The 500th Bombardment Group was one of the first B-29 groups to operate from Saipan and took part in the strategic bombing campaign from its first mission on 11 November 1944 to the end of the Second World War.
The 500th was formed in November 1943 as part of the 73rd Bombardment Wing, the second B-29 combat wing to be formed. The group was originally meant to accompany the 58th Bombardment Wing to India, but that plan was abandoned in April 1944 and instead the wing was assigned to the Mariana Islands.
Saipan was captured after a battle that lasted from 15 June to 9 July 1944. Work on airfields for the B-29s began well before the Japanese had been defeated, and between 24 June and 6 August a 6,000ft long by 150ft wide runway had been completed at Isley Field. The first elements of the 73rd Bombardment Wing arrived on 24 August, and the four bombardment groups soon followed. The 499th and 500th were second to arrive, officially taking up residence on 18 September.
The 500th's first combat mission was a raid on the Dublon submarine pens at Truk on 11 November 1944. Eight aircraft reached the target and achieved reasonable accuracy.
On 24 November the wing carried out its first attack against Tokyo, aiming at the major aircraft engine factory at Musashi. This mission, code named San Antonio I, was very carefully planned, although bad weather on Saipan delayed it for a week from its original date of 17 November. All four of the wing's groups were involved and 111 B-29s took off from Saipan. The Japanese managed to put up around 125 fighters, but there was only one success, when one fighter appeared to ram a B-29 in the tail. Only 24 aircraft actually bombed Musashi, with another 64 hitting other parts of Tokyo. Overall the wing lost two aircraft destroyed and another 11 were damaged (three by friendly fire).
After this first raid the wing spent the next four months carrying out high level daylight precision raids against Japanese aircraft factories. These didn't have the expected result, and XXI Bomber Command began to experiment with low-level incendiary raids. The last of the high altitude attacks on the aircraft industry was another failed raid on Musashi on 4 March. After this General LeMay, commander of XXI Bomber Command, decided to shift to night incendiary bombing, beginning with a raid on Tokyo on the night of 9/10 March. The new tactic was a dramatic success - losses dropped as the Japanese fighter force struggled to deal with night fighting and Japan's cities burned. The group focuses on low level night bombing for the rest of the war.
The group was awarded two Distinguished Unit Citations. The first came during the daylight period and was for an attack at the Mitsubishi aircraft engine factory at Nagoya in January 1945. The second was for the low level incendiary attacks and was awarded for attacks on the urban-industrial section of Osaka, industries at Hamamatsu and shipping and rail links on Kyushu.
After the end of the war the group was used to drop food and supplies to POWs in Japan, Korea, China and Formosa. It returned to the US in October 1945 and was inactivated on 17 January 1946.
Nov 1943-1944: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress
1944-Jan 1946: Boeing B-29 Superfortress
|19 Nov 1943||Constituted as 500th Bombardment Group (Very Heavy)|
|20 Nov 1943||Activated|
|Jul-Nov 1944||To Saipan and Twentieth Air Force|
|11 Nov 1944||Combat debut|
|Oct 1945||To US|
|17 Jan 1946||Inactivated|
Unkn: Nov 1943-Jan
Maj Ralph A Reeve: 28 Jan 1944
Maj John E Gay: 7 Feb 1944
Lt Col John E Dougherty: 8 Mar 1944
Col Richard T King Jr: 5 May 1944
Col John E Dougherty: 5 Dec 1944
Lt Col William L McDowell Jr: 4 Dec 1945
Maj James H Coats: 19 Dec 1945-17 Jan 1946.
Gowen Field, Idaho: 20 Nov
Clovis AAFld, NM: 12 Jan 1944
Walker AAFld, Kan: 16 Apr-23 Jul 1944
Isley Field, Saipan: 18 Sep 1944-21 Oct 1945
March Field, Calif: 24 Oct 1945-17 Jan 1946.
881st Bombardment Squadron: 1943-1946
882d Bombardment Squadron: 1943-1946
883d Bombardment Squadron: 1943-1946
884th Bombardment Squadron: 1943- 1944.
November 1943-July 1944: XX Bomber Command; Second Air Force (US)
November 1944-July 1945: XXI Bomber Command; Twentieth Air Force (Saipan)
July 1945-1946: Twentieth Air Force (Saipan)