|Bomber Box - In part developed by General Curtis LeMay|
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
15th Air Force - Moving Boxes
21 November 1946
Jonesy was a tail gunner in the Ypsilanti Queen B-24 bomber that was the tail end Charlie of the first box of 12 Squadron in the 7th raid on Baku. Over the last month, three raids had been sent with sorties of 500 or more bombers on each. The one raid where the planners pushed the envelope went through the deepest defended route. It was the fastest and most direct route and that is why it had the most flack batteries and missile installations. Their theory was the least amount of time you spent over enemy the fewer the losses. The planners’ theory was wrong.
The mission leader himself was lost along with 15% of the raid. It was the most devastating loss the Air Force had ever experienced in a single raid. 612 bombers entered enemy airspace and 522 returned to base. 99 crews and their planes were lost. Over 900 casualties were incurred. The next mission they tried something new, they had to.
The squadrons who had been practicing “Moving Boxes” were allowed to move their bomber box. Moving the box required an extreme amount of coordination and practice to prevent chaos during the maneuver. This simultaneous turning movement of a whole squadron was nicknamed the “Wiley Coyote.”
The first five bomber boxes in this raid had all worked together before. The box that a missile was directed at was allowed to turn to port at the appropriate moment. The timing had to be precise and the choreographing well-rehearsed, to make it work.
The thought was that the Stalin’s Fire Missile was fairly easy to out maneuver if you were allowed to do so. Even a B-24 could prevent being hit if a hard turn and dive were performed. The fighters and medium bombers were doing it all the time and until today the Heavies had not been allowed to break formation. For the first time, the Heavies were to execute the new maneuver in squadron-sized formations.
The 15th had taken over the brunt of the sorties against the oil fields of the USSR. SAC was worn out and in desperate need of planes and personnel. LeMay had rolled the dice and lost. His men could not keep up with his ego and the B-29s were getting shot down faster than they could be made.
In the previous war, LeMay was a real advocate of change and of innovation. He had had a number of war winning ideas to his credit. He could rightfully take credit for the bombers’ box formation. There was a significant reduction in losses over Europe once the innovation was in place. Similarly, he recognized the Norden bombsight was of no use over Japan. The fast-moving river of air dissipated the bombs and accuracy was limited. LeMay’s brilliant and lucky response was to fly below this fast moving current of wind, striped the bombers of all their defensive guns and gunners. He had them pack the planes full of incendiaries. It had worked. Most raids of this type, killed more Japanese civilians than the atomic bombs.
For whatever reason, LeMay could not grasp that his current methods were not and would not work against the combination of flack, fighter planes, air to air missiles and surface to air missiles. He was locked into a mindset that did not let him admit defeat or let him change tactics. Consequently SAC’s losses had caused the Joint Chiefs to halt all operations and to turn it over to the 15th.
General Twining was in his element and operations were going smoothly as possible. The losses were unacceptable but within expectations. On this mission they were going to boost morale. The special Wiley Coyote squadrons were going to lead the way. They were to use their highly practiced maneuvering scheme to try and mitigate the Soviet SAM missiles. They were going to make the God Damn SAMs miss.
The moniker SAM had just recently caught on. It stood for Surface to Air Missile and was easy to say and remember. So SAM it was from this point forward. The Soviets would still call the missiles Stalin’s Fire but NATO called them SAMs.
The missiles fired from the Soviet medium bombers were given the name AAM for Air to Air Missile. Whatever their names, the various missiles were still very good at creating huge holes in the bombers’ combat boxes where the Soviet fighters could slip through for easier kills. In addition, the missiles were targeting the lead bombers and taking out the most experienced crews, adding to the demoralization of the units.
Jonesy had a ringside seat to the action behind him and he was an integral part in the formation flying they were about to engage in. The oil fields at Baku were spread out and dispersed after the initial raids. As Soviet repairs were completed, redundancy and camouflage were incorporated. It was very hard for the recon flights to discern what was wreckage and what was new construction made to look like wreckage. Some say that it was by accident and Soviet workmanship that the sites looked destroyed when others knew it was by design.
The Soviet repairs meant that the time for precision bombing was over. The fact that there might be gaping holes in the bomber stream didn’t matter. These holes would continue to be created periodically by squadrons doing a Wiley Coyote maneuver of turning as a squadron to make the missiles miss. The chances were that the area not bombed was vital. But then again, it might not.
The Soviet SAMs and AAMs had made Carpet Bombing a thing of the past. The missiles wreaked havoc in the tight formations needed to accomplish such a bombing mission. Huge holes would have been torn in the formation. Holes that had previously been filled by men and machine. Holes that would for a split second be made of bones, flesh, blood and metal after the missile’s warhead exploded. Then the pieces of a once beautiful airplane would combine with pieces of sons, brothers and fathers slowly falling to the ground.
Jonesy was still awed by the sight of the whole squadron quickly veering to port. Also, he was amazed at the skill of the pilots in avoiding each other while still remaining in formation. It was a wonderful display of skill. The commander had called out SAM launch and everyone had waited to see who would be the target. They had not tried to out maneuver the AAMs sent their way. The escorting P-51 and P-38s were doing a fair job of keeping the medium bombers from launching properly so there were numerous loose AAM missiles seeking targets. Jonesy had actually seen one slam into a Soviet bomber that was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
This time it was for real and this time it would hopefully save a life or two. As they approached Baku, the skipper was the first to report SAM! Jonesy couldn’t see it from his rear facing position but he could feel the ship get a little tenser.
Something happened to catch his eye off to the West. It was another SAM and he dutifully called it out. He had beat Williams in number three that time. They had a running tally going on and this was his and his alone. Williams was up by three until this one. You didn’t get many chances from the tail position to call a SAM out.
The Soviets must be altering their tactics as well. He heard the Skipper say a quick “oh shit’ and knew that they were the target of the first launch. They had already fought their way through a gauntlet of AAM thrown at them by a bunch of Bats the Lightnings had seemed to have over looked. Out of twenty missiles fired three had hit, far too many. The P-38s had got a measure of revenge by shooting down 2 Bats that he could see. They were unusually aggressive for this early in the bomb run. Must be some kind of ultimatum going on in the Commie world. He didn’t care as long as they were easier to shoot down.
He himself had gotten two of those radial jobs, the La7. It looked a lot like the FW190 and just as deadly. The guy must have been stunned by a near miss because he just showed up not 150 ft. behind the Ypsilanti Queen. It was an easy shot. The La7 blew up quite spectacularly as a tracer must have hit some misting fuel. It happened two sorties ago and was still fresh in his memory. He could have sworn that he saw the upper torso and head of the Commie go spinning to the ground. Maybe he was trying to get out of the fighter that was going down from previous damage when Jonesy had hit him.
Another violent shutter brought him back to the moment. His headphone crackled…
“Five, four, three, two, one GO!”
He heard the skipper yell.
The Ypsilanti Queen shuttered as it dove and turned for all its worth to the left. The other planes followed in a precise move that was incredible to watch. Then, he saw it…this was his part of the drama. It was his moment to contribute.
“She missed Skip…SHE MISSED! He shouted as he caught sight of the missile straining to turn with his ship. It flew right past about 300 feet. Thank god the Reds had not figured out a way for the missile to change targets in mid flight. They seemed hell bent on the destruction of just one bomber at a time and didn’t switch course once they honed in on a target. Then they would straighten out and go for another few kilometers and then explode. Probably some kind of failsafe mechanism he had heard an Egghead say.
A few seconds after he made his pronouncement, the Skipper counted down again and pushed the engines to max as they climbed to regain formation. He watched some circling fighters warily but none seemed interested in attacking their seemingly lost Box. Jonesy guessed they were waiting for Ypsilanti Queen to get separated further from the stream. When she didn’t it was too late for them to pounce. He figured the fighters were somewhat stunned by the squadron’s maneuver but would probably adapt soon enough in this war of move and counter move.
It seems like when one side or the other gets the upper hand, the other figures out a way to gain it back in spades. Take for example the atomic bomb. Rumor has it that it was sabotage that stopped the program but then we used our last 4 bombs. They should have been the knockout punch, but true to form the Soviets came right back with their air defense systems. They had started to use modified VT fuse on us now! It was kind of hit and miss so they weren’t as deadly to us as ours were to the Japs but they were still far too accurate for anyone’s liking.
And there they were right back in formation with the whole maneuver taking about 15 minutes. Not too shabby in combat conditions. He spotted three other squadrons doing the Wiley Coyote maneuver as well. One got caught though. He guessed from the aftermath and smoke trail of the missile that the leader had turned too soon. Easy to do considering what was coming at you. If you turned too soon the missile had time to turn with you and WHAM (as they say in the comics) your dead. It looked like two bombers went down with that hit. He had heard at a demonstration of the Wiley Coyote maneuver back at the base that you had to be within a three second window to make the turn fast enough yet not too soon. No wonder those guys had misjudged.
They dropped their bombs and lost another dozen or so of their number to missiles and fighters on their way home. The Ruskies followed them all the way back it seemed. The fighters had their hands full for almost the whole flight with the Reds launching as soon as they could and following us back as far as they dared.
He was just starting to relax when one of those little jets snuck up from below and caught him day dreaming. A small movement caught his attention. The ball gunner had completely missed the little bugger as it rose from nowhere to suddenly be on their tail. The jet was lining up on Jonesy’s nose with its 30 mm cannon. The Stalin’s Dart fired first but Jonesy was more accurate and the little plane exploded as the last of its 30 mm cannon rounds took off Jonesy’s left ear, and the right leg of the left waist gunner named Cooper. Miraculously the round did not explode and must have been one of the tracer rounds. Otherwise, they would have been cut in half as well.
Bleeding like a chicken with its head cut off, he screamed, into the intercom for help and to see if the rest of the plane was still in one piece. The Skipper replied calmly, that all was well, and Michaels would be back to help him soon. In the meantime, he should stop the bleeding. Jonesy was able to calm down and found the first aid kit. He was trying to tie a bandage to his head when Michaels showed up covered in blood. Jonesy thought he was hit but Michaels assured him that it was blood from Cooper.
His ear was shot clean off and was still in one piece, so Michaels decided to keep it cold and see if they could sew it back on. That really did the trick and Jonesy got his act together, insisting that he could still man the tail gun. That action won him the Silver Star among other things including his wife who he met on a War Bond Tour nine months later, complete with his ear sewn back on. Reunited as it were with a piece of himself. His wife was movie star gorgeous and a business woman as well, but we’ll continue their story later.