Saturday, 5 May 2012

19 Sentai - Kawasaki Ki-61 "Hien" (Tony) - 三式戦闘機 「飛燕」

A 19th Sentai Hien found at the end of the War in Luzon (NARA)


The 19th Sentai was a Kawasaki Ki-61 "Hien" dedicated unit. It was formed at the Akeno Hiko Gakko (Akeno Flying School) on February 10, 1944 and a month later relocated to Itami, Osaka where together with an IJNAF fighter unit was responsible for the air defence of the Hansin area (the area of Japan including Kobe & Osaka).
Together with the 17th Sentai the unit formed the 22nd Hikodan and from May 12, 1944 started advancing to the Philippines. One chutai at a time, a total of 38 Hien, took off from Itami and gradually arrived to Nielson airfield on the suburbs of Manila by June 3 facing various technical problems on the way. On July 8, 22 planes including the unit commander Major Seto Rokuro advanced to Ambon island where they were engaged in fierce aerial battles especially on July 19 and 27 with only a very small number of aircraft making it back to Manila in the end of July. Together with the rest of the unit, the 19th Sentai now moved to Anheles West airfield, in Luzon where they replenished their numbers by receiving new aircraft in the middle of September bringing the total number of planes to 23.
On September 21 there was a big enemy raid and although the unit claimed ten enemy aircraft shot down, they lost again many of their own. By the end of September the unit was left with only eight aircraft.
In October the battle for Leyte begun and by the 23rd the unit had only one aircraft in flyable condition. The next day during an enemy ground attack, Commander Seto was killed leaving the unit with no officer pilots. One week later the no more than a dozen still alive unit members returned to Clark airfield in Luzon and from there to Komaki, Aichi Prefecture where the unit was reorganised with new pilots and aircraft.

The unit marking was a combination of the numbers 1 and 9. (Artwork by D. Chouinard)

On New Year's Eve the 19th Sentai with 30 aircraft in their strength left Japan to arrive in Taiwan, their subsequent new base of operations on January 2. The unit was to advance to the Philippines but while a number of aircraft of chutai strength had managed to arrive in Clark airfield, the aircraft of the new Commander of the unit, Captain Yoshida Masaaki, experienced technical problems and the unit split in two. Those who remained in Taiwan were responsible for the air defence of Southern Taiwan until February 1945, while those who were in the Philippines advanced to Tuguegarao, Cagayan, Luzon where they perished forming a Special Attack unit.
While in Taiwan the unit was joined by elements of the 18th and 55th Sentai who had managed to escape from the Philippines. With only about a dozen aircraft the 19th Sentai now joined the battle for Okinawa. Depending on their skill, the best pilots engaged in conventional bombing missions against enemy ships while less skilled pilots made suicide attacks. The worsening situation left the unit on June 6 with only 11 Hien and 30 pilots, albeit only 10 skillful enough to engage the enemy in combat. In the end the unit organised two Special Attack units equipped with four aircraft each but fortunately the War ended before their able to be deployed in combat.       
 

More 19th Sentai Hien found at the end of the war in Luzon (NARA).

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