Lt. Toshio Suzuki, Kōkūtai 601(I), HIJMS Zuikaku, Tawi Tawi base, Philippines, June 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.
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.
Ôita Kōkūtai, Ôita Airport, Japan, early 1944
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.