VI BOMBER COMMAND
IN DEFENSE OF THE PANAMA CANAL
1941 - 45
Areas of Interest:
VI Bombardment Command History:
6th BGp (Heavy)
3rd BS (Heavy)
29th BS (Heavy)
74th BS (Heavy)
397th BS (Heavy)
9th BGp (Heavy)
1st BS (Heavy)
5th BS (Heavy)
99th BS (Heavy)
430th BS (Heavy)
25th BGp (Medium)
12th BS (Medium)
35th BS (Medium)
59th BS (Medium)
417th BS (Medium)
40th BGp (Heavy)
25th BS (Heavy)
44th BS (Heavy)
45th BS (Heavy)
395th BS (Heavy)
Units Attached to VI Bomber Command
10th BS (Heavy)
15th BS (Light)
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6th Bombardment Group
29th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy)
The 29th Bombardment Squadron (Medium) was activated on April 1, 1941, and, along with the newly activated Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, and the 44th and the 45th bombardment squadrons (Medium), was assigned to the newly formed 40th Bombardment Group, with duty station at Borinquen Field, Puerto Rico. The 5th Reconnaissance Squadron (Medium) (later the 395th Bombardment Squadron), an independent unit, was attached to the 40th Bomb Group on April 1, 1941, for administration only. Officer personnel were assigned to the 40th Group and its tactical units by transfer from the 25th Bombardment Group; and the enlisted personnel were transferred to the 40th from the 24th Air Base Group, 25th Bombardment Group, 27th Reconnaissance Squadron (Long Range), and from Detachment, Air Corps Unassigned (a casual Squadron made up of recruits which had been assembled at Barksdale Field, LA, for embarkation to the Puerto Rican Department).
At the time of its activation, the 29th Bombardment Squadron was located in what was known as "Tent City," which was as the name implies, a number of tents southeast of the old runway at Borinquen Field.
The 29th Bombardment Squadron, from the day of its inception, until the outbreak of war, flew routine training flights from Borinquen Field to bases located within the Continental Limits of the United States, in the lesser Antilles and the North-Eastern coast of South America, and in other areas of the Caribbean, using Douglas B-18A type aircraft.
The 29th left "Tent City" on August 27 and moved into the new barracks across the runway. The elimination of mosquitoes, dust and dirt, rain and mud made things more pleasant for all members of the Squadron.
The 29th Bombardment Squadron, upon the beginning of hostilities, immediately commenced the flying of anti-submarine patrols in B-18A type aircraft.
Organization Day, April 1, 1942, was celebrated with a gigantic Field Day in which races and contests of all kinds were held. At the final tabulation, the 45th Squadron took the winner's cup, closely pursued by the Headquarters Squadron and the 29th Bombardment Squadron.
The 40th Bombardment Group's Headquarters, Headquarters Squadron, and 29th, 44th, 45th, and 395th Bombardment Squadrons (the 395th was formerly the 5th Reconnaissance Squadron) were redesignated as heavy bombardment squadrons on May 11 by War Department Adjutant General's Office letter, Subject: "Redesignation of Air Corps Units," dated May 7, 1942.
The 40th Bombardment Group (Heavy), consisting of the Group Headquarters and its six (6) Squadrons (Hq. & Hq. Squadron, 29th Bombardment Squadron, 44th Bombardment Squadron, 45th Bombardment Squadron, 395th Bombardment Squadron, and the 485th Ordnance Company Aviation (Bomb), a total of 2,223 enlisted men and 112 officers, departed from San Juan, Puerto Rico, on June 7, and arrived in Panama on June 16, 1942. The movement was in accordance with the instructions contained in Troop Movement Orders No. 15, Headquarters, Caribbean Defense Command, May 17, 1942. The 29th Bombardment Squadron was assigned permanent station at Aguadulce, R. de P.; the 44th permanently assigned at Guatemala City, Guatemala; the 45th temporarily stationed at France Field, Canal Zone, with permanent station at David, R. de P.; and the 395th permanently stationed at Rio Hato, R. de P.
The Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, 40th Bombardment Group, was disbanded on August 8, and 53 enlisted men of the unit were reassigned to the 29th Bomb
Squadron. The 485th Ordnance Company Aviation (Bomb) was disbanded on August 10, and one officer and 30 enlisted men were assigned to the 29th.
The 25th Bombardment Squadron of the 6th Bomb Group, stationed at Salinas, Ecuador, and the 29th Bombardment Squadron, 40th Bomb Group, at Aguadulce, R. de P. , exchanged personnel, station, and designation, in accordance with Special Orders No. 66 and 67, Headquarters, VI Bomber Command, December 1 and 5, 1942, respectively.
The 29th Bombardment Squadron received its first group of replacements from the United States on December 22, under the Bomber Command's unit replacement authority. The replacement unit, designated as Squadron "X," was comprised of 320 enlisted men and 55 officers from the 61st Bombardment Squadron and other personnel of the 39th Group, formed at Davis-Monthan Field, Arizona, late in November 1942. Captain Carl M. Cramer commanded Squadron "X". This unit left Davis-Monthan Field in November 1942, and arrived at New Orleans (Camp Harahan), Louisiana, on December 2, embarked at New Orleans on December 8, and arrived at Cristobal, CZ, on December 22. Squadron "X" proceeded to Aguadulce, R. de P., its first duty station, where it replaced the personnel assigned to the 29th Bombardment Squadron, taking over the latter organization's equipment and planes, and assuming its identity as the 29th Bombardment Squadron
The personnel of the 29th Bombardment Squadron (Major Cramer's outfit), which was then assigned at Aguadulce, R. de P., replaced the personnel assigned to the 74th Bombardment Squadron at Guatemala City, C A, on January 22, taking over the "old" 74th's equipment and planes, and assuming its identity. The personnel of the "old" 74th Bombardment Squadron left Quatemala on January 25, enroute to the U.S.
Squadron "X," an entire Squadron, minus aircraft and equipment, and consisting of 56 officers and 320 enlisted men, under the command of Captain Craig M. Yengst, landed at Cristobal, Canal Zone (CZ), on February 18. Squadron "X" moved to Anton, R. de P., by truck convoy, on the day of its arrival. It was soon learned that "X" was to be known and designated as the 29th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) for the purpose of staging and orientation to the new area of operations. The flying crew members of the "new" 29th were sent to the Operational Training Unit (OTU) at Rio Hato in the latter part of February and early March for transition in LB-30's, B-17B's and E's, and B-24D's, as well as training in patrol procedures, et cetera. The subsequent four weeks were devoted to "processing."
The 29th Bombardment Squadron, formerly Squadron "X," moved by air and truck convoy to David, R. de P., on March 1. The "old" 3rd Bombardment Squadron, in the meantime, was in the process of moving from the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, to David, R. de P., to be relieved by the 29th so that it (the Third) might return to the States. The 29th Bombardment Squadron took over the name and the equipment of the 3rd Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) on March 12, thereby acquiring three ancient LB-30's, formerly used by Great Britain's Royal Air Force (RAF) in North Sea patrol, and one Piper Cub (L-4A) from the "old" 3rd.
The 3rd Bombardment Squadron, newly arrived at David from the Galapagos Islands, next moved to Anton, R. de P., and took the designation of the 29th Bombardment Squadron, under the authority contained in Special Orders No. 26, Headquarters V1 Bomber Command, March 12, 1943. The replaced unit then transferred to Davis-Monthan Field, Tucson, AZ (Troop Movement Order No. 2, Headquarters, Sixth Air Force, March 24, 1943).
The 29th Bombardment Squadron at Anton, R. de P., received its first shipment of replacement personnel from the United States under the unit replacement authority. The replacements, consisting of nine B-24 crews and their supporting ground personnel, under the command of Captain Richard W. Kline, were members of a unit formed at Davis-Monthan Field, Arizona, made up of part of the 60th Bombardment Squadron of the 39th Bombardment Group, and designated as Squadron "X." Squadron "X" departed from Davis-Monthan Field, AZ, on March 3, 1943, arriving at Camp Harahan, New Orleans, on March 6. Squadron "X" proceeded to Chaplet Slip, Jackson Barracks area, where it embarked on the U.S. Army Transport, "John Clem," on March 22. The Squadron disembarked at Colon, Canal Zone, and journeyed by motor convoy to Anton, R. de P., arriving there on or about April 3. This was a temporary move, and on April 12, the Squadron moved to an established Army Air Base at Rio Hato, R. de P., where it assumed the identity of the "old" 29th Bombardment Squadron, and occupied itself with orientation flights and organizational matters.
The 29th and the 74th Bombardment Squadrons (Heavy) were relieved from assignment to the 40th Bomb Group, and reassigned to the 6th Bombardment Group (Heavy) (General Orders No. 31, Headquarters, Sixth Air Force, May 12, 1943).
The personnel of the 29th Bombardment Squadron (Captain Kline's Squadron, formerly known as Squadron "X"), excepting three full combat crews which flew to the Galapagos Islands in B-24D's on May 13, proceeded to Balboa, Canal Zone, on May 12, where they embarked on the U.S. Army Transport, "Frederick C. Johnson," arriving at the Army Air Base on South Seymour Island, the Galapagos Archipelago, Ecuador, on May 15, to relieve the 45th Bombardment Squadron, part of the departing 40th Bomb Group The 29th Bombardment Squadron assumed the task of flying patrol duty around the western approaches to the Panama Canal. This movement was made in conformance with Secret Movement Orders No. 3, Annex "A," VI Bomber Command, Sixth Air Force.
Captain Alexander H. Carver, Jr. and his navigator, joined Captain P. A. Koening of the 45th Bombardment Squadron on May 14 for an eight-hour patrol over the Pacific. These were the first officers of the "new" 29th to act as a crew on a patrol.
The departure of the 40th Bomb Group in June 1943 for redeployment in the United States left the VI Bomber Command with only the 6th Bombardment Group which then was comprised of the 3rd at David, the 29th at Galapagos, the 74th at Guatemala City, and the 397th Bombardment Squadron at Rio Hato. The 6th Group Headquarters and the VI Bomber Command Headquarters were then pooled to form a joint headquarters.
General Orders Number 41, 43, and 47, dated June 6, 11, and 24, respectively, announced the award of the Air Medal to 14 officers and enlisted men of the 29th Bombardment Squadron for meritorious achievement while participating in long range flights over the Pacific and Caribbean approaches to the Panama Canal.
Major Harvey Hogan, a former A-20 pilot, replaced Captain Richard W. Kline as Commanding Officer of the 29th Bombardment Squadron on June 8, 1943. Captain Kline remained with the Squadron as Executive Officer, until being called into VI Bomber Command as part of the A-3 Section.
The VI Bomber Command on the evening of July 7 directed the 74th Squadron to dispatch three B-24's to Vernam Field, Jamaica, under secret orders to be explained at destination by the Naval Commander in charge. Since all of the 74th's planes, in commission, were at the "Rock," three B-24's of the 29th Bombardment Squadron under the command of Captains Don W. Bailey and Alexander H. Carver, Jr., and 1st. Lt. William R. Hansen left at 1200 GCT, July 8, for Jamaica. Because of some recent submarine disturbances in the area, the planes, in turn, were ordered to shadow the aircraft carrier "Yorktown" and its escort of three destroyers, beginning the morning of July 9. The carrier, enroute to the Canal, was first intercepted by Capt. Carver's plane that remained in the air for nine hours, until being relieved by Capt. Bailey. The three planes returned to Guatemala on Sunday, July 11.
General Orders Number 51, dated July 10, 1943, announced the award of an Air Medal to Pvt. Ernest Campion. The award to Pvt. Campion was based on his meritorious achievement while participating as radio operator in long range flights over the Pacific and Caribbean approaches to the Panama Canal from March to July 1943.
Navy Squadron V.P. 206 assumed responsibility for flying all patrols initiating from Beta (the "Rock") on July 24. Though the Navy had now undertaken full patrol coverage, the 29th Bombardment Squadron continued to frequently perform patrol missions due to maintenance problems which the Navy experienced with their overworked PBY's and PBM's. The navigation of the Navy patrols was sufficiently inaccurate on several occasions to cause several Navy aircraft to become loss. A PBY, in one instance, became lost and had to let down in water. B-24's from the 29th were sent out on a search, located the PBY, and directed a crash boat to the scene. This successful search earned the Squadron a commendation from the Base Commander and the Commanding Officer of VI Bomber Command.
The Navy was frequently ordered to the Atlantic side, during which time the 29th Bombardment Squadron flew the Navy's Pacific patrols. This occurred August 25, 1943, the 29th flying all such patrols to October 24, 1943. The 29th Bombardment Squadron again resumed the flying of from one to four patrol lanes while the Navy planes were at Coco Solo, Panama. The "loop" plan, dating back to July, was flown. The lanes were of giant triangular construction, all planes returning to the "Rock," differing from the old, well-liked Guatemala run. The average patrol covered a distance of approximately 1,100 nautical miles, and a flight time of from seven to eight hours.
General Orders 67 and 68, dated September 26 and 28, 1943, respectively, announced the award of Air Medals and/or bronze Oak-Leaf Clusters thereto to approximately 90 officers and enlisted men assigned to the 29th Bombardment Squadron. These awards were made to the recipients for meritorious achievement while participating in long range patrol flights over the Pacific and Caribbean approaches to the Panama Canal.
The first flying fatalities experienced by the 29th Bombardment Squadron occurred October 15, 1943, when B-24 "799" crashed near the crest of the highest peak on the west side of the Cocos Island while participating in the performance of a rescue mission, searching the uninhabited Cocos Island, Republic of Costa Rica, for a Navy PBY. The crash killed 1st. Lt. Lester R. Ackeberg, Pilot; 2d. Lt. Robert E. Moore, Co-Pilot; 2d. Lt. Charles J. Sweeney, Jr., Navigator; 2d. Lt. Owen W. Camp, Bombardier; TSgt. Francis X. Thanner, Jr.; SSgt. Richard E. French; Sgt. Glen F. Day; Sgt. James C. Plemmons; Sgt. Herman E. Sherdon; and Cpl. Edward A. Kostrzewa. There were no survivors.
The Headquarters, 6th Bombardment Group (Heavy), was inactivated, leaving only the headquarters of the VI Bomber Command.
On November 1, the 3rd, 29th, 74th, and 397th Bombardment Squadrons were reassigned from the 6th Bombardment Group (Heavy) and placed under the command jurisdiction of the VI Bomber Command which became responsible for the operations and training of these tactical units.
The Panama Canal Department, embracing all tactical units in the area, and various civilian defense organizations, was ordered to a full alert status, on the evening of November 15, for a planned several daylong exercise beginning November 16. The exercise was to involve the interception of a naval task force consisting of three battleships, two escort carriers, and two destroyers. The formation of all planes was planned at 16,000', at which altitude they were to proceed to Howard Field for the additional support of the B-24's just in from the Galapagos Islands, and lastly, with all planes of the VI Bomber Command in formation, to intercept and attack the naval forces. As a single strike force of B-24's, the plan was not successful mostly because of weather. From the start, with the exception of a flight of three planes led by Major Don W. Bailey, no other planes of the 29th Bombardment Squadron were able to find and enter the leader's formation, though some managed to assemble with other planes from the 3rd Bombardment Squadron, while three of the 29th's planes flew the mission individually, making single attacks on selected ships of the task force. 1st. Lt. Thomas M. Longridge, 2d. Lt. David E. Whittenberg, and 2d. Lt. Russell H. Jenkins picked up the target by radar from 30 to 70 miles away. Major Bailey's formation, with 2d. Lt. Arthur W. Luce, and 1st. Lt. Paul F. Siglin were over the area of the target at approximately 1100 GCT, without radar indication or sighting anything visually, because of rain squalls and clouds. After a fruitless two hours' chasing of rain squalls, a new position of the task force was obtained, and the planes flew towards the coordinates, locating the target by radar. The formation sighted and attacked the task force at 1340 GCT, on November 16.
A further attempt to assemble all B-24's in a night formation was made on November 17. Crews were briefed at 0100 and 0700 GCT. Major Marvin H. Ahrens, Commanding Officer of the 3rd Bombardment Squadron, leading, the first plane, took off at 0800 GCT. Weather being no better than the day before, the combined force of the two Squadrons were unable to assemble within the congested, black area surrounding Rio Hato. The mission was postponed until daylight. At 1330 GCT, an attack was made on the same task force, struck the day before, Capt. William R. Hansen leading a formation of 13 Liberators from the 29th and 3rd Bombardment Squadrons. The initial attack was of combat box stagger type, at an altitude of 1,500', just below the overcast. Fighter opposition by F4F's was encountered, which later developed into a dogfight between the Navy and Army P-39s. Following the attack, the B-24 formation divided into flights of three to select individual targets.
On November 24, 1943, in the evening, following a training exercise that was terminated because of continuing bad weather, 1st. Lt. Kenneth C. Sumnicht and his crew took off in B-24, No. 41-23932, from Rio Hato, R. de P., for antisubmarine patrol in the Caribbean Sea. A positive radar contact was obtained at 79o12" W, 11o02" N at 2310Z. Four (4) 650-pound depth charges were dropped on the first run as the submarine "crash-dived." Two more were dropped on the second run. The results were not known as darkness prevented close examination of the area, although Lt. Sumnicht and 1st. Lt. John D. Arnold reported that the enemy submarine must certainly have suffered damage. For the next few days, patrols flew all tracks of the search area without observing further enemy submarine activity. A complete report was rendered to G-2 of VI Bomber Command.
The VI Bomber Command alerted the 3rd and 29th Bombardment Squadrons in preparation to striking a naval task force consisting of two battleships and two destroyers leaving Balboa, CZ, on November 29, on a SSW course, in a simulated combat problem. The 3rd Bombardment Squadron was ordered out to search at 0800 GCT, November 30, to find the force and direct the 29th's planes to the target. As it developed, the force headed towards Cape Mala, then on a course of 270o, making the original search pattern ineffective. Three planes from the 29th, piloted by 1st. Lt. Philip H. Smith, Russell H. Jerkins, and Vernon W. Lange, took off on a new search, following the latest information from the Navy. These crews later returned, with the exception of Lt. Smith, ordered by VI B.C. to 0710N 8230W. At 1630 GCT, Lt. Smith's radar operator picked up the target, range 35 miles, bearing 10o left. The plane remained in the clouds at 1500', at a distance of 15 miles from naval ships, waiting for the air striking force to arrive. VI Bomber Command called the 29th at 1447 GCT, directing eight planes (three from the 3rd) to 0710N 8200W, then on a course of 270o. The formation, led by Major Carver, took off at 1515 GCT, on a course of 270o. At 1647 GCT, 2d. Lt. John B. Hartnett's radar operator reported a contact 15 miles distant, radar on the lead ship being inoperative. The battleship "Nevada" was attacked at 1653 GCT, position 0718N 8310W, heading 280o at 17-18 knots. The destroyers were of the "Fletcher" class. The B-24's then broke into elements, making minimum altitude attacks. No fighter interception was encountered, all planes arriving at Rio Hato at 1849 GCT.
On November 30, three planes from the 29th Bombardment Squadron piloted by 1st. Lts. Philip H. Smith, Russell H. Jenkins, and Vernon W. Lange, staged a successful mock attack against the battleship "Nevada," the largest and most well known ship in the naval force.
Soldier's Medals were awarded posthumously to 1st. Lt. Lester R. Ackeberg; 2d. Lts. Robert E. Moore, Charles J. Sweeney, Jr., and Owen W. Camp; TSgt. Francis X. Thanner, Jr.; SSgt. Richard E. French; Sgt. Glen F. Day; Sgt. James C. Plemmons; Sgt. Herman E. Sherdon; and Cpl. Edward A. Kostrzewa. These individuals were killed on October 15, 1943 in the crash of B-24 "799" while participating in the performance of a rescue mission, searching the uninhabited Cocos Island, Republic of Costa Rica, for a Navy PBY.
Thirty-three (33) officers and enlisted men departed Galapagos Islands to attend a course of instruction at the AAF School of Applied Tactics, Orlando, Florida.
A Navy PBM, on patrol #1 out of Corinto on February 6 intercepted two carriers. At 1410 GCT, the two carriers were reported at 09o30" N 90o10" W on a course of 110o at 20 knots. All Squadrons in the area were alerted at 1520 GCT by IV Bomber Command, and, following take-off orders, six B-24's took off from the "Rock" at 1640 GCT, to attack the carriers. Capt. Alexander H. Carver, Jr., acted as Squadron Leader, with 2d. Lt. Gerard M. LaVay as lead navigator, and 2d. Lt. John D. Arnold as lead bombardier (the regular personnel being at Orlando). The other five crews were those of 1st. Lt. William R. Knight, 1st. Lt. Vernon W. Lange, 1st. Lt. Robert W. Brown, 2d. Lt. Russell H. Jenkins, and 1st. Lt. Clifford E. Glassmeyer. The six planes climbed through the overcast to 10,000 feet, where conditions were generally good, with the exception of scattered towering cumulus clouds. The flight of planes, giving a 30-mile lead to the two carriers, turned up their track, and at 2057 GCT made a head-on attack on both vessels. Navigationally speaking, it was a perfect day, the weather being unusually clear, affording many "sun-shots," which made possible the immediate, pin-point interception of the carriers, after traveling approximately 700 nautical miles over water. After several additional attacks, the flight returned to David, landing at 2330 GCT. The Squadron returned to the Galapagos the following morning.
Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the wife of the President, arrived at Rio Hato Army Air Base on March 31. She ate lunch in the enlisted men's Mess Hall, and attended an informal reception in her honor held on the evening of her arrival at the Officers Club. The next morning she had breakfast in Mess Hall # l.
A tanker enroute to the Galapagos Islands on March 21 and at a point about 60 miles east of San Cristobal Island, radioed the Galapagos Air Base requesting emergency aid because of the sudden illness of one of the tanker's crew members. The crash boat was sent out to intercept the tanker, take the sick crewmember aboard, and return immediately to Galapagos AB. At 1700, the crash boat reached a point about 40 miles from the probable position of the tanker. Captain Walter H. Hunt, Flight Commander of the 29th Squadron and pilot of the B-24 designated to aid in the rescue of the seaman, took off at 1700 to guide the boat to the tanker. After finding the crash boat, Captain Hunt flew the same course that it was sailing, until he picked up the tanker by radar. He circled the tanker, and headed back to the crash boat, directing them to take up another heading. The crash boat immediately changed heading and proceeded towards the tanker. Captain Hunt then flew back to the tanker, and after many attempts, got the tanker to change its course so that it would be headed towards the crash boat. When the sick crewman had been taken aboard, and the crash boat under way for the Galapagos, Captain Hunt and his crew returned to base.
Movement of all heavy bombardment squadrons within the VI Bomber Command was directed in April 1944. The 29th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) relocated from the Galapagos Islands to Howard Field, Canal Zone. The 29th's Air Echelon plus key personnel, beginning April 10, were ferried to Howard in B-24 Liberators from the 29th and 397th Bombardment Squadrons. Captain William D. Wilkinson was in charge of the advanced party that had left the Galapagos by air several days earlier. 1st. Lt. Theodore V. Gradeck, transport commander, four officers, and approximately 180 enlisted men sailed by boat the same week. By Sunday, April 16, the entire Squadron had moved to Howard Field.
Major Ford, stationed at Howard Field, took off in an L-l for Cape Mala on April 17 to arrange for the payment of some of the personnel at remote sites. By late that afternoon, Major Ford had not been heard from, and three of the 29th's B-24's initiated a search covering the entire area south and west of Cape Mala with no success in locating the aircraft. The visibility was near zero. The following day, April 18, three more B-24's from the Squadron searched further, this time to the south and east of Cape Mala with negative results. It turned out that Major Ford, with one passenger, was rescued by a boat shortly after a forced landing and taken to Nicaragua.
B-24's from the 74th, 3rd, and 29th Bombardment Squadrons participated in an Air Force Tactical Demonstration a mile off-shore of the Rio Hato Air Base on the morning of April 18. The heavy bombers assembled in formation over Rey Island, climbed to an altitude of 5,000', maximum ceiling at the time, towards Chame Point, and attacked their objective, a floating barge, at exactly 1506 GCT, within the scheduled time. The planes were divided into two squadrons. Colonel Roberts, the Commanding Officer, VI Bomber Command, led the first formation, which dropped their 500-pound demolition bombs in the area of the float, followed a minute later by the second group of B-24's, under command of Lt. Col. Harvey Hogan. Both squadrons covered the target completely with their bomb bursts. Watching the show from the shore of Rio Hato were Panama's President, General Brett, General Harding, General Christy, General Wooten, and other notables. The "Panama-American," a Panamanian daily newspaper, declared the assault by the "heavies" as the "most spectacular" of the show which also featured the dropping of heavy depth charges by a Squadron of B-25's from low level, and a dive-bombing of assigned targets by P-40's.
All available B-24's assembled at Rio Hato on April 27 to participate in a mission that was to stage a surprise attack on the locks of the Panama Canal the following morning. Flights of two and three planes were assigned various tracks. The aircraft approaching the locks from different directions with altitudes between 6,000 and 9,000 feet enhanced an element of surprise. Despite a 9/lOth-cloud cover over the locks and the Gatun Spillway, the mission was considered successful, though dangerous because of the poor flying conditions.
The Legion of Merit was awarded to TSgt. Elroy W. Arnold on April 29 for exceptional meritorious conduct in performance of his duties as Radar Operator and Technician on duty with the Squadron while patrolling the approaches to the Canal Zone. Sergeant Arnold distinguished himself by "developing and improving upon the methods of aircraft radar installations. These improvements resulted in greatly increased effectiveness of operation of aircraft radar units and in extending their value as navigational aids for extended over-water flights."
The 29th Bombardment Squadron temporarily took over for the 20th Troop Carrier Squadron in the transportation of freight, mail, and passengers to all outlying bases in the Caribbean Area, bringing Squadron training to a stand still. The schedule ceased on May 10, began again and continued until May 21. B-24's from the 29th stopped at bases in San Juan, Arabia, Curacao, Managua, San Jose, Guatemala City, Salinas, Tulara, and the Galapagos Islands.
Fifty-six (56) enlisted men were transferred from the 29th Bombardment Squadron on or about June 11 to project #MKG, the nature of the project being unspecified, and were directed to report to the Liaison Officer, AAF Redistribution Center, for further instructions and orders
Fifty-five (55) enlisted men were assigned to the 29th Bombardment Squadron by Special Orders No. 37 and 38, dated June 19 and 20, 1944.
The S-3 report for June stated, "Our combat crew training has been more diversified during the past period, an effort being made to train the crews in all phases with which they are required to be familiar. The combat crews have spent three weeks flying patrols between San Jose, Guatemala and the Galapagos Islands."
B-24's from the 74th, 3rd, and 29th Bombardment Squadrons made simulated attacks on the Canal on two occasions. One of these flights, because of the weather, was flown at an altitude of 6,000'. The last attack, on June 7, came closer to actual combat conditions. B-24's from the squadrons assembled over Rio Hato climbed on course to David to an altitude of 20,000'. From there, all planes, in formation, crossed the Isthmus to the Atlantic side, and through a 9/lOth cloud cover, struck the Gatun Locks and the Madden Dam.
Twenty (20) enlisted men were transferred to the 29th Squadron by Special Orders No. 47, July 17, 1944.
The arrival of submarines in the Caribbean area and the subsequent torpedoing of three ships resulted in the alerting of the 29th Bombardment Squadron at 0900 GCT, on July 5. The same morning, anti-submarine patrols were flown by the 74th, 3rd, and 29th Squadrons from France Field, under the operational control of Fleet Air Wing 3. Numerous disappearing radar contacts were encountered, giving proof to the theory that several submarines were covering the area, from 400 to within 1,090 miles of the Canal. On July 11, a ship heading for the Canal sighted an enemy submarine. The Navy flew patrols around the "hot spots" the remainder of the day and throughout the evening. Army B-24's continued the surveillance the following day, July 12, without success. One of the two disappearing contacts was thought to be the U-boat seen the previous day, though no further sightings occurred.
On July 9, six B-24 Liberators were dispatched to Vernam Field, Jamaica, under orders from Sixth Air Force, to continue anti-submarine operations. Eight B-24's continued to patrol from Howard Field, CZ; four from Curacao, N.W.I.; and two from France Field, CZ. The patrols, with slight variations, were flown daily, until the bombers completed the anti-submarine missions on July 17. At that time, the bombers were released from the operational control of FAW-3, and reverted to normal operations under the control of the Sixth Air Force.
The 74th, 3rd, and 29th Bombardment Squadrons were ordered on July 21 to prepare for a simulated attack on a friendly escort carrier, the HMS "Thane," enroute from San Francisco to Balboa. The Navy had intercepted the carrier on July 21 while patrolling the Pacific approaches to the Panama Canal. B-24 Liberators from the 3rd and 29th Squadrons took off from Howard Field at 1100, July 22, assembled over Rio Hato at 5,000', and were joined by aircraft of the 74th Bombardment Squadron Radar contact was made with the carrier at approximately 1330, and the B-24's let down to an altitude of 3,700', attacking the "Thane" at 1348. The Liberators, following the successful attack, returned to the Isthmus, landing by 1700.
1st. Lt. William R. Hansen and his crew left the Galapagos, Islands, for San Antonio, Texas, on August 25, to have the latest and most up to date radar equipment installed in the aircraft. The average time for this installation was about 30 days, and all 29th aircraft were to be similarly equipped by January 1945.
On or about August 28, 1944, the 29th Bombardment Squadron was relieved of assignment at the U. S. Army Air Base, Howard Field- Fort Kobbe, CZ, and transferred to the USAAB, Rio Hato, R. de P. Organization airplanes, motor vehicles and vehicles furnished by the VI Air Force Service Command, made the move.
Twenty (20) new combat crews arrived from the United States in October, and five of these crews were assigned to the 29th Squadron.
The 29th Bombardment Squadron was fully alerted at 2020 GCT, on November 22 in preparation to striking a naval force in a simulated combat problem. Five B-24's from the 29th, under Major Harvey Hogan, intercepted the carrier at 2o30" S and 82o 10" W on a course of 360o at 15 knots. The B-24's landed at Salinas, Ecuador, the same evening, most of the mission being a night formation flight. 1st. Lt. Roy H. Crow. Squadron Navigator led the flight throughout the three-day period. The five B-24's under Major Hogan spent November 23 making simulated bombing runs on various ships in the group of Navy vessels.
The 29th Bombardment Squadron was temporarily relieved from assignment at Rio Hato, R. de P., on or about December 8, 1944, when the Rio Hato runway had become unserviceable, and was transferred to Howard Field, CZ. The move was accomplished by the end of the day on December 9, using organizational airplanes augmented by 20th Troop Carrier airplanes and Base motor vehicles. A small care-taking staff was left to guard and maintain squadron property that had been left behind.
The 29th and 3rd Bombardment Squadrons engaged in a command post exercise (CPX) mission on January 22, with the 3rd Bombardment Squadron in the lead. Radar of the lead plane was inoperative, and a plane from the 29th established visual contact with the aircraft carrier "Shangri-La." The formation completed its bomb run without interception from carrier planes. Vertical photographs of the "Shangri La" and its escort were taken.
The 29th Bombardment Squadron returned from temporary station at Howard Field, CZ, to its permanent station at Rio Hato, R. de P., on January 27, 1945, after the runway at Rio Hato had been repaired. Although the Rio Hato runway was usable, the repair work, still continuing, necessitated closing the field every Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.
Major Don W. Bailey resumed command of the Squadron on January 27, after completing temporary duty in the United States.
The Navy resumed patrol coverage on February 4.
Eight officers and twelve enlisted combat crew members returned to the United States on February 6, under the Sixth Air Force's replacement policy that provided for the rotation of rated air crew personnel to the United States upon completion of 24 months service in the Panama Canal Department. The rotated personnel were replaced on February 6 by eight officers and seven enlisted men from the 3rd Bombardment Squadron.
The 29th Bombardment Squadron was relieved from assignment at US Army Air Base, Rio Hato, R. de P., and transferred to U.S. Army Air Base, Seymour Island, Galapagos Archipelago, Ecuador. An advance party of two officers and 20 enlisted men departed from Rio Hato AAB on April 26. Following the departure of the advance party, 49 officers and 94 enlisted men left Rio Hato at 0700 hours in 12 B-24J's and L's, and arrived at South Seymour Island at 1300 hours on April 30. Five officers and 156 enlisted men left Balboa by ship for Seymour Island, also on April 30, the ship arriving at the Island on May 3. The morale of Squadron personnel was poor after the move because approximately half of the personnel had previously served eleven months on the Galapagos Islands.
The 45th and 59th bombardment squadrons (Heavy) which returned to the Unites States with the 40th Bombardment Group in June 1943, and the 29th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy) were accorded battle participation credit for antisubmarine operations. The 29th Squadron received its credit for the attack made on a surfaced submarine by an aircraft piloted by 1st. Lt. Kenneth C. Sumnicht on November 24, 1943. 29th Bombardment Squadron personnel who were members of the unit on November 24, 1943, the date of the attack made on a surfaced submarine by Lt. Sumnicht and crew, became entitled to wear a bronze service star on their American Theater Ribbon.
Lt. Col. Don W. Bailey was transferred out of the 29th Bombardment Squadron on May 8. Major Paul J. Quinn, formerly assigned to the 3rd Bombardment Squadron, assumed command on that date.
The second occurrence of 29th flying fatalities was experienced on May 21 when B-24L, #44-41641, crashed in the area of San Cristobal Island. Killed in the crash were 1st. Lt. Carl P. Haugen, Pilot; 2d. Lt. Emerson Riffo, Co-Pilot; 2d. Lt. Theodore J. Stanford, Navigator; SSgt. Raymond P. Olson; Cpl. Charles F. Glass