Hog Wild, B-29, Superfortress, Saipan

The Hog Wild Story: Memories from those who were there.

By Terry R. Rainey

    In the May issue of the Cold War Times, Streifer and Sabitov made a very clear hypothesis concerning the August 29, 1945 mission of the Hog Wild, a B-29 heavy bomber piloted by my father Robert S. Rainey. The authors claim that the crew and observers on the ill-fated flight were on a covert reconnaissance mission over northern Korea in search of evidence associated with a war-time Japanese program to develop chemical and nuclear weapons. In fact it is my belief that one or a combination of factors, other than collecting intelligence data, was responsible for the downing of the Hog Wild. My case for this supposition rests on evidence from official Army Air Forces depositions authored by the flight crew and ground crew/observers shortly after their return to Saipan in 1945, with the exception of tail gunner Richard Turner; my father’s library of personal correspondence with crew members, observers and POWs in the Konan Camp during the sixty years following the event; and 2003 interview data from my father.

    The Hog Wild was a B-29 heavy bomber housed in the 882nd Bomber Squadron, 500th Bomber Group, 73rd Bomber Wing of the 20th Air Force. The flight crew and aircraft were based on the island of Saipan. Two weeks after the Hog Wild had flown its last combat mission over Osaka, Japan, the flight crew was sitting in briefing meetings for a mercy or humanitarian mission to the Konan POW Camp, where British and Australian prisoners of war were located, outside of the port city of Hamhung in northeast Korea. According to radar operator Doug Arthur (1945), navigator Gene Harwood (1945) and squadron flight engineer Robert Campbell (1945), the aircraft took off for Iwo Jima at 3 am on the morning of August 29 with ten of the eleven members of the fight crew (Left gunner Cliff McGee did not fly.) and three observers, who were actually members of the ground crew (R. Rainey, personal communication, September 20, 2003).

    Following a two-hour layover (Campbell, 1945; Harwood, 1945), the aircraft crew and observers headed north from Iwo Jima toward their Korean destination. After arriving over the site where the crew believed the POW camp was located, they had trouble finding it. Squadron Engineering Officer John Grant (1945) claimed the crew was made aware of the camp’s coordinates in the mission briefing. Aircraft Commander Joe Queen (1945) lamented that the briefing officials had not informed the crew about what the camp looked like, much less whether the area had been occupied by the Russians. Seemingly gathering and analyzing new information as they sought to locate the target for the mercy drop, bombardier Marion Sherrill (1985) noted that while searching for the Konan Camp “…we saw a Russian flag over a carbide factory and assumed the Russians had occupied Korea” (p. 123).

    Harwood (1945) and Queen (1945) indicated that a visual sighting of the Korean city of Hamhung was made around 1430 hours. However, due to what appears to be the lack of meaningful information among the flight crew concerning the whereabouts of the camp, which turned out to be the curse of ten other humanitarian missions in post-war Asia (Headquarters Twentieth Air Force APO 234, n.d.), two circles were flown over the area in a vain attempt to locate it (Sherrill, 1945). From the ground Australian POW Richard Heatherill (1945) reported that the Hog Wild was sited over the Konan camp at least two hours after two other super fortresses (A. Kerr, personal correspondence, October 10, 1993) had occupied the same air space. These facts were also confirmed by ring gunner Joseph Rinaldo (1945) in his post-event deposition.

    While searching for the camp, Rinaldo (1945) reported two Yak fighters “appeared at nine o’clock” (p. 69). Pilot Bob Rainey (1945), flight engineer Jesse Owens (1945), Arthur (1945), Campbell (1945), Grant (1945), Harwood (1945), Owens (1945) and Sherrill (1945) thought the Russian pilots were wanting to lead the aircraft to the POW camp. On the contrary Queen (1945) felt the message was for the Hog Wild to land. Indeed, the crew and observers were led to a small airdrome outside of Hamhung. At this juncture two more Yak fighters joined Yak #60 and Yak #65 and the Hog Wild over the airstrip. After surveying the landing site, which Queen (1945) determined was too short to land safely, the aircraft commander ordered the flight crew to continue its search for the camp (Campbell, 1945; Rainey, 1945). Arthur (1945), Grant (1945) and squadron gunnery officer Weeks (1945) recalled this decision irritated the Yak #65 pilot, who angrily rolled back his canopy cover and shook his fist and gestured for the aircraft to land. The action escalated a short time later when a few rounds of 20 mm shells (Owens, 1945) were fired across the nose of the super fortress, as reported by left blister gunner Cyril Bernacki (1945), Grant (1945), Harwood (1945), Rianaldo (1945) and Sherrill (1945). Arthur (1945) and Weeks (1945) believe the burst came from the pilot in Yak #65, who Lednicer (2005) has identified by the name Zizevskii.

    At this point Campbell (1945) commented that Queen had three choices: land, fight or vacate the area. Pre-flight orders informed the flight crew that they were not to land (Queen, 1945; Rainey, 1945) and since Queen issued the order not to return fire (Weeks, 1945), the aircraft commander ordered the mission aborted, which more than likely would entail dumping its mercy pay load in the sea, as the B-29 headed back to Iwo Jima for a refueling stop before flying the final leg to Saipan (Campbell, 1945).

    Ten to twenty miles out over the Sea of Japan (Arthur, 1945; Campbell, 1945; Harwood, 1945; Owens, 1945; Queen,, 1945; Weeks, 1945), the pilot in Yak #65 fired on the number one engine of the Hog Wild (Harwood, 1945; Owens, 1945; Queen, 1945; Rainey, 1945; Rinaldo, 1945; Sherrill, 1945; Weeks, 1945). The attack either disabled the number two engine (Rainey, 2000) or it was shut down as a precautionary response by the aircraft commander (Sherrill, 1985). Fearing the aircraft would explode (Campbell, 1945; Harwood, 1945; Queen, 1945), Queen (1945) ordered the aircraft back to the airstrip outside of Hamhung and gave the order to bail out. Arthur, Campbell, Harwood, Owens, Sherrill and Weeks parachuted from the aircraft, but radio operator Arthur Stilky, Rinaldo, Bernacki, Turner and Grant rode the Hog Wild down with the aircraft commander and pilot, after it was determined that the B-29 had lost too much altitude and air speed to make their exit a safe procedure (R. Rainey, personal correspondence, October 25, 2003). In a letter to Grant, Rainey (personal correspondence, November 21, 1993) wrote, “I well remember it took Joe [Queen] and I on the controls to get the aircraft back to land.” In a letter to Sherrill, Bernacki (personal correspondence, January 2, 1991) commented, “If it weren’t for (Joe Queen) and Bob [Rainey] we may not have made it.”

    Bobbing around in the rough and frigid Sea of Japan from forty-five minutes to four hours before being safely rescued from the frigid water by Korean fisherman (Campbell, 1945; Harwood, 1945; Weeks, 1945; Sherrill, 1945), Harwood (1945) writes that the six who jumped from the aircraft were tired and near hypothermia. In fact Arthur doubtless suffered the most harrowing experience as he was strafed by cannon and machine gun fire from Yak #65 shortly after hitting the water for his four-hour experience (Arthur, 1945; Harwood, 1945; Weeks, 1945).

    After quickly exiting the burning aircraft, and being frisked for weapons by Russian soldiers (Bernacki, 1945; Grant, 1945; Queen, 1945; Rainey, 1945; Rianaldo; 1945; Strilky, 1945), the group was escorted to “a small room in a building on the field” (Rainey, 1945, p. 59). Grant (1945) noted that while waiting for two hours for an interpreter, Bernacki was able to communicate using broken Russian and as a result “was a real help to us in tight spots” (p. 81). On a lighter note, Campbell, in a letter dated October 17, 1985, reminded Rainey about the time the Hog Wild pilot tried to explain his civilian job to “…some ‘knuckle’ headed Russians.” Campbell reminded him that while in the room, “You were having a ‘hell of a time’ getting across (sic) that you were a farmer, finally one of the officers hit on the idea, ‘Oh, a Peasant!’”

    During the thirty-minute interrogation, a rather testy exchange was had between Queen and the Russians, who scoffed at him for claiming the airstrip was not long enough to safely land (Grant, 1945; Rinaldo, 1945). Queen (1945) requested permission for the crew and observers to go back to their downed B-29, and he asked permission to make contact with Saipan. With a Russian escort, Queen (1945) was allowed to visit the Hog Wild and retrieve personal belongings. Unable to open the bomb bay doors to access the POW supplies but aware of the fact that papers, operational manuals, brief cases and a camera were missing, Queen (1945) returned and was able to persuade the Russians to send Grant and Turner to open the pay load doors and unload the guns on the aircraft respectively; a Russian officer also accompanied them. At the scene, Grant (1945) noted that they worked to manually open the doors, but he admitted being fearful that the steel drums holding the humanitarian supplies would collide and cause a spark, which could have easily ignited the fuel, some of which had spilled on the ground, the Russians were in the process of draining into two trucks from the Hog Wild. On the issue of trying to reach Saipan, Queen was denied that request until the whereabouts of the six who had jumped from the aircraft was ascertained (Bernacki, 1945; Grant, 1945). The Russians’ claim that they were actively searching for those who bailed out was never substantiated (Bernacki, 1945; Rainey, 1945).

    Following his return from the crash site, Queen (1945) reports that, “The Russian Commander apologized for shooting us down and asked us to have supper with him” (p. 57). So about 2000 hours on the 29th (Queen, 1945), the Americans joined the Russians for a meal of “greasey (sic) pork, dry rice and washed it down with Jap whiskey” (Grant, 1945, p. 82). Further, Queen (1945) notes that, “During the meal…many toasts were made to Truman, Stalin, etc.” (p. 57). Grant added that with a full bottle in front of each person at the table, “the crew [and observers] were getting pretty high” (p. 83). Queen (1945) mentioned the meal came to an abrupt end about 2200 hours when “two English Officers and two Australian enlisted men” (p. 57) arrived from the Konan camp seeking information about the seven on the Hog Wild for Weeks, who had bailed out and was brought to the camp earlier in the day in a “’32 model Ford Sedan” (Weeks, 1945, p. 79). Irked by the interruption, the Russian military host informed his “guests” that due to the fear of Japanese snipers, who lurked under the cover of nightfall, the B-29 crew and observers would stay in separate rooms at the airstrip, which accommodated four people each and would be patrolled by a Russian soldier (Grant, 1945). Rinaldo (1945) commented that before he retired he met and talked to the pilot of Yak #60 who “seemed to be proud in having a hand in shooting us down, although I only saw (Yak #) 65 doing the shooting” (p. 69). Rinaldo (1945) also wrote that after the crew and observers had reached the Konan camp, they took advantage of the pilot’s invitation to check out his Yak fighter.

An early morning, August 30th attempt to visit the downed aircraft by the crew and observer was stopped cold by a Russian soldier with a side arm. However, at 0900 hours the Russians arrived with the POW pay load from the Hog Wild in the back of a truck (Queen, 1945). The seven Americans jumped into the bed of the truck with the supplies and an armed Russian guard and, after several stops in Hamhung, were taken to the Konan camp (Grant, 1945; Queen, 1945). Queen (1945) wrote that they finally arrived at the camp site around 1300 hours and were finally united with Weeks and four others who had arrived at 2400 hours on the evening of the 29th (Owens, 1945). Sherrill (1945) finally appeared with a Russian escort about 1030 hours on August 31st. Sherrill (1985) noted that he found the other crew members, observers from the aircraft and some prisoners of war playing baseball when he arrived: I was never so glad to see my crew members in all my life. They immediately put me to bat and with too much vodka [from breakfast with his Russian hosts the morning] I immediately struck out. For some reason I had trouble seeing the ball. (p. 128)

    Sherrill’s excitement over being reunited with the other crew members and observers may have matched that of the English and Australian prisoners who Campbell (1945) reported were extremely happy to see the Americans, In addition, he discovered the prisoners of war to be “in better condition than some of the prisoners I had read about. The POW’s were starved for news, wanting to know about the American movie stars and many other small but human news items” (p. 75).

    After the crew and observers had been reunited, Campbell (1945), Queen (1945) and Sherrill (1945) indicated that apologetic Russian officers offered to fly the Americans to the American embassy at Vladivostok in the Soviet Union. The Russians also offered to truck them to the crash site for unlimited access to the Hog Wild. After cobbling together a power source on the super fortress (R. Rainey, personal communication, October 25, 2003), Queen (1945) noted that sometime on September 1st the Americans made their first contact with Saipan since being detained in Korea. Among other questions, the base wanted to know what repairs would need to be performed on the Hog Wild in order to fly it back to Isley Field. On that visit to the aircraft, Rinaldo (1945) and Queen (1945) also noticed that its interior was disheveled and three clocks were missing. Campbell (1945) indicated that Saipan had indicated that it would send a C-46 on September 4th to bring the Hog Wild crew and observers back to the American base. That did not materialize, so the crew radioed Saipan to find out when it could expect the cargo plane to arrive. Seemingly, a frustrated Campbell (personal communication, August 30, 1945) wrote that, “The Radio said they would come after us on the 6th weather permitting, but something sounds funny, for why should a little weather in between us worry them[.] It didn’t use to when we were running [bombing] missions.”

    While waiting for a rescue aircraft to arrive, Rainey (personal communication, October 23, 2003) mentioned that everyone passed the time by playing baseball games and taking eight-mile pedestrian trips to Hamhung. In his late August 1945 letter, Campbell also reports that reading, and hands of bridge and gin rummy were common diversions as well.

    Campbell (personal communication, August 30, 1945) notes that poor weather conditions kept the rescue aircraft from arriving until September 11th. After surveying the damage to the Hog Wild, the Chief Engineer of the Pacific Area, who was on board the C-46, determined that the B-29 was not worth repairing for the return trip to Isley Field. So, prior to taking off for Saipan in the cargo plane, the crew stripped the Hog Wild of anything that remained and was considered sensitive (Campbell, 1945; Queen, 1945). Following that procedure and after the weather had cleared, the C-46 lifted off with the Hog Wild crew, observers and salvaged equipment on September 14th (Queen, 1945). On that morning Queen (1945) also reported that the Russians returned many but not all of the items that he had noticed were missing from the Hog Wild, such as the K-20 camera.

    Based on the information provided by Campbell (personal communication, August 30, 1945), the first leg of the flight home took the Hog Wild flight crew and observers one hundred and fifty miles to Keizjo, which was the Japanese name for Seoul the current capital of South Korea. The flight crew and observers were put up in the stylish Tyosen Hotel, which quartered Allied military policy wonks. It all appears to have been a bit overwhelming as Campbell noted that “the Press correspond[ents] ‘swooped’ down on us [.] I’ve seen pictures where they flock around a man but I never though it would happen to me. The boys really felt their importance and they really gave out with all that happened to us.”

    The flight crew and observers lifted off in the C-46 aircraft around noon on September 16th (Sherrill, 1985). After a stop to unload salvaged parts at Kanoya, Kyushu (Japan) and a stop to take on more fuel at Iwo Jima (Campbell, 1945, Harwood, 1945), the thirteen crewmen and observers landed on Saipan at “2030K on the 16th” (Queen, 1945).

    One of the later pieces of correspondence in my father’s holdings is a letter written shortly after Thanksgiving in 2001 by the right gunner on the Hog Wild, Joe Rinaldo. From his home in the Bronx (New York City), a been-there, done-that attitude along with feelings of irritation and bewilderment seem to ooze from this veteran airman’s words a little over fifty-five years after riding the Hog Wild down:

    Dear Roberto: No doubt you have heard of the tragic destruction of the Twin Towers in lower Manhattan. There are still Madmen left in the world. I didn’t go see the aftermath; the smell of those things bother me. The downing of that reconnaissance plane in China, a few months ago, recalled another aircraft with a similar experience. I don’t remember any fanfare made for our incident. The present people working for the Public relations (Armed Forces) did a great job. Where were they then? Do you know we were the first US Armed Service people in North Korea?

    So, what was the justification for forcing down the Hog Wild crew and observers? Citing from The History of United States Armed Forces in Korea (1978), Lawson (2005) suggests, the Russians had had enough of the property damage and near loss of life among Russian military personnel due to errant drops of humanitarian supplies as they related to the Konan camp. So this state of affairs resulted in a Russian order which demanded that aircraft carrying mercy mission goods land first and the supplies would be delivered overland. In a piece of correspondence to my father dated August 29, 1994, Australian POW Ted Roots recalls:

   I was in the camp hospital at the time the B-29’s came in, 2 or 3 times (and) when they dropped their cargo one of the parachutes came inside the camp (and) knocked some tiles off the toilet roof (and) the tiles hit one of the patients, nothing serious (and) we were told the Russians shot them down so that no one would get hurt….

Perhaps the wandering Hog Wild was targeted and intercepted after the humanitarian “misdeeds” of one or both B-29s, which had made earlier drops; hence, violating the Russian order. British POW Kenneth Marshall stressed this point in his July 20, 1994 letter to the Russian Embassy in London, England.

    Could the Russians have brought down the Hog Wild because they were interested in American military aircraft technology? After all the B-29 had been pillaged by the Russians and Grant (1945) wrote that, while living in the Konan camp, several people had assured him that “Russian B-29 pilots” (p. 84) were trained. Queen (1945) noted that a Russian ground-engineering officer “displayed superior knowledge of the B-29” (p. 58) by remarking that he could tell the Hog Wild was a later model of B-29. In his letter to the Russian Embassy, Kenneth Marshall (personal communication, July 20, 1994) also referred to the Russian intent to gain “a whole new warplane to be taken apart and copied.” To further support this theory to explain the downing of the aircraft, Baugher (1997) notes that the Soviet Tu-4, a carbon copy of the American B-29, was known to be successfully flown for the first time in 1947.

    Maybe the Russians forced the Hog Wild down because the Yak fighter pilots mistakenly thought the super fortress was actually a Japanese, twin-engine, Mitsubishi G4M3 in disguise? This explanation does not appear to be too credible as Arthur (1945) and Weeks (1945) wrote that the Yak pilots were flying so closely to their aircraft that recognition should not have been an issue. In fact, Arthur (45) maintained that he could see the pilots’ “facial expressions” (p. 67).

    Finally, much has been made of the so-called real mission for the Hog Wild: gathering intelligence data on what the Russians knew and controlled as they relate to a war-time Japanese program to develop chemical and nuclear weapons. I put little stock in this rationale for the B-29’s demise for two reasons. First of all, the Hog Wild was not outfitted for a reconnaissance mission. That is to say it only had one camera on board, which was a regular piece of equipment to record bombing and humanitarian drops, as opposed to the six cameras and square-sighting windows normally associated with super fortresses designed for intelligence missions (World War II Air Power, n.d.). More importantly, the facts in the form of official Army Air Forces depositions, my father’s correspondence and interview data generated from him that appear in this piece do not even remotely suggest anything other than three members of the ground crew who wished to tag-along to form a courageous group of thirteen crewmen and observers intent on doing their duty to improve the conditions of British and Australian prisoners of war awaiting release from the Konan camp.

    While questions about the status of the war-time Japanese program to develop chemical and nuclear weapons may linger, the data presented in this piece do help settle an issue related to the ill-fated mission of the Hog Wild on August 29, 1945. Simply put this mission was all about the convergence of a prisoner-of-war humanitarian relief effort and the near catastrophic action by a war-time ally.

(Dr. Terry R. Rainey taught US History at the secondary level for thirty years. Currently, he is a teacher educator at Blackburn College in Carlinville, IL. He can be reached at train@blackburn.edu).

the November 2009 issue of the Cold War Times.