We had flown a few missions, but the mission on June 1st 1945 would last in memory forever.
o. FC Field order called for the 506th to escort 400 B-29 over. 148 P-51's of the 506th, in conjunction with the 15th and 21st Fighter Groups to support a maximum effort bombing raid by the XXI Bomber Command against Osaka (MAP) on 31 May, the date being later extended to 1 June. The 506th was to be lead escort for the bomber stream. It was estimated (by annex "A", Intelligence) that not more than 200 fighters were available for the defense of the Osaka area and that pilot shortages, gasoline shortages, and maintenance difficulties would ground about half of the Nip effectives. Included in the Air Sea Rescue facilities were 5 subs, 4 superdumbos, 5 dumbos, and 2 surface vessels. Delayed 45 minutes because of ground fog at the other airfields, (2) takeoff of the 59 aircraft of the 506th was accomplished at 0757. Two and a half hours later the long range preliminary report phoned to A-2 at the Fighter Command indicated that 51 of our aircraft were still airborne. Around noon, reports began filtering through from Agate Base, via North Field Operations, that the mission was turning around coming home. The predicted weather front had been encountered en route. The first planes landed shortly before 1300 and the reports they brought back were not at all encouraging.
Pilots stationed on Iwo Jima were prone to claim that if there was a cloud anywhere in the Pacific it would be hanging around Iwo. This casual observation bore an element of truth. The region was a sort of meteorlogical stewpot. Migratory high pressure systems off the Asiatic continent mingled with Pacific highs in lines of convergence that formed severe weather fronts. These systems moved north with the sun. They were south of the Volcano Islands during the invasion and the early weeeks of Iwo's occupation, but moved north over the Nanpo Shoto through May and June. These monumental fronts had become the primary nemesis of the Seventh Fighter Command and the Twenty-First Bomber Command. To augment the job of forecasting, B-24s were sent out on daily weather reconnaisance missions to the Empire. Despite these efforts, predicting the weather several hours in advance over such an enormous mass of water was little more than scientific conjecture. The madness inherent in sending massed formations of planes into such unstable conditions was negated by strategic necessity. The air offensive against Japan could not be deferred. And so it was on 1 June 1945 that the Seventh Fighter Command sent their mightiest strike force yet against the weather. All three P-51 groups had been assembled for the first time to escort a huge force of B-29s on an incendiary raid to Osaka.
Take-off from Iwo was fairly routine. (the B-29's were a necessity for navigation over water as fighter aircraft did not have the necessary instruments to do it) A radio report had been worked out to chat about the weather on a special frequency. "Quiet" report was the term for weather report; "Angels" meant altitude;. "Soupspoon" was the word for visibility; "Quilt" was to indicate the altitude of the clouds. If the weather was good, the radio message was "Oranges are sweet"; if bad, the reverse, "Oranges are sour". 370 Miles from Iwo a well-formed weather front was visible for all to see with cumulonimbus soaring to 30,000 ft. John W. Lambert, the author of the Pineapple Air Force, is quoted here. "The navigator B-29's first advised group leaders (Thomas, 15th; Chapin, 21s; and Scandrett, 506th ) that they would begin a climb over the weather in five minutes. However, the formation was too close to the weather wall to climb from 10,000 ft., an for three confusing minutes they headed straight and level toward the enormous mass. Thomas warned the B-29 leader that "If you try to penetrate this front, this formation will blow up like a bomb. Foul weather of any sort is viewed with less alarm from the flight deck of a B-29 than from a fighter plane."
Following their B-29 navigators North, 184 Mustangs were arrayed in group and squadron formations. The 15th, flying the middle position with 59 planes, formed part of that impressive force. Two hundred and fifty miles out, they began to encounter scattered cumulus clouds in layers. As the weather thickened, a B-29 weather ship ahead of the strike force gave coded advice that it had penetrated the front without difficulty and was proceeding on course to Osaka — "The oranges are sweet." Before long the formation had entered a cathedral opening among the towering cumulus and they began an orbit while Group leaders and B-29 navigators conferred, with difficulty, by radio. The psychological pressure to push on, to accomplish the mission unstated but present. The front seemed to run from the ocean to heights far above the formation. Monk Baldwin thought the tops were near 70,000 feet. Lieutenant Colonel Jack Thomas, leading the 15th, agreed to proceed through what appeared to be a ragged hole to the north. Minutes later, at a point some 375 miles from base the hole closed and the great gaggle of P-51s entered a solid bank of clouds. Visibility was reduced dangerously and turbulence was soon encountered. Thomas called for the B-29 navigators to deviate from their course or climb, but radio communications in the electrically charged atmosphere were breaking up. His pleas went unanswered.
The big bombers led their flock into the jaw of the front. Within minutes the huge formation was swallowed by the protean menace and conditioned training took over as every fighter plane tightened its formation on the next aircraft, pilots struggled to maintain contact and unit cohesion. One pilot was heard to call, 'If your wingman doesn't stop bumping me, I am going to shoot him down.' Thomas could read the numbers on two Mustangs from the 457th as they sliced through his four-plane flight. Thomas pulled up sharply to avoid a collision and found himself alone. His wingman, Dalquist, dove to avoid contact and his plane fell into a spin finally controlled at 3,500 ft. Jack Nelson and Don White were swept from the sky. Weather to a fighter pilot is a terrifying experience. It's like flying on the inside of a black cat. The instruments provided are the bare essentials for successfully navigating through a violent front. The plane is buffeted by high winds; there are updrafts, downdrafts, turbulence. The plane is about as stable as a falling leaf.
For some unaccountable reason the B-29's turned into one another. There were mid-air collisions, pilots panicked, planes spun out of control, the radio became a mixture of voices and what is related now represents the stories from the pilots themselves and the terror that they encountered.
"It was as thick as anything I've ever flown in," said Monk Baldwin, leading a flight from the 47th Squadron. "I couldn't see my number 3 and 4 men and started to climb with Allen White only five feet off my wing." Harry Van Zandt and Howard Liddell, the rest of Baldwin's flight, lost contact with each other and Van Zandt was swallowed by the weather. Pilots lost horizons and were buffeted by a symphony of convection currents as rain pelted their canopies. Strapped in their coffin-like cockpits, they sweat pro¬fusely battling to control their bucking planes and the mental terror of vertigo as all reference to the known world vanished. Charlie Klessig's P-51 was snapped over like a leaf in the wind and fell, spinning, for 3,000 feet before he recovered control. Flying in a B-29 as a communications coordinator, 1st Lt. W. Malcomb Parry of the 45th Squadron was horrified as the accompaning fighters were consumed in the grey non-dimensional limbo. The radio chatter from dozens of Mustangs made it clear that a tragedy had inexorably been set in motion.
May Day! May Day! Im Bailing out crackled over the earphones as collisions, excess icing or turbulence sent planes tumbling toward the dark waters of the Nanpo Shoto. Those frantic calls were interspersed with desperate appeals for vectors. So many men were using their directional units and ASR frequencies that the channels became jammed and useless. Squadron leaders were ordering some units to return while others groped forward, fearing less the enemy ahead than the unseen terror behind.
In ones and twos, through the murky atmosphere, they would unexpectedly break into an open cavity and there find another lost stranger or an orbiting B-29. Planes of varying squadrons and groups would rally to each other and cling together like terrified wayfarers in a savage and foreign land.
Lt. LARRY GRENNAN - 457th Once airborne I noticed my oil pressure was high. I thought the gauge was defective. We entered the storm front. After about the fourth turn, my wing man disappeared and was never seen again. Alone, I climbed what I felt was through the front. After 5 minutes I didn't see any other planes, so I decided to head for home. Rather than going through the front again, I went down on the water. Several other planes joined me, planes from different groups. My engine began to act up, gained altitude so I could bail if necessary. Ten miles out it quit. Called May Day, put my flaps down, trimmed for the glide and rolled out on the wing at 5,000 feet. Was really worried about hitting the tail on the roll out. God, how I hated leaving that plane. The sea was relatively calm, inflated my raft, climbed into it, paddled around spreading dye. Several B-29's called in my position. It wasn't long before a beautiful Navy Ship picked me up. Our people on Iwo were in shock from the loss of so many wonderful pilots, and how avoidable it all was.
Occasionally through holes in the overcast, pilots caught glimpses of P-51's spinning down in a descent of death. Those who headed north, out of determination or desperation, took different paths to Osaka. Charles Cameron and his wingman, newcomer Major Truman Anderson, lost the rest of the 47th 's Blue Flight when they entered the overcast. Cameron went down on instruments to a mere 50 feet over the water. As both ceiling and visibility improved he led his two-plane force higher and found a group of B-29s in a clear pocket at 8,000 feet. They were being escorted by two strays, 1st Lt. Phil Schlamberg of the 78th Squadron and a P-51 from the 21st Fighter Group.
Captain Joe Brunette's Maple Red Flight also tried to go below the weather. He broke out at 4,000 feet in a clear pocket with his wingman, 2nd Lt. Eric Hutchison, and found Purple Flight from the 78th Squadron, but Brunette had lost both Scamara and Lawrence Lortie from his 47th flight.
Jim Tapp, leading Purple Flight, had Cecil Grimes and Phil Maher glued to his wingtips. With Brunette's two planes the sorry little force percolated into the clear at 23,000 feet and found part of the B-29 strike force rallying at the departure point. Three more P-5Is of the 21st Group joined the escort for the run over Osaka. Bob Scamara, who did a solo act after losing contact with the flight and his wingman, Lortie, " was frantically trying to fly instruments and keep a lookout for other planes that might be chewing into me at any second. After a few minutes went by without a collision, I breathed a little easier and began to climb, trying to get above the clouds."
Unable to find the top of the overcast, Scamara went back down, still on instruments, and broke out in a clear pocket at 3,000 feet. Alone on a heading for Osaka, Bob heard an order given to return to base. Having just woven his way through the charnel house of rotten weather and spinning aircraft, he had little incentive to turn back, and rather fancied his lonely quest. As the ceiling slowly lifted he climbed back to 10,000 feet, where he had been when weather first engulfed the formation. In the distance he spotted a B-29 leading a four-plane flight of Mustangs. My first impulse was to join up, but this would place me under their control, so I just followed behind, climbing to 22,000 feet and came out at the bombers' rendezvous point off the coast. On reaching Osaka I saw B-29s going over the city in waves. The target was a fiery mass with smoke rising to over 25,000 feet right up to the overcast. I watched as the bombers entered the smoke column on a northerly course and came out on a 90 degree heading flying easterly. I decided to fly with them in escort position. Since I still had my wing tanks, I had plenty of gas, so after escorting the first wave, I returned to the bomber stream and picked up another wave. I was the only P-51 in sight and had to keep a respectful distance from the B-29s. They fired at me everytime I got too close.
ED WARFIELD 457th - We took off separately from Iwo as we were carrying extra-large tanks for sub cover. Captain Ed Warfield and Carmody were my element leader. When we entered the weather Carmody tucked in real close. When we hit the intense storm center, it was impossible to maintain our formation. Carmody broke away. After 30 minutes we hit a calm center. Decided to head for home. The return trip was wild. Carmody stalled out, I left him. Climbed to the top of the storm. Carmody told me that he recovered from his spin a few feet from the water. I am sure if I had stayed with him I would have hit the water. We both returned safely to base.
STEVE TREACY — 462nd - I was the fourth man in a flight led by Stu Lumpkins. As we entered the front we encountered violent weather which immediately started icing up our aircraft. I was flying Smith's wing. Suddenly, he made a dramatic turn to the right. I lost sight of him almost immediately. Stu's wingman disappeared and I ended up flying his wing. Communications were desperate with several mid-air collisions and various emergency messages. We proceeded to the deck minus Smitty and Stu's wingman who were never heard from again. We tacked onto a B-29 and returned to Iwo. As I sit nd enjoy the good life, I thank the Lord for getting me through that most horrible experience of the war.
strong>FINDLEY — 462nd - I was assigned to fly with a B-29 that day. I attended the briefing the night before. The mission was ordered off against the wishes of the weatherman. The plane I was assigned to had problems and as a result, we took off 30 minutes after the groups had departed. From 100 miles away the tremendous buildup of cumulus clouds was visible. We started to climb. Long before we entered the front, the problem was obvious. The radio chatter was incessant and confused. We decided to go into the soup in the hopes that we could pick up a few planes and lead then out of the front. We did so and miraculously ran into a hole where several P-51's were milling about. We dropped down, instructed them to tuck in tight, and we would lead them out. We led than out. Can't remember how many as the planes in the echelon were not visible. We headed out into the clear and headed back into the soup in search of other planes. We didn't find any. We headed for the deck in search of others. The front went down to almost water level. We searched but found no one. We returned to base. I lost a classmate. I was slated to go hone on a C-47. For some unknown reason, I cancelled a trip to Tinian to take a flight to Guam. The first C-47 caught fire and all hands were lost. An Engineering Officer bailed out, inflated his life vest too soon misjudged his height above the water and broke his neck when he hit the water.
Back at Agate Base radio intercepts made it apparent that this had been a flawed mission. The first planes had returned after only four hours with gaps in their ranks and stories of the prodigious weather front and its nether world of terror. Small flights of mixed Mustangs and B-29s had begun to pancake about noon. It would be four more agonizing hours before the planes that had penetrated the front would return. The flight line was packed wth people waiting in small nervous knots. Pilots, mechanics and ground staff scanned the sky counting planes and searching for friends. Chaplains Jamison and Norton paced the line with officers from Fighter Command staff.
Walter Kreimann, freshly returned from his tour of duty with the Navy, was delighted to be back and anticipated a hero's welcome. Instead, he was greeted by long faces. He couldn't figure out what was wrong until I finally got someone to talk. The planes were trickling back, but not enough of them." Monk Baldwin returned with a B-29 navigator and fifteen P-51s from various units. The navigator. Walnut 7, had seen a pilot parachute below the front, and Monk had scoured the waters at low level for half an hour without success. He landed at 1245. Predictably, the weather had edged south toward Iwo Jima and many pilots used the DU to home in on the island.
Those who had made it to Osaka were the last to return. Joe Wagner, flying alone through the clouds and rain, landed at 1415. Tapp, Grimes, and Maher followed. Brunette, Hutchison, and Schlamberg landed about 15 minutes later. Cameron and Anderson pancaked at 1525. Bob Scamara was the last P-51 down. He had been in the cockpit for nearly nine hours. Malcomb Parry, in his B-29 navigator, was the last member of the Group to land. He had been airborne for 10 hours with a grandstand seat and all the communications equipment at his command to monitor the unfolding tragedy. He verified the scope of the loss and certified the events that had enveloped the mission. He was "deeply distressed that a considerable number of fine young men had died" in a mission which "probably should have been aborted." Because of his commanding view of the operation he was asked to prepare a written report for higher authority.
The Seventh had not suffered such a blow since the Japanese attack on Wheeler Field. Twenty-seven Mustangs had failed to return. Air sea rescue units, working in the same terrible weather, picked up two pilots of the 506th Fighter Group before day's end. The sadness within the Fighter Group was deep and inconsolable. They had lost comrades — not to the enemy, but to weather. The survivors were exhausted and shaken by the ordeal. Then the frustration and anger took over. Why had the weather ship given them the green light? Why did the B-29 navigators lead them into such deplorable weather? Why hadn't they diverted as Thomas had requested? Why the bad communications? Every member of the Group was touched by the disaster. They felt as if they were actors in a Shakespearean tragedy. These men had never shrunk from danger; indeed they had sought mortal combat. But in the fearsome arithmetic of war's bookkeeping they perceived the cost to be greater than the gain.
There was an investigation. General Hap Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Forces, even showed up to ask questions. Of couse, there was no real fault finding, nor could there be. It was the war that had brought them to this god forsaken place in the Pacific. And it was the war that sent them up in fragile machines to defy gravity, the enemy and the elements. It was 750 miles from Iwo to the Empire and death held all the prerogatives along that perilous route. These men had consciously placed themselves in harm's way the day they pinned on their wings.
By 1500 the last returns had landed, including three pilots of the 462nd ; Capt Lee, his wing man Lt Mayer, and Lt Graham, who had found that the most convenient exit from the front lay in the direction of the target and who had, therefore, attached themselves to elements of the bomber stream for the trip to Osaka and back. Twelve men did not return.
Bit by bit, the details of the story were pieced together by the S-2's. All accounts agreed on the fact that a front had been encountered at approximately 31°N. 420 miles on course from Iwo; also established was the fact that a 360° turn to the left was made by the navigator B-29's and the fighters before the front was penetrated. A number of weather (Quiet) reports were heard at this point, most of them unfavorable ("Oranges are sour") except for a remark overheard on "Nan" Channel by Capt Lumpkins of the 462nd and Capt Anthony of the 457th that, "It is clear at our angels plus 1"; information was also broadcast that "It is clear underneath". Apparently carried on between the navigator-29’s and the Group Leaders.
BARNES — 457th - I wasn't on the mission, but I had just paid a Marine artist 3 quarts of Bourbon to paint a nude lady on the side of my plane. The plane was assigned to Lt. Harrington, who was one of the poor devils who didn't make it back.
Pilecki, Starin and Doc Wheeler
PILECKI — 457th - We entered the front at about 11,000 feet. Visibility was zero, rain heavy, turbulence intense and violent. Groups, squadrons, flights and elements lost contact and shattered. Traffic on all communication channels was so heavy it was next to impossible to decipher. Pilots lost control completely, stalled, spun, recovered and spun again. Some recovered in time; some did not.
FRANCIS LEE & HIS WINGMAN, HARLEY MEYER — 462nd - Tom DeJarnette was leading the 462nd Squadron and I was leading the last eight planes. Tom called to tell us that in spite of "oranges" being sour, we were going to penetrate the front. We headed straight into the soup. He was interrupted by screams of pilots on the intercom, planes bumping one another, mid-air collisions, shouts of bail-outs, pilots in spins. My radio became silent. I signaled to go into the formation we had practiced in Lakeland, pull to the right 10 degrees and make a shallow climb through the front. The cloud cover was so thick, I could barely see my wing tips. After about 15 minutes of slow climbing, the sun was shining and I saw that my gun barrels were covered with ice. Then out of the blue, "Flight leader, what is your air speed?" Startled, I looked to my right and there was my wing man, Harley Meyer. He stuck with me like a flea on a dog".
We never saw another P-51 until we landed at Iwo seven hours later. I told my buddy that we would have to go down slowly to melt the ice. Down we go. As we were dropping down, I felt the air turbulence of a 4-engine aircraft. It had to be a B-29 or a Jap Emily. Sure enough, in 15 minutes I spotted a B-29 with a big "Z" on its tail. I called the B-29, explained our situation to him. The B-29 pilot said he would make a single pass over the target then help us with our problem. He made his bomb run and picked us up on the other side of the target. As he was going into his run, I spotted a Jap Frank preparing to make a pass on the B-29. I advised the B-29 pilot that we were going after the Jap. When he spotted us, he took off. So we tacked onto the B-29' and headed for Iwo.
When we landed at Iwo all our friends climbed onto our wings and seemed genuinely happy to see us. It was great to be home. Then we got the bad news about the mission. The good Lord really looked after us.
These conversations were conducted anonymously without benefit of identifying call signs. After entering the front at an altitude of 10000'-11000', "the utmost confusion prevailed", as the mission report describes it. The formation disintegrated, contact was lost between squadrons and flight leaders, between element leaders and their wingmen and the entire Group was transformed in a matter of seconds, into a disorganized melee of individual aircraft attempting to pick their way out of the soup on instruments. Contributing to the hazards of the occasion was the close proximity of the aircraft of all three Groups. At least one mid air col-lision is known to have occurred in which Lt McClure's propeller chewed off part of Capt Crenshaw's tail surface. Shortly thereafter Capt Crenshaw was heard to announce that he was bailing out. Some of the accounts mentioned a sort of illusory opening or pocket into which a number of the fighters, led by about 5 of the B-29's, entered attempting to find a passage through the front. The sides of the opening gradually narrowed, with the aircraft coming into increasingly dangerous proximity with one another. Inside the front, aircraft were observed in every position of flight, inverted, spinning, diving, climbing in steep banks, and headed in all directions. A number of the pilots went into spins and recovered, others, undoubtedly, spun in. Radio chatter, on all channels, increased the confusion, and DU's were emanating from all directions. Despairing of receiving aid from DU, the majority of the pilots made a 180° and headed for home on instruments, altitudes from 100' to 25000' being selected in an effort to get over or under the weather.
Actually the Group had been under considerable pressure to accomplish missions in weather conditions that were marginal to say the least. Colonel Harper had been reminded that we were now flying under "Combat Conditions" and the weather precautions exercised by stateside training (9) units could not always be followed in the Theater of Operations. At this time weather forecasts for fighter missions from Iwo to the Empire were furnished entirely by the Guam Weather Forecasting Central.. The Weather Central forecasts were based upon the search plane reports of the previous day. Daily variation, as well as diurnal variation, was being observed in the intensity of the frontal systems in the area concerned. These variations had not hampered bomber type aircraft operations but were to be of significance in connection with fighter operations. The changes in the cold frontal intensity occurring on 1 June indicated the necessity for checks upon frontal activity along route immediately prior to time of the mission. An analysis was made of the circumstances leading up to the 1 June disaster. The conclusions and recommendations were set forth in an extension (10) of paragraph 8 (Remarks) to Mission Report #06-01. This report was never sent to higher headquarters for two reasons. The recommendations either had been adopted by the time the study was typed or they were opposed to policies of the Command in the discussion of which had been revealed a non-compromising attitude. Nevertheless the analysis has some historical value in that it reflects the thinking of the Group during the most impressionable period of its development.
It was pointed out that the weather forecast from Iwo to the Empire had predicted 3/6/10 cumulus bottoms at 1500' with tops not exceeding 7000' except at 27 degrees worth where 3/10 extended into a layer of stratus at 10000'. The weather actually encountered was 10/10 cover extending from Kita to 31 degrees North, with tops generally at 5000' and occasionally at 9-10000'. At 31 degrees North a solid front extended from the deck to an estimated 30000'. Weather reported from the B-29's, once the front was reached was misleading. Reports were overheard that the weather was alright on the deck, that it was alright at 10000' and that a hole was observed in the overcast. Such reports may have influenced the Group Commander not to make the decision to return to Base at the time the front was first sighted. The 506th Commander, Lt. Col. Scandrett, being among the missing, it was impossible to do more than speculate on the reasons for his decision. The point is exceedingly delicate and the extended remarks comment as follows: "There is the understandable disinclination for a new Group to turn back while there is a chance to continue lest they be charged with exercising undue caution while under combat conditions." Finally, since no overall command appears to have been established for the mission, the individual Group Leader would be reluctant to order the return of his Unit if there was even a remote chance that the other outfits would proceed to the target.
Contributing to the results was, of course, the factor of congestion of air traffic at the "funnel" into the overcast. Based on the experiences of this mission, it was concluded that certain policies ware desirable in order to produce more effective missions and at the same time increase the safety factor of the Fighters. Desirable action was summed up in the "Recommendation" section of the analysis. inasmuch as the tactical situation over the Empire had failed to demonstrate the need for mutual support of Fighter Groups it was thought that Groups; of a combined force should be dispatched, at not less than 15 minute intervals. Two weather ships were requested, one to report cloud tops and the other bottoms, on VLR missions. After studying available cruise control data and evaluating our own cruise control experience the belief was stated that 20000' was the maximum cloud top which may be negotiated on an Empire strike and leave a normal safety margin of gas and oxygen. Cloud levels below 500' were considered insufficient for the maneuvering of a Group. A "weather minimum" of 20000' tops and 500' bottoms should, it was believed, be established for VLR missions. Issue was taken with the haphazard assignment and rapid rotation of B-29 crews as navigational escort for fighter, missions, recommending that the B-29 crews be attached to the Fighter Command and live with the Group for which escort is furnished. Where necessity dictated the simultaneous dispatch of two or more Groups, it was considered advisable that the senior officer participating be given command of the operation. Finally the return of the Weather Officer to the Group was urged. The gist of the argument was that the reliability of his forecast was compromised in our eyes by his association (on DS) with the Command.
Several of these recommended procedures, taken up verbally with the Command, were adopted before the close of the month. In subsequent missions, the Groups were, dispatched at intervals rather than simultaneously. A change in the weather ship procedure was effected by which more detailed information was made available to fighters enroute to the target. The hit and miss methods of selecting navigational B-29 crews was abandoned in favor of attaching and domiciling the bomber crews with the fighter Groups whom they were to escort. A note of ironic amusement was afforded by the picturesque accounts of the mission dreamed up by the adjective specialists and rewrite men of the news services. One account read, the 7th Army Fighter Command Mustangs flanked the B-29'a to beat off any opposition as the huge bombers (11) blasted the heart of the great war center". On 2 June a slightly more detailed account of the day's activities appeared which read as follows: "More than 450 Super Fortresses escorted by 150 Mustang fighter planes flying from Iwo, battered Osaka, second largest city of Japan, with 3200 tons of fire bombs in a daylight attack, raising to 24000 tons the weight of bombs heaped on Nippon in seven scorching (12) attacks in 19 days". The exact means by which the 27 battered aircraft (13) which staggered over the target were magnified into a striking force of 150 planes is unknown. Reticence of military censorship to disclose the loss of fighter aircraft (some of whose pilots were presumably sitting in their life rafts hoping that Air Sea Rescue would get to them before the Japs) plus the overzealous imagination of the correspondents here and at Guam were no doubt responsible.
On 3 June Lt Harrigan was picked up. Finally sighted by a Navy B-24 whose attention he had attracted by his signal mirror, between 0800-0900 on the 3rd, Harrigan had been overlooked by a Navy plane at 1500 on the 1st, by a B-29 and 2 P-51's on its wing later that day, and by a B-29 at (14) 1700 on the second. Flares of various types were fired at these aircraft without result, on the morning of the second, a Frigate Bird landed on his raft, Lt Harrigan and the bird looked at one another quizzically for a while before the bird flew away. The B-24 which sighted him was relieved by a PBY which dropped a can containing cigarettes and a note. The note read, "Do you need anything? Ship will arrive at 2200. It is now 0900. If you need water hold oar up horizontal, if not, wave hands". Having conserved his water, Lt Harrigan waved his hands. A destroyer steamed up on schedule, hauled him aboard, put him to bed in the Captain's cabin, fattened him up on chicken and steak — the Navy, it would appear, has a way of getting things (15) like that — and delivered him to Iwo on the 5th .
MEYER — 462nd - I took off from Iwo on Captain Lee's right wing. We joined the formation and took our heading for Japan. After about 300 miles I saw these tremendous clouds, thought the B-29's would surely turn and look for an opening. All of a sudden, we entered the soup; immediately the visibility was zero, so I pulled in under Lee's right wing. He then began a climb to the left, which was exactly what I would have done. Captain Lee began to disappear on me, so I got directly beneath him. My prop was barely 5 feet from his fuselage. There was a great deal of turbulence. All this time I could hear men on the radio screaming, "Bail out," "You're hitting me, " and profanity.
We kept climbing en route to Japan. At about 15,000 feet we began to collect ice on our wings. This is when Captain Lee glanced in my direction. He was visibly startled to see me. By this time I can resume normal flying position. At about 23,000 feet the ice was 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch thick. At about 27,000 feet Captain Lee's plane shuddered and began to lose altitude. He kept the plane from spinning and lowered the nose to pick up air speed. Then my plane started to shudder, stalled and I lost altitude. Soon we were able to level off at about 22,000 feet. Captain Lee looked in my direction, and I know he couldn't believe that I am still with him.
By this time we are about 100 miles from Japan. Soon B-29's became visible making their bomb runs. We saw several Jap fighters, but as soon as they saw us, they took off. We escorted one B-29 over the target and headed for home. When we reached the front on the way home I went under the right wing of the B-29 and Lee went under the left wing. The B-29 swayed in the air like a big leaf. I clung to his wing while one of his crew sat in the plane reading a comic book. Finally, we came into the clear and were able to relax a little. When we landed at Iwo seven hours after T.O., we were already listed as "Missing in Action". Of the 27 planes that went down, only two pilots survived. We were not given credit for the mission. Everyone involved should have received the D.F.C.
1st LT. BELL —72nd Squadron - Visibility deteriorated very rapidly and turbulence was heavy. I continued on to the target for ten minutes when I again experienced zero visibility, heavy precipitation and severe turbulence so I began a slow turn to the left* Looking up from my instruments, I saw a plane flying inverted, coming at me head on. I pulled up, missed him and at the same time reached for my shoulder harness to make sure that it was not I who was inverted.
CAPTAIN TODD MOORE — 45th Squadron — Many pilots radioed their distressed situation and a bedlam ensued. "Mayday! Mayday! I'm bailing out. The transmissions were garbled and unreadable and were cut up by too many pilots on the air at the same time. It is impossible to describe the cacophony of the distress calls.
On June 1st, 1945, I was scheduled to fly my first very long-range escort mission from Iwo Jima to Japan. Even though 41 years have passed, the events of that day retain etched vividly in my memory. These are my recollections and feelings about that experience. Approximately 180 B-29 bombers from the Mariana Islands, escorted by about 150 Mustang fighters were targeted to bomb Kobe and Osaka. Lt. Col. Harvey Scandrett, Deputy Group Commander of the 506th Fighter Group, was commanding the three fighter groups involved: The 15th, 21st and 506th. I was with the 462nd Squadron of the 506th, in Hop Toad Flight, led by (then) Capt. Stuart Lumpkin. I do not remember who his wing man was. I was wing man for 1st Lt. Lawrence Smith.
We took off after dawn and headed for Japan in a north-westerly direction from Iwo Jima at 10,000 ft. altitude with the 15th Fighter Group on one side and the 21st Fighter Group on the other side. Several navigator B-29's were leading us to a rendezvous with the bombers off the coast of Japan. The sun glinted off the fuselages of the silvery Mustangs and from my vantage point, they seemed to stretch to the horizon to the front and sides of me. Between 350-400 miles north of Iwo we ran into a gigantic weather front with a solid squall line of cumulonimbus clouds blocking our path. These immense thunder-heads were too high for us to surmount. After we had circled for some time looking for holes without finding a trace of any, I heard Col. Scandrett say over the radio "Proceed with the mission; I take full responsibility." At this my heart stopped and I know that I was not alone. His decision to continue the mission proved to be an unmitigated disaster.
All three fighter groups headed directly into the storm. The air became very turbulent and it was with great difficulty that I managed to fly close formation on Smitty's wing. I could tell by the erratic way he was flying off Stu Lumpkin's wing that Smitty was very nervous and agitated. Any correction he made to maintain formation with Stu forced me to make a correspondingly greater correction, in a kind of crack-the-whip effect. It grew darker and the turbulence increased. I was afraid Smitty was going to collide with Stu or with me, so I put same space between us. We continued on for perhaps another five minutes and, after passing through a particularly violent region of the storm/ I decided it was too dangerous for me to continue. I throttled back 10 mph and watched my flight, like three gray ghosts, disappear before me into the dense, dark cloud. Immediately I went on instruments. Because this was an emergency situation and we were still hundreds of miles from Japan, I broke radio silence: "Hop Toad Leader, this is Hop Toad Four. I've lost my element leader and am returning to base. Over."
A moment later Stu answered, "Hop Toad Four, this is Hop Toad Leader. Roger. I understand. Good luck! Out." Still heading into the storm, I changed my altitude 300 ft., considered dropping my external fuel tank, but decided not to. If both tanks did not drop simultaneously, I would have encountered additional instability that might have made it impossible for me to control my airplane. Cautiously, I banked 10° left and, fighting the extreme turbulence of the storm, I watched the gyro-compass turn excruciatingly slowly as I executed a 180° turn on instruments. "Just like in the Link trainer, " I tried to tell myself. Like hell it was! Surrounding my airplane was a deep gray gloom, where visually one could not distinguish up from down. The control stick was banging my knees and it was raining so hard that I could scarcely see my wing tips, only 16 ft. away.
I held my southerly heading and gradually the storm abated. Suddenly I burst through the last cloud, into the bright sunshine. Two miles below me I saw the blue Pacific Ocean through a broken layer of fair-weather cumulus clouds. I rechecked my heading for Iwo and my other instruments. I knew that I had to make my way back by dead reckoning until I was less than 100 miles from Iwo and could pick up its special radio homing signal, which was used only during missions. As I began to relax, I thought about my comrades back in the storm and wondered how they were coping. I thought that perhaps I would see one of the bird dogs (air-sea rescue destroyers) spaced about 100 miles apart below our flight path but saw none. I remembered my boyhood hero, Charles Lindbergh, and his solo path flight across the Atlantic Ocean, accomplished only 18 years before. I thought, "I'm very, lucky to be flying an airplane greatly superior to his." Then reality returned. "What an absurd thought I told myself. "What an absurd position for me to be in, flying alone over the North Pacific Ocean!" For the first time in my life, I began to appreciate how vast an ocean is.
Because my pilot training required it, I cleared myself continuously, looking in all directions. After 5 or 10 minutes, I saw a speck on the horizon, far to my right. Rapidly it materialized into a Mustang from the second fighter group. The pilot flew up close to my right wing; we exchanged hand waves and continued on. About 10 minutes later another Mustang, this one from the third fighter group, flew up to my left wing. Together, we three flew back to Iwo Jima. I heard nothing on the radio from the time of my brief conversation with Stu Lumpkin until we neared Iwo.
I was the first in the 506th Group to land. My official Individual Flight Record shows that I was airborne for four hours. After being debriefed I went to my quarters, showered, dressed and then returned quickly to the flight line on North Field to await the return of the group. Soon the three squadrons of the 506th appeared. The gaps of missing airplanes became apparent as the flights entered the landing pattern. Smitty, whose wing I had been flying, did not return from that mission, neither did Scandrett. They and many others were lost somewhere in that great storm. After this experience I vowed never again to trust completely the judgment of my superiors. I was willing to take my chances with the rest of my comrades on combat missions, but I was unwilling to throw my life away on such a bad command decision, which caused us to fly our overloaded, conditionally-stable airplanes into a violent storm. This is how I felt then. I realize now that Scandrett had to make a difficult decision without benefit of accurate weather information. He gambled and lost everything.
Ground crews and pilots alike were shocked by the heavy losses. My copy of the Distinguished Unit Citation issued by 20thAir Force Headquarters to the 506th Group, states that we lost 27 airplanes and 25 pilots on the 1st of June mission. Larry Grennan of the 456th Squadron was one of the three pilots who was saved. He had to bail out near Iwo and was picked up at sea. Because bad weather extended all the way to Japan, few Mustangs got through the front and met the B-29's at the rendezvous and completed the mission. Bob Graham from the 462nd Squadron was one who met the bombers at the rendezvous and completed the mission, but only because he flew tight formation with a B-29 as it flew over its target and returned through the weather front with him in tow. In his book, Mustang at War, R. A. Freeman states that the combined losses of the three fighter groups were 27 airplanes and 25 pilots. He also says that this is the largest loss of Mustangs on any mission in Europe or Asia during World War II.
2nd Lt. Ed Linfante with Shanghai Lil
On June 1st, 1945, a total of 144 Mustangs from the 15th, 21st and 506th Fighter Groups were sent aloft on a combat mission to Japan. I was flying tail-end-Charlie in the lead flight of the 462nd Squadron airplanes, led by Lt. Col. Scandrett. Other pilots in our four-ship formation were his wing man, Lt. Bob Graham and my element leader, Captain McClure. A B-29 navigated for us.
As we approached the halfway point, the weather turned quite gloomy and worsened considerably. We were instructed to tighten up. Soon we were in heavy rain and turbulence. Static made radio communications difficult. By now all I could see were the other three planes in our formation. Graham was hardly visible. My eyes were glued on my element leader. He glanced over at me from time to time as we bounced along. I remember him looking down in his cockpit - momentarily. Almost simultaneously it appeared that his propeller cut into the right stabilizer of the lead plane. The lead plane and his wingman lurched downward and quickly disappeared. I'm sure that L/C Scandrett lost longitudinal control, but doubt that either he or Graham knew what had happened.
Meanwhile, Captain McClure radioed that he was experiencing lots of vibration and was going to abort the mission. Static made the response from whomever answered (L/C Ghost?) unintelligible. McClure wanted me to stay with him. As his wingman, I was obliged to do so. Moreover, I wanted to because I could see no other aircraft and was afraid of colliding with one should I attempt to go it alone. Also, I did not relish the thought of transitioning from visual formation flight to flying on instruments all at once. Together we made a 180 degree turn toward base.
Shortly thereafter, we broke into the clear and McClure asked me if I could see any damage. I noted that his propeller was probably bent because the disc it made appeared irregular and fat. A small portion of engine cowling appeared loose, also.
About 80 to 100 miles from Iwo we spotted a P-61 night fighter, a Northrop Black Widow, on combat air patrol. We joined up with him in light rain and he led us into Iwo. McClure requested immediate clearance to land. Aware of his problem, Iwo Control granted his request. However, not wanting me to jettison and waste my oversize 165-gallon external tanks, I was advised to remain aloft until I had used all the fuel contained within them. For whatever reason, McClure failed to jettison his partially-full external tanks, and made a hard landing that buckled the wings of his P-51.
I spent the next couple of hours having a ball doing acrobatics, buzzing Kita and Minami Jima as well as Navy ships in and around Iwo, I was glad they recognized me as friendly and seemed to enjoy my shenanigans. Otherwise, as I thought later, they could have shot me down.
After landing and being debriefed, I stayed on the flight line to watch the returning fighters. I was quite worried about L/C Scandrett and Lt. Graham, one of my tent mates. The Mustangs returned in two's and three's, separated by intervals of time. It was quite clear that the mission had not gone well. The full extent of our losses became evident late in the day, after Lt. Graham, our last arrival, landed about 8 hours after takeoff. By then, it was obvious that we had lost somewhere between 25 and 30 Mustangs.
Graham said he stayed on Scandrett's wing as long as he could, not knowing what was wrong. He then climbed back into the soup, found a B-29 and flew formation with it all the way to Japan, where it dropped its bombs and flew back again to Iwo. I was deeply saddened by the loss of so many of my fellow pilots. All due to weather, no less.
In retrospect, the collision that forced us to abort may have saved our lives (McClure's and mine). Had we gone on we could have been among those who never returned. We'll never know.
Because of the distance to be flown, each aircraft had 2 pilots assigned; one would fly and the other stayed home to rest. Because of the many friends that we made during training, we would always go to the flight line, climb up on the wing and wish our buddies good luck. Then, when it was about time for the planes to return, we would go down to the flight line and wait for the planes to return. On this day we went down to the flight line early. Planes started to return earlier than expected. Instead of returning as a group, they started drifting in one at a time. We would meet the planes as soon as the engine was turned off. As we talked with the pilots the magnitude of the tragedy started to unfold. One pilot saw a large flash of light where two planes collided. The digest of the conversations, "bail out," "I've been hit; I'm bailing out," the confusion, the utter chaos, the possibility that your closest friend might not return started to take its toll. My tent buddy did not return. Twenty-four others were missing. We stayed on the flight line 'til dark, praying, searching the sky for a plane, any plane. How could such a thing happen to such magnificent pilots, so highly trained, so competent? Why am I so sad?
That night it was a dreary scene, in our tent long, broken hearted sobs, the rain on the canvas tent and the heavy breathing of all the others. The weather closed in; another plane never left the ground for seven days. It also meant that our rescue teams could not function.
No other nation protected their pilots like America. We had protective armor in front and in back of us. We had a parachute, a dinghy that could be inflated, signaling gear, dye to throw in the water so we could be seen from the air. All along the route to Japan we had submarines, Navy P.B.Y's that could land in the water and pick us up. We had destroyers every 150 miles. We had B-17's with a boat that could be dropped to the downed pilot. But all this was useless because of the front that had settled in.
Tragedy stalks the quonset huts, the tents of the 506th tonight. There are eleven empty beds in our area, each one representing a pilot, each one representing a very close and very dear friend of someone. Each one an indication of a vacant spot left in some young girl's heart for a love that will never return. A permanent niche in some Mother's heart and a Dad who will hold his head high and say, "I gave my son that America might live," and then find a secluded spot and sob for a son who will not return. I climbed on many a wing, wishing my buddy well, good luck, happy flying. There was nothing unusual about the take-off, just another day, another job to do. After a few hours we proceeded to the cliffs to welcome our troops back. A few planes came into view, then a few more — each adds to a grim story. Shock and tragedy are already apparent. We piece together a disaster. The B-29's flew into the front. Soon there is general hysteria. Planes collide "I'm bailing out," adds to the confusion. Soon it's every man for himself, self-preservation. Some spin out, recover, spin again, recover and head for home. Others went through and flew to Japan and fulfilled the mission.
B-29's shot at P-51's trying to close up. Other P-51's chandelled away from another B-29 thinking it was an enemy aircraft. Episodes of icing, spins, near collisions, planes inverted in flight, great flashes of light from collisions, were topics of conversation. Radio jamming, instrument flying, high altitude flying, lack of oxygen, on the deck flying common place. One B-29 had planes in echelon, flew so low that the last plane crashed into the sea. The pilots who returned all were extremely happy that they had survived, yet heart broken that so many dear friends were listed as missing. They came in white, perspiring, unsteady — Like punch-drunk fighters. Each hour we prayed that the air/sea rescue can find some of our buddies. The weather was bad for seven days preventing a thorough search. Hope! One pilot found in his raft; another found six days later, delirious, but happy. God was not kind to us.
LT. FRANK BUZZE — 462nd -— I was leading the fourth flight of the 462nd Squadron, we flew into the front. Suddenly I was aware that a P-51 was about to ram me. I broke away and found myself alone in this turbulent mess. I went into a spin, recovered and took back our original heading. When I broke into the clear, I immediately picked up two stragglers, one from the 15th and one from the 21st. We flew to Japan, escorted the bombers over the target and returned to Iwo, where we found that we were missing in action. We had no clue until we landed of the disastrous losses suffered by the three groups that day. We were extremely lucky to be re-classified.
JOHN WEDUM — 506th — I was flying wing that day to the flight leader. I remember as the soup got thicker that I closed in as tight as I possibly could. Even in tight I could not always see his ship, so I would freeze the controls until I could just barely make out part of his plan, then make a small correction to keep my formation. Pilots were screaming on the radio about "going down". Someone reported that they were in the clear, just above the water. Some pilots reported that they were letting down because of the "clear" report, but they were awfully low and still in the "soup". My flight broke out on the Japanese side of the front. We finally broke out of the front, re-grouped and headed back toward Iwo. As we neared Iwo we picked up headings and headed for home. I remember how glad we were to be home and how upset we were that we had been subjected to such a situation.
LEO HINES — 72nd Squadron, 21st Group — A pilot from group headquarters was leading our squadron. We headed into the "soup". The confusion was unbelievable. Our formation dissolved from absolute necessity. I found myself alone. Tacked ontoaB-29 and flew formation with him until he indicated that we were at 200 ft. I had seen the water a couple of times, figured I would be safer on my own. I picked up a reciprocal heading, broke out in the clear on the Iwo side of the front. Major Grim was in the vicinity, tacked on his wing, returned to Iwo. God, what a mess.
FRANK SEALE — 462nd - Shortly after leaving Iwo, we encountered a 30,000 foot front. Our group leader ordered a large climbing turn to try and go over the front. However, we ended up entering the front at about 25,000 feet. Immediately, I encountered heavy turbulence, no visibility. I made a 180° turn and headed back to Iwo.
JOHN FINDLEY — 462nd - Where was I on the June 1 weather flight? On a B-29 half an hour behind everybody. I had attended the mission briefing the night before at Island Command and had been assigned as command pilot and weather to go out in a B-29 half an hour before the mission took off. Before going overseas I had been pulled off terminal leave and sent through an accelerated weather program at Bryan Field, Texas. I had previously been through the Bryan instrument pilot program.
At scheduled takeoff, the B-29 developed trouble and we had to delay so the next 29 in line took our place. Unfortunately, the fighter pilot in it never had been on a Japan mission; he was new and had only been to Chichi Jima. After the mission took off, and you may recall it was ordered off against the advice of the weather officer, we got the 29 squared away and took off about 30 minutes behind the mission.
I can still see in my mind's eye that endless line of cumulus clouds that marked the front. Visible from about 100 miles away, we were aware of the tremendous build-up and began to climb. We were pushing the 29, yet it appeared that no matter hew fast we climbed, the tops of the clouds stayed with us and the closer we got the more obvious it was we'd never get over the top. I remember looking at the rate of climb indicator and it was at 1000'/minute. Still the clouds boiled up faster. There was no sensation of climbing from the perspective of the 29, no sense of nose-up attitude. I remember thinking it was rather like being in a glass-enclosed elevator; one simply rose, not climbed, and all from a level-seeming flight.
Not long before we hit the front the problem was obvious, the radio chatter was incessant and confused. We decided to go into the soup on the chance we might pick up a plane or two and they could fly wing on us until we got them out. We did so and by some good chance ran into a held among the clouds and saw several (I don't recall how many) P-51's milling about in a circle. We dropped down, got them to tuck in tight, and led them out of the front and headed them back to Iwo. We decided to try again and found either the same or another hole and circled in it waiting for survivors. I really don't recall whether we picked up anyone on the second trip, but since the hole extended down fuzzily to the water, we decided to go down and see if we could spot survivors in the water in life rafts. The clouds extended down to the water level and getting that big beast in a fairly tight spiral to the water level was tricky.
We searched as much as we could, but weather prevented a really good job and each time we ran into heavy clouds or fog or what-have-you. We had no choice but to climb and then ease back down. I don't really recall how long we searched, not long enough, I'm sure, but we loitered on the way back.. thinking we might pick up some strays. We didn't.
It was either that evening or the next there was a board of inquiry. Col. Harper called me in the afternoon and told me he would attend and would pick me up at 1900. I remember him coming by in his Jeep and on the way down assuring me not to worry. I asked him if there was any way they could get him and he said, no he was in the clear. It was obvious as we walked into the board that they were looking to hang somebody. The general was not looking too good after ordering the mission out under the circumstances. After the preliminaries, I was the first mission person called and the first question was why I had radioed that the mission could get through. When I explained that I had not, in fact, done so and explained the circumstances, they rousted around to check logs, etc. to see that, in fact, I had not got off till the mission had departed. Then they found who was in the weather B-29 and found it was a replacement pilot with no mission experience. It was after that that they adopted a rule that only a combat-experienced pilot could fly lead weather pilot. As I recall, one pilot did get to the coast of Japan, but since he didn't even fire his guns or anything, he didn't get a medal. Sightseeing, under however hazardous conditions, simply did not count! And that's where I was on June 1.
I lost a classmate of mine, Crenshaw, on that mission. And do you remember how they virtually stripped Hickam Field instrument training to get us AT6's, etc.? And suddenly, I, who had been the instrument training officer and couldn't get anybody to practice, suddenly had people knocking at the door for hood time. We used the 6's to take the Sergeant from the amphibious duck outfit for rides and he would have one of his boys take us around to the departing ships for excess foodstuffs. The Sergeant loved to fly but was scared to death to do so. Those 6's came in mighty handy.
462nd Squadron, 506th Group Weather Mission
June 1, 1945
Mission was a B-29 Escort Mission; our group leader was Lt. Col. Scandrett. Stu Lumpkins was the 462nd Squadron Leader in Red Flight. I was the Element Leader in this flight; don't recall who was Lumpkin's wingman. Take-off and rendezvous at Kita Jima were normal. Shortly after leaving the rendezvous point, my engine started to run rough. I called Red Leader and left the flight to return to Iwo. About halfway back the engine started running normally, so I made a 180° and caught the Squadron. I asked for permission to resume my position as Number 3 in Red Flight. I was told that Spare Leader had taken that position, and that I was now Spare Leader. I took that position.
Shortly before this, Blue 4 aborted and I took over as Blue 4. This flight was led by Capt. Crenshaw, with Bob Graham flying his wing and Jungle McClure as Element Leader. We proceeded on course for perhaps three-quarters of an hour with the cardinal rule of "don't go on instruments, except in an emergency. This mission was constituted effective, though costly, experience in eliminating personnel errors.
VERNON WICKMAN -- 506th Group — I was leading the second element in the lead squadron on June 1 when our group, along with the 15th and 21st Fighter Groups, attempted to penetrate a severe weather front about two hours out of Iwo. We were at 10,000 ft. with the 15th Fighter Group stacked 500 ft. higher to our left and the 21st Fighter Group 500 ft. lower to our right. Each group had a lead B-29 for navigation assistance.
A weather recon B-29 was about thirty minutes ahead of us and had communicated back to the lead B-29 1 s that there should be no problem in topping the weather at 10,000 feet. However, as we approached the front, it was rather apparent that the clouds were boiling high above us and that it might be impossible to maintain VFR. I fully expected the B-29's to call for an abort, but they didn't and we pressed on with the front now barely a mile away.
I remember at this point reaching down to uncage my flight indicator and wagging my element to tighten up in anticipation of having to go IFR. In a matter of seconds, we encountered the first thin clouds and, for a moment, it looked like we might thread our way through the stuff. But, looks were deceiving, and we almost immediately plunged into some heavy clouds that wiped out all visibility of other aircraft. At the same time, extreme turbulence made it nearly impossible to maintain flight control. We were being tossed around like leaves in the wind. I tucked my head down, concentrated on the flight instruments and attempted to barrel through as straight and level as possible, hoping my wingman could avoid chewing me up. Within seconds "Mayday" calls were being screamed over the VHF as planes collided or went into uncontrolled attitudes and pilots attempted to bail out. I'm sure there was a valiant attempt by all to maintain some semblance of formation, but it simply was not possible under the conditions. And I suspect that many of the pilots were caught with their gyro horizons caged and thus were unable to cope with the turbulence.
I remember flying straight ahead for a matter of seven or eight minutes before breaking into the clear. It seamed like I had suddenly come into the eye of a typhoon — bright, blue sky with scattered cumulus floating serenely above the sea below.
I circled briefly, looking for other fighters and finally spotted a B-29 circling along with several P-51's. I joined them, noteing that there were some planes from each of the fighter groups. The B-29 pilot called and asked if we wanted to continue on to the target. Getting a negative, he said he would circle for another fifteen minutes to pick up any other stragglers that might have made it through. We finally accumulated nine fighters, including myself.
The B-29 pilot finally called again and said "Let's head for home! He suggested that we let down to low altitude and try to fly back under the front. He thought we could do it VFR with only rain showers to be encountered. Nobody objected, so we circled on down to 500 ft. and turned southward in one big "V", like a mother hen and her chicks. It wasn't too long before we encountered lowering clouds and heavy rain with considerable turbulence. Soon we were down to 200 ft. with visibility, at times, reduced to the plane ahead.
It was at this point that I suddenly was overcome with vertigo. Flying in the Number 3 position on the B-29's right wing, I literally saw and felt the entire formation turn upside down. I sensed my feet falling off the rudder pedals as though I were in inverted flight. I knew it couldn't be true, yet I even started to put forward pressure on the stick in order to maintain inverted flight! Fortunately, logic took over and I overcame that fatal urge, but I couldn't shake the vertigo. So I called the B-29 pilot, told him the problem and asked that he ascend to a higher altitude. We were simply too close to the water for the flight conditions we were in.
He immediately started to climb, and some eight to nine minutes later, broke out on top at about 8000 ft. During the entire climb, I had the feeling that I was flying upside down. That feeling didn't leave me until we broke into the clear.
We made it back to Iwo without further incident and were happy to see old Hot Rocks again. In checking my flight records, I see that I logged five hours and twenty minutes on that flight — probably the most memorable in my 30-year career.
To the Big Man above that mission must have looked like one huge, bronco-busting rodeo in the sky as 148 fighter pilots wrestled with their bucking Mustangs in an attempt to stay in the saddle and survive.
The story of this mission is a classic indication of World War II foul-ups which resulted in the loss of some of our dearly beloved friends and fellow pilots. We continued to fly the missions assigned, taking off each day for Japan, a distance of 750 miles, flying past unfriendly islands, approaching mainland Japan with Mt. Fuji clearly in the distance. It looked no different to me than flying over Florida where we trained. Fortunately for my group, we arrived after the most heated battles, yet we were no less involved in the almost daily sorties over the Japanese mainland.
When trouble approached we dropped our wing tanks, gave battle if it were necessary, if not we escorted the B-29's over assigned targets, always admiring the crews of these valiant ships who flew into the most intense anti-aircraft fire with complete disregard of the seriousness of the situation. Then we dropped down to the decks strafing everything in sight — trains, high tension lines, boats, buildings, or anything that moved, except humans. Then with fuel a problem, we headed for home. 750 miles of sweat and anguish, listening to the motor, praying for good gas mileage. Then Iwo would come into view. The fuel-short planes would land first, then the rest. Taxi up to the line and your buddies climb on the wing and say "Welcome home, Old Buddy."
Twenty-seven Mustangs and 24 pilots had been lost.. but acrimony, argument and myth attended the event for years to come.
As a postscript to the tragedy, someone at the Twentieth Air Force sent a shipment of Link trainers (instrument simulators) to the VII Fighter Command on Iwo. That added insult to injury, recalled Maj. Jim Trapp, CO of the 78th Squadron. " It became an unwritten rule that should anyone lose an engine on takeoff that they were to take out the Link trainer building."
In just four months of long range fighter operations from Iwo Jima the three Mustang groups wrote off 160 aircraft to all causes. Air/sea rescue saved some 50 pilots but 90 were killed.
Over one-fourth were the direct result of weather, the unseen and unconquered enemy, 24 of them on Black Friday.
A tropical depression, with its attendant foul weather, mercifully kept the Group earth bound for the next several days. It also curtailed air/ sea rescue units as the storm swelled into a full-fledged typhoon by 6 June. Iwo was battered by wind and rain.
Second Lieutenant Arthur A. Burry's engine cut out and he became separated from his flight. He called his flight leader but his transmission was not working. His engine cut back in and Lt. Burry turned around and started back to base alone, calling in on his radio and getting no acknowledgement. He flew for approximately one hour when his engine cut out again. It is estimated Lt. Burry was approximately 275 miles from base at this time. He rode the plane down from 9,000 feet to 2,000 feet when he jumped out, diving for the wing.
Lt. Burry landed in the water on his back and had a little trouble getting out of his harness. There were a couple of shroud lines tangled in his May West which he had to cut loose. He let the parachute go. Two minutes after hitting the water Lt. Burry had his life raft out and inflated. Because he had swallowed salt water he threw up his breakfast. This was the only sign of seasickness during the entire six (6) days. During the period, Lt. Burry ate less than one can of Pemmican, drank less than one quart of water. . He was never hungry, never thirsty. He had no bowel movements. He survived a typhoon, and not until the sixth day did he start to suffer delusions. It was colder at night than during the day but he did not mind the cold particularly. The only pain that he was in was from pressure sores in the small of his back. He did not use the Air/Sea Rescue handkerchief because he knew he was far enough out at sea not to worry about drifting onto hostile shores. He was never dry but he did not catch cold.
First Day - 1 June
Lt. Burrys landed in the water at 1100. Later in the day he saw B-29s returning from strike and used five
tracer one dye marker, and one star flare to attract their attention. Weather was clear but cool. During the night he dosed off
but was never more than half asleep. He ate and drank nothing the first day.
Second Day - 2 June
Weather was closed in to the deck. Lt. Burry did nothing but sit in the boat and try to get dry. At noon he ate a little Pemmican and drank a little water. Water was still choppy and at night he ate nothing.
Third Day- 3 June
Lt. Burry saw B-29s through a haze en route to Japan. He put out one dye marker and sent up one flare,
neither of which wore observed. He ate nothing and drank a little more water.
Fourth Day - 4 June
In the morning the weather was closed in completely and it was raining. Lt. Burry did not catch any water as he had used only half a can of water at this point. He ate one-fourth of a can of Pemmican. He put up the sail "just for something to do". There was little wind and the water was very choppy so there was no noticeable difference in the raft with the sail up. After an hour he took it down.
Fifth Day - 5 June
The day passed uneventfully. That night while dozing it started to rain. At 0200 6 June the water got very rough. During the night Lt. Burry got dumped out of the raft over five times. He had tied the back pack to the handle of the raft. It became untied, or the shroud line broke, and the back pack sunk and all of his food was lost. He had only the emergency water kit with a pint of water in it when the storm subsided.
Sixth Day - 6 June
After the storm the sun came out and the water was calm except for swells. That night Lt. Burry started having delusions. He was at a party on the ocean in a barn with other pilots from his squadron. At the party he met a friend of a friend who said he worked in the control tower and promised to send a destroyer for him.
Cruising above the Nanpo Shoto Trench, the submarine Trutta was submerged at 200 feet proceeding toward their Lifeguard station off Honshu, some 400 miles north. Even at that depth, mountainous seas rocked the ship. Surfacing briefly at dawn, Lt. Commander F. P. Hoskins, skipper of the Trutta, reccorded waves of forty to fifty feet. He and his bridge crew were lashed by 100 knot winds. The 1500-ton submarine was being tossed about like a piece of drift-wood. Hoskins cleared the bridge and sought the safety of the depths. Two hundred feet below the waves Trutta still rolled up to 10 degrees.
Seventh Day - 7 June
The morning was clear and bright and Lt. Burry realized no destroyer was coming, that he had been deluded the night before. Presently he started "hearing music, distinct voices of people singing songs. Later, when the submarine picked him up, he was not delirious but was somewhat incoherent. He seemed to expect the submarine and took it as quit normal that he should be picked up. He was able to climb down the hatch with out any help.
At 1330 the Hoskins rose to periscope depth. The barometer had hit bottom and was rising. Seas were moderate and Trutta had to get up speed to get on station. The submarine finally surfaced and began churning northward. That afternoon, 7 June, lookouts spotted the unmistakable flash of a yellow rubber life raft on a swell, dead ahead. Proceeding toward this bit of flotsam, without much conviction, the crew was amazed to find it occupied by a living human being. After six full days at sea, 2nd Lt. Arthur A. Burry, a member of the 45th Squadron, had been miraculously found. He was located about 300 miles north northwest of Iwo Jima and about 50 miles west of Sofu Gun rock. He had been thrown from his raft countless times in the howling typhoon of the 6th. Burry was weak from hunger and exposure, had suffered delirium during his final night at sea, but he perked up once aboard the submarine. He had lost track of time as his watch failed to function. When questioned he thought he had spent over eight days in the water. Lt. Burry states that he hopes to fly again but that at present he is more than a little leery about long over-the-water hops.
The balance sheet for the VLR mission of 1 June 1945 was finally closed. Fate had stealthily snatched 25 pilots from the Group's roster and then, almost mystically, had given one back.
Following the disaster of 1 June in which the Deputy CO and the Assistant Operations Officer were lost, the senior squadron commander, Major “Luddy” Watters of the 457th, moved up to join the Group Staff as Operations Officer while Lt Col Brown stepped into Lt Col Scandrett’s job. Maj Watters handed over the squadron to Capt Anthony, the 457th Operations Officer, and Capt Anthony’s position in turn fell to Capt Guadianni, formerly the Squadron Gunnery Officer. Some hope was entertained that the missing pilots might return, consequently these changes were made vOCO on 2 June. On the 23rd, Lt Evan S Stuart joined from the 458th as Asst. Operations Officer. On one of the Tuesday afternoon ceremonies at the Fighter Command, 12 of our pilots were awarded the Air Medal, and 2, Lt Col Brown and Maj DeJarnette, the first Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster to the Medal. “They successfully participated in long range fighter missions against the Japanese Empire, displaying high professional skill and courage which reflected great credit upon themselves and the Army Air Forces.” Awards of the good conduct medal were also made during the month to eligible enlisted men of the Group.
Captain Chauncey Newcomb, 457th squadron: "I wasn't keen about being "tail end Charlie" but on this mission, I was leading the last flight in the last squadron of the three groups.... As the stream approached the front, it wasn't really visible to us as a cloud formation, but more of a haze. The change from clear to cloudy was so gradual that until I became aware that the squadrons ahead of us were becoming obscure, I really didn't think that we were headed into trouble. As aircraft ahead began to disappear, I knew that I had to take some action. I don't recall any radio warning, or talk. I took my flight into a sharp left diving turn, with the comforting knowledge that there was no one to run up our tails ... When we broke out only my element leader, Fran (sp) Albrecht, was still with me."Francis Albrecht (pilot pictured) and Chauncey Newcomb shared the "Erma Lou". Erma Lou was my wife's name says Francis. Chauncey was an excellent leader. I flew as his element leader on most missions. We were together on the June mission when we lost so many of our squadron to weather. The 506th missing included:
Capt Edmund M Crenshaw, O-660038 MIA Unknown (The MACR database also lists 44-72572 as being lost with the 506th on June 1st, so it's most likely that this is Capt Crenshaw's Mustang).
Lt Col Harvey J Scandrett, O-399564 MIA 44-72607
457th Fighter Squadron
1/Lt James E Best, O-821775 MIA 44-72584
2/Lt Robert H Griffith, O-829979 MIA 44-72562
2/Lt Robert C Klippel, O-830248 MIA 44-72593
2/Lt Leonard J Kloiber, O-829877 MIA 44-63930
2/Lt William E Saks, O-719438 MIA 44-72885
458th Fighter Squadron
2/Lt Thomas F Harrigan RTD 44-72569
2/Lt Robert B Harvey, O-829857 MIA 44-72553
462nd Fighter Squadron
Capt Gale M Loomis, O-666404 MIA 44-72563
1/Lt Archie C Ridley, O-795639 MIA 44-72608
Capt Lawrence S Smith, O-665237 MIA 44-72601
Capt Edmund M Crenshaw, O-660038 MIA Unknown
Lt Col Harvey J Scandrett, O-399564 MIA 44-72607
The 15th and 21st Fighter Groups also suffered many losses on the same date.
Lt. Lawrence Grennan 457th - bailed out at 5,000 ft. 10 miles from Iwo
2rd Lt. Thomas Harrigan 458th - rescued by PBY (seaplane) 3 June
note: Harrigan was rescued but was captured and killed by Jap civilians when he had to bail out over Japan a couple of weeks later.
2nd Lt. Arthur A. Burry 45th - 6 days at sea, picked up by Submarine Trutta
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