Hikōtai 303, Kōkūtai 203, Musashi airbase, Paramushir Island, Kuril Islands, April 1944
This Nakajima-built aircraft was assigned to one of the formation leaders of Hikōtai 303, part
of Kōkūtai 203, established in April 1943 from the training Atsugi Kōkūtai. At that time, this
unit was armed with Zeros and “Gekkō” (Irving) night fighters. From April 1944 it defended
the northern part of the Kuril Islands. From May, Kōkūtai 203 fighters clashed with American crews of Ventura and Liberator bombers. In some cases, the Americans had to make
emergency landings on Soviet territory. Among the experienced aviators of this unit was
Japan's most successful naval fighter pilot, Hiroyoshi Nishizawa. He served with Kōkūtai 203
from March 1944 and was assigned to its Hikōtai 303 in July. However, he did not record any
victories in the Kuril Islands area. In this period Nishizawa wrote document about air combat
basics due to high losses of naval aviation units and the inexperience of the new unit commanders. Since the fall of 1944, Kōkūtai 203 had seen combat at Okinawa, in the Philippines,
and in Taiwan. At the time of the fighting in the Philippines, Hikōtai 303 was temporarily
assigned to Kōkūtai 201. In 1945, Kōkūtai 203 was deployed in the defense of Japan, and
its structure expanded up to five Hikōtais by the end of the war, with a total of 240 fighter
aircraft. Kōkūtai 203 was also involved in fighter escorts of Kamikaze formations, including
G4M “Betty” bombers with Ōka rocket powered aircraft.
A6M2 Type 21 fighter plane of unknown air unit at Atsugi base photographed after the end of the war.
The Zero Type 21 was deployed in combat until the end of the war, including night fighter duties as part
of Kōkūtai 302, which was stationed at Atsugi Base.
Lt. Toshio Suzuki, Kōkūtai 601 (I), HIJMS Zuikaku, Tawi Tawi base, Philippines, June 1944
Ôita Kōkūtai, Ôita Airport, Japan, early 1944
This Nakajima-built machine was piloted by Lt. Toshio Suzuki. He was in command
of a squadron of eleven HIJMS Zuikaku A6M2 fighter-bombers. His unit was part of Kōkūtai
601 (I). In mid-1944, the affiliation to the Zuikaku´s Carrier Air Group (Hikōkitai) was identified
by the code 312 on the tail surfaces. The white numbers on the hinomaru were used during
training operations and were usually chalk painted. Toshio Suzuki was born in Mitsukaidō
in Ibaraki Prefecture and graduated from the Etajima Naval Academy in 1941. As a cadet, he
was assigned aboard the cruiser Suzuya. After completing flight training, he was assigned
to Kōkūtai 601 (I) in May 1944 and promoted to Lieutenant. Squadrons of Kōkūtai 601 (I) were
divided into CAGs on boards of Taihō, Shōkaku and Zuikaku. In addition to Suzuki's fighter-bombers, Zuikaku had 24 A6M5 “Zeke” fighters, a dive-bomber squadron with 18 D4Y „Judy”
and three D3A “Val”, 14 B6N “Jill” torpedo bombers, and a reconnaissance squadron with
several “Judy” and “Val” machines. Kōkūtai 601 (I) engaged in the Battle of the Philippine
Sea on June 19 and suffered devastating losses. Lt. Suzuki led a ten-man A6M2 formation in
the second wave, along with four A6M5 fighters and four „Jill” bomber crews. However they
failed to find their target, and the American fighters shot down one bomber and eight A6M2s,
including Suzuki's. Taihō and Shōkaku were sunk after a submarine attack, and Zuikaku was
damaged by bombing.
This Nakajima-built machine served with the training unit Ôita Kōkūtai. It bore orange paint
on the undersurfaces and had a non-standard dark green paint on the undercarriage covers
and part of the undersurfaces. The characters in the Katakana “O” and “Ta” are the unit
markings. The machine carries warning stencils on both sides of the fuselage. The vertical
rectangle reads “87A” as a warning that the aircraft uses 87 octane fuel instead of the 91
octane fuel used in Sakae 12 engines in combat units. In the horizontal rectangle is the
warning “būsuto” (boost). It draws attention to the lower boost pressure limit associated
with 87 octane fuel. Exceeding it threatened engine damage. The late production A6M2s from
Nakajima may have had the engine cowling painted black instead of antiglare blue-black.
The outer fuselage sections below the cockpit canopy and canopy frames may have been
painted in interior green or camouflage dark green. The Ôita Kōkūtai was established in 1938
and was used for training until March 1944. Many famous aviators passed through its ranks.
Combat veterans were also assigned to this unit as instructors, such as Kaneyoshi Mutō, who
served with the unit after his combat duty in China and five victories of his total 28.
1st Kamikaze Tokubetsu Kōgekitai, Shikishima-tai, Mabalacat airfield, Phillipines, October 1944
The Nakajima-built “02-888” belonged to first official Kamikaze unit in the history of the
Japanese Naval Air Force. As part of the 1st Kamikaze Tokubetsu Kōgekitai, a total of nine
groups of airmen were organized, mostly from Kōkūtai 201. Their target was Task Force Taffy 3 during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The Shikishima unit was named after the poetic term
used for the island of Yamato (Honshū), or also old Japan. Its commander was Lt. Yukio Seki.
He was born in 1921 and graduated from the Naval Academy in 1941. He first served on the
battleship Fusō, then experienced the Battle of Midway on the seaplane carrier Chitose.
In 1943 he completed basic flight training and later received training on carrier bombers.
In September 1944, he was assigned in the Philippines to Kōkūtai 201, which specialized
in skip bombing with A6M fighters. The unit suffered heavy losses during September and
October. Replacements were taken over in Mabalacat from other units, including Hikōtai 602
(Kōkūtai 381), from which machine “02-888” appears to have originated. On October 25, Lt.
Seki led one of seven groups of Zero pilots equipped with bombs who sacrificed themselves
in an attack on American vessels. Seki's fighter escort was provided by legendary fighter pilot Hiroyoshi Nishizawa of Kōkūtai 203. Lieutenant Seki or one of his wingmen hit the aircraft
carrier USS St. Lo, which sank after 30 minutes. Of the 889 crew members, 113 were killed or
missing and about thirty others died of their injuries.
Lt. Nobuo Miyatake, Kamikaze Tokubetsu Kōgekitai, 1. Shichisei-tai, Kanoya airbase, Japan,
From the April 3, 1945 a total of eight special attack units with the battle name „Shichisei” were
organized from the airmen serving in Genzan Kōkūtai (II) and Hikōtai 306 (part of Kōkūtai 721).
Lt. Miyatake, who was 24 years old at the time, led the 1st Shichisei-tai in an attack on a convoy off
Okinawa on April 6, 1945. During that day, eleven other airmen from Genzan Kōkūtai (II) sacrificed
their lives along with him. They took off successively in four formations. Their formation was part of
the 524 aircraft of special attack units and escort fighters from IJN and IJA sent against Allied vessels off Okinawa as part of Operation Kikusui 1. The U.S. Navy lost destroyers USS Bush and Colhoun
and other ships were severely damaged. „Shichisei” units were sent against ships off Okinawa,
Yoronjima, Kikaijima, and Tanegashima islands in several missions till May 14. Only one of them
returned to base due to bad weather. Lt. Miyatake was born in Kagawa Prefecture and graduated
from the Etajima Naval Academy in 1942. Before the mission, he wrote farewell letters to his mother
and three sisters. His father was interned in Siberia at the time. Nobuo Miyatake was posthumously
promoted to the rank of Commander. His aircraft from Nakajima production is designated „Ke-113”.