c/n 5784, Petty Officer 1st class Saburō Sakai, Tainan Kōkūtai, Lakunai Airfield, Rabaul, New Britain Island, August 1942

Sakai flew this machine in early August 1942. It was manufactured by Mitsubishi in May 1942 and was delivered to Tainan Kōkūtai in June or July. A photograph of the V-172 from this period is not

available. It is believed that it may have later served with Kōkūtai 204. Its wreckage was found in the spring of 1944 at Gasmata airfield in New Britain and recovered in 1973. The colour of the

fuselage markings is based on the publication Eagles of the Southern Sky, whose authors assume it was black. However, it cannot be ruled out that it was blue-black or blue, and the colour had

blackened during the post-war period on wrecks of Zeros due to high temperatures. The machine is currently on display in a restored condition as V-173 in v Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

May 2022

the violent fight. Sakai was credited with four

confirmed victories. The Americans lost five

machines and two pilots, and two other fighter

planes were damaged. The Japanese lost only

one Zero and its pilot. On a second mission during the same day, Sakai scored one more Airacobra.

During July 1942 Sakai performed only nine

combat sorties and took part in the destruction of two B-25 bombers. He scored his last

victories over New Guinea on August 2. In the

morning Sakai and eight of his colleagues participated in the interception of five B-17s of 28th

BS. One of the bombers was shot down by Lt.

jg. Jun-ichi Sasai who claimed a second one as

damaged. Sakai did not score a victory (books

Samurai! and Winged Samurai provide different

information). Later on, during the same mission

the Japanese patrol engaged three Airacobras

of 41st FS and the Japanese pilots claimed six

victories, including one by Sakai. Americans lost

only two fighter planes and pilots.

To be continued...


1) On December 10, several B-17s armed with twenty

100-pound bombs each ran individual attacks against

ongoing Japanese landings in Vigan and Appari. Kelly

at Vigan attacked the light cruiser Naka, which Kelly´s

crew identified as battleship Haruna. The other bombers attacked vessels off Appari, where direct hit

damaged destroyer Harukaze and with a near miss

damaged cruiser Nattori, the flagship of the Rear Admiral Hara. During the landing, the Dai 19 Sókaitei (W19 minesweeper) was badly damaged by the bombs.

Damage of this vessel is attributed to Kelly by C. Shores and his team of authors.

2) In fact, there was not even one tanker nearby. The

burning vessel could have been Tatsugami-maru or

Nana-maru damaged by Boeing B-17 on the afternoon

of January 23, 1942, or some of the six vessels sunk by

the Allies during the night of January 23–24.

3) Before the fight the unit had a total of 24 P-40s

and lost three while on following day lost five. Four

other Americans had to perform emergency landing.

However, the machines were not lost in combat.

4) According to original version Sakai said: “Shut up

you fool, Handa is better pilot than me and he is flying

longer than me. Get out!"

A 1944 aerial photograph of Rabaul

shows Lakunai airfield looking east.

One of the volcanoes that are part

of the Rabaul caldera can be seen

in the background.

Photo: AWM

tween them. And the Hudson maneuvered indeed! His pilot performed a 90 degrees bank turn

and attacked Sakai head-on with all weapons firing! Sakai was forced to evade! The Australian

was skillfully escaping attacks of angry Japanese and in addition pressed home well aimed

fire from his gunners.

The courageous pilot was P/O Warren F. Cowan

of No 32 Sqn. RAAF in his Hudson (A16-201). His

crew members were co-pilot D. R. Taylor and

gunners Sgt. R. B. Polack and L. E. Sheard. Both

Australian pilots were able to do amazing sharp

turns due to reducing the gas on the internal engine in curve. Sakai himself made four unsuccessful attacks on Hudson. His fifth one was finally

successful. First, he hit the right then the left

wing tank. He run out of cannon ammunition, but

with the fire of machine guns, he ignited leaking

fuel. Cowan still tried to make emergency landing, but he failed and fell into the jungle nearby

the village Popoga near Buna.

Many years after the war, thanks to researcher

Henry Sakaida, Sakai lodged a signed statement

of the events of that day in the hope that Cowan

and his crew would be finally acknowledged

for their bravery and some sort of posthumous

award be made by the Australian Government.

Unfortunately, it was contrary to Australian military policy, possibly based on the reasonably

logic that to award medals to some, after all

these years, would perhaps open the way to

many more.

In June 1942 Sakai completed a total of eleven

combat sorties. During one of them in the vicinity of Rabaul he participated in the shooting

down of a B-17 bomber. The most successful

day for him became June 16. Over Port Moresby,

twenty-one Zeros clashed with thirty-five Airacobras of the 39th and 40th FS. The Japanese

claimed seventeen kills and four probable after

INFO Eduard