315th Bomb Wing

The following is from the 315th Bomb Wing (VH) history book. It was researched and written by Major Ralph Swann as partial fulfillment of his requirements for graduation from the US Air Force Command and Staff College. It is "Adapted from Air Command and Staff Research Report 862460 entitled A Unit History of the 315th Bomb Wing, 1944-1946."

The War Is Over

      Shortly after the end of hostilities, Twentieth Air Force was tasked to fly mercy supply missions to 70,000 Allied prisoners of war (POWs) held in Japanese camps. The POWs desperately needed food, medicine, and clothing to survive until friendly forces could reach them. Unfortunately, friendly ground forces were still far away from the POW camps located in China, Manchuria, Formosa, Korea, and the four main Japanese home islands. Consequently, Twentieth Air Force was directed to use its B-29 force to airlift the needed supplies to the POW camps. Naturally, the 315th contributed to this great humanitarian effort.

      The 315th was directed to complete two support taskings during the preparation stage of the mercy mission operation. On 23 August, crews began flying to the Philippines to pick up 24,000 cargo parachutes shored there for the planned American invasion of Japan. Meanwhile, other crews flew to Tinian and picked up 205,000 pounds of food and delivered it to Saipan to make POW supply bundles.

Many of the supplies were packed in used fuel drums. Service crews, who called themselves the 'Saipan Samaritans,' welded two barrels together into what looked like 'blockbusters.' The oil drums filled with supplies were anchored to the bomb racks by the same shackles that had once been used to secure bombs.

      The 315th completed its two support taskings within 10 days and prepared to deliver the supply bundles.

      Captain Lewis H. Ribble and his 331st Bomb Group crew flew one of the parachute missions to the Philippines. They departed Guam at dusk and landed early the next morning at the Florida Blanca airstrip just north of Manila. They loaded the parachutes and planned to leave early the next morning to deliver their cargo to Tinian. Staff Sergeant Laurence 0. McCarthy, the crew chief, spent the rest of the day souvenir hunting and found a bomb damaged Japanese "Betty" bomber in a nearby revetment. He salvaged "a torn section of fabric from the tail feathers (elevator) having a decal with data in Japanese printed on a black background." The next morning, the crew took off in a driving rain.

We were in heavy rain for about 4 or 5 hours, then broke out of it to see a big double rainbow on the white fluffy cloud below. I (SSgt. McCarthy) was then sitting at the forward end of the tunnel at the astro dome from where it appeared that the rainbow was all around us. We were then near the approximate position where the cruiser Indianapolis went down.

The USS Indianapolis had delivered the atomic bomb to the 502th at Tinian and was heading for the Philippines when a Japanese torpedo delivered a lethal blow to its forward powder magazine. The USS Indianapolis sank so fast that no SOS message was sent, and only 300 of the 1,050-man crew escaped into the water. Unfortunately, less than 100 survivors were found by air-sea rescue units three days later. Many had drowned, and many others were attacked by sharks. At Tinian, Capt. Ribble parked his aircraft, "Slicker 6," next to the "Enola Gay" with "Bock's Car" parked next to the "Enola Gay." Capt. Ribble and his crew stopped to reflect on the coincidences of the mission and the unique double rainbow they saw below their aircraft as they passed over the gravesight of the ill-fated USS Indianapolis.

      Unfortunately, the 502nd Bomb Group had two fatal aircraft accidents during the 315th's support missions. On the night of 27 August, Captain Claude W. Lawson's aircraft crashed into Mt. Tapotchau, near Isley Field, Saipan. The crash occurred when Capt. Lawson attempted a second approach following a missed landing attempt in low visibility. There were no survivors.

Four days later, on another flight to Manila, airplanes of the 411th Squadron took off from the Philippines to return to Guam. Crews landing at base reported very bad weather enroute, possibly a typhoon. Consequently, anxiety spread throughout the Group when it became apparent late the night of 31 August that Captain William J. Pananes and his crew were overdue. As time passed with no word, search parties were sent out to scour the sea on his flight path. No traces were found except on empty life raft.

      The 315th paid a heavy price to support the mercy missions, however, the wing successfully completed its assigned tasking for a worthy cause.

      The 315th flew its first major POW mercy mission on 29 August. Thirty Superforts carried supply packages to POW camps near Mukden, Manchuria, around trip of 4,000 miles, as well as the Tokyo-Yokohama, Shikoku, and Honshu sectors in the Japanese home islands.

A B-29 carried sufficient food for 200 prisoners. Eighteen bundles were loaded in each bomb bay and the drops were made from less than 1,000 feet. Targets were designated by furrows, paint, or cloth panels on the ground....The bombardier, navigator, and radar operator combined their efforts to determine the exact moment for 'supplies away.'

      Although the camps were difficult to locate, two 315th crews succeeded in making radio contact with overjoyed POWs at one camp in Mukden. The POWs used a walkie-talkie set to communicate with the B-29Bs and asked the 315th crews to pass on a message "that 'Captain Campbell and nine members are in a POW camp at Mukden'; these were survivors of the 462nd's 'Wild-Hair', downed by an aerial bomb before reaching the target on December 21,1944." The 315th crews copied the message and proudly relayed it to help a fellow Superfort crew.

      Between 30 August and 2 September, the 315th flew two major and three smaller POW mercy missions. On 30 August, 29 crews flew the second major POW mission to camps in the Mukden and Tokyo areas. Two days later, on 1 September, 52 crews dropped 1,872 packages to POWs at camps in the Kobe-Osaka, Shikoku, Nagoya, and northern Honshu areas. Subsequently, the 315th flew three smaller mercy missions to camps at Osaka, Honshu, Kyushu, Hokkaido, and Narumi. Up to seven 315th aircraft were involved in these smaller missions and dropped between 72 and 252 packages to the waiting POWs.

      On the 2 September mercy mission to Osaka, the 16th Bomb Group lost 10 of its members in an aircraft accident. A few hours after takeoff, First Lieutenant George R. Hutchinson's crew contacted the tower at Northwest Field and reported mechanical difficulties with their aircraft. Lt. Clark and Captain Lewis D. Town, returned to base to land. After circling the field for a few hours to burn off fuel, the crew prepared for landing.

Finally, it came in for what at first seemed to be a normal landing. But at the last moment, it swerved, hit a wingtip on a tree, and burst into flames. The only members of the crew saved were two gunners, Sergeant Davis R. Flynt, Jr. and Corporal James A. Humbird. The aircraft broke into two parts, and they were able to get out of the tail section.

      The men of the 16th paid their respects to their deceased comrades during a funeral held the following day in the group's briefing room. Later, the deceased members were buried in a Marine Corps cemetery south of Agana.

      On V-J Day, 2 September 1945, the 315th participated in a B-29 Show of Force mission over Tokyo Bay. The mission was the culminating event in an escalating B-29 air power display ordered by Gen. Spaatz, the Commander of USASTAF.

Immediately after hostilities ceased, Spaatz directed that the Twentieth provide 'a display of air power... continuing and increasing between August 19 and V-J Day.s Operational plans called for almost daily flights over the Tokyo plain by B-29s drawn in rotation from the five wings, all planes to carry ammunition, but no bombs.

      The 315th immediately began planning for its scheduled participation in the V-J Day ceremony because it would be the wing's first attempt at formation flying since it arrived overseas. The air power flights didn't begin until 30 August due to weather. Three days later, on 2 September 1945, the surrender ceremonies were conducted aboard the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay. The 315th's Superforts were among a force of over 400 B-29s circling above Tokyo Bay at 3,000 feet. The crews watched the events below and listened to the broadcast of the ceremonies on their radios. For the first time, many of the 315th's crews flew over Japan in the daylight and saw the awesome destruction the B-29s had rained on the cities of Japan.

      The period after V-J Day was one of frustration, boredom, and constant thoughts of one goal, going home. Most of the men felt they would be the last to go home because they had been overseas for less than six months and hadn't accumulated enough discharge points to leave the Army. Moreover, there was insufficient work to keep the men busy. To meet this problem, education, athletic, and recreation programs were started. Officers clubs and service clubs for the enlisted men were built. Although the tiny island of Guam provided few diversions, there were frequent visits to the beaches at Tumon Bay and Talefafo Bay as well as numerous sightseeing and social trips up and down the island. Movies, letter writing, and bull sessions about postwar plans helped to fill the hours. The postwar atmosphere became resort-like, but the weeks turned into months and by November only a trickle of men had shipped out for home.

      The 315th's last major achievement as part of Twentieth Air Force occurred on 1 November 1945. On that day, Gen. Armstrong, leading a flight of three Superforts, flew nonstop from Chitose Airfield in Hokkaido, Japan, to Washington D.C., over the great circle route. This was the first such flight of its kind, and all participating crew members were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

      In November 1945, the 315th began a rapid withdrawal to the States. Under Project Sunset,* each bomb group's authorized aircraft strength was reduced from 50 to 30, and the Superforts were ferried to the States by the flight crews. This first stage aircraft transfer was also used to carry personnel eligible for discharge from the Army. However, most of the men boarded slow-moving troop ships for the long voyage to San Francisco via Honolulu. By February 1946, the wing's manpower strength had been reduced from 11,500 to 3,000 men, and the wing was directed to reduce its total aircraft to 24 B-29Bs.

      On 15 February 1946, the wing was consolidated for the final withdrawal period. All remaining bomb group personnel joined the 501st Bomb Group, reducing the 16th, 331st, and 502nd to "paper unit" status. The Sunset Project was set in motion again, and a steady stream of aircraft headed for the States. The three unmanned bomb groups were deactivated on 15 April, and all remaining 315th Wing Headquarters personnel were transferred to the 501st. For the next month, the 501 st Group staff also served as the wing staff. According to official documents, the 315th was transferred in nonoperational status (without personnel or equipment) to the Fifth Air Force on 15 May 1946.

      *The Sunset Project directed the postwar return to the United States of all surplus flyable very heavy, heavy, and medium bombardment aircraft, transport aircraft, and crews from the Pacific Theater of Operation (PTO).

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Content 2003-2004, Larry Miller
ljmiller at charter dot net
September 14, 2004