Growing Up and Joining the USAAF

Going Overseas and Early Bombing Missions

Firebombing Tokyo and Late War Daylight Bombing

The B-29 and Being Attacked

B-29 Specs and the End of the War

Returning Home from the War

Firebombing Japan

Lit Up Over Tokyo


Woody Woodall [Annotator's Note: Wendall Woodall] was born in March 1925 in Webster City, Iowa. They were so poor that they did not even own a car. His father got him into Boy Scous and, every Decoration Day or holiday, they would march in the local parade. Woodall thinks this lead to a patriotic background for his life. When he was a senior in high school, he and most of his buddies volunteered for the service. Woodall wanted to become a pilot so he joined the Air Force [Annotator's Note: US Army Air Forces]. However, by the time he got into the Air Force, most of the collegiate programs were closed. He took basic training at Keesler Field then he and his group went through basic training again. After completing this training for a second time, the Air Force did not know what to do with them, so they were sent to Columbia, South Carolina and had basic training a third time. Woodall ended up as a dental technician in a dental lab in Tampa at an air base. The CO [Annotator's Note: commanding officer] of the clinic was an old colonel and loved athletics. Woodall had signed with the Cardinals out of high school as a potential player and the colonel allowed him to leave and practice any time he wanted to. Every time he transferred to a new base, as soon as the CO saw his record as a professional baseball player, they tried to recruit him for the base team. He kept declining because he was going to win the war. Woodall had been at the medical center for about three weeks when he saw a flyer announcing openings in gunnery school so he signed up. He was sent to Tyndall Field for gunnery training. In his estimation, the base commander was sick as they were in Panama City in July and August sleeping in tents with no mosquito netting and were forced to keep their collars and sleeves buttoned up which kept any ventilation from occurring within their clothing. Most of the men came down with fever and were sick most of the time. Woodall lost 20 pounds in six weeks. Upon completion of gunnery school, the upper half of the class went on to B-29 [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-29 Superfortress very heavy bomber] service while the other half were shipped to Africa to do ground work over there. Woodall then went to Lincoln Air Base where they were forming B-29 crews at the time and the B-29s were just coming out. Woodall next went to Great Bend, Kansas [Annotator's Note: Great Bend Army Air Field] in September and trained for about six months on how to use the gunnery equipment and for bombardiers to train in bombing with flour bombs in 100 pound sacks. They next went to Puerto Rico for navigation training over water but the enlisted men, other than the radio operator, did not go. They started with 16 crews taking off for Puerto Rico and they lost one of them. They never found out what happened as they left a few days later. While in Puerto Rico, the navigator had to determine where the plane was located and how to get to a certain target area. They got lost and did not know where they were until they got over Florida. That did not give them a lot of confidence. After completing this training, they went to South Dakota to pick up a new plane that they would be taking to combat then flew to California and headed overseas. Their first lap was to Hawaii, where they saw what war was all about. They had taxied out and the bomb bay doors would not close so they had to get mechanics to come and work on that. While there, a transport B-24 [Annotator's Note: the Consolidated C-87 Liberator Express was a transport variant of the B-24 Liberator heavy bomber] was coming in downwind quickly and ended up almost even with them. All of a sudden, two men jumped out of the plane without parachutes. A few seconds later, the aircraft stalled and crashed. The engines rolled about a quarter of a mile with the props [Annotator's Note: propellers] wrapped around them. That was their introduction to the war.


From California they went to Kwajalein. There, Wendall Woodall tried to talk his radar operator into trying some swimming as he had a deathly fear of water. They took off from Kwajalein and went to Guam where they were based for the rest of the war. The move happened around April 1945. The runway on Guam was over a mile long and had a swell in it. They had to rev their engines to get off of the ground with a full load. Woodall's pilot would gradually throttle up the engines and they would start moving slowly and gradually pick up momentum. The end of the runway was coral as a safety strip to continue from the blacktop if needed. They would run off every time and mush along through the trees. For Woodall, the whole war was just one long prayer. They started the B-29 [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-29 Superfortress very heavy bomber] bombings of Japan when they had enough of an airstrip built to handle takeoffs and landings. They had Quonset huts and a mess hall for living arrangements. Woodall's first missions were daylight raids. They were flown at 20,000 or 30,000 feet. There was a big aircraft plant in Nagoya, Japan that had about a 40 mile bay leading to it. Woodall thought it should have been an easy target to bomb with all of the landmarks, but they tried to bomb it three or four times but were unsuccessful because of the jet stream. It was decided around that time that they should start firebombing at night instead. They were now going in around 6,000 to 6,500 feet. The Japanese had some radar searchlights and guns that would lock on their aircraft when they flew over them. They were surrounded by white light. The reflection of the aircraft was so bad that night fighters could come up to their altitude, hit them and then get out of there in a hurry. On Woodall's first mission, they were allowed to carry .45 pistols on their sides to defend themselves with if they went down. The reason for the firebombing was because many of the parts [Annotator's Note: mechanical parts] were made in homes around the area and then transported to an assembly plant. If they knocked out the plants, people could still work on building parts and would just assemble them elsewhere. They had to firebomb to knock out the home production too. When they started the firebombing missions, Woodall's pilot broke his arm playing volleyball. Woodall felt that it was wonderful as it meant that they would not fly for six weeks until it was healed. Instead, they were used to fill spots on other crews. That is how they lost their radar operator. He went out with a crew that had a pilot that was a hotdog [Annotator's Note: hot shot]. He liked to get back early from missions so he could be part of the celebration after a mission. The pilot had lost part of one crew because they had ditched about 15 miles short of Guam. The engineer told him they were low on gas and should stop and Tinian or Saipan to get some fuel. The pilot disagreed and thought that they could make it. Soon after, he told the crew they were out of gas and had to bail out. All of the crew bailed except for the radar operator, who would not put on his parachute or anything and rode the plane down. They went through briefings for the rest of the war with that crew and no one told them about what actually happened to the radar operator until later on when a book was written about it. The book was written by a tail gunner named Andy Doty. In it, he relayed the story about the radar operator dying about ten miles from Guam. The radar operator was Richard O’Brien of Boston.


[Annotator's Note: Wendall Woodall served in the US Army Air Forces as a blister gunner on a Boeing B-29 Superfortress very heavy bomber in the 93rd Bombardment Squadron, 19th Bombardment Group, 20th Air Force.] Due to the apparent success of the firebombing raids, the senior officers created a list of Japanese cities that would be bombed that night to make the people clear out of those communities and disrupt the production effort. To start the mission, a plane would take off earlier than the rest and would lay a string of thermite firebombs on the target. The resulting fires would burn for a quarter of a mile and several hundred feet wide. In a humanitarian effort, the first plane would usually go right down the center of town and each bomber that followed moved further and further to the outskirts to give people a chance to escape. They could have just gone in there and bombed them all in one area and trapped the people in there, but they did not. To Woodall, the most exciting mission was bombing near Yokohama at the big naval base. Woodall's was one of the later planes on the run. When they dropped their bombs, there was a big updraft that threw the crew all over the plane except for the pilot who was wearing his seat belt. The rest of the crew was on the ceiling of the aircraft for several seconds. When they got out to sea, they used an aldis lamp and went around the aircraft looking for damage. The crew discovered a hole in the right wing that was leaking fuel so the engineer pumped the fuel from that cell into another fuel cell to be used in another one of the engines. Also, the navigator had to figure out their location so that he could get them to Iwo Jima, which was 600 miles away. All of the navigator's equipment had been torn out of the plane when they hit the turbulence. He was given a sextant and went into the bubble in the nose of the plane to get their location. He selected a heading and they took that heading until they came into Iwo Jima. They circled Iwo Jima for a half hour before they were forced to land since they were low on fuel. They slid to a halt in about eight inches of mud. After coming to a stop, they discovered that one of the right side tires had been shot out. Had they landed on a dry runway they would have ground looped. They stayed overnight. There were planes headed to Saipan and Tinian from Iwo and some of the crew jumped aboard them and went back. Woodall and another blister gunner decided to stay with the plane. They padded the plane with flak suits. The plane was pushed over to a Seabee outfit where Woodall and his fellow blister gunner were taken in by the Seabees who gave them ice cream, cake and pie, things that they would have never had on Guam. They stayed there two or three days. There was not a lot of fighting at this time on Iwo Jima. The Marines and Army were going around the island blasting caves. The remaining Japanese on the island would come out at night looking for water. They would set off the trip flares that the Americans placed to expose the Japanese survivors. One of the Japanese soldiers was killed right in front of Woodall's B-29 and nobody would move the body. After a few days, it started to bloat. Since the war, Woodall learned that the Marines would go into the caves and grenade the cave and use flamethrowers against them. He has also read lately that the Japanese had received orders to never surrender by Hiroshima [Annotator's Note: he means Hirohito] and would kill themselves. Eventually, they flew back to Guam and rejoined their crew. The crew received a new radar man and went on to firebomb Japan some more. They were getting more and more planes all of the time and were supposed to have fighter escorts. On one daylight mission they lost an engine after takeoff. They had too much weight to land with thousands of gallons of gas aboard so they decided to go on the mission and fly it off. They flew to Japan on three engines but could not get into formation. The other bombers were going in at 300 miles per hour and they were going into the target area at 250. When they went in, they saw a group of fighters and assumed that they were P-51s [Annotator's Note: North American P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft]. They were actually Japanese planes that were looking for planes in groups of two or three to attack. Woodall and his crew did not get into any trouble with the fighters and when they returned to base they were not given credit for the mission. Instead, they were scolded for risking one of the B-29s. After a false surrender, Woodall went up on a massive daylight bombing of Tokyo. Shortly after that, the Japanese gave up.


Wendell Woodall was in the 19th Bomb Group [Annotator's Note: 19th Bombardment Group] which initially took off from Hickam Field and headed for the Philippines around the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor. In the early days they had difficulty at the bases in the Philippines, trying to defend the islands against the Japanese. When Woodall was in training he saw B-24s [Annotator's Note: Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber], B-25s [Annotator's Note: North American B-25 Mitchell medium bomber] and B-17s [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber]. The B-17s could carry eight 500 pound bombs and the B-24s could carry twelve 500 pound bombs but they [Annotator's Note: the Boeing B-29 Superfortress very heavy bomber] carried 40 500 pound bombs in two bomb bays. They did not have the handheld guns like in the movies. Instead, they had gun sights with two knobs. They turned the knobs and tried to center the aiming circle from wingtip to wingtip as an enemy plane came in. The knobs would be twisted to adjust the lead on the plane they were shooting at. The danger was at night, because they could shoot up anything and not know what they had done. [Annotator's Note: There is a delay when the lamp randomly goes out and comes back on.] Woodall was a left blister gunner and would sit on a plywood seat facing backward and the sight was to his left side. The night that the night fighter hit his B-29, he did not see it as there were searchlights on them and everything was bright. The radar operator said that the plane came from below and to the left. The Japanese pilots would get underneath them in the reflection of the plane and attack it. [Annotator's Note: There is another brief delay due to the lamp flickering again.]. When firing on enemy aircraft, the guns were sighted electronically but fired manually. The B-29 was pressurized and, while the guys in Europe were freezing to death, it was warm and cozy in the B-29. Woodall's first mission was scary. His first missions were bombing Tokyo, Nagasaki, Nagoya, Osaka, Kobe, all major manufacturing communities. On the mission where he was hit by the Japanese fighter, he felt like a bird in a guilded cage with spotlights on the plane. The entire interior of the plane was lit up and the Japanese are able to get a fix on them and explode antiaircraft shells around the plane. He was not aware of it, but as they dropped their bombs the Japanese night fighter was firing at the plane and a 20mm round went between Woodall and the radar operator, then up through the bomb bays and through the wing causing it to lose gas. Fortunately, it did not to anything that could have been catastrophic. While they were in the dive in the downdraft and pinned to the ceiling and then hitting the updraft and getting thrown to the floor, Woodall was facing the rear of the plane and was ready for it to hit the ground. It was scary. They did not know that they had been hit until after they banked to the right to get clear of the island and Tokyo Bay. They were about 30 miles out over Tokyo Bay when they saw that they had damage in the wing tank and were losing gas. They wondered if the navigator would get them to Iwo Jima. He previously had a problem with navigation over water but he hit it right on the button. Woodall believes this happened on his tenth or twelfth mission because after this mission is when his pilot broke his arm and they did not fly the midterm missions. Woodall and his crew flew 26 missions but were only credited with 24. After one of the two they were not given credit for, they caught hell for risking the plane. The other mission they did not got credit for was when they could not catch the formation on a daylight raid and instead of hitting the primary target they hit a coastal community instead.


The name of Wendall Woodall's B-29 [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-29 Superfortress very heavy bomber] was City of Cincinnati. During the war in Europe and the early part of the Pacific, a lot of the planes had Varga girls or Petty girls [Annotator's Note: pin up girls], but the powers that be decide that it was not a very patriotic thing to do and they would have to have what they painted approved or they could not have anything painted on their aircraft. They came up with the idea to draw lots and his navigator won. Since he was from Cincinnati they named the plane City of Cincinnati. Other aircraft had city names as well. Woodall's crew was very tight. They even corresponded at Christmas time for many years after the war. At the time of this interview, only three crewmembers were still living. Woodall contacted the tail gunner in Montana a few times and copilot in Birmingham and about ten years after the war they had a mini reunion in Buffalo, New York where the navigator was from. The bombardier was from New Berlin, New York and the pilot was from around Atlanta. He recently heard from the tail gunner who was in Atlanta. During firebombing missions, Woodall could not smell anything over the target, even when the bomb bay doors were open. In the forward compartment of the B-29 were the pilot, copilot, radio operator and bombardier. There was a tube that ran over the two bomb bays back to the central fire control station where the upper turret and blisters for the side turrets were. Another tube ran back to the tail gunner. The tubes were for heat and communication. Woodall had part of a blister blown out on a training run. All of the air pressure in the plane goes out of that exit so he grabbed his seat belt and held on. Woodall knew people that had been blown out of damaged planes. He heard of one guy getting blown out and having his foot get caught in a strap. His body banged against the side of the plane while he froze to death. Iwo Jima was taken to give B-29s the opportunity for injured to land on it and survive. They had B-17s [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber] and B-24s [Annotator's Note: Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber] bomb the island every day for about two months, but it was totally undermined with caves with concrete reinforcement. When the Marines went in, the beaches had brush and behind it would be a Japanese machine gun. They were trying to get a way that B-29s would have a place to land. In regards to the Marines that took the island, Woodall felt great. Woodall found out from general broadcasts over the radio about the atomic bombings. They could hear American music from time to time on the radio. Tokyo Rose would come on and show them how the spy network worked for Japan. She could come up with names of crew members on a certain plane. Psychologically, it was somewhat depressing to realize that they knew something about them, but they knew little about the enemy. Woodall heard statements questioning if the guys missed their girlfriends or wished they were dancing with them tonight, things that would depress anyone listening. They arrested Tokyo Rose and he thinks they sentenced her for the role that she played. He does not remember hearing about the death of President Roosevelt [Annotator's Note: President Franklin D. Roosevelt]. When the war ended, guns were going off and people were thrilled. When they were on Iwo Jima, he picked up a rifle and a lot of .30 caliber ammunition and took it to his tail gunner who was from Montana and was a hunter. He went out and spent time with an antiaircraft unit on Guam and would go out and hunt deer that were about the size of a large dog. Woodall was on Iwo Jima for about a week. His plane was backed up to a Seabee tent and he was invited to their meals since they had double rations and worked long hours. They had ice cream, cake and pie and they had great cooks and bakers. If Woodall and his buddy had gone to the Air Force tent, they would have had K rations like dried dog food. Guam was terrific. It was not too hot. It looked jungle like with palm trees and banana plantations. The nights were fairly cool. Woodall took one by fours and put them under one side of his Quonset hut and angled it so that the rain would roll of and into a bomb barrel that would heat in the sun. They used that to shower.


Coming home was not a hard adjustment for Wendall Woodall. He and three others hired a guy to drive them to Kansas City. They drove straight through and just switched drivers. He got to Kansas City and hopped on a train to Des Moines then walked home. There were not any celebrations at home or anything for him. He did not talk about the war much when he got home until ten years or so after the war. He hopes that World War 2 will be taught in schools and create more patriotism. Museums like The National WWII Museum are important. Cemeteries are important as well so people can visit the war dead. Woodall has traveled to a lot of historic places and has been on an honor flight. He thinks every student, boy and girl, should go through some form of military training for one year. If they are not good students and elect to quit school then they should serve a second year in the military or vocational field.

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