20 March 1922: USS Langley (CV-1) was commissioned as the first aircraft carrier of the United States Navy. It was a former collier, USS Jupiter (AC-3), which had been converted at the Norfolk Navy Yard, 1921–1922.
USS Langley was 542 feet (165.2 meters) long, with a beam of 65 feet, 5 inches (19.94 meters) and draft of 24 feet (7.32 meters). Her full load displacement was 14,100 tons (12,791 metric tons).
The aircraft carrier was powered by General Electric turbo-electric drive, with a total of 7,200 shaft horsepower. Steam turbines drove generators which supplied power for electric motors which drove the propeller shafts. She could make 15.5 knots (28.7 kilometers per hour).
The ship’s complement was 468 officers and men.
Defensive armament consisted of four 5-inch/51-caliber (127 millimeters × 6.477 meters) guns. These guns, firing a 50 pound (22.7 kilogram) projectile, had a maximum range of 15,850 yards (14,493 meters).
Lieutenant Commander Virgil Childers (“Squash”) Griffin, Jr., United States Navy, made the first takeoff from an aircraft carrier of the U. S. Navy when he flew a Chance Vought Corporation VE-7SF fighter from the deck of USS Langley (CV-1), 17 October 1922, while the ship was anchored in the York River along the west side of Chesapeake Bay, Maryland.
As more modern aircraft carriers Lexington and Saratoga came in to service, Langley was once again converted, this time to a sea plane tender, AV-3.
Langley, under the command of Commander Robert P.McConnell, USN, delivered a cargo of thirty-two Curtiss P-40E Warhawks for the 13th Pursuit Squadron (Provisional) from Fremantle, Western Australia, to Tjilatjap Harbor, on the southern coast of Java, Dutch East Indies. After leaving the harbor on 27 February 1942, Langley was attacked by a group of Imperial Japanese Navy Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” twin-engine medium bombers.
After evading several bomb runs, Langley was hit by six bombs. On fire and with its engine room flooded, the crew was forced to abandon ship. Langley was torpedoed by an escorting destroyer, USS Whipple (DD-217), to prevent capture.
The crew of Langley were taken aboard a fleet oiler, USS Pecos (AO-6), and thirty-three Air Corps pilots were transferred USS Edsall (DD-219). Pecos was sunk while enroute to Australia, with the loss of many lives. Edsall was also sunk and thirty-one of the Army pilots died.
More aircraft carriers would follow and were the key to the United States Navy victory in the Pacific Ocean, bringing World War II to a close.
Ninety-seven years after USS Langley was commissioned, the aircraft carrier is the center of the American fleet. The Nimitz-class carriers are the most powerful warships ever built.
19 March 1945: Modified Avro Lancaster B Mk.I Special heavy bombers of No. 617 Squadron, Royal Air Force, attacked the railway viaduct at Arnsberg, Germany, using the 22,000 pound (9,979 kilogram) Grand Slam earth-penetrating bomb. The bomb had been first used just days before, 14 March, against another railway viaduct.
The Grand Slam was the largest and heaviest aerial bomb used during World War II. It was designed by aircraft engineer Barnes Neville Wallis, and was scaled up from his earlier, smaller “Tallboy.” (Wallis also designed the “Upkeep” Special Mine used to attack hydroelectric dams in the Ruhr Valley in 1943.)
Wallis’ idea was that a very heavy, supersonic bomb could penetrate deep into the earth and detonate, causing an “earthquake” which could destroy nearby heavily protected targets.
The Grand Slam bomb (officially, “Bomb, D.P. , 22,000-lb., Mk I”) was 25 feet, 5 inches (7.747 meters) long and had a maximum diameter of 3 feet, 10 inches (1.168 meters). When fully loaded with the explosive material, Torpex, the bomb weighed 22,400 pounds (10,160 kilograms).
The bomb case was cast of steel at the Clyde Alloy and Steel Company, Glasgow, Scotland, then, after several days of cooling, machined to its precise shape. The casing made up approximately 60% of the bomb’s total weight. At the nose, the casing had a wall thickness of 7.75 inches (19.685 centimeters).
The bomb case was filled with approximately 9,200 pounds (4,173 kilograms) of molten Torpex, with a 1 inch (2.54 centimeters) topping of TNT. Torpex was an explosive designed for torpedo warheads and depth charges. It was made up of approximately equal quantities of two other explosives, Research Department Formula X (RDX), 42%, and trinitrotoluol (TNT), 40%, mixed with 18% powdered aluminum and wax. The resulting combination was approximately 1.4 times more powerful than TNT alone. About one month was required for the explosive to cool after being poured into the bomb case.
Because of its size and weight, the only Allied bomber capable of carrying the Grand Slam was a specially modified Avro Lancaster B.I Special, flown by No. 617 Squadron, Royal Air Force, “The Dambusters.”
Wallis intended for the Grand Slam to be dropped from very high altitudes so that during its fall, it would go supersonic. The bomb had large fins that were offset 5° to the right of the centerline to cause it to rotate for stability. However, the bombers could not carry it to the planned release altitude, and it was typically dropped from approximately 9,000 feet (2,743 meters). Its very sleek design did allow it to come close to the speed of sound, however, and its stability made it a very accurate weapon. The bomb was capable of penetrating 20-foot-thick (6 meters) reinforced concrete roofs of submarine bases. ¹
Barnes Neville Wallis, Esq., M. Inst. C.E., F.R.Ae.S., Assistant Chief Designer Vickers-Armstrongs Ltd., was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (Civil Division), by His Majesty, King George VI, 2 June 1943.
Sir Barnes Neville Wallis C.B.E., was knighted by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, 13 December 1968.
¹ “The striking velocity of the bomb, when released at an altitude of 16,000 ft. and an air speed of 200 m.p.h., is stated at 1,097 ft./sec., at which speed is has developed a rotational velocity of 60 r.p.m.” —British Explosive Ordnance, Part 1, Chapter 7
Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 359th Bomb Squadron, 303d Bomb Group.
Place and date: Over Vegesack, Germany, March 18, 1943.
Entered service at: San Angelo, Tex. Born: September 25, 1921, San Angelo, Tex.
G.O. No.: 38, July 12, 1943.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy over Vegesack, Germany, on 18 March 1943. 1st Lt. Mathis, as leading bombardier of his squadron, flying through intense and accurate antiaircraft fire, was just starting his bomb run, upon which the entire squadron depended for accurate bombing, when he was hit by the enemy antiaircraft fire. His right arm was shattered above the elbow, a large wound was torn in his side and abdomen, and he was knocked from his bomb sight to the rear of the bombardier’s compartment. Realizing that the success of the mission depended upon him, 1st Lt. Mathis, by sheer determination and willpower, though mortally wounded, dragged himself back to his sights, released his bombs, then died at his post of duty. As the result of this action the airplanes of his bombardment squadron placed their bombs directly upon the assigned target for a perfect attack against the enemy. 1st Lt. Mathis’ undaunted bravery has been a great inspiration to the officers and men of his unit.
Jack Warren Mathis was born 10:30 p.m., 25 September 1921, at San Angelo, Texas. He was the second of three children of Rhude Mark Mathis, a salesman, and Avis Cannon Mathis.
Mathis enlisted as a private in the United States Army, 12 June 1940, at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas, and was assigned to the 1st Field Artillery at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. After six months service, he was transferred to the Air Corps as an aviation cadet and sent to Goodfellow Field, southeast of his hometown of San Angelo. He trained as a bombardier, as did his older brother, Rhude Mark Mathis, Jr.
Jack Mathis was commissioned as a second lieutenant on 4 July 1942. He deployed to Europe in September 1942. Mathis was promoted to first lieutenant in January 1943.
Lieutenant Mathis was assigned to the combat crew of a Boeing B-17F-25-BO Flying Fortress, 41-24561, of the 359th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 303d Bombardment Group (Heavy) at RAF Molesworth. The ship, named The Duchess, was under the command of Captain Harold L. Stouse. It carried fuselage identification markings BN T.
Because of the severe effect that German submarines were having against transatlantic merchant convoys, U-boat pens and construction yards were a high-priority target for bombers of the 8th Air Force.
On 18 March 1943, the 8th launched Mission No. 24 against the Bremer-Vulkan-Vegesacker Werft submarine construction yard on the River Weser at Bremen-Vegesack, Germany. The attack force consisted of 76 B-17s and 27 B-24 Liberators. Each bomber was loaded with six 1,000 pound (454 kilogram) M44 high-explosive bombs. The plan called for bombers to drop from 24,000 feet (7,315 meters). Each squadron would release their bombs simultaneously.
Mission No. 24 was Jack Mathis’ fourteenth combat mission. He was the lead bombardier of the 359th, the second element of seven B-17s of the 303d Group. The bombardier controlled the heading of the B-17 through adjustments to his Norden bomb sight. The squadron’s bombing accuracy was dependent on the skill of the lead bombardier.
As the American bombers approached the target, Mathis took careful aim at the target 24,000 feet below and opened the bomb bay doors. With his eye pressed to the Norden bombsight, Mathis was less than one minute away from releasing his bombs when an antiaircraft shell exploded near the right nose of his B-17, named The Duchess. Fragments from the shell shattered the Plexiglas nose, nearly severed his right arm above the elbow, and caused deep wounds in his side and abdomen. The concussion threw him to the rear of the nose section. Nevertheless, Mathis went back to his bombsight and accurately dropped his bombs before collapsing dead over his bombsight.
—Excerpted from A Test of Courage: 1st Lt. Jack W. Mathis, an article from the National Museum of the United States Air Force, 1 May 2015
Reconnaissance photographs later revealed that seven enemy submarines and two-thirds of the shipyard had been destroyed in the attack. For his extraordinary effort, 1st Lt. Jack W. Mathis posthumously received the Medal of Honor, the first awarded to an 8th Air Force Airman.
Jack Mathis’ older brother, Lieutenant Rhude Mark Mathis, Jr., was at RAF Molesworth awaiting his brother’s return from the mission. He was present when The Duchess landed. Mark Mathis requested a transfer to the Captain Stouse’s crew with 359th to take his brother’s place. Tragically, on his fourth mission, he too, was killed.
First Lieutenant Jack Warren Mathis was buried at Fairmount Cemetery, San Angeleo, Texas. His brother, First Lieutenant Rhude Mark Mathis, Jr., is buried at the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial, Margraten, Netherlands.
Mathis Field (San Angelo Regional Airport, or SJT) was named after the two Mathis brothers.
Lieutenant Jack W. Mathis’ Medal of Honor is displayed at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
The Duchess survived 59 combat missions. It was returned to the United States after the war in Europe came to an end. It was scrapped in August 1945.
9–10 March 1945: at 17:35 local time, 9 March 1945, the XXI Bomber Command, Twentieth Air Force, began launching 325 Boeing B-29 Superfortress long-range heavy bombers from airfields on Guam and Saipan. This was Operation Meetinghouse, a night incendiary attack on the Tokyo Metropolis, the capital city of the Empire of Japan, and the most populous city on Earth.
Operation Meetinghouse was the single deadliest and most destructive air attack in history.¹
XXI Bomber Command was led by Major General General Curtis Emerson LeMay. The B-29 Superfortress bombers had been engaged in the U.S. Army Air Forces doctrine of precision daylight bombardment, but with limited success. Only a few days a month was the weather over Japan good enough for precision bombing, but the very high winds encountered dispersed the falling bombs, limiting the attackers’ accuracy. Also, though Japan did have major industrial centers, a large part of its war production was dispersed to small shops throughout the cities.
The B-29s had been designed to operated at high altitudes, bombing from 30,000 feet, but the long climb to altitude with a heavy load of bombs and gasoline strained the engines. Engine fires were common. The Wright “Duplex Cyclone” engines’ crankcases were made of magnesium alloy, and once burning, the engine fires could not be put out, and the bomber would be lost.
Further, bombing during daylight increased the vulnerability of the B-29s to Japanese air defenses.
General LeMay decided to change tactics. Under the new plan, the Superfortresses would bomb at night, at low altitude. As the construction of Japanese cities made them vulnerable to fires, the bombers would carry incendiary bombs rather than high explosives. The lower altitude would reduce the strain on the R-3350 engines.
LeMay did not expect much reaction from enemy fighters during hours of darkness, so he ordered that, except for the tail guns, all defensive guns on the B-29s, along with their gunners and ammunition, be left behind. This reduced weight allowed him to order double the normal bomb load.
General LeMay also ordered that rather than attack in formations, the bombers would attack as individuals.
Brigadier General Thomas Sarsfield Power, commanding the 314th Bombardment Wing (Very Heavy) based on the island of Guam, was in command of the air attack. The 314th dispatched 56 B-29s. The 73rd Bombardment Wing (Very Heavy) and the 313th Bombardment Wing (Very Heavy) took off from Saipan in the Marianas Islands, putting up 169 and 121 Superfortresses, respectively.
The B-29s began to arrive over Tokyo at 12:08 a.m., 10 March. The weather was clear with visibility 10 miles (16 kilometers). It was very windy, with surface winds blowing at 45–67 miles per hour (20–30 meters per second) from the southwest. The target was designated as a 3 mile × 4 mile (4.8 × 6.4 kilometers) rectangle in the northwest quadrant of the city. More than one million people lived inside the boundaries. It was one the densest population centers on Earth.
Flying at altitudes of 5,000 to 7,000 feet (1,524–2,134 meters), the B-29s dropped their 7-ton bomb loads. As the cluster bombs fell they broke apart and the 38 6-pound (2.7 kilogram) AN-M69 bomblets in each cluster spread. These were filled with napalm and ignited by a white phosphorous charge. A total of 1,665 tons (1,510 Metric tons) of the incendiaries fell on the northeast section of Tokyo.
The resulting firestorm burned out 15.8 square miles (40.9 square kilometers) of Tokyo, with only brick structures still standing.
There can only be estimates of the casualties inflicted on the ground. It is known that 79,466 bodies were recovered. Following the War, the United States Strategic Bombing Survey estimated that 87,793 people had been killed, and 40,918 injured. Other estimates are much higher.
Of the bomber force, 279 airplanes reached Tokyo. 12 were shot down and 42 damaged. 96 crewmen were either killed or missing in action.
The B-29 Superfortress was the most technologically advanced—and complex—aircraft of World War II. It required the manufacturing capabilities of the entire nation to produce. Over 1,400,000 engineering man-hours had been required to design the prototypes.
The Superfortress was manufactured by Boeing at Seattle and Renton, Washington, and Wichita, Kansas; by the Glenn L. Martin Company at Omaha, Nebraska; and by Bell Aircraft Corporation, Marietta, Georgia.
There were three XB-29 prototypes, 14 YB-29 pre-production test aircraft, 2,513 B-29 Superfortresses, 1,119 B-29A, and 311 B-29B aircraft. The bomber served during World War II and the Korean War and continued in active U.S. service until 1960. In addition to its primary mission as a long range heavy bomber, the Superfortress also served as a photographic reconnaissance airplane, designated F-13, a weather recon airplane (WB-29), and a tanker (KB-29).
The B-29 was operated by a crew of 11 to 13 men. It was 99 feet, 0 inches (30.175 meters) long with a wingspan of 141 feet, 3 inches (43.068 meters). The vertical fin was 27 feet, 9 inches (8.305 meters) high. The airplanes’s empty weight was 71,500 pounds (32,432 kilograms). Its maximum takeoff weight of 140,000 pounds (63,503 kilograms).
The B-29s wings had a total area of 1,720 square feet (159.8 square meters). They had an angle of incidence of 4° and 4° 29′ 23″ dihedral. The leading edges were swept aft to 7° 1′ 26″.
The B-29 was powered by four air-cooled, turbocharged and supercharged, 3,347.66-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 18 (also known as the Duplex-Cyclone) 670C18BA4 (R-3350-23A) two-row 18-cylinder radial engines, which had a Normal Power rating of 2,000 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., and 2,200 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m. for takeoff. They drove 16 foot, 7 inch (5.055 meter) diameter, four-bladed, Hamilton Standard constant-speed propellers through a 0.35:1 gear reduction. The R-3350-23A was 6 feet, 4.26 inches (1.937 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.78 inches (1.417 meters) in diameter and weighed 2,646 pounds (1,200 kilograms).
The maximum speed of the B-29 was 353 knots (406 miles per hour/654 kilometers per hour) at 30,000 feet (9,144 meters), though its normal cruising speed was 216 knots (249 miles per hour/400 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). The bomber’s service ceiling was 40,600 feet ( meters) and the maximum ferry range was 4,492 nautical miles (5,169 statute miles/8,319 kilometers).
The Superfortress could carry a maximum of 20,000 pounds (9,072 kilograms) of bombs in two bomb bays. For defense, it was armed 12 Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns in four remote, computer-controlled gun turrets and a manned tail position. The bomber carried 500 rounds of ammunition per gun. (Some B-29s were also armed with a 20 mm autocannon at the tail.)
A number of B-29 Superfortresses are on display at locations around the world, but only two, the Commemorative Air Force’s B-29A-60-BN 44-62070, Fifi, and B-29-70-BW 44-69972, Doc, are airworthy. (After a lengthy restoration, Doc received its Federal Aviation Administration Special Airworthiness Certificate, 19 May 2016.)
¹ (a.) Hiroshima: A single B-29 dropped a 16-kiloton atomic bomb on the city. Approximately 5 square miles (12.9 square kilometers) of the city were destroyed by the detonation and resulting firestorm. Estimates are that approximately 70,000–80,000 people were killed immediately, and about the same number injured by the detonation and resulting firestorm. (b.) Nagasaki: A single B-29 dropped a 21-kiloton atomic bomb on the city. 60% of the structures were destroyed. An estimated 35,000 people were killed immediately by the detonation and resulting firestorm. (c.) Dresden: The raids of 13–15 February 1945 included 1,296 RAF and USAAF heavy bombers, dropping high explosive and incendiary bombs. The resulting firestorm destroyed approximately 2.5 square miles (6.5 square kilometers) of the center of the city. Afterwards, 20,204 bodies were recovered. The most recent estimates are that approximately 25,000 people were killed. .
9 March 1915: Air Vice Marshal John Edgar (“Johnnie”) Johnson, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O. and Two Bars, D.F.C. and Bar, Royal Air Force, was born at Barrow upon Soar, Leicestershire, England.
Johnson was the highest scoring Royal Air Force fighter pilot of World War II. He flew 515 sorties and scored 34 airplanes destroyed, 7 shared destroyed, 3 probables and 10 damaged. All of his victories were against fighters.