Mission #251 - 3 August 1945
Mission: VLR Fighter Strike and escort for photo aircraft in the Tokyo area by planes of 15th and 506th Groups.
Results: Nine enemy aircraft destroyed, two probably destroyed and seven damaged.
Our losses: Six P-51s lost and two pilots missing. Eleven planes were slightly damaged by flak and another plane received damage from rocket explosions.
(1) The 15th & 506th Group was assigned the area east and northeast of Tokyo and was briefed to sweep the area northwest of Tokyo for worthwhile targets, three specific airfields in the area being singled out for special attention. Ishioka East airfield was strafed by two squadrons and three enemy aircraft were destroyed. Hyakurigahara airfield was next attacked with rockets and strafed with resultant heavy damage in the hangar and building area. Rocket and strafing attacks were also marshalling yards, railroad shops, etc.... at Kawagoc, Omiya, Hashimoto and Numozu. Four aircraft of this group, while covering a submarine which was heading into Sagami Bay to pick up a survivor (Captain Ed H Mikes Jr, story below), were attacked by an estimated six Zekes from up sun. The enemy had altitude and speed advantage and shot down one P-51 which crashed with its pilot. Two Zekes are claimed as probably destroyed and one damaged. Aircraft escorting the photo planes completed the mission without incident.
(2) On 3 August Japanese gunners had a field day as 97 Mustangs of the 15th and 506th worked at treetop level over Tokyo area airdromes. Four P-51s went down and thirteen others carried scars of the encounter back to Iwo. Nine enemy aircraft were burned on airfields where the rocket and strafing attacks were disrupted by tethered kites and barrage balloons. An assortment of rail cars and miscellaneous targets were hit as alternative targets of last resort. One pilot had been killed (Paul Ewalt of the 458th) and another taken prisoner (Ralph Heintz of the 47th). But long after the strike had been completed ASR units scrambled to recover two others.
A sub cover flight from the 457th Squadron was protecting submarine Aspro as it audaciously entered Sagam Bay searching for Captain Edward H. Mikes, Jr. The 458th pilot had parachuted into the Bay after his Mustang was disabled by flak. An orbiting Super Dumbo dropped a motor boat to Mikes and a pair of Navy Privateers of Patrol Bombing 121 arrived to lend additional assistance.
The four engine PB4Ys piloted, by Lieutenant Commander RJ. Pflum and Lieutenant R.D. Ettinger had already sunk a 750 ton patrol vessel while exercising control over the Bay.
The flurry of activity was all too visible to the Japanese. Lieutenant Yutaka Morioka led a flight of Zeke 62s from Atsugi to counter the rescue effort. Morioka was another of Japan's disabled veterans, compelled to continue flying because of high attrition among experienced pilots. He had previously lost his left hand to the tail stinger of a B-29.
Gaining altitude advantage, and with midday sun behind them, the Japanese fell on the Mustang CAP flying at just 3,500 feet. Morioka downed Lieutenant John Coneff's P-51 on the initial pass.
The remaining Mustangs evaded streams of tracers while the Zekes went on to dust the Privateers, then both flights of fighters turned back for an inconclusive head-on pass. Low on fuel from the high speed action, the sub CAP was forced to retire and landed at Iwo after eight hours and forty-five minutes in the air.
Captain James Ashley, watched the swirling dogfight overhead from Aspro's conning tower, and cursed as Coneff's plane tumbled into the Bay just 2,000 yards to starboard. There was no sign of the pilot so Ashley proceeded on his base course toward Mikes.
The Privateers took note that a Japanese float plane, a Pete, appeared from nearby Tateyama and hovered in the distance awaiting a chance to interfere.
Ed Mikes had wasted no time in boarding the boat parachuted to him and was soon underway at his own "flank" speed, toward the mouth of the Bay when Morioka's retiring flight approached. "At first I thought it was the sub cover, but as they came nearer, I realized they were Zeros."
Hunkering down low in the boat, Mikes kept his hand on the tiller and doggedly maintained course while the Japanese sprayed him. He was grazed in the left wrist by a slug but the boat survived the strafing. As the mother hens of VPB-121 shagged the Zeros, Mikes continued toward a column of black smoke on the horizon - Aspro proceeding at full speed on the surface.
The submarine and the motor boat approached each other and an eager deck crew prepared to snare the aviator. Ashley backed his engines to kill headway.
At that moment the lurking Pete's engine whined to full throttle in the distance and it commenced a run on the motionless sub. Both lumbering Privateers, being flown like fighters, tried to cut off the enemy plane, going after it with turrets chattering. But Captain Ashley couldn't take a chance. As his 20 mm gun fired a few defiant rounds he shouted, "Clear the deck! Clear the bridge! Take her down!"
The determined Japanese pilot bore in on the boiling water that marked Aspro's descent and sent two bombs crashing down within 75 feet of the starboard bow. But the submarine was already 25 feet below the surface.
Like enraged bulls in pursuit of the matador, the Privateers overhauled the Japanese plane and sent it flaming into the water. Mikes was no longer the target but the bait.
After carefully scanning the horizon with his periscope, Ashley surfaced and began to maneuver toward the motorboat. He had just reached the open air of the conning tower when another Pete began a bomb run. The Captain tumbled down the hatch as the sub crash dived in perilously shallow waters.
Again, the big four-engine planes pursued and splashed the Pete, executing what Pflum described as a 'Thatch Weave" to corner the attacker.
Ed Mikes, was disconsolate. "When the sub went down for the second time, I was ready to cash in my chips. I felt they would never come back, and I wouldn't have blamed them."
Ashley had the sort of dilemma that every ship commander dreads. The enemy knew he was there. Could he risk the ship and crew in a rescue attempt. He scanned the horizon through the periscope and contacted the Privateers by radio. They were preoccupied chasing off yet another lone Japanese fighter but then, confidently advised Aspro that the sky was clear but warned that their fuel supply was getting dangerously low.
Mikes' spirits soared as he saw the periscope cutting through the water and raced toward it. He was alongside as Aspro surfaced. "I was dragged aboard and escorted below in nothing flat, scared as hell and shaking like a leaf." As the submarine raced for the open sea, the devoted Privateers gained altitude for the long trip back to Iwo.
Ed Mikes' ordeal was over, but Harold Baccus was still afloat in enemy waters. The 47th Squadron flyer was down 20 miles off Honshu, and his last view of an ASR unit was a distant B-29. The sun fell with no rescue. During the night a Japanese ship, blacked out, went boiling past him. He fired a flare but there was no recognition. Harold had about given up hope of rescue by either side when submarine, Balao, slid out of the midnight darkness to save him.
General Mickey Moore had been concerned from the beginning of VLR operations that the Japanese would follow a returning strike doing violence to the cripples and those low on fuel or mount a daylight raid on Iwo Jima, screened by the returning strike force.
Note: some 50 years later Captain Ed Mikes would meet with his adversary Lieutenant Yutaka Morioka that strafed him, at the the 7th Fighter Command reunion at the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Both shook hands & traded gifts and spoke to the audience that was in attendance.
Arrival time: 7/9/2020 at: 8:31:44 AM