(Reproduced with permission by the author, Clyde Durham; Dec 1, 2007)
At 1000 hours Sunday,
25 June 50, Far East Air Force Headquarters received word of the North
Korean attack on South Korea.
The 19th BG was made
up of the 28th, 30th and 93rd Bomb Squadrons and was permanently based
at Andersen AFB, Guam. Less than 24 hours after being alerted, the 19th
BG was at Kadena and preparing for their, first combat mission over Korea.
remember very little about my first mission other than it was relatively
routine. A total of nine hours and 35 minutes were logged and we encountered
a little light flak. Otherwise it was uneventful except for the fact it
was my first combat mission and that alone made it memorable for me!
Takeoff was around 1800 and we touched down back at Kadena at 0335. We went to debriefing at 19th BG headquarters then back to the hardstand to remove and clean all our. 50 caliber machine guns. Even though on that mission we never fired them at a MiG, all guns had been test-fired before we reached landfall over the South Korean coast.
|Back to the barracks
shortly after daylight. Sleep finally came but I was so keyed up it took
awhile to drop off. Our routine soon settled in with the only variable being
briefing, station and takeoff times.
With the exception of one daylight raid, the order for a combat mission went something like this: Notification of being scheduled for a mission was posted about 24 hours prior to the mission. The morning of the scheduled mission we four gunners would catch the 6x6 shuttle truck to the 28th BS Headquarters/Operations quonset huts. Then we caught a different shuttle that ran to all the 28th BS hardstands. These were World War II hardstands and were really spread out to minimize damage from bombs or strafing attacks.
Once at the hardstand of our aircraft we would road and/or check the ammunition in all gun turrets, inspect our, .50 caliber machine guns, set head spacing on them, then install them in the turrets. Following that we did a complete ground check of all our electrical equipment and computers that directed our remote-controlled gun turrets. The final stage of our gun preflight was to arm the guns and then point the weapons in the upper turrets at about a 45-degree angle upward and the lower turret guns about 45-degrees down. This told everyone that all the guns on the aircraft were "hot" and to be very careful in turning on any electrical power or fooling with the turrets in any way.
The B-29 had five remote controlled turrets that contained a total of 12 .50 caliber machine guns. The upper forward turret held four guns and there were two weapons each in the upper aft, lower forward, lower aft and tail turrets.
The gunnery system on the B-29 incorporated switches that allowed a gunner to control not only his primary turret but take over certain other turrets in the event another gunner was knocked out of action.
Primary turret for the bombardier was the upper forward turret but by flipping a couple of switches, he could take over the lower forward, controlling both or either one.
The right gunner had primary control of the lower forward but he could also fire the lower aft and/or the tail guns. As left gunner, I had the lower aft as my primary turret, but could also fire the lower forward and/or the tail guns.
The CFC, or top gunner, had the upper aft as his primary but could also control the upper forward. The tail gunner had primary control of the tail guns.
Once we gunners finished our early preflight, which usually took two to three hours, counting travel time, we went back to the barracks area, ate lunch in our 24-hour mess then tried for a nap and a shower before getting ready for mission briefing at group headquarters.
Briefing was usually between 1400 to 1600 hours and following it our aircraft commander, navigator, bombardier, radar operator and radio operator went to shorter, specialized briefings. The pilot, flight engineer and four gunners went to the aircraft for another preflight, this one concerning checking and running up the engines and inspecting the airplane in general.
After the arrival of the remainder of the crew and the completion of their individual preflights, we lined up for crew inspection. Each crew member had a parachute, Mae West life jacket, one-man rubber dinghy, oxygen mask, helmet, head set, hand held and throat mike, flak jacket plus the individual's choice of fleece-lined boots, jackets, pants, etc. Even though we were pressurized and had heat for the crew compartment, it still got pretty cold at altitude.
Flight lunches and thermoses of water were delivered to the aircraft as we were preflighting. The meals consisted of two per man. One was fresh (sandwiches, piece of fruit, bag of chips, sometimes a cookie or candy and a bag with salt, pepper, sugar and a packet of instant coffee) plus an emergency ration box, called the IF-4, containing a can of meat or cheese, a can of fruit, stack of crackers and salt, pepper, gum, coffee, toothpick, etc.
The fresh lunches were all the same (pretty good most of the time), but the IF-4 boxes varied from pretty good to terrible. The ones containing a can of cheese, boned chicken or ham were the favorites of most of us as was the cans of fruit and those of crackers.
Over a period of time we would_. build up a personal supply of IF-4s that we kept in our rooms and ate at times when we didn't feel like making the hike to the mess hall or the times when we were confined to barracks for a few days because a typhoon was doing its best to drown or blow away everything on the island. I remember one time when a typhoon hit and our plane was not flyable so we rode out the storm on the island. They had sent word the mess hall would close in an hour and would not reopen until the typhoon passed.
We decided to try for one last hot meal. Boy, was that a mistake. It was raining so heavy and the wind blowing so hard that we were soaked and had some of our clothing blown away before we went 20 feet. The rain, driven by the wind, felt like someone was shooting pellets of gravel at us. We finally gave up any attempt to make the mess hall and staggered back to the barracks and ate IF-4s for the next two days. We later found out the weather station had recorded winds of 198 MPH!
On our third combat mission we were assigned to fly an aircraft named "Command Decision", arguably the most famous B-29 of the entire Korean War. "Command Decision" flew many combat missions over Japan in World War II and over Korea but it became famous for the five MiG kills it was credited with.
The 28th Bomb Squadron's "Command Decision" was the only B-29 of the entire Korean War to shoot down five MiGs. This occurred, of course, before we arrived at Kadena, but the aircraft commander when all those MiGs were shot down was Capt. Donald Covic.
When his crew's tour
of duty was up, Capt. Covic signed up for another tour and was the Operations
Officer (and had become a major) when we became a part of the 28th.
There is a photo on
the wall at 28th Bomb Squadron Headquarters at Dyess AFB that shows John
Cosmato and Clyde Durham standing by the nose art on the aircraft as we
preflighted for our third mission. In May of 1998 a good friend and I
visited the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB and I had my photo
taken by the fuselage of "Command Decision" which is on display there.
The museum photo was taken 46 years and two months after the one taken
the day of our third combat mission.
a week after our third mission on "Command Decision" four crews, including
us, flew a two-hour training mission in the local area. We were the first
aircraft to land and the current crew of "Command Decision" followed us.
All four planes landed and followed each other on the taxi strip heading
to the 2e hardstands. We were about half way there and I happened to be
looking back at "Command Decision" and at that moment I saw the nose of
the airplane plunge to the taxi strip and all four props on the big 3350
Wright-Cyclone radial engines dig into the taxi strip.
We found out that the taxi strip had given way under the nose gear and dropped about 10 or 12 inches. The sudden stoppage of the nose gear and the forward motion of the airplane collapsed the nose, gear.
Major Covic was at his desk when word of the accident reached him. He immediately hopped into his jeep and went to the scene of the accident. It was several hours before he finally got back to squadron operations and when he walked in the first thing he saw was the "Command Decision" model resting on its nose on his desk. Someone had pulled off the nose gear! Maj. Covic left it that way until the real aircraft flew again, almost three months later.
John Cosmato (L) and Clyde Durham as we preflighted
COMMAND DECISION for our third combat mission.
Clyde Durham w.
Apache just after we werer told this would be our aircraft following the
present crew's crews last mission that night. Aircraft had already been
preflighted and bombs loaded when we took this photo. Note position of
guns in upper and lower forward turrets which indicates "hot guns", meaning
all turrets had been loaded with belts of ammo and guns were loaded and
Our crew had flown a different airplane on each of our first three missions but shortly after that we got word that we were assigned our own aircraft. (At that time the Air Force still had a team concept of a unit consisting of an airplane, with the same ground crew and flight crew. The only time this varied much was if a plane was down for maintenance, the flight crew would make their scheduled mission on another aircraft.
The aircraft first
assigned to us was one named "Apache". It featured a voluptuous Indian
maiden perched on a tom-tom. We got word of the assignment shortly before
lunch one day and after chow we went to the squadron area and found "Apache".
Her regular crew was flying a mission that night and the "hot guns" position
showed the gunners had already completed their preflight and left the
We did not know any of the flight crew but intended to try to meet some of them before they left for home. The next morning we got the news.
had gone down the night before with the loss of all men. The crew of the
plane following "Apache" in the bomber stream related this story. "Apache"
had passed the IP and was on the bomb run. The crew following them said
that "Apache" was maybe half way between the IP and the bomb release point
when suddenly the night sky was lit up by a gigantic fire ball. "Apache"
had apparently suffered a direct flak hit and the 20,000 pounds of bombs
and the approximately 3,000 gallons of high-octane fuel exploded and consumed
the airplane and its crew instantly.
Two days later we
were assigned "Top Of The Mark", named after the cocktail lounge on
the top of the Mark Hopkins hotel in San Francisco. Our fourth combat
mission on 24 June 52 was number 112 for "Top Of The Mark". Almost half
of those were over Japan in WWII in 1945 and the rest over Korea a few
|Almost the entire length
of one of those missions was flown on three engines. There is a reason why
they hung four of those 2,200 HP Wright-Cyclones on a B-29! We took off
on this particular mission grossing 140,000 pounds, which was normal for
all our missions. (The original design called for a maximum gross takeoff
weight of 120,000.)
We had the usual bomb load of 40 500-pounders (20 in each bomb bay) and every pound of fuel we could cram in. Normal procedure *as to fly at 4,000 feet (to conserve fuel) from Okinawa until we made landfall over the southern coast of Korea. Then begin our climb to bombing altitude.
About 45 minutes after takeoff number three engine began running rough and we had to shut it down and feather the prop. After a brief discussion in the cockpit the AC decided to continue the mission on three engines, at least until something happened to make him change his mind. We managed to maintain our altitude and even gain some, but there was no way we were going to get up to 20,000 feet, the scheduled bombing altitude for our primary target.
The AC decided to divert to the secondary target and bomb from as high as we could get which was somewhere near 6,000 feet. The secondary was just over the 38th parallel in North Korea and we managed to drop our bombs and head back to Okinawa without further incident although I'm sure the remaining three engines didn't appreciate it very much.
Our AC was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for this and the other 10 of us were rewarded by aging a few years each in a matter of hours.
Several missions later we were presented with the opportunity to duplicate the three-engine mission feat. We lost an engine about 30 minutes after take off and the AC again decided to go for it on three. This time his/our luck didn't hold. Shortly after shutting down the first engine, another one began running rough. Just before feathering the prop on the second bad engine we quickly dumped our bombs in the ocean (we hadn't even armed them yet) and made a 180-degree turn and headed back to Kadena.
We made it back, declared an emergency and made a straight-in approach to Kadena on just the two remaining engines: o.We' landed without any further incidents and . taxied up to our hardstand. Our ground. crew had been alerted and was waiting for us. Tears were running down the cheeks of the crew chief, a Master Sergeant veteran of W WII.
He said this was the first abort of a combat mission for "Top Of The Mark" in almost 100 scheduled combat flights dating back to Japan in WWII. Obviously he was sad, but quickly stated he did not blame us. He said, "We'll just start a new string."
missions averaged about nine and a half hours flying time with our longest
being 12 hours, and the shortest 8:05. Since all but one of our missions
was flown at night and the North Koreans and Chinese Communists didn't have
a lot of radarequipped MiG-15s; we didn't have to worry too much about fighters.Anti-aircraft
fire was another story. Depending on the target, the enemy's radarcontrolled
guns and searchlights ranged from very light to very heavy. From our crew's
point of view our worst mission was our 18th one on 30 September 52. Our
target that night was the Namsam-ni Chemical Plant.
A total of 45 B-29s made up the main bomber force. Three B-29s attacked before the main force hit, dropping airburst bombs in a flak-suppression role, then orbited the area above the main force using ECM against the radar-controlled guns and lights. In addition seven B-26s flew low-level searchlight suppression attacks prior to the main force attack.
Our aircraft was well back in the main bomber stream. We were flying for the first time since "Top Of The Mark" had been sent back to the states. Our aircraft was a recently reconditioned B-29 fresh from the states and his was its first flight since arriving at Kadena.
The aircraft was in good shape but it felt very strange after flying "Top Of The Mark" on every combat mission and training hop for over four months.
On this mission our bombing altitude was 27,500 feet, the highest of any of our missions over Korea. Since we were so far back in the bomber stream the guns and searchlights were pretty well zeroed-in on us, even though all aircraft were not scheduled over the target on the same heading, altitude or time separation.
As we turned on the IP we could see the lights and guns picking up each B-29 as it neared the target area. As we closed on the target we began picking up anti-aircraft fire and searchlights. At first they weren't real close then they rapidly began getting our range, speed and altitude.
We could hear shrapnel rattling on the skin of the airplane and suddenly searchlights locked on us. We immediately felt very vulnerable and exposed, as though the whole world was looking at us. The interior of our B-29 was brighter than the brightest day we had ever seen
Just a few minutes from the bomb release point we felt, heard and some of us saw a huge explosion in the left wing near the rear of number one engine nacelle. A large stream of smoke poured back from number one engine and the left wing went up and the right down from the force of the explosion. I reported the smoke just as another explosion hit us on the underside of the plane between the lower aft turret and the tail compartment.
This was immediately followed by a flak burst under the right wing. The second and third hits were not as strong as the first one but they were strong enough to get the attention of all of us instantly.
We were locked in searchlights and the anti-aircraft guns were right on our altitude and course, so the AC gave the order to salvo the bombs "so we can get the hell out of here!"
The bombardier had a salvo switch in the nose and we had one in the gunner's compartment. Capt. Mohr immediately hit his switch and nothing happened. The CFC gunner had climbed down from his position and flipped our switch. Still not a bomb dropped.
We were still locked in lights and catching shrapnel, so the AC gave the order to prepare to bail out. The next command would be, `Bail out". We were deep in North Korea, hundreds of miles behind enemy lines, searchlights and guns were locked on us and with 20,000 pounds of bombs and probably 3,000 gallons of fuel remaining the airplane along with all of us could cease to exist any second.
I was anxious and worried but the only thing really on my mind in those few seconds was this: We're going to have to bail out and as I'm floating down in my parachute one of those numerous anti-aircraft shells on the way up is going to go right through me on my way down!
It wasn't until much later, after we were out of danger that I realized there were many other unpleasant things more likely to happen to me than being pierced in mid-air by an anti-aircraft shell!
It has taken a lot longer to read all this than it took for it to happen. The actual time could be measured in seconds. Fortunately we never got the final bailout command.
Suddenly one ' of the salvo switches worked and all 40 of our 500-pounders dropped instantly. Relieved of ,that 20,000 pounds of weight in a split second, the B-29 surged several hundred feet upward and at the same time the AC racked the plane hard over on its left wing and into a sharp descent.
We lost three or four thousand feet very quickly and equally as fast lost the searchlights and guns. The AC quickly began a crew check as he leveled off and no one had a scratch!
Our crew at Lake Charles AFB, LA. as we finished advanced Combat Crew Training and Prepared to go to Korea.
(Standing, from L) Lt. George Collins, Nav., TSgt. Walter Ragsdale, FE, Capt. H.M. Locker, AC, 1Lt. Robert Sills, Radar, A1C Clyde Durham, LG.
(Front, from L) A2C John Cosmato, CFC., 2Lt James King, P., A1C James Eckols RG., Pvt. Ed Smith, TG. A2C James Cowart RO. (Not shown is Bom. Capt.Orville Gross on Emer. Leave)
was still streaming back from the left wing, but the flight engineer, in
checking his instrument panel, reported an almost total loss of fuel from
number one wing tank, which was immediately behind number one engine.
We realized then that it was vaporized fuel and not smoke that had been streaming back. The miracle was there was no further explosion after the hit and no fire!
Examination the next day revealed a four-foot by two-foot hole blown completely through the left wing, almost directly through the center of the number one fuel tank. God was truly protecting us that night!
With all the fuel lost from that tank we didn't have enough remaining to get back to Okinawa so we diverted to Itazuki Air Force Base near Fukuoka on Honshu, the southernmost island of Japan. The next day we kinda got the shakes after seeing the extent of the damage. We later heard that the Air Force decided to cannibalize the aircraft because of structural damage.
We really missed "Top Of The Mark" but at least it was proven again that a B-29 could be pretty tough, much like its older sister, the B-17.
Another 19th BG B-29 was at Itazuki, having landed there a few weeks prior and needing minor repairs. They told us it would be ready to fly again in o a few days and we. could fly it back to Okinawa. Itazuki was a jet fighter base and a lot of the F-86 pilots were kidding our AC and pilot about that "big old obsolete bomber pulling down the reputation of their sleek fighters by sitting there with them on the ramp."
Capt. Locker and Lt. King suggested those fighter boys come watch us take off in that "big old bird", which as it happened occurred the next day at 1000 hours. Twenty or 30 pilots and assorted personnel were on the ramp watching our engine start up.
If I remember correctly the main runway at Itazuki was about 8 or 10,000 feet. The B-29 we were flying back to Kadena was relatively light. No bombs, no ammunition, only enough fuel to get us home and just our parachutes and the weight of the crew.
After engine run-ups and checks, Locker positioned the B-29 at the very end of the runway. He held the brakes and applied takeoff power to those big radials. He let the plane shudder and shake until he was assured he had maximum RPM.
Then he released the brakes and that light B-29 surged down the runway and about the halfway point he pulled it off the ground and with maybe 10 feet of altitude gave the gear-up command. The gear sucked up and he held the plane just feet off the ground for the last half of the runway.
as we neared the end of the runway he pulled the wheel back and began a
pretty sharp left turn. He got up to a couple hundred feet and roared over
the assembled pilots on the ramp. I looked down and saw big grins and waves
as we passed over them. Locker said, "That ought to show those guys what
a real airplane can do."
Our flight back to Kadena was uneventful and on our next mission we flew another newly arrived re-conditioned B-29.
Our longest combat mission was #14 on 12 September 52. It was 12 hours and 40 minutes long and the target was the huge Suiho Hydroelectric Plant.
|Our longest combat
mission was #14 on 12 September 52. It was 12 hours and 40 minutes long
and the target was the huge Suiho Hydroelectric Plant. The dam was across
the Yalu River, the dividing line between North Korea and Manchuria.
We were forbidden to violate Manchurian air space because the Russians might take offense. As a result anytime we bombed such a target we had to fly a bomb run from west to east or vice versa, which meant a run along the length of the river rather than along the north-south length of the dam.
Rather poor results usually occurred, but we didn't violate Manchurian air space. As usual, North Korea was completely blacked out. That night as we flew our bomb run from west to east I could see an airfield on the north bank of the Yalu inManchuria. Runway lights were on and the ramps and surrounding buildings were well lighted.
Many dozens of MiGs could be seen on the ground. They weren't worried about getting their airfield bombed. They knew we wouldn't violate their air space.
Exactly one week later we flew the only daylight mission of our tour. It was a maximum effort by all three B-29 groups, the Far East Air Force's 19t, SAC's 307', also based at Kadena with us and another SAC group, the 98th flying out of Yakota AFB near Tokyo.
The ground crews did a fine job and the three groups together put up over 90 B29s in one formation. This was a remarkable feat for maintenance, considering the maximum number of B-29s allowed in the Far East at any one time was 99. Something about not offending the Russians I guess.
B-26s went in low on flak suppression attacks and we had a high cover of F-86 Sabre Jets for protection against the MiGs.
The target was a troop, material and rail marshalling yard center and went off pretty well as planned. We got some light to moderate flak but were never hit by the MiGs. Some MiG-15s tangled with the Sabres, but we never heard the results.
It was a beautiful sight to see so many B-29s in one formation. Our aircraft was in the far left group of the formation, but as we formed up and later looking out the right blister I could see most of the planes. A three or four plane flight was about the biggest I had ever been in prior to that daylight raid. We logged 10 hours and 40 minutes that day.
A day or so after
our 12a' mission on 29 August 52 our crew got a three-day R&R in the Philippines.
The 28th BS commander, Lt. Col. Raymond Buckwalter, took his R&R with
us as we all flew on a MATS C-54 to Clark Field near Manila. We then went
up into the mountains by bus to Camp John Hay at Bagio City.
At the R&R camp, as
we did many times at Kadena, we all dressed in civvies and went out as
a group. Col. Buckwalter was right along with us.
Close up of the 19th Memorial
The final combat mission
of our tour was on the night of 27 November 52, Thanksgiving night. The
food in our 24-hour mess was usually pretty good but the noon meal that
day was especially fine: turkey and dressing with all the trimmings, ham,
lots of good bread, a good variety of vegetables and desserts... even
salted nuts and other snacks. It tasted great!
My tour of duty in
the 28th Bomb Squadron only lasted a little over six months but as long
as I live the 28'h and its personnel will hold a very special place in
my heart. Over the past two years I have had the privilege of meeting
a number of current 28th people and. visiting squadron headquarters. It
has been an experience I cherish.
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