This is the 3rd and final post about the B-29 Superfortress, Three Feathers.
In my previous post, Three Feathers, Part 2, you learned that Three Feathers I flew 11 creditable missions before it was temporarily retired, refurbished, and reassigned to another crew with a new tail number. The crew of Three Feathers I was given a new B-29 which they promptly named Three Feathers II, and it retained the Z-SQUARE-49 number.
Three Feathers II flew 18 missions, until her last most memorable mission over Kure, Japan, June 22nd, 1945. Colonel Dougherty, the 500th Group Commander led the 73rd Wing in a maximum raid in Three Feathers II right seat. Flak from a battleship knocked out Three Feathers II’s left 2 engines, blasting a huge hole in the largest of the fuel tanks, flooding the crew aft compartment with fumes. In the forward cabin, Capt. Landaker was soaked in blood up to his waist. Flak had gone through his boots, sealing him to the floor boards. Three Feathers II managed another dead stick landing, this time on the recently liberated Iwo Jima, about half the distance it would have taken to travel to Saipan. Three Feathers II was scrapped there for parts and the crew went back to Saipan.
The crew of Three Feathers II was rated “war weary” by the flight surgeon who wanted the crew grounded. Convinced that the war was almost over, General Curtis LeMay had other ideas. He ordered the experienced crew of Three Feathers II to train newer crews. They were assigned a temporary B-29 replacement (Z-45) and they used it to fly “Superdumbo Rescue Missions” from Iwo Jima. While these missions were not technically combat missions, they were still very dangerous.
The Three Feathers crew received their 3rd B-29, and it was christened Three Feathers III, and continued to fly combat missions until the wars end. On July 16th, 1945, the 500th Bomb Group selected this plane for a special ceremony!
General O’Donnell made a speech stating that 2000 planes have used Iwo Jima to date. Plenty of pictures were taken. The crew of Three Feathers posed proudly in front of the newly unveiled nose art, in tribute to the 4th Marines for their heroic efforts in liberating the Pacific islands of Iwo Jima, Tinian, Saipan, and Roi Namur, and commemorating 2000 B-29s flying off of Iwo Jima.
On August 6th, 1945, another B-29, the Enola Gay dropped the 1st atomic bomb over Hiroshima Japan. Three days later Bockscar, another B-29 flying from Tinian, delivered the 2nd atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan. On that day, August 9th, the Japanese unconditionally surrendered to the Allied Forces. The formal surrender documents would be signed on the USS Missouri with an armada of B-29s passing over head!
At the end of the war, Three Feathers III was renamed Flagship 500 (in honor of the 500th Bomb Group). General LeMay flew her back to the U.S. mainland. Three Feathers III’s last flight was in 1981 to Riverside, CA where she now resides in honorable retirement at the March Field Air Museum (once a WWII air base).
While this may seem like the end of the story, I did a little more research and found a few more interesting tidbits of information!
Three Feathers III was taken to the China Lake Naval Weapons Station (as a target on March 18th, 1956), and sat there for many years. Luckily it was recovered in the late 70’s and flown to March AFB in 1981. There were no records at that time, so the Museum painted it, similar to other B-29’s that had been stationed there, and gave it the name “Mission Inn”. That is until it was learned that this plane carried the name “Flagship 500”. It was repainted with the “Flagship 500” markings in 2003.
Shortly after, it was learned that this plane has a WWII service record, and the name was Three Feathers III. The name was changed one more time!
I also found a book about B-29’s with Three Feathers on the cover! It’s called “The B-29 Superfortress Chronology 1934 – 1960” by Robert Mann.
Here are some of the sources of information on Three Feathers I found while searching online:
B-29A Superfortress, John A. Weeks III – This site has some information about Three Feathers as well as photos with some previous markings.
Warbirds Wiki – Some great photos here of the Three Feathers with it’s “Mission Inn” markings.
Warbirds Wiki – The Boeing B-29 Superfortress – Some good general info on the B-29 along with photos of many other B-29’s and their individual history (short).
Virtual Globtrotting, Three Feathers B-29 – More good general info on B-29’s with a little more on Three Feathers.
March Field Air Museum, Boeing B-29 Superfortress – Information on B-29’s, including the “Mission Inn” and Three Feathers. There are also 13 additional photos that you can see.
If you want to see the crew of Three Feathers, Z-SQUARE-49, and have any additional interest in the 500th Bomb Group, then you have to go to their memorial website! Just click here – 500th Bomb Group Memorial. Be sure to go to the Gallery, and click on the 883rd, then on Air Crews.
And finally I have one more source to mention. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have attempted to write about my connection to Three Feathers III, if it weren’t for this wonderful paper entitled “Three Feathers – Flagship of the 500th” by Joan Morre Liska, daughter of T.Sgt. Matthew J. Moore, gunner (with contributions by Capt. Edward Feathers Air Commander, and 2nd Lt. Homer L. Bourland, pilot of Three Feathers).
As I mentioned in my previous posts about Three Feathers (Part 1 & Part 2), this experience has been both humbling and enlightening! I feel honored to have learned so much about this particular B-29 and her crew. It’s my hope that if you’ve enjoyed this information as well that you share it, so others can learn and appreciate what has been done for them by brave men and women of WWII.
That’s it for now – Until next time, Happy Shooting!