Home / Army Air Fields / Kansas AAF / Pratt / 40th BG / Stories / Memories - Battle Of Kansas

Memories - Battle Of Kansas

40th Bomb Group Association Memories Issue No. 11
September 1986 EDITORS' INTRODUCTION: In late February and March, 1944, the 40th Bomb Group, stationed at Pratt, Kansas, began receiving B-29's to take overseas, but they needed engine changes and some 50 modifications, major and minor, before they would be ready for combat. High command in Washington was pressing to get the B-29's overseas as soon as possible. With the 40th Group ground crews already shipped overseas, Pratt became the scene of several weeks of feverish work, day and night, by the crew chiefs, flight crews, and specially recruited civilians to get the planes ready. These weeks of chaos, confusion and hard work in the bitter Kansas winter have come to be called "The Battle of Kansas." To describe that "battle," we have assembled recollections of some group personnel, excerpts from news and magazine accounts (released months later when the B-29 was actually in combat), and excerpts from records and diaries. This issue contains part of these; more will appear in the January 1987, issue.

Source is 40th Bomb Group Association

The Battle of Kansas Part 1

Capt. F.G. Wood Jr. - July 1944

During the period of intense and almost frantic effort to get the new B-29's in shape for combat overseas (which started in the latter part of February and continued through March) the 40th Group was charged with the accomplishment of seven changes and modifications. The remainder of the 40 to 50 modifications were to be done by crews from four modification centers.

These civilian personnel constituted a difficult and unpleasant problem. Tempers were already short due to long hours and little sleep, and overtaxed housing and messing facilities did not help matters. In addition the Group personnel felt that in many instances the civilians, who demanded fleece lined winter flying clothing and other special military equipment due to the arctic wind, were not working as hard or as long as they could and should have been. However, despite the confusion and the unavoidable conflict between the feather merchants and the GIs, work progressed. The 40th Group, as stated, was responsible for seven modifications. First it was necessary to change all engines which were not classed as "War" engines. Most of the engines were R-3350-23's which had to be replaced with the "A" models. During the period 27 February to 11 March, 40th Group personnel changed 116 engines and 24 turbo superchargers.
Second, all rudders which were not of the new, strengthened design had to be changed, a total of 22 rudders.
Third, all main landing gear tires on all aircraft had to be changed, the nylon casing being preferred to old type. In all, 144 tires were changed.
Fourth, the front collector rings were discovered to be unsatisfactory due to the fact that vibration was causing the brackets to crack and break. It was necessary to change approximately 100 sets.
Fifth, a modification had to be made on all cowl flaps, considerable trouble had been experienced with the top cylinder heating up and turning out. The top cowl flap, therefore, was raised two inches and fixed solidly in this position thus allowing more air to pass over the cylinder. In all 124 of these changes were made.
Sixth, the radar section had the tremendous task of installing 36 APQ-13 radar sets. The men were hampered by inexperience -- none had ever installed a set of this sort -- but the Job was done and each set checked operationally.
Seventh, all propeller pistons and governors had to be modified to provide for more certain feathering at high altitudes. A total of 100 propellers and pistons were modified. After all changes and modifications had been accomplished, each airplane had to be flown for a period of not less than two hours in order to break in the new engines and check the work done.
All of the above was done by Group personnel in the short space of five weeks despite wind and snow, shortages and lack of facilities. Going back to 3 March, at midnight of that date all officers and men of the Group were confined to the field for "maintenance reasons." No one was allowed off the field without a special pass (which was granted only in an emergency) nor were wives allowed on the field. In view of this, most of the married men sent their wives home, since they thought it likely the restriction would remain in force until the actual date of departure.
On the morning of 10 March General Henry H. Arnold arrived on the field. He immediately called a meeting of the nine crews in the Group who had been selected to ferry the first B-29's to their destination. Crew members were notified as quickly as possible. Some were working on the "line" and others were asleep, having just completed a maintenance shift the night before. The General did not face an immaculate, clean- group of men. From the first word General Arnold uttered, the crew members were impressed with his decisive, efficient manner. He stressed the fact that the eyes of four men in particular would be on them-- Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin and Chiang Kai-shek--and that the tremendous difficulties encountered in carrying the war to the enemy were not their standard of measurement of effort--only results. After touching on the fine manner in which the airplane crews had worked in getting the project ready for movement, General Arnold questioned the pilots present as to the amount of time they thought would be required to accomplish the three shakedown missions, and the consensus was one week. He then said that every man should get away from all the work of preparation for a week of leave, then come back, run the shakedown missions and be fresh to take the ships over. He concluded his talk with a wish for good luck and Godspeed.
Whether or not the General was aware of the part the combat crews had been playing in the modification work is not known, but the aspects involved in giving anyone leave at this time created a furor which lasted until the next day. Some of the crews realized that seven-day leaves were impracticable; other realized only that General Arnold had said they should be given leave. The majority finally decided to take only three-day passes, but the incident directly affected the morale of the Group.
On 11 March the restriction was lifted and once more off-Post and on-Post visits were permissible. By this time, however, most of the wives had gone home and were too far away to be visited on a three-day pass. This was another situation which adversely affected morale. Most of the men visited nearby cities for a last fling.

Boeing Magazine - June 1945

On airfields near Wichita were scattered the first two hundred B-29s that had been built. They were ticketed for the CBI Theater, but first they needed overhaul and modification for combat. Army mechanics were working desperately on this job, though they had been trained only to go with the ship into combat and there keep it in condition.

They never had been instructed in the mechanics of overhauling and modifying the new and intricate B-29. The Boeing-Wichita plant was called on to supply six hundred factory mechanics to help get the ships in condition.
Boeing pulled its very best men off the B-29 production lines. Some who were off shift were roused out of bed. A few of them managed to get home to pack a few clothes; others had nothing but what they wore. They queued up to draw expense money and were whisked out to waiting transport planes and flown to four B-29 bases in Kansas. There the Boeing mechanics and the army mechanics got together. Together they worked in zero temperature on the open Kansas fields with prairie gales whistling around them. Lacking scaffolds, they climbed to the ships on ladders, a dangerous and difficult position because of the high winds that swayed their perches. They stuck to their jobs in spite of the discomforts of working on frozen conduits with bleeding hands and wearing any spare army clothes they could find to keep them warm. At times they worked twenty-four hours without sleep.
Meanwhile, the people in the Boeing plant had a double job to do. They had to keep up line production without six hundred of their best men and at the same time keep their fellow-workers out in the field supplied with spare parts. They did it, and the Boeing mechanics and their army pals finished their work as the deadline approached. The minute the mechanics crawled out of a completed plane, the Army Air Forces combat crews had their bags packed and were standing beside the ship ready to fly her away. This was Wichita’s first modification job and it stands as one of the most xtraordinary pieces of work ever done by aircraft mechanics.

General Electric Bulletin - Summer 1945

There are many "stories behind the story" of the production record of launching the B-29 in half the usual time required for a heavy bomber. Perhaps one of the most dramatic was the "Battle of Kansas." For it was at a blizzard-swept Kansas airfield that thousands of technicians sent from war plants all over the country pitched in to help the army perform a miracle. In three weeks' time they did several months' normal work, installing and testing the latest equipment on a good share of the first super-bombers earmarked for action.

The planes had been flown from factories to airfields for flight testing before much of the latest equipment, including some redesigned on the basis of last-minute combat-area intelligence, could be installed. Thus a number of the mammoth birds alighted at a Kansas airfield, among others, just three weeks before they were due to depart for battle. But they were far from complete and anything but ready for action. The call had gone out to most of the manufacturers supplying parts for the B-29 to fly men and materials at once, and technicians by the hundreds began arriving in a mass invasion.
"That airfield was so big and had so much runway space it looked like a concrete prairie," recalls H.T. Hokanson. "I had seen B-29s before that, but there were so many of them spread out they looked like an invasion force all by themselves." The army had an immense organization problem to solve in giving the various company representatives proper work facilities and sufficient "elbow room." To complicate matters further, March 1944, was going out like a lion in the form of a blizzard which howled across miles of flat prairie.
"Modification" is the mild army word for the changes--many of them almost major operations-- which had to be made on the planes. Mechanics wrestled with gear assemblies. Electricians tinkered with mazes of complex wiring. Production men flashed urgent messages back to their plants for rush deliveries of needed materials. Army officers phoned engineers from California to New England, getting quick answers to knotty problems. Or, rousing them in the middle of the night, summoned them to the scene to break particularly acute bottle-necks.
The experience of G.E. on the B-29's gunfire control system is perhaps typical of the 24-hour orderly confusion which repeated itself daily on the suddenly overpopulated prairie. Because of the intricacies of electric wiring and other complexities of the G-E designed system, particularly its computer for eliminating all guesswork in the gunner's training his sight on an enemy plane, the company had its share of headaches. In a nutshell, the system enables the B-29 to fire more lead, concentrated more accurately on a more distant target, than any other plane previously built. The plane thereby can fly unescorted, a new concept in aerial warfare. Here was one G.E. headache. A last-minute change had to be made in a gunfire interrupter mechanism, requiring insertion of a cam, or small disk, of a dimension which did not exist. The G-E engineers phoned Schenectady. The necessary tools were there, but the right men for the job were at the Bloomfield, New Jersey plant, so the tools were shipped there, the cams machined, then flown to Kansas.
Work had to go on at night, too, and the technicians became expert at performing all kinds of mechanical tricks by flashlight. "We didn't get much sleep," some of those who fought the "battle," recall. "We worked as many hours as we could stand up, then took over someone else's bed in one of the two tiny hotels in the near-by town. Each bed had a different occupant for two or three shifts a day, and every so often an open army reconnaissance car delivered a group in town and took another out." The vast "modification" assignment moved forward under a surprisingly efficient over-all organization scheme the army had improvised, and the planes were finished ahead of the deadline.
The manufacturers' representatives and the army men alike watched with pride as one superbomber after another took off for its date with destiny. The problem of solving unexpected problems on the spot was no novelty to any of the manufacturers involved. Some G.E. engineers, for example, had serviced equipment in distant battle zones, and others had been ironing out B-29 problems since right after Pearl Harbor, when the army decided on all-out production of the plane. "The B-29 deadline was set, so any threatening problems had to be overcome immediately," points out an engineer. "For example, we found there was no way of eliminating a small amount of jerking in the gunsight as the gunner tracked his target. But this jerking was feeding false information into the computer, a radically new product for correcting turret guns automatically for wind, plane and bullet speed, leaving the gunner only to put his sight on the target, adjust a dial and pull the trigger. We had to invent an electrical connection of gyroscopics and springs to compensate for this error, so the result would be true calculations."

M.E. "Red" Carmichael

Much has been said, and I'm sure much will be written about the Battle of Kansas. To me as one of the original crew chiefs on the B-29 at Pratt, it didn't seem to be that great a hardship. We crew chiefs were used to the many hours in the cold, trying to get the "Big Bird" ready for flight. It was quite a change for the flight crews, who, up until that time, had only to climb into the A/P when we finally decided it was ready for flight. The following episodes are not intended to throw aspersions at the flight crews who had taken over the chore of trying to get the "Big Birds" ready for flight. They did remarkably well under the conditions they had to work in.

Capt. William Hunter and Capt. Robert Tisserat and their combat crews were assigned to #250. No one on Hunter's crew had worked as a maintenance mechanic, but Hunter was an ex-engineering officer, and I thought he would be an asset. Tisserat had one man who had worked on B-17's and B- 24's and was also a good maintenance man. Tisserat said he had worked as a maintenance man when he was a Corporal. So, we started. One combat crew was assigned to day and one to night shift. The first task I assigned to Tisserat was the removal of all four carburetor air scoops. I cautioned him to take a good look at all the control cables going to the carburetor, as he would have to disconnect them to remove the air scoop. He assured me that he would have no trouble, and he started working on #2 engine while I assigned various chores to the rest of his crew. Some time later, he came over to me and said, "Let's check this one first to be sure everything is correct." He duly informed me that everything was O.K., but I checked everything in the nacelle and said, "You watch the throttle arm and mixture controls, while I move them from the cockpit." I went to the engineer's station to work the controls. The throttle was O.K. but I couldn't move the mixture control. I climbed down from the engineer's position and up the maintenance stand at #2 engine. I had to tell the Captain that he had crossed the mixture control cables. He didn't argue with me; just asked me how to correct the error. I told him; and Bob, you did great on the other three engines! We were changing all the brakes, inspecting the wheels, and repacking all the wheel bearings.

Capt. Hunter and his crew were furnishing the muscle. We worked the right side, and I explained how to change brakes, pack the bearings, inspect the wheels, etc. Then we went to the left side, removed wheels and brakes, and installed new brakes. Then Hunter said, "Go home, Sergeant, and get some rest." I agreed to this suggestion, but I asked, "Can you manage to finish this without any problems?" In his superior Captain's manner, he informed me it would be no problem. So, I left. This should be the end of the tale, but when Hunter and crew took the A/P out for a taxi test, the left-hand outboard brake started leaking fluid. After pulling the A/P back to the maintenance stand, jacking it up, and removing the wheel, I found the inner and outer bearings had been interchanged. Lesson #1: Bill, it can't be done! During the modification program, all engines on #250 were replaced.
All we had were problems with engines overheating and failing due to inadequate lubrication. Our Squadron Commander, Lt. Col. Cornett, decided we should remove all engine rocker box covers, fill the cavity around the rocker arms and push rod housings with oil. So, we dragged the A/P into the hangar, removed all the rocker box covers, and started filling the upper cylinder cavities and push rod housings with engine oil. Col. Cornett decided this wasn't enough: we also had to get oil into the lower cylinder cavities. How? We froze engine oil in a bucket, using CO2 fire extinguishers, then pushed the tarry, gooey mess into the cavities and slapped on the rocker box covers!! You should have seen that combat crew with crap all over their hands, face and clothing. Col. Cornett, that was a good idea for the upper cylinders; but when the oil thinned out and we pulled the props, we lost most of that lower cylinder oil.
Another crew was assigned to service all fuel tanks for the entire Squadron. When they came over to #250, they proceeded to drag the fuel hose and nozzle from the rear side of the A/P over the aileron. (This was at night.) I immediately started yelling at the guy up on the wing, questioning his ancestors, etc., for pulling that hose over the aileron. Clarence Bradley, a flight engineer, started trying to quiet me down, saying, "Sarge, that's Major White. You don't yell at Majors." I informed him that I yelled at anyone that dragged fuel hoses over an aileron.
When we were getting ready for our first "after mod" flight, the putt-putt (auxiliary power plant) went haywire. So we had to order another one, which, after some time, was delivered to the A/P. Capt. Vic Agather came with it. A.C. Denny and I uncrated the new putt-putt. I removed the spark plug and poured some oil into the spark plug hole to lubricate the cylinder walls. Vic immediately informed me that the putt-putt would never run. I bet him a dollar it would, and I'd even let Denny start it. He agreed. So, Denny and I installed the putt-putt in the A/P. I told Denny he was going to be the operator and to turn the engine over several times before starting it. I climbed out of the tail section, and Vic tells me again that it won't start. We exchange a few opinions as to why it would and why it wouldn't. About this time Denny turns the putt-putt over electrically and it starts immediately. Vic, Denny and I sure enjoyed that beer we bought with your dollar!
We are now getting the A/P ready for our overseas travel. The bomb bay rack is installed; all gear is aboard. I've serviced the A/P, and I have started a preflight inspection with the help of Art Denny. Jerry Noble, the flight engineer, is up on the wings (which are icy), dipsticking the fuel tanks. Denny and I hear the clatter of the dipstick as it hits the concrete, and Denny yells, "I'll get it for you, Lieutenant.'' Noble yells back, "Never mind; I'm down here with it."

Victor Agather - Feb. 1944

The origin of the problem and the sequence of events which resulted in the Battle of Kansas are manifold but can be summarized. The loss of the prototype B-29 in February 1943 redoubled the necessity of freezing production design on both airframe and engines with the knowledge that modifications would have to be made after production of each B-29 was completed.

Therefore, the system of modification centers, to be supplied by modification kits, was instituted. After the complete airplanes came off the production lines, they were taken to modification centers where they were matched with modification kits, and installed systems were removed from the aircraft and replaced with modification kits. The whole purpose of this system was not to stop the production line of the B-29's, but whenever a modification could be scheduled in the production line without stopping the line, it was so programmed by serial number of aircraft, and the kit was dropped from the modification center as the production line picked up the modifications. Col. Carl Cover, who had been a vice-president of Douglas, was placed in charge of modification centers. This theoretical approach of both production and modification made sense, but in practice it broke down rather rapidly because there was a substantial time lag between the training of people at the modification centers, the matching of the kits with the aircraft and the return of the completed aircraft to the four bases in Kansas for the staging of the aircraft for the combat crews. As the modification centers dropped behind schedule and the combat crews did not have B-29 aircraft for training purposes, the decision was made to switch the modification from the modification centers to the four bases in Kansas; that is: Salina, Pratt, Great Bend and Walker, and in so doing, the crews could become familiar with the aircraft and its modifications as well as assist in the test flying of the aircraft after modification. Once again the flaw in this thinking resulted in the "Kansas Blitz", as within a short period of time, there was not a flyable B-29 in Kansas and utter confusion reigned. In the transfer of the aircraft and modification kits from the modification center to Kansas bases the continuity of modification was lost. The kits became separated from the aircraft to which they belonged, the modification logs were incomplete, and in the end nobody knew exactly what modifications were to be accomplished. Furthermore, the B-29 ground crews had already left for India and there were no adequate ground crews at the Kansas bases to accomplish the modifications, provided anybody knew what modifications had to be made on any given aircraft. As you can easily see, these were the basic ingredients for an explosion which took place, which involved General Arnold, General Myers, the B-29 Group Commanders and the Base Commanders, as well as everybody either directly or indirectly involved in the B-29 program.
If you will pardon the personal references, maybe I can tell the story in a little more lucid form. Whereas I had been working on the engine fire program at a very early stage in the development of the B-29, the "B-29 Project Office" at Wright Field was the central clearing gency for the requests by the various organizations demanding modifications such as Air Corps Flight Test, 58th Bomber Command, Electrical Laboratory, Boeing Engineers, Armament Section, Power Plant Section, Etc. Thus, all of us identified with the B-29 Project Office were somewhat familiar with all the requests for modifications as well as those finally approved to be incorporated in the B-29. We all knew that an explosion was about to take place, but that was somebody else's problem. Early in February, 1944, I received a call from Col. Erik Nelson at about 2:00 o'clock in the morning, telling me to get my tail in the saddle and get out to Salina immediately with a list of all serial numbers of B-29's as well as modifications required by serial number, and that General Bradshaw's airplane was standing by at operations to bring me to Salina immediately. Upon arrival in Salina early that morning, we were informed of the ungodly confusion that existed at the four bases and that nobody knew just exactly what modifications had to be made in any given aircraft. In the meantime, all the airplanes were grounded. We split the four bases between several groups of us and four of us immediately flew to Pratt, Kansas, where the 40th Group was stationed, and I started to check each aircraft personally to make a complete list of modifications that had to be made to put each aircraft in flight condition. I went 5 days and 5 nights without going to sleep. By the end of that time, we knew exactly what had to be done on each aircraft. In the meantime, the group of four of us had to identify the kits for each aircraft and then locate the kits. After having completed the list we flew to Boeing, Wichita, one night and walked down the production line and as we saw an individual who might be doing the sort of work that Pratt required, we merely pointed to that individual and he was immediately taken off the production line and driven to the airport where a C-47 flew him to Pratt. In the meantime, the name and address of the individual was taken, a car was driven to his home to pick up his clothes and advise his family, and these were also sent to Pratt. In all, we took almost 400 individuals from Boeing, Wichita. The additional problems at Pratt, as well as in the other ases were that we had basically only two hangars; therefore, the bulk of the work had to be done in the open on the ramps. It was mid-Winter with dust and snow flying and bitter cold. These crews could only work on the airplanes for approximately 20 minutes. Then they went into the hangars to warm up while other crews came from the hangars to do the work. Thus, we worked 24 hours a day. We had all the additional problems which are inherent with such an emergency operation, housing, food, clothing, tools, disgruntled laborers, etc. However, General Arnold had told General Myers and Col. Nelson and anybody within earshot that we had priority for anything we wanted in the form of tools, materials, personnel, etc., which priority we used judiciously. For example, at Pratt we had almost 100 engines that had to be changed as the airplanes had the old type engines. One night, we located engine slings in Erie, Pa. An American Airliner was ordered to unload its passengers. The engine slings were cut with torches, and loaded over the seats of the DC-3. The next morning the pilot, copilot and stewardess, red-eyed from all night flying, arrived at Pratt. We welded together the engine slings and proceeded to start out the engine change program. Engines were flown in cargo planes together with many of the other accessories and tools which were needed.
As the Kansas Blitz developed, it became only natural that many swivel chair generals and other authorities wanted to get in on the act and make "browny points" with their superiors, as they would be the ones to try and take the credit for solving the problem. Within a three-week period of time, more than 60 generals arrived at Pratt alone, offering their services, but really they were a menace because they knew nothing of what had to be done. One particular incident may be of interest to you. As I was in the bowels of a B-29, I was informed that General "so and so" wanted to talk to me. I merely sent word back that if he wanted to speak to me he could climb into the B-29 and he could have a conversation with me. I could see him through the Plexiglas. A beautiful pressed uniform and all the characteristics of a "dandy", with the exception of perhaps a swagger stick. Just from his appearance I knew that he did not know how to climb into the nose section of the B-29 without a ladder and there was no way he was about to, but very shortly thereafter, I was informed that I was being cited for insubordination with a possible court martial. When I reported this to Col. Nelson, he immediately took up the matter and the last I heard was that the General was relieved of duty and sent to Greenland to cool off. By some miracle, we completed the work on time and the 40th Group left for Newfoundland on Easter Sunday. There were four of us performing this task at Pratt--Lt. Col. Harry Hubbard, Lt. Col. Mark Maidel, Captain Arthur Borden, and myself. I believe I was a Major at that time. The four of us shifted from Pratt to Great Bend, Walker, and finally Salina to see the last B-29's. Shortly after the B- 29's arrived in India, operational problems began to multiply themselves, principally over the engine heating problem, and we went to India with additional kits to set up pilot operations for modifications at the four bases there. We did work with the R-3350 engine overhaul plant in Calcutta and the Hindustani Aircraft Company in Bangalore. I must say that the cooperation we had with the India B- 29 crews was fantastic. Subsequently we moved to the Marianas--Saipan, Tinian and Guam--and performed the same function.
In summary, you must remember that normally a prototype aircraft is basically built to test the flight characteristics of the plane, that is, performance in the air, speed, altitude capability, loadcarrying capacity and range, as well as these general flight characteristics under ifferent types of operational conditions. Thus with the loss of the prototype and the basic freezing of design, the combat crews became a test bed to the B-29 in actual combat operations. Generally speaking, a prototype is always re-designed after flight testing to accomplish two basic factors: one, ease of production and two, ease of maintenance. Just as one example, the original cowling in the prototype was called an envelope cowling, whereby in order to remove the cowling to get at the maintenance of the engine it was necessary to remove the propeller and then remove the cowling. Thus, it was almost easier to change an engine than it was to change spark plugs. If you want to have poor maintenance, make it difficult for the mechanic to get to the accessories to be maintained. This cowling was subsequently changed to split cowling and thus maintenance was much easier.
Probably an interesting sequel to the above is that when the Russians got their hands on the four B-29's that went into Siberia they copied the prototype with all the problems that we had incorporated into the prototype aircraft. After the war, an Air Attaché from Russia came to my office in New York and showed me pictures of the Russian version of the B-29. My only remark was: "I am sure that the Russian mechanics cursed and swore at their aircraft as our mechanics had cursed and sworn at our B-29's at the difficulty of getting to the accessories to be maintained."

The Battle of Kansas Part 2

From Memories Issue No. 13

Source is 40th Bomb Group Association.

Louis E. Coira - Feb. 1944

In about January 1944, Col. Parker was ordered on temporary duty to the U.K. to fly some combat missions for experience. All Group COs were, by edict, to have combat experience. Some weeks later I received word that Parker had been shot down over Germany and I was to continue as Acting Commander. The promised date of deployment, which (I believe) was February 1944, obviously could not be met because the B-29s simply were not available in numbers, nor were they ready for combat due to many modifications required. In the midst of all this confusion and bustle, Gen. H. H. Arnold paid us a visit, and I never saw so many people and agencies covering up their tracks and keeping out of Hap's way. However, the 40th didn't come up with any criticism that I became aware of.

No listing of recollections of the 4Oth BG would be complete without a summary of our major difficulties with those early B-29s. Our primary airplane difficulty was with the R-3350 engines. Oil would not reach the rocker arms and valves of the topmost cylinders to lubricate and cool them. As a result, we were plagued with broken valves dropping into the upper cylinders and beating the pistons and causing engine failures and fires. Our maintenance people tried to remedy the problem by "preoiling" the engines: i.e., forcing warm oil by high pressure into the rocker arm housings. Or they
would remove the rocker arm covers and pack the rocker arms in oil solidified by dry ice. Both of these methods helped the problem somewhat, but at a big cost in time and effort. Compounding the problem of engine overheat was a faulty design of the engine baffles which resulted in poor cooling air to the rear bank of cylinders. The baffles were later redesigned and retrofitted in India under Col. Erik Nelson's and Capt. Vic Agather's supervision, but that was too late to help us at Pratt and enroute to India.
Each B-29 going overseas was required to carry a spare engine in its bombbay, and we used many of them enroute to India. Another major problem was the radar, which was late in production. The initial word was that our B-29s would depart Pratt with racks and wiring only: Group "A" parts. When our deployment was delayed, the word was that the radar unit and antenna would be installed prior to departure by an outside team. They did this almost as the aircraft were rolling down the runway on departure. And, of
course, we had radomes blow off the aircraft. I recall having to "intercede" with Chick Koenig because he would not allow a team to work on his airplane the day before he was to depart Pratt. I believe these sets were the initial PPI scope radars to be installed ever, and we knew so little about them that Capt. Hilt, our Group Radar Officer, had to learn by experimentation during our flight to India in #6351. This, then, was the background of our surprising first raid on Japan: night, low-level, radar bombing!
Another problem we experienced was with the B-29 electrical system; specifically with the circuit breakers, which on occasion would pop open with little or no cause. I believe it was Maj. Wilkinson who came home one day to Pratt with absolutely no functioning electrical system. The fix was to retrofit all B-29s with current limiters, or fuses. That seemed to end our problem.
I am sure that all crew members recall the necessity to remove the deicer boots in which effort they participated. While this chore was being accomplished, among others, we were visited by Gen. Orval Cook and a few others from the Air Materiel Command. During the morning of his visit, he told me how extremely pleased he was to see flight crews on top of the airplanes with tools helping the maintenance crews. I told him that they were working willingly to expedite our readiness for deployment. That same afternoon Gen. Cook returned to my office and voiced an opinion that our departure was being delayed because our crews didn't want to go overseas! I did not then, nor have I yet, figured out how a Lieutenant Colonel could tell a 4-star General that he was not only insulting, but full of crap and get away with it. I merely replied that overseas combat would be a relief from what we were experiencing at Pratt, in the Kansas winter, etc.

Ira Matthews - Early 1944

A labor disagreement of short duration occurred on a cold Sunday morning in early 1944 at Pratt AAF, Pratt, Kansas. The 40th Bombardment Group was working around the clock to meet General Hap Arnold's deadline to prepare its new B-29 bombers for departure to an unknown overseas destination. Most of us were spending a solid 18 hours daily on the flight line, seven days per week. The weather was atrocious with surface temperatures below zero, driving north winds and giant snow drifts across the parking ramp.

Ours was not an easy task. Assigned to the Group was a task force of Boeing factory personnel, several aircraft and engine experts from Wright Field and several dozen mechanics from the modification center of the Bechtel, McCone and Parsons Company, Birmingham, Alabama. Most of this contingent were from the deep south. The weather was a trying ordeal to them. We soon learned their union leader was unhappy about the assignment. He did not care for the weather (neither did we), the military chow (we ate the same food), the flight line clothing (we wore the same clothing), the lack of entertainment (Kansas was bone dry then); but above all, he disliked the forceful supervision he was receiving from one of our most experienced Non-Commissioned Officers, M/Sgt. Britton C. Vick. Knowing Vick well, most of us were aware that his heavy handed supervision was necessary to persuade the civilian mechanics to hop to.
Early on Sunday morning the union leader and his men came into the 45th Bombardment Squadron hangar. Sergeant Vick was already on the job directing the placement of jacks under a B-29. He was an imposing figure, tall, rawboned and stern faced. Patience was not one of his virtues. His nickname, used only behind his back, was The Big Hammer. Rumors were that he earned this title by dragging some unruly recruit behind a hangar and physically convincing him that Vick was literally the boss.
The union man was rather small and prone to whine as he talked. He came slowly toward Vick, trailed by a dozen or so of his crew. The Sergeant was engrossed with the jacking procedures and held a three foot jack handle in his right hand. The union leader informed Vick in a very low voice that he was calling a strike, because working conditions were not acceptable to him and his crew. He then raised his voice and demanded to see our Group Commander to explain his grievance. As soon as
these words sunk in; Vick's face turned crimson. He ripped out a barrage of profanity, most of which was aimed at the union man's ancestors. Then he paused for breath. Raising the steel jack handle high, he bellowed, "I'm giving you bastards thirty seconds to get back to work. NOW MOVE! If you don't do what I say, here's what's going to happen to you." The massive right hand flung the jack handle to the concrete floor. It bounced to an impressive altitude and clattered to rest against the hangar wall. The hangar became deathly quiet. M/Sgt. Vick towered over the smaller man, his fists
resting on his hips. There was a dreadful scowl on his face.
All the strikers became suddenly aware that they could be rather badly injured if they did not obey the NCO. The leader turned to his crew, muttered a few words that were not audible to Vlck; the crew then picked up their tool boxes and moved rapidly to their assigned jobs. The brief strike was ended. We would not hear the word strike again at Pratt AAF.

Harry Changnon - Feb. 1944

Tuesday, 2/29/44, Leap Year Day. Got up at 0630 and had a light breakfast with Doc Lee Hall, then rode to Oklahoma City with Bob Haley and John Nordhagen. We picked up B-29 #308. After we fixed a couple leaks, we got back to Pratt at 1700. I only got to log one hour Co-pilot time. This ship is really swell. It is better modified than the others and has most of the radar already in it. We cruised at 225 mph all the way home. I really like it, but all four (4) engines have to be changed!

March 1st, a Wednesday, began "The Battle of Kansas" for our crew. We went down to the line at midnite to go to work on 308, which we will share with Capt. Charles Taylor and his crew. We helped the Crew Chief and the line crew take off the cowlings and props. We went over to eat breakfast at 0630 and then back to the line. We got the 1 and 2 cowlings and props off by noon. It was miserably cold working out there in the wind and fog. Glenn Landreth, and some other Airplane Commanders, had a showdown with Lt/Col Schaaf about who gets to fly the ships. He made a decision on which
crews get preference. It appears we are on the 2nd team. The clique, composed of the men who had been on the "Rock", are in power. Landreth tried to made an issue of which pilots had the earliest serial numbers and rank, but it didn't work out. It also is rather clear that we will go overseas by ATC too...dammit! We will probably miss the first raid. Went to bed at 2100, but got back up to write the folks. Maybe I should phone them, if it isn't too late. Dick Mallory's plane came in tonite. It, too, needs all four engines changed.
I didn't write much in the diary for the next few days because we were so busy worklng on the line. We barely had time to eat and drag our weary bodies back to the rooms for sleep. On the 2nd, we worked from midnite till noon on the planes...outside in the cold and wind...there was a hell of a lot of griping, especially from those of us who won't get to fly our own planes overseas. On the 3rd, we got a break by being able to work inside the hangar from midnite until noon. Macer and I went into Pratt in the afternoon to pick up our cleaning, and to go to the bus station to pick up a package of summer clothes that the folks had sent me. I did try to phone the folks to tell them that we are about to leave the States, but no one was home.
They restricted all personnel to the post tonite! It looks funny to see all the top ranking officers sleeping in the halls on cots. Those of us who had our rooms didn't have to give them up, which was nice.
On Saturday, we finished work on the plane in the hangar by changing the tires. Most of us are slightly confused on which day is which since working on the various shifts has mixed us up. We did some preliminary processing and paper work on Sunday. I went to bed at 1600 and slept all nite as we went on a different shift. On Monday, the 6th of March, Landreth, Macer, and I took it easy all day since the feather merchants took over the modification work on the plane. We played a lot of ping pong in the Ready Room, and some of the guys are getting pretty good. We are playing games for
dimes and quarters now. Had a lot of fun kidding Landreth and Seebach in the showers about having to live on the Base with us single men. We went to a corny movie in the afternoon, but did work on the plane in the evening. The next day, we saw "Broadway Rhythm" which was a good movie. Then back to work on the plane some more. Have forgotten to mention that my fingers appear to be okay again after we thought we had frozen them into a bent condition a couple nites when we were out taking out the
Phillips screws that held the rubber de-icer boots on the leading edge of the wings. There must have been a thousand of them.
On Thursday, March 9th, we got up by noon...then worked hard on 308 with Charley Taylor's crew, as we expect to be visited by Gen Hap Arnold. We drew some more equipment for overseas, including my 45 pistol.
On Friday, the 10th, I woke up to hear the band playing, so knew that Gen Arnold had arrived. He told us crew members that we would get a 7-day leave, so everyone pepped up. The planes are just not ready to leave yet, and a new departure date has been set. However, Landreth told me at noon that we are going to go by boat. What a low blow! We really had a big bitch session during the afternoon about the boat deal. It is really funny in some ways...some guys can't swim. Most of us started to do a little packing. Earl Rishell, our Flight Engineer, sold Glenn and me swell
leather bags that he had bought in Panama. I only had to pay five bucks for a beautiful big bag. It would cause a hernia to lift it when it is filled, but it does have straps to help hold the contents in place and support the handle. We went to a Squadron meeting in the evening which got out of hand when we all asked for our seven day leave that Arnold had mentioned. Oscar Schaaf couldn't keep some of the guys under control.
There is bad news for Ira Matthews and Bob Haley who still haven't gotten
their ships yet. Those of us who are going to travel by boat won't get any leave either. We stenciled some of our things to help identify them. That nite I damn near froze in my top bunk because we had loaned some of our blankets to those in the halls, and the big old coal stove in the center was turned down so low that the heat didn't get thru to some of us in the rooms.

Robert L. Hall - Early Winter

In the early part of the winter, we gunners had too little to do. We couldn't get much B-29 flying experience--too few B-29's. Sometimes we found useful things to do: we took link trainer lessons, or stripped and reassembled machine guns, or went to the malfunction range to learn more about the guns. But we spent day after day playing the pinball machines and betting who could get the biggest score without a tilt. As I recall it, Al "Moose" Matulis was the informal champion, and we kidded him that he must have wasted his childhood in a pinball parlor.

Suddenly everything went to the opposite extreme, and we were busy day and night. Our ground crew personnel--except crew chiefs--shipped out to unknown destinations, and new B-29's started arriving on base, but they needed all kinds of modifications before they were ready for combat. The base became a beehive of activity. Abruptly, flight crews were thrown into around-the-clock work on B-29 engines; officers and men alike became greasemonkeys. I had been elaborately trained on the intricacies of the CFC system, but I felt like a worthless fool when I had to help change a collector
ring. I guess that our crew chief, "Red" Carmichael, must have decided that the only useful thing I knew how to do was safety wiring, because, after a few days of fumbling around, I found myself doing that for hours on end in the bitter cold.
One day Lt. Frank Redler, armament officer, yanked me away for another assignment. He took Paul Bremen (another CFC gunner) and me to a hangar and showed us a large crate. This, he said, was a modification kit for converting a gun turret from 500 rounds per gun to 1000 rounds. We were to take it and install it in a plane on the line. Off went Lt. Redler, dashing to some other pressing matter. The crate had no directions, no labels. We had never seen the new l000-round version of the
turrets.
Paul and I spread parts on the floor and proceeded to try to solve a large three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. I was pretty good on the theory of the CFC system and on its electronics, but it seemed to me that someone had manufactured a bunch of pieces that would almost but not quite fit together.
Fortunately Paul Bremen was an "old man" (perhaps 35 or so) with lots of mechanical skill and experience. In his hands, parts fell together effortlessly--though they would send anyone else (namely me) into fits of swearing. We had to disassemble a turret in the plane and figure out how to reassemble it, substituting parts from the mod kit. Between us we eventually managed to solve the puzzle and have no parts left over, though it took us a few very long days working in a very cold airplane. Without Paul's deft touch, I think I'd still be in Pratt, Kansas, trying to reassemble that turret.
Though I hated to be separated from my flight crew, I have to confess that it was a relief to be rescued from engine work under that harsh task master, Red Carmichael.
One clear memory is the time Paul and I took a 10-minute break to thaw our frozen fingers in the hangar, while studying a couple of parts whose function eluded us. A B-17 taxied in, and a group in summer uniforms piled out into snow and gale and ran past us into the hangar, shivering. One asked us, "My God, does the wind blow this way all the time in Kansas?" Without hesitation, Paul answered in his Kansas drawl, "No, sometimes it turns around and blows the other way." I don't believe he even
looked up from studying the turret parts, though I did detect a flicker of a smile.

Ferriss Albers

We had only a few days remaining in the states when we got our ship. We got our engines changed, had one test hop slow-timing, a hop to calibrate our airspeed meters, and a longer one to test our cabin pressurization and navigation equipment, and we were nearly ready, although we didn't know it.

General "Hap" Arnold (then four star) arrived at the field one day with a bustling retinue of three, two, and one-star subordinates and gathered about ten crews of us together in the Group War Room. We were to be the first crews flying B-29's to go overseas; he told us the eyes of the world were upon us. He made quite a picture standing there before a large map of the world, our vigorous, whitehaired
general, and I was duly impressed with the gravity of the situation. Then the general began asking pilots and copilots how many hours they had had in their new ships and if they felt ready to go into combat. The answers were mostly the fawning variety, professing immediate readiness, but I was surprised and gratified when Brownie, my copilot, 2nd Lt. Fountain L. Brown on his identification card, arose and fearlessly told the four stars that he thought we needed at least another two weeks before leaving. Well, of course, this remonstrance had no effect but at least it kept the party from
degenerating into a mutual backslapping and showed that some men in the outfit were not bereft of their common sense by the drama and pageantry of the situation.
Heartened by Brownie's temerity, I got up when the floor was thrown open, my heart beating like a Wagnerian kettledrum, and asked the great man what hope the radar operator had of getting some training before going into combat, since rumors had it that at least half of our bombing was to be done by radar. Hap didn't like the question and brusquely answered that he'd refer me to General Saunders ("Blondie") for that information. He might as well have said President Roosevelt for all the answer meant to me. After suitable exhortations to keep our mouths shut about our destination (we
didn't know it) and do our durndest, etc., Hap turned suddenly to our Group CO and said, "I want all these men to have seven days furlough before they leave." This created quite a stir, and the procession of generals left the room while we stood in astonishment. Our Group CO was astonished, too, since he must have had orders to have us on our way overseas within the week.

Top stories

Sample Crew Booklet

------------------

Information from our Library can be requested and will be provided in the form of a "Crew Booklet".

Joe Chovelak

Joe Chovelak, a B-29 crewman in WWII, visited Pratt Kansas this week.
Here are some photos of Joe Chovelak's Flight from Pratt Army Airfield this morning (09/23/09).

Nass

Don Nass was a CFC Gunner on a B-29 Superfortress crew in WW II. As an eighteen year old cadet, assigned to the 29th Bomb Group (Very Heavy), he was stationed at Pratt Army Air Field from September, 1944 through January, 1945.