Bombing operations during the Second World War were one of the most hazardous undertakings Americans had to endure throughout the conflict. Consider for example the Operation Tidal Wave strike by American B-24 bombers against oil reserves in Ploesti Romania in 1943: of 178 bombers and 1,726 men on the mission, 54 aircraft, and nearly 500 men failed to return (310 killed and 186 captured).
Due to the extremely hazardous nature of bombing Axis targets, the Army Air Corps mandated that the country only expected bomber pilots and crews to fly a maximum of 25 combat missions before their time in the military was honorably served. The crew of Air Corps B-26 medium bomber “Flak-Bait” fulfilled their quota of 25 bomb runs… but, feeling the momentum, they rolled up their sleeves and knocked out another 175 bomb runs for good measure.
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I’m a nobody*, but my venerable uncle Robert Hand flew a cool 81 missions over mainland Japan in a Boeing B-29 (Super Fortress). As with many men, he was not one to talk about his part in the war. He had the same answer every time I asked him about his military service:
“Oh… you know, son, I just heated up the Japs every chance I got.”
I think I knew what that meant without actually knowing what it meant.
Flak-Bait flew 725 hours in combat and covered 177,460 miles while consuming 157,850 gallons of gasoline. Living up to its name, the bomber accumulated over 1,000 patched holes from combat flak (anti-aircraft fire) damage. To sustain all of that damage and stay flying is staggering when you consider that plenty of bombers were actually shot down and destroyed on their maiden flights.
After the war, the Army Air corps recognized Flak-Bait’s historic significance and saved it from the fate of destruction that befell most post-war aircraft. It was sent back to the United States in 1946 where the modern U.S. Air Force officially donated the aircraft to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
Flak-Bait’s port forward fuselage section went on display in the museum in 1976 while the bulk of the bomber artifacts remain in storage until 2014 when the entire remains of the bomber went in for complete restoration at the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar.
In the end, no other bomber matched Flak-Bait’s mission count — all with the same original flight crew members. Its success could be seen as a matter of high speed and heavy protective armament delivered by engineering design, but the flight crews are the ones that brought its performance to the top rung and made it the lowest loss of aircraft of the entire war.
By Almighty God and with Honor,
*Editor’s Note: The author of this article sure as heck isn’t a nobody.