The 6th Bomb Group

A Typical Mission

Target and Mission Selection

Map of Targets (from "Pirate's Log", p. 46)
Click on Image for Closeup


Bomber Command assigned targets to Bomb Groups, taking into account several factors - both political and logistical. For example, Bomber Command directed the 6th Bomb Group to fly several tactical support missions and many of the mining missions. The primary objective of Bomber Command was to meet certain benchmarks, such as bombs dropped and bombing accuracy. Bomber Command pressed the Bomb Groups to meet these goals by generally asking for more men and planes than were available, testing the resourcefulness of the Bomb Groups.


Over time, mission distances increased significantly. Many missions lasted 15 hours - which is a long time to spend in any airplane. The emergency runways at Iwo Jima were a lifesaver.

The longest mission was the July 11 mining mission to Rashin, Korea. Only one plane - "Here's Lucky" from the 39th Squadron - flew the entire 4,000 miles non-stop. This took 19 hours and 40 minutes, at an average speed of just over 200 mph. That may have been the longest bombing mission of the entire war. (On June 26, a plane from the 39th Bomb Group flew the longest combat mission of the War, from Guam to Hokaido - 4,650 miles in 23 hours. However, that was a reconnaissance flight.)

Selection of Crews and Aircraft

The Bomb Group selected the specific aircraft for the missions, based on what might be available at mission time. Generally, an aircraft would fly with the crew normally assigned to the aircraft.

However, if that crew had just flown, the Bomb Group would assign a different crew to the aircraft. Later in the war, there were generally more crews than aircraft, which made this task easier.

Any crew members who were unable to go were generally replaced by volunteers from crews that that had been given the day off.

Board for he Last Mission ("Pirate's Log", p. 58)
Click on image for closeup

Pre-Mission Maintenance

While the crew tried to get a good night's sleep (or day's sleep if the mission was at night), the ground crews were busy trying to get the plane ready for the mission. Their overall goal was to keep as many planes flying as possible- which was hard when the air crews kept bringing the aircraft back with holes in them. Nevertheless, the ground crews knew that the entire success of the air campaign lay in their ability to get enough planes in the air to make a mission.

The trick is to get all these eggs in that basket, without breaking any. A older medium bomber, like the B-17 could only carry a fraction of this load and could not travel nearly the same distance.
Photo from: Air Power History (Fall 1995)

If the aircraft was flyable, the ground crews had to load the aircraft with the precise mix of fuel, bombs and ammo. Too much, and the aircraft would crash on takeoff. Too little fuel and the aircraft would not return. Too little ordnance and the trip would have to be repeated.

Pre-Mission Briefing

Cpt George Schwager (Aircraft Commander, "Shasta", 24th Squadron), enjoys a quiet moment and a cigarette prior to the Aug 7 Toyokawa mission. Photo courtesy of George Schwager, son of George Schwager.

In the hours immediately preceding the mission, the air crews received their briefings. There were also separate briefings for the different aircrew. For example, the navigators went to a separate briefing that concentrated on navigational information that they would need. Once the briefings were done, the crews boarded trucks for the trip to the airfield.

Transport to the Flight Line

Photo courtesy of Gilbert and Paul Godin, all rights reserved.
The crew of "El Pajaro de la Guerra" travels to the flight line.

Following the briefing, the crews hop into waiting trucks for transport to the flight line.

Preflight Procedures

The ground crews pulling the props through prior to engine start - the right direction.
[Source: Steve Birdsall, "Superfortress - The B-29", Squadron/Signal Publications, p. 24 [Larry Reineke]

One of the standard preflight procedures was to pull the props through. This was done to help lubricate the upper cylinders and to avoid buildup of oil in the lower cylinders. This buildup could cause hydrostatic lock which could destroy an engine. Pistons are designed to compress air, not fluid. Since fluid is not compressible, pushing against the fluid would result in a bent piston rod, or worse. (Sometimes, though, worse is better. A blown head gasket would probably be noticed before takeoff. A bent piston rod might not be noticed until after takeoff, when it is discovered that the engine is not developing full power.) If there is fluid in the cylinders, pulling the props through will not eliminate the fluid. Instead, the spark plugs should be removed to allow the fluid to drain out. However, it was discovered that the fluid could also be flushed out by pulling the props through backwards. Unfortunately, this did not necessarily eliminate the fluid, but merely pushed it into the intake manifold. Once the engine was started, the fluid could return and create hydrostatic lock. However, pulling the props through backwards was a quicker procedure.

"There are also ground crews that were on Saipan and Tinian who assert that we would never have gotten so many B-29s into the air had the crews not pulled the props through backwards to relieve hydraulic lock. Keep in mind that the huge, 3,350 cubic-inch engines on those airplanes had a horrible reputation for reliability. Part of it may very well have been due to the act of pulling them through backwards, rather than pulling spark plugs, when hydraulic lock was observed. Randy told me about one B-29 commander from Tinian who, to this day, wants to get his hands on the crew chief that pulled an engine through backwards before startup. He had the joy of ditching shortly after takeoff when it disintegrated." [AvWeb, Pilot's Lounge, Oct. 2000]

So, this is a risk that people sometimes took- just one of many.

Takeoff Procedure

The 6th Bomb Group parking area was at the southwest part of the airfield. Presumably, each of the 3 squadrons would occupy a taxiway.  The aircraft scheduled to participate in the mission would exit their hardstands forming a line at the end of the runway.

Because of the tendency of the engines to overheat, the crews would follow special procedures in taxiing to the runway.  Initially, the crew would taxi using only the two inboard engines.  Once the airplane was lined up behind another airplane, and receiving a cooling blast, the crew would switch to the two outboard engines.  When they were a few places from takeoff, they would restart the inboard engines.

The planes would take off in 30 second intervals. This meant that, with luck, a squadron of 16 planes could take off in 8 minutes - which is quite a while if the aircraft want to fly to the target together.

If the 6th Bomb Group was the only group flying the mission, they could shorten the time by using additional runways. However, this was not always possible on maximum effort missions, since other groups would be using the other runways.

"The 6th Group prepares to take off on a mining mission from Iwo Jima in July 1945. Myas Dragon heads the lineup."
Source: Steve Birdsall, "Superfortress - The B-29", Squadron/Signal Publications, p. 24 [Larry Reineke]
[In fact - these are probably planes that stopped at Iwo on the way back from a mission.]

In Flight

B29s flying in formation (as seen from the fight engineer's seat)
Photo provided by Captain Jerry Mason, USN.

On a typical mission, the airplane was so heavy that the crew had to fly the airplane for several miles in "ground effect" a few feet above the ocean.  Once the crew has burned off enough fuel, the weight was low enough to enable the aircraft to climb a few thousand feet.  They would not climb to the mission altitude until just prior to reaching the target area.

In contrast with Air Force practice over Europe, the planes did not form up and fly in tight formation all the way to the target. Instead the planes flew in loose formation. There are several reasons:

  • The fighter defense over Japan was less formidable. Over Europe, tight formations were necessary to provide mutually supporting firepower against enemy attack. Part of the reason is that the pressurized B-29s over Japan often flew at much higher altitudes than the unpressurized B-17s over Europe.

  • Flying in tight formation is tiring, risky and increases fuel consumption. The missions over Europe seemed long at 6 hours. The missions over Japan were twice that long.

  • Many of the missions were at night when there is less risk of enemy attack at night and greater risks involved in flying in formation, especially in bad weather. For these reasons, the British switched to night area bombing missions over Europe and stopped flying in tight formation.

Where the mission involved other wings and groups, the sky would be full of B-29s.  A 500 plane formation could extend for more than 100 miles.

Photograph provided by John Potenza, all rights reserved.
The view from the Aircraft Commander's side.

Bombs Away

Photo provided by John Potenza, all rights reserved.
The 39th Squadron drops bombs on target in a daylight precision bombing mission.

After a 6 hour flight, the aircraft would finally be able to drop their bombs on target. If they were lucky, there would be no flak or fighters to greet them. If the target was visible, they would drop the bombs visually. If the target was overcast, they would use radar to try to identify the target. Once completed, the aircraft would turn around and fly another 6 hours back home. Rest and repeat.

Close up of the bombs falling on the docks at Kobe.

By the end of the war, a crew had to complete 35 missions before they could return home. At 3,000 miles per mission, that works out to a total of 105,000 miles. This is over 4 times around the world (24,900 miles) or almost halfway to the moon (238,857 miles). This was accomplished at the blazing speed of 200 mph with an overloaded semi-reliable aircraft and people shooting at you.



B-29 on final approach to Runway D.  The LST in the foreground was a memorial to the Marines who captured Tinian.  The LST was parked in the circle in front of the group quarters for the 509th Composite Group (the "Atom Bombers").
Photo provided by David Wilhelm, son of Sgt Daniel L. Wilhelm (58th BW, 468th BG, 794th and 795th BS), all rights reserved.

Post Mission

Father Murphy, Zebulon Inge and an unidentified individual (possibly Eugene Britmeyer) man the Red Cross booth where they provided refreshments to combat crews after a long mission.  Zeb Inge was injured in a hunting accident at the age of 17 and was unable to join the services. He fought "tooth and nail" to become a member of the Red Cross and serve overseas. He was the youngest field director the Red Cross ever had. He was proud to have been part of the 6th Bomb Group.
Photo courtesy of his daughter, Mary Jane Inge Tingle, all rights reserved.

After the mission, combat crews were transported back from their aircraft to the Group housing areas where they were debriefed and received refreshments from the Red Cross volunteers.