Building 607 ‘Dolly’ – The Pilot, Plane and Kit

In 2010, AJ Press announced the release of a book dedicated to the 506th Fighter Group as part of their Fighting Units in Color series. In the process of acquiring the book, “506th Fighter Group: The History of the 506th Fighter Group, Iwo Jima 1945” (more on the book later), I came into contact with the author, Robert J. Grant, who is also the webmaster for the 506th Fighter Group website (http://www.506thfightergroup.org) and one of the Group’s historians. Robert has been a very good friend over the years.

Robert’s father, Captain John J. Grant, was a pilot in the 462nd Squadron, and was initially assigned to 615 “My Bonnie” (P-51D-20-NA, Serial No. 44-72581) along with 1st Lt. Francis L. Lee. It was the practice of the 506th FG to assign two pilots to a plane due to the duration and distance flown on missions, assuring that a pilot would have time to recuperate after flying a 7 to 8 hour mission and would not have to fly back to back missions. Towards the end of war, Capt. Grant flew several missions in 607 (P-51D-25-NA, Serial No. 44-72861). It is believed that Captain Grant was reassigned to 607 upon achieving the rank of captain, but unfortunately, the unit histories of both the 506th Fighter Group and the 462nd Fighter Squadron do not go into that level of specificity. It it is also believed that 2nd Lt. Howard E. Miller was assigned to 607.

Captain John J. Grant (Loomis Dean/USAAF/National Archives via Fold3)

Captain Grant, known as “JJ”, was one of the “old men” of the 462nd Squadron relatively speaking. Born on February 28, 1915 in Marshall, Oneida County, New York, JJ was 27 years old, had graduated from Syracuse University, and had been in his chosen career field of physical education and athletics for several years when he enlisted on March 11, 1942. He was assigned to the 506th FG shortly after the fighter group’s activation on October 21, 1944. The 506th was trained specifically to fly VLR missions before arriving on Iwo Jima, and between May 28, 1945, and August 14, 1945, flew a total of 29 VLR missions from Iwo Jima to Japan and back. While mission reports do not list pilots who flew on a mission, Robert believes his father completed at least 12 VLR missions.

After the war, JJ returned to teaching physical education and coaching, and had a very successful career as a high school football coach and athletic director. He taught physical education in Greene, Auburn, and Rome, New York high schools. He ended his career in education as the Director of Health, Physical Education and Athletics with the Schenectady City Schools, retiring in 1972. Before retirement, he also served as the President of the New York State Athletic Association. JJ was also instrumental in organizing the first reunion of 506th Fighter Group veterans in 1985, and organized many of the reunions thereafter. Captain John J. Grant passed away on December 23, 2003, at the age of 88, in Melbourne, Florida.

The photo above is the best picture of 607 in existence. The photo shows no nose art on the right side of the nose, but does show a name on the right side canopy sill. When the picture is enlarged, the name looks like “RITA II”, however, it is difficult to make out the exact name. I was unable to find a picture of 607 showing nose art on the left side of the nose.

On July 7, 2012, the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino, California, held a symposium on the Iwo Jima VLR Mustang Groups. Presenting at the symposium were Robert J. Grant and 506th FG, 462nd FS pilots 1st Lts. William G. Ebersole and Edward Linfante. At the end of the presentations, the Air Museum unveiled that it had repainted one of its P-51D Mustangs as 607 ‘Dolly’. Below is Robert J. Grant with the warbird 607 ‘Dolly’ holding artwork by Zbigniew Kolacha.

Robert J. Grant

For this build, I will be using Tamiya’s 1/32 North American P-51D Mustang. Released several years ago, the kit is in a class by itself and is the most accurate Mustang kit in any scale. Tamiya released a second boxing of the kit which focuses on P-51D/K Mustangs flown in the Pacific Theater of operations.

This kit has almost all of the parts to build an accurate Iwo Jima VLR Mustang (correct avionics equipment, twin Uncle Dog antenna, relocated single antenna mast on the underside of the fuselage forward of the wheel wells, relocated battery in the engine compartment, and 110 metal drop tanks). Unfortunately, the kit does not provide decals for any 506th Mustangs. The only decals of an Iwo Jima VLR Mustang in the kit are those of the top VLR ace, Robert “Todd” Moore’s “Stinger VII” (45th FS, 15th FG). Since there are no commercially available decals for 607 ‘Dolly’, I had custom decals for the plane name (‘Dolly’), the plane number (607), and the serial number (472861) made by Mark Tutton of Starfighter Decals at www.starfighter-decals.com.

Welcome!

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 it becomes a resource for modelers, historians and aviation enthusiasts all over the world for years to come. Comments and criticisms are always welcome.