By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Hitting the silk over Burma
Placeholder Image

From an editorial in the New York Times on Dec. 15, 1944: “Big strike on railroad marshaling yards in Rangoon by B-29 bombers causes devastating results. No B-29s were lost.”

The raid mentioned in the Times’ editorial happened on Dec. 14. The primary target was a Japanese single track railroad system through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, recognized by most Americans as the “Bridge Over the River Kwai.”  However, cloud cover prevented the B-29s from attacking the bridge, compelling the bombers to pursue their secondary target, Rangoon.

Rangoon also was obscured by heavy cloud cover.  All 11 bombers had to jettison their bombs before returning to base. The Times’ “Big strike on railroad marshaling yards…” was, at best, wartime propaganda.  The mention of “devastating results” more truthfully described the loss of 10 of the 11 bombers, and the assertion, “No B-29s were lost,” was, in hindsight, an out-and-out lie.

In time of war the first casualty is truth.” – Boake Carter

 Nick Oglesby knew the truth because he was gun commander on one of the B-29s that went down.

He said, “We were stacked up vertically at 30,000 to 24,000 feet when we jettisoned our bomb loads. I could see the bomb bay of the B-29 above us. Bombs have to drop a certain distance to arm, but something went horribly wrong.”

One of the bombs exploded in midair. Two B-29s simply vanished and another exploded in midair after traveling less than 75 miles. Oglesby’s damaged B-29 lost 20,000 feet in 20 minutes. He said, “I knew we were going down in the middle of Japanese-controlled Burma, but we had no other choice. Our pilot, Capt. Shanks, gave the order to ‘hit the silk’ at about 6,000 feet.”

The entire crew bailed out and landed safely. Oglesby and two other crew members landed near a Burmese village. The villagers gave the flyboys food and water before an English-speaking woman pleaded with them to surrender. Oglesby said, “The Japanese were en route to the village and unless we surrendered they would kill all the Burmese men. The jungle didn’t look inviting and we didn’t even know where we were, so surrender was our only option.”

The Japanese arrived at midnight, roughed up the flyboys, then hustled them into a small boat for a river crossing. Incredibly, the entire crew was reunited for the overland journey to Rangoon.

Oglesby recalled, “We were interrogated in Rangoon. If we didn’t give the right answer they’d either beat us or batter our heads. What they wanted was information on the B-29s. Shoot, we decided to tell them. 

“We told the Japs a B-29 flew above 60,000 feet at 600 mph and carried 60,000 pounds of bombs. They were so happy we got cigarettes.”  (A B-29’s service ceiling was 31,800 feet, its top speed 358 mph, and it carried a maximum 20,000 pound bomb load).

 American flyboys – you’ve got to love them.

Oglesby and his crew survived Japanese captivity and were liberated before the war ended. When he boarded a C-47 transport plane for Calcutta, Oglesby weighed less than 100 pounds.