A6M2 Type 21, PO1c Saburō Sakai, Tainan Kōkūtai, Lakunai airfield, Rabaul, New Britain island, August 7, 1942

Sakai´s V-128 was also flown by PO2c Arita and PO1c Hiroyoshi Nishizawa, who is credited with 87 victories. The colors of the stripes is chosen from

Sakai's recollections, but there are other interpretations, such as a black or yellow stripe on the fuselage. During a fighter escort to Guadalcanal

on August 7, Sakai shot down Wildcat F12 from VF-5 piloted by "Pug" Southerland in an epic dogfight. Sakai was later severely wounded in the face

by fire from VB-6 Dauntless near Tulagi Island. After nearly five hours and more than 1,000 km, he managed to land back at Rabaul.

front of his enemy. He expected a deadly salvo, but it did not come. The Wildcat continued in

a controlled flight, but showed no signs of

aggression. Sakai returned in a wide curve and

flew beside it so he could look at his opponent.

The American plane was riddled with bullets

and its tail surfaces, in Sakai´s words: “... were

torn to shreds and looked like an old piece of

cloth”. Sakai pushed his canopy back and watched the American pilot.

Southerland was just about to leave his airplane. He took out the cable from the radio, unbuckled the straps and pushed back the canopy.

According to Southerland, his instrument panel

was heavily damaged, the rear view mirror had

disappeared, the windshield was like a colander.

His aviator googles were also gone. Fuel from

riddled tank was leaking on the cockpit's floor

and his right leg was covered with oil.

Sakai was fascinated by the structural strength

of his opponent´s plane. A Zero would not have

been able to sustain such damage. As Southerland was preparing for bailing out, he changed

his hold of the stick from right hand to left hand.

This probably made Sakai believing as if American prayed.

According to Sakai “Pug” Southerland even

waved at him. Sakai was hesitating. Should he

finish his already defeated enemy, furthermore such a courageous and a good pilot? He

finally decided to make a compromise and from

distance of approximately 50 meters in a gentle

ascent he made few shots from his cannons to

the Wildcat's engine. The plane started to burn.

Southerland described it as follows: “At this

time, a Zero making a run from the port quarter

put a burst in just under the left wing root and

good old 5-F-12 finally exploded. I think the explosion occurred from gasoline vapor. The flash

was below and forward of my left foot. I was

ready for it … Consequently I dove over the right side just aft of the starboard wing root, head

first. My .45 holster caught on the hood track,

but I got rid of it immediately, though I don´t remember how.”

Although "Pug" bailed out at a very low altitude over the forested terrain of Guadalcanal.

He was found by Solomon Islander Bruno Nana

June 2022

who helped him to reach American lines. On August 20, 1942, Southerland was evacuated from

Guadalcanal on the first PBY Catalina to land at

Henderson Field. He later returned to combat

and became an ace himself, and was awarded

the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). His Wildcat

Bu.No. 5192 was found in 1998.

Of the eight Wildcats that clashed with Tainan

Kōkūtai just three got back to the carrier. VF-5

squadron was followed by VF-6, which lost another four machines. Fighting Six scored only

Zero kill achieved by fighters that day (After individual dogfights Tainan Kōkūtai pilots turned

to the Tulagi island and began climbing through

a cloud layer.

As Sakai flew out of the clouds with his fellow

pilots, his canopy was hit by machine gun fire

that barely missed his head. It was the first time

in his career, that he was attacked without being aware of the attacker. Moreover the attacker

was not a fighter but a bomber! Sakai was challenged by the SBD Dauntless dive bomber piloted by Lt. Dudley H. Adams of VS-71 (USS Wasp).

“Dud” Adams attempted to escape into the

clouds, but he was quickly caught by Sakai who

delivered a devastating fire from close range.

The SBD Dauntless' gunner AR3/c Harry E. Elliot

did not have chance and was killed instantly. The

burning machine fell into left spin. Adams was

able to get out of the airplane and later was picked up by the destroyer USS Dewey. Adams was

Kakimoto. He thought it was an American fighter

formation. “If I had two of them in one attack,

they would be demoralized”, Sakai thought, and

then the airplanes reduced distance between

themselves. Fighters would never do such step

in preparation for a fight.

Sakai for the first time misjudged the tactical

situation “Well, they have not seen me yet”, he

thought. But “the fighters” were actually Dauntless bombers from Flight 319. They were ready for attackers and getting a tighter formation

was necessary for their effective defense. Additionally, all the machines were flying basically

next to each other, so they were not supposed

to get in each other's line of defensive fire. Sakai attacked on the right flank of the formation and with horror realized his mistake. But he

was already too close, so he closed his eyes and

started fire.

AO2/c Harold L. Jones, was gunner in a bomber

that got hit hard by Sakai, he recalls: “As the

Zero coming directly in from astern was about

500 feet away, he started shooting. Some of our

gunners answered with their twin 0.30 caliber

machine guns. Some gunners, including myself,

could not bring our guns to bear on him without

damaging their tails, but as the Zero turned to

the right and pulled up to miss us, every gunner

was shooting at him – he could have been only

100 feet away.”

Jones could not fire yet, but his plane was getting heavy fire from Sakai. As the Japanese

attacker flashed past, Jones squeezed off about

30 rounds from his guns: “I probably got some

hits, but I think he was already hit and wounded

by the time I fired on him. His cockpit exploded,

turned orange. Then I swung my guns over to

take care of the other guy coming in from underneath.”

Jones' pilot Ens. Robert C. Shaw was also busy,

as his Dauntless' controls were heavily damaged. Jones learned from Shaw they shall be

ready to leave the aircraft. Finally, Shaw managed to get back and after 60 miles landed on

the deck of the USS Enterprise. The machine

with the number B-18 had 232 bulletholes!

Sakai got confirmation for shooting down Sha-

“I probably got some hits, but I think he was already hit and wounded by

the time I fired on him. His cockpit exploded, turned orange. Then I swung

my guns over to take care of the other guy coming in from underneath.”

awarded the Navy Cross for his brave attack

against Japanese.

Adams belonged to Dauntless Flight 120 (VS71) that searched for enemy in vicinity of Tulagi island together with Flight 319. They came

from Bombing Squadron 6 (VB-6) and Scouting

Squadron 5 (VS-5) respectively. Sakai was

about to put his strengths against them.

Shortly after Sakai shot down Adams´ Dauntless, he saw a formation of eight aircraft. He decided to attack it together with his wingman Enji

w's machine. Kakimoto also scored one victory.

His victim was Robert E. Gibson. A 20 mm projectile exploded under the armored seat after it

bounced from the bomb under the fuselage! But

he made back to the flattop as well. Shooting

down of Sakai's Zero was credited to AMM2/c

Herman H. Caruthers, gunner of formation leader Lt. Carl H. Horenburger (Dauntless S-12).

But it was rather a prestige decision than anything else. Sakai was under fire of everyone in

bomber formation. Closest and therefore with

INFO Eduard