c/n 3028, Tainan Kōkūtai, Buna airfield, New Guinea, August 1942
This aircraft, released by Mitsubishi on June 28, 1942, was assigned to Lt. Inano, commander of Buna detachment of Tainan Kōkūtai. It was donated by citizens of Hongwon County in North Korea, captured by Allied units at Buna on December 27, 1942 and selected for further evaluation as well as rebuild. Allied personnel at Eagle Farm Field built a flyable A6M3 Zero using parts of three Zeros transported from Buna Airfield. Inano’s surname was originally Takabayashi, but he changed that before mid-1941. In late November 1941, smaller part of Tainan Kōkūtai under his command was transferred to French Indochina and temporarily became part of 22. Kōkū Sentai HQ fighter squadron. Lt. Inano returned to Tainan Kōkūtai in July 1942 to participate in combat over New Guinea and Guadalcanal. From January 1943 he was involved in evaluation of weapons for new naval aircraft. From October 1944 he served as Hikōtaichō of Tainan Kōkūtai (II) in Taiwan.
c/n 3305, Kōkūtai 204, Buin, Bougainville island, January 1943
This aircraft was manufactured by Mitsubishi, probably on November 25, 1942. The radio equipment has been dismantled due to weight reduction. At the same time, it was equipped with long-barrel guns and a later type rudder trim that could be operated from the cockpit. Previously known aircraft of this unit with yellow fuselage markings had identification numbers of values under 148. The wreckage of this aircraft was recovered by the Allies in May 1944 off Kolombangara Island. The camouflage and markings would indicate that its pilot was leader of Chūtai of Kōkūtai 204 in early 1943. The first candidate could be Lt. Tatenoshin Tanoue, who was shot down in a dogfight with Wildcats from VMF-121 on January 15, 1943, while covering a convoy. However, the crash site is too far from the area where combat took place. The pilot of the aircraft may have been a Lt(jg) Kiyoharu Shibuya, who was lost on January 23, 1943, in dogfight with the Wildcats of VMO-251 while escorting the cargo vessel Toa Maru 2 and the destroyer Oshio.
Warrant Officer Matsuo Hagiri, Rabaul, New Britain, July 1943
This aircraft was painted in green camouflage applied in field conditions and had radio equipment removed to reduce weight. Kōkūtai 204 appears to have been the only unit in the area to apply green field camouflage plus white outline of Hinomaru on fuselage and upper wing surfaces. Its pilot was Matsuo Hagiri. He was born in 1913 in Shizuoka Prefecture and served with the Yokosuka Kōkūtai from 1935. In 1937 and 1938 he served on the aircraft carrier Sōryū and took part in battles in China. In 1940, he was among the pilots of the 12th Kōkūtai who first tested the Zero in combat conditions. In the raid on Chengtu on October 4, 1940, he was one of four pilots who landed at an enemy base and set its equipment afire. More to it, Hagiri shot down three Chinese fighter aircraft after take off from the burning enemy base. After further service with Yokosuka Kōkūtai, including tests of the Raiden and Zero Model 32, he was assigned to Kōkūtai 204 in July 1943. In a dogfight on September 24 over Vella Lavella, he managed to score two victories, but suffered injuries himself and had to be transported to Japan. In April 1945, he was wounded again, this time in combat against a B-29. In all, he achieved 13 victories. After the war, he became a Fuji City Councilor and a member of the Shizuoka Prefectural Council. He died in January 1997.
c/n 3285, Rabauru Kōkūbuntai, Rabaul, New Britain, August 1943
This aircraft was manufactured by Mitsubishi in November 1942 and early the following year received field camouflage consisting of elongated green spots on the factory paint of light grey. Its markings were changed several times. The reconstruction of both markings of this aircraft is based on parts of the wreck that have been photographically documented. The tail apparently first bore the designation T2, which would place it with Kōkūtai 204. In mid-1943, it bore the white code 3-174 and a white square was painted around Hinomaru on the side of both sides of the fuselage. This is the only Zero so far where such a marking was photographically documented. The exact purpose of the white square is unknown and it was removed in August 1943. In the second half of that year, the tail codes of the aircraft of the Rabaul fighter units changed and numerals ranging from 1 to 9 began to be used. The assignment of the numerals to individual units is still not reliably determined. Aircraft with these markings are unofficially assigned to a combat group called Rabauru Kōkūbuntai (Rabaul Air Force). There are several theories to explain the meaning of these numerical designations. The only unit that used several A6M3 Model 32s in the area in the second half of 1943 was the aforementioned Kōkūtai 204.
c/n 3285, Rabauru Kōkūbuntai, Ballale Airfield, Ballale Island, Solomon Islands, October 1943
In August 1943, the white squares on the side of this aircraft were repainted and its marking was later changed from white 3-174 to yellow code 5-136. In September and October 1943, Kōkūtai 204 operated in this area with the last two Model 32s. It is likely, therefore, that despite the change of the tail code this Zero was still in service with this unit. Most of unit’s armament consisted of A6M2 Model 21 and A6M3 Model 22, and it also received its first A6M5 Model 52 during this period. Following the neutralization of the Ballale base, the unit lost one Model 32. This was apparently aircraft with serial number 3285, which was salvaged from Ballale in 1968 by Robert Diemert. It showed the strafing damage that occurred while the aircraft was on the ground. Zero 3285 was stored at Friendship Airfield in Canada and some of its parts were used to rebuild other Zeros. It was later purchased by John and Earl Calverley of the Blayd Corporation. After that, 3285 was in a collection in Australia where John Fallis purchased it several years ago with the help of Graham Orphan of New Zealand’s Classic Wings magazine and is restoring it to airworthy condition at his company CHUZY SUZY LLC in Lafayette, Louisiana. In 2022, the aircraft parts were photographed by Eduard staff and with the help of researcher Ryan Toews a reconstruction of both forms of this unique aircraft was made.