In 1940, Saunders took command of the 23rd Bomb Squadron, and from 1940 to 1943, he commanded the 11th Bomb Group of Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses. This became the first USAAF bomber formation to serve in the Guadalcanal Campaign in 1942, where its success won Saunders promotion to brigadier general in December 1942. Saunders transferred to Britain as commanding general of VII Bomber Command (January to March 1943) and chief of staff of Seventh Air Force (March to June 1943), surviving a crash landing off the Shetland Islands in which he was badly injured.
In June 1943, Saunders organized the 58th Bomb Wing (Very Heavy), which was activated at Salina, Kansas. He took it to the China-Burma-India Theater in 1944. From India, he carried out the first raid by Boeing B-29 Superfortresses on Japan, which was conducted against the iron and steel works at Yawata on 15 June 1944. Saunders temporarily had charge of the fledgling XX Bomber Command in July 1944 until LeMay arrived in India to take command in August 1944. Saunders was scheduled to return to the United States to take command of a new Boeing B-29 Superfortress wing, but he agreed to stay on in India on LeMay's urging, a decision that almost cost him his life. On 19 September 1944, Saunders was returning to Kharagpur from an inspection trip to Piardoba when his North American B-25 Mitchell bomber crashed. Saunders and the crew chief were the only survivors. Saunders spent much of the next three years in military hospitals and underwent numerous operations, being invalided out of the service as a brigadier general in 1947. Saunders died in Aberdeen, South Dakota, on 16 November 1988.
Coffey, Thomas M. Iron Eagle: The Turbulent Life of General Curtis LeMay. New York: Crown Publishers, 1986.; Craven, Wesley, and James Lea Cate, eds. The Army Air Forces in World War II. 7 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948.; Martin, Pete. "L. G. 'Blondie' Saunders." In Walter Millis, ed. These Are the Generals. New York: Knopf, 1943.