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Saburō Sakai during his war time service
in China before outbreak of World War 2.
Photo: Shori Tanaka via Yoji Sakaida
Americans landed at Guadalcanal on August 7,
1942 and completely surprised the Japanese
occupying forces in the area. The nearest base
from where Japanese could launch an aerial
counterattack was Rabaul located 550 miles
northwest. Command of 25th Air Flotilla promptly organized an attack with 27 G4M Betty
bombers from the 4th Kōkūtai. Japanese fighter pilots at Rabaul were outraged by American
invasion. But they were also excited about upcoming fight with an elite part of US aviation naval fighters. Formation took-off at 9.50 from
Vukanau airfield. Soon one of the Zeroes had to
return, and at 13.15 only 17 escort fighters reached Savo island north of Guadalcanal.
By co-incidence, the Americans had in the air
only two flights of four Wildcats from the VF-5
squadron (USS Saratoga). The fighters were directed toward the Japanese bomber formation.
During the fight the outnumbered Americans,
some of them Midway veterans, successfully
attacked the group of bombers, but they could
not evade clashing with their escort fighters.
Due to weight reduction the Zeroes were not
equipped with radios and when bombers got
under attack, they had to use gunfire to notify
their escort! One of successful shooters was Lt.
jg. W. M. Holt, who together with Ens. J. R. Daly
downed two Bettys (both were awarded to Daly).
Saburō Sakai and his wingmen started to chase attackers, but the Americans escaped. When
Sakai disengaged from combat, he discovered
that his wingmen were not following him. Then
he saw something unexpected, his two wingmen
were being chased by a lone Wildcat! However
he misjudged the situation. In reality his wingmen Kakimoto and Utō with one more colleague were chasing the Lt. J. J. Southerland from
Scarlet 2 formation of VF-5 (USS Sataroga).
In the last few moments, his life was saved several times by armor plate and robust structure
of the Wildcat.
Sakai joined fight under impression that his
protégés were in danger, and he fired at the
American from 600 m distance! After a wild
chase, Sakai finally managed to outmaneuver
him and photographed his opponent from fifty
meters distance! Then he fired his guns. But the
badly damaged aircraft suddenly slowed down,
and a surprised Sakai unintentionally flew in