Curtis-logo

This is the story of Captain Ferd Curtis, the Aircraft Commander of the B-29, Z Square 12. He started his B-29 training graduating as an Aviation Cadet Class 41G – Kelly AAF, Texas, Sep 26, 1941. At that time he was a 1st LT. Ferd flew 80 anti submarine missions off the East coast of the US before being transferred to 479th Anti Submarine Group in England. He flew 57 combat missions in B-24s and was credited with a submarine kill on July 28th 1943.

Capt. Curtis was assigned to Walker Army Airfield, Victoria, KS in theCapt. Curtis was assigned to Walker Army Airfield, Victoria, KS in the 861st Squadron, 500th Bombardment Group. His B-29 flying experience as of April 1944 consisted of: May 18, 1944, 6:20 (14 landings), Jun 7,1944 , 5:20 (10 landings) and Jun 11, 1944, 1:40 (3 landings and checked out as a B-29 pilot).

FLIGHT SCHOOL



The available flying time in the B-29 was short so most of the early crew training (bombing, navigation and gunnery) was in the B-17. The last training flight on Aug 29, 1944 was a simulated group combat mission (14:235 flying time). Capt. Curtis had 105 hours in the B-29 and was one of two pilots with combat experience in the squadron. The squadron had 20 trained crews as they moved to a staging area (Kearny, Neb.) to wait for the 10 B-29’s to come off of production that we deployed to Saipan.


crew

CURTIS CREW

Back Row

Capt. Ferd Curtis, A/C, 2nd Lt James Kleck, Flight Engineer, 2nd Lt Henry Standridge, Pilot, 2nd Lt Carl Taylor, Bombardier, 2nd Lt Louis Dreher, Navigator

Front Row

S/Sgt Harry Tammen, Radio Operator, S/Sgt Howard Clos, Gunner, S/Sgt Walter Aufmuth, Gunner, S/Sgt James Anthony, Radar Operator, Sgt John Dillavou, Gunner
S/Sgt Paul Priviters, Gunner


Capt. Ferd Curtis' first mission on Nov. 29th 1944 from Saipan was the first night strike on Japan with about 20 B-29s bombing Tokyo individually with an incendiary load. The results were probably not effective due to the small force and lack of concentrated bomb pattern. This tactic was seldom used until the greatly modified incendiary strikes in March.

The ditching characteristics of the B-29 were not good and the early search and rescue plans were even worse. Ferd Curtis’ close friend, AC Joe Irvin, was forced to ditch between Iwo Jima and Saipan after a strike on Tokyo Nov. 27th. Joe and Ferd had been friends since flight school back in 1941. Despite searches by ships and aircraft no survivors were found. Capt. Hatch, in Z-9, an AC in the 881st sighted a raft on the Tokyo raid of Dec. 3rd in the approximate area Irvin went down. Reporting this upon his return to Saipan Capt. Ferd Curtis requested to take a B-29 and search the for survivors in the area of the raft sighting. It had now been seven days since Irvins plane went missing. The 73rd would not authorize the use of a B-29 but offered the Wing B-24 if his squadron would provide a crew. Ferd had not flown a B-24 in over a year and most of his crew not at all, but they flew a 9 hour search on Dec. 4th with negative results.

 

CREW CLOSE-UPS

 

 

The 881st Squadron started operations on Saipan with only 10 of the authorized B-29 aircraft and early losses reduced this by several. Capt. Curtis flew only 2 combat missions in Dec and one was a weather Recon on Dec 24-25 over Tokyo. Replacement aircraft started coming in January and the 2nd one was assigned to his crew, Z Square 12 (#44-69721) and at the same time they were designated a lead crew. His bombing accuracy in the early missions left much to be desired. The 9 to 12 aircraft formation all dropped bombs on the lead aircraft to insure the planned impact pattern. The designated lead crew concept allowed improvement in bombing accuracy by special training. His crew was given scarce B-29 time for 4 training flights in Jan and again in Feb in Z Square 12 and they were assigned combat missions only as lead or deputy lead.


Capt. Curtis continued to train his bombing team with flights on Mar 3, 5 and 7 in preparation for their next lead assignment.  On Mar 8 an unusual Wing meeting of all staff personnel including lead crew A/C was called.  Gen LeMay outlined the concept of low-level incendiary strikes against the heavily defended Tokyo.  Since this was a maximum effort, our precision trained lead crew would be a part of this mass strike. The initial impression of a B-29 traffic jam with the air filled with bombs and machine gun rounds was frightening.  As the details unfolded, many safeguards were revealed to reduce the chance of self-inflicted loss.  Ammunition was removed from machine guns (except maybe the tail). Various routes to the target area were used to avoid in route congestion. Cruising and bomb run indicated airspeeds were assigned along with staggering altitudes over about 4,000 feet to provide controlled bomb waves over different aiming points. This required one bigger, faster discipline. A big unknown factor was what kind of a reception they would get. Curtis forgot what he was told in the intelligence briefing about their defense capability, but as they approached their bomb run it looked like all hell was breaking loose and he couldn’t be sure if that was good or bad. As it turned out, it was good, Tokyo was burning.

They were normally met at their hardstand after a combat mission by the crew chief and his crew ready to start on the long task of mending and maintaining the aircraft for the next run. The morning after the first incendiary strike on Tokyo they arrived to see bomb loading trailers. The new tactic was highly successful and they are going back for an encore tomorrow night. As it turned out, Z sq. 12 stayed in commission and Capt. Curtis and his crew they flew all 5 missions.

Capt. Curtis interrupted his strikes against strategic targets from April 17 to 28 to fly sorties against Kyushu airfields during the invasion of Okinawa. There was little opposition and bombing was done at medium altitude. The demolition bomb load had a mixture of delayed fuses up to 48 hours to discourage repair of their runway


Loading bombs

Feathering Z-Square-12


Various tactics evolved in the mission-planning rooms to either make the strikes more effective or reduce damage to the B-29s. The March incendiary blitz was a classic example which did both. The strong winds as bombing altitudes decreased the accuracy of the visual bombsight run when the normal downwind approach was made. Crosswind approaches were not possible due to the high drift factor. They were on a mission when they tried the upwind approach. It was a great bomb run but the low ground speed made them a good target for anti-aircraft fire. The individual night bombing was good protection from fighter aircraft but some targets were not good aiming points for a radar bomb run. One in the Tokyo area was a good radar target if the approach was made across the heavily defended Tokyo. Curtis' crew and several other lead crews made the accurate radar approach with a spotter type of incendiary and the main force came from the less defended approach. Capt. Curtis didn't recall if any of the pathfinders were shot down (they came from different groups) but his aircraft had more skin damage that on any other mission.

 


DAMAGE TO Z SQUARE 12


They had P-51 fighter cover from Iwo Jima for a May 29th daylight incendiary strike against Yokohama, so heavy anti-aircraft fire in the target area was their main concern. The normal pattern for formation bombing of a single target had been for squadron size (9-a2) formation bombs in a trial which offered a target for anti-aircraft fire as each went over. This target area could best be covered with several aiming points so the strike was planned so that a wave of four formations bombed side by side at the same time and divided the anti-aircraft fire. Curtis' crew was the lead of the first four formations on a visual bomb run and bomb impact photographs show excellent results. The “bombs away” photo was taken by his left gunner, Sgt Howard J. Clos, I believe it was on this strike. This photo was printed in almost every newspaper across the US. It was also used on the phamphlets dropped over targets warning the civilian population to leave the city.

The Curtis crew completed 30 missions against Japan on June 7. On his return to Saipan, after a leave in Hawaii, he remained in his squadron as operations officer until the end of the War. Z Square 12 survived the remainder of the war with 47 missions. Ferd flew her back to California on October 27th 1945 to March Air Base in Ca..

 

PURPLE HEART CEREMONY

Ferd Curtis received his promotion orders to Captain in route to Saipan and to Major shortly after his assignment as operations officer. He and his crew received 2 awards of the Distinguished Flying Cross and 3 awards of the Air Medal. In addition, the navigator, bombardier, radar operator and Capt Curtis received 2 more awards of the Distinguished Flying Cross for outstanding lead crew strikes. Counting the Distinguished Flying Cross awarded in England this brought the total to 5. He would be awarded the Bronze Star later during the Korean War. His Air Medal total at retirement was 8. Ferd retired on March 1st 1968 from the Air Force after more than 27 years of service as a Lt. Col.


LIFE ON SAIPAN

 


Air raid while showering


Filling gas tanks

Mess Hall

Quonset Hut

Living Area on Saipan


Showers - 1 tank daily

Laundry Service

Downed Jap Plane



Capt Ferd Curtis on Saipan

 

All photos are the legal property of the Curtis family. This story and photos were taken from Lt. Col Ferd Curtis' writings and permission given to use on the site by his son, Cal Curtis. Thanks so much for sharing these and more photos! ~ Sallyann