North Dakota Pilots and Hiroshima
On this date in 1945, the United States detonated a nuclear bomb above the Japanese town of Hiroshima. This along with one dropped on Nagasaki three days later resulted in the unconditional surrender of the Japanese on August 15th.
These weapons would not have been able to be delivered were it not for the Boeing B-29 Superfortress, a large, long-range bomber used exclusively in the Pacific Theater to attack the Japanese Mainland. The B-29s operated with the 20th Air Force that was first based in India, flying to airfields in China, then going on to strike Japan. All the fuel and supplies for these missions had to be flown to China “over the hump” as it was called -- a dangerous route over the Tibetan mountains.
Two friends from North Dakota flew the B-29 on those missions. Carl Skedsvold from Alexander was a B-29 pilot, and Helmer Hanson from Wildrose was a B-29 Navigator. Both men flew out of bases near Calcutta in India and participated in supply missions over the hump into China, and bombing missions from China into Japan.
On May 24th, 1944, Hanson had to bail out of his B-29 over India when they ran out of fuel after not finding their base due to bad weather. It took him many days to get back to his airfield.
On August 20th, 1944, Skedsvold was flying a mission from China, to bomb Yawata, Japan. On their return flight Japanese fighter planes attacked in large numbers. Skedsvold’s bomber was hit, caught fire and the order to bail out was given. Skedsvold parachuted from the stricken bomber, but was machine gunned and killed by a passing Japanese fighter.
Eventually, the Pacific island-hopping campaign took over airfields in the Marianas in the Central Pacific, allowing the 20th Air Force to move to bases on Saipan, Guam and Tinian where they could be supplied by sea. This allowed attacks on the Japanese home islands to increase, striking military targets and large urban areas. Tokyo was fire bombed many times, devastating the city.
Helmer Hanson was based on Tinian the day Hiroshima was bombed, and he knew the war would soon be over. He only wished that his friend Carl Skedsvold would have lived to see that day.
Dakota Datebook by Scott Nelson
Book, Birds from Hell by Wilber Morrison.
(Personal story of David Frederick McNeley)