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Last Flight of Bomber 31

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  • Half Pint John
    started a topic Last Flight of Bomber 31

    Last Flight of Bomber 31

    Found on the net. History of a little studied AO.

    Document created: 20 July 06
    Air & Space Power Journal Book Review - Spring 2007

    The Last Flight of Bomber 31: Harrowing Tales of American and Japanese Pilots Who Fought in World War II’s Arctic Air Campaign by Ralph Wetterhahn. Carroll and Graf Publishers (, 245 West 17th Street, 11th Floor, New York, New York 10011-5300, 2004, 364 pages, $26.00 (hardcover), $15.95 (softcover).

    The Last Flight of Bomber 31—also the subject of a NOVA television program on Public Broadcasting Service—describes the circumstances regarding the finding of an American World War II US Navy bomber on southern Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Far East. According to author Ralph Wetterhahn, the Lockheed Ventura carried out a strike on Paramushiro and Shimushu Islands and then attempted to divert to a Soviet airfield on Petropavlovsk, Kamchatka, after it overheated. The aircraft did not make it to the airfield but crash-landed, and the crew perished. The book also relates other losses and sacrifices made by crews flying the missions of the Arctic air campaign during the war, detailing the efforts of a joint task force working in Russia to document and find missing Americans.

    Flying from the Aleutian islands of Attu, Shemya, and Kiska under difficult weather conditions over the bitter-cold Bering Sea with simple navigation (dead reckoning), the US Army Air Forces and the Navy (flying B-25Ds, B-24s, and Ventura PV-1s) carried out 1,500-mile sorties lasting 10 hours that pushed man and machine to their limits. The Soviet Union remained neutral in the Pacific in 1943, so US aircraft diverted to Soviet airspace only if lack of fuel or combat damage prevented a return to the Aleutians. Ditching in the ice-cold waters often proved fatal. Citing neutrality laws, the Soviet Union interned Americans and initially refused to repatriate or give an accurate accounting of lost Airmen. Later it allowed them to “escape” from another part of the country to Iran—at the time under joint US and Soviet occupation. Wetterhahn describes all of these events in a gripping narrative, relying on a mixture of survivor and eyewitness accounts.

    Besides exploring the United States’ role in the Arctic air campaign, Wetterhahn also describes why the Japanese chose to strike at Dutch Harbor during the Midway campaign in 1942 and how US and Canadian troops drove the Japanese off the Aleutian Islands. The text then details the construction of airfields, actually runways, to allow American aircraft to strike the Japanese northern Kurile Islands. The final chapter, perhaps the most touching, offers an account of what became of crew members after the war, such as a Japanese soldier who survived the bombings on the Kurile Islands and then ended up in the Soviet gulag penal system as a prisoner of war, and American crews who fell into Japanese hands. In sum The Last Flight of Bomber 31 is an excellent text that discusses the hardships and difficulties aircrews had to overcome in a very trying theater of World War II.

    Capt Gilles Van Nederveen, USAF, Retired
    Fairfax, Virginia

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