30 November 1944 — Saipan, Mariana Islands
Harold "Hud" M. Hansen was the son of Mr. & Mrs. Henry L. and Maude Hansen of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Hud graduated from Eau Claire High School, and then Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.
He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps as an Aviation Cadet on 15 October 1940 at Camp McCoy near Sparta, Wisconsin.
Attended the Spartan Aviation School for preliminary flight training at Hatbox Field near Muskogee, Oklahoma. Subsequently assigned to Randolph Army Air Field, Texas; he received his "wings" and was commissioned (ASN O-421695) a 2nd Lieutenant at Kelly Field, Texas on 11 July 1941.
In January 1942, he was assigned as a B-17 bomber pilot with the 74th Bomb Squadron at the Guatemala City Air Base in Central America in defense of the Panama Canal Zone. While there, he met his wife-to-be (Janet Grubbe) who was working for the British government in Guatemala City.
In March 1943, he rotated back to the United States and was stationed as a flight instructor at Gowen Field in Boise, Idaho. Married Janet Grubbe on 16 March 1943.
Effective 24 November 1943, the 500th Bombardment Group (Very Heavy) and its subordinate units, the 881st, 882nd, 883rd, and 884th Bombardment Squadrons, along with the 29th, 30th, 31st, and 32nd Bombardment Maintenance Squadrons, and the 18th Photographic Laboratory Squadron were activated.
In February 1944, he transferred with the 500th Bomb Group to Clovis Field, New Mexico to join the initial cadre of officers selected to fly the new Boeing B-29 Superfortress.
In April 1944, he was assigned to 883rd Bomb Squadron, 500th Bombardment Group (VH), 73rd Bomb Wing. He transitioned from the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress to the B-29 Superfortress. Early on, each squadron was only assigned one B-29 aircraft. Thus combat crew training was initially performed using B-17 aircraft at Walker Army Air Field near Victoria, Kansas.
Maj. Hansen was selected to be the airplane command pilot of aircrew #351 (tail code Z-44, Boeing B-29 bomber serial #42-65218).
On 19 October 1944; paragraph 4 of Special Order No. 203 directed his aircrew along with several others of the 500th Bomb Group to proceed to the overseas staging area at Kearney Army Air Field, Nebraska.
On 17 November 1944, he deployed from Mather Field near Sacramento, California to the Central Pacific Theatre of Operations and was assigned to 20th Air Force, XXI Bomber Command, 73rd Bomb Wing, 500th Bombardment Group (VH), 883rd Bomb Squadron stationed at Isley Field on Saipan in the Mariana Islands. Route of travel with refueling stops along the way were: John Rodgers Field on Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands, and Bucholz Army Air Field on Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands (arriving at Isley Field on Monday 20 November 1944).
Thursday 23 Nov 1944 was Thanksgiving Day on Saipan. In the 500th Bomb Group no missions were scheduled, and there was apparently no turkey. But according to the Z-8 copilot, they still had a nice dinner, "with chicken, potatoes, peas, fresh butter, and pumpkin pie."
Friday 24 Nov 1944: Z-44 is one of 111 73rd Bomb Wing B-29 Superfortress bombers to strike Tokyo for the first time since Capt. Jimmy Doolittle's raid in 1942. Their target was the Nakajima aircraft engine works. Bombing results were rated as "poor." Two B-29 aircraft were lost: A-26 serial #42-24622 crashed after a mid-air collision with a Japanese Ki-44 "Tojo" fighter aircraft. V-48 serial #42-24679 ran out of fuel and had to ditch on the route home.
On the night of 29-30 November 1944, Maj. Hansen flew in the left seat as the Airplane Command Pilot aboard a Boeing B-29 Superfortress, Tail Code Z-SQUARE-44 (serial #42-65218).
The launch sequence for take-off was at twilight, between 1810 and 1828 hours local on Wednesday 29 Nov 1944. Z-44 was one of 29 73rd Bomb Wing aircraft launched on a night-radar mission to bombard the industrial area of Tokyo, Japan. No Group formation flying was scheduled, and Field Order #23 directed each aircrew to proceed individually to the target, release their bombs using radar, and to return individually to Isley Field.
There were no escort fighter aircraft provided during the planned 15-hour round-trip mission. Arrival over Tokyo would have been approximately 0118 hours on 30 Nov 1944. While over the target area, Z-49 was the only bomber to report that it had been attacked by an enemy fighter plane. Two aircraft did report flak from anti-aircraft artillery, but it was described as inaccurate.
Six returning 500th Bomb Group B-29 aircraft landed at Isley Field the following morning between 0630 and 0819 hours local on Thursday 30 Nov 1944. According to the launch sequence, his B-29 bomber should have also returned during this time-frame.
However, Z-44 was the only B-29 aircraft that failed to return to Saipan, and no radio distress signals were ever received. Major Hansen along with the rest of aircrew #351 were declared Killed In Action one year later, since Z-44 was not seen or heard from again.