Yokohama Kōkūtai, Tulagi Island, Solomon Islands, August 1942
This plane is early production Rufe with purge system cover on the top of the main float and with folding wingtips. The commander of the fighter unit, which was part of the Yokohama Kōkūtai, was Lt. Ri-ichirō Satō. He was born in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture and graduated from Etajima Naval Academy in 1938 in its 66th class. He was promoted to Lieutenant junior grade in November 1940 and received rank of Lieutenant when he was assigned to the Yokohama Kōkūtai in May 1942. From early July his unit was based on Tulagi Island off Guadalcanal. Their adversaries were American Flying Fortress bombers and Liberators. His unit claimed five victories. Satō, in cooperation with other pilots, claimed one certain and one probable victory over a B-17. After the Allied invasion of Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942, most of the Yokohama Kōkūtai pilots were killed in ground combat, including Satō. USMC technicians found on Tulagi Island ten Rufe wrecks and took two, including the Y-161, to the U.S. Naval Air Station Alameda for research.
5th Kōkūtai, Kiska island, Aleutians, August 1942
This plane is early production Rufe with purge system cover on the top of the main float and with folding wingtips. Rudder and probably other canvas-covered control surfaces had lighter color shade. The aircraft of this fighter unit successively bore at least four different markings on their tail surfaces, depending on how this unit was designated and subordinated to different commands. Its most successful fighter pilot was the CPO Gi-ichi Sasaki. He came from Miyagi Prefecture and joined the Navy in 1937. Sasaki became a pilot of two-seat float planes and participated in combat in China. He took part in the conquest of the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies on board of the Mizuho seaplane tender. After its sinking, he was assigned to the Tōkō Kōkūtai in the Aleutians, which was eventually renamed the 5th Kōkūtai and then to Kōkūtai 452. He achieved a total of four individual victories – five shared and one aircraft credited shared as probably destroyed. He was killed on February 19, 1943, over Amchitka Island in a dogfight with a Curtiss P-40 pilot.
c/n 15, Lt.(jg) Keizō Yamazaki, Kōkūtai 802, Shortland Island, February 1943
This is the fifth A6M2-N produced and is one of the few Rufes converted from the A6M2 Type 21 carrier fighter. This plane had purge system cover on the top of the main float and folding wingtips. It was one of two Yokohama Kōkūtai seaplanes that were based in Shortland during August 7, 1942, when the rest of the unit was destroyed on Tulagi Island. Rufe was then taken over by the air unit of the Kamikawa Maru, and in October 1942 it was taken over by 14th Kōkūtai (Kōkūtai 802). It is possible that the two bands on the fuselage were in fact grey, obscuring the original white markings of the Kamikawa Maru. In March 1943, this machine was transferred to Marshall Islands. The tail surfaces are marked with victories achieved by several pilots, including Lt.(jg) Keizō Yamazaki, who achieved a probable kill of P-38 of the 339th FS on February 13 during the defense of Shortland. Yamazaki was born in Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture. He graduated from the Etajima Naval Academy in its 68th class in 1940 and completed his flight training in June 1942. After his unit was integrated into Kōkūtai 902, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in November 1943. In February 1944, he became commander of Kōkūtai 256’s fighter unit equipped with Zeros based in Shanghai. During the fall of 1944 he led his unit in Taiwan during air battles against U.S. Navy aviators.
Kōkūtai 802, Faisi-Poporang base, Shortland Islands, February 1943
This aircraft was among the new ones that Kōkūtai 802 took over in Japan during December 1942. The top of the main float did not have purge system cover. At the unit level, the aircraft received a dark green paint, but the upper part of tail surfaces was left in original color. The aircraft probably had a late production stencil on the fuselage. The rudder sported a victory mark and there was also a horizontal red stripe on the vertical tail surfaces, which was probably the unit’s identifying marking. It is likely that the aircraft took part in the aerial combat on February 13 and 14 in the defense of the Shortland Islands and Buin, in which the American units suffered fairly significant losses.
Kōkūtai 452, Bettobi Lake, Shumshu Islands, Kuriles, July 1943
This aircraft was taken over by Kōkūtai 452 in Japan after evacuation from Aleutians. The top of the main float did not have purge system cover. At the unit level, the aircraft received a coat of dark green paint. The aircraft probably had a late production stencil on the fuselage. Among the successful pilots of this unit was Warrant Officer Kiyomi Katsuki. He served on the seaplane tender Chitose at the start of the Pacific War as a F1M biplane pilot. In January 1942, he claimed shared destruction of Dutch PBY flying boat. In the Solomon Islands area, he shot down a Dauntless on October 3 and during the following day, while defending his own ship, he rammed a B-17 of the 72nd BS. The entire crew of Capt. David C. Everitt was killed, but Katsuki and his observer survived. Katsuki received a written commendation from the unit commander. He achieved two more victories during the same day. After retraining to A6M2-N, he was assigned to Kōkūtai 452 and claimed B-25 and B-24. With N1K Rex at Kōkūtai 934 he shot down a B-24 in January 1944. He achieved two more victories as Zero pilot with Kōkūtai 381 over Balikpapan and Singapore. At the end of the war, he served with Kōkūtai 352 in Japan.
Kōkūtai 802, Emidj Island, Jaluit Atoll, Marshall Islands, October 1943
This late production aircraft was finished in a factory applied dark green paint. After relocation to the Marshall Islands area in March 1943, Kōkūtai 802 under the command of Lt.(jg) Yamazaki was primarily engaged in anti-submarine patrols and the pursuit of four-engine bombers. Long-range reconnaissance was carried out by another part of this unit, which was armed with H8K Emily flying boats. In September 1943, the designation of its aircraft was changed to Y4 in connection with the transition to the subordination of the 22nd Kōkū Sentai (Air Flotilla). The identification markings on the tail surfaces of Rufe seaplanes changed from red to white during service in the Marshall Islands. In October, fighter unit of Kōkūtai 802 was integrated into Kōkūtai 902, and in November, the fighter unit clashed with US Navy aircraft during a raid on Truk.
Ensign Jin´ichirō Ozawa, Sasebo Kōkūtai, Sasebo Air Base, Japan, September 1944
This late production aircraft was finished in a factory applied dark green paint. After participating in the defense of Chichijima in July 1944, Sasebo Kōkūtai continued seaplane pilot training in Japan. The Sa-106 was flown by Ensign Ozawa. He joined the Navy in 1943 after graduating from high school and received his flight training at Tsuchiura Kōkūtai. On October 30, 1944, while practicing a fighter dogfight between two Rufe seaplanes, Ozawa had to bail out from his aircraft when the elevator control cable broke. He almost did not survive the bailing out. At the end of the year, the Sasebo Kōkūtai’s fighter Buntai was transferred to land-based fighter unit. During the fighting over Okinawa on June 22, 1945, Ozawa achieved one victory against a formation of more than thirty American aircraft. He was then reassigned to Kōkūtai 723 with C6N Myrt reconnaissance planes and was to conduct a Kamikaze mission on that type of aircraft. After the war he pursued electrical engineering and took part on the first microwave intercity transmission in Japan.
Kōkūtai 934, Ambon island, Moluku Islands, March 1944
This late production aircraft was finished in a factory applied dark green paint. At the unit level the white outline of Hinomaru was repainted to reduce the visibility of the machine. In early 1944 the Kōkūtai 934 was equipped with E13A Jake and F1M Pete observation aircraft and also with Rufe and N1K Rex fighter seaplanes. Their frequent opponents were the Beaufighter crews of No. 31 Sqn. RAAF. One of the Kōkūtai 934 pilots, PO2c Hidenori Matsunaga, scored approximately ten Beaufighters as shared victories. In March 1944 he was transferred to Kōkūtai 381 flying Zeros. In some publications, the Rufe with a lightning bolt was considered to be Matsunaga’s mount. He was photographed with Rufe (unknown tail code) with similar marking together with another pilot. Design of the lightning bolt varied, and its color was most likely white. The identity of the pilots to whom belonged the seaplanes with lightning is unknown. It could have been a formation leader’s machine, or possibly the aircraft of a fighter squadron unit commander Lt.(jg) Toshiharu Ikeda, who scored a victory over a Spitfire with a Rufe. Ikeda later became commander of Hikōtai 603 and was killed on June 23, 1944, at Saipan.