JAPAN (August 1942 - June 1944)
After being sent to Yokosuka Marine Hospital, he
was immediately treated by senior eye surgeon
Lt. Cdr. Dr. Sakano. The operation was done during Sakai's full consciousness, and the torture
lasted for thirty minutes. The left eye eventually
healed completely, but with the right eye he was
able to see only up to distance of about 40-60
cm. He was then hospitalized in Sasebo hospital. His friend and former colleague Hiroyoshi
Nishizawa visited him there. The conversation
revealed that both were practically the last to
remain alive from the original Tainan Kōkūtai. 6)
On November 1, 1942 Sakai was extraordinarily promoted to Warrant Officer rank, then
the hospital released him in January 1943.
Artifacts given to Capt. Dana “Smudge” Potts, USN on one of several visits to Mr. Sakai´s home. The metal artifact is a piece of Zero V-103 recovered in Guadalcanal in 1993. The piece of cloth was part of the scarf Mr. Sakai used to stop the bleeding from his head wound August 7, 1942.
A6M2 Type 21, c/n 3647, Warrant Officer Tora-ichi Takatsuka, Tainan Kōkūtai, Lakunai airfield, Rabaul, September 1942
This aircraft was produced by Mitsubishi on March 3, 1942. It was flown in legendary Tainan Kōkūtai by the also famous fighter aces Saburō Sakai
and Hiroyoshi Nishizawa. It is believed that with this Zero, on September 13, 1942 over Guadalcanal, Shōtai leader W. O. Takatsuka was shot down
in a dogfight with Wildcats from VF-5 and VMF-223. Three of his wingmen were also shot down in the same action. The wreckage of this Zero was
found in 1993 in a swamp about five miles east of Henderson Field. Remnants of code and markings remained on some parts. Takatsuka had served
in the IJN aviation since 1933. In the 12th Kōkūtai he was one of the fighter pilots who achieved the first victories with Zeros in aviation history on
September 13, 1940. He was promoted to Warrant Officer in October 1941 and demobilized. However he was soon called back into service by the IJ
Navy and from June 1942 was assigned to Tainan Kōkūtai in Rabaul. He mainly took part in the fighting over New Guinea. In total he was credited
with 16 victories including three in China. Fighting with the Wildcats had already nearly proved fatal to him once. During the raid on Guadalcanal on
August 7, 1942, although he claimed four victories, he flew in front of one of his opponents and immediately was hit. The victor was Thomas Rhodes
of VF-6 (USS Enterprise). Takatsuka's Zero caught fire, but he managed to put it out and escape.
He reported at the former Tainan Kōkūtai now
designated as Kōkūtai 251 at the Toyohashi base
in Japan. There he was able to test a captured
A few months later Kōkūtai 251 had to return to
Rabaul and Sakai was supposed join his unit. In
the end, however, the chief surgeon in Toyohashi
intervened and in May 1943 instead of going to
Rabaul, Sakai went to Ômura Kōkūtai, where he
trained novices, like he was doing during the
past few months.
At the end of 1943 Ômura Kōkūtai received new
reinforcement, the highly experienced Shō-ichi
Sugita (80 v.), who was recovering from burns
suffered with Kōkūtai 204 over Shortland. Sakai finally had some equal combat veteran for
talks. Soon they became friends, but in the
spring of 1944 their paths diverged. Sugita went
to Kōkūtai 263 and Sakai was transferred to Yokosuka Kōkūtai in April 1944.
After the American landing at Saipan, the Japanese began to worry about their other stronghold - Iwo Jima. Yokosuka Kōkūtai next destination was right there. Twenty-seven pilots
including Sakai and Hikōtaichō Lt.Cdr. Tadashi
Nakajima had been trying to get to the island
since June 16 despite the unfavorable weather.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
highest chance for accurate fire was Jones.
When Sakai's aircraft was shaking under the
fire of the Americans, he flew at 7,800 feet.
When he regained control, he was at 800 feet.
A large part of the windscreen was gone, the
air flowed uncomfortably into the cabin. Sakai
was bleeding from his right eye and with his left
eye he saw only a little. Several times, he tried
to bandage the wounds, but the bandages flew
away every time. Finally, he used a scarf around
his neck. He was far from certain whether he
had enough fuel to return, and he did not know
exactly where he was. The pain drove him to
madness. Between the islands of Santa Isabel
and Choiseul he decided to perform a suicide
attack on any Allied vessels. He went back several times toward Guadalcanal and then north
again to Rabaul, but he found no target.
Again he decided to fight for his life but sleep
began to overhelm him. Sakai woke up several
times as his aircraft went into a dive. But what
he did not know was that he was flying in the
wrong direction. After a while, he looked straight ahead and saw a clear vision of his mother
calling him, “Saburō, get up! Get up! Shame on
you!” He saw her pointing to the direction where
he was supposed to fly. He turned in this direction (90 ' to the left), and after a long time he saw
the sweet silhouette of the Green Island. Rabaul
was about 100 miles away.
Eventually, he arrived at Lakunai Airport, and
after several unsuccessful attempts, he finally
landed and collapsed on his seat. He had flown
560 miles and his flight lasted 4 hours and 47
minutes. Officers Lt. Sasai, Lt.Cdr. Nakajima and
Cdr. Kozono personally helped Sakai to get out
of cockpit. It was very unusual for senior officers to take care of a subordinate.
The doctors were unable to deal with such injuries, therefore he was sent to Japan. When Sakai was giving goodbye, Sasai gave him a silver
buckle with an engraved legendary tiger, "Come
back to us when you are healed, we'll wait for
you." 5) but it was too ambitious a wish, in a very
short time almost none of Sakai's comrades
were still alive.
Photo: D. Potts
A Grumman F4F Wildcat of VF-5 in 1942 near Guadalcanal. This squadron based on USS Saratoga clashed in heavy fight on August 7, 1942
against Tainan Kōkūtai. Lt. J. J. Southerland surprised Sakai with his
pilot skills as well as with solid design of Wildcat that could absorb
amazing amount of damage.