43rd Infantry Division by Howard F Brown

By Howard F Brown

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In their off time, the pilots began exploring the island, despite the fact that sporadic barks of gunfire in the distance served as a reminder that Japanese troops were still holed up in caves and tunnels throughout the island. When Maj Imig learned that some of his 72nd FS pilots had been poking around up near the frontlines, he ordered an end to their escapades. Shortly thereafter, his order would become unnecessary. Maj Lloyd A Whitley, operations officer of the 531st FS, woke up long before sunrise on 26 March 1945.

By the time the Mustangs reached Japan, various problems had reduced their number to just 82. They did their best to rendezvous with the B-29s, but the bomber formation was strung out and unwieldy. To add to that, the sky was hazy over Japan, with visibility down to four to eight miles. The two remaining squadrons of the 21st FG took the high lead position for this mission, and at 1130 hrs the 46th FS began to encounter enemy interceptors. 46th FS commander Maj Fred Shirley made the initial contact.

The mission given to VII Fighter Command tasked it with providing 108 P-51s from the 15th and 21st FG as escorts for 107 B-29s of the 73rd BW that were heading for Target 357 Nakajima aircraft engine factories on the west side of the city. All six squadrons from the two Mustang groups were to take part, and it was a measure of the experience level in VII Fighter Command that only pilots with more than 600 hours in fighters were chosen to fly this important first mission. Mission leader Col Beckwith led four flights from the 47th FS aloft from South Field at 0655 hrs on 7 April 1945, thus kicking offVII Fighter Command's historic first Empire mission.

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