Cut in Half Over Tokyo

B-29's from the 500th Bomb Group joining formation near Mt. Fuji, the initial point for the bomb run

Marianas-- Hacked nearly in half by its own propeller, the Holy Joe, a Marianas-based B-29, nearly ditched in the middle of Tokyo Bay but managed to limp home and set a new record for the longest mission flown by Superforts before it literally fell apart after landing.

Nearly 100 Jap fighters hit the B-29 formation over an industrial suburb of Tokyo. "We were on the bomb run at the tirne," said Lt. James M. Pearson of Manchester, Tenn, pilot of the big plane. "Seven fighters came at us in a head-on coordinated attack' one after the other. Three 20-mm. shells hit the right inboard engine. One of them hit the oil tank, dumping all the oil for that engine, which immediately began running away, Overheated, it burst into flame. We dove steeply at more than 400 miles an hour straight at Tokyo Bay, dropping from over 25,000 feet to less than 12,000 in an effort to put out the fire and spin off the prop.

"The fire went out but the prop was still spinning and wouldn't feather The engine caught fire again. We dove another 4000 feet and that did it. The prop whirled off all right, spinning at terrific speed. It slashed back into the fuselage, ripping a hole 10 feet long and two feet wide. We'd saved ourselves from a very awkward ditch job right in Tokyo's front yard, but we were still in a rough spot."

Practically holding their breath so as not jar or shake Holy Joe, the crew nursed the B-29. all the way back to the Marianas at reduced speed Sliding into the home field carefully, Lt. Pearson set her down like a crate of eggs. She shook, wobbled and finally cracked in half just as they slowed to a stop. Three crew members who were in the rear of the fuselage had to descend by sliding down a rope. But aside from a shaking up and a few scratches, no one was injured. After landing, they glanced at their watches and found the mission had lasted 17 hours and 45 minutes, to their knowledge the longest mission flown by the Superforts since the B-29 attacks on Japan began.

Standing L to R: S/Sgt Jack L. Heffner (Radar), 2/Lt William A Shauck (Navigator), 2/Lt Edward Porada (Co-pilot), Sgt Richard A. Landsman (Gunner), 2/LT Edward A Meeder, Jr (Flight Eng), 1/Lt James M. Pearson (AC)
Kneeling L to R: Sgt Glen A Doan (Gunner), S/Sgt Clifford G. Martin (Radio Op), S/Sgt Harold Danchik (Gunner), Sgt Edward J. Gast, Jr (Tail gun), 2/Lt James D. Skinner (Bomb)

S/Sgt Jack L Heffner received the Purple Heart and the entire crew received the Distinguished Flying Cross and a rest leave in Hawaii after this mission. S/Sgt Heffner flew 25 more missions after this one. Heffner says 1/Lt Pearson was as "cool and steady as a rock".

This photo is on display at the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institute in the Enola Gay exhibit section.

Mission Debriefing

L to R: Maj. Robert Fitzgerald, 2/Lt EdwardMeeder, 1/Lt James Pearson, 2/LT Edward Porada, 2/Lt Robert E. Copeland.

Maj. Fitzgerald and his co-pilot, Robert E. Copeland, were lost over Tokyo on March 16, 1945.

Combat Diary Notes of S/Sgt Jack L. Heffner

February 19, 1945

Mission #10. Destination - aircraft plant in Tokyo.
Pilot - Lt. Pearson - Ship #1
My position - Radar operator
Take off - 0647 Landed - 12:35
Total time - 17 hours, 45 minutes!
Bombing - some radar, some visual, on primary target and also docks of Tokyo.
Altitude 26,000 feet
Flak moderate and heavy, accurate. Thompson in #2 got one in the right wing large enough to put two barrels through. Got back OK, no one hurt.
Fighter opposition - moderate, heavy on our element, and very aggressive.
Strength - about 150 B-29's, including Tinian. I counted 87 in sight at one time.
Losses - Three over target, one ditched. Two of the three from our group, one from our squadron. Both in our four plane element. Bombing results unobserved. Our bombardier, Skinner, got an Irving, ring gunner Doan, a probable.

Longest and toughest mission for me as yet. We were lead ship of the extreme right element, low element, with Lt. Samuelson on our right (Evans, Radar) and Lt. Rouse (Johnston, Radar) as tail end Charlie, Calhoun on left wing. Picked up a few attacks after I.P., we being the first formation in. Right after bombs away, an Irving came in from the front and high, the ring gunner shooting at him. He went on back and crashed into Sammy on top, almost halfway back. We think it was a deliberate ramming. The plane broke in two and burst into flame immediately, the Irving going into smaller pieces with it. Six parachutes were seen to open from the 29, one was burning and collapsed This happened directly over Tokyo at 26,000. Evans was one of my closest buddies, he, Burkie, and I traveling together ever since Scott Field. He may have been one of the parachutists. He gave me his leather jacket to send home in case something happened. I knew every man on the crew very well, and it sure is hurting.

Rouse then pulled into Sammy's position on our right wing, and soon after was seen spiralling down to earth, no one knows what happened to him. Johnston was also one of my .closest buddies since Scott Field. Taught me lots of songs. During all this, we were getting plenty of attacks and expecting any-thing. No. 3 engine was bad and it started throwing huge chunks of frozen oil. The prop then ran away and the engine started burning. Unable to feather it, we soon dropped back from the formation, losing altitude fast. Course took us out of the Mainland and Maj. Fitzgerald went into a dive to follow us down. We all expected a ditching or a crash off the mainland, but the ship leveled off at 3000 feet and the fire was put out. However, not knowing how long we'd last, everyone prepared to ditch and started throwing all loose stuff into the sea. We proceeded in ditching position for some time, Fitzgerald alongside of us (Cookson, Radar) and No. 3 whining at a high pitch. Later, the prop flew off and tore a huge gash in the fuselage, in the fore bomb bay section, tearing a bomb bay door off. We were down to 150 indicated, and limped all the way back, expecting to ditch at any time, or the nose to drop off. We steered clear of high islands by our Radar and our ETA seemed far beyond our gas limitations. After nearly 18 hours of flying, we came in sight of our base around midnight, a few hours overdue, Fitzgerald still aiding us. Can't commend him enough. We were leery of our landing gears and the nature of our landing, made a beautiful approach and soft landing. We were just a short ways up the runway, still clipping it off, when something happened, due to lack of hydraulic pressure for brakes, I think . We ran off the strip, smashed into a truck, hit a cleat truck, turning if over, tore through an embankment and smashed into a parked B-29 (Z9) on its hard stand. I was standing up in the Radar room, got thrown clen up into the CFC (Central Fire Control) compartment, not missing anything and nothing missing me. Got out with banged up nose. Two other gunners in back with me didn't get hurt either, nor the remainder of the crew in the front. Driver of the truck was seriously injured, cleat truck man killed instantly. I'll never know how the boys in the front got out, the nose was ripped off completely to the wings and twisted around, the fuselage battered on all directions, cowlings, landing gears and everything imaginable lying all over. The tail was at least 20-25 ft. in the air, the tunnel twisted, making it impossible to get thru. We had to wait for a rope to climb down. Z9 was knocked off its stand and into the embankment. It was also cut in two, the tail lying all over and the fuselage flattened By the time we got out, they were washing the blood away with a hose and a huge crowd had gathered. Our crew was intact, the pilot injured slightly and we got out of the scene immediately. Taken to the dispensary for slight treatment, received a double shot, wonderful stimulant, ate a meal and a very tired and jittery crew called it a day. Three planes out of the four in our formation, or rather element, will never fly again, but one of the crews will be back another day, less exciting, I hope.

Longest mission recorded (17 hours, 13 minutes), 1500 miles with 2 engines out on same side.

February 20, 1945

Got our pictured taken in front of both of our sections of the plane now being salvaged. Lt. Pearson said we were put in for a rest. Took Lt. Samuelson's crew's belongings out of their quonset today. Four and a half crews gone out of twenty.

February 22, 1945

Got issued clothing that was lost on the last mission. Pearson said there's a good chance of going to rest in Hawaii. Lewis, my old co-pilot got his own crew today (Capt. Brown's).


881st Squadron patch from A-2 flying jacket

I would like to thank Mike Heffner for sending me his Father's combat diary notes and the above photos. This makes a very fine addition to our growing collection of candid stories and photographs. You can email Mike or his Dad, Jack Heffner, at: