TNB Night Owl – NOAA Is Searching For WWII Bomber “Joltin’ Josie”

A USAAF B-29 Superfortress in flight. Public domain.

Destroying the aircraft manufacturing industry of Imperial Japan was a top priority for the US Army Air Forces (USAAF) in the Pacific. Eliminating enemy air power was a prerequisite to invading the Japanese home islands – all the USAAF needed were airbases within range of Tokyo and other industrial cities. The islands of the Mariana archipelago fit the bill: They were just close enough to Japan for the new B-29 Superfortresses to reach. Thus, as soon as a few of these islands could be captured and airfields made ready, the XXI Bomber Command moved in and commenced operations.

The very first B-29 Superfortress to arrive in the Pacific theater was named “Joltin’ Josie, The Pacific Pioneer”, complete with nose art. Piloted by Brigadier General Haywood S. Hansell, commander of the XXI Bomber Command, Joltin’ Josie landed on Tinian Island on 12 October 1944, to be followed in the coming weeks by hundreds of other B-29s under Hansell’s command. This aircraft proved very reliable, with few maintenance issues, unlike other B-29s. Over the next five months, Josie flew two dozen bombing missions over Japan, and her crew shot down at least ten Japanese fighters, a very respectable record.

On 1 April 1945, Josie took off from Tinian for a night raid on Tokyo with 120 other Superfortresses. Shortly after takeoff, one of her engines caught fire (a not uncommon occurrence with B-29s). Sources vary at this point in the storyline, with some saying Josie “burst into flames” in midair, others saying the aircraft exploded when it hit the water. There may or may not have been an observer or passenger on board in addition to the eleven assigned crewmembers. In any case, there were no survivors and no one was recovered from the crash. There were many B-29 accidents and wrecks in the Pacific during the war. Those aircraft that went down in the ocean were never recovered, although most of their crews were rescued. The sea kept 76 airmen forever.

On July 9, 2016, NOAA researchers on the ship Okeanos Explorer discovered by chance a B-29 wreck on the ocean floor near Tinian. Now, NOAA is going back to see if they can find other lost B-29s, maybe even Joltin’ Josie. From February 24 to March 11, 2022, researchers will be searching for more wrecks off of Tinian and nearby Saipan. Ultimately, they’d like to identify the final resting place of the 76 missing crew members.

“Brigadier General Haywood S. Hansell arrives in B-29 bomber at Saipan US Army Air…HD Stock Footage” (1:11)

In memory of the airmen who went down with “Joltin’ Josie”:

Campbell, John W ~ 1st Lt, Kansas
Canfield, Robert H ~ 1st Lt, Indiana
Currier, Wilson C, Jr ~ Capt, Pilot, New Mexico
Hansen, Warren L ~ 2nd Lt, Illinois
Hill, George L, Jr ~ T/Sgt, Montana
O’Connor, Robert M ~ 1st Lt, Nebraska
Phelps, Raleigh E ~ 1st Lt, North Carolina
Rannels, Robert V ~ S/Sgt, Indiana
Roberts, Norman T ~ S/Sgt, Massachusetts
Russell, Richard W ~ S/Sgt, Minnesota
Wyatt, Roger H ~ Sgt, New Hampshire

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About Richard Doud 622 Articles
Learning is a life-long endeavor. Never stop learning. No one is right all the time. No one is wrong all the time. No exceptions to these rules.