The night we bombed the Emperor's Palace.
After the briefing, the MPs drove us to the plane. As usual, we looked into the bomb bays to see what we were dropping. Both were full oil 2,000-pounders--not mines. Most of us had never seen a 2,000-pound bomb before.
That was when Hendrickson asked to borrow my camera. Seven and a half hours later, Captain Harp told us that when we got on the bomb run, we were to maintain absolute silence no matter what happened--even if we were hit, attacked by fighters, or whatever. Absolute silence.
When we got over the Japanese mainland, I could see from my tail gunner's position that we were extremely low, maybe 500 feet. Tokyo was not blacked out and I could see cars and trucks moving, almost as if in my lap. The trucks were like our two by fours, with canvas rear covers. There were no search lights or fighters or ack-ack. We made the bomb run, fast it seemed. It felt like a "milk run."
As soon as it was over, Captain Harp, our bombardier, and the radar operator held a quick intercom conference. Harp instructed "Red," our radio operator to send a voice transmission, "Mission complete, 100 percent as briefed" and to await confirmation. This was the only time we broke radio silence. Even when we were shot at, we did not break radio silence until asking Iwo Jima for landing instructions.
Even while en route home to Tinian Island, we were not told the target--and we did not ask. As we got back and taxied onto our pad, only the ground crew chief and the MPs were there to meet the plane. Amazingly, there wasn't a hole in our plane.
At the debriefing, the MPs stood guard outside. Only our crew was inside the Quonset. The bartender was a lieutenant. (Usually bartenders were corporals or sergeants, bat not this time). Most often at a debriefing, intelligence officers asked if we saw fighters, what types, how many engaged us, did we see any hits, damage, smoke, or fire? Did we see any of our B-29s hit or go down? Did they lose any parts? Strangely, none of these questions were asked. Instead our shots of booze lay on the strike photo tables; there was not much talking at all.
Then we heard excited voices from the darkroom. An officer came oat and laid down the bomb run photos on the table in front of us. He exclaimed that we had bombed the Emperor's Palace itself! The photos were still wet. In the darkroom they had crayon colored the photos. The Emperor's Palace was in one color and the 2,000-pounders hitting it in another color. I could see the moat outline around the palace. Then, a full colonel--no one recognized him, he wore no wings--walked over to the major in charge and asked if there were any copies of the photo. The major answered, "No." The colonel scooped up the still-wet photos, stuck them into his large briefcase, and hurried out to get into his waiting jeep.
The Emperor's Palace was totally off limits. But fifty-one years after the mission, I learned that President Harry Truman had ordered it bombed before the August 6, 1945 attack on Hiroshima. Truman hoped for Japan's surrender before the planned invasion.
Except for the officers, our crew did not know what we had bombed. Curiously, this mission was never logged. Except, of course, in Captain Harp's personal log, which he maintained since his service with the Royal Canadian Air Force. Harp flew Hurricanes, Spitfires, and Lancasters. The captain had thirteen confirmed kills in the "Battle of Britain."
Captain Harp always insisted afterward that we had hit the palace due to "navigational error," and he stuck to this story until he died in October 2000.
At top above is an actual size picture taken of the Emperor's Palace on July 29, 1945, at the instant our eight 2,000-pounders hit the palace. [It was] taken by our bombardier on my 2-1/4 by 3-1/4 Kodak camera.