towards the end of May, 1942. Also rejoining
the Tainan Kōkūtai at Rabaul towards the
end of May, 1942, was the Inano Chūtai after
ending their detachment to the 22nd Kōkū
The main objective of the Tainan Kōkūtai
following the move to Rabaul was to support the planned invasion of Port Moresby,
New Guinea. About 2/3 of the strength of
the unit operated from the airfield at Lae,
New Guinea. Then on August 7, 1942, word
came that the US forces had taken over
the nearly completed airfield the Japanese
had been building on Guadalcanal, forcing
a change of objective.
It was on this first Tainan Kōkūtai mission to Guadalcanal that day that FPO1c
Sakai Saburō fought his epic dogfight with
Lt “Pug” Southerland before finally shooting down his heavily damaged F4F Wildcat. And also on this mission that Sakai
was shot by the rear gunner of an SBD
Dauntless and lost the sight in his right
eye. He struggled with his wounds to continue flying, but finally returned to Rabaul.
His wounds were too severe for treatment
there, so he was evacuated to Japan. Before leaving, LtJG Sasai Jun’ichi gave Sakai
his silver tiger belt buckle, and pleaded for
his recovery and safe return to Rabaul.
The photo Nr. 3 show Sakai on arrival at
Lakunai Airfield, Rabaul with his head
wound. To his right with clipboard and look
of horror on his face is FPO1c Ōta Toshio.
On his left in the white shirt is LtJG Sasai
Jun’ichi. The Reisen in the background is
V-138, the aircraft of Hikōtaichō, LtCdr Nakajima Tadashi. The photo Nr. 4 shows the
bullet damaged leather helmet and flight
goggles worn by Sakai that day, along with
the silver tiger belt buckle.
The battles fought at extreme range trying
to regain control of Guadalcanal rapidly increased attrition. On November 1, 1942 the
Tainan Kōkūtai was renamed 251 Kōkūtai.
both the 3rd Kōkūtai and Tainan Kōkūtai.
I suspect this may be because both units
followed the pattern of the 12th Kōkūtai.
However, I have not done enough research
on this unit to be certain of this, and there
is some evidence to suggest that only red
and blue fuselage bands were used by 12th
The severe attrition had ended the unit’s
effectiveness as a fighting force. In mid-November, less than 20 surviving ground
crew and pilots boarded a transport ship
and returned to Japan to regroup.
The marking system that evolved with the
12th Kōkūtai in China was the basis of the
marking systems used by 3rd Kōkūtai and
Tainan Kōkūtai. In its final form, these markings were as follows:
Buntaichō = 2 fuselage bands plus 2 tail
Shōtaichō = 1 fuselage band plus 2 tail stripes
Wingman = 1 fuselage band plus 1 tail stripe
The 3rd Kōkūtai followed the same pattern
for quantity of bands/stripes as used by
the 12th Kōkūtai. The Tainan Kōkūtai simplified these markings as described in the
In addition to the quantity of bands/stripes,
their color also had meaning. Each Buntaichō had a color that all the fuselage bands
of the aircraft in his Chūtai were marked
with. Similarly, there was a color for each
Shōtaichō and the tail stripes of each aircraft within the Shōtai.
The pattern of colors used for the Chūtai
and Shōtai markings were the same for
The fuselage band used by the Tainan Kōkūtai was one of the most distinctive unit
markings of all the Japanese Naval Fighter Groups. The fuselage band was slanted
forward toward the top of the fuselage, so
that it appeared as a diagonal line when
viewed from the side. I actually prefer to
refer to the band as a sash stripe, since this
is a better description of the appearance.
A longstanding error in some illustrations
and decals is the shape of the fuselage
band at the top of the fuselage. The top is
rounded, not a sharp point. Also, the fuselage band does not completely encircle the
bottom of the fuselage, usually stopping
at the panel line just below the wing fillet.
There may be some bands that did completely encircle the fuselage, but this may be
just an interpretation based on a shadow
on the underside.
On Reisen with Hōkoku markings on the
rear fuselage, the band might be painted
with or without a break, depending on the
fuselage band color. If there was sufficient
contrast in the fuselage band color with the
Black Hōkoku inscription, then the band
would be painted right up to the inscription
characters. Red and obviously, Black fuselage bands always had a break.
Also, for Reisen from the time period from
unit formation until April 1, 1942, and based
probably on the low contrast with the gray
factory finish, some photos show aircraft
with blue and white fuselage bands had
the bands edged in a darker color, possibly
black edging on blue bands, and red edging
on white bands. The fuselage bands were
hand painted using a brush. Each was as