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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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