Photo: US Naval History and
Kōkūtai 802 pilots in the Shortland Islands during
One of the tents that were used to prepare for Kōkūtai
802's combat activities at Shortland.
Photo: US Naval History and
A Rufe seaplane at an island base is strafed and set
afire by PB4Y-1 Bomber of U.S. Navy Bombing
Squadron 106, in the Solomons area, 1943.
Captured H8K Emily a A6M2-N Rufe seaplanes
at Kwajalein Atoll in early 1944.
from Kōkūtai 252, and Yokoyama with 11 Rufes.
The Americans damaged two freighters but
came under strong flak fire and faced attacks
from well-prepared Japanese fighters. The
Japanese lost only one Zero and two others
were damaged. The Americans, however, lost
two Liberators, four Lightnings and two Corsairs
in fierce fighting. Yokoyama's unit claimed two
bombers and one single-engine fighter.
To the coast of Australia
In mid-1942, the 36th Kōkūtai was formed in
Balikpapan, Borneo. This unit was armed with
Pete, Jake and Mavis seaplanes. In November
1942, its designation was changed to Kōkūtai
934, and in late February 1943 a fighter unit was
formed. The unit operated first from Ambon and
later from Maikoor, Indonesia. While defending
its own bases, however, it also fought with fourengine B-24 Liberator bombers. Its primary
task, apart from defending own bases, was
patrolling against Allied vessels. Patrols usually
consisted of one Jake and one Rufe aircraft as
fighter escort. The area of operations extended
as far as the north-west coast of Australia,
so Japanese airmen would face not only
Hudsons and Beaufighters, but also Spitfires.
Leader of fighter unit of Kōkūtai 934, Lt.
Lt. Ronald W. Hilken. Lt. Holmes and Lt. Norris
tried to save him, but Hilken was last seen
descending toward Vella Lavella Island.
Matsuyama then attacked a Lightning piloted
by 1st Lt. Wallace L. Dinne, Jr., igniting his left
engine with cannon fire, the machine went into
a spin and that pilot also remains missing.
In the encounter, Ôshima was shot down, bailed
out and rescued by the crew of seaplane Pete
of Sanyo Maru. He was apparently shot down by
Maj. Mitchell, who was the only one to claim the
Float Zero. This is the same Mitchell who would
lead the strike group of four airmen, including
the aforementionned Lt. Holmes, in the attack
on the bomber of Adm. Yamamoto and its escort.
In mid-January 1943, 15 new Rufes and
15 pilots arrived at Shortland to reinforce
the last remaining Rufe of the original unit.
Reinforcements were under the command of
Lt.(jg) Takeo Yokoyama, who had previously
served as one of the officers of the Kamikawa
Maru. His deputy was Lt.(jg) Keizō Yamazaki.
Kōkūtai 802 did not fare badly in these
engagements. Their most notable success
was their part in the so-called Valentine's
Day Massacre. This was the name given to the
February 14, 1943, by American airmen after
the attack on vessels in the Buin and Shortland
Nine PB4Y-1 Liberator bombers from VB-101
flew to the target, escorted by ten P-38Gs
from the 347th FG and twelve F4U Corsairs
from VMF-124. Thanks to Japanese patrols
on the islands between Bougainville and
Guadalcanal, the Japanese naval fighters got
airborne in time. Waiting for the attackers
were 13 Zeros from Kōkūtai 204, 18 Zeros
The NI-118 was the fifth Rufe seaplane produced, so it was a rebuilt machine from the A6M2 Model 21 carrier
fighter produced by Mitsubishi during its overhaul and rebuild by Nakajima. Pictured here in early 1943, after
a year of service, this vintage aircraft shows considerable signs of paint wear. It is possible that the darker
areas on the stabilizer are made up of reddish-brown primer.