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.
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.
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
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