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B-29 “Haley’s Comet” 42-24616 was not rammed by a Ki-45 Nick, but was shot by fighters over Target 357 and crashed at Shisui, Imba, on 27 January 1945
by Koji Takaki, February 9, 2011

On 15 January 2006 I sent you my translation of an article by Taizo Nakamura. Nakamura explained there that B-29 Haley’s Comet received several fighter attacks and was finally rammed by a Ki-45 Nick flown by Sgt Kobayashi with Cpl Koibuchi as observer over Funabashi. He heard that the ramming was seen by members of anti-aircraft units to be made at altitude of about 6,000 meters and the B-29 went down toward Imba Lake. As it was known from US investigations after the war that the B-29 that crashed at Shisui Town, Imba County, Chiba Pref. on the date was B-29 42-24616, and also it was known from other sources that the aircraft was nicknamed “Haley’s Comet,” I commented in my notes there, “I have come to think that it is most probable that Haley’s Comet was rammed down by Sgt Kobayashi’s Nick.”

However, it has been proved quite incorrect by a report to the War Department from Sgt Olinto F. Lodovici, tail gunner, one of the two survivors who bailed out and was captured. The report dated 10 November 1945 was first made open to the public in 65 years after the end of WWII in Memorial Day Memory – 1st Lt. David C. Williams Jr. KIA, Japan, WWII & the Crew of B-29 “Haley’s Comet” by Angelique on the website, Angeliques Rabbit Hole, dated May 31st 2010. I was informed of it first on 17 Jan. 2011 through a Japanese scholar at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee from an attentive and kind Atlanta reader of my translation with some comments of mine.

Lodovici’s description of damage and injuries as taken in through the interphone apparently shows that the aircraft was shot up by fighters in the nose and cockpit and all of the crewmen there in the forward portion, bombardier Pleus, copilot Williams, and pilot McDonnald, and the radio operator and the navigator, were hit by 3 or 4 fighters in the first pass. As Lodovici was the tail gunner, he was riding on the tail gun when first attacked. After his gun was knocked out, he could see the bomber from right and left windows of gunners’ compartment, but he makes no mention of ramming by a Japanese fighter, only saying that he saw from the right window that about four feet were burned off the wings and fuel cells were sticking out in the open. It looks that fighters’ machinegun shots in the first pass and another concentrated attack were a fatal blow to the bomber and the crew. In particular, the two pilots were killed or passed out. The aircraft had no other way than to fall.

It is evident that Haley’s Comet was attacked by fighters when it was flying in a formation over the target. As a matter of fact, it had been told in the history of the 20th Bomber Command that Haley’s Comet was one of the first bombers to be downed (or to have dropped out of the formation ) between Hamamatsu and Kofu, the Initial Point for bomb run onto Target 357 (Nakajima Musashi). It was a riddle to me why the B-29 that had dropped out before reaching IP crashed at Ijino, Shisui Town, Imba County, Chiba Pref. about 25 kilometers east of Funabashi on the way to Choshi on the Pacific coast. Having read Nakamura’s observation that the B-29 was rammed by Sgt Kobayashi’s Nick and crashed at Shisui, I thought the bomber had not been damaged severely between Hamamatsu and Kofu, and flew an 85-km bomb run in the formation. After bombing on target, it was rammed over Funabashi (located 50 kilometers from Target 357) and crashed at Shisui Town.

However, there was no mention of the time of the B-29’s crash at Shisui, while the time of ramming was said to have been after 1500 in the article by Masatoshi Suzuki, the servicing crewman of Sgt Kobayashi’s Ki-45 of the Hitachi Training Division at Mito Airfield. (Suzuki was not an eyewitness of the ramming as he was at Mito. He heard of it from a 1st lieutenant officer of the anti-aircraft unit.)

I sent my rough Japanese translation of the Lodovici report to Kazuyasu Hinata, my friend/researcher in Yachiyo City, Chiba Pref. Incidentally, Hinata had obtained a copy of Newsletter dated October 1, 2000 issued by Shisui Hometown Research Society, carrying a first person account of an eyewitness of the B-29 (Haley’s Comet)’s crash at Shisui. I received it on 2 February 2011. My English translation of the account is also attached to this e-mail. Mr. Tokuzo Sakurai who seems to have reached the military service age at that time recollects that the crash happened “towards 2 o’clock in the afternoon on 28 January 1945.” (“28” is incorrect). Hinata had also collected newspaper articles reporting air raids on Tokyo and B-29 crashes in January. A Mainichi newspaper article says that the B-29 crash at Shisui was at 1430 on 27 Jan. 1945.

It is evident by Lodovici’s report that Haley’s Comet was not rammed but was shot down by fighters. Now it can also be said from the time of the B-29’s crash towards 1400 or at 1430 that Haley’s Comet did not meet with the Nick’s ramming that is said to have occurred past 1500. I  realized the time matter soon after I sent my translation of Nakamura’s article to Justin. Capt Teruhiko Kobayashi, Commander of the 244th Sentai (Squadron) says in his memoir that he spotted a 14-ship formation over Kofu at 1400 and started his diving attack from 10,500 to 9,200 meters. He failed in shooting #1 ship, but rammed another B-29 (probably Irish Lassie) before it released bombs as told by Mulligan, the tail gunner. Sgt Kiyoshi Ando, Capt Kobayashi’s wingman, rammed a B-29, probably Ghastly Goose, in the same formation over Tamagawa River at 1415 after it passed over the target. Supposedly, most B-29s had released bombs before 1415. It was also reported that the first bomb explosions on the ground in Tokyo were seen and heard at Matsudo Airbase at 1420. Then, the B-29s of the 497th formation would have reached Funabashi (50 km from Target 357) in their hastened retreat until 1430, 10 minutes after bombing. Haley’s Comet would have arrived there at least 30 minutes earlier than the Nick’s ramming if it had not been hit over the target.

     Now, it has become obvious that Haley’s Comet crashed at Shisui before Sgt Kobayahi’s Ki-45 Nick’s ramming. Then, did those “eyewitnesses” on the ground see an illusionary ramming? No, they did not. There was one other B-29 that must have been rammed after 1500. On the date the 498th BG lost 2 B-29s, #42-63501 The Jumping Stud, commanded by Capt Pierce Kilgo, and B-29 42-24767 of 1/Lt William F. Beyhan, A/C’s. Capt Kilgo’s B-29 was rammed at its tail by WO Shirobe Tanaka of the 244th Sentai over Machida, southwest of Tokyo. Coming down in Tokyo Bay, Tanaka was flung out of his Tony in an unconscious state, his parachute already deployed. Tanaka was pulled out of the water by a fishing boat. having suffered serious injuries, he never returned to combat. The B-29 was thought to have sunk near the Tokyo coast.
As for Beyhan’s B-29, only the end of it over the ocean is known. Beyhan radioed 1/Lt John Rawlings Jr. in T-37, telling him that his fuel and electrical systems were out and that he could not transfer fuel. Rawlings followed him down through bad weather, relying on his radar. With daylight fading, Beyhan decided to ditch in the rough sea. It was 300 miles south of Japan or 100 miles north of Iwo Jima. The aircraft broke in two on impact and some of the men were seen getting into life rafts. Rawling’s crew did what they could for their colleagues, throwing out an extra life raft and emergency equipment. Beyhan’s crew were never seen again. (See B-29 Hunters of the JAAF, 2001)

I have once noted a brief comment, “B-29 #42-24767 ditched from Ota,” which was in the Plane List furnished by Henry Sakaida, my coauthor, when preparing for “B-29 Hunters” in 1997. I had once heard from the late former Corporal Hideichi Kaiho, instructor at the 39th Army Training Fighter Squadron at Yokoshiba, Chiba Pref. and a well-known military plane painter in his late years after the war that Sgt Kobayashi’s Nick rammed “one of the B-29s of a 13-ship formation coming from the direction of Ota.”Kaiho was not a witness of the ramming as he was at Yokoshiba. “A 13-ship B-29 formation” is thought to be true because it was stated in the citation for the Ki-45 crew, which was announced all over the Army in February 1945. However, I never came across with any materials stating that some B-29s went to Ota and met with ramming by a Nick on the way back over Funabashi, though it is possible that some B-29s changed target to Nakajima Ota as an opportunity target because their Bombing condition was not good over Target 357 at Mitaka. It would take about 30 minutes if B-29s flew a drop-in trip of 160km from Target 357 to Ota and to Funabashi. They could meet with a Nick there towards or after 1500.

From the start of my study on the attackers on the B-29s lost on 27 January 1945, Beyhan’s B-29, originally one of a 10-ship formation, was a candidate that was rammed by Sgt Kobayashi, but I had to refrain from submitting this idea because its evidence was insufficient and I could not explain why Beyhan’s B-29 was in the 13-ship formation. Therefore, I wrote in the B-29 Hunters that Beyhan’s B-29 was hit by an Irving over Tokyo Bay as claimed by the Navy crew. In fact, I finally came back to my original idea when I noticed that it was erroneous for me to support Nakamura’s observation because Haley’s Comet crashed before the Nick’s ramming.

The Lodovici report has suggested that I should make another correction regarding a photo of a B-29 smoking over a lake, taken by another B-29 from above. I explained: my friend Kazuyasu Hinata reached a conclusion that the B-29 was not Rover Boys Express as expected by a surviving navigator Hap Halloran, but possibly Haley’s Comet. As quoted above, however, Lodovici says, “I then looked out the window and saw that about four feet were burned off the wings.” I asked Hinata to get another enlarged photo of the B-29 and examine it carefully. The B-29 photo was still rather small as it was taken from afar, but examining was possible. We could not recognize any such large damage on the right wing as observed by the tail gunner. Mr Tokuzo Sakurai, the eyewitness of the crash of Hayley’s Comet, saw it flaming from the middle portion of the fuselage. Though the B-29 in the photo is white-smoking from #1 and #4 engines, but no flames are seen. Now we think the photographed B-29 was not Haley’s Comet, either. It should be another B-29 with #1 and #4 engines damaged.

Updated scenario:
On this occasion, I would like to show my present view on the attackers on the B-29s lost on 27 January 1945 with consent of Henry Sakaida, coauthor of B-29 Hunters of JAAF:

B-29 "Were Wolf" 42-63423Shot down by J1N1 IrvingExploded and crashed4 POWs
B-29 (497th BG) Engagement, Attackers Circumstances Crash / POWs
B-29 "Shady Lady" 42-24619 Shot by Tony Lt Ichikawa & rammed by Tojo WO Suzuki, KIA Exploded over Kofu, all KIA Crash site unknown
B-29 "Irish Lassie" 42-65246 Rammed by Tony Capt Kobayashi wounded but safe at Hachioji Left stabilizer flown off, broke on landing Written off after returning
B-29 "Haley's Comet" 42-24616 Over target shot by fighters Shisui, Imba, Chiba 2 POWs
B-29 "Thumper" 42-24623 Over target shot by Tony piloted by Tanaka Engine black smoke Returned safely
B-29 "Ghastly Goose" 42-63541 Over Tamagawa, rammed by Tony piloted by Ando KIA Ditched 250 miles off Japan, all KIA  
B-29 (498th BG) Engagement, Attackers Circumstances Crash / POWs
B-29 "The Jumping Stud" 42-63501 Over Machida, rammed by Tanaka at tail, heavily wounded Sunk near the Tokyo coast All KIA
B-29 "Beyhan's" 42-24767 Ota – Funabashi, rammed by Ki-45 Sgt Kobayashi Ditched 100 miles north of Iwo Jima All KIA
B-29 (499th BG) Engagement, Attackers Circumstances Crash / POWs
B-29 "Rover Boys Express" 42-24769 Shot by a Nick 15 miles west of target 357 Crashed at Kamisu on the Kashima coast 5 POWs
B-29 "Tokyo Twister" 42-24682 Over Tokyo, Flak hit on right wing Returned Probably written off
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