Iwo Feb to May 1945

Before the 506th Arrived | 7 April 1945 - First VLR Mission to Japan

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March 1945

Mission TokyoOn 6 March 1945 the first Mustang pancaked on South Field of Iwo Jima. At the controls was Brigadier General Ernest Moore, commander of the VII Fighter Command AAF, the first Army fighter unit to be based within striking distance of the Japanese mainland.

Planning for these Very Long Range (VLR) escort missions had begun in July 1944. Though the Mustangs would be directly involved in support of 20th Air Force bombers, they remained under the jurisdiction of Seventh Fighter Command the "Sunsetters" named after their seven-rayed Japanese sun insignia. Directly responsible for the Iwo Jima fighter operation was a 37-year-old West Pointer, Brigadier General Ernest M. Moore. One of the AAF's young flying generals, "Mickey" Moore was an experienced fighter pilot who had been in the Pacific since 1939. He had joined the Seventh Air Force shortly after Pearl Harbor and was promoted to chief of 7th Fighter Command in August 1944.

The 15th Fighter Group comprised of the 45th, 47th and 78th Fighter Squadrons was the first to arrive at Iwo Jima, via Hawaii and Saipan in February. The group landed on Iwo's southern field (Number One) on D-Plus 15, March 6, with General Moore touching down in the first Mustang. With him were Colonel James O. Beckwith, commanding officer of the 15th Fighter Group, and twenty five pilots and aircraft of the Group's 47th Squadron. Twelve Black widows of the 548th Night Fighter Squadron arrived the same day. The landing of these day and night fighters, which had been escorted from Saipan staging areas by navigator B-29s, brought U.S. air power 730 statute miles closer to the Japanese home islands, opened the way for Fighter Strikes against key enemy airfields and installations at such cities as Tokyo, Nagoya, Kobe and Osaka, and made fighter escort possible for the Superfortresses on their Honshu raids from home bases in the Marianas.

The Mustangs and Black Widows began to fly CAP on their second day on the island, and on the following day the first tactical air operation against Jap forces still fighting on Iwo was flown by the 47th Squadron. A general target area was assigned. After several strafing runs the airborne Air Coordinator asked ground observers for a pinpoint target, stating that P-51's were doing the best job of any planes in two weeks.

On March 8th the air echelons of the 45th and 78th Squadrons of the 15th Fighter Group landed on South Field; The 45th Squadron ran six missions over Iwo the following day, dropping 46 demolition bombs and strafing enemy pillboxes and troops on the northern tip of the island. Pilots of the 78th Squadron flew their first mission March 10th .

Close support missions continued over Iwo until Marines split the Jap forces in the northern section of the island and drove through to the sea. The battle lines then became so close that, air operations were discontinued. Immediately, thereafter, the fighters initiated neutralizing operations against the Bonin islands. The first fighter mission against enemy occupied islands to the north of Iwo was run on March 11 when pilots of the 47th Squadron, carrying 32 500 lb bombs to the Bonin's, chalked up a score of 22 hit against Susaki Airfield on Chichi Jima. Two Black Widows of the 548th Night Fighter Squadron, provided escort, for a Navy Dumbo during the mission. The 45th Squadron ran its first mission to Haha Jima on March 12th and the 78th Squadron hit Chichi targets far:the first time on 13 March. From then on, weather permitting, daily air operations were conducted against these islands.

Sixteen days after the arrival of the first Army fighters Iwo's second airstrip, Central Field, was ready to receive the planes of the 21st . Fighter Group. Twenty P-51's of the 72nd Fighter Squadron landed on the 22nd of March, followed on the 24th by the 46th and 531st Squadrons. The 21st Fighter Group completed its first mission against assigned targets in the Bonin's on 27 March. In succeeding missions they struck Susaki airfield, shipping, radio and radar installations and other priority targets.

Night fighter activity was officially underway on the night of March 8-9 when two sorties were flown. No kills were made though radar contact was two bogies. Bad atmospheric conditions obscured targets to the extent that no visual observation was possible and contact with the enemy planes was eventually lost. On 25 March two Betty's were destroyed and 1 additional was probably destroyed.

Yet the invasion of Iwo Jima began paying off almost immediately for 20th Bomber Command. On March 4, nearly two weeks before the island was considered captured, a B-29 named "Dinah Might" set down on the southernmost airfield, which was being renovated by the Navy's Sea Bees. The B-29 pilot, Lt. Fred Malo, had taken his Superfortress to Tokyo, but very nearly ran out of fuel because the auxiliary tanks could not be used. Malo's was the first of some 2,400 emergency B-29 landings on Iwo Jima.

Eleven days later the first elements of Colonel Ken Powell's 21st Fighter Group landed on Airfield Number Two. The 21st included the 46th , 72nd and 531st squadrons, and had seen prior combat in the Southwest Pacific. But most of the pilots were new, averaging about 250 to 300 hours total flight time, with the exception of the squadron and flight commanders, who averaged close to 1,500 hours. Nevertheless, the group was brand-new to the Mustang, having traded in its P-38Ls for P-51 Ds in December and January.

Iwo Jima was crammed with airplanes—two P-61 night-fighter squadrons, Navy and Marine strike aircraft and assorted Army and Navy sea-rescue planes. But the P-51s were the most numerous and strategically the most important. They broke in slowly, the 15th F.G. first flying dawn and dusk CAPs beginning March 7—a boring but necessary duty. Enemy aircraft were extremely rare, and only got through on three occasions— once in May and twice in June—but they caused little harm.

Before taking up the ambitious VLR escort and interdiction missions, the P-51s began eliminating airfields, shipping and ground facilities in the Bonin Islands, 125 to 150 nautical miles to the north. Strikes against these islands, Haha Jima and Chichi Jima, would continue till the end of hostilities, for although they had to be neutralized, they were not worth the effort of capturing. The Bonin flights tended to be milk runs; in five months of operations against them, the Sunsetters lost only two aircraft to enemy action.

Unlike the captured or bypassed islands elsewhere, Iwo Jima was in the front line of the war; in fact, it was the front line. But that didn't stop General Moore's fighter pilots from establishing the more important features of civilization, which were sorely needed in such desolate surroundings. Capt. Henry Crim who arrived with the 72nd F.S. noted, "Iwo was perhaps the most hostile ground environment an airman could find himself in. Nature provided an active volcano (Mount Suribachi) and man provided the war.

There was literally no place to go, not much to do and precious little to be seen, so once established, the pilots found other means of spending their off-duty time. In the Army flier's search for diversions, the Navy Sea Bees figured prominently. Busily engaged in expanding Airfields One and Two (Number Three was never fully completed), the Construction Battalion sailors lesser known motto was, "we'll do anything for whiskey." When it was discovered the Sea Bees had an ice machine but no booze, and the fighter pilots had plenty of "liquid green" but no ice, the laws of supply and demand took over. The 21st F.G. traded 15 bottles of whiskey for an ice machine, including installation cost. Dug in, sandbagged and camouflaged, the precious device escaped detection by the irate Sea Bee skipper, until General Moore assumed the duty of island commander. After that, the fliers had nothing to worry about.

Next on the Mustang pilots schedule was a structure officially described as a "briefing hut." Actually it was a pretty fair club, the first building was built in one day by 50 pilots and featured fresh running rainwater, a bar, a refrigerator, indirect lighting, a band stand, screened windows and a battleship linoleum floor. Most of these items were obtained from the intrepid Sea Bees, enjoying a flourishing ship-to-shore business with the aviators, who traded more whiskey for Coca-Cola and beer. The ebb and flow of inter-service commerce flourished right up to V-J Day, and one Mustang pilot recalled, "When the war ended we had enough supplies to last us for another year, and all the materials and equipment to build a swimming pool, including a concrete mixer."

Probably the only reason the swimming pool wasn't finished was an establishment called "Ye Olde Iwo Jima Spa." A brainstorm of the 21st Group's flight surgeon, the spa was actually a bomb shelter converted to more civilized purpose. Metal wash tubs, rubdown tables and piped-in hot water from underground sulphur springs were installed. A supply of beer was arranged, which allowed pilots to debrief after each mission with a mineral bath, a cool brew and a rubdown. "It really took out the kinks and probably added to the embellishment of mission accomplishments," recalled one pilot. "Man, it made flying a pleasure."

It's a helluva long way to go for a hot sulphur bath and a rub-down—but where else in the Pacific are you going to find items like those? Iwo Jima was the only Pacific rock that came equipped with all the makings of a swank athletic-club's steam room. Of course the hot sulphur wells needed some attention to convert them into an exclusive little West Pacific spa, but it wasn't long after 7th AAF Fighter Command flight surgeons spotted the wells before that attention was under way. This hot sulphur routine, said they, is just what the doctors are going to order for the pilots, Galvanized tubs, almost long enough for a man to lie flat in them, were improvised, and the hot sulphur water, mixed with salt, piped into the tubs. Guests at the Spa get the complete works. First comes a shower from a truck, to scrub off Iwo's dirt and grime. Then a long and lazy soak in sulphur cabinet where—most club-like touch of all— they can quaff a leisurely beer. Then onto the table for a medicated rub and massage. "The only thing lacking," sighed one pilot who put in quite a little time on Oahu, "is the wahine masseuses they have back in Honolulu." Spa patrons are hoping to replace this lack when they move into Tokyo.

Iwo Spa
Iwo Spa

Left to their own devices, the formidable alliance of Sea Bees and Mustang pilots may have eventually turned Iwo Jima into the world's unlikeliest health resort, but the war still forced its attentions upon the men. However, Iwo's environment had the peculiar effect on some pilots which made them more attentive to the job at hand. Harry Crim was one who shared this opinion.

Pilot Crim
Maj Harry Crim, CO, 531st Sq., lifts his P-51 off Iwo Jima with full combat load of ammo, six 5 inch rockets and two 165 gal. wing tanks. (Harry Crim)

An aggressive Floridian, Crim was one of the more experienced fighter pilots on Iwo. He had flown a full 50-mission tour in North Africa, Sicily and Italy with the 14th F. G. in P-38s. After the sand, flies and disease of Tunisia, where he lost 50 pounds, Crim became something of an Iwo booster. He believed that 100% concentration on combat, with no serious diversions, was one of the island's strong points. He helped his pilots devote full-time attention to flying and fighting, thus preventing them from going "rock-happy."

Japanese Banzai Attack

An entirely unexpected diversion came even before the first VLR mission, bringing the war literally to the pilots' front door. The 21st F. G. had been on Iwo barely one week when eight dawn CAP pilots were leaving their camp for the field at about 0400 on March 27. They were suddenly overrun by 350 to 400 Japanese who poured out of underground caves and tunnels. Amid terrific confusion the Mustang pilots found themselves engaged in a frantic, vicious infantry war.

Some like Harry Crim got the news more forcibly than others. A mortar shell exploded outside his tent and a piece of shrapnel penetrated the bottom of his cot, hit the .45 automatic under his flight jacket pillow, and tossed him to the floor.

Crim grabbed another .45, ran outside and saw the group commander's tent collapsed from a mortar round which wounded the senior officers. He picked up a carbine and several magazines and dashed about 100 feet to a small rise where he could shoot at "about 30 Japs in a large hole, right on the edge of the camp, about 150 feet away."

By now the Japanese had occupied three tents and were also in a trench on the far side of camp. Crim dashed back to camp and ordered everyone out of the tents in order to separate the Americans from the Japanese. Meanwhile, the 46th squadron's flight surgeon, Dr. Hart, had set up a first-aid station in a bulldozed depression.

Crash of P-51
28 May 1945, Lt. Philip Alston, 457/560th, was caught in another plane's prop wash on takeoff but survived the crash.

But others were still fighting in the camp. Irate cooks chased six Japanese out of a mess tent, armed only with kitchen utensils. Lt. Harve Phipps of the 72nd F.S. shot two or three Japanese from his tent door, then was wounded by a grenade. Major Sam Hudson, C.O. of the 531st, took Crim and Lt. Harry Koke from tent to tent checking for stragglers and wounded. "We operated as a team, two covering the tent while one raised a flap and looked in," Crim related. "The wounded we found, we'd put on a blanket and drag back to Dr. Hart."

Reaching the far side of camp, the trio came under fire from three tents occupied by Japanese. Koke was wounded but stayed with Hudson and Crim, who checked every tent but one they knew had five pilots in it. Koke then went to the first-aid station, while Hudson and Crim organized a skirmish line to advance through the camp and attack the enemy occupying a trench. Meanwhile, other personnel were acting independently. Tech. Sgt. Philip Jean, wielding a borrowed Browning Automatic Rifle like an expert, accounted for eight Japanese and possibly three more with only 50 rounds. Other mechanics and support people quickly became proficient with carbines, rifles and pistols.

Marines now pinned down the enemy while Army personnel rushed through the tents and quickly killed the enemy found there. Advancing towards the trench, Major Hudson came to a pillbox and looked inside. A Japanese pushed a hand grenade out in Hudson's face and he tucked up in a crouch, head down. The explosion ruined Hudson's carbine and helmet, and though he lost three fingers he was otherwise not seriously harmed. Crim dragged him back to Dr. Hart.

At length a Marine tank came down the hill and ran the length of the trench. Those Japanese not killed immediately, committed suicide. By about 0900 some 330 of the enemy were dead; 98 in the 21st group's compound alone. Another 18 were captured, but 7th F. C. had suffered heavily. Forty-four were killed and upwards of 100 wounded. But some pilots like Harve Phipps later returned from hospital to fly again. Crim replaced the wounded Hudson as CO. of the 531st F. S., and the next day the 21st group flew its first mission, strafing Haha Jima.

The Japanese were not going to let the Americans get much more sleep after the predawn commando raid. At least not if "Tokyo Rose" had her way. In a radio broadcast monitored at Iwo she said that as the island was so small, it had been completely mined so that in event of capture "the island could be blown back into the sea." She added that the fuse was lit and the explosion would occur at midnight one week after the first announcement. She repeated her story every night along with the usual news and music. The night the great explosion was to occur she repeated the warning and played funeral music. "Of course nobody believed it and we went to bed as usual," Crim said.

Ammo dump explodes
Father Norton

But about midnight, almost exactly on schedule, a terrific explosion rocked the island. With Rose's week-long series of threats well in mind, several pilots dashed out of their tents, inflated their life rafts and jumped in. After a few minutes they realized the island showed no indication of sinking under them, "so we all sheepishly went back to bed." Cause of the explosion—a trip flare which set off a bomb dump.


HOW I LUCKED OUT TO SURVIVE THE SURPRISE BANZAI ATTACK THAT KILLED ELEVEN OF MY FELLOW PILOTS AND THREE ENLISTED MEN

by Jim Van Nada

On the night of March 25, 1945, six of us in the 72nd Fighter Squadron, occupying the same tent, wont to bed feeling pretty good about the fact that we weren't scheduled for the pre-dawn patrol. However, we didn't get a full night's sleep as planned because at about 4:00 a.m. the following, morning we were awakened by hand grenade explosions in and around our tent. The first one landed outside our tent shredding the back panel, and the second went off directly under my cot. I took a lot of shrapnel in the left leg and knee joint from that one. Our first thought was to get out of-the tent which seemed to be the primary target of whoever was throwing those grenades. Our only weapons were our .45 automatics which each of us took as we headed out of the tent. We didn't know where we were going because it was still dark and we weren't sure from which direction the attack was coming. Three of the pilots made it outside the tent, but as Lt. Bruner and I got to the tent door a grenade landed about three feet in front of us. He instinctively grabbed a helmet from our wash stand and put it in front of his face as the grenade exploded. The grenades had a tremendous concussion effect and we were both knocked out and back into the tent from the explosion. When we came to we were lying on the tent floor bleeding from head wounds, we could now hear rifle and automatic weapon fire close by and loud shrieking voices unmistakably Japanese. Our second decision was to retreat back into the tent, because charging around in the dark, not knowing where and how many Japs were out there didn't make much sense.

We had just arrived on Iwo Jima two days before the attack and hadn't yet unpacked our B-4 bags. Lts. Bruner, Fox, and I made a fairly good barricade of six bags and some ammunition boxes we had used in packing. From behind our barricade we could see the Japs running past our tent, firing their rifles and throwing grenades. We were hoping they were moving out of our area but the firing and yelling continued just outside our tent. I lift¬ed the bottom of the tent flap on the side from where the voices came and saw at least six Japs entrenched in a depression in the sand about four feet outside our tent, and it didn't appear that they were planning to move out. Our decision to hold out in the tent probably saved our lives. The three pilots who made it out¬side were hit by rifle fire. Lt. Howard was killed in back of our tent, the other two made it back inside the tent. Lt. Rogers re¬covered, but Lt. Canfield died later that morning. Except for the fact that it was getting lighter it seemed that time was standing still. Lts. Canfield and Rogers were making a lot of noise because of their wounds, and when Lt. Rogers shouted, "Is everyone dead in here?" We caught another grenade in the middle of the tent floor. Except for the concussion effect we didn't pick up any shrapnel behind the barricade.

The defense was getting organized up front and we could see our troops running between the tent 3. One of our guys up front squeezed off several rounds from a BAR right into our tent, but he fired high and none of us was hit. This prompted Lt. Bruner to yell really loud that there were still pilots alive in the back, row, the first tents that the Japs hit. We got a response from our defenders telling us to try to make it forward while they covered us. A lot of rifle fire started pouring into the Japs next to our tent and we took this opportunity to leave the tent. I helped Lt. Canfield up but because of my leg injury he managed to beat me to the front. At least three Americans were firing continually as we covered the fifty or so yards forward where we dived into a pit of discarded cans, causing some cut feet but no complaints. The last thing I remembered that morning was our armament officer relieving us of our .45s in the pit, then we were loaded onto a truck for transport to a field hospital on Iwo. The next day I was flown to a navy hospital on Guam, and after about one week there I was put on a hospital ship headed for San Diego with a stop-over in Oahu.

My departure from Iwo was so sudden that I really didn't have time to find out exactly what hit us that morning and how the rest of the 21st personnel that were in the area under fire made out. I also regretted being knocked out of the action most of us had been preparing for since being assigned to the Pacific Area of Operations. All this seemed important to me at the time, so I made plans to leave the ship at Oahu. When the ship docked at Pearl Harbor I contacted Tripler Army Hospital near Honolulu. Fortunately I was able to talk to Maj. Weaver, Flight Surgeon, who was instrumental in getting me off the ship and assigned to Tripler. I knew that getting back to Iwo wouldn't be as easy as jumping the hospital ship at Oahu, so I wrote immediately to Maj. Imig, CO. of the 72nd Ftr. Sqdn., requesting his help to get be back: to Iwo and the 72nd. He took the letter to Col. Powell, 21st Ftr. Gp., and Gen. Moore, 7th Ftr. Command. In less than three weeks I received travel orders for the return to Iwo pending release from grounding.

I never regretted returning to Iwo although I received a lot of kidding about possible brain damage from the banzai raid for having done it. On my return there I learned that I was assigned as Sqdn. Commander of the 72nd Ftr. Sqdn., and on May 23, 1945 I received a promotion to Major. I did accomplish my objectives of finding out what happened that morning of March 26, 1945 and managed to complete seven missions over Japan before being assigned back to the States.

Thirty years after the war, General Moore would recall: "I don't believe there is any question about the P-51 being the best prop fighter of WW II. It was our top air fighter, and hence best for escort missions, and equal to the "47" as an attacker against ground targets." Squadron and group commanders were just as enthusiastic, describing the sleek North American as "perfect for these missions." Unlike the P-47 groups on le Shima in the Ryukus, which began operations in May, 7th F. C. Mustangs could loiter for over two hours in the Tokyo area, as le Shima was 200 statute miles farther from the Japanese capital than Iwo.

But the pilots of the 15th and 21st groups were not particularly well experienced in the 51. Both groups had received their first Mustangs in late 1944, and between shipment from Hawaii and staging through the Central Pacific on escort carriers, there had been little time for extensive transition. Most check-outs were done in the Marianas, and by the time the groups arrived at Iwo, probably not even the senior pilots had 50 hours in the Mustang. In the 21st, for instance, the more senior pilots averaged 20 hours in the P-51 before reaching Iwo, while the majority of the pilots were newly out of operational training units and averaged only a mere five to ten hours in 51s.

Major Harry Crim of the 21st group's 531st squadron was an exception. A veteran, with 2,200 hours total time, he had logged 35 in the P-51. It was enough to become well acquainted with the Mustang's characteristics, though Crim still favored the P-38 from his Mediterranean tour.

In the Pacific, it was the Mustang's long, lean legs which made the difference. In the ETO the normal drop tank was of 110-gallon capacity, but for the VLR Pacific missions 165-gallon external tanks were more often employed. Fully loaded, two 165-gallon tanks added a ton to the Mustang's 10,100-pound "clean" combat weight. But they allowed an hour or more over Japan, depending on power settings, as opposed to only 20 or 30 minutes on internal fuel. The larger externals also added longitudinal stability to offset the crucial weight-and-balance problem posed by fuel sloshing around in the fuselage tank.

With such heavy takeoff loads the Mustangs needed a good long run, even at sea level. When completed, Airfield Number One had a 5,000 and 3,900-foot runway; Number Two's were 5,200 and 4,400 feet. Originally, however, these runways were barely 2,000 feet and thus hardly adequate for B-29 emergency landings. Quite often they were altogether too short. Following a typical large mission against Japan, 50 to 70 Superfortresses in all manner of emergencies stopped at Iwo rather than risk the extra 800 miles to the Marianas. "The 29 drivers did a wonderful job of getting their crates on the ground, but some really catastrophic accidents were inevitable," recalls Harry Crim. "At first Airfield Number Two was only an emergency-emergency field, so we got some desperate boys. Our coffee tent on the flight line was wiped out three times before we got smart and moved it to the upwind side of the runway."

On another occasion a B-29 lost directional control, ran off the runway at about mid-point, churned up a mound and crunched down in the 531 st's maintenance pocket. The Boeing's wings broke down and the fuselage cracked in the middle so the nose and tail both drooped. "The result looked like a mother hen sitting on her chicks because five of my 51s were under it," Crim sadly recalls.

The Iwo Jima groups had augmented squadrons, with 37 Mustangs and 57 pilots, so in most cases only squadron or group commanders had personal aircraft. General Moore had a pet Mustang which, despite his heavy administrative load, he usually managed to fly about 20 hours a month. The standard tour of operations for an Iwo Jima P-51 pilot was 15 VLR missions—about 105 hours flight time— plus whatever local ground support or patrols were required. After the first few VLRs, Moore restricted pilots to no more than six VLRs in one month.

Fighter pilots of the of the 15th and 21st Groups flew a non-stop test flight to Saipan and back on 30 March. Complete studies of navigational problems, gas consumption, weather conditions and pilot fatigue were made. These in planning the long range over-water missions to the Empire.

Second Lieutenant Jack Wilson, 531st Squadron: 31 March 1945
Dear Folks:...Boy, you should see me now. I sit here in the parachute shack with my steel helmet, pistol and boots on. Haven't shaved for several days, or washed up for two or three. The dust here is terrific. The dust is packed into my beard and my hair just won't wash in the cold sea water. Never realized how filthy I could be for so long. A good hot bath figures strongly into my idea of heaven. We were living in a tent on a soft sidehill when the Japs attacked us, but the next day we moved down toward the beach, started digging and continued for two days. Dick Woolley and I now live in a sandbagged pit dug into the sand with a little shelter-half above it. You crawl into it and there is just enough room for the two of us to sleep. Everyone is dug in similarly, enlisted men and officers, and each place is a veritable arsenal. We all have our pistols, they issued carbines, and I used the first of my "speculation" goods to get a Thompson Submachine Gun from a Marine...They sure hit our squadron hard and I'll really miss those guys... Our food is lousy, has been for a long time and will continue to be. It's all condensed dog biscuits, hard candy and canned soup. Makes you feel lousy. Water is rationed, washing water non-existent. It's a filthy, dusty, impossible hole, but I know I can get through it as I have everything else-Lois wrote me reminding me that her birthday was the 14th of last month and asking me why I hadn't sent her some sort of greeting. That sort of burned me up as I was so tired I didn't know what day of the week it was. Our field is pretty poor and we've already had some bad accidents. I've done a lot of flying and gotten in combat time and one mission. Enemy opposition to our flying is something we worry about least. Am quite confident of getting back before Christmas. Would sure like to lie in some of that green grass in our front lawn right now. This dirt is tiresome... April began with four days of rain that turned foxholes into catch basins, aggravated head colds and cancelled any hope of combat flights. During the respite stragglers returned from Saipan and ground crews labored to solve a spate of mechanical problems.

Finally, as in an astrological happening, everything seemed to come into alignment - the 21st got new tents, the weather cleared and enthusiasm was rekindled. On 6 April orders were issued for the first escort mission to be flown to Tokyo the following day. Briefings on the eve of the great undertaking were more like pep rallies. Though the most experienced pilots were selected -men with 600 and 700 hours in fighters - everyone wanted to go. Even Mickey Moore had his Mustang "waxed and tuned". Junior officers not assigned to the historic mission reacted like small boys being left behind on a family frolic.

7 April 1945 - First VLR Mission to Japan
From John W. Lambert's Book "The Pineapple Air force" (1)
Killed in action Anderson, Robert G. 1st Lt.

First MissionFirst Lieutenant Hank Ryniker, 47th Squadron:
I'd give anything to be on it, small chance for this yard bird. By bucking, pleading and pulling strings, I did get on as a reserve - to be used in case of an abort. Group briefings before dawn on the 7th were jammed by outsiders. War correspondents, who had previously given Iwo Jima a wide berth, were suddenly present in great numbers.

Captain Howard Russell, 72nd Squadron:
We had been on many missions to Haha and Chichi by now and the relative ease with which we completed our work perhaps made us a little cocky. In any case, we were ready. With the long trip ahead - all over water- fuel consumption was my first consideration; my capability in combat over Japan I did not doubt. Rescue seemed so well planned, loss of life by drowning or abandonment did not enter my mind. I was a flight leader with a good crew and I was ready.

Captain Herb Henderson, 45th Squadron:
Lord, was I eager to go. Dawn was just breaking on Iwo Jima as a hundred Merlin engines crackled to life and filled the air with their rhythmic roar. For this band of Hawaiian flyers it was the World Series, graduation, and the departure of the crusades, all rolled into one. There was a sense that participation would confer on each a sort of redemption from the historic disaster of 7 December 1941 and the recent slaughter of 26 March 1945. Even those being left behind were primed to an emotional peak for the grand culmination.

Colonel Moose Mussett, VII Fighter Command:
There was a feeling of great elation and satisfaction. At last we were going into action. Morale was so high.

First Lieutenant Henry Sanders, 47th Squadron:
I felt the sort of thrill that the Star Spangled Banner evokes. I wished I could go along and got a cold shiver down my spine as they began taking off.

Corporal Russell Bishop, 47th Squadron:
We knew that our proficiency, sweat and sacrifice was on board those Mustangs and had great pride in the outfit and what we were doing. Right then, I wouldn't have swapped places with any civilian at home. First off the ground, about 0700, were Colonel Jim Beckwith of the 15th Group and Major Dewitt Spain, leading the 21st for the convalescing Ken Powell. Circling and climbing at assembly points near Kita Rock, they gathered their squadrons and, accompanied by B-29s as navigators, set course for Tokyo, a few compass degrees west of North.

Mechanical gremlins, who would hound every mission, took an early toll. Jim Beckwith, with a bad oxygen system was one of the first to turn back. General Moore found he had a stuck gas switch and, with some bitterness, he too left the formation. Hank Ryniker, one of the spares, was tickled to fill a gap in the 47th Squadron's Yellow Flight. The last abort in the 15th Group occurred over 200 miles from base and Second Lieutenant Charles C. Heil of the 78th was summoned as the last spare. Far behind the main force, he doggedly pursued the mission. After some 600 miles of solo navigation Heil overtook a formation of B-29s but was bewildered at the absence of any other P-51s. He had located a wing assigned to bomb Nagoya and gamely assumed a protective stance over 153 Superforts. Ninety-six Mustangs, under strict radio silence, swept north. Beneath them the Nanpo Shoto Islands, a spine of rugged volcanic peaks, punctured the ocean surface forming a chain that reached to within 65 miles of Tokyo. However, in the vastness of the Western Pacific, the widely interspersed outcroppings offer no more of a landmark than a tombstone on the plains. Trenches on either side of the small islands plunge to depths as great as 5,000 feet. The cold, bleak Nanpo Shoto is a meteorological cauldron off the Asian littoral where migratory west bound highs converge with moist tropical trade winds. Moving north with the sun, the clashing weather patterns could form frightening systems but posed no threat to the mission of 7 April. Finally doing what they had trained for, the squadrons of the Seventh were exercising cruise control procedures and experiencing the realities of very long range operations.

Major Jim VandeHey, CO, 78th Squadron:
We all dressed like we were going to the North Pole and I didn't even bring along a candy bar.

Captain Howard Russell, 72nd Squadron:
Special power settings for our Merlin engines had been prescribed, but not really tested by us. High manifold pressure and low RPM were specified. It was said that these settings were developed and tested by Charles Lindbergh. A rather unsettling procedure resulted: Set the manifold pressure at 36 inches, RPM at 2,000. Reduce RPM until engine cuts out (about 1,750 to 1,800 RPM), then ease the RPM forward until you got a smooth engine, all this in auto-lean. This was historically murder on engines and against all the rules we had been taught about engine care. But it worked, even though some engines were ruined by the time the flight was over. Severe piston burning was often the result, but most of the engines made it. Less than one hundred miles from Tokyo the Mustangs sighted their charges, 103 Superfortresses of the 73rd Bomb Wing high over Kozu Shima Island.

Captain Art Bridge, 45th Squadron:
It was a real spectacle. The 29s were just finishing their assembly in a grand circle as we arrived. I could see the lead B-29s were at 12,000 with the rest staggered back all the way up to 18,000. My flight was covering the point and we began to scissor to maintain our airspeed and not get ahead of the bomber stream. Flying top cover over the bomber stream, the 15th was in the lead position as the strike force approached the coast of Honshu.

Major Jim VandeHey, CO, 78th Squadron:
The weather was clear. We saw the coast and old Mount Fujiyama standing out like it did in the pictures. It was an unmistakable landmark.

Captain Harold Russell, 72nd Squadron:
During the flight, perfect radio silence was maintained all the way to Tokyo, when some would-be tour guide in the group announced, "Fujiyama!" Another 15 or 20 minutes passed and then we were busy doing what we had trained to do for three or four years.

Well beyond Iwo Jima, Frank Ayres' P-51 had begun siphoning fuel from an overflow vent and he began switching back and forth from internal to external tanks hoping to correct the fuel flow problem. Sighting the snow-capped peak of Fujiyama he thought to himself, "Frank, what are you doing so far from Lake Charles, Louisiana?"

Crossing the coast at 10:45 the Mustangs began dropping their 110 gallon auxiliary wing tanks, preparing to do battle on their fuselage tanks. Todd Moore spotted and called out the first Japanese interceptor flying below them, a likely decoy. "Stay in formation," cautioned squadron leader VandeHey. John Piper's flight was likewise tantalized by a single low flying Nick over Tokyo Bay, then by four single-engine Tojos that came toward them head-on, breaking down and away while still out of range. After the feints and the lures had failed, over a hundred Japanese fighters began making aggressive passes on the lead squadrons of the bomber stream. In a short space of time, in a narrow piece of the Pacific sky, 300 adversaries converged on each other. For the Makin veterans as well as those who had never seen an enemy plane in flight, it was an awesome and unforgettable sight. The Japanese attackers may not have expected the fighter escort, but in keeping with their air defense doctrine they concentrated on the big bombers. Finally, Bob Down and Dick Hintermeier of the 47th Squadron were in position to deal with a Nick that had committed itself.

First Mission PilotsCaptain Dick Hintermeier, 47th Squadron:
I made a high frontal quartering pass that hit the right engine and set it smoking. Down's bursts struck the canopy and right engine and the plane broke into flames. In quick succession Down, Hintermeier and First Lieutenant Eurich L. Bright intercepted single-engine Japanese fighters plummeting toward the B-29s. Executing 180 degree overhead to stern passes Down and Bright each flamed an aircraft, then Bright nailed two more. Jim Tapp burned a Tony penetrating the 78th's top cover, then swung about to deal with a rocket or bomb carrying Dinah coming head-on through the bombers. A faulty aneroid switch sent his engine to low blower preventing him from closing with die enemy, so he pulled back on station. Major VandeHey, however, got his sights on a Dinah and, ignoring fire from the rear gunner, let off a burst that tore away the left engine cowling and set the plane afire. On the right side of the bomber stream, where Major Snipes' 45th Squadron was stationed, a pair of enemy fighters with altitude and speed advantage approached head-on.

Major Buck Snipes, CO, 45th Squadron:
We pulled up but couldn't get any lead, and the Japs were past us before we could even shoot. I pulled off just before stalling and vowed at the time never to get myself in that predicament again. Shortly after that two Nakajima "Tojos" came in front of me and my wingman, Henderson. I took the left one and he caught fire and went down. Captain Herb Henderson, 45th Squadron: I closed on mine to firing range and began shooting from dead rear. As I gained on him I realized I must have stopped his engine, because he slowed so fast that I overshot and had to pull up to avoid a collision. As I did so Buck came in behind me and fired a burst at mine. The pilot jumped and we could see his chute floating below as we caught up with the bombers.

The B-29 formations bore steadily tiirough a flak smudged sky toward the bomb release point as if they were on a track, while the interceptors of both sides swarmed about the majestic parade. In clear weather over the target they unloaded their deadly cargo on the Nakajima industrial complex. Anti-aircraft fire or a Japanese 'Ta-Dan" bomber* finally scored hits as a Superfortress, its Number 2 engine burning, fell from formation and angled toward the coastline.

Major Jim Tapp, 78th Squadron:
An unpainted "Oscar" was in the vicinity. Don't know if he was going after the burning B-29 or not but he was a fighter and represented a threat to the bombers including the cripple... I started a 90 degree pass on the enemy plane firing continuously until dead astern. Pieces were coming off and striking my plane as we closed. I ended up with four Nicks. The Oscar didn't ignite but just spiraled into the ground.

Anderson CrashLandfall was made approximately 10 minutes after rendezvous and first interceptions were encountered over Sagami Bay between Atami and Hiratsuka, 30 to 45 mile's short of target. Jap fighters were of all types with Nicks, Tojos, Irvings, Tonys and Zekes pre-dominating. Twin-engine aircraft were numerous. The enemy pilots avoided encounters with our fighters, and concentrated on the big bombers. "They attacked, ih the majority of case's from 10 through 2 o'clock, and a few from astern. Japanese fighters were unaggressive, and attacks, when they did occur, were uncoordinated. Our forces claimed 21 enemy aircraft destroyed 5 probably destroyed and 7 damaged. Our own losses were 1 P-51 destroyed, 1 ditched and 1 damaged. One of our fighters exploded, while in the target area, cause unknown. Both wings came off and fighters did not see pilot bail out, although XXI Pomcom crews reported seeing a parachute. On return to base one pilot low on gas bailed out over rescue DD 200 miles north of Iwo and was picked up by the ASR Destroyer. Four fighters provided cover for Superdumbo and rescue submarine at the Rally Point. One fighter, becoming separated from his flight, accompanied another B-29 strike force to Nagoya. A total of 39,645 gallons of gasoline was consumed while 22,893 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition were fired during the course of the mission. Again on 12 April Mustangs escorted B-29s over the same target. On this mission pilots claimed 15 enemy aircraft destroyed, 6 probably destroyed and 3 damaged. Friendly losses were 4 Mustangs, with 2 pilots reported killed and 2 considered missing.

The B-29 formations bore steadily tiirough a flak smudged sky toward the bomb release point as if they were on a track, while the interceptors of both sides swarmed about the majestic parade. In clear weather over the target they unloaded their deadly cargo on the Nakajima industrial complex. Anti-aircraft fire or a Japanese 'Ta-Dan" bomber* finally scored hits as a Superfortress, its Number 2 engine burning, fell from formation and angled toward the coastline.

Major Jim Tapp, 78th Squadron:
An unpainted "Oscar" was in the vicinity. Don't know if he was going after the burning B-29 or not but he was a fighter and represented a threat to the bombers including the cripple... I started a 90 degree pass on the enemy plane firing continuously until dead astern. Pieces were coming off and striking my plane as we closed. I ended up with four Nicks. The Oscar didn't ignite but just spiraled into the ground.

Captain Todd Moore finally got an opportunity and went after some Hamps (late model Zeros) with his wingman.

First Lieutenant Robert H. Roseberry, 78th Squadron:
As we dove, I remember thinking that I had to stick to Captain Moore's wing no matter what happened. He was a veteran and this was my first air action. We saw four Hamps doing lazy eights in a loose string over the B-29s. Moore closed on the tail of the string and exploded the fourth plane with a short 20 degree deflection shot. At full throttle we began firing. I was stacked in so close to the Captain that his ejected shell casings were hitting my plane. I flew within 60 feet of the third Hamp. Its bottom was blown out and the plane was burning and falling rapidly out of control. I fired a short burst at the number 2 Hamp with absolutely no results. Frankly, I was more concerned with sticking to Moore and not getting lost than in getting a Hamp. While the 15th Fighter Group bore the brunt of the Japanese attack, the 21st Group, covering the rear half of the bomber stream, suffered the first casualty. Shortly after dropping wing tanks, lieutenant Robert G. Anderson, an element leader in the 531st, was seen to roll and split-S toward the ground, his aircraft showing emitting smoke and flame. Whether flak or a fuel generated malfunction, there was no explanation for the loss. Anderson crashlanded and died of injuries.

Captain Harry Crim, CO, 531st Squadron:
It was a picture book day. We were about three miles behind the 15th at 16 to 18,000 feet. (I couldn't help recollecting that this was ideal range for German 88s in the ETO. They could knock the whiskers off a gnat at this altitude.) We seemed to be moving in slow motion and at first we were like spectators. We saw no enemy aircraft, but then the 15th engaged and we saw the first big black streak falling out of the sky. A twin-engine Nick finally intruded into the 21st Group's territory and Adolph Bregar brought it down. Having passed through formations of the 15th, Japanese fighters may have assumed they had shed the escort.

Crim, Spain & MooreCaptain Harry Crim, CO, 531st Squadron:
A lone Tony came alongside the bomber stream some 200 yards out and was leisurely choosing his target. I was 2,000 feet over him and rolled down to intercept but had too much power and overshot. I reduced power, pulled around and he was still shopping among the bombers. I took a shot at him, it didn't faze him; then another burst from 1,000 feet and I knocked off his right wing. He never took any evasive action, was entranced with the B-29s and never knew we were there. Climbing back to escort position, I overtook a slow flying Nick and had to throttle down.

I backed off, ran in behind him and started picking up hits on his left engine. Coming as close as 50 feet, I hit the cockpit and then the right wing as he just gradually fell away. He was down to about 4,000 feet when he turned over and went in. I was fascinated at the way Japanese planes would burn and break up [no armor protection, no self-sealing fuel tanks]. The Messerschmitt 109 was a tough aircraft, hard to knock down, and when damaged, the German pilots dove for the protection of their anti-aircraft batteries. You didn't dare follow them down into the 88s' dead zone. Almost an hour after the rendezvous, the great formations disengaged as the B-29s withdrew. The Mustangs headed for the Rally Point (RP), a map co-ordinate off Honshu where B-29 navigators, B-17 Superdumbo rescue planes and rescue submarines all congregated.

Major Jim Tapp, 78th Squadron:
When we started into the target area we were flying a neat squadron tactical formation. As we began engaging enemy aircraft, we broke down to flights pretty much independent of one another. Now, as we departed Japan, there we were (the 78th) all together again. That really amazed and pleased me. We had all our pros on that mission. As the P-51 pilots left Japan they returned to the discipline of cruise control. Auxiliary tanks long since dropped, they had been flying and fighting on fuselage tanks for some 50 minutes. Many were into the reserve supply of 184 gallons in the internal wing tanks, and with Iwo Jima over 600 miles away, the contest to conserve fuel engrossed them. It was a hopeless exercise for one young pilot.

First Lieutenant Frank Ayres, 47th Squadron:
By the time Sammy Powell and I started heading out to the RP, I was pretty sure I couldn't make it home, because my fuel gauges were going down so fast. I didn't say anything about it until we rejoined John Piper and Joe Brunette. When I realized that I couldn't make it back to Iwo Jima, I got the shakes for a minute and (this may sound like I was ready for a "Section 8") I heard a voice saying, "Don't worry, you will be alright." I was totally relaxed from then on. Over the years I have thought back to that time and thought how close I felt to my Maker - it was an eerie experience and, if that is how our good Lord works, I wish I could experience it again. By then, Piper was excited and kept saying, we'll get you home, Frankie," and I just said, "I know it," and really believed it. The B-29 pilot (Cloudhopper Charlie) told me to set my power for max range and he would adjust his power to keep me in formation so I never had to reset my throttle. Two hundred miles short of Iwo Jima, Ayres' fuel gauges went to empty and the B-29 advised him that they should be near the station of an ASR destroyer, code named Warcloud.

First Lieutenant Frank Ayres, 47th Squadron:
As we approached the area where Warcloud (DD Cassin) should be, we had to let down into the overcast. The B-29 couldn't contact Cassin by radio but we started letting down. Just as we broke out of the clouds at about 50 to 100 feet, the navigator said, "Warcloud should be straight ahead," and there it was! I broke away, buzzed the DD about mast height and jettisoned my canopy to let them know I was in trouble. Visibility was very low and there were at least 20 foot waves and strong winds. I unfastened my safety belt, rolled the trim tab forward and climbed to 2,000 feet at approximately 180 mph. When I reached 2,000 ft I half rolled to the right and as soon as I stopped the roll the wind sucked me out. All I knew about bailing out was to pull the D ring to open the chute. Never had a briefing or any training.

When I cleared the plane, I pulled, and the D ring and two cables to the chute pins came out. My first thought was, "My gosh, you've broken it!" I didn't know the whole assembly came out. I must have been sprawled out with legs spread because the next thing I knew the chute came through my legs and I flipped. Being in the soup is like no place else - I heard my plane go off and hit the water and then there was a total silence. I slid back into the seat and unfastened the leg straps and held onto the chest strap latch. I thought you just floated down easily and that when my feet hit the water, I would just unfasten the chest strap and slide into the ocean. Imagine my surprise when I broke out of the overcast and was in the water before I could do anything. I went so deep in the water I was at the point that if I didn't surface soon, I wouldn't make it. I had taught Boy Scout life saving and had taken the Instructor Survival Course at Hickam, so I considered myself a good swimmer and I think that is what saved me. When I finally surfaced, the wind had caught my chute and it started dragging me across the water like an aquaplane.

The leg straps went through a slot in the life raft seat pack and that's where it stuck so I couldn't get free. My Mae West strap was fastened to the life raft, so I pulled myself by that up to the raft pack and up to the shrouds while I was skimming from wave to wave. Finally I was able to spill my chute. Some time later, the Cassin appeared - I could see them one moment and then they would go behind a wave. They spotted my chute floating on the water and then me. They started to come alongside me and threw ropes with weights on the end for me to catch, but they would sink before I could grasp one, so then they would reverse engines and try again. I didn't want to get too close to them because of the high waves and danger of being sucked into the screws. Finally, I yelled into the wind, "Throw me a ring buoy." The skipper thought I was in a panic, couldn't hear what I was saying. A sailor with a bright bushy beard dived overboard with a rope around his waist and swam out to me and grabbed me by the arm. They reeled us in like big fish. As we approached the rope ladder on the port side, one moment the waves had us almost under the ship and the next you were above the rail. On one of the "ups" someone grabbed me by the back of my flight suit and lifted me right on deck. Until then I felt perfectly calm and under control, but when I started to walk, my legs turned to rubber and they helped me to the ship's doctor's cabin.

By 1430 the P-51s had returned to base, including Charlie Heil, who had done a solo escort to Nagoya with a rough engine. Three B-29s had been lost over Tokyo, two to AA and one a victim of a Ta-Dan bomber. Two P-51s and one pilot had been lost but XXI Bomber Command and Seventh Fighter Command were elated with overall mission results as were the participants. The fighters, while performing their escort job to near perfection, had combined to claim 21-6-6 over Japanese attackers as substantiated by witnesses and gun camera film. It was a mission of historic achievement considering its length and duration, and prompted an award of the Distinguished Unit Citation to both 15th and 21st Groups.

However, unlike most historic events, this was not a once in a lifetime effort. Plans were immediately laid for the next VLR mission. They had to repeat the feat of flying and fighting 1300 miles from their base another 50 times before war's end, under conditions judged so arduous that 15 VLR missions had tentatively been established as the goal for completion of an individual combat tour. Along with the statistical success of the first VLR mission the pilots had a dual sense of humility and deep self-satisfaction.

First Lieutenant Hank Ryniker, 47th Squadron:
Over Tokyo, there were planes all over the sky. We (our flight) saw 10 or 12 enemy planes. Gave chase to a couple, all of us got in some bursts - may have made some hits. Cameron, number three man, was very low on gas so we didn't chase too much - he landed with five gallons! I was scared - just plain fool scared and I think it was justified. Not so much from the enemy, but from being so far from home, limited (very) gas and just one old engine turning that fan up front. Logged seven hours, 15 minutes and my rear end is so sore I can't sit down. Had interrogation, movies taken and a party thrown by fighter command -1 was so tired, I slipped out early. Come what may, I've seen combat, seen the enemy and I've been over Tokyo so everything has been worth it.

A field order for the next VLR mission looked like a repeat of the first - escort 73rd Bomb Wing to Tokyo, takeoff at 0800, 12 April, 1945. The similarity ended there. The mission went badly from takeoff as a sudden wind change caused Captain Sam Powell to ground loop his fully loaded P-51. Second Lieutenant Ralph N. Heintz made an emergency landing after a panel under his engine was blown off. At departure time on Field Number 2 there was a wind change and the 21st Group had to taxi to another runway, wasting precious fuel and getting off late. Their B-29 navigators left the assembly point on schedule, however, and the Group had to chase them for some distance. The last squadron to take off, the 531st, estimated that they would burn too much fuel catching up and turned back. Together the two groups mustered just 82 aircraft.

16 April 45, P-51s attacked aircraft and installations at Kanoya airfield, Kyushu.
At the target, two squadrons flew diversionary and protective high cover at 16,000 feet, while two squadrons went into the target at a minimum altitude to strafe. Another squadron flew medium altitude cover for VWB 612 Marine PBJs which made a rocket attack coordinated with the fighter sweep. No enemy airborne aircraft were sighted until after retirement. When several were seen a few miles to the north and too far to follow and attack. Enemy losses of aircraft on the ground-were undetermined. Four of our aircraft and two of our pilots were lost. A FBJ was lost and 2 crew members are listed as missing. These missions were followed during the ensuing months of April, May and June by 22 additional VLR Missions, 14 of which were effective. The air echelon of the 506th Fighter Group assigned to the Twentieth Air Force and attached to VII Fighter Command for-administration and operational control, began to arrive on Iwo on 11 May. Their first tactical mission was flown against the Bcnins on 18 May and 53 aircraft were airborne on their first VIR Fighter Strike May 28th on Kasumigaura airfield.

VLR Mission No 4 (FC Mission #126) 19 April 1945.
Force: 104 P-51s of 15th and 21st Groups.
Mission: Fighter Sweep against Atsugi and Yokosuka airfields.
Claims against enemy: 23 destroyed and 7 damaged in air; 14 destroyed and 43 damaged on the ground.
Our losses consisted of 2 P-51s lost, 2 damaged and 2 pilots missing.
VLR Mission No 5 (FC Mission #130) 22 April 1945
Force: 104 P-51s of 15th and 21st Groups.
Mission: Fighter Sweep against airfields in Magoya area.
Claims against enemy: 10 destroyed in-air; 14 destroyed and 30 damaged on ground.
Our loses: 2 P-51s lost and one damaged;. 1 pilot killed and 1 missing.
VLR Mission No 6 (FC Mission.#132) 26 April 1945
Force: 104 T-513 of 15th and 21st Groups.
Mission: Establish zones of security in Ranoya areas during bombing attack by B-29's. Overcast in target area prevented observations. Six of our pilots were lost in the overcast first encountered approximately 20 minutes prior to reaching target. No enemy aircraft encountered nor was any flak reported
VLR-Mission No 7 (FC Mission #134/30 April 1945)
Force: 104 P-51s of 15th -and 21st Groups
Mission: Fighter Escort for B-29s to the Tachikawa Army Air Arsenal, Fighters wore unable to contact bomber stream at assembly point and flew over target alone; Bombers, it was later learned, hit secondary target, Hamamatsu, upon finding primary target overcast. One Oscar was probably destroyed in the air.
Our losses: one F-51 lost and one pilot killed on takeoff
VLR Mission No 8 (FC Mission #138) 8 May 1945
Force: 104 F-51s of 15th and 21st Groups.
Mission Fighter Strike against airfields in Nagoya area. Mission was non-effective due to weather. Front was encountered approximately 60 miles on course and fighters were ordered to return. Planes orbited base for an hour to lower the levels of gas in wing tanks and reduce weight before landing.
VLR Mission No 9 (FC Mission #244) 7 May 1945
Force: 52 F-51s of 21st Group
Mission: Fighter Strike against airfields in Tokyo area.
Claims against enemy: 9 destroyed and 33 damaged on ground. Of two groups scheduled for mission, only one completed strike. The 15th Group failed to take off due to weather. Three pilots did not return to base and are listed as missing. A fourth pilot, due to a coblanTr~IcaIc", waTTcFcccf'to parachute midway between two ASR positions on return route to base. His parachute was observed to be pulling him face down in the water and it is believed he was drowned.
VLR Mission No 10 (FC Mission #146) 19 May 1945
Force: 100' P-51s of 15th and 21st Groups
Mission: Fighter Escort of 4 Bomber Kings to Tachikawa Air Arsenal. Mission vras ineffective due to weather, fighters encountering a solid overcast condition. 100 miles abort of DF. All planes returned safely.
VLR Mission No 11 (FC Mission L5l) 24 May 1945
Force: 100 P-51s of 15th and 21st Groups
Mission: Fighter Strike against airfields in Tokyo area. Mission was non-effective due to weather, fighters again encountering a solid overcast and failing either to. Climb o-ver or to fly around it. All planes returned to base and landed safely.
VLR. Mission iio 12 (FC Mission #152) 25 May 1945
Force: 100 F-51s of 15th and 21st Fighter Groups
Mission: VLR Fighter Strike a-gainst airfields in Tokyo area. Claims against, enemy: 8 destroyed and 1 damaged in air, 10 destroyed, 4 probables and Jt damaged or. Ground.
Our losses: 3 P-51s and 1 pilot.
VLR Mission No 13 (FC Mission #161) 28 May 1945
Force: 53 F-51s' of the 506th Group
Mission: Fighter Strike against airfields in Tokyo area
Claims against enemy: 1 destroyed and 2 damaged in the air, 5 destroyed, 1 probable and 50 damaged on the ground.
Our losses: 1 F-51 lost, 2 damaged and 1 pilot lost.
Over Kasumigaura airfield 8 planes were-first sent down to strafe gun positions. On pullout after strafing run the 8 planes were attacked by four enemy planes, tentatively identified as Tojos. Fasscs wore mndo at our planes, two enemy aircraft from head on, the other two from overhead. "Jits were obtained on two of enemy, and 1 of our planes was hit twice. During the aerial combat another squadron of 16 a/c strafed planes along N, S and E sides of field Ag well as buildings and povrer house of aircraft assembly plant. One S/E fighter passed in front of strafers and was shot down. On retirement from Kasii.-dr;aur. Other at tacks wore carried out on Yachliat.i, Lmba, P.y-ugasaki and Toganc or Naruto airfields, and an additional 10 S/L and T/E enemy aircraft were damaged.

VLR Mission 14 (FC Mission #163) 29 May 1945
Force:. 101 P-51s of 15th and 21st Groups
Mission: Fighter Escort of XXI Bomcom mission 1 against Yokohama
Claims against enemy: 26 destroyed, 9 probable's and 23'.damaged in air. Our losses: 3 P-51 lost 2 pilots missing.

To facilitate the strategic bombing campaign against Japan, Twentieth Air Force had been supplied with a long range weather unit, the 55th Reconnaissance Squadron. Weather predictions prepared by Guam Weather Forecasting Central were based, to a considerable degree, on the findings of the 55th during daily flights up the Nanpo Shoto in their B-24M aircraft. Therefore, the mission planned for tomorrow was based on today's weather observations. The lag in data did not seriously effect B-29 operations. The giant planes were more stable in foul weather than fighters, had better instruments, more crew and flew in a loose gaggle toward their assembly point off Honshu. Procedures established for weather briefing of bomber missions were, none-the-less extended to fighter operations and were largely accountable for those missions that failed or were scrubbed. Formations of P-51s departing Iwo Jima had local weather advisories from their own staff meteorologists, but the hard data on what lay along the 650 mile route was already stale when evening orders were cut for a dawn takeoff. Despite the imprecise nature of weather forecasting, pressures to accomplish mission goals filtered down from Twentieth Air Force through Seventh Fighter Command to Mustang groups. The accumulation of May aborts, regardless of circumstances, generated agitation through the force provoking a polarity in the squadrons particularly within the 15th Group. Pilots who had been on the cancelled mission of 24 May and who then failed to get their wheezing Mustangs over the front of 25 May were summoned before an "abort board" for scrutiny.

First Lieutenant Hank Ryniker, 47th Squadron
"Of all things!! All of us who returned yesterday because of engine trouble, had to meet a Group board who determined whether or not it was justified. The armchair strategists who sit behind their armor plated desks thought the pilots might be goofing off evidently. I've got a dozen missions each one certainly at risk to my life, but if they think I'll fly an airplane over 1,200 to 1,300 miles of open water that my experience of nearly 1,000 hours says isn't airworthy, they are mistaken. I like at least a 50-50 chance and I'll not reduce those odds unless it's a damn site more important than some ranking officer's reputation."

By the end of May, Twentieth Air Force had assembled sixteen B-29 groups in the Marianas, and the strategic offensive against Japan was being delivered in four hundred planes, sledgehammer blows. Earlier low level night raids had been effective, but costly, so LeMay reverted to high altitude daylight missions, attacking Yokohama on 29 May.

Three hundred miles from Iwo Jima the familiar front appeared before 15th and 21st Groups sent as escort. However, this one seemed not to be anchored in the ocean, so the squadrons let down to 2,000 feet and passed under the weather. Five hundred miles from base, just 100 miles short of Honshu, 20,000 feet over Hachijo Jima, 101 Mustangs rendezvoused with 454 Superforts and the great fleet proceeded three hundred miles from Iwo Jima the familiar front appeared before 15th and 21st Groups sent as escort. However, this one seemed not to be anchored in the ocean, so the squadrons let down to 2,000 feet and passed under the weather. Five hundred miles from base, just 100 miles short of Honshu, 20,000 feet over Hachijo Jima, 101 Mustangs rendezvoused with 454 Superforts and the great fleet proceeded toward Yokohama. From the IP to the target Japanese fighters lanced their way through the bomber stream displaying aggressive tactics not witnessed since early April.

Major Jim Tapp, CO, 78th Squadron
My squadron was level with the 29's and a couple of miles out front...I was flying a new aircraft with a K-14 computing gunsight. We had no chance to train with it... From our vantage point we could see fighters all over the place ahead. Then they started in and we took them head-on. The first one broke below us. I found two big problems: One, the new sight was not easy to use and two, the firing pin springs in the six 50s had taken a permanent set. Four guns failed to fire, one fired a few rounds and quit, and I was left with one gun for the rest of the mission. Since we were taking mostly head-on passes, I had a feeling of deep futility. I must have made over twenty passes wishing for my own airplane, the old N-9 gunsight and six good machine guns. We were effective, however, in that the Japanese seemed willing to break off their attacks on the B-29s and engage us.
One of them, a Zeke 52, broke early and turned ahead of us. We were closing on him, of course, and about 10 to 15 degrees off his tail. I was able to manage die sight and the one gun did its job. Incendiary strikes were seen in the wing root area and he caught fire.

First Lieutenant Bob Roseberry, 78th Squadron
"It's one of those days I should have stayed in bed. When Major Tapp gave the order to drop wing tanks both of mine refused, cutting down my speed. We got involved with some Jacks. Tapp fired on one and when it dove past us my wingman and I rolled over and went down after it. During this time a Jap fighter made a pass at us and apparently scored several hits on my gas tanks or a fuel line. I then realized that I was all by myself over Japan with two wing tanks that refused to come off and a slightly used P-51. My wingman had lost me in the clouds and the squadron had turned out to sea."

Second Lieutenant Leon Sher, 47th Squadron
I was tail end Charlie and we were jumped by Tojos. We scissored too soon and I got hit with two or three 20 mm shells in the wing and flap, another through the fuselage below the tail and one shattered the canopy and passed between my legs. Fortunately, they broke off. I had lost some flap area and the stick was fluttering."

Aces on both sides were up this day as near 150 Japanese fighters tore at the great formation, some displaying dazzling acrobatics. Captain Todd Moore was distracted by a lone Zero on the tail of a P-51 amid the 45th Squadron. To distant to intervene, he watched as Sadaaki Akamatsu, a legendary Japanese ace, shot down Rufus Moore and sped on with seeming impunity through the escort.

Captain Todd Moore, 45th Squadron
If he had been an American he would have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Second Lieutenant Jack Wilson, 531st Squadron
"He made us look like a bunch of truck drivers."

Moore had himself shot down two Jacks and a George in a series of savage actions, and as the battle waned he played the tourist.

To be continued...


Black Friday on the Empire Run by John W. Lambert, 1990 author of "The Long Campaign" and "The Pineapple Air Force: Pearl Harbor to to Tokyo." 1990 John W. Lambert Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 90-060558 ISBN: 0-9625860-0-5 Phalanx Publishing CO., LTD.

 

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