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The Story of B-29 Superfortress 42-24704
by Goh K. Loon

Click For DetailsB-29 "Postville Express" 42-6279 was a famous bomber because it was the first B-29 to bomb Japan after the daring ‘Doolittle Raid to Japan’ in April 1942. In another raid to Yawata Japan on 20 August 1944, one Japanese Ki-45 ‘Toryu’ (Dragon Slayer) fighter came in with one wing vertically pointed downward like a razor and intentionally rammed the second leading B-29, both planes exploded and the flaming debris hit the lead B-29.

B-29 42-24704 which was the third aircraft in the formation, managed to avoid the flaming wreckages to carry out their mission. The Japanese subsequently salvaged and developed the film from a camera taken from a B-29’s wreckage and one of the photos developed showed “Postville Express” flying alongside the doomed B-29. The US Army Air Corp lost 14 B-29 bombers in that mission.

On the fateful day of 11 January 1945, the ‘Postville Express’ (the aircraft was named "Postville Express" after the pilot’s hometown of Postville, Iowa) was overhead their target –The Singapore Naval Dry Dock facilities at 8:54 am. After dropped their bombs, accurate and heavy anti-aircraft shells from the ground and a floating anti-aircraft platform (the badly damaged Japanese cruiser Myoko) filled the sky. The Japanese fighters which included Zero, Frank, Oscar, Tony and others flew in like swarm of angry hornets from their nest, pumping bullets and cannon shells into the B-29 bombers, some even dropped aerial bombs on the B-29 formation. Each B-29 pilots were turning towards home over Strait of Malacca while the gunners busily fought off every attacker, some managed to blast the Japanese fighter out of the sky and into the sea.

One Ki-61 Tony fighter managed to make a head on attack on Postville Express and delivered fatal blows on the bomber. The Tony bullets and cannon shells cutting through the nose, caused loss of air pressure in the aircraft, hitting the mission commander Lt. Col Billing (and who was flying as co-pilot); in the leg and thigh, destroyed the No.2 engine, shot away the rudder controls, radio equipments, and the most important was contributed to the total lost of central firing control system which control the firing of every guns except the tail gun. The damages were fatal, since the guns cannot be fired; most of the Japanese fighter went in to deliver their deadly shells into the Postville Express. The Postville Express limped behind the formation and then No 3 engine was hit and caught fire. After shutting it down and restarted again, the engine caught fire and unable to extinguished. The pilot concluded they unable to reach a safe zone for a ditching and rescue by the submarine so he turned the bomber towards Negeri Sembilan. He briefed and ordered every aircrew to prepare for bail out. The right wing totally engulfed in flames and the crews complained their exit was covered by flames streak from the wing to beyond the tail. While the pilot Major Humprey tried to help Col Billing, suddenly the wing gave away and snapped, flipped the B-29 on its right side and tossing them about in the nose cabin. Maj Humprey cannot recall how he managed to get out from the spinning wreckage but he landed safely on Rembau, after opened his parachute at about 4000 feet.

Four, which including Maj Humphrey, navigator Capt. C. A. Hansman (who died before the war ended), bombardier 1st Lt. William F.Duffy, and flight engineer 1st Lt. Ernest C. Saltzman, evaded capture by the Japanese and with the help of the locals they managed to make contact with a communist guerrilla party in Malaya and spent the rest of the war with them. Those killed were Lt. Col. Robinson Billings; radio operator T/Sgt. M. A. Kundrat, who was giving medical aid to Lt .Col Billing at the time; and tail gunner S/Sgt R. E. Spratt who was badly burned while bailing out and died on the second day (he was buried near the crash site). Several crews were captured by the Japanese and held in a prison in Singapore for the remainder of the war. Those captured were radar observer 1st Lt. M. J. Govednick, CFC gunner S/Sgt J. A. MacDonald, left gunner T/Sgt H. D. Gillett, and right gunner T/Sgt Ralph Lindley.

Click For EnlargementThe son of bombardier 1st Lt. William F. Duffy, after visited the crash site with Mr.Sager , he published a book with the title of ‘Destiny Ours’ regarding the ‘Postville Express’. I send e-mail about the ‘Postville Express’ story to my friend Mr. Rod Larson in Iowa (and what a small world!), he told me Mr. Humprey is his father’s friend in Iowa. Mr. Rod unable to interview Mr. Humprey in the first visit because in one incident, a group of Japanese writers interviewed him but after going back to Japan, they published a book and called them ‘Murderers of Woman and Children”.

In the second try, he managed to interview Mr. Humprey, who is now stayed on bed because of illness but still can vividly recall what was happened on that fateful day. He remember they have eggs as breakfast before the mission, he also felt angry on the wings of B-29 bomber, which collapsed so easily, and he even mentioned he decided to turn towards Negeri Sembilan because he can’t swim so well!

Some senior citizen told me when the B-29 bombers were flying south to attack target in Singapore. The Japanese enhanced blackout regulations and ordered them to close all the lights (or oil lamps), which also included not to light their smoke at night because the Japanese afraid the light of the cigarette can attracted the attention of the bombers. They watched the B-29 bomber formation heading south and the bullet casings of the air fighting littered the street, which they were happy to see the Allied bombers dropped their deadly cargo on Japanese targets.

Meanwhile, a book named ‘Moonlight War’ mentioned the Force 136 and Chinese guerilla troops rescued a group of B-29 crews, which bailed out after bombing Singapore docks. One day, 2 crews went out of the hiding in jungle after being told to hide was captured by a Japanese patrol. They were strip naked and executed in front of the local villagers. (The B-29 crews maybe from the B-29 Kiackapoo Lau or Lethal Lady.)

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