c/n 5289, PO1c Takashi Hirano, Akagi Fighter Squadron, December 1941
This Zero was manufactured by Mitsubishi, finished on August 9, 1941. It was one of the aircraft that were equipped with additional aileron mass balance. The design of the Roman numeral on this aircraft differed slightly on the right and left side of the tail. During the attack on Pearl Harbor it was flown by Takashi Hirano as a wingman of Lt. Cdr. Shigeru Itaya who led 43 Zero fighters, including nine from Akagi. Itaya’s own Akagi formation shot down one sightseeing and three training aircraft. Then, at John Rodgers, Hickam and Ewa airfields, they destroyed about 25 aircraft and also attacked incoming B-17s. Hirano first shot down a Piper Cub near the Nuuanu Pali mountain pass in cooperation with Itaya’s second wingman. Piper pilot Marcus F. Poston bailed out. Itaya and his wingmen damaged and set afire a B-17C of the 7th BG flown by the crew led by Capt. Swenson. The bomber broke in half on the ground and the fighters strafed its fleeing crew. Hirano mortally wounded the passenger, 1st Lt. (Dr.) William R. Schick, Flight Surgeon of the 38th Reconnaissance Squadron. However, the Hirano struck the ground, lost its auxiliary tank, damaged the propeller, and suffered an engine stall. Flying low between buildings, he then hit an obstacle, killing both himself and four American soldiers. A map was found in the wreckage of the Zero and with this information the Americans attempted to search for the Japanese task force.
c/n 5404, PO3c Yoshirō Hashiguchi,
3. Kōkūtai, Kendari airfield, Dutch East Indies, March 1942
This aircraft left Mitsubishi factory on November 10, 1941 and was equipped with ailerons without additional mass balance. Its pilot was Yoshirō Hashiguchi (born 1918, Fukuoka). He completed his flight training in September 1938 and after further training with several units was assigned to the 12th Kōkūtai in China in June 1939. However, he was wounded in a Chinese raid on his unit’s base and after recovering he became an instructor with the Suzuka Kōkūtai in January 1940. In November 1941 he was assigned to the 3rd Kōkūtai and successively fought in the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies or Guadalcanal and participated also in the raids on Australia. He returned to Japan in June 1943 and served as an instructor with the Ôita Kōkūtai. In December he was assigned to Kōkūtai 601 as a member of the carrier fighter squadron of the IJN Shōkaku and survived the Battle of the Philippine Sea. In July 1944 he was transferred to Hikōtai 164 as part of Kōkūtai 653 and took part in the Battle of Cape Engaño aboard the IJN Chiyoda on October 25. He made several operational sorties during the battle but remained missing after the sinking of the carrier. The total number of Hashiguchi’s victories is not precisely known but is reported to be in excess of ten. At the time of his death, he held the rank of Chief Petty Officer and was posthumously promoted to Warrant Officer.
Kōkūtai 302, Atsugi Base, Japan,
This aircraft, probably built by Nakajima, bore dark green paint applied at unit level. Plane was seized by the Americans at the end of the war at Atsugi Base, where it was captured on both sides on a color footage. It bore considerable signs of wear and one aerial victory marked on the tail. The Zero was painted black on the underside of the wing, horizontal stabilizer and elevator. Kōkūtai 302 was established in 1944 as a unit dedicated to the defense of Yokosuka Base. Its 1st Hikōtai was armed with Raidens and Zeros, while its 2nd Hikōtai was armed with single- as well as twin-engine fighter and bomber aircraft that were modified for night interception. The unit specialized in fighting B-29 bombers both day and night. It was commanded by Capt. Yasuna Kozono, who had night fighter experience in the South Pacific when he commanded Kōkūtai 251 (formerly Tainan Kōkūtai) in 1943. He had its J1N Gekkō (Irving) reconnaissance aircraft fitted with fuselage-mounted guns that pointed obliquely upward for night pursuit purposes. He pushed the same solution, despite opposition from many pilots, for the Kōkūtai 302. A single fuselage-mounted gun was also fitted to some Zeros of Kōkūtai 302, as they were primarily intended for night pursuit. The YoD-1101 was not equipped with this additional armament. A Squadron (Buntai) of night-fighter Zeros claimed to shoot down seven B-29s, four fighters, one Catalina, and one Privateer.
Kōkūtai 261, Kagoshima airbase,
This Zero was manufactured by Nakajima with factory painted dark green paint on the upper surfaces. The white stripes and bands served as a quick identification feature but their exact purpose is unknown. Kōkūtai 261 was established in June 1943 at Kagoshima Air Base, Japan, and was given the battle name Tora (Tiger). It was also referred to as Tora Butai. The identifying feature of its aircraft was the numerical code 61, or Kanji character for tiger. Unit went through heavy combat with US Navy airmen, primarily in Central Pacific, but operated briefly also from Biak Island north of New Guinea. By May 1944, its aircraft strength was already reduced to half and in July the unit had to be disbanded due to high casualties. Some of the remaining members of the unit were killed in ground combat or aboard a submarine during the evacuation. The position of Hikōtaichō was held by Lieutenant Masanobu Ibusuki, who participated in the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway on the aircraft carrier Akagi and served on the aircraft carrier Shōkaku during the fighting in the South Pacific. It is possible that Ibusuki achieved from 25 to 30 aerial victories during the war. After the war, he became the first JSDAF unit commander with F-86 Sabre jets, reaching the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, but was killed in January 1957 in a collision with another F-86.