506th Fighter Group
Mission - 16th July
This page inspired from the article by Steve Blake and Henry Sakaida "Combat Over Japan Ki 100 vs P-51"
Field Order #146, July 16, 1945. This number and date hold little significance today but 38 years ago they were of considerable significance to a few dozen young fighter pilots of the USAAF's 7th Fighter Command on a small dot in the western Pacific called Iwo Jima. Those men flew the mission that resulted from that order, 7th F.C.'s 36th very long range mission to Japan and one of its most successful.
The two fighter groups involved, the 21st and the 506th, had been flying the very long range missions from Iwo Jima to Japan for many weeks by then, the 21st since April 7 and the 506th since May 28th. (7th F.C.'s third P-51 group - the 15th - was not scheduled to fly on July 16.)
The mission was to be a strafe of airfields in the Nagoya area; the target for the 21st was Kyosu and for the 506th Akenogahara and Suzuka. Forty-eight Mustangs of the 21st F.G. took off just before 10:15 that morning led by Lt. Col. John W. Mitchell, who was actually Deputy Commander of the 15th F.G. (Mitchell was undoubtedly the most famous fighter pilot in the 7th Air Force. He had led the mission which resulted in the death of Admiral Yamamoto on April 18, 1943 over Bougainville (MAP), while commanding the 339th F.S. on Guadalcanal (MAP). Mitchell had been the leading ace in the 13th A.F. at that time, with 8 kills - three with P-39s and five with the P-38. He had shot down a Zekes with the 15th Group on June 26 and on this day would score two more kills. To his 11 WWII victories he would later add four MiG's in Korea with the 5lst F.W. Sixty-four P-51s of the 506th Group followed the 21st less than 15 minutes later, led by Major Malcolm C. Watters. The Mustangs were accompanied by some B-29s for navigation. The 21st Group reached the Japanese mainland shortly before 1:30 (Iwo Jima time), with the 506th about 20 minutes behind.
The first loss occurred even before the enemy coast was in sight. 1st Lt. Alfred J. Knox of the 531st had to bail out over the ocean 150 miles from Japan when his engine quit; he was later rescued. Of the 112 P-51s which had taken off from Iwo, 88 actually reached the target area. In the 21st, two pilots had to stay behind to fly cover for Knox and to call for his rescue. Several others had to abort en route, leaving 40 P-51s of the 21st Group to carry out the mission. In the 506th, 48 planes reached Japan, the other 16 having either aborted or been assigned to cover the navigating B-29s or the rescue submarines.
The 21st entered Japanese air space first, proceeding up the west coast of Ise Wan (the large bay on which Nagoya is located) toward the target airfields. The 531st Squadron was just under the clouds at 14,000', the 72nd at 12,500' and the 46th at 11,000'. In the vicinity of Tsu and Suzuka bogies were called in; these were coming from the west, about 15 miles away, at 16,000'. The 15-20 e/a were identified as Zekes, Georges and Tonys; another ten or so Japanese fighters joined in soon after. As the Mustang pilots climbed to meet them, the e/a turned south, peeling off in a string to attack the rear of the 21st F.G. formation from high astern. In the course of a 30-minute dogfight, just inland from the bay, approximately 35 individual encounters resulted in claims of 12-1-11 for the 21st, for no loss. Two of the P-51s were damaged by enemy fire and another by a collision with a Japanese fighter.
After their initial pass, the enemy fighters broke up, giving the advantage to the American pilots, who - unlike the Japanese - made good use of mutual support tactics by flights and elements. The e/a used their favorite evasive technique, the split-S, extensively. Although the Zekes and Georges could outturn the Mustangs, the P-51 pilots noted that the enemy pilots usually failed to take advantage of this ability.
One Zeke did lose Lt. Thompson of the 531st Sq. by turning inside him. Thompson then started to climb for altitude when he saw three more Zekes diving on him. He hit the deck with the Zekes in hot pursuit. A George then made a head-on pass at him; Thompson opened fire and saw the George roll into a rice paddy. He was just able to stay ahead of the Zekes, finally eluding them. Yet another Zeke made a final head-on pass but missed and Thompson continued on to the rally point.
The enemy pilots were described by the pilots of the 21st Group as reasonably - though not extraordinarily skillful. This was evidently a mixture of Japanese Army and Navy units; the majority of the e/a were identified as Zekes and Georges, with a number of Franks, Tojos, Oscars and at least one Tony.
Meanwhile, the 506th Group followed the 21st in at about the same altitude and direction. The 457th Squadron, in the lead, ducked under some cloud and came upon a dogfight in progress between some Japanese fighters and the 21st F.G. A hide and seek fight in the clouds ensued, with the enemy pilots being described as generally unaggressive, although some would fight back when attacked.
High scorer in the 506th was Captain Abner Aust of the 457th F.S., who claimed two destroyed and two damaged initially. One 12.7mm bullet entered his fuselage , knocking out his radio, and another hit his left gun bay. Two more e/a then attempted a head-on attack; he flamed one of them and hit the other so badly that the pilot bailed out. Aust was later credited with three destroyed for this mission, which he identified as "Franks". On August 10, he shot down two Zekes over Japan, giving him a total of five kills and making him the only Ace of the 506th F.G.
I spotted 6 enemy fighters at about the same altitude approaching from my 11 o'clock position. I called drop tank and made head on pass taking the lead aircraft. Evidently the leader flamed and bailed out, I pulled up in a very tight turn, the next Jap fighter I was upside down when I shot him down. I then followed one down into the cloud getting hits and he was smoking. I pulled so many Gs that the wing had to be changed. I was after another Jap fighter getting hits on him. I could see a P51 higher to my 4 o'clock position. Evidently he was after the same enemy I was hitting. the P-51 was out of range to hit the enemy. I checked my left wing and could see three or four holes in my left wing. I lost my compass and one gun to the holes. Upon landing back at Iwo my crew chief dug 50 caliber slugs out of my wing. The 50 calibers had gone through the fuselage just behind the fuselage tank leaving a hole about one foot in diameter. Japs did not shoot 50 cal and the P51 belong to the 462FS. Later that day I gave some pilots of the 462 some good advice about aircraft identification.
Aust would later receive the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions this day.
“I was flying Green Leader when I heard bogies called out and a babel of conversation that included warnings to break, admonitions to “get that bastard”. I knew there was a fight, and then I saw a melee of aircraft at two o’clock. I dropped my tanks and got altitude and circled a large hole in the clouds where all the action was taking place. I saw two enemy aircraft chasing a P-51, and started a pass, but both enemy aircraft went into the clouds. I figured both would be back, and circled. One did come back, at about ten o’clock low. I was heading north, and peeled off into his tail. Evidently he was inexperienced, for he broke into me while I was still out of range. I put the computing sight on him and tracked, and fired about a four second burst. I got strikes on his fuselage and wings, and he rolled onto his back. I continued to hit him, and finally small pieces broke off his belly and an incendiary got his right gas bag. He began to burn and smoke and went straight down. My flight and I recovered into the clouds, which were no more than 500 feet thick, and regained altitude over the hole and waited for another one. I saw another at nine o’clock low, and dived down on him. He broke when I was still out of range, to the right, in a very tight turn. I put my computing sight on him, tracked and fired a sixty-degree head on deflection. My burst was very short because we were closing so rapidly, but it hit his canopy and engine, and he began to smoke. His canopy was open as he rolled onto his back. He went straight down, hit a hillside and blew up.”
CAPTAIN HARRY E. WALMER, 72d Fighter Squadron: “Ten minutes after making landfall, at 1333, many bogies were called in at nine o’clock high. We were at 11,000 feet, they were at 15,000 or 16,000 feet. I put my flight into mutual support and started a climb straight ahead. Shortly thereafter, the bandits attacked the rear squadron in steep overhead passes in string, and then yo-yoed back up. I scissored my flight, continued to climb, back to the area of the fight. About there, at 12,000 feet, we did a 90-degree right in mutual support, and upon completion, I spotted a Zeke high at three o’clock. I pulled up inside him, but he saw me and did a fast roll to the right and turned into me, pulling streamers. I managed to stay with him, but could not get a lead. He then pulled a fast roll to the left. I waited. He started a break and then reversed his turn. I didn’t try to follow the break, so when he reversed it gave me my first good shot at about 70 to 90 degree deflection-held lead as much as I could and raked him through. A flash, which looked bigger and redder than an incendiary hit, appeared very near the pilots compartment, - the evasive action then ceased, it rolled nearly inverted and started down steeply. It appeared to go down very fast. Several thousand feet lower it started a fast turning spiral and “went in” that way, observed from 6,000 feet. He exploded with one flash of flame.”
The only pilot lost during this action was Capt. John W. L. Benbow of the 457th, who was leading the second element in Capt. Lawrence's Green Flight. Lawrence pulled onto the tail of an e/a which was making an easy turn to the right at 15,000', just west of Akenogahara. Green Flight followed it into a split-S, the e/a then smoking and beginning to disintegrate. Benbow called out: "That's enough Bill, you've got him." Benbow and his wingman, 2nd Lt. Joseph D. Winn, was flying through so much debris from the enemy plane that he was forced to break off briefly, losing Benbow. Capt. Benbow was not seen again. He was possibly hit by pieces of the e/a; although not known to have been under fire from the enemy, he could also have been shot down by a Japanese fighter (further reading click here) . At approximately that time and in the same area, an aircraft believed to be a P-51 was seen by another flight in apparent trouble, going down in slow gliding turns at an estimated 150 mph. It disappeared into the clouds at about 8000'; this was at 1350. Yet another flight saw a white parachute in this same area five minutes later.
Among the Japanese fighter units which fought against the Mustang pilots in the Nagoya area that day was the Akeno Army Fighter School, an operational training unit based at Akeno, in Mie Prefecture. This unit's primary duty was to train Japanese Army pilots to fly and fight with the Ki.84 ("Frank"), the Ki.61 ("Tony") and the new Ki.100 ("Tony II"). Although one source indicates that this unit became the new 111th Fighter Sentai (Group) on July 10, 1945, highly respected Japanese aviation historian Dr. Yasuho Izawa indicates that this re designation did not go into effect until July 18. The reorganization was supposedly completed on July 22, the new sentai by then under the command of Lt. Col. Tadashi Ishikawa. The 111th was one of the very last JAAF units organized during the war and saw very little actual combat with its Ki.84s and Ki.100s.
On July 16 the Akeno School's formation was comprised of 24 Ki.100 (Type 5) fighters . (called "Goshiki-sen" by the JAAF pilots), divided into two 12-plane "daitai" (squadrons) . Each was led by an experienced ace; Major Toyoki Eto commanded the 1st Daitai and Major Yohei Hinoki the 2nd. Eto had fought over China during the late 1930s, downing several Russian I-16s in the Hankow area. He later served as chutai (flight) leader with the 77th Fighter Sentai in Burma and by the end of the war he had at least 12 personal victories. Hinoki had fought over Burma earlier with the 64th Sentai and on November 27, 1943 had lost part of his right leg after being hit by a P-51A near Rangoon. Hinoki had at least 11 personal victories by July 16, 1945. His flight leaders in the 2nd Daitai were Capt. Katsuji Sugiyama (#4 Chutai) and Capt. Keio Mihara (#5 Chutai).
Around 10 AM (Japan time) on July 16, the Akeno Fighter School was informed of enemy air activity. A large group of single- engine aircraft - evidently fighters - was heading toward Ise-wan. The Ki.lOOs of the Akeno School took off to fight the enemy, by now identified as P-51s.
After reaching the desired altitude, Hinoki placed his daitai above and to the right of Eto's. The Ki.100 pilots flew over Shinmiya, then turned left and headed down the coast to Shimahanto. Just above the Ise shrine, at about 7,000 meters, Sugiyama's flight made a sudden turn to the right, toward the ocean. Hinoki immediately followed with his flight and the distance between his and Eto's daitai rapidly increased. The 2nd Daitai pilots spotted the P-51s flying over the ocean below them. Hinoki remembers: "They looked so small, just like long floating strings."
Sugiyama led his flight downward, right into the Mustangs; Hinoki had to speed up to stay with them and to provide cover. He saw the P-51 formation make a sudden turn, noticing that there were eleven of them, in flights of four, four and three. Hinoki approached the last plane in the formation with thoughts of revenge for the leg he had lost to another P-51 pilot over Burma. He also noticed his aircraft "sliding" a lot due to a "propeller problem" when he increased throttle.
The new Ki.100, which became operational in March of 1945, was basically an old Ki.61 airframe with a powerful, air-cooled radial engine in place of the sleek, water-cooled inline engine of the original "Tony". Hinoki assumed that this engine change caused excess pressure on the propeller when he attempted to accelerate at high altitude. Pressing hard against the rudder pedal with his artificial leg, he was also extremely frustrated at his lack of control over that limb.
Hinoki dived to about 20 meters from the P-51 He fired several bursts, seeing them strike home, then saw an explosion, although he lost sight of the enemy plane before he could determine its fate. "I approached until I could see - so to speak - the enemy pilot's white teeth. Even if my plane skidded, I couldn't miss. I then saw the enemy plane spinning down, as if in its death struggle. I glanced back and there were ten enemy planes behind me." Finding himself alone and under attack by a squadron of P-51s, Hinoki had to keep making tighter and tighter turns to keep from being hit. (The JAAF pilots had already learned that the Ki.100 could out-turn the P-51.)
Hinoki wanted desperately to withdraw from this uneven combat, but the leader of the P-5ls was attacking him in a particularly aggressive manner. He had great confidence in his plane's HA-112-II engine, so he final ly pushed the nose of his "Goshiki-sen" straight down, with throttle wide open. He was amazed at how steady the aircraft was, although he could feel the tremendous air pressure. When he finally pulled out of his dive the Mustangs had disappeared. It had been about 50 minutes since the action began around 11 o'clock.
Major Hinoki believed that the enemy had intended to attack the Kyuko area but that his unit's intervention had undoubtedly made them change their plans. He estimated the size of the P-51 formation at 250, making the odds about 10 to 1. In truth, of course, there were slightly less than 100 P-51s and other JAAF and JNAF units had also been involved. Hinoki felt that his unit would have made an even better showing if the pilots had had more experience flying together as a team. Although many of the Akeno School pilots were combat veterans, they had not flown together enough to be able to fight in a well coordinated manner.Despite the handicaps, the Ki.100 pilots claimed six P-51s shot down for sure and five probably, for the loss of five of their own planes. Two of the pilots had parachuted safely, but Capt. Motomichi Suzuki and 1st Lt. Jiro Oka of Sugiyama's chutai had been killed, as had 1st Lt. Eiho Takano from Eto's 1st Daitai. Hinoki:. "Considering our small newly assembled team, fighting against such a big enemy group, losing only three pilots wasn't so bad. We owed this result to our aircraft." Capt. Hideaki Inayama was a chutai leader in the 1st Daitai that day. He was another experienced pilot, having flown Ki.44s with the 87th Sentai in the East Indies. (On January 24, 1944, Inayama claimed to have shot down two British Fleet Air Arm Avengers over Sumatra.) Flying at about 2,000 meters on the July 16 mission, Inayama 1s flight was attacked by an estimated 50 P-51s shortly after Hinoki 1s squadron engaged. Outnumbered and with a distinct height disadvantage, all he could do was escape any way he could. This he did, and he still remembers vividly the sight of scores of P-51 drop tanks spinning down from above, many of them spewing white gasoline - also the parachutes of two of his comrades.
The question arises, of course, as to whom Major Hinoki hit in this action. Only three P-51s were actually hit by Japanese fighters, Capt. Benbow making a possible fourth. There was Capt. Aust in the 506th Group and in the 21st Group Lts. Irvin P. Skansen (531st F.S.) and Burdette F. Robinson (46th F.S.). Skansen's Mustang was hit in the vertical stabilizer, the rudder, the fuselage and the left wing. He had to fly alone for four hours across the Pacific, with one foot hard on the rudder pedal to compensate for the heavily damaged tail. Skansen finally landed at Iwo at 5:56, more than 30 minutes after the rest of the Group. Robinson's plane was hit by 12.7mm fire in the rear of its coolant scoop, but like Aust and Skansen was able to return to Iwo Jima safely. (The aircraft of 2nd Lt. Walter N. Roberts of the 72nd F.S. had damaged a wing in a collision with an enemy fighter; he also made it back.)
The authors believe that the Akeno unit tangled that day with the 506th Group, based on the number of e/a reported by that unit as unidentified. The Ki.100 (also known as the "Tony II") was unknown to the Allied pilots, which, when encountered, could have left them puzzled as to its type (almost certainly, some Ki.lOOs were incorrectly identified, possibly as Franks). On the other hand, the pilots of the 21st Group identified exactly (if not "accurately) each type encountered and claimed - none as Ki.lOOs/Tony Us, of course.
We thus believe that Hinoki's most likely victim was Capt. Benbow. Hinoki is adamant about this e/a being the last man in a three-man flight and Benbow was, you will remember, separated from his wingman just before he went missing. Hinoki also believes that he hit the P-51 very heavily - probably fatally - and the damage to Aust's Mustang wouldn't seem to correspond with that assessment. Of course, we will never know with absolute certainty, but the strong circumstantial evidence points to Benbow as Major Hinoki's victim on July 16, 1945.
After the Japanese fighters retired from the field the P-51s regrouped, flew to the rally point and thence back to Iwo Jima. They landed between 5:00 and 5:24, except for Lt. Skansen.
Once again the superior training, tactics and numbers of the American pilots, had resulted in defeat for the Japanese fighter pilots. This brief combat was symbolic of the defeat of the Japanese military and the Japanese nation as a whole, which would be complete in just one month's time.
Our sincere thanks to John W. Lambert, 7th Fighter Command historian, for his invaluable assistance with our research for this article.
ORIGINAL 7th FIGHTER COMMAND CLAIMS FOR JULY 16, 1945:
21st Fighter Group (total 12-1-11):
1st Lt. Robert N. Bodie (46th Sq.) Tojo destroyed 1st Lt. Judd Hoff (46th) Tojo damaged 1st Lt. Russell A. Mayhew (46th) Tojo damaged Capt. Charles 0. Rainwater (46th) 2 Tojos destroyed 2nd Lt. Morgan R. Redwine (46th) Tojo damaged 2nd Lt. Burdette F. Robinson (46th) Tojo damaged 1st Lt. Richard L. Vroman (46th) Tojo- destroyed 1st Lt. Paul Wine (46th) Frank destroyed, Oscar probable Capt. Ernest S. McDonald (72nd) George destroyed
Lt. Col. John w. Mitchell (with 72nd) 2 Georges destroyed 1st Lt. Horace Wallace (72nd) George damaged Capt. Harry E. Walraer (72nd) 2 Zekes destroyed 2nd Lt. Jack Counts (531st) Zeke destroyed, Zeke damaged 1st Lt. Wade W. Marsh (531st) Zeke destroyed, Zeke damaged Lt. Frank L. Seymour (531st) Zeke damaged Lt. Irvin P. Skansen (531st) Zeke damaged 2nd Lt. John 0, Thompson (531st) George destroyed, 2 Zekes damaged Lt. William J. Tomlinson (531st) Zeke damaged
506th Fighter Group (total 10-1-9):
Major Malcolm C. Watters (Group Hdqts.) Zeke destroyed, Zeke damaged
Capt. Abner M. Aust, Jr. (457th) 2 SE UI destroyed, 2 SE UI damaged
1st Lt. Thomas V. Carroll (457th) SE UI damaged
Capt. William B. Lawrence', Jr. (457th) SE UI destroyed
1st Lt. Wesley A. Murphey, Jr. (457th). Tojo destroyed, Zeke damaged
2nd Lt. Thomas 0. Wessell (457th) SE UI damaged
Capt. Richard W. Barnes (458th) 2 SE UI destroyed
1st Lt. Frank H. Wheeler (458th) Frank destroyed
1st Lt. Edward F. Balhorn (462nd) Zeke damaged
2nd Lt. Allen F. Colley (462nd) Tojo damaged
1st Lt. Gordon C. Dingee (462nd) Frank probable
2nd Lt. William J. Jutras, Jr. (462nd) Zeke destroyed
Capt. Frederick A. Sullivan (462nd) Zeke destroyed, Zeke damage
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