More about B-29s in the CBI

I had a very interesting email at the weekend about B-29 operations in the China / Burma / India theater (aka the CBI) which also tied into the case of a very specific B-29 (B-29-15-BW 42-6358 Ding How of the 794 BS / 468th Bomb Group) which I had blogged about previously.

B-29-15-BW 42-6358 “Ding How"

B-29-15-BW 42-6358 “Ding How” of the 794 BS / 468th Bomb Group, while still in service with the USAAF in China. This photograph taken before November 21, 1944 when the aircraft failed to return from a raid and force-landed in Vladivostok, USSR.

Andrea Ding-Kemp emailed me and said that her husband’s grandfather, James E. Kemp, flew B-29s in China in the 1940s and used to say “Ding Hao” a lot when he was alive.  Was he in some way associated with the B-29 called Ding How ?

Andrea sent me a couple of pictures including James E. Kemp’s USAAF aircrew ID card and a picture of a piece of enemy metal which apparently hit his seat during combat operations.  She also told me that he was part of the crew of two B-29s, named Lucky Seven and The Craig Comet.

It only took a couple of minutes searching on Google to find that 1st Lieutenant James E Kemp was in fact assigned to the 794 Bomb Squadron, 468th Bomb Group. Their pilot was Capt. Harold Estey, so they were known as the Estey crew.

42-6407 Lucky Seven was one of the very early build Superfortresses, a B-29-20-BW built by Boeing in Wichita, KS.  She was assigned to the to the 795th Bomb Squadron, but was re-assigned to the 794th when the former squadron was deactivated in October 1944 due to shortages in equipment.  Lucky Seven was declared “war weary” (not able to continue war operations) on January 11th, 1945 and returned to the Zone of the Interior (United States).    I looked up her serial number on Joe Baugher’s website and found one additional piece of information.  Lucky Seven was scrapped on December 21st, 1949 at Pyote Air Force Base, Texas.

42-63445 The Craig Comet was a B-29-15-BA built by Bell in Atlanta, GA.  I was amazed to find that a photo of the aircraft and the Estey crew appears in the Wikipedia page for the 468th Bomb Group.


Captain Harold Estey and crew of B-29 “The Craig Comet” of the 794th Bomb Squadron,  468th Bomb Group. Co-Pilot James E. Kemp is in the back row on the left of this group. (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The Estey crew flew from Kharagpur Airfield in India (they were the first crew to arrive there) and also flew from the prosaically named Field A-7 at Pengshan, (Szechwan Province) China.    Click here for a list of missions flown by the 58th Bomb Wing (which included the 468th Bomb Group).    When flying operationally from Pengshan,  itself 1200 miles from Kharagpur, the first task of the B-29s was to haul their own operational fuel supplies, bombs, ammunition, and other necessities over the Himalayas (the ‘Hump’).   ‘Hump’ missions were symbolized by a camel painted on the nose of each aircraft that carried them out. Two such camels are visible on the nose of The Craig Comet at the time this picture was taken, as well as 11 bomb symbols indicating 11 operational missions for the aircraft.

The 468th Bomb Group website ( contains a potted history of the Estey crew, which it seems was supplied by James E. Kemp himself in 2007. Estey’s crew did not transfer to Tinian when the 58th Bomb Wing moved en masse to the Marianas in the Spring of 1945. A commentator on the 468th site speculates that the crew had amassed more “hump” and combat hours  than any other crew and so they were rotated home from India in May 1945.  The Craig Comet soldiered on briefly in her new home.  She was badly damaged in a raid on May 1945 and crashed on landing at West Field, Tinian.

There is little doubt in my mind that James E. Kemp  knew, or knew of the B-29 named Ding How in the 794th Bomb Squadron. I am sure he would have been aware of its loss and forced landing in the Soviet Union since he was operational in the same squadron at the same time.

I must mention also that James E. Kemp’s USAAF ID card listed his birth date as being at the end of August 1918, so it seems fitting that my first blog post of August 2018 should in some way connect with and honor the centenary year of the late veteran.  James Edward Kemp, a Pearl Harbor veteran,  served in the USAAF and later USAF from 1940 to 1962, retiring with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.






I haven’t blogged for a while – maybe it’s because of the start of the semester (which is now rapidly drawing to a close)  or for some other reason.   Actually one of those reasons was that we have been turning out the attic, sending clothes and other household items we haven’t used to charity.

A few items have seen the light of day briefly before being re-packaged, like those Roman mosaics in the England that are uncovered, examined in all their glory and then carefully covered in sand to preserve them for future generations.

What we have here isn’t quite as esoteric as a Roman mosaic, but it has a place in the fabric of history nonetheless.

Tomiyama Boeing B377 Stratocruiser. Approx 1956

Tomiyama Boeing B377 Stratocruiser. Approx 1956

We came across this tin toy, which Susan first assumed was mine because it was an airplane.   It isn’t, so it must have come from her side of the family.  Even without the helpful decals or lithography  you’d recognize that you had a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser  here.   It’s even more helpful that it has “BOEING STRATOCRUISER” written down the side.  I was interested in the US civil registration NX1022V on the starboard wing which is repeated in a slightly different form (N1022V) on the fuselage and tail

Tomiyama Boeing B377 Stratocruiser. Approx 1956

Tomiyama Boeing B377 Stratocruiser. Approx 1956

From this angle, the maker has clearly shown the B-29 / B-50 origins of the B377. I have seen a couple of photographs of the B-50 model from the same era and  it certainly appears that the same wing assembly has been used for both toys.  The distinctive shape of the B-50 extended fin is shown clearly here although the fin and rudder look more B-29 than anything – although this may just be a feature of the lithography / paint scheme.  The vestigial B-29/B-50 tail turret is not a feature of the B377.

There are other B377 models made by the Japanese company Tomiyama in the mid-50s, in different liveries and configurations.  Ebay, Pinterest and some collectors’ forums have pictures of them – or they ought to. You can find them in a Google image search, but  Photobucket made some changes recently which tend to prohibit 3rd party linking so please pardon me if I don’t show you any of them here.

The  “real” N1022V was, according to Bryan Swopes the re-registered prototype NX90700,  which first flew in 1947.   NX90700  was upgraded to full 377 standard and went to Pan American World Airways as N1022V Clipper Nightingale. Pan Am kept the aircraft until 1960 before selling it back to Boeing.  N1022V found its way to the Venezuelan airline RANSA. It was converted to a freighter and scrapped in 1969.    It is ironic that the toy has lasted longer than the aircraft on which it was modeled, although not unusual.

Boeing Stratocruiser prototype NX90700.

Boeing Stratocruiser prototype NX90700.

Sooner than I thought

So it looks as if Doc’s first flight ought to take place on Sunday July 17th 2016.  I wish them every success.

Doc’s restoration team performed engine runs and tests the week of July 4 in final preparation for first flight. (B-29 Doc Website)

“Doc” – Getting Closer

Boeing B-29-70-BW Superfortress 44-69972 "Doc"

Boeing B-29-70-BW Superfortress 44-69972 “Doc” runs its engines for the first time in many years in Wichita, Kansas in September 2015. (Screen Grab from livestream)

While I’m in the midst of describing things B-29 it would be remiss of me not to mention a B-29 that lives about 200 miles from me and which may be returning to the skies in the near future.   This is Boeing B-29-70-BW Superfortress  44-69972 “Doc” which has been under restoration to flying status for a number of years by a team of volunteers and Boeing veterans for many years.  In June 2015 when I went to visit the Kansas Aviation Museum I could see Doc’s highly polished metalwork gleaming from quite a distance away.   Back in September I witnessed (remotely) its engines running for the first time in many years.  More recently we hear that the FAA has granted a special airworthiness certificate to the venerable machine – see the story about it here.

Even better,  the Department of Defense has approved use of a “non-joint-use runway”  next door at McConnell AFB for ground testing and the first flight.  I look forward to this with some anticipation.

Read more about Doc’s story at his website.

Ding Who? A Case of Mistaken Identity

I’m a Smith.  It’s the most common last name in the western world, maybe.  There are a lot of us and we get confused for each other. Back in the days when early ATMs actually swallowed your card to read it,  the machine would occasionally fail to return it.  To add insult to injury,  a couple of times my old bank mailed my card back to the wrong Smith.

In later years I had a more interesting alternate.   Robert Smith was (and is) lead singer of The Cure. Once in a while, when I was working in a university in the UK I’d get breathless sounding e-mails from students asking me if I was *the* Robert Smith.  This is, of course, a matter of perception.

Anyway, what has all this got to do with aviation?

Readers may remember I’ve been having a lot of fun with the B-29 / Tu-4 article that came in the July 2016 edition of FlyPast.  I was struck by the accompanying illustrations which didn’t really sit comfortably with the photographic material.  I think the illustrations are inaccurate representations of the B-29s which force-landed in Vladivostok between July and November 1944. One of these inaccuracies is the result of case  of mistaken identity.  It was was not perpetrated by the author of the FlyPast article, but seems to have been around for many years.  This is the case of “Ding Hao”  or “Ding How” and specifically the confusion between:

  • B-29-1-BW 42-6225  “Ding How” 676 BS / 444th Bomb Group
  • B-29-15-BW 42-6358 “Ding Hao” 794 BS / 468th  Bomb Group

Ding How (or Ding Hao) is a Chinese expression much used by American pilots in the China-Burma-India (CBI) theater and it seems to mean “everything’s great / thumbs up / you’re the best” – so naturally there are several different American aircraft of the period which have the nickname painted on them.

Of our two B-29s. 42-6225 came from the very first production block,  and both fell within the group of 175 B-29s which General H.H  “Hap” Arnold wanted for operation “Matterhorn.”  The 175th and last of these B-29s was 42-6365 which he signed personally, and which was later named the “General H.H. Arnold Special.”  All of these aircraft were therefore the subject matter of the “Battle of Kansas.”

The very early B-29s were painted in the US standard finish of Olive Drab and Neutral Gray, and 42-6225 was no exception.


B-29-1-BW 42-6225 “Ding How” – 676BS/444BG 
Capt. Nicolas VanWingerden and crew, Summer 1944 (444th BG)

When I started researching the history of the interned B-29s I wanted to see illustrations of their former USAAF careers.   “Ding How” was remarkably easy, it seemed.  But there were factual errors of a pretty gross nature. Some confusion clearly arose between the two “Ding Hows.”

Nice picture - but oh, the caption.

Nice picture – but oh, the caption.

I don’t know which book this illustration came from.  My guess is it’s an Osprey or Squadron/Signal publication – judging by the caption font, I guess the former. The caption  gets the AAF serial and Bomb Group right, but confuses the fate of this “Ding How” with the other machine from the 468th Bomb Group.

Sadly the incorrect identification continued in some fairly authoritative sources, leading to awfully hybridized illustrations like this:

Wrong Ding How

Hmm. Right serial, wrong group markings and a very dodgy caption.

Right serial number  – but someone has applied the yellow stripes of the 795 BS / 468th BG  and the “Billy Mitchell”  pennant to an aircraft that, as far as I can see, never flew with the 468th and which NEVER force landed in Vladivostok.

The illustration in the July 2016 issue of FlyPast (which I shall not reproduce) takes the picture above one step further. The illustrator applied the serial number of the other “Ding Hao” (42-6358) but still uses the rest of the Olive Drab /Neutral Gray 444th BG machine as his canvas.

So why do I think these illustrations are wrong?    The answer is very simple and was even provided in the FlyPast article itself. It’s labeled as Ding Hao, although clearly the Bomb Log and 468th BG Shooting Star emblem have now been removed.  This is 42-6358,  but this isn’t a green B-29.


B-29-15-BW 42-6358 “Ding Hao” (ex 468 BG)
in Soviet Hands with USAAF markings removed

The clincher for me, is this picture (below) from a Russian website on the Tu-4


B-29-15-BW 42-6358 “Ding Hao” (ex 468 BG) in Soviet Hands
but still bearing its AAF serial number and last three digits (468th practice) on the fin.

I take this to be a genuine Soviet picture of “Ding Hao”  with a nice red star  on the fin, and all US national markings and group IDs removed.  You can see pale traces on the fuselage and nose, and with the eye of faith you can *almost* see the 468th BG stripes having been erased from the rudder.  But anyway, the point is – she isn’t Olive Drab.

Compare the Soviet nose shot with this photograph from the 468th Bomb Group:

Ding Hao6

B-29-15-BW 42-6358 “Ding How” – 468th Bomb Group, China, 1944

The size and shape of the “Hump” mission markers (the camels) and the bomb log correspond exactly with the painted or stripped areas of the B-29 in the illustration above this one.

One last surprise awaits. Everyone (including me) has been referring to 42-6358 as “Ding Hao”  but look at the name in the Group insignia.  Admittedly I’m wearing bifocals and this is a third or fourth generation copy but that rather looks like “Ding How” to me.

As I said somewhere previously,  it seems unlikely to me that the Soviets, even in their enthusiasm to make an exact copy, would go to the trouble of stripping all the paint off an Olive Drab  B-29 and then re-applying the AAF serial and 468 BG “last three”  on the fin.  I’m not buying it.  My theory is that somewhere, a few years ago, someone saw a picture, made an erroneous assumption and thus a whole generation of mistakes was born.    I would like to set the record straight, assuming I’m right.  I think I am, and this is my way of doing it.

Oh,  and just for the record, I checked with Joe Baugher’s website  to see what happened to the other “Ding How”

42-6225 ... 42-6228 (EXACT MATCH)
Boeing B-29-1-BW Superfortress
MSN 3359/3362
6225 reclamation completed Davis Monthan Jun 19, 1947

So the green one made it back home as a War Weary, while the silver one sat somewhere on a Soviet airfield until about 1954 when most of the Tu-4 fleet was scrapped.

Take it away, Kim.



More about the B-29, Tu-4, Tu-70

I’m having rather a lot of fun with this topic, so much so that there ought to be a couple more articles  in it while I set a few things straight in my own mind and perhaps try and draw a few threads together.

Having read the last post and corrected my appalling typing and grammar for the umpteenth time,  I happened to follow a link on YouTube and discovered a very interesting Russian TV documentary about the Tu-4 under the series title “Made in the USSR.”  The English in the subtitles is a little strained at times, but you’ll get the drift.

This in itself was pretty interesting in that it confirmed pretty much all we already knew about B-29 cloning program.    What made me rather excited was a tiny sequence just under three minutes into the program – and here’s a screenshot. Interned B-29

So, that’s a group of Soviet engineers and military being shown over a B-29.  A couple of seconds before you could see the lower portion of a US ‘Star and Bar’  – and on the nose we can clearly see the ‘shooting star’  emblem of the 468th Bomb Group and above the flat cap of the gentlemen on the right there is quite clearly a bomb log and what I assume to be some ‘Hump’  mission markers.

Assuming this is one of the interned B-29s,  then the machine above can only be either 42-6358 “Ding Hao” or 42-6365 “General H.H. Arnold Special”   since 42-6256 “Ramp Tramp” belonged to the 462nd BG.

It’s a small thing I know,  but it’s amazing to me that someone was even making movies of this kind in Stalin’s USSR in the late 40s.


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