Map Collections courtesy Stanford University Libraries
Photo: Shori Tanaka
text: Jan Bobek
Sakai poses next to his Type 96 A5M Claude fighter at Hankow
Air Base in 1939.
The book “Samurai!” contains misinformation dating back to its original publication.
The culprit is Fred Saito, who translated Sakai's
memoirs into English, so that some events are
portrayed in the book with incorrect dates or in
complete contradiction to reality. In this article,
I describe Sakai's career from the perspective
of newly available archival documents that several authors have worked with over the years.
I have made a modest addition to their work,
providing an overview of the combat sorties Sakai made in late 1941 and during 1942. The text
refers to inconsistencies in various earlier publications that conflict with the records of the
Saburō Sakai is a legend of the history of military aviation, even though there were several Japanese pilots who have achieved more victories. It's not just
the book “Samurai!” that makes him so special. It is
also because how differently, almost rebelliously,
he acted during the war and what he has helped to
accomplish after the war to connect the Japanese society with US veterans and public.
units in which Sakai served. The article does not
describe all the victories that Sakai achieved in
1942 during the air battles in Rabaul and New
Guinea, according to contemporary documents.
For a detailed description of these and an analysis of Allied losses, I recommend the excellent
publication Eagles of the Southern Sky.
Saburō Sakai was born on August 26, 1916,
in the village of Nishiyoka (Saga prefecture).
His father Haruichi and mother Hide belonged
to ancient Samurai families. Despite their noble
origins, the family was one of the poorest in an
already quite a poor village. In 1929, Saburō moved to Tokyo, where he lived in his uncle's family.
However, the studies were too difficult, he failed
to graduate and had to return home in shame.
He then spent the next two years doing agricultural work. Navy airplanes often flew overhead
and it started to inspire him. Once when he saw
a Navy recruitment poster, he made his decision.
On May 1, 1933, he joined naval training at Sasebo.
He successively served on the battleships Kirishima and Haruna as a gunner of 6-inch (15cm)
gun while attaining the rank of Petty Officer 3rd
Class and he often saw various aircraft operating from the Haruna. Sakai, in whose veins
flowed samurai blood, was not happy with the
life on board of a warship. He realized he could