CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II
Irving Bauman was born in New York City in October 1917. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps as an Aviation Cadet on October 21, 1942, two years after completing his undergraduate college work at the City College of New York. At the time of his enlistment, Bauman was working for the U.S. Postal Service. He completed basic training at Boca Raton, Florida, and then received technical instruction as an aerial photography officer on the campus of Yale University, which was used as a military instruction center during World War II. Following completion of his training at Yale in February 1944, Second Lieutenant Bauman was briefly assigned to army airfields in Clovis, New Mexico, El Paso, Texas and then, Salina, Kansas, where ground support troops for the newly organized B-29 Bomber Groups were stationed.
The B-29 support echelons were ultimately divided into four bomb groups and assigned to Army airfields located in Pratt, Great Bend, Walker and Salina, Kansas. Baumann was assigned as a photo officer to the 498th Bomb Group of the 73rd Bomb Wing at Salina. He and thirty-five other soldiers staffed the 16th Photo Laboratory, which provided aerial and ground photographic support to the bomb group. When Bauman joined the 16th as its commander, the 12th Photo Laboratory, part of the 444th Bomb Group, was already in training. The 12th was ultimately transferred overseas to the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theatre of Operations and assigned the mission of bombing Japan from the west.
Following three months of training missions, the 16th Photo Lab moved to Camp Anza, California and left from there on a troopship with some 4,000 other soldiers bound for Saipan, the largest island in the Marianas chain. The unit’s voyage across the Pacific lasted forty-nine days, including a two and a half week layover at Eniwetok while Saipan was cleared of Japanese forces by United States ground troops. During the delay the men on Bauman’s ship ran short of food, but navy personnel at Eniwetok supplied crates of oranges to mitigate the shortages.
After they finally landed on Saipan, the soldiers of the 16th were transported by truck to Isley Field at the south end of the island. On arrival, they were advised that their bomb wing was part of the 20th Air Force, which was composed of the 58th, 73rd, 3l3th, 314th, and 315th Bomb Wings. The 58th was assigned to the CBI Theater, while the remaining units were based on Saipan, Guam, Tinian, and Rota in the Marianas chain. Each bomb wing was composed of four bomb groups, and each of them consisted of three squadrons and a photo laboratory unit.
Bauman and his men were initially quartered in tents in an area cleared by army engineers adjacent to the airfield. Within days, a fever epidemic broke out in the 16th. Fortunately most men returned to duty after a twenty-four hour bout with the disease. Lieutenant Bauman’s men received a supply of construction material and, after he created a design for the laboratory, set about building it themselves. Once the lab was up and running, they began to settle into their new home and improve their living conditions. Three floating dry dock tanks acquired from the Navy served to maintain a fresh water supply. One tank was mounted on a two and a half ton truck to transport water from the island’s central water point to the unit area, while the other two were used for storage. Pipes were salvaged from a wrecked island sugar mill, and their bomb fragment holes sealed with cement to provide a plumbing system for the laboratory.
After several months three squadrons of B-29s, each with fifteen bombers, arrived at Isley Field. The squadrons soon began bombing runs on Japan and continued them on a daily basis. The photo unit installed aerial cameras in selected aircraft to record the bombing process from initial bomb release through ground impact and explosion. The resulting photos were used to pinpoint damage and verify anecdotal crew claims, as well as provide target approach information for navigators. The 16th Photo Lab’s repairmen maintained both ground and aerial cameras, while the unit’s lab technicians processed film and made paper prints. The film rolls used by aerial cameras were ten inches wide by 250 feet long, and developing them required many gallons of processing solution. A special labeling system was used to assist in associating exposed film to specific cameras in individual planes.
During the course of his interview, Bauman described the types of aerial and ground cameras in use in the B-29s, and the types of photographs they recorded. The cameras were stored, maintained, and installed in aircraft by two man teams from each of the three squadrons. The installation crews operated out of a Quonset hut on the airfield. As commanding officer of the 16th Photo Laboratory, Lieutenant Bauman’s job was to supervise his unit’s ground and aerial photography and film processing to produce high quality images and prints. He was also responsible for training his soldiers in the operation of both aerial and ground cameras, proper installation of cameras and related gear in aircraft and the use of darkroom equipment.
Initial B-29 missions over Japan were flown at an elevation of 20,000 feet. Since cloud cover over Japan was often eighty percent, mission photographs were often unsatisfactory, since they revealed cloud banks rather than the target area. The use of radarscope photography to pinpoint targets only achieved limited improvements. Bauman recalled that when Major General Curtis LeMay assumed command of the Marinas bomber command in early 1945, he abandoned precision high altitude bombing and concentrated on attacks from 8,000 feet, below the clouds. This tactic resulted in photos that confirmed ground damage much more clearly.
Aircraft disabled in air raids on Japan had to hobble over 1,400 miles on the return flight to their home bases in the Marianas. In order to provide a halfway point field for emergency landings as well as eliminate the Japanese early warning system on the island, the U. S. Marines invaded Iwo Jima in February, 1945. Following a bloody month long battle against a heavily fortified enemy force, the island was secured, and Japanese facilities rebuilt to provide landing fields for disabled American aircraft and fighter planes assigned to escort bombers in raids on Japan. With Iwo Jima in American hands, B-29s began to conduct night missions to firebomb Japanese cities, which were especially vulnerable to such a tactic due to their high density of wood buildings. Bauman recalled that night photos were achieved through the use of photoflash bombs, which effectively illuminated the target area.
Bauman remembered that, due to his unit’s location on the south end of Saipan, one and a half miles from Tinian, it was possible to observe takeoffs and landings of the B-29s stationed there, among them the Enola Gay, which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. He and his men learned of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks over Saipan’s radio station. Following the Japanese surrender, the B-29 mission changed to a humanitarian one, as the bombers airdropped food and supplies to American POWs languishing in Japanese prison camps and awaiting release.
With the end of the war, Lieutenant Bauman was assigned as manager of the Saipan Post Exchange store. He was ordered to sell off the store’s remaining merchandise to the troops and close it. Following completion of that duty, he and his unit boarded a homeward bound troopship. Bauman left the service with the rank of captain on April 16, 1946. He later served in the Air Force Reserve, where he was promoted to major. Following the war he worked for the U. S. government as an engineer at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, and then, after retirement, as an engineering contractor.
Irving Bauman was awarded several decorations and citations, including the American and Asiatic-Pacific Campaign, World War II Victory Medal, and Distinguished Unit Badge. He served in the Air Offensive Japan, Eastern Mandates, and Western Pacific Campaigns.
Irving Bauman passed away on October 19, 2017.