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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
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.
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 thatdue to the many improvements incorporated in the latest B-29sall 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.
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.
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:
The remainder of the book comprises Chapter Notes, Bibliography, index of aircraft serial numbers, and general index.
Reviewed 27 November 2005
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