The Mysterious Downing of Captain John W.L. Benbow (Part 1)

Sometimes during the frenzy of aerial combat with multiple dogfights, a fighter pilot is lost without the certainty as to what actually occurred. Even with squadron mates in close proximity, sometimes the cause of a loss cannot be conclusively determined. Theories and speculation are advanced without a clear answer. This is never more evident than a study of the loss of the 457th Fighter Squadron’s Operations Officer, Captain John W.L. Benbow, who went missing in action during a VLR strike mission over Japan seventy-five years ago. The mystery surrounding the loss of Captain Benbow is more about what we don’t know, than what we know.

Captain Benbow was lost during a VLR strike mission to Nagoya conducted by the 21st and 506th Fighter Groups on July 16, 1945. The mission objective was to strafe airfields in the Nagoya/Ise-Wan area. Captain Benbow, was flying second element leader in his flight (Green Flight). His wingman was 2nd Lt. Joseph D. Winn. Captain William B. Lawrence, Jr. was the flight leader, and his wingman was 1st Lt. Ralph Gardner.

Captain John W.L. Benbow (via Dr. John Benbow)

In accordance with Field Order #146, forty-eight 21st FG Mustangs took off from South and Central Fields on Iwo Jima shortly before 10:15 a.m., followed by sixty-four 506th FG Mustangs which took off from North Field approximately 15 minutes later. The 21st FG was led by Lt. Col. John W. Mitchell, who at the time was the Deputy Commander of 15th FG. Lt. Col. Mitchell gained fame and notoriety for leading the long over water mission that resulted in the downing of the Mitsubishi G4M Betty transporting Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. The 506th FG was led by Major Malcolm C. “Muddy” Waters of the 457th FS, who had been recently promoted to the Deputy Commander of the 506th.

The intended target for the 21st FG was the airfield at Kiyosu northwest of Nagoya. The airfields at Akenogahara and Suzuka, on west side of the Ise-Wan (Bay of Ise) were the intended targets of the 506th FG. The 21st FG reached the Japanese home islands around 1:25 p.m. Iwo Jima time, with the 506th FG some ten minutes behind.

The 72nd FS was lead squadron for the 21st FG with the 46th FS following; the 72nd at 11,000 feet and the 46th at 10,000 feet. The 531st FS provided top cover at 12,000 feet. Prior to reaching Kiyosu, the 21st FG encountered an indeterminate number of Japanese fighters between Tsu and Suzuka. Altogether, the 21st FG pilots reported seeing Mitsubishi A6M5 Zekes, Kawanishi N1K1/2 Georges, Nakajima Ki-43 Oscars, Nakajima Ki-44 Tojos, Nakajima K-84 Franks, and Kawasaki Ki-61 Tonys. In addition, the 46th FS reported seeing a number of unidentified single engine radial fighters.

The 506th FG made landfall at about 1:35 p.m. at an altitude of 15,000 feet, and the group proceeded north and parallel to the Ise-Wan inshore. It was between Akenogahara and Tsu when bogies were called out and all three squadrons of the 506th became engaged in a running air fight. The 457th FS, which was lead squadron, ducked under some clouds and came upon dogfights between the 21st FG and the Japanese interceptors. The 506th joined in the fight which followed a pattern of searching the area and attacking the Japanese interceptors when the situation presented itself.

During the encounters with the 21st and 506th Mustangs, the Japanese fighter pilots claimed 6 Mustangs destroyed, and 5 probably destroyed. In actuality, Captain Benbow was the only American pilot lost during the mission, and only 4 Mustangs received damage during the dogfights that ensued. Exaggerated claims were common during the heat of battle, and pilots of all combatants were susceptible to submitting inaccurate claims.

The 21st FG Mission Reports noted the aggressiveness and ability of the Japanese fighter pilots, but that they lacked formation discipline, and therefore, were easy prey for the 7th Fighter Command pilots. Except for the split-S maneuver, the 21st FG Mission Reports indicate that enemy evasive action was “practically negligible”, and that IJN pilots flying Zeros and Georges did not take advantage of their planes tight turning radii when that advantage could have been used.

The 506th FG Mission Report stated that the enemy “generally was unaggressive although some attempted to fight back when caught and attacked.” The exception was an overhead attack by two Japanese interceptors on Captain Abner M. Aust, Jr.

Several 457th Fighter Squadron pilots scored victories over the Japanese interceptors. Captain Aust scored three victories, all Nakajima Ki-84 Hayates (Franks), in quick succession, and 1st Lt. Wesley A. Murphey shot down a Nakajima Ki-44 Shoki (Tojo). Captain William Lawrence also shot down an unidentified single engine Japanese interceptor, and it was during this engagement that Captain Benbow was lost. Since the circumstances of Captain Benbow’s downing or his ultimate fate were unknown, he was listed as “Missing in Action”.

Captains John W.L. Benbow and William B. Lawrence, Jr. on the wing of 540 “Kwitcherbitchin” (via Dr. John Benbow)

During Captain Lawrence’s engagement with the Japanese fighter that he shot down, he placed several bursts into his adversary’s plane, which began smoking. The Japanese pilot split-S’d, and Captain Lawrence’s flight followed in a dive. It appears that Captain Benbow kept formation discipline, as Captain Lawrence’s statement in the Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) indicates flight was in good tactical formation. At some point in the dive, Captain Benbow called out to Captain Lawrence saying “That’s enough Bill – you got him.” This was the last radio transmission from Captain Benbow, and when Green Flight pulled out of its dive, Captain Benbow was not to be found. Basically, Captain Benbow was there one moment; gone the next. No 7th Fighter Command pilot saw what happened to Captain Benbow; not his wingman 2nd Lt. Winn; and not Captain Lawrence’s wingman, 1st Lt. Gardner. The map below, which is part of Captain Benbow’s MACR, shows the two possible locations where he was last seen.

Map Attached to Captain Benbow’s MACR (USAAF/National Archives via Fold3)

Captain Lawrence’s MACR statement indicates that he was partially on his back and in a near vertical dive when he heard Captain Benbow’s last radio transmission. When Captain Lawrence pulled out the dive, Captain Benbow did not rejoin. The fact that Captain Benbow called out to Captain Lawrence “That’s enough Bill – you got him” suggests that Captain Benbow observed all of Captain Lawrence’s attack on the Japanese interceptor and followed Captain Lawrence in his dive.

Captain William B. Lawrence’s Statement to Missing Air Crew Report (USAAF/National Archives via Fold3)

The 506th Mission Report indicates that about the same time and in the same general area, another flight saw what was believed to be a P-51 “apparently in trouble going down in slow gliding turns at an estimated speed of 150 mph.” This aircraft disappeared into the clouds at about 8,000 feet. Was this Captain Benbow’s P-51?

2d Lt. Winn also issued a statement which is part of Captain Benbow’s MACR. During the dive, 2nd Lt. Winn indicates that he became separated from Captain Benbow while trying to avoid pieces of the disintegrating plane that Captain Lawrence was attacking. When 2d Lt. Winn recovered and rejoined the flight, Captain Benbow was not in sight nor could be contacted by radio.

2nd Lt. Joseph D. Winn’s Statement to Missing Air Crew Report (USAAF/National Archives via Fold3)

The 506th FG Mission Report concludes that it was possible that Captain Benbow’s plane was damaged by pieces of the disintegrating Japanese aircraft that Captain Lawrence shot down. While this is a logical conclusion to reach, especially considering 2d Lt. Winn’s statement, no one observed Captain Benbow’s P-51 being struck by pieces from the disintegrating enemy plane. The best person in a position to observe this was Captain Benbow’s wingman, 2d Lt. Winn, but he was actively maneuvering to avoid the enemy aircraft’s debris. The 506th FG Mission Report also states that Captain Benbow “was not known to be under fire from the ground or air.”

Captain Aust was given the task of writing Captain Benbow’s wife, Maggie, that her husband did not return from the July 16th mission and was considered missing in action. Maggie Benbow wrote back to Captain Aust with questions. Captain Lawrence, because of his familiarity with the circumstances, responded. Below is his letter to Maggie Benbow.

Captain Lawrence’s Letter to Maggie Benbow (via Dr. John Benbow)

Note that Captain Lawrence suggests to Maggie Benbow that mechanical troubles may have resulted in her husband’s loss. This appears to have been comforting words to a worried wife on Captain Lawrence’s part, as Captain Lawrence’s MACR statement specifically indicates “that prior to Captain Benbow’s disappearance, his radio reception and transmission was excellent and he had not reported any mechanical troubles whatsoever.” Had Captain Benbow experienced mechanical troubles, one would think he would have radioed his squadron mates of his predicament and requested assistance to withdraw back out to sea in the hope that if he had to bail out, he would be picked up by an American submarine stationed along the return route to Iwo Jima. Because there was no radio transmission from Captain Benbow indicating that he was experiencing mechanical problems, it appears unlikely that simple mechanical failure was the cause of Captain Benbow’s downing.

In his letter, Captain Lawrence emphatically indicated that there were no other enemy planes in the area and there was no flak, so that Captain Benbow’s downing was not a result of enemy action. Were these also meant to be comforting words? In light of the fact that several Japanese pilots claimed to have shot down a 7th Fighter Command Mustang, the cause of Captain Benbow’s loss could be that he was shot down while providing mutual support to his flight.

To be continued . . .

Decal Review: Lifelike Decals Kawasaki Ki-100 Part 1; 48-030

I have been very impressed with Lifelike Decals and the decal sheets they have released over the years for Japanese Army fighter aircraft. Their decals appear to be extensively researched and based on written and photographic documentation from various sources.

First up for review is their 1/48th decal sheet for Kawasaki Ki-100 Goshikisen, both Ko and Otsu versions.

Lifelike Decals

The painting and decal placement guide is very nicely done with extensive commentary for each aircraft and references to support their choice of markings.

Lifelike Decals
Lifelike Decals

The markings for the five Ki-100s are as follows:

Kawasaki Ki-100 Ib Otsu Goshikisen flown by Captain Totara Ito, 5th Sentai, 1st Chutai, Kiyosu AB, early summer 1945.

Kawasaki Ki-100 Ib Otsu Goshikisen flown by Major Yohei Hinoki, Commander of 2nd Datai, Akeno Flying School/111th Sentai, Akeno AB, July 1945. Major Hinoki dueled in the skies over the Nagoya/Bay of Ise area on July 16, 1945 with 21st and 506th FG Mustangs.

Kawasaki Ki-100 Ia Ko Goshikisen of the 59th Sentai, 3rd Chutai, Ashiya AB, October 1945.

Kawasaki Ki-100 Ia Ko Goshikisen possibly flown by the Commander of the 1st Datai, Akeno Flying School/111th Sentai, Akeno AB, July 1945. It is assumed that this was the aircraft of Major Toyoki Eto, and this Ki-100 may have been flown by Major Eto on the July 16, 1945 air combat against 21st and 506th FG Mustangs.

Kawasaki Ki-100 Ib Otsu Goshikisen flown by Major Teruhiko Kobayashi, Commander of the 244th Sentai, Chofu AB, May 17, 1945.

Lifelike Decals

This decal sheet was released in 2009 and recommended for the Hasegawa kit, but can also be used for the older Otaki/Arii kit. It still can be purchased from Lifelike Decals or many on-line hobby retailers. The decals are in register, and the markings are well done. If you are interested in building a 1/48 Kawasaki Ki-100 Goshikisen with some really nice markings, this decal sheet is highly recommended.

When you label a decal sheet “Part 1”, it is necessarily implied that there will be a “Part 2”. Will Lifelike decals follow up with an additional sheet of Ki-100 decals? I definitely hope so.

If you have either the 1/72 Aoshima, Fine Molds, RS Models Ki-100 kits, Lifelike Decals has also issued this decal sheet in that scale (72-026).

Reference Materials: Aviation of Japan Blog

I have been researching websites that cover Japanese aviation in my quest to become better versed in the Japanese Army and Navy Air Forces that defended the Japanese Home Islands during the last months of the Pacific War. There are a number of websites on Japanese aviation just in the Japanese language. While I wish I was fluent in the Japanese language, acquiring the ability to read and speak a new language is most likely unrealistic at my age. There may be some truth to the saying you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. Or it may be that the motivation the learn a new language is just lacking. Probably more of the later than the former.

One of the most comprehensive English language websites on Japanese aviation is the Aviation of Japan blog (http://www.aviationofjapan.com/). Started in March of 2008, the blog has a tremendous amount of information of interest to historians and modelers.

The blogger (“Straggler”) is Nicholas Millman, who is one of Britain’s leading researchers of Japanese military aviation and a member of the Pacific Air War History Associates. He is the author of three books in the Osprey Aircraft of the Aces series; Ki-44 ‘Tojo’ Aces of World War 2 (100), Ki-27 ‘Nate’ Aces (102), and Ki-61 and Ki-100 Aces (114).

A significant number of posts focus on paint colors used on and in Japanese Army and Navy aircraft. This information provides greater clarity in an area that can best be described as confusing for modelers. The posts provide paint chips regarding the color, possible variations, and equivalents within recognized color standards. Mr. Millman was the expert that AK Interactive consulted when developing their Air Series acrylic paint sets for Japanese Army and Navy aircraft, and their Real Color acrylic lacquer equivalents.

In addition, Mr. Millman provides more in depth color analysis pieces in PDF that can be purchased on the website. They range from a 8 page analysis of Yellow Orange to a 46 page analysis of IJN Dark Greens, and some of the pieces are bundled. If you are striving for accuracy in your modeling of Japanese aircraft, these pieces are worth considering.

Other blog posts range from new kit reviews, nostalgic kit reviews, after market product reviews (decals, vacu-formed canopies and masks, and resin updates), book reviews, historical posts, and completed builds. Modelers can have their builds posted on the blog, and there are some truly fantastic builds presented.

There have been a tremendous number of posts to blog since 2008, and without doing the math, I would estimate that Mr. Millman averages around one post per week. To assist modelers and historians, there is a search function that will allow you to go directly to the subject you are researching. Very nice touch.

This is a fantastic blog for any modeler interested in Japanese aviation. Mr. Millman is incredibly knowledgeable on the subject and is very quick to respond to inquiries. Definitely a blog worth following.

Decal Review: SuperScale Decals P-51D Mustangs (48-1153)

The second SuperScale sheet with decals for an Iwo Jima VLR Mustang is 48-1153, which has decals for the 45th FS, 15th FG Mustang, 86 “Foxy” (Serial No. 44-63474).

SuperScale International, Inc.

The decals are very nicely done, in register, and come with some of the more common stencil markings.

SuperScale International, Inc.

The only shortcoming to the decal sheet is that they do not provide the diagonal bands for the undersides of the wings and the horizontal stabilizers. The prevailing wisdom is that the distinctive diagonal bands were also on the underside of the wings and horizontal stabilizers as shown on the aircraft profiles below. This shortcoming is easily overcome by just painting on the diagonal bands.

Janusz Swaitlon

86 “Foxy” – “Foxy” was a P-51D-20A (Serial No. 44-63474) assigned to the 45th FS, 15th FG. Her time on Iwo Jima was very short lived, and never was used in VLR mission. She arrived on Iwo Jima on March 7, 1945, with the rest of the 45th FS, and was involved in a landing accident on March 10, 1945, when another 15th FG Mustang came in for a landing, slide into “Foxy” setting her on fire, then nosed over and fell onto the wing of another Mustang. As can be seen from the photos below, “Foxy” was a complete loss and was written off.

USAAF/National Archives via Fold3
USAAF/National Archives via Fold3
USAAF/National Archives via Fold3

Below are pictures of the 1/48 Tamiya North American P-51D Mustang using the decals which was built by Mark Beckwith. The decals look really nice on this excellent build.

Mark Beckwith
Mark Beckwith
Mark Beckwith
Mark Beckwith

First released in 2006, this is a very nice decal sheet that is still being produced, and it is the only decal sheet on the market for “Foxy” in any scale.

Special thanks to Mark Beckwith for permission to use the pictures of his build of “Foxy”. If you have not come across Mark’s blog, Making History: Scale Models, Real People, Extraordinary Stories, check it out here https://making-history.ca/. Excellent modeling/history blog!

Book Review: “Very Long Range P-51 Mustang Units of the Pacific War” by Carl Molesworth

Osprey Publishing

Published in 2006 by Osprey Publishing as part of their Aviation Elite Units series, this softbound book has 128 pages and 30 color aircraft profiles. Written by noted aviation historian and author, Carl Molesworth, the book focuses on the air war over Japan as fought by the 15th, 21st, and 506th Fighter Groups after their arrival on Iwo Jima through the end of World War II. The text is supplemented with numerous photographs, many from the private collections of pilots who flew the dangerous and grueling VLR missions.

As is common with Osprey aviation titles, aircraft profiles by Jim Laurier are included. The profiles are very nicely done and equally cover all nine squadrons of the three groups.

Aircraft Profiles by Jim Laurier

The following aircraft are included in the profiles:

North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang, Serial No. 44-64015; 15 Squirt, flown by Col. James O. Beckwith, CO of 15th FG, 7th AF.

North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang, Serial No. 44-63483; 67 Tom Kat, flown by Maj. Gilmer L. “Buck” Snipes, 45th FS, 15th FG, 7th AF.

North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang, Serial No. 44-63438; 77 San Antonia Rose, flown by 2nd Lt. C. Douglas Reese, 45th FS, 15th FG, 7th AF.

North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang, Serial No. 44-63483; 67 Stinger VII, flown by Robert W. “Todd” Moore, 45th FS, 15th FG, 7th AF.

North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang, Serial No. 44-63822; 150 Lil Butch, flown by Cap. Walter H. “Sam” Powell, 47th FS, 15th FG, 7th AF.

North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang, Serial No. 44-63972; 185 Black Rufe, flown by 1st Lt. W. Hayden Sparks, 47th FS, 15th FG, 7th AF.

North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang, Serial No. 44-63619; 169 Danny Dawgmeat, flown by 1st Lt. Harry M. Tyler, 47th FS, 15th FG, 7th AF.

North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang, Serial No. 44-63973; 100, Jeanne VIII, flown by Maj. James M. Vande Hey, 78th FS, 15th FG, 7th AF.

North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang, Serial No. 44-63353; 124 Button-II, flown by 1st Lt. Doyle T. Brooks, Jr., 78th FS, 15th FG, 7th AF.

North American P-51D-25-NA Mustang, Serial No. 44-72641; 104 Sweet Rosalee, flown by 2nd Lt. Joseph P. Gutierrez, 78th FS, 15th FG, 7th AF.

North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang, Serial No. 44-63755; 200 Miss Gene V, flown by Maj. Fred A. Shirley, 46th FS, 21st FG, 7th AF.

North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang, Serial No. 44-63719; 202 Little Maggie, flown by 1st Lt. Victor F. Kilkowski, 46th FS, 21st FG, 7th AF.

North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang, Serial No. 44-63898; 208 “AbORTion”, flown by Cap. Jack K. Ort, 46th FS, 21st FG, 7th AF.

North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang, Serial No. 44-63451; 227 Mary Alyce/My Miss Moe, flown by 1st Lts. Robert J. Lowers and John E. Montgomery III, 46th FS, 21st FG, 7th AF.

North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang, Serial No. 44-63733; 250 Dede Lou, flown by Maj. Paul W. Imig, 72nd FS, 21st FG, 7th AF.

North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang, Serial No. 44-63756; 254 Sharpie, flown by 1st Lt. Robert C. Sterritt, 72nd FS, 21st FG, 7th AF.

North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang, Serial No. 44-63975; 256 Fertile Myrtle, flown by 1st Lt. Clarence H. “Bud” Bell, 72nd FS, 21st FG, 7th AF.

North American P-51D-25-NA Mustang, Serial No. 44-73623; 300 My Achin! Ass, flown by Maj. Harry C. Crim, Jr., 531st FS, 21st FG, 7th AF.

North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang, Serial No. 44-63781; 305 Shrimp IV, Cap. Charles G. Betz, 531st FS, 21st FG, 7th AF.

North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang, Serial No. 44-63934; 313, flown by 1st Lt. John F. Galbraith, 531st FS, 21st FG, 7th AF.

North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang, Serial No. 44-72557; 527 HEL-ETER, flown by 1st Lts. John W. Winnen/Philip G. Alston/Warren Clayton/Denny O’Hearn, 457th FS, 506th FG, 7th AF.

North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang, Serial No. 44-63291; 531 “Nip ‘Nocker”, flown by 1st Lt. Wesley A. Murphy, Jr., 457th FS, 506th FG, 7th AF.

North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang, Serial No. 44-72854; 540 Kwitcherbitchin, flown by Capts. William B. Lawrence, Jr. and Alan J. Kinvig, 457th FS, 506th FG, 7th AF.

North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang, Serial No. 44-72607; 555 Madam Wham-Dam, flown by Maj. Harrison E. Shipman, 458th FS, 506th FG, 7th AF.

North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang, Serial No. 44-72561; 552 Mrs. Beak, flown by 1st Lt. Edward H. Mikes, Jr., 458th FS, 506th FG, 7th AF.

North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang, Serial No. 44-72558; 556 The Boll Weevil/“A Neat Package”, flown by 1st Lt. Bennett C. Commer and 2nd Lt. Henry J. Seegers, Jr., 458th FS, 506th FG, 7th AF.

North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang, Serial No. 44-72547; 600 Tallahassee Lassie, flown by Maj. Thomas D. DeJarnette and Lt. Col. Harley Brown, 462nd FS, 506th FG, 7th AF.

North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang, Serial No. 44-72588; 616 Shanghai Lil, flown by 1st Lts. Darrell S. Bash and Edward J. Linfante, 462nd FS, 506th FG, 7th AF.

North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang, Serial No. 44-72587; 619 Hon. Mistake, flown by 1st Lts. James R. Bercaw and William G. Ebersole, 462nd FS, 506th FG, 7th AF.

North American P-51D-20-NA Mustang, Serial No. 44-72855; 643 Providence Permittin’, flown by 1st Lts. Allen F. Colley and Leonard A. Diets, 462nd FS, 506th FG, 7th AF.

This is an excellent reference book and a great read. Highly recommended and a must have if you are interested in the Iwo Jima VLR Mustang groups or the air war in the Pacific theater of operations.

This book is still being published and can be purchased directly from Osprey’s website (https://ospreypublishing.com/), or from any number of on-line book sellers. If you are not a page turner, it can also be purchased as an eBook in either an ePub or PDF format from Osprey’s website.