Tuesday, May 5, 2009
TWO LOCAL FLIERS KILLED ON B-29 FIRE RAID OVER TOKYO
After publishing this article I was contacted by a member of Lt. Currey's family. Lt. Currey was the co-pilot on this aircraft. Mr. Bill Black. Mr. Black has a memorial set up for Lt. Curry and this is the plague that supports the memorial.
I was also contacted by Mr. Walter R. Koslowsky from New Phila, who was a nephew of Corp. Yuda. He also gave me additional info on him. In writing this story I am glad to have helped out these families.
This is a composite story that I compiled from information gained in the Pottsville Journal of April 9, 1945 entitled “2 COUNTY FLIERS ARE LOST ON SAME BOMBER” And information obtained from the USAAF official records and various books dealing with this bombing raid on Tokyo, Japan, on March 9-10 1945.
It is in honor of two Schuylkill Countians, crewmen and buddies who served together on B-29 42-63569 and were killed on this very important mission.
Today 64 years later there are those who still write about and call this mission a war crime. But I look at it as a mission that brought the war closer to and end and saved the lives of millions of American Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airman who would have had to invade Japan. And I am thankful for the brave air crews who took part and thank our fellow Schuylkill Countians Corporal Edward Yuda and Michael Chalanycz for their bravery and sacrifice for there country and fellow servicemen.
Early on the morning on March 9, 1945, at the North field of Guam Air base members of the 314th Bomb Wing, 19th Bomb Group, 28th Squadron went to their 8:00 A.M. briefing for the up coming mission. As the crews waited they discussed what they thought was going to happen. As the briefing officer stood toward the front he stated ”Tonight We Bomb Tokyo”. Sitting through this briefing was Corporal Michael Chalanycz, from Dowdentown, near Minersville and Corproral Edward B. Yuda, Port Carbon. Chalanycz and Yuda were crew members on 1st Lt Robert Auer’s aircraft, Tail number 42-63569 a 29th Sqd. “Big M” Boeing B-29.-25-BA, built by Martin Aircraft at Omaha.
Michael Chalanycz 19, was assigned as a gunner in the 19th Bomb Group, his family believed that this was only his second mission over Japan. He entered the service in February 1944 and went overseas in February 1945, he was based in the Marianas. He graduated from Branch Township High School in 1942. He was born in Jonestown.
Edward B. Yuda, 21, entered the service in February 1944 and had been overseas only five weeks. He has flown eight missions as a tail gunner in the 19th BG.
This mission was unique in the sense that the tactics utilized were completely different that what the crews had flown before. Most of the crews were taken back by what they were called to do. The mission called for a maximum effort incendiary raid. Three wings of B-29’s were to take part, the 73rd based on Saipan, the 313th based on Tinian and the 314th based on Guam. The 314th, Yuda and Chalanycz squadron was just newly arrived at North Field on Guam. The 314th having arrived during the months of December 1944 thru February 1945.
Normally the B-29’s weighed 140,000 pounds loaded, with an effective range of 3,250 miles. The B-29 was pressurized so crew members did not have to use air masks at high altitudes.
B-29's 314th near Mt. Fugi
For defensive armament, the B-29 was equipped with non retractable turrets mounting ten .50 caliber machine guns and one 20 millimeter cannon (which was dropped from later models). All turrets were remotely operated by a General Electric central fire control system.
They bombed from high altitutde. Anywhere from 10,000 feet to 30,000 feet.
This mission designated as “Mission # 40 would put 334 B-29’s in the air. 12 pathfinder planes preceded the main bomber formations about one hour before the main attack. The pathfinder aircraft would lay out an area around the target, so that the main bombers would drop their loads within the area.
A successful incendiary raid required ideal weather that included dry air and significant wind. Weather reports predicted these conditions over Tokyo on the night of March 9-10, 1945. A force of 334 B-29s was unleashed - each plane stripped of ammunition for its machine guns to allow it to carry more fire-bombs. The only guns remaining on board would be manned by Corporal Yuda in the tail. Corporal Chalanycz would act as an observer on board.
The lead bombers arrived over the city just after dark and were followed by a procession of B-29’s that lasted until dawn. The fires started by the initial raiders could be seen from 150 miles away. The results were devastating: almost 17 square miles of the city were reduced to ashes. Estimates of the number killed range between 80,000 and 200,000, a higher death toll than that produced by the dropping of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima or Nagasaki six months later.
Each aircraft would carry 24, 500 pound clusters of the M69 type. The M-69s, which released 100-foot streams of fire upon detonating, would send flames rampaging through densely packed wooden homes. Superheated air created a wind that sucked victims into the flames and fed the twisting infernos. Asphalt boiled in the 1,800-degree heat. Each of these small bombs weighed about seven pounds.
As Yuda and Chalanycz sat at their briefing they were probably shocked as were all the crews when they found out that they were going to bomb from only five to seven thousand feet. At this altitude the crews felt they were sitting ducks for Jap anti aircraft fire. As the orders stood, General Curtis LeMay ordered the bombers to attack at low altitude and at night.
Takeoff for this mission was scheduled for the early evening, From 6:00 to 7:00 P.M. for the different wings. Most of the crews just waited around, some in anguish over the thought of going in at low level, others angry at Le May for ordering such a mission.
Just prior to engine start, Lt. Auer would line up his crew and give them their briefing, the engineer would have completed his pre flight inspection and then climb into the aircraft and ready his panel for engine start, the gunners would enter the aircraft and position themselves in their seats, as they had no guns on board this mission their pre flight would have been about their own personal gear,, life preservers, parachute, helmets etc. Corporal Yuda would have had to go through his normal prefight, for he was in the tail gunners position which was still active.
Yuda’s Check List would include.
Corp Yuda's Tail Gun Position
BEFORE STARTIGN ENGINES
Pre flight inspection, sights, turrets, guns, ammunition, camera etc.
Start Put-put when battery switch is turned on
parachute and oxygen.
Phone call signal light
Combat station inspection.
Prepare for take off
AFTER TAKE OFF
Put-put off After gear and flaps are reported up
In the air check operational, sights, turrets and guns
Enemy alert aircraft
Corporal Yuda as the tail gunner on this aircraft was responsible for defending the bomber from stern attacks. A few hours before take off he would have removed long belts of 0.50 cal. Ammo from wooden boxes and makes sure that each and every round was clean and aligned so as to prevent any jamming of the guns. He then hauls all this ammo up into the rear of the aircraft and loads the ammo into metal ammunition containers located at the sides near the back of the compartment he will occupy. The gunners position six feet high and four feet square. His seat can slide down and unfold. He will look through four windows on the side and a bullet proof window in front, so has to sight his twin guns.
Tail Gun Sight
After take off the crew settled down to the long run to Japan. And most were with their own thoughts. As they approached Japan the orange glow from the previous bombers and the pathfinders would light the way. Search light s scanned the sky looking for the bombers. The closer they got they could see other aircraft locked in the beams of the enemy searchlights. Flak burst surround the aircraft, and below Tokyo was a burning inferno.
Tonight The bombers' primary target was the neighboring industrial district of the city that housed factories, docks and the homes of the workers who supplied the manpower for Japan's war industry. The district hugged Tokyo Bay and was densely-packed with wooden homes lining winding streets that followed random paths - all the ingredients necessary for creating a perfect fire storm.
Throughout the night B-29’s flying in streams 400-miles long, firebombed central Tokyo for nearly three hours. Within 30 minutes of the first bomb, fires were burning out of control, embroiling the city’s center in a firestorm with temperatures reaching 1,000° C (1,899° F), hot enough to cause water to boil in canals and fire-safety cisterns. Over 100,000 people—men, women, and children perished and a million were injured, 41,000 seriously. Another million were made homeless in the scorched capital wasteland. It was the highest single-day death toll of WWII. But it was bringing closer the end of the war. Japan was paying dearly for the lives it cost in American service men.
As B-29 42-63569 approached the target, the flak was heavy, heat from the fires burning below caused heavy thermals and made the aircraft bounce around. The searchlights were blinding and possibly the aircraft was illuminated in one then many search lights, and with a blinding explosion flak hit the aircraft. Other crews reported that:
“The plane was in a formation consisting of 7~8 planes and flew over from the direction of Tokyo at an altitude of approx. 2,000 meters, and was hit by flak and disintegrated in 3 sections.”
An After action report from the 28th Squadron reported that :
“10 crewmembers including 1/Lt. Robert J. AUER (A/C) Aircraft Commander were killed in the crash.
Their remains were buried in cemeteries of Saihoji temple, 5-chome, Aoki-cho, Kawaguchi-shi and Tokoin temple in Edobukuro, Kawaguchi-shi, respectively.
“Cpl. Walter C. GRUBB (and one unknown flier?) bailed out and was taken prisoner.
he was turned over to Tokyo Kempei Tai, then interned in Tokyo Military Prison, and burned to death in the fire air raid on May 25-26.”
Mar. 10, 1945, B-29 (#42-63569, 314BW, 19BG) crashed in Edobukuro, Shibagawa
Park, Aoki-cho 2-chome, Kawaguchi-shi, Saitama-ken.
Note: 1 of the 14 B-29s lost in the above mentioned Mission No.40.
42-63569 19th BG MACR 13822, Auer crew. Shot by AA fire and exploded in mid air and crashed in Aoki-cho, Kawagichi City, Saitama Prefecture. 10 KIA, 2 POW's: survivors were moved to Tokyo, but burnt to death in fire at Tokyo Military Prison on May 25, 1945.
A/C 1st Lt Robert Auer
Pilot: 2nd Lt Harold Curry
Nav: 2nd Lt William Lemmons Jr
Bombardier: 2nd Lt Homer Allington
Radio: 2nd Lt Robert Booker
FE T/Sgt Pedro Closener
Radar: Cpl Jack Anderson
CFC Cpl George Micott
Right Gun: Cpl Walter Grubb
Left Gun: Cpl Michael Chalanyca
Tail Gun: Cpl Edward Yuda