In April of 1945, orders finally came through transferring the
509th's ground support squadrons to Tinian Island in the Marianas Group of
islands in the South Pacific. During late April and May, there was a
gradual staging of these support units. They quickly packed up their tools
and assorted equipment and boarded troop trains for the West Coast where ships
were waiting to transport them to Tinian. Some ground crews, including
that of The Great Artiste, stayed behind and would fly with the airplane to
In early June, the flight crews received their
orders to proceed to Tinian. The flight plan of "The Great
Artiste" took it to Mather Air Force Base in California, where the crew
would spend a few days processing paperwork for overseas duty. Next, they
would proceed to John Rogers Field in Honolulu, where the B-29 would be checked
over and re-fueled. Next, on to Kwajalein Island in the Pacific for
another re-fueling and then to North Field on Tinian Island.
addition of the ground crew as passengers on the flight to Tinian presented real
problems. As the biggest airplane in the world, the B-29 was a
sophisticated bomber, not a transport plane. It was designed to carry
about ten men, not twenty.
Even without additional
passengers, the B-29 was crowded. In the nose, the bombardier was squeezed
into a very small space, surrounded with delicate equipment, including the
Norden Bomb Sight, a small table, and various controls. On the flight
deck, the pilot and co-pilot's seats were surrounded with instruments and
gauges. Behind the co-pilot, facing the rear of the plane, the flight
engineer had a small seat in front of all his controls where he could monitor
fuel supply and adjust the four engines for maximum performance. Behind
the pilot, the navigator also had a small chair and table for his charts, maps
and radar scope. Next to the flight engineer, the radio operator had a
small chair and table. The removal of the forward gun turret opened up a
little room, but not much. However, there was some open space in the rear
cabin area created by the removal of the gun turrets and machine guns.
approximately June 4th, with Major Sweeney in command, The Great Artiste
"buzzed" Wendover Field for the last time and headed for Mather Air
Force Base in California. The Great Artiste was joined by 3 other B-29's
also headed to Tinian. The following account by then Lt. Fred Olivi, the
co-pilot of The Great Artiste, sheds light on the intense security surrounding
the mission of the 509th Composite Group.
at Mather Field that I first learned what it meant to be the only second
lieutenant among higher-ranking officers. I was put in charge of security
for "The Great Artiste" whenever it was on the ground. Since we
were scheduled to remain the night at Mather, this meant that I was responsible
for protecting the B-29. The enlisted men in our ground crew were assigned
to guard duty."
I was new at this role as
"Officer of the Day", and very awkward when I had to inspect their
weapons; however, our sergeants helped me work out a reasonable schedule.
Checking on the men throughout the night also meant I didn't get much
This kind of armed security for our
ultra-secret, modified B-29, at one of our own military bases, in our own
country, may seem strange, but before we left Wendover, Colonel Tibbets had
issued strict orders that no unauthorized person was to get "near" one
of the B-29's. And only members of the 509th were authorized."
persons only" also meant everyone, including generals. Later in the
evening, the commanding general of the air base, who had heard about the strange
looking B-29's without gun turrets, decided to "tour" one up
close. He drove out to the B-29 in his personal jeep to take a look."
guard on duty immediately realized that the general was not an
"authorized" person, since he was not with the 509th. After some
heated words, the general told the airman that he, the general, was going to
board the B-29, and that the airman better get out of the way if he knew what
was good for him. The airman pulled back the bolt on his carbine and aimed
at the general's chest. He pleaded with the general saying that he would
shoot if he had to. The general finally did stop, but promised the airman,
"I'm going to nail your ass to the wall". The general got back
in his jeep and roared off. Although the general later complained both to
Col. Tibbets and General Groves, he was told that they were sorry but the B-29's
of the 509th were "strictly off limits" to everyone - it was a matter
of national security - period".