Kaga Fighter Squadron, Kisarazu base, Japan, April 1942
Koga‘s Zero of carrier Ryūjō pictured in Dutch Harbor, Aleutians during transport to the US. The colour of this
relatively new aircraft was described by the Americans in a technical report as “glossy grey-green”.
(Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)
In early 1942, the aircraft carrier Kaga took part in attacks on Rabaul, Kavieng, targets in
New Guinea and Port Darwin. In March, her aircraft participated in attacks against ships off
Java. Due to hull damage caused by a reef in early February, Kaga was undergoing repairs
at Sasebo from March 22, 1942. The Mitsubishi-built “AII-106” was photographed at Kisarazu
in April 1942. It bears the patriotic donation inscription (Hōkoku) No. 532 and the name of the
donor (Yamanobe-gō). It may be the name of a company or the donor's surname. It is likely
that this aircraft participated in the Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942. Nine fighters from
Kaga flew in the first attack wave, led by Lt. Iizuka. They reported twelve victories. During
the exhausting combats to cover their own task force, the Kaga’s fighters claimed 32 aircraft
destroyed. After the carrier was hit, some of them landed aboard the HIJMS Hiryū. Two took
part, as escort, in the raid on the USS Yorktown. The Kaga's Fighter Squadron lost six pilots
during the battle, four of them during combat air patrol. However, elite ground personnel
suffered heavy losses when the ship was sunk. Also aboard the HIJMS Kaga were fighter
pilots and mechanics from the 6th Kōkūtai, who were to be based at Midway Atoll after its
capture. Some of them also took part in the air battle.
c/n 4593, PO1c Todayoshi Koga, Ryūjō Fighter Squadron, June 1942
Koga's Zero during testing at the NAS San Diego with Lt. Cdr. Eddie Sanders at the controls. During an emergency landing in the Aleutians, the aircraft flipped onto its back, killing its pilot Tadayoshi Koga. The tail unit was
repaired, but the antenna mast had to be shortened.
(Photo: San Diego Air and Space Museum)
This aircraft was released by Mitsubishi on February 19, 1942. In late April and early May the
Ryūjō Fighter Squadron received Zeros instead of older A5M „Claude“ aircraft. PO1c Koga, a
veteran of 12th Kōkūtai in China, piloted “DI-108” on June 4 during the attack on the Aleutians.
He was one of the two wingmen of CPO Endō. Near Egg Island they shot down Ens. Albert E.
Mitchell´s Catalina of VP-42, which was carrying mail to Umnak. The burning aircraft landed
on the sea and several airmen managed to get into the dingy. However, they were strafed
and killed by the Japanese airmen. Koga's Zero was hit either by defensive fire from Catalina or, moments later, by ground fire. Koga attempted to land on Akutan Island, which was
intended for the rescue of the Japanese airmen. The aircraft with retracted undercarriage
and stopped engine overturned after touching soft marsh ground and Koga was killed. The
Japanese attempted to rescue the pilot but were unable to find him due to bad weather. Five
weeks later, the Zero was spotted by the crew of Lt. Williams “Bill” Thies’ Catalina. On July 5, a
US Navy team reached the plane. The Americans transported the aircraft to NAS North Island
in San Diego. The Zero was repaired, given a Hamilton-Standard propeller and registration
number TAIC 1. It underwent intensive testing but was apparently scrapped after the war.
In memory of the Ens. Mitchell and his crew, the destroyer DE-43 was christened Mitchell.
PO1c Saburō Sakai, Tainan Kōkūtai, Lakunai airfield, Rabaul, New Britain island, August 1942
The last pages of Eddie Reuel Sanders' logbook from the tests of Koga's Zero. The tests had a profound effect
on the tactics used against the Zeros and on the design of some Allied aircraft. Sanders fought in the Pacific in
the second half of the war and retired in the 1950s with the rank of Rear Admiral.
(Photo: San Diego Air and Space Museum)
Saburō Sakai is best known Japanese fighter pilot, thanks to his memoirs and meetings with
Allied airmen after World War II. He was born in 1916 and served from September 1938 with
the 12th Kōkūtai in China. In October 1941, he was assigned to the newly organized Tainan
Kōkūtai in Taiwan and took part in campaign heading South until he was wounded on August
7, 1942 off Guadalcanal. After recovering, he served as an instructor with Ōmura Kōkūtai, and
later, despite bad eyesight, was combat deployed with Yokosuka Kōkūtai on Iwo Jima. At the
end of war he served with Kōkūtai 343 (II) and Yokosuka Kōkūtai. He is listed as an ace with
64 victories, but Sakai himself claimed the number of his victories was lower. With the first
two units he actually achieved 12 individual victories, 8 shared and 4 probables. The V-128
was also flown by PO2c Arita and PO1c Hiroyoshi Nishizawa, who is credited with 87 victories.
The color of the stripes is chosen from Sakai's recollection, but there are other interpretations, such as a black or yellow stripe on the fuselage. During a fighter escort to Guadalcanal
on August 7, Sakai shot down Wildcat „F12” from VF-5 piloted by „Pug” Southerland in an epic
dogfight. Sakai was later severely wounded in the face by fire from VB-6 Dauntless near
Tulagi Island. After nearly five hours and more than 1,000 km, he managed to land back at
Rabaul. Sakai died in 2000 after formal dinner with members of the US Navy.