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
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
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
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