KITS 02/2023

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 num-

ber 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

February 2023

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.

INFO Eduard