashino, a western suburb of Tokyo. Two B-29s were lost.

The Japanese retaliated after this first B-29 raid by sending "Betty" bombers down to Saipan from their Iwo Jima Air Base (approximately 650 miles north of Saipan).


"Prisoners of War interned by the Japanese during World War II received notoriously harsh treatment from their captors. This fact has been well documented and is abhorred by all civilized people, but perhaps a lesser known fact is that if the internee was unfortunate enough to be a B29 flyer he was placed in a "special category'. He was subjected to a special dose of almost unbelievable deprivations and atrocities because he was bringing the horrors of war directly to the people in the streets of their own cities, and was undeniably plastering the handwriting on the walls for the Japanese war lords to plainly see. In addition to a starvation diet, continuous beatings, interrogations and solitary confinement, the interned Superfortress crewman was forced to live with a constant threat of execution.

Not all B-29 crewmen who survived parachute landings after bailing out of crippled planes over Japan made it to the internment camps. Many B-29 personnel were killed by irate civilians and Kempei Tai Secret Police before authorities responsible for their safety could get to them.

The fate of downed crews was not known until a handful of survivors were repatriated from Omori POW Camp, located between Tokyo and Yokohama on August 29, 1945. One B-29 crewman liberated that day was Lieutenant Ray F. (Hap) Halloran from Cincinnati, Ohio. Hap was the navigator on E. G. (Snuffy) Smith's crew, known throughout the 499th Bomb Group for their happy-go-lucky attitudes as the "Rover Boys Express". He and his crew were shot down over Tokyo January 27, 1945.


Hap - center rear

This is a first hand account of Hap's experiences from the agonizing moments preceding bailout through his seven months internment.

Target for the fateful mission was the ever elusive number 357 (seen below), the Nakajima Aircraft plant in the northwestern suburbs of Tokyo. This would be the last mission in which the 73rd Wing would have to go it alone over Japan. The 313th Bomb Wing had arrived on Tinian and would join the 73rd henceforth in the ever increasing air offensive against the Japanese homeland. This was little consolation for crews participating in this strike, however, because the enemy also seemed to be

getting stronger. Flak intensity and fighter attacks against the Superfortresses had increased immensely since the first of January.

It would also be Hap Halloran's fourth and last B-29 combat mission to Japan.

Things were fairly normal as the "Rover Boys", flying V Square 27, crossed the coastline in their assigned position with the 878th Squadron planes at 32,000 feet altitude. As they headed for the now familiar cone-shaped and snow capped Mt. Fuji, the Initial Point where they would turn and line up for the bomb run, there were no fighters or flak observed in the area. Hap made a mental note that maybe, just maybe, this would be an easy one.


Target 357 - Nakajima Aircraft Plant
click for larger view
Photo sent to Hap by Fumio Sawanobori. Photo taken about 2 months after the war had ended in 1945.


That thought was soon wiped out. When the formation made the turn and began the bomb run, all hell broke loose. The sky was suddenly filled with a barrage of black puffs of smoke from flak bursts. V Square 27 took some hits, but the Rovers were able to maintain their position in the formation. The flak was followed by well executed fighter attacks. These attacks were alternated and intensified during the entire sixty-mile run to the target. The near fatal blow on V Square 27 came with a furious frontal attack by twin-engine fighters firing machine guns and 50MM cannon, scoring direct hits on the nose and engines. " (The quoted text in paragraphs above above by permission of Chester Marshall from his book "Sky Giants over Japan".)


This is how Hap recalls the events that followed.


January 27,1945 ........................Saipan Northern Marianas WWII


[January 27, 1945 was a crucial day in my life. During the intervening years and days since that date, memories have persisted about those long ago events. I was navigator on the Rover Boys Express B-29 crew. We were based on Saipan - 878th Squadron, 499th Bomb Group (VH) - 73rd wing. Our crew was flying V Square 27 that day. Our target was #357, Nakajima Aircraft Plant in Musashino on the western edge of Tokyo; a high altitude mission.]

We awoke early after a restless sleep. After breakfast and a final briefing, we gather our gear and proceed to the V Square 27 hardstand. We are early and do all the inspections on exterior and interior in all positions. All 11 Rover Boys gather under the wing for lots of crew chatter; then we pull the props through



Isley Field showing runways A and B

Planes of the 497th, 498th, 499th and 500th are coming to life. Planes move in an orderly fashion on the taxi strips towards the starting ends of runways A and B. We are signaled to join in this action. As we turn into takeoff position at the end of runway B, I look for the chaplains who are always there to bless each plane/crew just as we start to roll for take off. The blessing and signing of the cross by the chaplains provides feeling of comfort as we accelerate down the runway. This is an approximate 07:00 departure and if all goes well, we should be back home - Saipan - about 21:30 hours.


This is a high altitude mission and we are heavily laden with bombs and fuel. We use almost all of the 8,500 foot runway. We utilize the downward slope advantage after we lift off and then assemble with other B-29s in the vicinity of Marpi point and head north in loose formation. Other than several minor weather fronts, the trip to the empire is uneventful. Several hours out from Japan we start our climb designed to put us at 30,000 feet over target. We make landfall near Hamamatsu and move inland.

Contrary to our briefing, which forecasts light flak and very little fighter opposition at our altitude, we immediately experience much fighter opposition . Flak and fighter activity intensifies as we make our turn to the east to set up our bomb run. [History later confirmed there were over 300 Japanese fighters up at varying altitudes and they were able to make 900 attacks on the four groups of the 73rd Wing on that mission. Nine B-29s were also lost on that mission.]

 

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We are on a bomb run west of Tokyo. A Nick fighter comes in from 11 o'clock high blazing away. At first it appears to be a ramming attack. Suddenly there is a tremendous explosion within the front of our plane. The "greenhouse" is severely damaged and there is damage to two engines as well. The outside air temperature of minus 58 degrees rushes in to replace the prior 70 degree Fahrenheit temperature in our pressurized plane. It is a frightening situation. We are falling below and behind the other planes. There is nothing they can do to help us! Aided by an approximate 180 mph wind directly behind us, our ground speed is in the 425 to 450 mph range.

There is absolutely no panic in our plane. We evaluate the situation hoping that somehow we can at least get out over the Pacific. We actually sort of go into a state of denial. Reality sets in and plans are made to parachute. Ten of us are still alive - the tail gunner is killed by side attacks as planes join in for the kill on our severely damaged B-29 with two engines on fire and trailing smoke. We continue east over cloud-covered Tokyo. We can not release our bombs.


I quickly eat a turkey sandwich and some chocolate pudding before proceeding A/C Smith out of the airplane. We suck oxygen and try to survive the extreme cold.

[Looking back, I must be very critical of myself for several actions under those conditions. Because the chest pack parachute interfered in my functions in my crowded area, I had earlier removed my chute. I kept my harness on and the radio man found my chute under his desk which I quickly hooked up; sort of an indication of "Nothing is going to happen to us philosophy", or simply stupidity.]




V Square 27 going down over Chiba Prefecture, E of Tokyo


Our nose wheel can not be lowered, thus blocking our normal escape hatch up front. All six of us up front exit through the front bomb bay. The gunners and radar man in rear signal that they understand and are going to parachute out.

[My judgment during this time of critical problems within the plane, plus two engine fires probably detracted from exact recollections as to timing and altitude when I parachuted from V Square 27. My best recall is I bailed out in the 27,000 to 25,000 feet range. ]


The extreme cold at high altitude plus oxygen need and very real threat of Japanese fighters shooting at B-29ers in chutes prompts me to commit to a long free fall. There is only minimal cloud cover over Chiba Prefecture. I can see enemy territory far below as I prepare to exit through the front bomb bay. Fear prevailed - but no real options. I remember the SWISH sound as I leave the plane. I transition to a vertical fall and it does not seem real. I seem to roll over gently. There is an unreal quiet and surreal feeling. I look at the land far below. I prayed in the plane and pray again as I fall ever closer to the ground.

There are brief intervals with a feeling of slow motion prevails and a brief temptation to delay pulling the ripcord. I have to pull it! There is a sudden violent jerk which restores the reality of my situation. My right flying boot flies off. It is very quiet once I find myself hanging in the chute. I estimate the chute deployed at 2500 to 3000 feet above enemy land. I look at the ground. I feel helpless. Can faintly see motion on the ground below.

I see three Japanese planes at my level about 2 miles away heading straight for me. I think the worst. Is this the way it will end? All three planes circle me in close. Two depart. The third plane comes in extremely close. He throttles back his vintage plane. For a few brief seconds I can look directly into his cockpit. He is slightly below me. He salutes me and follows the other planes. Some hope replaces total fright.

Closer to the ground I clearly see hundreds of folks running to keep up with the flow of my chute. Extreme fear takes over again. I pray some more -- short prayers. I ask for help from what I expect to happen once I hit the ground.




What happened to many of our B29 POWs
and what Hap feared daily would happen to him

I make a very rough landing. My hands and feet and face are frozen. I am hurt and can only lie here. The civilians are forming a circle around me. I assume they think I have a gun. They have caught up to me. They are beating me with boards and rods and large rocks while they jump on me and kick me. I am fading in and out. I expect that I shall die here on enemy soil.

I lose track of time. Some soldiers appear with rifles and bayonets affixed. The civilians appear to not want to release me - they want to kill me themselves. The soldiers beat with with their rifle butts and cut up my parachute and stuff it into my throat. I cannot breathe . . . ! Now they are tying my hands and feet and putting on a blindfold. I fear death is imminent. But no, They are dragging me and lifting me up and throwing me onto a hard metal floor. An engine is running - it must be a vehicle of some kind. I am cold and in great pain. My flying suit is badly torn and offering little protection from the elements. I am tempted to just give up and get it over with

! Passing in and out of consciousness, I awaken while being kicked from the back of the truck. I am being dragged some distance. I am tied to a chair since I cannot sit upright on my own. They are screaming at me in an angry manner, beating me with rifle butts and now they initiate the interrogation. I see only a small number of people. I am alert enough to observe about 10 obvious Japanese pilots come in and stand off to the side. These men must be based here and were most likely up in the sky against our B29s. I am surprised that they do not hit me. They are thrilled to find several packs of Dentyne chewing gum in one of the pockets of what remains of my flying suit.




Japanese prison guards

 

After blacking out, I awake once more in the truck. I am still blindfolded and with my hands and feet tightly behind my back. I can tell it is getting dark. My life seems to be leaving me. We finally stop. After a while I again am kicked off the rear of the truck. I am being dragged some distance and down some stairs. Again I am tied to a chair and again more interrogations. Rifle butts continue as the weapon of choice. This is the most difficult and fearful day of my life.

I am forced to sign several what appear to be Japanese contracts. With guns at my head I try to sign but can not hold a pen. My hands are frozen. Someone helps me hold the pen and I scribble something on the line indicated. [I found out several months later what I had signed.]

Eventually I am untied. The blindfold is removed for the interrogation session. I am placed into a small cage approximately 4 x 6 feet. A guard with his rifle and bayonet remains immediately out side of my cage.

I am frightened. I pray like I have never prayed before. I need help. I am a prisoner in a strange land.

[I soon learned that I was a Federal Prisoner on trial for my life for indiscriminately bombing and killing civilians. The first 65 days were spent in solitary confinement in a cold, dark cage in the infamous Kempei Tai torture prison in central Tokyo. The balance of my 206 days as a POW were spent in an animal cage in the Ueno Zoo or at Omori POW camp; both in the Tokyo area.]

This ends what happened to Hap on that fateful day, January 27, 1945. This must have been the first of many of Hap's "longest days in his life". For everyone who is interested in this account, I am in the process of gathering information for a large section on this web site devoted to the War with Japan. Neysa Picklum and others have sent in many, many pages of previously restricted documents that will make up this section along with many photos. Hap will be writing a lengthy account of his months spent in Japanese Prison Camps along with his personal collection of photos. Also included in this section on Japan and WWII will be Hap's many return trips to Japan in his attempts for closure and reconciliation on this traumatic period in his life which has been indelibly etched into his memory bank.