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TARGET: KOBE, 5 JUNE, 1945

Len Miller, AC

Assisted by Tal Gunderson, FE, 5th Sq
Dedicated to the memory of Lt. Richard Hughes, KIA

At the pre-mission briefing on June , were informed that our target the following be Kobe, one of Japan's larger cities. This daylight formation raid with our squadron spearheading, the 9th BG. Our crew was to fly in the N( until we turned to our southerly heading aft drop. Then the second and third flights wouli and we would assume the No. 6 position until we turned to our southerly heading after the bomb drop. Then the second and third flights would cross over, and we would assume the No. 9 position. As we had no formation flying since leaving training at Alamogordo NM, on April 11, 1945, this was somewhat of a surprise to me. Also, this would be only my fifth mission and only the fourth for the remainder of the crew . All of our missions had been night mining sorties.

At 0127, June 5, we started engines and took off from North Field at 0148 exactly on schedule and soon reached cruising altitude of 7,000 feet. All engines were running well with the exception of No. 3 which was trailing a thin wisp of smoke. TSgt Tal Gunderson, our flight engineer, soon determined that we were bunrning a small amount of oil; but it should cause us no problem if it did not become worse. Shortly after passing Iwo Jima we encountered weather that gave us a rather bumpy flight for an hour or so.

About an hour before formation assembly time of 0846, we donned our combat equipment and climbed to our assembly and bombing altitude of 13,000 feet. As we joined the formation, we could see B-29s everywhere all heading toward the Empire. We met with no enemy activity until we passed the IP (Initial Point). Then the flak batteries became active. Twin engine Japanese planes flew around our Group informing the guns on the ground of our altitude. We could see and hear the bursts but were not hit.

 

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The Starduster

Rear left to right: Leonard Miller, AC; Robert L. Drew-P; Wayne C. Bowman -N; Gerald L. Fortier-B; Richard K. Hughes-RN
Front left to right: Talvin M Gunderson-FE; Claude V. Allen-RO; Ellis E. Erdman-CFC; Robert H. Beacham-LG; James C. Daly-RG; William A. Chancellor, Jr.-TG
Hughes was killed 6-5-45 replaced by Metzger

After we dropped our seven and a half tons of incendiaries, we executed our crossover and became No. 9, the lowest ship in the formation. It was then that the enemy fighters began their attacks, diving at out of the sun. We were definitely marked. Our No. 3 engine was emitting a long trail of smoke which seemed to make us appear to have been hit by flak. One after another another, six fighters came at us from the 10 o'clock high position. Needless to say, I was tucked in closely below and behind the plane of our Flight Leader Capt. C.W. Cox so as to obtain the benefits of his firepower along with ours.

SSgt Ellis Erdman, our CFC, called out the positions of the attackers. The entire plane shook as the 50s were fired. A call came from CpI Bill Chancellor, our lanky tail-gunner, that he had been hit but could continue firing. Several more fighters attacked. Sgt Allen, the radio operator, reported that he, too, had been wounded, but only slightly.

It was then that I spotted two fighters coming at us in a coordinated attack. They were not coming from out of the sun as the others had but were flying at our exact altitude and below sun level, firing 20 mms as they closed. It appeared that they might be going to ram us as they did not attempt to go either over or under us. A fraction of a second before a possible collision, I pulled back the control column sharply and popped it forward so as to hold our proper formation position. Both planes swept beneath us. I could see the goggles on one of the pilots as he went under us. Several of the 20 mms hit us and knocked out the pressurization. That caused no problem because of the relatively low altitude.

starduster
For a few seconds we had no more attacks but I received a call from Sgt Jim Daly and SSgt Bob Beacham, our waist gunners, that Lt. Dick Hughes, our radar operator and youngest officer, was lying on the floor by his position and appeared to be badly wounded. Navigator Wayne Bowman volunteered to go back to give assistance. Despite the fact that more fighters were coming at us, he crawled through the tunnel.

Time was measured in only fractions of a second although it seemed like forever. As Wayne was proceeding to the aft comartment, several more planes fired on us. Then, abruptly, all attacks ceased as the fighters decided to concentrate on the groups following ours. A few miles to the port side we could see a B-29 in a spin but saw no parachutes. Our formation stayed together and headed toward the open sea. Wayne soon reported that Lt Hughes was unconscious and did not appear to be breathing and that he would stay with him until he was certain. A check of the crew showed that there were no other injuries.

On checking damage to our ship, we found that we had some problems. No. I engine's prop governor stuck at 2,000; No. 2 was backfiring, and we had to keep low settings on it; the generators on both Nos. 3 and 4 were out. No. 3 was running low on oil and had to be feathered, and No. 4 would not put out more than 2,000 RPM. With the exception of our radio compass we had no radios, and we were not certain if the gear and flaps were operable. The formation disbanded when we were several miles out over the Pacific. We attempted to get a plane to buddy us by firing flares, but no one saw them. We were on our own. Navigation was no problem as we had our "bird-dog" and could home in on the Iwo Jima radio. Our immediate concern was the inability to hold altitude. We were losing 50 to 75 feet per minute and were heading into a storm. Sgt Allen was working feverishly on the radios. Plans were made for ditching but only when we were much closer to Iwo. We discussed what articles could be thrown overboard but decided not to discard anything as it would make little difference.

The storm became worse as we continued. After two and a half hours the needle on the radio compass pointed directly at zero. We estimated that we should be fairly close to Iwo. By that time we were down to 300 feet and could see large waves below us but no sign of the island. I glanced at the altimeter and was startled to see that it showed we were climbing about 300 feet per minute. In a few minutes we topped off at 1,200 feet. We were again in the overcast and still could not locate Iwo. I tried the radio channel for a Ground Controlled Approach but could raise none. At that instant Sgt Allen came to the flight deck and informed me that he had the radio fixed so that I could contact Iwo radio. The long range radio was also operable, and he had contacted Tinian. I told him to notify Tinian that Iwo was socked in and that we would attempt to ditch at the nearest surface Dumbo to Iwo. As he turned back to the radio compartment, we broke into clear weather; we were in the eye of the storm with Iwo a mile or two to our left. We contacted Iwo radio for landing instructions and were told to land to the north, As we were already on the downwind leg, Lt Bob Drew, pilot, got out the checklist; and we ran through it rapidly. Our worries about the landing gear and flaps proved groundless since both functioned perfectly.

We had extreme drift to the right on the final approach but were able to compensate with no difficulty. We landed solidly, heading straight down the runway. The crosswind was so strong that it took full right rudder to keep us going straight. As we slowed down slightly, the plane started to weather vane toward a row of P-51s to our left. Lt Drew and I both hit full right brake, blowing an expander tube in the braking system and also blowing out one of our right main tires. We continued toward the fighters, and I shouted to Tal to hit the crash bar which cut off all power in the ship. (Later we learned that a fire in No. 4 had started on landing but was extinguished when the crash bar was hit.) Just as it seemed we were about to crash, the wind let up enough so that rudder control was regained and we continued on for an instant. The wind once again headed the ship toward a second row of P-51s. We could do nothing except keep our feet on the two right rudder pedals. We had tried our hand emer gency brake earlier, and it, too, was useless.

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Lt. Hughes Temporary Burial at Iwo Jima
We prepared for the worst, but again the wind diminished, and we regained control. We slid past the fighters before starting a west-bound drift once more. This time we headed directly toward a Jeep and a weapons carrier. There were two men in the Jeep and four men aboard the weapons carrier. As they saw us bearing down on them, all leaped out and ran just in time. The 17-foot props of Nos. I and 2 engines and left wing flap tore both vehicles apart. Finally we came to a stop against an embankment at the edge of the runway.


Ambulances and fire trucks rolled up, but there was nothing for them to do except remove the body of Lt Hughes. He was buried with military honors the next day in the 3rd and 4th Marine Division Cemetery.

On June 7, 1945 we were given another B-29 to ferry back to Tinian and arrived there without further incident. However, in view of the many other events that happened during the mission of June 5, 1 am convinced that there had to be a third Pilot on board.

Mission Report

June 5 KOBE URBAN AREA. Of 41 a/c on hand, 36 were scheduled and 35 air-borne. In daylight from 14,000', 32 a/c dropped 228 tons of IB on the target area which, along with 41 other B-29's bombs, destroyed an additional. 2.9 square miles, 25%, of that city. Heavy fighter attacks in target area; 16 fighters destroyed, 6 probably destroyed, 7 damaged. Six wounded were: Capt. George Bertagnoli, 2nd Lt. Donald Dwyer, 2nd Lt. Harold Peterson, Sgt. Claude Allen and William Chancellor. 2nd Lt. Richard Hughes, radar officer on Leonard Miller's crew, died of wounds received over the target. Miller had to crash-land the aircraft on Iwo, destroying two vehicles in the process. Total of 7 A/C damaged.