Home » When 18 MiG-15s prevented TARZON-loaded B-29s to destroy two bridges over the Yalu River

When 18 MiG-15s prevented TARZON-loaded B-29s to destroy two bridges over the Yalu River

by Till Daisd
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After WWII B-29 saw military service again in Korea between 1950 and 1953, battling new adversaries: the Soviet-built MiG-15 jet fighters

When the huge VB-13 TARZON was first designed in 1946, it had far more devastating power than the VB-3 RAZON.

The British 12,000-pound Tall Boy bomb, known as the VB-13, was largely equipped with control surfaces on its forward and rear shrouds, allowing for bomb control in both azimuth and range. The bombardier controlled it by radio while it was visually tracked with a tail flare. The name “TARZON” came from a combination of Tall Boy and RAZON (RAnge and AZimuy ONly).

The bomb was still in the development stage when World War II ended, and the program was halted. However, in 1950, it was reorganized for testing using B-29 and B-36 aircraft.

Although the bomb bay of the B-29 had to be modified in order to accommodate one VB-13, there are reports that eighteen Convair B-36 Peacemaker heavy bombers were modified to carry two TARZONs apiece.

The first TARZON strike in Korea occurred in December 1950, according to the National Museum of the United States Air Force. By the end of January, B-29s from the 19th Bomb Group had cut spans out of four bridges.

However, bridges were never easy to destroy, not only because they were difficult to hit but also because on their way to the target, Superfortresses had to battle new adversaries, in the form of the Soviet-built MiG-15 jet fighters, as the beautiful artwork by Mads Bangsø of a head-on view of a B-29 (serial number 45-21745) of the 19th Bombardment Group at 15,000ft on a clear day over North Korea featured in this post shows.

As explained by Michael Napier in his book Korea 1950–53 B-29s, Thunderjets and Skyraiders fight the strategic bombing campaign. The bomber has just released a 12,000lb TARZON radio-guided bomb, aimed at the bridge across the Yalu River at Sinuiju, and is itself under attack from a Soviet MiG-15 fighter. B-29 Superfortresses from the 19th and 307th BGs were assigned to attack the Yalu River bridges at Manpojin and Sinanju on March 29, 1951. Three 19th BG B-29s with TARZON loads were en route to the strategically significant Sinuiju bridges, while the main force was moving toward Manpojin. Because of bad weather in their intended area, the main force struck the Pyongyang airfield, which was their alternate objective.

The TARZON formation continued, however, but one aircraft had to return to base early due to a broken engine oil pipe, forcing it to cancel the mission. Then, eighteen MiG-15s attacked the two remaining aircraft in the target area.

These Soviet fighters were from the 28th and 72nd GvIAP led by Lt. Col. N.L. Trofimov. The B-29 (45-21749) piloted by Lt. Col. Payne Jennings was hit by the MiG-15s so hard during the engagement that two of its engines had to be shut down, forcing the aircraft to abort the mission. The aircraft crashed into the sea as it tried to return to base, killing every member of the crew. The last surviving B-29, shown above, fired its TARZON, but it missed the target and the aircraft was damaged so badly by the MiG-15s that it had to divert to a different base.

TARZONs remained in short supply, however, and after a B-29 was believed to have been lost attempting to jettison one, the Air Force canceled the TARZON in August 1951. Eleven of the thirty TARZON bombs unleashed on Korea struck their targets, demolishing six bridges and seriously injuring another.

Korea 1950–53 B-29s, Thunderjets, and Skyraiders fight the strategic bombing campaign is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.

Artwork: Mads Bangsø and Osprey Publishing


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