By Mary Wilson
The Trailside Center, as part of their World War II Living History Series, invited Rich Grossman, a B29 Flight Engineer, to speak on the B29 bombing missions he was involved in over Japan. February 19 marked the 68th anniversary of the Iwo Jima invasion in which 6,700 Marines lost their lives.
Grossman flew 29 missions as a Flight Engineer on B29s. “I was a lucky guy in the draft in 1940 in the start of preparing the United States to get into war,” said Grossman.
In July of 1931, he received a low draft number and was sent to the Air Force. He spent three years working his way to be Assistant Line Chief.
“I saw that there were new airplanes going,” said Grossman. “The largest bomber in the world, it was the B29. In 1942, they flew the first test. From then on, they needed eleven men on the crew so they set up training schools. I kept bugging the Commanding Officer to send me to the Flight Engineering School.”
Every time the Commanding Officer and Grossman would cross paths, Grossman would ask to be sent to the Flight Engineering School. After three or four weeks of urging, it paid off.
“Finally he said, oh hell,” said Grossman, “if you want to go I’ll sign your orders. That’s how I got to get into Denver for two and a half months.”
In the school in Denver, Grossman received training for flight engineering. If he couldn’t make it in two months, they would send him through it again. In two months, he was where he needed to be. He was then shipped to New Mexico for coordination training with a crew. At the end of that training, he went to Kansas to pick up a brand new airplane, the B29, from the Boeing factory in Wichita.
“We didn’t see this airplane,” said Grossman. “We did all of our crew training in B17s and B24s. We then shipped out for India.”
Grossman and his crew were a replacement crew after the first B29 crews arrived in India in June. He arrived around Thanksgiving.
“From June to the time we left at the end of January from India, they had flown quite a few missions,” said Grossman.
Grossman and his crew were ordered to go to the flight crew after too many losses.
“Our first trip from India to China to haul gasoline and bombs,” said Grossman, “there was fog. We didn’t know when that fog was going to come in, which knocked out our navigators. We had to calculate. Our computer was an engineer’s slide rule called a slipstick.”
Grossman had a log to keep every minute of gasoline usage. When they arrived back, Grossman said only five minutes of gasoline was left in the plane.
Grossman’s crew was in on a massive bombing raid on May 14. Four airstrips were used for takeoff, and B29s took off every minute. According to Grossman, it was about four hours and twenty minutes before each plane took off.
“We took off about thirty minutes after it all started,” said Grossman. “Our runway was number two, and on runway one, right before us, the plane burst into flames. There was one lost right there, and the crew lost. When it was our time, away we went.”
Orders were received three days before that the engineers and tail gunners were not needed because they were to bomb Tokyo at 7,000 feet. The tail gunner and Grossman spent time practicing with aluminum confetti in order to get the timing just right to release the bombs at 8-seconds apart.
On the bombing run, four corners of Tokyo were set with fires for the bombers to see where they were to go. Because of the continuous bombings, Tokyo was unable to counter the attack.
“Our crew lead three airplanes,” said Grossman. “Every time a shell exploded, the concussion of that thing shook the planes. Trying to configure the gasoline, with the movement, it kept is going and we got through.”
While in India, after the missions, Grossman received a Christmas card from a lady. He told his crew if he lived through the war, when he got home he would see her. Grossman and his wife, Yvonne, have been married for 67 years.