there is no information about the place of his
burial (according to other data he is listed as
killed in a flying accident and buried at Hami).
Sakai was promoted to Petty Officer Second
Class rank on May 1, 1939. Almost a year later
after his first victory, on October 3, 1939, Sakai
claimed a SB-2 bomber with Chinese insignia
over Icheng. “Surprisingly, they were much
faster than I expected.” Sakai had to fly more
than 150 miles before hitting one of the bombers
that had raided Hankow Airport, which was already in hands of the Japanese. Thanks to this
performance he became famous overnight and
returned home as a hero. The reality was slightly different, first of all, Japanese airbase was
located beyond range of SB bombers.
On this day, the airbase prepared festivities for
the receipt of new aircraft ferried from Japan.
Here representatives of the fleet command and
the city authorities were assembled. Nine DB-3s crewed by Soviet airmen led by Capt. G. A.
The A6M2 from Tainan Kōkūtai (c/n 3372) became the first Zero to reach Allied hands in
repairable condition. One of Sakai's colleagues crashed it on Chinese territory on November 26, 1941 and was captured. For details,
see the April 2022 issue of INFO magazine on
page 12, or the Zero Zero Zero! scale kit.
This image from the Chinese base shows
the machine undergoing repairs with the
code painted over on the tail surfaces. The
aircraft bore the typical design of the Tainan Kōkūtai markings from the early months
of the Pacific War - a white code with red
outline. In the spring of 1942, the code design was changed to black, which made the
codes easier to read during air operations.
The purpose and color of the stripes on the
tail surfaces and fuselages bands of the Tainan Kōkūtai planes are still the subject of debate. The bands on the fuselage (one or two)
may have assigned the machines to different
fighter Divisions (Buntai) within an Air Group
(Kōkūtai) by their colour. However, other explanations are possible. The stripes on the
tail surfaces are usually assigned to identify
the leaders of tactical formations. One horizontal stripe apparently identified the leader
of the Shōtai (three planes) and two stripes
probably identified the leader the Chūtai
(usually made up of three Shōtai).
Saburō Sakai posing on a 250 kg bomb during his assignment
Kulishenko flew to the target secretly, in a tight
wedge, maintaining radio silence. They attacked
as the ceremony was in progress. Aircraft stood
in four rows, wingtip to wingtip. From an altitude of 8,700 meters the Soviets dropped mix
of high-explosive, fragmentation-high explosive, and incendiary bombs. According to the reports of the crews, most of the bombs exploded
along the rows of aircraft, which were tossed
in every direction from the force of the blasts,
with many burning. Antiaircraft weapons remained silent. Only a single fighter (Sakai) took
off from the enormous bonfire below, but
he was unable to catch the departing
and lightened DB-3s.
On the airfield, 64 aircraft were
found destroyed or damaged
with 130 people killed and 300
wounded. The fuel reserves
burned three hours. Japanese
sources confirm the loss of 50
machines, seven senior officers of
Captain and higher rank were killed,
and 12 more were wounded. Amongst the latter
ones was Rear Admiral Tsukahara, commander
of the Japanese Air Flotilla. The airfield commandant was killed as well. After this disaster,
a mourning period was ordered.
Next task for Sakai was to join Ómura Kōkūtai
in mid-1940, where, as an instructor, he had to
pass on the experience to newcomers. In the
meantime, 12th Kōkūtai became the first navy
unit to enter the fight with revolutionary Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter (Chunning raid on September 13, 1940).
In April 1941 Sakai returned to his
old 12th Kōkūtai and in June he
was promoted to Petty Officer 1st
Class. He gained another victory
on August 11, when he shot down
over, with Zero marked as 3-116,
a “beautifully colored biplane”
over Chengdu, identified as Polikarpov I-15. It was a dawn attack on
Chengdu and four I-153s of the 29th PS scrambled. Squadron Commander Tang Zhouli and
two of his deputies, Wang Chongshi and Huang
Rongfa were killed in the ensuing combat. During this combat the last I-153s were destroyed.
According to his logbook, Sakai´s last victory
in China came on August 21, 1941, when he shot
down an I-16. However official records of 12th
Kōkūtai confirm only first of Sakai´s victories
over China. This discrepancy with official unit
records is typical for many parts of English edition of book “Samurai!” as well as for some entries in Sakai´s logbook as presented by Henry
Sakaida in his book Winged Samurai.
Sakai was transferred in October 1941 to newly
formed Tainan Kōkūtai in Tainan on Formosa
(Taiwan), subordinated under 23rd Air Flotilla
(Kōkū Sentai). Tainan Kōkūtai was commanded
by Captain Masahisa Saitó, the executive officer
was Commander Yasuna Kozono and the fighter
pilots were led by Hikótaichó Lt Hideki Shingó.
Before the outbreak of war in the Pacific the
Tainan Kōkūtai had at disposal 45 fighters A6M
Zero Type 21 and twelve older A5M Type 96 Claude fighters along with six reconnaissance C5N
Babs. Another fourteen A6Ms and several A5M