LOUIE PASSIEU MADE AIR FORCE HISTORY ON B-29 IN WORLD WAR II
By Jack R. Mays, Charlton County, Ga. Historian
In Folkston it was a warm autumn afternoon, Sunday November 5, 1944. Nothing much was happening in the small South Georgia town. The Blue Willow Café was open on Main Street and Edgar Allen, the town’s postmaster, had told his patrons to mail packages early in order to reach the servicemen by Christmas. Rev. F.J. Gilbert preached at the Methodist Church that morning.
A little old lady, with a son in service, was sitting on her front porch listening to the radio for news of the war. The musical strains of “Sentimental Journey” drifted from the radio’s speaker. Folkston’s mayor, C.J. Passieu, two days earlier, had warned city water customers that their water service could be interrupted while repairs were being made to the city’s water tank. The water had been off for over two hours.
A half-world away, the mayor’s son, U.S. Air Force Flight Officer Charles L (Louie) Passieu, flight engineer on a B-29 Superfortress, “The Raidin’ Maiden,” was beginning another mission from his base in Karaghphur, India. Two unusual missions among a long string of daring flights will earn him the Distinguished Flying Cross and The Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster for heroism.
The first unusual mission was described by the author, William H. Morrison in his book “Point of No Return”, a story of the 20th Air Force and the giant B-29 Superfortress bombers in World War Two. Excerpts from that book describe the 27-year-old Passieu’s role in one of the two momentous bombing missions.
The B-29s were loaded with 1,000-pound bombs for an unusual mission to Singapore. The target was only ten feet wide and 200 feet long and bombardiers were told that only precision bombing at its best could knock it out. The aiming point was the sliding gate of the main dry dock, a dock the Japanese inherited from the British and which was now used to repair Japanese warships. Crews gasped when they heard the distance of 3,800 miles for the round trip, which would keep them in the air for over 18 hours, with bomb-bay tanks filled to the brim. Leaving room for only three 1,000 pound bombs, the B-29s took off after midnight.”
The Bay of Bengal spread out before them as the B-29 from the 468th, with Louie Passieu aboard as Flight Engineer, headed out toward the Andaman Islands, enroute to Singapore. Captain Charles “Doc” Joyce was at the controls of the giant bomber. His nickname for Passieu, in the cockpit with him, was “Pass”.
The target was located on the peninsula side of the island of Singapore, which was connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway across the Johore Strait. The formation ahead of Passieu’s plane was taking heavy flack from desperate anti-aircraft guns manned by the Japanese. The bombardier called that the target was clear. It was now the turn of Passieu’s B-29 to make its bombing run. Wicked red flashes of flak exploded all around them as the pilot headed over the target. The crew wondered how they could fly through that wall of fire that separated them from the target.
The bombardier added to the excitement by announcing that there were several Japanese warships in the harbor and they too were firing at the bomber with all their guns. The B-29 was taking punishment like it had never known before, and the crew was pondering whether or not they would live through it.
Morrison’s account continued, “They felt the plane lighten as the bombs fell away. Japanese fighters moved in for the kill. Once, a huge mushroom cloud exploded near them as a fighter dropped a phosphorus bomb. Just a few pieces of flaming phosphorus in a hot engine nacelle would end their combat careers. Miraculously they were away from those murderous guns, and heading across the lower end of the peninsular to get back to sea.” The target – the small dry dock’s sliding gate had been destroyed, along with the stern of a Japanese vessel using the drydock, in a spectacular success of precision bombing that was always expected, but seldom achieved.
Then began the hairy part of the mission which made air force history for the B-29, a first, and unbelievable accomplishment for the huge Superfortress – although Passieu would be involved in a second, and more miraculous incident four months later in the interior of China. Only the Singapore mission was described by Morrison in his book.
“Most of the way back was uneventful, but an hour from base, flight engineer Charles Louie Passieu told the captain Doc Joyce that they were running short on fuel. Joyce had been worrying about it for some time, but until now he thought they would make it. He asked the navigator what the maximum time to base was. ‘About twenty minutes to base,’ the navigator responded.
“The captain turned to Passieu, his flight engineer, ‘What do you think, Pass? Can we make it?’ ‘I think it will be a tie,’ Passieu told him. They flew for another ten minutes and now they were over land. One engine sputtered, caught, and then ran smoothly again as Passieu transferred fuel to it. That was only momentary because the engine started to cut out again.”
Morrison’s description continued. “Frantically Passieu switched fuel from one tank to another, trying to keep all engines going. Now they were all sputtering as they used up the last fuel in the tanks. They were flying at 13,000 feet and the navigator spotted the runways of the 468th base ahead, drawing the captain’s attention to it.
“Gear down!” Joyce called, and his co-pilot, Lt. William Greenwald, lowered the wheels. “Flaps,” he said and “Greenie” ran them down.
Passieu called, “Number three is out.” There was a pause as Joyce tried to steady his emotions. “There goes Number four” Passieu called out. Joyce struggled to hold the plane level as its right wing dropped, and called on his co-pilot to assist him.
“Number two is out,” Passieu yelled. “Number one’s about gone,” At 7,600 feet Joyce shouted, “Bail out!” Lt. Howard Fauth, the navigator, came forward and looked at the captain. The captain repeated the order so Fauth faced the rear end dropped through the nose wheel well. Once his body hit the air, his feet flew up and his head went down. He waited until he cleared the tail before he pulled the rip cord. He could see three chutes below while the plane above seemed to be flying level and under control, and he watched with growing concern for more parachutes but they didn’t appear. He landed in brush and soon heard two pistol shots so he went in that direction where he joined Faulkham, Greenwald and Sergeant Vernon Egerton. They walked for an hour before they were picked up.
In the nose of the airplane only Joyce and Passieu remained and they elected to ride it down thinking all others had obeyed the bailout order. Doc feathered all four engines to stop the wind milling of the propellers. He was coming much too fast but he flared and the airplane hit the ground short of the runway and bounced onto it as Joyce almost sobbed with relief. Once they were stopped, the rest of the crew came out of the rear of the airplane, much to the astonishment of Joyce and Passieu. They thought they had all bailed out.
After performing the impossible, crew members of the Raidin’ Maiden were shocked to learn later that their group commander, Colonel Faulkner, Major Arnoldus, group navigator and group bombardier Major Harvey Johnson were lost in the mission.
Passieu’s second miraculous escape came four months later, in the interior of China in March of 1945 where Dick Mays was stationed. The American fighter air base Chinkiang, surrounded by mountains, was built for P-51 and P-38 fighter planes of the 14th Air Force. The short runway could accommodate B-25 bombers. Today it would be used for an emergency landing of a giant B-29 Superfortress with Passieu on board as flight engineer.
Returning from an extended mission over Japan, the Raidin’ Maiden used the American air base at Chinkiang as a checkpoint enroute to and from Japan from the B-29 base in India. Having spent too much time over its target, the bomber was running low on fuel high above the China base. There was not fuel enough for the flight back “over the hump” to India. The pilot “Doc” Joyce, with Passieu and the co-pilot in the cockpit, would attempt a landing on the short fighter runway. Joyce dived the giant bomber, like a mammoth corkscrew toward the tiny landing strip in order to miss the surrounding mountains and leveled off just short of the runway.
The B-29 bounced hard on the runway blowing several tires, but the pilot managed to brake it to a stop just short of the runway’s end. This time all of the crew elected to ride the Superfortress to the ground. They all piled out of the plane onto the runway, smiling at their fate.
The air base had been under furious attack by the Japanese for several days, and the B-29 crew needed to get airborne again to prevent the bomber from falling into enemy hands if the base was captured. A fighter plane was dispatched for new tires. The tires were put on and just enough fuel to get the plane back to India was put in the tanks. All unnecessary gear and supplies were taken off to allow the takeoff attempt from the short runway in the middle of the mountains.
The following morning, Captain Joyce at the controls, strained all four engines as the bomber barely cleared the runway and the mountains around the fighter base. Airborne once again Joyce, Passieu and the rest of the crew headed back to their base in India.
On the day of the emergency landing at the China base, Dick Mays, a radar operator there, knew of the B-29 landing, and he knew that Louie Passieu was the flight officer on the B-29 bomber. He saw someone who he thought looked like Louie Passieu coming out of the officer’s dining hall that evening and decided to look him up the following morning.
The meeting never took place. Passieu and the B-29 took off at daylight as the Japanese neared the base. The American forces at the base in east-central China then mounted a fierce counter-offensive with every weapon at their command. P-38 and P-51 fighters from the base dropped napalm bombs on the on-rushing Japanese, killing 30,000 in the encounter.
The Japanese retreated and the Americans continued in command of the base until the war’s end.
After the war, Passieu and Mays returned home to Folkston. Mays became the town’s Postmaster and Passieu would serve eight years as the city’s Mayor and as Chairman of the Slash Pine Area Planning and Development Commission. The Georgia Municipal Association elected Passieu as district president.
The B-29 flight engineer, born in Hilliard, Fla. to Cecil and C.J. Passieu on June 27, 1917 would move to Folkston with his parents in 1923 when his father bought half interest in Mallard-Passieu Ford Agency on Main Street. He attended the public school of the county and he and his family have always been busily involved in business, cultural and civic circles of the area. A former Chevrolet auto dealer in Folkston and Jacksonville Beach, he owned Folkston Gas Co. and served in numerous public service capacities. His wife, Kathryn, was a school teacher and was also active in community affairs.