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There is a persistent rumour/storyline that, during and after the successful low-level raids on Tokyo in March 1945, LeMay ordered that all B-29s remove their guns, except for the tail gun. However, I have found no evidence that this ever really happened.

Removing gun turrets would have left holes in the fuselage. And removing guns would have left a hole in the gun turrets. I have been told that they might have been encouraged to limit their supply of ammo (to reduce weight). However, everyone appears to have ignored this order. Similarly, as far as I can tell, the crews never gave up their gunners. (Interestingly, though, gunners were sometimes called "observers", implying that their primary responsibility was now to observe the condition of the aircraft from their stations.)

I am intimately familiar with the operations of the 6th Bomb Group stationed on Tinian and have talked to many veterans of this and other Groups. However, I am not as familiar with operations on Guam, where LeMay was headquartered. Does anyone know whether the Groups on Guam or elsewhere were required to remove their guns?

ADDENDUM (REVISED)

Regarding several of the comments - you are correct in surmising that the guns and/or turrets could have been removed in the field and that crew could have been left behind. However, the question I am asking is whether they actually did.

I have seen hundreds of pictures of B-29s and, other than the silverplate versions mentioned in the Answer, I have never seen a picture of a regular B-29 (or B-29-A) with guns or turrets removed.

To the contrary, the quote from LeMay in the Answer: (1) indicates that the lower guns were not permanently removed since ammo was provided for them; (2) says that ammo was not provided for the upper guns, which indicates that they were also not permanently removed; and (3) says that the gunners were not removed from the crews.

Thus, the quote from LeMay indicates that, contrary to common belief, the guns were not removed on a permanent basis, if at all. In fact, it may have been nothing more than a proposal that was dropped following strong pushback from the aircrews. Sometimes proposals, if they are controversial enough, get mistaken for facts.

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    $\begingroup$ I have no idea, but if you don't get a good answer here you might also try asking on history.SE. $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Jun 7 at 17:45
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    $\begingroup$ Note that the guns on the B-29 were remotely operated, with the gunners sitting inside the pressure vessel, so you could remove the guns without effecting pressurization. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Jun 7 at 18:53
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    $\begingroup$ The older ground crew probably had practice patching holes in fuselages, between flights, so that aspect doesn't pose much problem. $\endgroup$ Jun 8 at 12:56
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    $\begingroup$ Removing an entire turret, making an aluminum patch to cover the hole, then riveting it in place would not actually be a lot of work for maintenance crews in those days. They frequently had to patch damage. They also frequently made changes as operational practice changed (think of the forward firing guns added to 8th army bombers in Europe at the squadron before the factory models had them. ) Removing a turret would reduce the weight. Also you could leave the gunner behind. More weight and fewer lives lost if the aircraft is lost. Late in war there was little resistance. $\endgroup$
    – Flynn
    Jun 8 at 19:43
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Yes, in March 1945 Curtis LeMay did order guns and ammo removed, but then shortly after rescinded the order.

Here is a quote from his book titled “Superfortress”:

“At first, we had decided to take out the guns and gunners to make up for the shortage of airplanes, because it would be another factor in helping increase the bombload. However, if the change to low altitude had been quite a step to take, then going in at low altitude with half a crew was something else! I find it impossible to describe the relationship that developed between crew members going into combat together. They were more than a team, they were like a family. If a crew member was sick, or for some reason could not go on a mission, the rest of the crew felt as though part of them was missing, and they would not do as well without him. So flying these missions with half a crew was quite an emotional experience for those who stayed as well as for those who went. Tampering with crew morale was something I did not want to do, and so the gunners went back in, but only with ammunition for the bottom turrets, and with searchlights as the only targets for them to shoot at. I was much more worried about B-29s shooting at each other than I was about any fire we might receive from the ill-equipped and inexperienced Japanese night fighters.“

My guess is they temporarily removed just the guns but left the turrets in place with holes remaining. The holes would not be a problem in the unpressurized turrets.

I think the common misconception/exaggeration you noticed is also attributable to the fact that the “Silverplate” Atomic Bomb B-29s and the later B-29B model aircraft were used in service with defensive guns removed.

I believe those aircraft had the entire turrets removed at the factory, and had flush panels to cover the holes.

Here are some photos of B-29s without the turrets.

enter image description here

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks. I had overlooked (or forgotten) that excerpt. Interstingly, like many statements, it seems to incorrectly imply that the B-29s only engaged in low level incendiary raids after Tokyo. Perhaps, especially after the war, LeMay had a vested interest in perpetuating that storyline because he played such a key role in the risky, but successful, decision to "go low". $\endgroup$ Jun 7 at 20:31
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    $\begingroup$ They might have removed the guns on some Guam planes at least for a little while - since they were under LeMay's watchful eye. But I have seen no evidence that they ever did so on Tinian. As far as I know, any B models that arrived were all sent to Guam. They had further to fly to Japan, so weight would have been more critical to them. $\endgroup$ Jun 8 at 8:01

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