at least two “Zeroes” crashed in flames into the

sea. In fact, it was only Flyer1c Masao Watanabe,

who, due to the pilot error, crashed into sea surface and perished.

The remaining 14 Japanese shot down five Mitchells. The first to went down in flames was

crew of Capt. Lowery, followed by crews of Lt.

Shearer, Lt. Wilson, Lt. Rulison and finally the

machine of Lt. Hesselbarth. Lt. Talley made it

with his heavily damaged aircraft back to Port

Moresby, where he crash landed on the Seven

Mile Drome. He could talk about the luck that

they had surviving with his crew, his Mitchell,

was a write-off. Six victories were shared

among participating pilots after the fight, including Sakai.

A few days later, on 28 May, Sakai won another

victory over the bombers, this time against Marauders of 22nd Bomb Group. Sakai, in cooperation with other pilots of Jun-ichi Sasai's formation attacked near Lae five American aircraft, and

one of them crashed into the sea. Several of the

crew got out of sinking wreck, but soon, as Sakai could testify, the sharks took care of them.

It was a Martin B-26 Marauder serial number

40-1467, belonging to the crew of 1/Lt Spears R.

Lanford from 33rd Bomb Squadron (22nd BG).

The Zero pilots claimed one more shot down

Marauder as shared victory, but the crew made

it back to Port Moresby with one dead on board.

On the early morning of June 9, the 22nd Bomb

Group was scheduled for a combat flight under

the code name Tow Nine, but for some reason,

the order for take-off according to the timetable

did not come. The reason for the delay was the

arrival of some “big bosses”, one of them was no

other than the future US President Lyndon Bynes Johnson. Boeing B-17 with Johnson aboard

arrived about an hour after the planned mission

start. Johnson wanted to take part in the Tow

Nine mission. It is certainly not possible to say

that the arrival of VIPs would raise the enthusiasm among the 22nd BG members. Johnson

was to join the crew of the Marauder named

“Wabash Cannonball”, but soon he left to get his

camera. When he came back, he saw his place

was occupied by another VIP, Lt. Col. Francis R.

Stevens. So “Some important congressman”, as

Johnson was identified by pilots, joined another

Marauder’s crew , “Heckling Hare” with serial

number 40-1488 and Lt. Walter H. Greer at the

controls. Eleven machines took-off from Port

Moresby at 8.51 under the command of 1Lt. Walter A. Krella, who flew in his machine “Kansas

Comet” (40-1433).

Lae was attacked before 10.00 am by Mitchells

and B-17s. Shortly thereafter, about two dozen

Zeroes of Tainan Kōkūtai went to the air. Just

a little later, at 10.02 the formation of Marauders

arrived over Lae. During the fight that followed,

the Japanese shot down the machine of command flight “Wabash Cannonball” (40-1508) piloted Lt. Willis G. Bench. Together with the eight


INFO Eduard

Photo: Fold3


Lae airstrip on New Guinea was characteristic for its location at a seashore. US photo from air raid shows a narrow design of the

airfield. Saburō Sakai spent more than two months of intensive front line service on this airbase.

men of the crew also perished Lt. Col. Stevens.

The four other machines were lightly damaged

by the fire of the fighters and Lt. Pierre Powell

had to belly land his Marauder (40-1363) at Port

Moresby. This mission became subject of Martin

Caidin's book “The Mission” in 1964. According to

Caidin's account, Johnson's Marauder generator

malfunctioned during the fight and the machine

fell out of formation. The Bomber was then pursued by up to eight Zeroes and returned to the

base with heavy damage. The Japanese reported a total of four downed Marauders after the

fight including two by Sakai. However, unit diary

does indicate only four victories as shared for

all participants.

Lyndon B. Johnson and Lt. Col. Samuel Anderson

were honored for the heroism shown during the

air battle with Silver Star award by Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Lt. Col. Stevens received DSC

(Distinguished Service Cross) in memoriam.

Congressman and later President Johnson never forgot to display the Silver Star ribbon on

his jacket flap.

What about Johnson's diary? He says that on the

way to the target the generator quit, therefore

after 30 minutes he decided to turn back, so no

air battle, no war drama. As already mentioned,

Marauders arrived to target area at 10.02. But

according to logbook of Greer´s Marauder with

Johnson on board, the ship turned back halfway

to the target and landed safely back in Port Moresby at 10.08, in fact at the same time when

air battle was taking place far in the north. Let’s

believe that fictive version of Johnson´s participation was done by authorities and not due

to Johnson's dishonesty. After the war various

Americans were repeatedly asking Sakai why

could not shoot down the B-26 with Johnson on


It also seems that the shooting down of Marauder piloted by Lt. Bench is not as clear as it was

supposed to be. According to 2Lt. Dewey C. Flint

the Marauder crashed into the sea due to pilot

error, not battle damage.

Several times during the Pacific campaign, Sakai was surprised by the courage of the Allied

airmen who opposed him in the air. But perhaps

the most impressive encounter took place on

July 22, 1942. Nine Zeroes under the command

of Junichi Sasai took-off from Lae at 8:00 and

arrived at 8:40 at Buna where Japanese landing was ongoing. Sakai and others were quietly circling at altitude 2000 m, when he suddenly

heard the explosions from below. He looked at

the beach and saw smoke rising from craters

after bomb impacts. Someone attacked the Japanese landing!

“It was very weird,” recalls Sakai, “I was searching the sky, but I did not see anything. But

a few moments later I saw a descending point in

the distance. I thought it could be a B-25, B-26 or

Douglas A-20 and was as fast as my Zero!”

Sakai was the first to caught the bomber. It was

an Australian Lockheed Hudson. The Zero pilot

started to fire at the intruder and hoped to force

him to maneuver and shorten the distance be-

May 2022