Book review

 An online database
 books and information
 on the Web since 1995

Enter first few characters
 New & forthcoming 
 Books by subjects 

 Book reviews 
 Recommended reading 
 Book forum 
 Latest book feedback 

 War Diary 
 Nations at war 
 Trivia challenge 

 Popular resources 
 Recent views 

 Random book 
 Random author 
 Random publisher 
 Random subject 
 Random War Diary 
 Random biography 

 Newsletter requests 
 Sell your books 

 WWII links

 About us 
 Site guide 
 Site index 


Campbell, Richard H. The Silverplate Bombers: A History and Registry of the Enola Gay and Other B-29s Configured to Carry Atomic Bombs. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc, 2005

ISBN 0-7864-2139-8
ix + 235 pages

Acknowledgments; Foreword; Preface; photos; Chapter Notes; Bibliography; Index

Appendices: Chronology; Mission List; Crew Information; 509th Composite Group and Project Alberta Roster; Project Alberta; Silverplate B-29 Summary; Individual Silverplate B-29 Histories

   While anyone reading about World War II is probably familiar already with B-29 bombers, the term "Silverplate B-29s" is certainly less well known. Richard Campbell explains the term in his Preface, and also sets the parameters for his interesting book:

   This is the story of a special version of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber. Its name, the Silverplate B-29, refers to the code name for the project that produced it. The goal of that project was to create a plane capable of delivering atomic bombs. The Silverplate B-29 was the result.
   Only 65 of these airplanes came into existence; yet they played a crucial role in events that altered the course of mankind. Some of the Silverplate B-29s were in service for only a few months, while others became the backbone of America's nuclear deterrent force in the years immediately following the end of World War II. The two most famous of these distinctive bombers, given the nicknames Enola Gay and Bockscar, are the only two that remain, 59 years after the missions they flew into the history books.
   The story that follows is about an airplane. The focus is not on the men who flew it, the bombs they dropped, or the morality of their use. It simply tells the history of how 65 Silverplate B-29s were produced, used, lost in accidents, converted to other configurations, and finally sent to their graveyard to be turned into scrap. It is somewhat ironic to think that possibly some of the aluminum pots and pans used to cook meals in the 1950s were originally parts of Silverplate B-29s.

   True to his word, Campbell digs up just about everything to be known about the Silverplates and presents all the information in very digestible chunks. The first chapter briefly explains the necessity for a bomber to deliver the atomic bombs under development by the Manhattan Project. In 1943, the new B-29 proved to be the only suitable aircraft available. At the end of November, according to the second chapter, a B-29 (serial number B-29-5-BW-42-6259) was delivered to Wright Field for modifications to make it capable of carrying the so-called Thin Man bomb. After successful testing of the Silverplate prototype, the first batch of B-29s underwent basically the same kind of modifications. These were delivered to the 393rd Bombardment (Very Heavy) Squadron in Nevada between October and December 1944. During the same period the 393rd was assigned to the newly activated 509th Composite Group under Lieutenant Colonel Paul Tibbets. Campbell carefully lists all the serial numbers and goes on to explain how, following completion of the second batch of modified aircraft, it was determined that—due to the many improvements incorporated in the latest B-29s—all the original Silverplates would be replaced with newly produced models which would need to be modified. Chapter Two continues with explanations of all the improvements and modifications, identification of all the Silverplate aircraft produced, further details about all the Silverplate B-29s transferred to Tinian, and notes about the parallel Saddletree project for further conversions of aircraft to carry atomic bombs.
   Chapter Three moves into combat operations, including arrival of the 509th on Tinian, practice missions, the "pumpkin" missions by Silverplates carrying conventional explosives, the Hiroshima mission, and the Nagasaki mission. The chapter includes a tabular listing of all Silverplate combat sorties on an aircraft-by-aircraft basis, and information on preparing and loading bombs. Campbell also clarifies the facts surrounding the third atomic bomb, the plutonium capsule of which, due to the imminence of Japanese surrender, was not shipped from Los Alamos to Tinian where the casing was ready and waiting.
   Chapter Four covers the Los Alamos test program. Chapter Five devotes about eight pages to accidents involving Silverplate aircraft.

   Most Silverplate B-29s served for many years in operational assignments before being declared surplus and consigned to the scrap heap. After being used in an atomic bomb-carrying role, many had their Silverplate features removed and were converted to other configurations for continued active duty. However, 16 out of the 65 aircraft were involved in confirmed or suspected accidents that resulted in either total destruction or damage so severe that they were later scrapped or put to other uses.

   The chapter summarizes the nature and circumstance of each accident in anywhere from a few sentences to a few paragraphs. Chapter Six lists in alphabetical order each airbase which accommodated Silverplates (including post-war) and indicates which individual aircraft were based there. Chapter Seven, "The Bombs," describes in considerable detail "general purpose high-explosive" bombs, pumpkin bombs, Thin Man, Little Boy, Fat Man, the Mk-3 atomic bomb, and the Mk-4 atomic bomb, each with photos and specifications. Chapter Eight provides an overview of the formation and organization of the 509th Composite Group and Chapter Nine summarizes the Silverplate program in the span of about six pages.
   In sum, those nine chapters comprise less than half the book. The remaining pages are mostly devoted to a series of detailed appendices.

   Appendix A: A four-page chronology of important events involving B-29s, the Silverplate program, and the Manhattan Project

   Appendix B: Five pages listing all Silverplate operational sorties on an aircraft-by-aircraft basis. Unlike the table in Chapter Three, this table includes calibration flights, training flights, practice bomb runs, etc. Columns indicate aircraft serial number, operation number, combat mission number, date of flight, purpose, aircraft commander, and crew.

   Appendix C: More than twenty pages listing the flight crew and ground crew for each Silverplate, aircraft to which the crew was assigned, missions flown by the crew, and photos.

   Appendix D: A complete roster of all 509th Composite Group personnel on Tinian, including civilian personnel of Project Alberta.

   Appendix E: Four pages about Project Alberta, comprising civilian technicians and specialists involved with assembling and preparing the atomic bombs on Tinian.

   Appendix F: A two-page tabular summary of each Silverplate B-29 with serial number, date delivered, dates Silverplate modifications began and ended, disposition, and date removed from inventory.

   Appendix G: In many ways the heart of the book and Campbell's most impressive accomplishment, this appendix lists each individual Silverplate B-29 and provides a complete history of each aircraft. These generally amount to about a quarter or a third of a page. Here's an example of a typical entry:

Delivered to USAAF: 2 Apr 1945
Phase 3

   44-27301 was one of the fifteen Silverplate B-29s used by the 509th on Tinian. It was one of ten B-29s built at the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Plant in Omaha (NE) as a block 35 B-29 but then given block number 36 to denote the special configuration. It was flown from Omaha to Wendover Army Air Field (UT) in April 1945 by one of the 393rd Bombardment Squadron crews, where it was assigned to airplane commander Claude R. Eatherly and crew C-11. Used in training and practice bombing missions at Wendover, it was flown from Wendover to Tinian by Eatherly and crew C-11, departing Wendover on 8 June 1945.
   On Tinian it was first assigned call sign Victor 5, which was later changed to Victor 85. It was named Straight Flush and nose art was applied on the nose after the atomic bombing missions. In June, July, and August it was used on 11 training and practice bombing missions, and on five combat missions in which pumpkin bombs were dropped on Japanese targets. On the Hiroshima atomic bombing mission on 6 August 1945, it was used by Eatherly and crew C-11 to scout the weather over Hiroshima about one hour before the actual strike. Listings showing the dates, crews, airplane commanders, and purposes of the missions in which 44-27301 was used on Tinian are included in chapter 3 and Appendix B.
   In November 1945 it was flown back to the U.S. and assigned to the 509th Composite Group at Roswell Army Air Field (NM). It was deployed to Tinker Army Air Field (OK) for a short period of time and then assigned to Task Force 1.5 in April 1946 for use in Operation Crossroads. It is not known if 44-27301 actually deployed to the Pacific for the atomic bomb Test Able. In August 1946 it was reassigned to the 509th at Roswell with deployments to Rome Army Air Field (NY) and March Army Air Field (CA). In June 1949 it was assigned to the 97th Bombardment Group (later Wing) at Biggs Air Force Base (TX). 44-27301 was assigned to the Oklahoma City Air Materiel Area at Tinker Air Force Base (OK) in April 1950 where it was modified and redesignated as a TB-29.
   In April 1953 it was assigned to the 2nd Radar Calibration Squadron at Elmendorf Air Force Base (AK), and then to the 5025th Maintenance Group at Elmendorf in August 1953. In December 1953 it was assigned to the 3040th Aircraft Storage Squadron at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (AZ) for storage.
   Disposition: Dropped from inventory as salvage at Davis-Monthan in July 1954.

   The remainder of the book comprises Chapter Notes, Bibliography, index of aircraft serial numbers, and general index.
   While Campbell's book might not provoke a great deal of interest among general readers of WWII material, The Silverplate Bombers contains just about everything anyone could want to know about these particular aircraft. The author never really launches into a sustained narrative, but he writes in a clear and data-intensive style punctuated repeatedly by exact dates, names, numbers, places, and specifications. Much like The B-29 Superfortress: A Comprehensive Registry of the Planes and Their Missions by Robert A. Mann (also from McFarland), this is a model of a classic niche title that B-29 enthusiasts will find absolutely invaluable.
   Well done, Mr. Campbell.
   Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from McFarland & Company.
   Thanks to McFarland for providing this review copy.

Read and submit feedback

Reviewed 27 November 2005
Copyright © 2005 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone


We don't buy, stock, publish, or sell books or anything else.
NEWS     BOOKS     AUTHORS     PUBLISHERS     SELF-PUBLISHERS     BOOKSELLERS. Copyright © 1995-2016 Bill Stone