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Development of the Boeing B-29

B-29 production line. (U.S. Air Force photo)

B-29 production line. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Airfield engineers often began airfield repair or construction before an area had been cleared of enemy snipers. This airfield is already in use by B-29s before construction is completed. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Airfield engineers often began airfield repair or construction before an area had been cleared of enemy snipers. This airfield is already in use by B-29s before construction is completed. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Development of the Boeing Superfortress "very heavy bomber" began late in 1939, and the first XB-29 made its initial flight on Sept. 21, 1942. In a bold wartime gamble, the AAF ordered the plane into quantity production months before that first flight. Among the B-29's new features were pressurized crew compartments and a central fire-control system with remotely controlled gun turrets. Flying combat missions first from India and China and later from the Marianas Islands, the Superfortress repeatedly demonstrated its capability for carrying bomb loads of up to 20,000 pounds against targets as far away as 1,500 miles from its base.

In the spring of 1944, B-29s of the 20th Bomber Command were deployed to bases in India to bomb from there and from staging fields in China to bolster Chinese resistance. The first mission was flown on June 5, 1944, against Bangkok, Thailand, and on June 15, B-29s flew their first raid against Japan, striking the steel mills of Yawata. Indian-based B-29s flew most of their raids against targets outside the Japanese home islands but in the spring of 1945 moved to Tinian to reinforce the 21st Bomber Command B-29 fleet in the Marianas for the final air assault against Japan. The total number of B-29 missions flown from the Asian mainland was limited since the bombers had to haul much of their own fuel and bombs to the forward bases in China; however, these missions did provide valuable operational experience, which proved useful in later B-29 operations.

Late in 1944, B-29s began operating from airstrips in the Marianas. The first raid (Oct. 28, 1944) was a 14-plane "shake down" mission against the island of Truk, followed by five more "training" missions. On Nov. 24, after an 8-day delay due to bad weather, Marianas-based B-29s flew their first mission against the Japanese home islands when 88 unescorted planes bombed Tokyo. Only one B-29 was lost in combat during this inaugural mission; it went down after being rammed by an enemy fighter.

For the next three months, the AAF slowly increased its strategic bombing campaign against Japan, striking primarily at aircraft factories in high-altitude daylight raids. Due to high winds and clouds frequently encountered over Japan, accuracy was poor and the precision bombing campaign was not achieving the desired results.

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Boeing B-29 Superfortress
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