On April 18, 1945 Henry Miller's B-29 was part of a second wave attack on the Tachiarai Air Base. The B-29's were hitting Japanese airfields capable of launching attacks during the invasion of Okinawa. He was flying on A Square 8 "Iron Shillalah". On the bomb run they were attacked by fighters. The materials below were provided by Internet searches, historian Jim Bowman and accessed from National Archive files through Fold3.com. They show the target, formations, mission report description and the Missing Air Crew Report of the attempt to get the crippled B-29 to Iwo Jima.
In 2012 I was able to locate Henry's half brother John Novelli. We met near Washington, DC and I gave him an album of all the records and photos I had been able to find regarding Henry. John was unaware of the full story I had uncovered and it was a deeply emotional afternoon sharing what I had learned. He brought two photos of Henry and his medals which were presented to his mother Catherine at the Pentagon in 1946. John had the photo below of the ceremony with a Pentagon official, John, Catherine and Jesse.
Jesse would later take Henry's name when he was confirmed in the Catholic Church. Jesse joined the Air Force and served in the 1950's. Catherine passed away in the 1960's. Jesse was killed in Florida decades later in a boating accident while water skiing.
While researching my Uncle Bob Maloy's B-29 Bombardier history I solved an old mystery about someone from his crew who was killed. When I was a child in the 1960's, my father told me that Bob's friend, a fellow Bombardier, had traded places, been swapped, from the crew Bob was on. Bob's friend later died when the B-29 he was flying in as Bombardier was lost. I had no name for this man or details on his death. I didn't ask Bob about it and the story became one of many that my father shared that would have me curious for decades.
In June of 2010, when I was sent records Bob had saved from his WWII service, I discovered Bob's friend was Bombardier Henry Miller. It would take over two years to get the full story on Henry and what happened to him.
Henry L. Miller was born in 1921. He was the great-grandson of Henry F. Miller who founded The Henry F. Miller & Sons Piano Company near Boston in 1863. Henry's father was a mechanical engineer and I don't think he was involved the family piano business. Henry's parents divorced and his mother Catherine took custody of Henry. She later remarried to a man named John Novelli and had two more sons, John and Jesse. Henry was 15 years older than his half-brother John and 17 years older than Jesse. He was a loving big brother to the two small boys. John Novelli was a gifted stone mason and he died suddenly in 1940. My Uncle Bob's father, my grandfather, also died suddenly in 1940. Both Henry and Bob would be of critical financial help to their mother's during the war.
After he finished High School, Henry went to work at ERCO, a company that was producing popular single engine monoplanes at their factory near his family home in College Park, Maryland. Henry loved airplanes. His brother John would later tell me about playing with his friends near the factory and airfield. John would walk home with his big brother Henry at the end of his working day. His 1942 Army enlistment record shows Henry as a single man with dependents. Henry became a B-29 Bombardier in 1944 flying with the crew of the B-29, A Square 9 "Sky-Scrapper" and left for Saipan in late October of 1944.
The next mission on December 13, 1944 would offer more drama when "Sky-Scrapper II" was hit by flak on the bombing run. Flak struck Henry Miller on the head. Regarding this mission to Nagoya, The San Francisco Chronicle reported:
First Lieutenant Earl Y. Miller (incorrect first name and middle initial), Riverdale, Md. was hit on the head but unhurt by a piece of flak which shattered the top of a window. Miller was bombardier for First Lieutenant J.T. Garvin of Las Vegas, Nev. "Miller and I had our heads down looking into the bomb sight", Garvin said. That's the only reason he wasn't hurt by the flying glass. "Undisturbed, Miller dropped his bomb right on the target. He deserves a medal."
The photo below is of Henry with "Sky-Scrapper II" after this mission while the B-29 was being repaired.
He's seen here sitting at his Bombardier station and he has his fingers through the flak hole that struck him.
John Garvin collection ASHF Photo Archives
John Garvin collection ASHF Photo Archives
B-29 Bombardiers Henry Miller and Bob Maloy on Saipan circa late 1944. Photo found in 2010 among records saved by Bob Maloy. ASHF Photo Archive
Photo of Henry Miller and his medals from his brother John Novelli
LEFT TO RIGHT - Ground Crew Chief: M/Sgt. Paul Grissom - Flight Engineer: Lt. Richard Bauml - Radio Operator: S/Sgt. John Ciezarek - CFC Gunner: T/Sgt. Frank Oblock - Navigator: Lt. Harold Erlandson - Pilot: Lt. Edwin Seitz - Air Commander: Capt. John Garvin - Bombardier: Lt. Henry Miller - Tail Gunner: S/Sgt. Alvin Borden - Left Gunner: S/Sgt David Caldwell - Radar Operator: S/Sgt. Felix Liles
Henry was awarded 2 Purple Hearts and 3 Air Medals
Dangerous missions were not the only worry Henry was enduring. After he left for service, his mother developed meningitis that would leave her deaf in one ear. She was unable to care for Henry's brothers during the long illness and they were placed in a Baltimore orphanage. They would stay there until after the war when Catherine was finally well enough to bring them home. Henry's AAF pay was sent to her during his time on Saipan.
Sometime in later January 1945, Henry changed crews. It is believed he went to the "alternate crew" for "Sky-Scrapper II". The B-29's at that time on Saipan had two crews, main and alternate, to allow for the bombers to be put to constant use and the crews able to rest between the long missions. My Uncle Bob Maloy took Henry's place on "Sky-Scrapper II" as main crew Bombardier until his tour was completed. The alternate crew for "Sky-Scrapper II" Henry was on likely flew available B-29's until eventually getting their own. To date, I can find no records. My research on Henry Miller ends with his last mission in April of 1945.
On November 27, 1944 "Sky-Scrapper" was strafed at the base on Saipan during an attack and destroyed. It never flew a mission. Using other 869th Squadron B-29's before getting "Sky-Scrapper II" in December 1944, Henry flew 6 missions to bomb Japan with his original "Sky-Scrapper" crew. A December 9, 1944 night solo "Weather Reconnaissance" mission over Tokyo included dropping cases of empty beer bottles. (see article below). The mission was complicated by severe weather and they made it back to base with no fuel to spare.
"Sky-Scrapper" crew in Hawaii en route to Saipan October 1944 John Garvin collection ASHF Photo Archives
Photo above saved by Bob's brother Bernard Maloy. ASHF Photo Archive
Miller above (fourth in from the left) with "Sky-Scrapper" crew shortly before transfer to Saipan.
Miller below (center- crouching) with "Sky-Scrapper" crew at deployment base in Herrington, KS Sept. 1944 John Garvin collection ASHF Photo Archives
John Garvin collection ASHF Photo Archives
Joining countless others, Henry's name is on the wall at the Tablets of the Missing at Honolulu Memorial. His war records show his date of death as April 18, 1945 and his place of burial "Missing in Action or Buried at Sea". He was 24 years old.
A Square Heroes Foundation Remembers B-29 Bombardier Lieutenant Henry L. Miller
Henry Miller above: In front of "Sky-Scrapper II" on Saipan, December 1944 John Garvin collection ASHF Photo Archives
MISSING AIR CREW REPORT (retyped from original by Mark Maloy)
869th Squadron 497th Bomb Group Isley Base, Saipan Ditching of: A Square 8 “Iron Shillalah” on April 18, 1945 Date of Report: April 19, 1945 and June 12, 1945
Cause of Ditching: (narrative by Co-Pilot 1st Lt. Robert Ballard, Jr ) On the bomb run and just before bombs were away, a Jap fighter plane made a strafing attack on our aircraft which knocked out our No. 1 engine and shot holes in our No. 2 gas tank. The bombardier dropped the bombs but when a check was made in the bomb bays we discovered that eight 250 pound fragmentation bombs were hung up in the rear bomb bay due to damage incurred in the rear bomb rack system by the fighter attack. The Jap fighter planes left us at the coast of Japan for which we were quite thankful. One-half hour after leaving the coast of Japan our No. 2 engine quit because of lack of fuel. I had the engineer check the remaining fuel in the No. 3 and No. 4 engines and at the time I ordered the navigator for an ETA to Iwo Jima. The amount of fuel left in the No. 3 and No. 4 engines was adequate to reach Iwo if the navigator‘s ETA were correct. The ETA was calculated on the weather information furnished at the briefing and the predicted headwinds were not so strong as the actual headwinds encountered. Therefore our fuel ran out before we could make Iwo Jima.
Preparing for ditching: When I found out that eight bombs were hung up in the rear bomb bay, I waited until we had left the coast of Japan and then told the airplane commander I was going back to see about getting the bombs out of the aircraft. I called the bombardier and the CFC gunner over the interphone and told them to meet me in the rear bomb bay. The bombardier unbolted one of the bombs while the CFC gunner and I held on to the nose and tail section.
We carried the 250 pound frag bomb through the CFC and radar compartments to the rear unpressurized section. The bombardier opened the rear entrance door and a cold (unreadable) of air swept through the rear section of the plane. A sudden lurch of the aircraft nearly caused us to drop our bomb before we could throw it out the rear door. We finally managed to throw the bomb out but from the time we had first entered the rear bomb bay until the time we had thrown the bomb out had taken up a thirty minute period. I decided this process would take too long, so I sent the bombardier up front and had him open the bomb bay doors and use the mechanical salvo. Four of the remaining bombs went out, but there were still three 250 pound fragmentation bombs left in the racks. The bomb bay doors were closed again by the bombardier so they could be reopened and another attempt made to get rid of the remaining three bombs. The rear bomb bay doors closed normally but the front doors would not close.
The CFC gunner and I tried to get the remaining bombs out but we were unsuccessful. We were working against time because the airplane commander had called up the crew and had told them to get in their normal ditching positions because the fuel was running low in the No. 3 and No. 4 engines.
CFC gunner and I decided that we had better leave the bombs as they were after checking to see that the arming wires were through the fuses of the bombs and the bombs were in a safe condition.
During the time that the bombardier, CFC (gunner) and I were trying to get rid of our bombs, the other crew members had been throwing out loose personal equipment and other equipment on the aircraft that could be broken loose or removed. I had the men in the rear install the ditching braces in the (forward) compartment.
I think everyone realized the seriousness of the situation but the crew discipline was excellent and every man did his job in a calm and collected manner. The engineer removed his escape hatch and placed it beneath (his) seat while the navigator chopped out the astrodome. The pilot and copilot remained strapped in their seats. The Flight Engineer was in his seat with his (seat) belt unfastened and the bombardier was seated next to him padded with his parachute and other soft gear. The navigator padded himself with a cushion and his parachute, bracing himself on the floor next to his station. The radio operator remained in his seat facing aft with his back braced against the upper forward (missing word). The CFC gunner was in the tunnel with his foot braced against the upper turret.
(Note: A crawl thru tunnel ran from the rear of the cockpit area over the bomb bays to the CFC section behind the wings.)
In the rear unpressurized compartment were the following persons: The right gunner on the right hand side of the airplane, next to him was the left gunner and on the left side of the ship was the tail gunner. The radar operator sat with his back braced against the left gunner’s knees and his with his feet against the camera hatch. (The airplane commander had the tail gunner come forward from his regular position in order to make the plane less tail heavy.) All personnel wore flak helmets except the right gunner. The emergency IFF was out but the radio operator made one contact with the base and received verifications that his message had been received.
Ditching: The wind was estimated to be 15 knots. The sea was rough with 3 4/10 white caps visible and the distance between crests was about 50 feet. The airplane commander had been flying the airplane for quite some time on the #3 and #4 engines. No. 3 engine quit because of lack of fuel and was feathered. The plane lost altitude and a course was picked parallel to the swells. Between 50 and 100 feet above the water No. 4 engine was feathered and an attempt was made to lose a little more airspeed before hitting the water. The airplane touched the water in a slightly tail down position parallel to the swells. On impact the airplane broke in two at the CFC compartment. The tail section sank almost immediately and the front end assumed a vertical position, remaining afloat for about ten minutes.
(Unreadable word): On the final impact, the co-pilot was thrown forward and his head was pinned in some wreckage. When he had fought free of the wreckage he found himself under the water still strapped to his seat. After releasing his safety belt he fought his way to the surface. He encountered much wreckage over his head and to facilitate his rise he pulled one of the cylinders on his life vest. He broke the surface of the water to the rear of the wing and on the left side of the fuselage. The engineer was thrown from his seat on impact. The front compartment flooded very rapidly and he swam until he saw light. The radio operator, navigator and CFC gunner went out the astrodome. The pilot and the bombardier were not seen after the impact.
In the rear compartment the plane split longitudinally along the right side. The right gunner floated out of this break. He eventually saw all the remaining personnel in the water but they were beyond help. All life vests worked satisfactorily except the flight engineer’s CO2 was gradually lost and he could not inflate it by mouth.
Survival: On impact, the radio operator and CFC gunner pulled the cabin life raft release handle. The rafts ejected but were useless because of the many holes punctured in them by the enemy fighter. No one-man life rafts or other emergency supplies were taken from the plane although the engineer recovered a few cans of sea marker which floated by him. The B-29 which had been following circled over them until a PBY from Iwo Jima came out. The PBY dropped one raft and emergency equipment by parachute but they landed too far away to be of any use. They then dropped a raft without parachute which landed close enough to be recovered. The inflating cylinder was found to have broken off when it hit the water. The survivors had collected various floating objects such as cushions and walk around oxygen bottles to give them added buoyancy.
Rescue: The PBY circled over the survivors and was joined by a number of P-51’s from Iwo Jima who stayed overhead until a destroyer escort reached the scene and picked up the three men and recovered the body of the radio operator S/Sgt. Martin Berkowitz. They were given first aid and were brought to Iwo Jima for further treatment.
"Iron Shillalah" Crew Members April 18, 1945
Missing In Action (bodies not recovered)
Air Commander: 2nd Lt. Jack Bussell
Navigator: 2nd Lt. Thomas Harrington
Bombardier: 2nd Lt. Henry Miller
Left Gunner: S/Sgt. William Black
Tail Gunner: S/Sgt. Harry Evans
Radar Operator: S/Sgt. Daniel Shea
Killed In Action (body recovered)
Radio Operator: S/Sgt. Martin Berkowitz
Copilot: 1st Lt. Robert Ballard Jr
Flight Engineer: 2nd Lt. Frank Balpa
Right Gunner: Sgt. Robert Boyle
The B-29 ditched 37 miles from Iwo Jima