Warming up prior to a takeoff a Martin B-26 Marauder of the
22nd Bomb Group on an Allied airfield preparing for a raid
against Japanese bases in New Guinea. In the center is B-26
(40-1437). In late March 1942 the plane was assigned to the
22nd Bombardment Group, Headquarters Squadron. Nicknamed “Shamrock” with the nose art of a three leaf clover
below the name. This ship also participated in famous mission
on June 9, 1942. She was destroyed by Japanese bombing raid
in Port Moresby on August 17, 1942.
they had during clashes with these four-engine monsters. But very soon they discovered
a reliable method of fighting them – the frontal
attack. Their colleagues from Luftwaffe were
going to find out the same method later.
The new tactics could be tested on February
8 over Surabaya. At 10.40 am nine Tainan Kōkūtai fighters met by co-incidence eight B-17s
of 7th Bomb Group, led by Capt. J. L. Dufran Jr.
His airplane was the first going down during
the attack, followed by two more aircraft. The
other three machines suffered extensive damage. The Japanese claimed the downing of
two and probable downing of three Boeings in
cooperation with all the participants. Sakai got
credit for one confirmed shared victory. American gunners were convinced that they had
shot down five Zeroes, in fact only two were
Command of 23rd Air Flotilla decided that an
attack on the Javan airfield Surabaya would
take place on February 19. The raid was carried
out by 18 bombers with escort of 23 Zeroes of
Tainan Kōkūtai. Bad weather goaded the bombers crews to focus to alternative target. However, fighters continued on and over Surabaya
they encountered “30 to 50 P-40s and P-36s.”
After the fight Sakai claimed the downing of
three Curtiss P-36s and one P-40. The Japanese reported a total of 14 certain and 3 probable victories. Americans lost three aircraft and
four other crash landed. They themselves claimed five Zeroes. However, only Lt Masao Asai of
2nd Chútai fell victim to their fire (Sakai talks
Future US president Lyndon B. Johnson was a congressman when he was appointed a Lieutenant Commander in the naval reserve in June 1940. He reported for duty after Pearl Harbor
in December 1941, and served in 1942 as an aerial observer in Australia and New Guinea.
For participation on June 9, 1942, mission with 22nd Bomb Group he was awarded the Silver
Star by General Douglas MacArthur. He resigned his commission in July 1942 in compliance
with President Roosevelt’s order that all congressmen in the armed forces shall return to
their legislative duties. The photo in front of B-17D Flying Fortress, “Swoose” (40-3097) shows
him on the June 9 in New Guinea. On the way back to Australia the B-17 had to perform emergency landing. This legendary B-17 was initially assigned to the 19th Bomb Group at Hickham
airfield on May 14, 1941. It relocated to Java on December 30, 1941. It returned to the United
States on November 17, 1944. It was used as a personal hack for Lt. Gen. George H. Brett, and
later as a VIP transport aircraft. It is the longest serving B-17 in the USAAF. “Swoose” is now
on display at the National Air and Space Museum (N.A.S.M), in Washington.
(Photo: Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum/NARA)
about two fallen colleagues). It is interesting
that both Chútais of Tainan Kōkūtai participating in the fight, reported seven kills each. Apparently, claims were doubled, as Sakai himself
admits. The Dutchmen fought in Java, but in its
western part, not over Surabaya. Although C.
Shores states that in the fight were shot down
seven Americans, 17. Pursuit Squadron lost
only three machines from the ten that took-off
against Japanese (note 3).
Sakai experienced another battle on last day
of February. A group of Japanese bombers
attacked the port of Surabaya on Java. Several American P-40s and Dutch Buffalos were
sent against the attackers. The Dutch fighters
relocated to this area at the end of February.
The Americans, however failed to get closer,
because of the reduced performance of their
engines due to difficult climatic conditions and
rather poor status of their aircraft. However,
the Dutchmen had more “luck” thus had to fight
with the escorting Zeroes belonging to Tainan
Kōkūtai. In a wild dogfight Sakai shot down one
Brewster Buffalo that spun down into a storm
Buffalo belonged to Dutch fighter unit 1-VIG-V.
Ens. C. A. Vonck was shot down and bailed out,
another pilot bailed out as well, this time for
a technical fault on the engine. Beside Sakai,
one kill was also claimed by Petty Officer 3rd
Class Saburō Nozawa.
After the dogfight during which Sakai detached
himself from the others, he noticed a lone DC-3
(Australian?) airliner and was going to attack
the plane. But before he launched the deadly
fire of his weapons, he stopped to think of himself as a warrior, and he slowly flew along the
twin-engine plane. What was his surprise when
he saw the blonde lady with child in her arms!
Sakai firstly suspected that an important person was on board and thought about guiding it
to the Japanese base. But the lady was similar
to Mrs. Martin, a very kind American lady who
taught him English in the middle school. He decided to overlook the aircraft and signaled to
the pilot of the enemy aircraft to escape and
told the superior that "I lost sight of it in the
clouds" after returning home.
In early March pilots of Tainan Kōkūtai were
busy with patrols and escorts over Java. Sakai
performed just two combat missions on March
1 and 3. On the latter date he participated in the
destruction of PBY Catalina on the base at Chirachapu, Java. The flight of six pilots including
Sakai expended 3250 rounds of ammunition,
while only one of their Zeros sustained damage,
a single bullet hole.
After the victorious end of the campaign in
Dutch East India, the Tainan Kōkūtai performed
their last flights over that area on March 9. Part
of the pilots was sent to Japan, while another