Operational History

World War II
In September 1941, the Army Air Forces plans for war against Germany and Japan proposed basing the B-29 in Egypt for operations against Germany as British airbases were likely to be overcrowded. Air Force planning throughout 1942 and early 1943 continued to have the B-29 deployed initially against Germany, only transferring to the Pacific after the end of the war in Europe. By the end of 1943, however, plans had changed, partly due to production delays, and the B-29 was dedicated to the Pacific Theater. A new plan implemented at the direction of President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a promise to China, called Operation Matterhorn, deployed the B-29 units to attack Japan from four forward bases in southern China, with five main bases in India, and to attack other targets in the region from China and India as needed. The Chengdu region was eventually chosen over the Guilin region to avoid having to raise, equip, and train 50 Chinese divisions to protect the advanced bases from Japanese ground attack. The XX Bomber Command, initially intended to be two combat wings of four groups each, was reduced to a single wing of four groups because of the lack of availability of aircraft, automatically limiting the effectiveness of any attacks from China.

This was an extremely costly scheme, as there was no overland connection available between India and China, and all supplies had to be flown over the Himalayas, either by transport aircraft or by the B-29s themselves, with some aircraft being stripped of armor and guns and used to deliver fuel. B-29s started to arrive in India in early April 1944. The first B-29 flight to airfields in China (over the Himalayas, or "The Hump") took place on 24 April 1944. The first B-29 combat mission was flown on 5 June 1944, with 77 out of 98 B-29s launched from India bombing the railroad shops in Bangkok and elsewhere in Thailand. Five B-29s were lost during the mission, none to hostile fire.

Forward base in China
On 5 June 1944, B-29s raided Bangkok, in what is reported as a test before being deployed against the Japanese home islands. Sources do not report from where they launched, and vary as to the numbers involved—77, 98, and 114 being claimed. Targets were Bangkok's Memorial Bridge and a major power plant. Bombs fell over two kilometres away, damaged no civilian structures, but destroyed some tram lines and destroyed both a Japanese military hospital and the Japanese secret police headquarters. On 15 June 1944, 68 B-29s took off from bases around Chengdu, 47 B-29s bombed the Imperial Iron and Steel Works at Yahata, Japan. This was the first attack on Japanese islands since the Doolittle raid in April 1942. The first B-29 combat losses occurred during this raid, with one B-29 destroyed on the ground by Japanese fighters after an emergency landing in China, one lost to anti-aircraft fire over Yawata, and another, the Stockett's Rocket (after Capt. Marvin M. Stockett, Aircraft Commander) B-29-1-BW 42-6261, disappeared after takeoff from Chakulia, India, over the Himalayas (12 KIA, 11 crew and one passenger) This raid, which did little damage to the target, with only one bomb striking the target factory complex, nearly exhausted fuel stocks at the Chengdu B-29 bases, resulting in a slow-down of operations until the fuel stockpiles could be replenished. Starting in July, the raids against Japan from Chinese airfields continued at relatively low intensity. Japan was bombed on: 7 July 1944 (14 B-29s), 29 July (70+), 10 August (24), 20 August (61), 8 September (90), 26 September (83), 25 October (59), 12 November (29), 21 November (61), 19 December (36) and for the last time on 6 January 1945 (49).

The tactic of using aircraft to ram American B-29s was first recorded on the raid of 20 August 1944 on the steel factories at Yawata. Sergeant Shigeo Nobe of the 4th Sentai intentionally flew his Kawasaki Ki-45 into a B-29; debris from the explosion following this attack severely damaged another B-29, which also went down. Lost were Colonel Robert Clinksale's B-29-10-BW 42-6334 Gertrude C and Captain Ornell Stauffer's B-29-15-BW 42-6368 Calamity Sue, both from the 486th BG. Several B-29s were destroyed in this way over the ensuing months. Although the term "Kamikaze" is often used to refer to the pilots conducting these attacks, the word was not used by the Japanese military.

B-29s were withdrawn from airfields in China by the end of January 1945. Throughout this prior period, B-29 raids were also launched from China and India against many other targets throughout Southeast Asia, including a series of raids on Singapore and Thailand. On 2 November 1944, 55 B-29s raided Bangkok's Bang Sue marshalling yards in the largest raid of the war. Seven RTAF Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusas from Foong Bin (Air Group) 16 and 14 IJAAF Ki-43s attempted intercept. RTAF Flt Lt Therdsak Worrasap attacked a B-29, damaging it, but was shot down by return fire. One B-29 was lost, possibly the one damaged by Flt Lt Therdsak. On 14 April 1945, a second B-29 raid on Bangkok destroyed two key power plants, and was the last major attack conducted against Thai targets. The B-29 effort was gradually shifted to the new bases in the Mariana Islands in the Central Pacific, with the last B-29 combat mission from India flown on 29 March 1945.

New Mariana Islands air bases
In addition to the logistical problems associated with operations from China, the B-29 could only reach a limited part of Japan while flying from Chinese bases. The solution to this problem was to capture the Mariana Islands, which would bring targets such as Tokyo, about 1,500 mi (2,400 km) north of the Marianas within range of B-29 attacks. The Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed in December 1943 to seize the Marianas.

A joint US forces invaded Saipan on 15 June 1944. Despite a Japanese naval counterattack which led to the Battle of the Philippine Sea and heavy fighting on land, Saipan was secured by 9 July. Operations followed against Guam and Tinian, with all three islands secured by August.

Naval construction battalions (Seabees) began at once to construct air bases suitable for the B-29, commencing even before the end of ground fighting. In all, five major air fields were built: two on the flat island of Tinian, one on Saipan, and two on Guam. Each was large enough to eventually accommodate a bomb wing consisting of four bomb groups, giving a total of 180 B-29s per airfield. These bases, which could be supplied by ship, and unlike the bases in China, were not vulnerable to attacks by Japanese ground forces, became the launch sites for the large B-29 raids against Japan, in the final year of the war. The first B-29 arrived on Saipan on 12 October 1944, and the first combat mission was launched from there on 28 October 1944, with 14 B-29s attacking the Truk atoll. The 73rd Bomb Wing launched the first mission against Japan from bases in the Marianas, on 24 November 1944, sending 111 B-29s to attack Tokyo. For this first attack on the Japanese capital since the Doolittle Raid in April 1942, 73rd Bomb Wing wing commander Brigadier General Emmett O'Donnell, Jr. acted as mission command pilot in B-29 Dauntless Dotty. The raids intensified, being launched regularly until the end of the war. The attacks succeeded in devastating most large Japanese cities (with the exception of Kyoto and several others), and they gravely damaged Japan's war industries. Although less publicly appreciated, the mining of Japanese ports and shipping routes (Operation Starvation) carried out by B-29s from April 1945 significantly affected Japan's ability to support its population and move its troops.

Delivering the Atomic bombs
Perhaps the most famous B-29s were the Silverplate series, which were modified to drop atomic bombs. They were also stripped of all guns except the tail gun to be lighter. The Silverplate aircraft were handpicked by Lieutenant Colonel Paul W. Tibbets for the mission, straight off the assembly line at the Omaha plant that was to become Offutt Air Force Base.

Enola Gay, flown by Tibbets, dropped the first bomb, called Little Boy, on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. Enola Gay is fully restored and on display at the Smithsonian's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, outside Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C. Bockscar dropped the second bomb, called Fat Man, on Nagasaki three days later. Bockscar is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Following the surrender of Japan, called V-J Day, B-29s were used for other purposes. A number supplied POWs with food and other necessities by dropping barrels of rations on Japanese POW camps. In September 1945, a long-distance flight was undertaken for public relations purposes: Generals Barney M. Giles, Curtis LeMay, and Emmett O'Donnell, Jr. piloted three specially modified B-29s from Chitose Air Base in Hokkaidō to Chicago Municipal Airport, continuing to Washington, D.C., the farthest nonstop distance (c.6400 miles) to that date flown by U.S. Army Air Forces aircraft and the first-ever nonstop flight from Japan to the U.S. Two months later, Colonel Clarence S. Irvine commanded another modified B-29, Pacusan Dreamboat, in a world-record-breaking long-distance flight from Guam to Washington, D.C., traveling 7,916 miles (12,740 km) in 35 hours, with a gross takeoff weight of 155,000 pounds (70,000 kg). Almost a year later, in October 1946, the same B-29 flew 9,422 miles nonstop from Oahu, Hawaii, to Cairo, Egypt, in less than 40 hours, further proving the capability of routing airlines over the polar icecap.

B-29s in Europe and Australia
Although considered for other theaters, and briefly evaluated in the United Kingdom, the B-29 was exclusively used in World War II in the Pacific Theatre. The use of YB-29-BW 41-36393, the so-named Hobo Queen, one of the service test aircraft flown around several British airfields in early 1944, was part of a "disinformation" program from its mention in an American-published Sternenbanner German language propaganda leaflet from Leap Year Day in 1944, meant to be circulated within the Reich, with the intent to deceive the Germans into believing that the B-29 would be deployed to Europe.

American post-war military assistance programs loaned the RAF enough Superfortresses to equip several RAF Bomber Command squadrons. The aircraft were known as the Washington B.1 in RAF service, and served from March 1950 until the last bombers were returned in early 1954. The phase out had been occasioned by deliveries of the English Electric Canberra bombers. Three Washingtons modified for ELINT duties and a standard bomber version used for support by No. 192 Squadron RAF were decommissioned in 1958, being replaced by de Havilland Comet aircraft.

Two British Washington B.1 aircraft were transferred to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in 1952. They were attached to the Aircraft Research and Development Unit and used in trials conducted on behalf of the British Ministry of Supply. Both aircraft were placed in storage in 1956 and were sold for scrap in 1957.

Production of the B-29 was phased out after World War II with the last example completed by Boeing's Renton factory on 28 May 1946. Many aircraft went into storage, being declared excess inventory and were ultimately scrapped as surplus. Others remained in the active inventory and equipped the Strategic Air Command when it formed on 21 March 1946. In particular, the "Silverplate" modified aircraft of the 509th Composite Group remained the only aircraft capable of delivering the atomic bomb, and so the unit was involved in the Operation Crossroads series of tests, with B-29 Dave's Dream dropping a "Fat Man"-type bomb in Test Able on 1 July 1946.

Some B-29s, fitted with filtered air sampling scoops, were used to monitor above ground nuclear weapons testing by the United States and the USSR by sampling airborne radioactive contamination. The USAF also used the aircraft for long-range weather reconnaissance (WB-29), for signals intelligence gathering (EB-29) and photographic reconnaissance (RB-29).

Korean War and postwar service
A photo-reconnaissance B-29 that crash-landed at Iruma Air Base, Japan, after being severely damaged by MiG-15 fighters over the Yalu River; the B-29's tail gunner shot down one of the attackers (Nov 9, 1950)

The B-29 was used in 1950–53 in the Korean War. At first, the bomber was used in normal strategic day-bombing missions, though North Korea's few strategic targets and industries were quickly reduced to rubble. More importantly, in 1950 numbers of Soviet MiG-15 jet fighters appeared over Korea, and after the loss of 28 aircraft, future B-29 raids were restricted to night-only missions, largely in a supply-interdiction role. Over the course of the war, B-29s flew 20,000 sorties and dropped 200,000 tonnes (180,000 tons) of bombs. B-29 gunners were credited with shooting down 27 enemy aircraft.

The B-29 was notable for dropping the large "Razon" and "Tarzon" radio-controlled bomb in Korea, mostly for demolishing major bridges, like the ones across the Yalu River, and for attacks on dams. The aircraft also was used for numerous leaflet drops in North Korea, such as those for Operation Moolah.

A Superfortress of the 91st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron flew the last B-29 mission of the war on 27 July 1953. Over the three years 16 B-29 and reconnaissance variants were lost to North Korean fighters, four to anti-aircraft fire and 14 to other operational causes.

The Boeing B-47 and B-52 multi-jet, swept wing bombers rendered the Superfortress line obsolete. Even earlier, with the arrival of the mammoth Convair B-36, the B-29 was reclassified as a medium bomber by the Air Force. However, the later B-50 Superfortress variant (which was initially designated B-29D) was good enough to handle auxiliary roles such as air-sea rescue, electronic intelligence gathering, air-to-air refueling, and weather reconnaissance. The B-50D was replaced in its primary role during the early 1950s by the Boeing B-47 Stratojet, which in turn was replaced by the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. The final active-duty KB-50 and WB-50 variants were phased out in the mid-1960s, with the final example retired in 1965. A total of 3,970 B-29s were built.

Gunston, Bill - The Encyclodepia of the Worlds Combat aircraft, 1976, Chartwell Books, Inc., New York