From The Beginning
The nature of war in the Central Pacific had been different from any other. The operational objectives had not been to gain land masses or capture cities. Rather, each island objective seized became an airfield from which the next jump forward could be supported. For the B-29's Superfortress of the XXI Bomber Command, the Marianas represented the beginning of the war's final phase. From bases on Guam (MAP), Tinian(Map)(Satellite View), and Saipan (MAP)(Satellite View) the heavy bombers were finally within range of Japan proper. Beginning on Thanksgiving Day 1944, the Superfortress massive bomb loads would be directed at Japan's industrial centers.
There were two critical shortcomings of the Marianas (MAP) bases that would have to be solved before the full destructive power of the bombers could be realized. First was the lack of a suitable divert field for battle damaged or fuel-deficient aircraft if they could not make the 1,500-mile over-water return trip. Second, and more critical, was the lack of fighter escort. Occasionally the bombers would run into a cloud of as many as 300 Japanese fighters over their target area and have to fend off as many as 600 individual attacks during the 45 minutes, or longer, they were over Japan. While the enemy's air arm was in decline, a new threat had emerged that threatened for awhile to halt to B-29's operations - the Kamikaze. Kamikaze pilots seemed unstoppable as they flung their aircraft in suicide missions against targets in the air or on the surface. Even if hit repeatedly by the bomber's gunners, they were often able to maintain enough control of their aircraft to crash into a vulnerable Superfortress. A small, volcanic island a little more than five miles long and barely two miles across was the answer to both of these problems.
Yet the invasion of Iwo Jima (Map)(Satellite View) began paying off almost immediately. As early as March 4, 1945, while fighting was still taking place, the B-29 bomber Dinah Might of the USAAF 9th Bomb Group reported it was low on fuel near the island and requested an emergency landing. Despite enemy fire, the airplane landed on the Allied-controlled section of the island, without incident, and was serviced, refueled and departed. In all, 2,251 B-29 Superfortresses landed on Iwo Jima during the war.
Lt. Proctor Thompson Group Headquarters Ground Echelon
At Fort Lawton staging area, the processing routine was simple: a perfunctory medical examination, a lecture on censorship, a session at the obstacle course, and the inspection of weapons."
Two P-51 groups were ready to move into Iwo just as soon as facilities could be readied for them. The Mustang's seven-league boots were legendary in the European Theater, where the war was almost over, as Eighth and Ninth Air Force P-51 s easily flew from southeastern England to Berlin and back, nearly 1,200 statute miles. A few 1,500-mile shuttle missions from England to the Ukraine had also been undertaken, but once P-51s were based on Iwo they would fly round-trips of that distance as a matter of routine.
Pilots of the air echelon in P-51D aircraft arrived Iwo Jima (Map)(Satellite View) from Tinian (Map)(Satellite View) on 11 May 1945. Ground personnel of the air echelon arrived Iwo Jima in Transport Air Group from Tinian C-46's on 19 May l945. Killed in Action 1st Lt Roland E. Carter, 0-793563, Captain Kensley M. Miller, 0-65974-7. Lt Carter was killed 13 May 1945 in the crash of his P-51D when he undershot the southwest runway of North Field at the conclusion of a weather check flight.
Aboard the Bloemfenstein somewhere in the Pacific Ocean
Captain Miller was killed 26 May, presumably by enemy ground fire, while on a strafing run against Imba A/F, Japan. Strength, 1 May I945: 64 Officers, 254 EM Strength, 31 May 1945: 68 Officers, 254 EM
Planes on hand, 1 May 1945: 25 P-51D's
Planes on hand, 31 May 1945: 25 P-51D's
Losses Four (4) P-51D aircraft as follows:
16 May 1945 - Lt Carter crashed on landing. 18 May 1945 - Lt. Veld ran off the end of the runway. 27 May I945 - Lt Torgerson bailed out at sea. 23 May 1945 - Captain K. M. Miller crashed on Imba K/7, Japan.
- zoom out + zoom in ‹ left pan › right pan
Displaying the 3 airfields of 1945
From the 1st to the 10th of May the air echelon pilots were engaged in perfecting mutual support tactics cc West Field #4 Tinian (Map)(Satellite View) and awaiting a weather clearance for the trip to Iwo Jima (Map)(Satellite View) . Information was sent to AAFICA and ISCOM Tinian by 7th Fighter Command that North Field (see maps above) would be ready for the Air Echelon by noon of the 5th. Weather was not the only factor hampering the schedules arrival of the Echelon. Supply shortages, 110 gallon wing tanks in this case, played their usual role increasingly impatient with the promises that the tanks would arrive at Tinian *any day now* the air Echelon flew it's ships to Depot Field, Guam (MAP)(Satellite View) and installed the tanks and returned to West Field #4 for the finishing touches by maintenance personnel. B-29 escort having been secured for the 313th Wing, the trip was accomplished about noon on the 11th. (At Tinian from 1 to 10 May a total of 222.5 hours of flying time were logged by the 506th pilots)
Aboard the Bloemfenstein somewhere in the Pacific Ocean
Unit History 506th Fighter Group
Orderly room soldiers who had never done anything more risky than jump off the moving creeper at Hickam Field were suddenly pulling guard on a battlefield through long terror-filled nights. Pandanus tree skeletons waved weirdly against the sky, rocks clattered down the slopes of Suribachi, trip-flares shot suddenly skyward from the incredible confusion of the supply-jammed beaches, terrified animals darted about, and through the night japs crept from their caves in search of food and water, flung grenades from out of nowhere. Iwo was never silent. Guards fired at the slightest rustle. Men lay tensely awake in their foxholes, listening to shells lobbed in from the north end of the island, the scattered pop of carbine's and the dreary roar of surf breaking over wrecked landing barges. Unending was the clang of the engineers and Seabees who worked all day under the dust-veiled sun and all night under the glare of arc lights moving the shell-torn earth. Never in this Pacific war was so much fighting and dying, heaving, hauling and building crowded into so little space. Iwo was the Japs' isle of desperation and the Japs died for every handful of its dust. The only apparent sign of order in the incredible confusion was the geometric pattern of white crosses. But Iwo had to be lived on, too. On March 4, a B-29 returning from the Empire made the first emergency landing on Iwo Jima. It was no corny impulse which made crewmen stoop and kiss the sulphur-fouled ash of the island. It had saved them from the watery end that had claimed so many of their buddies in fatal ditchings. Now when weather cut their fuel margin, or when battle damage killed their engines, they could live to fly another mission. When the Iwo Combat Staging Center got into high gear, as many as 50 to 60 Superforts were landing at one time for essential repairs after tough raids or to fuel up for extra long missions.
Fighter pilots came in early, early enough to die horribly in the banzai attack when a band of Japs slit into their tents at dawn. The pilots and ground personnel fought them off like infantrymen. So when Mustangs got off on their first Empire mission on April 7 escorting B-29s to T'okyo, they had a highly personal score to settle with the Nips. Many Jap fighters went down before the guns of Iwo Mustang pilots. And P-5I kills in the air rapidly spelled the end of Jap ability or will. When aerial resistance faltered, Iwo fighters took to the dangerous task of ground strafing. Scores of Jap planes, hangars and ships were shot rocketed to bits. By V-J day Iwo was shaped up into a first class Pacific base and had balanced the high price Americans paid for its possession.
Arriving at Iwo
May 8th, 1945
The Green tails ships of the 457th, the blue tails of the 458th, and the yellow tails of the 462nd made a low buzz over the 506th residential district and set down on the asphalt paved, steam heated 5200' x 200' runway of North Field. Command of the Group was reassured by Col. Harper.
The fighter strength of the 506th now stood at 74 planes (457th – 27; 458th – 22; 462nd – 25) and 156 pilots (52 per squadron). Not included in this total were the Group rated officers who were ferried out to the Squadron for flying duty. At long last the Group was united as a fighting organization. Before we tangled with the Nips, the eager birdmen of the 506th had to serve an apprenticeship in CAP missions for the air defense of Iwo. Most especially was this true of the pilots of the ground echelon who had not been inside a plane since early February.
As prescribed by Fighter Command, CAP was to consist of 4 ships airborne and 12 ships on alert during the main part of the day; 8 ships were to be airborne and 8 on standby one hour before and after dawn and one hour before dusk. When VLR missions were returning, 12 ships were to be airborne and 4 on alert. It was decided that the Squadron schedules for CAP was to provide 8 aircraft and the other two squadrons 4 aircraft each with the scheduled Squadron maintaining the airborne flights and the others keeping stand-by-alert only. Beginning the 16th the Group flew a total of 202 CAP sorties during May.
The satisfaction experienced by the 506th pilots at getting into harness again was tempered by a slight feeling of anxiety regarding the maintenance of their aircraft. With most of the crew chiefs chiefs and the three squadrons engineering officers cooling their heels at Tinian, CAP sorties and the forthcoming strikes against the Bonin Islands would be fraught with entirely unnecessary hazards.
In its capacity as the Air Defense Command of Iwo, our higher headquarters, VII Fighter Command, is responsible for conducting strikes against a rocky inhospitable island, 150 nautical miles at an approximate heading of 19° from Iwo, known as Chichi Jima. Located on Chichi, headquarters of the Japs Bonin Island garrisons, is a harbor (Futami), miscellaneous docks, troop housings, radio and radar facilities and a small bomb pocked airfield (Susaki). To keep this field inoperative, a daily sortie is flown by VII Fighter Command aircraft with two five hundred pound bombs under their wings.
Second Day on Iwo
When the 506th F. G. with the 457th, 458th and 462nd squadrons arrived in mid-May, some of the strain of operations was eased for the first two groups. The 506th alternated with the 15th and 21st in making two-group missions to Japanese Empire targets, so one of the three could anticipate a stand-down when the schedule was set. It also allowed more time for crucial maintenance.
The 506th pilots were generally more experienced in P-51s than their 15th and 21st counterparts. Lt. Neil T. Smith, Jr. of the 458th squadron recalls, "Looking in my old log book, I had about 500 hours of fighter time in P-39s, 40s and Jugs, and another 150 hours in 51s before arriving at Iwo. Probably a third of the pilots in our outfit had that much 51 time, and some had other fighter time the same as I did."
One P-47N group, the 414th under Col. Hank Thorne, arrived in late July but was only active from Iwo for five weeks before the surrender. The yellow-and-black marked Thunderbirds primarily flew ground support, though some missions were made to Japan.
The comment that "maintenance on Iwo was tops" seems universal among the 51 jocks. If a pilot wanted a new carburetor all he had to do was mention it. Many crew chiefs kept their aircraft waxed and sanded for extra speed, though some joked it was because there was nothing else to do on Iwo. The mechanics conscientiously changed spark plugs after every VLR mission to avoid fouling later on, as the prolonged low-RPM cruising from Japan tended to burn up plugs.
Lt. Harve Phipps of the 72nd F. S. recalls, "The maintenance crews were excellent. The squadron had been in the Seventh from the beginning and the crew people were not rotated very often. They were experienced and we had practically no aborts because of maintenance. Pilots genuinely appreciated such hard-working mechanics; the last thing in the world they needed to worry about was engine failure 600 saltwater miles from home."
The appearance of reinforcements did nothing to rectify or relieve the psychological pressures that were brewing. The 506th Fighter Group, trained for VLR operations from its inception, and led by Colonel Bryan B. Harper, arrived from the States with 85 new Mustangs. It had an orphan's status, being assigned to the Twentieth Air Force, carried under the organization of the 301st Fighter Wing (then on Okinawa) and attached to the Seventh Fighter Command. The muddled chain of command made little difference to the pilots, however, and after taking a few pokes at Chichi Jima they were anxious for the main event. Their maiden effort was a strike against Kasumigaura Airfield on 28 May, and they made a credible showing, destroying or damaging some 50 parked aircraft and destroying one in the air for the loss of two planes and one pilot.
(60) By now, the 20th Air Force was nearing full strength -1,000 Superforts and 83,000 men. The manufacturing capability of five of Japan's major cities had been demolished. Furthermore, the mining of their waters had cost them nearly a million tons of vital shipping. The B-29s swarmed like flies over Japan, bombing day and night, against ever weakening fighter opposition. The simultaneous bombing of multiple targets had paralyzed their efforts to retaliate effectively. Their air force was becoming pitifully short of aircraft and they were saving most of these for the anticipated American invasion of their homeland.
On 27 May, our crew was ordered to Iwo Jima for a period of "DS" (detached service). The purpose of the assignment was two-fold: to participate in search missions for downed B-29 fliers along the Japanese coast; and to act as navigation plane for P-51s in a forthcoming strike against the seaport of Yokohama. These 1,500 mile escort missions would be the longest in fighter aircraft history. As we looked down on the tiny five and one-half mile long island, certain features stood out conspicuously. The overall view of pork chop—shaped Iwo was one of ugliness and desolation, its black volcanic ash much like the surface of the moon. Rising 556 feet at its southern tip stood historic Mount Suribachi, an inactive volcano. It was here that the valiant Fifth Marine Division had fought its way bitterly to the top. There in one of the most memorable scenes of World War II, they had planted the U. S. flag on the brim of its deep crater. Highly visible, too, were the island's three airfields situated on a flat ridge, and identified simply as Motoyama #1, #2, and #3. The most impressive sight of all, though, were Iwo's three cemeteries, each with its long orderly rows of white crosses. They stood in striking contrast against the black sandy background; the final resting places of over 6,800 Americans lost in the battle for Iwo. Add to this about 19,000 injured, and it ranked as one of the bloodiest of all battles in American history.
Out of an estimated 21,000 Japanese troops, only 1,000 had been taken prisoner. The rest died in combat, were incinerated or sealed in caves, or chose to die by committing suicide. There were 353 Congressional Medals of Honor bestowed during the four years of World War II, both in Europe and the Pacific. Of this number, 27 of them went to the veterans of Iwo in an operation lasting just over a month. Our quarters, a twelve man tent, sat at the base of a steep bluff. Outfitted with canvas cots, it housed our entire crew, both officers and enlisted men. Our meals were a daily repetition of dehydrated foods, designated in the military as "C" or "K" rations. No matter how they were served - cold, heated, or in between - they tasted the same — bad.
On 28 May, came the call for our first mission out of Iwo Jima. We were to serve as a navigation plane for P-51s in a flight to Japan. They in turn would provide fighter escort for a B-29 strike on Yokohama. Each "mother Superfort" would be responsible for taking four Mustangs up to the Japanese coast. There the P-51s would accompany bomb-laden B-29s into and away from the target. Upon withdrawal, each of the “chickens" would rendezvous with its "mother" and be shepherded back to Iwo.
Of interest on this mission was an attempt by a Jap fighter to sneak in on us. He made one pass, only to be promptly shot down by one of the Mustangs.
Accompanying us, as passenger, on this eight and one-alf hour mission, was a Lt. Reider of a Sea Bee group on Iwo Jima. This marked the beginning of a strong friendship between members of his unit and Crew Five.
VLR Mission No 13 (FC Mission #161) 28 May 1945
Back from a mission
A second and final pass on the Field was made by Maj Watters' Dooley Blue flight. Following the main show a number of runs were made on Jap airfields in the immediate neighborhood. Col. Harper, Dooley Red Leader, strafed Yachimata and 4 aircraft of the 462nd delivered fire on parked aircraft, at Imba (the secondary target). It was at Imba that Capt Kensley N. Miller, a veteran of the African Campaign, made a head on pass into a revetment where it is believed he crashed and was lost. At either Togane or Maruto Airfield, a strafing run was conducted by 4 aircraft of the 458th. A field south of Kasumigaura, thought to be Ryugasaki, was the target of a 2 plane attack. Flak defenses of the primary target were described as moderate, light and medium, inaccurate; a similar verdict was passed on anti aircraft fire encountered at the other targets. At Kasumigaura, it was noted, the attack appeared to have caught the Nips with their G-strings down.. The net result of the mission, the farthest penetration of the Empire by fighter aircraft, was 1 destroyed and 2 damaged in the air; 5 destroyed, 1 probable, and 50 damaged on the ground. Such a score was subject, of course, to the assessment of the gun camera film by the Claims Board. When the gun camera films were exhibited a number of disturbing facts came to light. The pictures failed to confirm the ambitious damage claims. A number of hits were made, but exceptionally high speed and the temptation to spray bullets indiscriminately at a wide variety of targets greatly reduced the effectiveness of the fire.
On the Group's first pay dirt mission, it was only natural to expect the boys to shove the throttle to the fire wall, particularly in view of the detailed indoctrination of the strength of enemy flak given by the S-2 at the briefing. Older hands at the game were, however, much less impetuous. Observation of the film of Lt Willis of the 462nd , for example, veteran of some 80 missions in Africa, showed the damage that could be inflicted on the enemy by deck strafing with a P-51 aircraft. The final assessment submitted in the Squadron Claims Annex slightly reduced the estimates of the mission report. Enemy aircraft destroyed were listed at 1 in the air and 5 on the ground, probably destroyed 1 (ground) , and damaged 1 in the air and 42 on the ground which was certainly on the generous side. The most serious objection leveled against the conduct of the mission concerned the tactics that were employed, or to be more specific, the tactics that were not employed, during the strafing run. At the end of the pass over the target, the 506th planes were spread all over the map, "from Hell to breakfast", as one of the participants phrased it. They would have been duck soup for aggressive Jap planes.
Unit History 506th Fighter Group
VLR Mission No 15 (FC Mission #167 1 June 1945 - Black Friday)
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