Lt. Cdr. Shirō Kawai, Kōkūtai 201, Rabaul air base, New Britain, September 1943
This aircraft, with commander’s markings and factory green paint, was filmed for a Japanese newsreel published in October 1943. Some Japanese sources attribute this machine to Lt. Cdr. Kawai, who was serving as Hikōtaichō at Kōkūtai 201 at the time. In the second half of 1943, the markings of fighter units at Rabaul changed, and numerals ranging from 1 to 9 began to be used, the assignment of which to individual units has not yet been reliably determined. Aircraft with these markings are unofficially assigned to a combat group called Rabauru Kōkūbuntai (Rabaul Air Force). One of the theories assumes the numerical codes identified parts of the fighter units operating in Rabaul at the time. These were Kōkūtai 201 (code designations 1 to 3), Kōkūtai 204 (4 to 6) and Kōkūtai 253 (7 to 9). Shirō Kawai graduated from the Naval Academy in March 1937 and was a veteran of 12. Kōkūtai from fighting in China. His most successful period was in 1942 as leader of part of 4. Kōkūtai and later Tainan Kōkūtai. He served with Kōkūtai 201 from early 1943. The unit was deployed to Bougainville and Rabaul from July, but Kawai flew very few combat sorties. In October 1944 he was assigned to Hikōtai 308 as part of Kōkūtai 221. He remained missing after aerial combat on December 24 near Clark Field, Philippines. He bailed out in mountains but was apparently killed by guerrillas. After WWII it was revealed that Kawai gave order to execute Allied prisoners in February 1942 at Manus Island.
c/n 3257, Kōkūtai 252, Wake Island, November 1943
The wreckage of this aircraft was found on Wake Island when it was captured by American forces in September 1945. This base fell into Japanese hands in December 1941 after valiant resistance by the defenders. Kōkūtai 252 was formed in late 1942 from the Genzan Kōkūtai fighter squadron and participated in the fighting over Guadalcanal. In February 1943, it moved to Micronesia and the part of it based at Wake Island was under the command of Lt. Yūzō Tsukamoto and later Lt. Suhō. Their pilots were involved in sporadic engagements with American B-24 bombers, but the unit suffered heavy losses on October 5, 1943 during the Task Force 14 attack on Wake Atoll. Americans were engaged by 26 Zeroes, but 16 were lost with their pilots. The Japanese claimed ten victories and the American side lost six aircraft. According to Kōkūtai 252 records, c/n 3257 was to be redesignated from tail code Y2-157 to 52-150 in early November 1943. Photographs, however, indicate that only the individual aircraft number was changed. By mid-November, this Zero no longer appears on the Kōkūtai 252 equipment list. The unit was destroyed in early 1944 during the fighting in the Marshall Islands. The air raid on October 5 caused considerable damage to the technical facilities and aircraft at Wake base. A Japanese naval officer, fearing an anticipated landing, ordered the execution of the remaining 98 prisoners. After the war, he and his subordinate were sentenced to death.
Lt. Usaburō Suzuki, Kōkūtai 582, Buin airfield, Ballale Island, April 1943
This originally grey machine was partially repainted in field conditions with dark green paint. The pilot of this machine is said to have been Lieutenant Suzuki. The aircraft is shown in a photograph taken at the airfield during Operation I-gō. Unfortunately, the tail number was retouched by the censor. The numbers 191 and 182 are only hypothetical variants and are derived from the principle of dividing the unit into formations of nine machines. The machine with two chevrons with a photographic evidence of the tail code bore the number 173. Kōkūtai 582 was a mixed unit, armed with both A6M fighters and D3A Val bombers. Usaburō Suzuki graduated from the Naval Academy in August 1940. Two years later he was assigned to the 3. Kōkūtai (later Kōkūtai 202) and saw combat over New Guinea and Guadalcanal. With Kōkūtai 582 as Buntaichō of its fighter squadron, he led pilots in a series of battles in mid 1943 during the defence of Bougainville. He also commanded in the last action, on July 12, after which Kōkūtai 582's fighter squadron was disbanded and Suzuki was transferred to Kōkūtai 204. In November 1943 he became Hikōtaichō in Kōkūtai 265, which had been deployed in the Marianas area since the spring of 1944 and was disbanded in July after heavy losses. He then became commander of Hikōtai 301 within Kōkūtai 201 (II) and was killed in action off Taiwan on October 13, 1944.
Iwakuni Kōkūtai, Iwakuni airbase, Japan, 1944
This machine was manufactured with factory applied dark green color on upper surfaces. The markings of this training unit are the Katakana characters "I" and "Ha". The Iwakuni Kōkūtai was established in July 1940 and was used to train pilots for naval units operating from land bases until August 1944. It was then disbanded and re-established in March 1945. Fighter aces Akio Matsuba (18 victories), Momoto Matsumura (13 v.) or veteran of the aircraft carrier veteran Sōryū Ki-ichi Oda (9 v.) passed through its ranks as instructors. Hiroshi Shibagaki came through the unit as a student pilot, achieving thirteen victories in Rabaul with Kōkūtai 201 and 204. Another successful graduate became a Lt.(jg) Kagemitsu Matsu-o. In August 1943, he was assigned to Rabaul to Kōkūtai 253 and, with more than ten kills to his credit, became the only Naval Reserve officer to achieve ace status.
Kōkūtai 261 (Tora), Kagoshima airbase, Japan, 1944
The machine was manufactured with factory painted dark green paint on the upper surfaces. Kōkūtai 261 was established in June 1943 at Kagoshima Air Base, Japan, and was given the battle name Tora (Tiger) and was also referred to as Tora Butai. The identifying feature of its aircraft was the numerical code 61, or Kanji character for tiger. Its design varied from machine to machine. At the end of February 1944 unit moved to Iwo Jima and later went through heavy combat with US Navy airmen, primarily in Central Pacific. Unit also operated briefly from Biak Island north of New Guinea. By May 1944, its aircraft strength was already reduced to half, and in July the unit had to be disbanded due to high casualties. Some of the remaining members of the unit were killed in ground combat or aboard a submarine during the evacuation. The position of Hikōtaichō was held by Lieutenant Masanobu Ibusuki, who participated in the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway on the aircraft carrier Akagi and served on the aircraft carrier Shōkaku during the fighting in the South Pacific. It is possible that Ibusuki achieved 25 to 30 aerial victories during the war. After the war, he became the first JSDAF unit commander with F-86 Sabre jets, reaching the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, but was killed in January 1957 in a collision with another F-86.