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Bob Vaucher
War in the Pacific

1941-46

Bob Vaucher
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Bob Vaucher was always fascinated by flying. He joined the Flying Club of America at 15 and went to Military Summer Camp while in high school. At age 21, he earned his civilian pilot license and, shortly thereafter, enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. In Apr 1941, Bob became a commissioned officer and a rated pilot. He spent 2 years flying sea patrols off the Atlantic Coast and around the Panama Canal. In 1943, he was assigned to the B-29 SuperFortress program and flew the first B-29 delivered to the Army. He was then assigned to the Far East and flew missions against Japanese forces all over the area. Initially, he was based in north-east India. As part of Operation Matterhorn, he took part in the first bombing raid over Japan on June 15th 1944. In 1945, his bomber wing was moved to the Marianas for the offensive that would lead to Japan's capitulation. In all, he flew 117 combat missions, including 29 over Japan - the last being a massive fly-over during the surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945.


As a self appointed historian of all things "Vaucher", I try to flesh out the accomplishments of my "Famous" relatives and forebears. Bob Vaucher's unique experience during WW2 also relates to my other historical pages on the Far East. In what follows, I start with some background to the Asian conflict before giving an illustrated version of Bob's reminiscences.

Background to the Pacific War

The main participants in the war - Japan and the US - were relative late comers to the power game in the Pacific. Japan had remained isolated and feudal until 1853 whereas the US only started building a modern navy in the 1880s after the Civil War. Meanwhile, the European colonial powers had already carved out their empires: Britain in India, Burma and Malaya, the Dutch in Indonesia, Spain in the Philippines and the French in Indochina. The Germans also had some possessions in New Guinea and Micronesia.

The last half of the 19th century saw rapid industrialisation in all countries and was a period of intense competition for resources between old and new powers. In the north, Russia was consolidating its hold on Siberia and threatening Manchuria with the construction of the Trans Siberian Railroad. China independent but rich and weak, was forced to open its ports and surrender territory(concessions) to the colonial powers.

In 1852, Commodore Perry's gunboats also forced Japan to open its ports to foreign influence. Thereafter, the Meiji restoration brought about rapid modernization and dramatic change of political, social, and economic institutions; meeting the challenge of the West by imitating it. In 1894, Japan started a war against China over the control of Korea and gained Taiwan as its first colony.

Before 1850, US presence on the Pacific coast had been minimal. In 1848, just before the Gold Rush, San Francisco numbered fewer than 1,000 inhabitants and there were no US naval bases on the coast when Commodore Perry visited Japan; Perry had to follow the same route as the Europeans - around South Africa. Thereafter, the situation changed rapidly. In 1854, a permanent U.S. naval station was set up on Mare Island - in San Francisco Bay. In 1869, the Pacific Railroad was completed, linking San Francisco to the Eastern Seaboard. The US further consolidated its position in the Pacific by settling the Oregon dispute in 1846, purchasing Alaska in 1867, annexing Hawaii in 1898 and gaining control of the Philippines and Guam from Spain in the same year.

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Colonial Empires (c. 1900)

Spheres of influence in China


US Possessions after WWI

Into the 20th Century

Just before WWI, the US completed the construction of the Panama Canal. This allowed rapid movement of warships and goods between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans; thus consolidating the US influence in the Pacific. In 1920, the San Diego Naval Base was established.

Meanwhile, Japan entered the 20th century with a chip on its shoulder. With its new-found economic and military strength, Japan had become a power in the Far East but it did not have the international status it deserved: its relations with the european powers was still subject to "unequal treaties" imposed in the 1850s; and Japan did not have its own colonial empire to provide raw materials for its industry: things like coal, steel, oil and rubber. In addition, Military tradition clashed with weak democratic institutions. All these factors would contribute to war.

In 1904-5, Japan won a war against Russia, one of the major Western powers and annexed the Liaotung Peninsula. Soon afterwards, it annexed Korea. Then during WWI, Japan sided with the allies against Germany. At the Versailles peace conference in 1919, Japan expected to be rewarded with substantial territorial gains but only obtained a few islands: the Marianas, Carolines, and Marshall Islands.

Ten years later, the setbacks and insults from abroad, against a background of economic depression, prompted the field commanders in Manchuria to take independent action. In 1931, using a minor incident as an excuse, the Japanese Army put all of Manchuria under its control. Then, in 1937, Japan launched a full-scale invasion of China, quickly capturing its major cities: Peking, Shanghai and Nanking; but further advance into the interior was stalled by the Nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-shek. During the next two years, the Japanese proceeded along the coast successively capturing all major Chinese ports to cut off supply routes to China. At this time, British Hong Kong was bypassed.

Japanese Expansion (1905 - 1940)

Japanese Expansion (1910)

Japanese Occupation (1939)


Growth of the Japanese Empire

In 1939, the invasion of Poland started the war between the Germany, France and England. A year later, Japan joined the Axis powers and invaded Indochina in 1940. Meanwhile, in Europe, by mid 1941, France had fallen, Germany had control of most of the continent and England was bombarded daily.

The US still had not entered the conflict. The country was self sufficient in resources and had no colonial empire to defend. Far from the war zones, it was in no danger of attack and its immigrant population had mixed loyalties. However, President Roosevelt and his government understood the coming threats and had already started helping China and Britain.

Alarmed by Japan's militarism, most western powers stopped supplying Japan with strategic raw materials. Imported oil which made up about 80% of domestic consumption, was especially important; without it, Japan's economy, let alone its military, would grind to a halt; and the embargos were regarded by Japan as acts of war. The US - which was still nominally neutral - only threatened the oil embargo.

During 1941, Japan paused while planning its next move: gaining control of the the petroleum-rich Dutch East Indies. [Sources].
[ Wikipedia: Pacific War ]

War in the Pacific

War in the Pacific began on 7/8 December 1941, when Japan attacked the British in Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong and, at the same time, carried out a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor where 90 percent of the U.S. Navy was deployed. The preemptive strike bought Japan time as it took the United States a full year before going on the offensive. Meanwhile, by the end of 1942, Japan had occupied Burma, Thailand, Malaya, Indonesia, the Philippines, Guam and New Guinea: all the European possessions in the Far East with the exception of Australia.

In retrospect, the Pearl Harbor attack backfired because it pushed the US into declaring war. Although damage to the US fleet was extensive, it was temporary. True, all US battleships were "sunk", but the shallow harbour meant that most would be repaired and put back into action within a year. Furthermore, the aircraft carriers that would later prove decisive had escaped unscathed. Finally, the submarine base was overlooked; yet, by the end of the war, US submarines had sunk more than 30 percent of Japan's navy and 60 percent of its merchant marine. They would completely cut the supply lines and starve this island nation.

1942: the tide turns

In August 1942, the United States started its offensive by attacking Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. There ensued fierce fighting between air, ground and sea forces that lasted 6 months. The Japanese withdrew in February 1943 having lost two-thirds of the 31,400 army troops committed to the island and the majority of their elite naval aviators. The Guadalcanal campaign proved to be the turning point of the Pacific war. Thereafter, the navy and army were able to conduct an "island-hopping strategy", cutting off the Japanese commands one by one from their supply routes. In 1943, the Allies regained control of New Guinea, then the Philippines in 1944. Crucial was the capture of Saipan and Guam in July 1944 in the Marianas. These islands served as a base for the continuous bombing campaign that would devastate Japan and the atomic bombs that would end the war.

The Allies strike back

Major Battles ( 1942 - 1945 )

Details of operations


Bob Vaucher's War

Born on a farm in Texas in 1918, Bob Vaucher was always fascinated by planes. He learned to fly at 21 and, shortly thereafter, enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. In Apr 1941, Bob became a commissioned officer and a rated pilot. Bob was supposed to be married on December 13th - 6 days after Pearl Harbor; but was sent on a secret mission and only returned to base the day after. After some discussion, the wedding still took place: Bob got home at 4am, got married at 11am and was back on base at 8am the next day. He spent the next 2 years flying sea patrols off the Atlantic Coast and around the Panama Canal. In 1943, he was assigned to the B-29 SuperFortress program.

Bob Vaucher (1941)

Bob in Flight School (1940)

Bob's Wedding - 2 days late !

My Introduction to the B-29

Now comes my affair with the B-29. After flying search missions in the North Atlantic, Caribbean and Near Pacific, I had accumulated about 1000 hours in 4 engine bombers. At that time only a handful of pilots world-wide had that much time in 4 engine bombers.

While I was stationed in Panama, suddenly I was sent back to the US to a fast track command and staff school which was pretty heady stuff for a 1st Lieutenant. What I didn’t know was that General Arnold was beginning to put together the organization to run the B-29 program; thus had ordered the worldwide return of experienced people to form the command.

About two months later I ended up at Pratt Kansas in a large hanger being briefed and inspecting the largest production plane in the world. The B-29 was a quantum leap over any previous production bomber. It was big – 141 ft wingspan (½ length of football field). It was heavy -- weighing 80,000 lbs empty and could carry 40,000 lbs of payload. We actually overloaded them; carrying 58,000 lbs. It was powered by 4 Wright #3350 engines with combined horsepower of 8800. It held 8500 gallons of fuel.

The B-29 Superfortress

The B-29 was a high-altitude long-range strategic bomber designed by Boeing. It was capable of flight at altitudes up to 31,000 feet at speeds of up to 350 mph beyond the range of fighters and anti-aircraft fire. With a crew of 11, it could deliver 20,000 lb of bombs to targets 2600 miles away. The B-29 was a complex aircraft with many novel features: pressurized cabins, remote-controlled machine guns and radar assisted bombing. A recurring problem that would only be fixed after the war was engine fires and failures due to overheating especially on take-off.

Another problem which delayed deployment was that its crews needed a degree of specialist training and integration that was not required for other, less complex aircraft. It usually took 27 weeks to train a pilot, 15 to train a navigator, and 12 to train a gunner. The B-29 first flew in september 1943 and was deployed in May 1944.

Initially, the B-29 was used - as planned - as a high-altitude strategic bomber based in India; but these attacks proved to be disappointing. When the base of operations was moved to the Marianas in January 1945, the B-29 role was changed and it became the primary aircraft used in low-altitude firebombing missions.

Its final role in the war was carrying out the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

We were told that it flew like nothing we had ever flown, but had some similarities to the B-26 twin engine Martin attack bomber, so off to Del Rio Texas to the B-26 training center. And after ten or so landings I was now ready to take on the B-29. Well, to my surprise, a Boeing test pilot checked me out after two hours and fifteen minutes and I was off to the Wichita Boeing plant to pick up the first production B-29 officially delivered to the Air Corp. There was also another pilot on the assignment. I was designated first pilot as I had fifteen more minutes flying time even though he outranked me as captain. Well, after a ceremony with a few hundred Boeing workers gathered around and a bottle of champagne broken on the nose wheel, I took off for Pratt Kansas and an odyssey that lasted another two and ½ years.

There is no way I can relate to you the drama of the B-29 saga except in very general terms. When we started testing in Kansas we didn’t have a clue that so many problems would be encountered. Some were really big and critical. Almost every aspect of the B-29 was at a new level or first time application. This was the first plane to go into full scale production without undergoing to two five years of testing before final specifications were released for production. Several thousand problems had to be solved. There were over 2000 engineering changes on the engines alone.

70 years later: Bob meets the crew of the last flying B-29 [ YouTube ]

So from July 1943 to April 1944 when we departed for India we were in a state of discovery while trying to learn how to use the plane.

How to bomb Japan (Click to enlarge)

INDIA –CHINA

Roosevelt had promised the Chinese that the B-29 would be in action by March 1944 retarding the Japanese advance into China. So our destination was the CBI (China-Burma-India). Initially, the B-29s were to be stationed around Chengtu, Nationalist China's new capital, but we could not leave them as sitting ducks in China – subject to Japanese air attacks. Eventually it was decided to set up the main base around Calcutta. The bombers would take-off from India, fly over the Himalayas (the HUMP) and refuel in Chengtu before heading on to Japan. This offensive was given the name Operation Matterhorn.

Sustaining the 20th Bomber Command was a LOGISTICS nightmare. All supplies -- food, fuel, bombs ---had to be shipped by sea to Calcutta and trucked one thousand miles to our rear bases in Assam Valley India. Then they had to be air transported from India over the HUMP. The Himalayas were the highest mountains and the worst weather in the world. There was no weather forecast or landing field for the twelve hundred mile trip. In the beginning, we airlifted our supplies to China in our combat B-29’s. We lost twenty-three B-29’s over the Hump and some 450 aircraft went down along the “Aluminum Trail.”

The first B-29 bombing raid took place on June 5, 1944: 98 B-29s took off from eastern India to attack railroad yards in Bangkok, a 2261-mile round trip, the longest bombing mission yet attempted during the war. Results were hardly encouraging: fourteen B-29s were forced to abort because of engine failures, 42 ran out of fuel and had to divert to other airfields and five crashed upon landing. Only 18 bombs landed in the target area.

Mission Briefing

Loading up

Over the "HUMP" - the Himalayas

The scenario of a typical mission went like this: In the morning the 20th Bomber Command teletyped a mission alert and everyone on the base in India got in motion to ready for the mission. About 3am the following morning crews were up for breakfast and started departing at first light in order to cross the Hump and arrive at the China base about noon. There would be an early evening departure and hitting the target around midnight. We would land in China early in the morning and go to a debriefing while the planes were refueled –and get back to India around noon. If by that time (after 33 hours) you had not passed out, you went to the Club that evening and did so.

Every crew had their own unique experiences: engine fires, engine failures, prop ran away, pressurization failed, fuel transfer pump failed, ran low on gas, lost radio contact, and the list goes on and on.

Bob Vaucher lands King Size after
First B-29 Bombing Mission Mission over Japan
Imperial Steel Works at Yawata
June 15, 1942

The Japan raid also had its shares of problems: 92 aircraft left India fully loaded with bombs; but only 70 managed to continue after refueling and 50 reached the intended target. Furthermore, the Japanese had forwarning of the raid: Yawata was blacked out and only one bomb hit the intended target. However, it was quite a propaganda victory: it showed that that American aircraft could hit the Japanese home islands.

Targets from India

Not all returned unscathed

R 'n R: Houseboats in Kashmir

MISS LACE – HIMALYAS

My first plane in CBI was named Miss Lace by the crew. Miss Lace was the heroine in the Terry and the Pirates comics. They wrote Milton Caniff, the cartoonist and asked for a drawing of Miss Lace, which he sent to us and then was painted on the plane by one of the unit’s artists. After flying Miss Lace for a few months, we were appointed lead crew and assigned to fly King Size.

I flew twenty-six Hump Crossings from India to China. My targets included Sumatra, Malaysia, Burma, Thailand, Indochina, Manchuria, Korea, China, Formosa, Japan, and Philippines.

TINIAN

In April 1945, the 20th Bomb Command was transferred to Tinian Island (in the Marianas) and reactivated as the 58th Bomb Wing under General Ramey. The BLITZ on Japan started in May and was ratcheted up to daily missions with 1000 B-29’s. The Empire Program, as it was called, was awesome. In India-China, I had led several squadron and Group missions. But now we were in the Big League and I was Air Commander for Wings and Combined Wings. One was the May 29, 1945 Yokahama mission which was the longest in trail of 454 B-29s’. We destroyed the target with nearly three thousand tons of bombs. [ Time Magazine, Dec 1944 ]

The Marianas had been taken the previous year and Iwo Jima had fallen in March 1945 after a heroic battle where 19,000 japanese died and the US Marines suffered 26,000 casualties. Iwo Jima - with its 2 airfields - had great tactical importance. Under Japan’s control; their fighter planes could attack American bombers on their way to Japan. Under US control, American fighter planes could escort and protect the bombers.

In addition, the airfields served as emergency landing bases for damaged planes... and that proved crucial for Bob Vaucher's survival.

My most dramatic mission was on June 5, 1945. It was a faulted plan. My deputy and second in command were both shot down over the target. I managed to get back to Iwo Jima on a “Wing and a Prayer.” We counted 400 holes in the aircraft & quit counting. The plane was sent to the junk pile. I know for sure that I’m here today because of Iwo, as there was no way we could have made the next 800 miles to Tinian. Over 70 B-29’s were rescued that day by Iwo Jima. Eleven B-29’s were lost and 176 damaged.

Note: Bob Vaucher flew a total of 117 combat missions. A web statistic on WW2 states that "While completing the required 30 missions, an airman's chance of being killed was 71%". He must have been a hell of a pilot... with some luck thrown in !

By the summer of 1945, Allied forces had retaken most of the areas earlier conquered by the Japanese and were closing in on the Japanese homeland, which had already been effectively isolated by Allied airpower. By August 1st, virtually all of the Japanese cities of economic significance suffered 25-90% destruction. We had placed over 12,000 mines in the harbors and waterways, and shipping was at a standstill. In essence, the strength of the B-29 attacks literally brought Japan to her knees.

August 6, 1945 completely changed our lives when the B-29” Enola Gay” dropped the first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. All of us who had been through fourteen months of hell in China and the Pacific were awed when the damage reports came in.

Three days later a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Japan surrendered on to the Allies unconditionally on August 14th. That morning, my unit, the 462nd bomb group, made the last bombing mission over Japan. Three hours later the word was flashed to all B-29s to return. The war was over.

Bombed-out Tokyo

Surrender on USS Missouri
(Photo: B. Vaucher)

Japan signs

Final Surrender

On September 2, 1945, Gen. MacArthur presided over formal surrender ceremonies aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay The signing ceremony lasted twenty-three minutes and was broadcast throughout the world. I happened to be in the right place at the right time. General Ramey gave me the honor of leading the show of force of 525 B-29’s flying over the Missouri at the exact time that MacArthur signed the treaty, 9:08AM. General Ramey’s last words to me were,” Vaucher, that’s one target time that you better not miss!” And I didn’t. Here’s a photo of the event taken from my plane and which now hangs in the Nimitz museum.

Bob Vaucher leads the Flyover
Click Photo to play NEWSREEL of Surrender

More Footage: End of War in Pacific


References:

Final Note:
The content of this page is not original. It is a mixture of personal documents that I was given and stuff that I found on the Internet as I Googled hundreds of sites. As a result, I have lost track of where I found what.

If I have used some images that you own without sufficient credit, contact me and I will either remove them or add a reference that you are happy with.

vaucher@iro.umontreal.ca