The Big Secret
By Frank Tibbo
It was early 1944 and the Allies knew they were going to win the war. It was just a matter of time. Warplanes were going through Gander at a record rate. The USAAF records for Gander show that they were sending approximately 300 bombers through every month. The RAF Ferry Command had reached a peak, and their bombers were also being dispatched at record rates.
In the midst of this very intensive activity, the USAAF at Gander was notified by radio on March 4 to be ready for a special mission. The new B-29 Super-Fortresses were ready for assignment. They could cruise at 40,000 feet and zoom along at 400 knots. No aircraft in the world could come close to matching it.
The American military emphasized that this was a highly secret mission. Information concerning the new type aircraft and the fact that Gander was a terminal point for the movement was closely guarded. The message requested that runways be cleared to 6,000 feet long and at least 250 feet wide. Runways were to be dry for good braking action, and snow drifts along the runways were not to exceed six feet high.
The following day Col. Frank Cook and Captain W.A. Stewart surprised the base personnel when they landed the first B-29 in the afternoon. It departed on March 7 for Prestwick. Two more of the big bombers landed March 26 and took off March 29 for Marrakech, Morocco. (Marrakech is approximately 100 miles south of Casablanca.) The three B-29s that landed during March led the way for 146 more of the Superfortresses which were to arrive in April and May.
B29 Super Fortress (post war photo)
From the record:
“This project made added security precautions necessary. An investigation revealed that some of the military personnel were gullible and too willing to discuss military matters with strangers. A program was carried out to make the base conscious of the importance of keeping military information secret. All transients and permanent personnel going on furloughs were briefed on safeguarding military information.”
A slogan contest was sponsored to make personnel security conscious. Some of the slogans were:
DON’T HELP HAW-HAW SPREAD RUMOURS; SOME DAY HE WHO HAW-HAWS LAST WILL HAW-HAW BEST. (Haw-Haw was a German who spewed Nazi propaganda via short-wave radio.)
WATCH HER MOVEMENTS BUT DON’T TELL HER YOURS.
MILITARY INFORMATION IS ONE SUBJECT WHERE IT IS NOT MORE BLESSED TO GIVE
THAN TO RECEIVE.
An excerpt from the official records indicated that there were serious leaks.
“Despite the efforts to keep the presence of the B-29s secret there was some loose talk about the movement. An officer returning from leave reported personnel in the T.C.A. office in Montreal, Canada were aware of the movements in Gander and talked freely of it.”
Special precautions were taken.
While the B-29s were on the field a separate runway was blocked off for the big super aircraft, roving guards patrolled the area and special guards were posted with each plane. Personnel leaving or entering the area had to show identification badges and sign in and out. Curiosity visits to the planes were prohibited.
An instance requiring tact arose when a RCAF crew returning from reconnaissance photographed one of the B-29s on the runway. The photograph was destroyed and the RCAF promised that no more pictures would be taken.
Some of the aircraft that went through Gander executed the first mission for the B-29s. They took off from a base in India on June 5, 1944, to bomb Bangkok. Ten days later, 50 Super Fortresses bombed Yawata, Japan
A little more than a year later two B-29s ended the war when they dropped two atomic bombs on Japan.
Contributed by F. Tibbo