Photo: ©Izawa

Photo: US Naval History and

Heritage Command

Photo: ©Izawa

Kōkūtai 802 pilots in the Shortland Islands during

off-duty time.

One of the tents that were used to prepare for Kōkūtai

802's combat activities at Shortland.

Photo: US Naval History and

Heritage Command

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.

June 2023

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.

Photo: ©Izawa

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.

INFO Eduard