Happy New Year! Thank you to all who are following this blog, those who check in occasionally, and those who have stumbled here by mistake. I am not sure how to best describe 2020 globally, but here in the United States, it has been a strange and difficult year on so many different levels. For 2021, it is my prayers that you remain safe and healthy, and have a productive and fulfilling year.
A new feature of the blog will be to showcase the models built by you! If you have built a model related in anyway to Iwo Jima, please consider sharing that build with all of us. It does not matter if you are a beginner, novice or expert. Below are some categories:
Any VLR Mustang from either the 15th, 21st or 506th Fighter Groups;
Any Northrup P-61A/B Black Widows from the 548th Night Fighter Squadron;
Any United States Navy combat aircraft that participated either in the early raids from June 14, 1944 to August 5, 1944, or during the Battle for Iwo Jima (Curtiss SB2C Helldivers, General Motors FM-2 Wildcats, Grumman F6F Hellcats and TBF/TBM Avengers, and Chance Voight F4U Corsairs);
Any 7th Bomber Command Consolidated B-24J Liberator which bombed Iwo Jima from U.S. Army Air Force bases in the Marianas;
Any Marianas based Boeing B-29 Superfortress which bombed the Japanese Home Islands; and
Any IJAAF or IJNAF fighter that participated in the defense of Iwo Jima or the defense of the Japanese Home Islands.
If you would like to show your work here, please send me pictures of your build along with a narrative. The narrative can include information on the pilot/crew, squadron/group/unit, after market products used, if any, and any techniques used. Photos and narratives should be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
With the release of the Tamiya’s 1/32 North American P-51D/K Mustang “Pacific Theater” kit in 2012, modelers were finally provided with a kit that has almost all of the necessary parts to build an accurate Iwo Jima VLR Mustang. It had been a long time coming. For the most part, kit manufacturers have either been willfully ignorant of the differences between a standard P-51D Mustang and an Iwo Jima VLR Mustang, or completely indifferent. I say willfully ignorant because there is more than sufficient photo documentation regarding the external differences, and on-line resources, such as the P-51 Special Interest Group Forum, to easily document the necessary parts for an accurate kit. In 2005, Hasegawa released an “Iwo Jima” boxing (Kit No. 09664) of their popular 1/48 P-51D Mustang kit, however, it did not have any of the necessary parts to make an accurate Iwo Jima VLR Mustang. In 2014, Italeri released a 1/48 P-51D/K Mustang “Pacific Aces” kit (Kit No. 2743) that included decals for three Iwo Jima VLR Mustangs. While Italeri gets kudos for including decals for the three VLR Mustangs, the actual kit is just a reboxing of the Hasegawa kit.
It appears that Hasegawa’s business model has been to create a kit, and rebox the kit multiple times with different decals with little regard as to whether different or additional parts need to be included. According to Scalemates, Hasegawa has reboxed its 1/48 P-51D Mustang kit a total of 29 times since it was originally introduced in 1991! Not a bad business model if the sole objective is to sell the greatest number of kits with only one mold, but frustrating if you are a modeler who desires accuracy between variants of the same plane. I do not consider myself a “rivet counter”, but the investment of time to get the correct information on an Iwo Jima VLR Mustang is minimal.
It is encouraging to see kit manufacturers like Tamiya raising the bar as far as the level of detail, ease of construction (better engineering), and providing different variants. It was very pleasing to see the parts and decals for an Iwo Jima VLR Mustang in their “Pacific Theater” boxing. The other model manufacturer that is catering to those who desire greater accuracy between variants of the same plane is Eduard. Both their 1/48 Messerschmitt Bf-109 and Focke Wulf Fw-190 lines of kits provide modelers with accurate kits of the variants of those planes. Eduard recently released their first 1/48 kit in their widely anticipated line of P-51 Mustangs, and has made it known that they will be releasing an Iwo Jima VLR Mustang boxing in 2020. I received Eduard’s first release last week, and to my surprise, all of the necessary parts to make an accurate Iwo Jima VLR Mustang are in the kit except for the drop tanks and sway braces. Kudos to Eduard, and I eagerly await their release of the Iwo Jima VLR boxing. Review of the Eduard kit to come later.
The Differences: SCR-695 and Battery Locations. The P-51D Mustangs flown by the 15th, 21st and 506th fighter groups were standard Block 20-NA and 25-NA models to which modifications were made while on Iwo Jima. The first difference was the placement of the SCR-695 IFF transmitter (multi-band airborne transponder which allowed a plane to be identified on friendly radars) behind the standard SCR-522 radio transmitter (4 channel VHF radio set used for air-to-air and air-to-ground communications). This necessitated moving the battery, which was normally located behind the SCR-522 radio transmitter, to the engine compartment. In order to keep the engine compartment cooler, a small air scoop was located on the left side of the fuselage above and in front of the wing leading edge. Also added to the cockpit area behind the pilot’s head rest armor plating was the SA-3/A inertia switch and the BC-727 indicator lights. A small antenna (the AN95-A) was added to the underside of the wing just aft off the right landing gear wheel well.
AN/ARA-8 Homing Adaptor & Uncle Dog Twin Antennae. The most distinctive external feature of an Iwo Jima VLR Mustang was the twin “Uncle Dog” antennae.
With the installation of these antennae, the normal single mast antenna was moved under the fuselage just forward of the wheel wells, which can be seen in the lower left corner of the photo below.
The twin Uncle Dog antennae were a part of a VHF beacon system that was needed for the long over water flights in order for the VLR Mustangs to find the B-29s they were escorting, and to find their way back to Iwo Jima. The system devised included B-29 navigation aircraft equipped with Uncle Dog transmitters, the VLR Mustangs using their SCR-522 VHF communications set along with an AN/ARA-8 homing adapter, and an MD-34 modulator keying set, and a ground based version of the SCR-522 (SCR-575) operated from Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima known as “Brother Agate”. The VLR Mustangs would home in on the B-29 navigation aircraft, not only to form up with the B-29s they were escorting, but the B-29 navigation aircraft were also used on the homeward leg of the VLR missions to guide to Mustangs within a couple hundred miles of Iwo Jima after which the Mustangs would home in on the signal sent from Brother Agate. There is an excellent article on the Uncle Dog/Brother Agate VHF beacon system written by Mark Starin, RMC USNR (Ret.), on the 506th Fighter Group website (http://www.506thfightergroup.org). From the main page, go to the Pilots section, and click on the “VLR Story” page. The article is the second article on the page. Mark Starin is the son of 458th FS, 506th FG pilot 1st Lt. Myndret S. Starin.
VLR Drop Tanks. Because of the great distance covered on the VLR missions, the Mustangs used two of the larger types of drop tanks: 1) 110 gallon metal drop tanks, and 2) 165 gallon P-38/P-61 style drop tanks. The 110 gallon metal tanks were the standard drop tanks used on VLR missions, and even with these larger tanks, pilots often landed back on Iwo Jima with only a few gallons of fuel left.
The 165 gallon P-38/P-61 type drop tanks were used on two different types of missions. The first was combat air patrol (CAP) missions around Iwo Jima. The 165 gallon drop tanks allowed the Mustangs to loiter longer. Towards the end of the war, the VLR Mustangs began carrying six HVAR rockets on strike missions, and the 165 gallon drop tanks were used to provide additional fuel due to the extra drag caused by carrying the rockets.
Because of the larger size of both drop tanks, sway braces were used. The sway braces were cut from plywood and made to drop from the planes when the drop tanks were released.
Unfortunately, Tamiya did not include the sway braces in their “Pacific Theater” boxing, nor did they include the 165 gallon drop tanks or HVAR rockets. With the Tamiya kit, a modeler is limited to VLR Mustang with the 110 gallon drop tanks out of the box. It is anticipated that Eduard will include both the 110 gallon and 165 gallon drop tanks along with the sway braces in their 1/48 Iwo Jima VLR Mustang boxing.
On March 6, 1945, Brig. General Ernest M. “Mickey” Moore, commanding officer of the 7th Fighter Command, and 24 pilots of the 47th Fighter Squadron (FS) of the 15th Fighter Group (FG), landed their North American P-51D Mustangs on South Field on Iwo Jima, just fifteen days after the United States Marines stormed Iwo’s black sand beaches. The battle for Iwo Jima continued to rage on for another twenty days as pockets of Japanese resistance were being eliminated. The remaining two squadrons (45th & 78th) of the 15th FG arrived on the next day, March 7th. After the engineers reconstructed Central Field, the 72nd FS of the 21st FG arrived on March 22nd, and the remaining two squadrons (46th & 531st) of the 21st FG arrived on March 24th. The 506th FG (457th, 458th & 462nd FS) Mustangs, the last Iwo Jima VLR Mustang Group, arrived on May 11th and May 13th after North Field was constructed.
During the last months of the war in the Pacific, 15th, 21st and 506th FGs flew VLR (Very Long Range) missions from Iwo Jima to Japan and back. Round trip, these grueling missions would cover anywhere between 1,300 to 1,500 miles, and last 7 to 8 hours. Initially, the Iwo Jima VLR Mustang Groups were tasked with escorting 21st Bomber Command Boeing B-29 Superfortresses that were bombing the Japanese Home Islands from the Marianas. Toward the end of the hostilities, their task changed to flying strike missions in anticipation of the planned invasion of Japan.
There are numerous modeling possibilities just within the three VLR Mustang Groups, as there are several aftermarket decal sheets available to a modeler. But the modeling possibilities do not start or end with the VLR Mustang Groups. The United States Navy was the first of the Allied air forces to bomb Iwo Jima on June 14, 1944. The Navy’s raids would continue until August 5, 1944, and were intended to disrupt the flow of Japanese combat aircraft from Iwo Jima and Chichi Jima to the Marianas during the battle for Saipan. Curtiss SB2C Helldivers, Grumman TBF/TBM Avengers and F6F Hellcats participated in these strikes. Top U.S. Navy ace David McCampbell, and Japanese Navy ace Saburo Sakai flew in these battles.
7th Air Force Consolidated B-24J Liberators began bombing Iwo Jima from newly acquired Isley Field on Saipan on August 10, 1944, and would continue to bomb Iwo Jima from bases in the Marianas right up to the invasion. Boeing B-29 Superfortresses would also bomb Iwo Jima as “shakedown” missions in anticipation of the start of the bombing campaign against the Japanese Home Islands. And as has been well documented, after the United States Marines gained control of Iwo Jima, combat damaged and fuel starved B-29s would use Iwo Jima as a safe haven during the long over-water flights back to the Marianas.
In addition to the VLR Mustang Groups on Iwo Jima, Consolidated PB4Y-1 Liberators and PB4Y-2 Privateers, Northrop P-61 Black Widows, and two Republic P-47N Thunderbolt groups would call Iwo Jima home during the last few months of the Pacific War.
Last, but not least, are the brave Japanese Army Air Force and Navy pilots who dueled in the skies against the Navy and 7th Fighter Command pilots in protecting Iwo Jima and the Japanese Home Islands. They flew in Kawanishi N1K2-J “Georges”; Kawasaki Ki-45 “Nicks”, Ki-61 and Ki-100 “Tonys”; Mitsubishi A6M5 “Zekes” and J2M3 “Jacks”; and Nakajima Ki-44 “Tojos” and Ki-84 “Franks”. They faced overwhelming odds against numerically superior forces.
So welcome to my little corner on the World Wide Web. In addition to building models, this blog will cover kit and aftermarket product reviews, reference materials and sites, some history of the brave pilots of both combatants and their air combats mixed in, Iwo Jima aviation art, and maybe a few book reviews. I hope you enjoy this blog, and comments and criticisms are always welcome.