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letters from saipan

b29s dropping bombs
B-29's, bombs away over Japan.
From: Air Power History/ Fall 1995.

The following two letters were published in “The BREEZE”, Southern Region newsletter, in 1945. They describe the experiences of a young B-29 pilot, Lt. F.H. “Pete” Reed, during two missions over Tokyo. Pete was the son of T.R. Reed, the Weather Bureau Southern Region Director. “The Fourteenth Mission” was a combat mission but is noteworthy because it was the first time that P-51 Mustangs, flying out of Iwo Jima, were able to provide cover for the B-29's. The second letter, “The Thirtieth Mission”describes a mercy mission to a prisoner-of-war camp and a fly-over of devastated Tokyo following the surrender of Japan.

10 April 1945

Dearest Mom and Dad:

Wonderful letters from you all yesterday. I am quite surprised that you enjoyed the tale of Osaka that much or that FIN* would want to print it! If I'd known that was going to happen, I would have been more detailed in many respects. For instance, one of the biggest hazards on those night raids is the "milling" 29's all over the sky. They really aren't milling, but so many get there at the same time, and go busting in over target-- and when you are going for a specific area at well over 200 mph-- it makes for a lot of sweating. Especially on that mission, because of the thick soup everyone was in fro the time they were over the coast and areas around target.

The biggest thrill in the daytime was on the Big T raid the other day with P-51 protection for the first time.

On the way up, we ran through some foul weather, and couldn't even see beyond our wing tips for a long time. Naturally we were apprehensive about the fighters getting through it, as well as our own formations, intact. In fact we were all really doubtful about meeting them at rendezvous anyway. When we finally broke out of the "stuff", we were able to get together, and climbed on to our bombing altitude-- which for daytime bombing would make your hair stand on end-- it was anything but high altitude! By this time the weather had dissipated, and 'neath a bright sun (what a rarity!) Mt. Fuji could be seen clearly, as well as the saw-toothed mountain ridges running up Honshu's back. We circled, and I have never seen so many 29's before in one place, with different groups and squadrons circling at slightly different altitudes. It was really beautiful after some semblance of order was attained.

After one or two circles, the time for the fighters to appear was only moments away. We knew it would be well-nigh suicide to go in at our altitude without them. And no kidding, for wonder of wonders, (just like in the movies), a group of small specks appeared high on the horizon-- and then more and more. After a heart-stopping thought that they might be Jap fighters, we just knew they were ours. And by golly, when they got closer that wonderful P-51 Mustang silhouette was clearly seen, and let me tell you, I felt like crying for joy! I was really carried away!! They looked so beautiful, carefree, "foot-loose and fancy free" as they broke into smaller groups and circled about us. Then we turned to go to the spot where we would turn on our bomb run and as the formations of 29's strung out against a beautiful background of snow-capped Fuji and the rest of Honshu, the 51's circled about and soon disappeared ahead towards Fuji and the Big City.

As I looked ahead towards the object of our trip, I suddenly saw a flash of flame at about our altitude-- then a billow of white and looking again after rubbing my eyes, I saw a Jap fighter spinning in flames, the pilot way off to one side swinging from his chute, and 4 P-51's circling back up. First kill! And off the coast too!! And a few moments later some "eager" lad in a 'Tony' came steaming in for the last ship in our formation, and 4 P-51's piled all over him so fast he undoubtedly never knew what happened. Down he went in pieces. I couldn't get over the kick it gave me to try to visualize the surprise it must have been to those Japs to get hopped by our fighters when they probably didn't dream of anything like that happening-- ever!

By now we were about ready to turn on the bomb run and the other groups were already on it. From a clear sky, the picture suddenly became flecked with ugly black spots-- in fact, it seemed to have become filled with them! It was hard to realize that those big black puffs were ugly pieces of jagged, razor-sharp steel shrapnel. And it was equally hard to realize that the pretty puffs of milky-white stuff were in reality the bursts of a phosphorous shell, that would burn any part of a plane that went through it. And all the time, the wonderful P-51's were scooting all over the sky, pouring it to the Japs.

Now we were on the bomb run, and here I found that plenty of Jap fighters were still "feeling fine" and very active. A twin-engine Nick came hurtling through the formation from 2 o'clock high-- a beautiful silver job. His guns were blazing, and tracers were flying by us. He swished immediately underneath our ship, and out of sight. Our top gunner hadn't been able to pick him up as soon as he should have in order to get good shots at him-- but he did have that upper forward turret chonking like mad. From here on the guns were going all the time-- and the flak was bursting all the time. Way up in front, a 29 fell below his formation, and 4 P-51's went hurtling down to him-- he blew up into three flaming sections. After what seemed like years, our bomb doors were opened and finally bombs were away.

As we turned from the target, I looked out on my right (the A.C. was flying this one) so I could just sit there and look-- and sweat, for believe me I was scared stiff ever since we started the bomb run, well, almost stiff-- and saw a ship of our formation with my best buddies in it streaming flames from the section of wing behind #2 engine. (I found out later they were hit there at the beginning of the bomb run but had gone on in anyway, thinking that it might go out-- but instead it kept burning more fiercely.) He feathered the prop, but it still burned on-- and big chunks began breaking off from the affected spot. By now the ship had fallen back and to the side of the formation-- and fighters were jumping on him in spite of the 51's nearby. We all turned to his side-- and it was obvious that they should jump-- but Big T was underneath, and I guess the hope that they might make their way out to sea and ditch and somehow get picked up was over-shadowing common sense. For just a minute or two later the wing came off, and the plane blew and spun down in pieces. Some chutes opened-- but not as many as were in the plane-- and no one knows who got out and who stayed.

I was pretty sick-- and fighters were still jumping us as we passed over the coast-- 3 of them whizzing through the formations and shooting out an engine and aileron of another plane, and putting holes in two tanks. We escorted him to Iwo, where landed o.k.

A few hours later the 14th mission was over. Whew!! Fifteen solid hours-- it took me about 24 hours to want to go back again.


P.S. Anyone flying a P-51 should be President.

* Editor, U. S. Air Services

In: "The BREEZE", Vol. 2, No. 4. Pp. 9-11. May 10, 1945.


The following letter reached its recipient in the Atlanta Office just before we went to press. The writer, Lt. F. H. Reed, a B-29 pilot who has been stationed on Saipan since last October, tells of his post-armistice flight over Tokyo August 28 to drop provisions in the P.W. camp at Kawasaki.

Dearest Mom & Dad:

I cannot possibly describe to you the adventure I had yesterday! I want to say so much, to describe so much, to let you know and realize so much-- and I cannot do it! I cannot grasp all I saw myself! If I could only make you feel the way I felt-- but you couldn't! It doesn't mean that much to you! You know the war is over-- that Tokyo, Kawasaki, Yokohama, etc., have been terribly burned and bombed-- but it doesn't go any farther-- you know that we hit targets in the Tokyo area, and that Tokyo and the area around it symbolizes the toughest target area to B-29 crewmen of the "Fuji-44" class, but do you really comprehend? You know our prisoners of war are there and that we dropped supplies to them-- but can you appreciate the feeling we got and what we saw, when we found the camp and dropped the supplies?

So I'll just tell what I did, and for ever more realize how much it meant to me. We took off on Tuesday morning at 0900 to drop drums of supplies (attached to parachutes) to PWs. Our camp was known to be in Kawasaki, (a sort of southern suburb of Tokyo), separated by a river, though it had never been seen or photographed. It was supposed to be in an area that had been burned badly-- and we were skeptical. We came into Tokyo Bay at about 5000 feet, at 1500 hours. The sun was beaming down, and we could see the fleet scattered all over Sagami Bay and some in Tokyo Bay already. F6Fs were flying around, and some F4As. We went up the Bay on the east side, drinking all the country-side in (indescribably beautiful), and noticing all the airfields, and planes sitting on them like a girl left waiting at the church. And finally came opposite Kawasaki, and the mouth of the big river that runs between it and Tokyo and empties into the Bay. We turned toward it, and began looking. What desolation! - - Acres and acres of nothing but a rusty looking soil and ashy rubbish, marked by the faint lines where walls had once stood. Now and then a few square blocks stood unscathed, but only serving to impress one with the total devastation. Some railways were in operation, as I saw an inter-urban train like the S.P. trains in California running through the ruins, and all heads were outside the windows and looking at us. The highways were OK; and looked beautiful, and quite a bit of auto traffic was apparent, considering the destruction. But then for the world's third largest city and its environs I guess it wasn't too much-- even if they were in ruins.

All of a sudden the bombardier picked out the PW camp. It was a two-story building with yellow pointed roofs, built in a square, with a large open compound or patio in the center. On one side was a large field bounded by a highway, and on the other side a jam-packed area of small houses that somehow had escaped the fire. There were the following signs on the roofs of the camp: PW. NEWS? NEWS? COME AND GET US, THANK YOU. The roof was crammed, the top windows jammed and the courtyard was full of prisoners all waving, gesticulating-- delirious in their efforts to tell us how happy they were. We dropped the supplies in a field nearby; and the boys were evidently free to get outside of the compound, for they ran after them like mad. Some of the chutes failed to open, and it is a good thing we did drop them in the field, for the drums would have killed our own prisoners. Some did hit a Jap home on our second run, and plummeted right on through. We also noticed another building on the waterfront, a two- or three-story warehouse, that had the following writing or printing on the sides and top: AUSTRALIANS-- TAKE US HOME, THREE CHEERS US NAVY. What a lump in my throat-- as I say, I cannot describe my feelings.

Then we went up and flew over the Emperor's Palace, and even out to our old Nemesis of a target-- the one I have told you about so often-- and we were flying at between 500 and 1000 feet! Tokyo is dead. Just acres of rusty looking ashes; and in the industrial areas, twisted, rusted gutted factories of all types. Now and then an untouched square of blocks, just to set off the contrast. Street-cars burned up, autos in parking lots burned, big government buildings like the Civic Center in San Francisco that looked unscathed, but with scorched parkings, some worse than others. The down-town district of modern many-storied buildings reminded one of New York or San Francisco except not so tall. But to fly right over it! Everything flat as a pancake between the cement buildings, again that rusty, ashy looking dreariness, a close look showing that the big buildings still standing are gutted, burned out inside for the most part.

Althought there is little traffic, the city is literally dead. The Emperor's Palace grounds are in fair condition, though some buildings have been flattened, and others damaged. We flew on toward Fuji, indescribably beautiful in the distance, and found our aircraft plant beyond the outskirts of the city-- demolished! Again the countryside so beautiful I cannot attempt to portray it. So neat. So compact. Such wonderful colors.

Back to the Big City: people walking around in some districts look up at us; again some bicycles; some motor transportation; but mostly pedestrians, to whom the surrounding devastation gave an utterly dazed appearance.

The sky was full of Navy fighters and B-29's (between 100 -- 1000 feet) going every which way as they took their sightseeing, and gave themselves and the poor Japs a close-up of each other. Back to the PW camp for a final "buzz" job-- then out over Tokyo Bay and down to the Yokosuka Naval Base, - destruction all along the waterfront; oil refineries demolished. I even saw hundreds of Japs out in the shallow water of the Bay, and it looked like they were planting rice! What could it have been? Many airfields, all resembling Hamilton Field, some with planes shot up, others untouched; hangars burned up, desolation supreme. Over the big Naval Base at the southern end of the Bay we saw a Jap battle wagon sitting useless, and a sub over-turned and rusting; destruction, utter and universal.

The point towards Atsugi Airfield was our next heading. We flew nearly over it, and then turned left our over Sagami Bay, and buzzed the Fleet at 1000 feet, finally heading for Iwo, where we landed at about 2200. We had spent 1 hour and 45 minutes dropping our supplies and sightseeing-- the biggest thrill of my life!

We spent the night at Iwo, and I flew back this morning. It may well be my last mission, though there is a possibility of a few more. (It made 30 for me.

I'm pooped out-- exhausted-- thrilled beyond words!



P. S. No matter what they say, the biggest FACTOR in Japan's defeat is the B-29!

In: "The BREEZE". Vol. II, No. 8. P. 1-3. September 10, 1945.

Pete Reed enrolled in Principia College in 1946.

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