THE AZON BOMB
By OCH #77, KA8MCC, MARION
I met my first crew at Hammar Field in California. Traveling to Muroc (now Edwards) Army Air Base, this crew broke up at the end of training. Shortly thereafter I got assigned to another crew. Eugene Morris was the pilot with Duane Jordan, co-pilot; Art Ruonavaara, navigator and Frank Nelson, bombardier. The enlisted men were: Thomas Dean, flight engineer, (then later Milfred Piper replaced Dean as our flight engineer). I was the radioman with Kenneth Robinson as my assistant in radio. The gunners were: Kenneth Robinson, Joseph (Sonny) Johnston, Hugh Fletcher the armorer/gunner, Andy Hocko a gunner and assistant flight engineer to Dean (later Piper). With the doing away of the ball turret, I became the person to open and close the bombay doors. This was to make that the bombay doors always open safely. Also, I could slightly open the bombay to have a ringside seat to see the hits. At the completion of our training, at Muroc, we received shipping orders to Hamilton Field in California.
After a week's stay at Hamilton Field, ten crews were selected for a highly classified cross-country trip to Ft. Dix, New Jersey. My crew was one of the ten selected. Settling down at Ft. Dix we were quickly briefed as to why we were there. Instructors, at Ft. Dix, told our ten crews that we were about to enter something new in warfare. We were told that we would have 'it' and the enemy would be seeking to find out what 'it' was. Security lectures were given and would be a daily ritual for the four weeks that we were in training.
Looking in our service records we discovered that someone had investigated all men for this training. The investigators had traveled to each man's home life area to know how we would rate on a top secret assignment We were given information on several new types of bombs. They were the Azon, Razon and Felix types. The Azon was radio-controlled, while the Razon was radio-controlled plus a television camera in its nose. Using a television receiver, the bombardier could guide it to the target. The Felix was a heat seeking type. The Azon equipment would be what we would train on and that training started immediately.
The Azon (Azimuth only) consisted of a radio transmitter and controls. The receiver was located in the tail assembly of the bomb. The tail fin assembly had four movable surfaces for the control of the bomb. Two surfaces were for the horizontal (roll) control and called the ailerons. The ailerons kept the bomb level when dropping and were controlled by a gyro. The other two surfaces, which were the rudder controls, were handled by the radio receiver located inside the tail and controlled the bomb left to right during its fall.
Four braces were connected to the fins to support the aileron and rudder controls. The four braces were also the antenna for receiving the signal from the transmitter. The Azon transmitter antenna was located at the rear of the plane. The antenna was approximately three feet in length. One day some person, not connected to the Azon group, got curious about the antenna. He asked what the antenna was used for. A ground crewman, involved with the Azon equipment and mindful of the high degree of classification surrounding the project, answered, "It is a highly classified flak repellent gadget. It keeps the plane from getting hit."
A flare is placed on the rear of the bomb's tail assembly and timed to ignite when the bomb has dropped between five hundred or a thousand feet below the plane. This was a safety feature to keep the flare from firing too quickly. The flare would be either a bright white or red color which also would leave a smoke trail to aid in the guidance to the target. Our first day of lecture, we took notes as the instructor lectured. However, at the end of the day, we were instructed to surrender our notes. This Azon training was top secret material, therefore all notes had to be destroyed by burning. We were given a test over the training lectures at the end of the first day. I was able to answer two questions out of twenty five. I thought to myself that I would be washed out of this training. Failure of the lecture test was not to be. For a full week we trained with the training lectures given twice a each day. At the end of the week, each radioman and bombardier passed the test with flying colors. We could not fail. Everyone passed with a straight A. Every body was now ready for phase two.
Our training involved instructing the radioman on how to adjust and tune the Azon transmitter. We were given instructions on the complete break down of the tail assembly. The bombardiers were given one step further on the Azon equipment. They had to know the controls that would move the dropping bomb from left to right. The Nordan bombsight was accurate to a certain point. Hitting a bridge, jetty or perhaps a boat meant that the Azon's bombardier would have to adjust the error. When dropped, the bomb could be moved left to right to score a hit. The Azon bomb was ideal for hitting a moving ship zig zagging along. Frank, our bombardier, once made the remark that he wished he could have the opportunity to see a moving enemy ship. The bombardier had the Azon controls close to his bombsight. The controls were all assembled in a box with an on-off switch for the transmitter and the receivers. The receivers being located in the tail assembly attached on the bombs. A control stick, located on the box, was used to control the bomb's azimuth. Prior to release, the Azon receivers were powered from the airplane's electrical system. However, upon dropping of the bomb a battery located inside the tail would take over.
The practice missions, at Ft. Dix, were at altitudes of ten to twenty five thousand feet. Ground crews would load the bombs on the plane and install the tail assembly. The bombardier and radioman would give the equipment a quick checkup before take off. In flight the two men would check to ensure the rudders were in working order. On bombing missions the Azon equipment would be turned on about a couple of hours before arriving over the target. The radioman had to check to see if the rudders reacted to the transmitter signal. After a month of training, all ten crews were assigned to B-24 aircraft with the Azon equipment installed. Each plane was issued several Azon fins to be prepared for their first mission. Our shipping orders arrived and on August, 24, 1944 we were on our way to overseas. First to Mitchell Field, N.Y.; Grenier Field, N.H.; Newfoundland; Azores; Merrakech; Tunis; Cairo; Abandan, Iran; Karachi; Agra and Kurmitola, an ATC base. Kurmitola would be our home base for a while. We got a mission or two over the Hump hauling fuel supplies to China bases. On October 6 we moved to the base at Pandaveswar (called Panda for short). Here we would finally fly bombing missions which would make use of our Azon training. But we were in for a surprise. We were assigned to the 9th. Bomb Squadron of the 7th. Bomb Group. A colonel, who was in charge of operations, ordered the Azon equipment removed from the planes. We were astonished! We had gone through all of the training and listening to daily security briefings, now this.
We got a bombing mission to go after a bridge--number 277. I have no idea just how many planes vent after this target. Anyway it was a waste of time. No one made a direct hit. Frank, on our plane, dropped his bombs which hit to the right side of the bridge spans. A straight line of explosins, indeed. We began talking on the intercom and saying if we had had our Azon equipment we would have gotten that bridge. A later mission was for some shipping. The hits were fair at best.
November saw a change of a couple of our crew members. A couple of months previous, in September, Thomas Dean had to leave our crew at Karachi. He had been showing evidence of back problems. These back back problems were slowly getting worse as the days went by. Thomas was admitted to the base hospital at Karachi and would be permanently grounded within a few days. Andy Hocko, our assistant flight engineer and gunner, had to take over the responsibility of the flight engineer. Thomas was shipped back to the US for further hospital care. Later, at Pandaveswar, Milfred Piper joined our crew as flight engineer. Our navigator, Art Ruonavaara, began having problems with malaria which started at Kurmitola. At Pandaveswar, Art came down with the malaria once again and had to be hospitalized, A new navigator joined our crew temporarily. His name was Flight Officer Merle Wiley.
December of 1944, we and eleven other crews were sent to China on detached service to the 14th. Airforce. Our assignment was to haul fuel and miscellaneous supplies to certain bases in China. Some of this had to be flown over the Hump from India. The Japanese had cut China into two sections. Our assigned base in China, was Luliang. From Luliang crews had to haul fuel and supplies to Suchow which was located east of the Japanese line. Luliang was located west of the Japanese line. One of these flights, across the Hump, was hauling a load of liquor. We picked up several cases of liquor at Pandaveswar to haul to Luliang. Upon arriving to Luliang a captain, in a jeep, drove up. He asked, "Has any of the cases of liquor been opened." We gave an answer of "No sir." The captain proceded to open each case and examine each bottle to see if the seal was broken. This captain bugged us about looking at each bottle so carefully. The captain loaded the liquor in his jeep and drove off. I made the remark, "What is the matter with that captain, doesn't he trust us."
Shortly after Christmas, orders came for us to quickly return back to Pandaveswar. Back at Pandaveswar we were in for some good news. While we were in China, a major came to the 7th. Bomb Group wanting to know why no reports were submitted about the Azon equipment. The operations colonel explained that the Azon equipment had been taken off. The major, angerly, then began explaining to the colonel that the Azon equipment was a project ordered by General Arnold. Orders were that all Azon equipment must be replaced back on the planes immediately. All Azon crews were given back the planes we had flown over, with all Azon equipment installed back in place. The Azon crews and planes were then transferred from the 9th to the 493rd Bomb Squadron. The 493rd. then became known as the Azon Squadron.
We began to get results with our Azon equipment. We got bridge after bridge. There is no need to go into detail about each mission as they would all be the same. We got the bridges! Soon, this made the other squadrons a bit jealous. Other groups wanted to get the Azon. But, as the officer at Ft. Dix said, "You will have IT.", so we were enjoying IT. During our missions, the ground crews had rigged up the Azon. transmitter so its' signal could be heard over the plane's intercom. We all had a ringside seat watching the bomb fall. Hearing a low hum over the intercom, we would see the bomb move to the right. A high pitch hum, we would see the bomb move to the left. Always, we had a good fighter escort to keep the Japanese planes away. The only thing that we had to worry about was flak. On January the 23rd 1945, we were to go after bridge 277 with the Azon. However, bad weather set in. All planes were ordered to return home. We removed the Azon tail assemblies and dropped the bombs into the bay before returning to our home base.
Later orders came to bomb bridge 277 at low level. Frank made a good hit, knocking the steel and concrete bridge out in one span. Our crew received credit for hitting the bridge. There were no planes lost although we took some hits. Only one life was lost in all of the planes going after the bridge, which I later learned was the famous "Bridge on the River Kwai."
Shortly after the mission for bridge 277, Art began to get his malaria problem once again. This time the attacks were worse than previous attacks. Art was in the hospital for several days. Finally he was released back to the 493rd. This time Art lost several pounds in weight. The decision was then made by the medics to return him back to the US to get better care. We had to bid Art farewell as he left us to return back to the US. Our crew was then assigned a new navigator, Kenneth R. Van Zandt. Also at this time, Milfred Piper had gotten in all of his combat flying time in. We all bid Milfred a farewell as he flew out. We got another replacement for Milfred's position. His name was Pete Hoidra.
In May, 1945, we received our shipping orders to return back to the US. We were flown, by a B-24, to Dum Dum. The plane buzzed us after leaving. The only crew members, to leave for the US, at this time were myself, Frank Nelson, Kenneth Robinson, Andy Hocko, Sonny Johnston and Eugene Morris. Eugene was to meet us just before hitting the boat for the US. Eugene had a delay at Pandaveswar for a couple of days. Hugh Fletcher and Duane Jordan were unable to leave with us. They would leave the base a couple of weeks later. Pete Hoidra and Kenneth Van Zandt were assigned to other aircraft. We waved back to the plane as the men, returning back to Pandaveswar, waved in return. How little did I realize that I would not fly again and that I was waving goodby, also, to an old friend--the B-24J. I received my honorable discharge from the Army Air Force in October, 1945, at Drew Field, Florida.
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