Arawasi contest #8

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Nakajima A6M2-N "Rufe" pt. 4 Aleutians Toko Kokutai

Starting with this one the next three postings in the "Rufe" saga will detail their presence in the Aleutians and will be updated as new information becomes available. If you are not familiar with the campaign, take a look here.
Toko Kokutai
Organized on November 15, 1940 as a flying boat unit, the second of its kind in the Japanese Navy, was called "Toko" from the Japanese reading of the Chinese name of its base, Donggang in Taiwan.
When the war broke out it was based in Palau and participated in the operations against the Philippines. Then relocated there to take part in the attack against Dutch East Indies finally moving to Indonesia patrolling the Bay of Bengal and the South East areas.
In July 1942 a part of the unit was assigned to Kiska island but with the worsening situation in the Solomons first moved to Yokohama on August 14 and then to Shortland Islands where they were joined with the main force from Indonesia patrolling the Solomons.

June 8, 1942
On the day Kiska and Attu were occupied by the Japanese army, seaplane tenders Kimikawa and Kamikawa Maru with their seaplane compliments of Type Zero Observation Seaplanes or Mitsubishi F1M "Pete" and Type Zero Reconnaissance Seaplanes or Aichi E13A "Jake" moved in the area and begun patrols. The next day, six Type 97 Flying Boats or Kawanishi H6K "Mavis" from Toko Ku advanced in the area.
A six plane "Rufe" unit was organized in Yokosuka by Lieutenant (LT) Yamada and arrived in Kiska on July 5 on board the seaplane tender Chiyoda becoming part of the Toko Ku.
With the withdrawal of the aircraft carriers two weeks after the capture of Kiska and Attu, the Toko Ku "Rufe" replaced the seaplane units of Kimikawa and Kamikawa Maru providing the only air cover in the area until the construction of airfields on both islands was completed.
The Kodochosho entries of the Toko Ku unfortunately do not reveal many details but are still extremely interesting since they are a primary source. As mentioned above the Toko Ku had six "Rufe" in its strength. The small unit was split into three shotai (sections) with two aircraft each. Most Kodochosho entries have two spots for each shotai and only the name of the shotai leader is always mentioned without stating clearly the exact number of aircraft and what other pilots were involved in each entry.
Below are two examples of Kodochosho entries.
First a July 5, 1942:
Starting from the left, four shotai are mentioned (1, 2, 4, 3), then follows the code for seaplane fighter (fc) and the name of the shotai leader; from top to bottom: Suzuki, Saito, Yamada, Okawa. Notice that there are empty spaces between their names. Then on the right side there are brackets. Note there are brackets combining the shotai leaders name with one more empty spot. That would indicate that on that day there were couples/pairs of pilots/planes, three planes in the case of the 2nd shotai. Unfortunately the names of the pilots with which the shotai leaders flew are not mentioned. When Izawa mentions that three aircraft were involved in an incident, he reads the entry with the three shotai leaders. But, as we will see, that would mean that only three pilots always flew which is highly unlikely. Another difficulty is that the entry above mentions that nine a/c flew on that day but it does not clarify how many a/c flew once, returned to base, refuelled and then took-off again. So, the nine indicates the number of exits not the number of actual a/c.
Finally, after the brackets, it is mentioned that there was no contact with the enemy. 
Here is another entry, July 24, 1942.
As we can see the first shotai with Okawa plus one more pilot and the second shotai with Saito, plus one more pilot, went out on patrol.
One more entry, July 31, 1942:
Here we can see the first shotai with Yamada plus one more pilot and later Saito alone twice.
In other words it is difficult to ascertain the exact number of aircraft involved. Nevertheless, sometimes from other information we can infer a minimum number.
The Izawa entries are indicated with the letter I- in the beginning, the Kodochosho with the letter K-.
Another source of information is the daily reports entitled "Japanese Naval Activities" issued by the Navy Department, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington. Very often the dates and the description of events vary from accurate to puzzling to bizarre and are included here with their original dates indicated as DR-.
The confusion with the dates is probably due to the Aleutians being in different date and time zones than Japan. Simply put, US documents have time/date Alaska, Japanese documents have time/date Tokyo. Usually there is one day difference but occasionaly things are more complicated.
July 5
K- Flight Petty Officers, 2nd Class (PO2c) Suzuki, Okawa and Yamada patrol in pairs. Ensign (ENS) Saito patrol with two more aircraft. NEC (No Enemy Contact).
This entry seems to indicate that on that day three pairs and one trio, i.e. nine "Rufe" flew patrol missions but as we saw above the unit had only six aircraft in its strength. Let's remember that Kodochosho entries only mention exits not total number of aircraft that flew on that day. So, perhaps three "Rufe" flew twice on that day?
July 7
K- Yamada, Saito, Okawa patrol in pairs. NEC.
DR- Aleutians: Five heavy U.S. bombers reached Kiska Harbor on July 7, but were intercepted by three Japanese seaplanes, one of which was believed to have been shot down.
The publication “Combat Chronology 1941 - 1945”, Compiled by Kit C. Carter, Robert Mueller (Center for Air Force History Washington, DC 1991), (hereafter CC) has the following:
“7/7/42 Eleventh AF - 1 B-17 and 7 B-24’s fly weather, bombing and photo missions to Kiska, Attu, and Agattu. All bombs are returned to base due to weather. 1 seaplane is shot down.”
July 8
K- Yamada, Saito, Okawa took-off at 04:30 to patrol in pairs. Saito at 04:45 located a B-24. Air battle, enemy hit and escaped. Saito spent 20mmX60, 7.7mmX250. His second pilot spent 20mmX20 & 7.7mmX250. Returned to base at 06:30. Yamada and Okawa NEC, returned to base at 06:00 and 06:30 respectively.
Yamada (pair) took-off again at 06:45, returning at 07:50 followed by Saito (pair) at 08:00, returned at 09:10.
I- Ens Saito Kiyomi with one more "Rufe" located a B-24. An air battle commenced with no results.
The only reference to that event I could find in non-Japanese sources was in the book “Air War Pacific: Chronology: America’s Air War Against Japan in East Asia and the Pacific, 1941 – 1945” by Eric Hammel: “July 8, 1942 ALEUTIAN ISLANDS: Except for one weather reconnaissance flight to Kiska and Little Kiska islands and local fighter patrols, the Eleventh Air Force is grounded by bad weather.”
CC- “7/8/42 Eleventh AF - 404th Bomb Sq arrives in the Alaskan Theater with B-24’s—originally destined for N Africa. 1 B-24 flies 2 photo missions over S shore of Kiska and over Little Kiska. Bombing mission canceled due to weather.”

July 9
K- Yamada, Saito, Okawa patrol in pairs. NEC.

July 10
K- Okawa (pair) patrol 03:30~04:00. NEC.

July 11
K- Yamada, Saito, Okawa twice patrol in pairs. NEC.
July 12
K- Yamada, Saito, Okawa patrol in pairs.
Okawa took-off at 06:25. Twenty minutes later spotted a B-24. During the attack spent 20mmX220, 7.7mmX600 and (most interestingly) 30kgX2.
Yamada took-off at 06:50 and at 07:20 spotted one B-24 which he attacked with bombs, 30kgX2.
Saito found three B-24 at 10:20 which they attacked spending 20mmX220, 7.7mmX400. One enemy a/c emitted black smoke but wasn't shot down.
I- There were two air battles and one Consolidated B-24 Liberator trailed black smoke.
Hammel - “July 11, 1942 ALEUTIAN ISLANDS: Four 28th Composite Bombardment Group B-24s are attacked by IJN float fighters as they take off from Umnak/Fort Glenn Field. There are no losses, and the bombers proceed to reconnoiter and attack Kiska Island, where they score near misses against an IJN cruiser.”
CC - “7/11/42 Eleventh AF - 4 B-24’s taking off for weather, bombing and photo mission to Kiska are attacked by seaplane ftrs. No losses. A cruiser is bombed with unobserved results.”

July 13
DR- The latest estimate of Japanese naval strength in the Western Aleutians follows: At Kiska 6 seaplanes and 3 patrol planes

July 17
K- Yamada, Saito, Okawa patrol in pairs. NEC.
July 18
K- Yamada, Saito, Okawa patrol in pairs. Took-off between 03:30~04:00, returned between 04:00~05:20. NEC.
Yamada pair took-off again at 06:00, spotted three B-24 at 06:15. Attacked but the enemy escaped. Returned 07:15. Both pilots spent 20mmX120, 7.7mmX320 each.
Saito received report about enemy presence and took-off at 06:20. Found enemy and attacked both spending 20mmX240, 7.7mmX750, 30kgX2. The enemy escaped.
Okawa spotted the enemy from the ground, took-off at 06:20 and also spent 20mmX240, 7.7X600.
At 07:35 all three took-off again and found three B-17 shooting down one.
Saito once again took-off at 09:30 NEC.
Okawa took-off at 11:15, followed by Saito at 12:00 and Yamada at 12:15. Found two B-17 at 12:45, all attacked but the enemy escaped. Saito also used 30kgX2.
Yamada again patrol 13:55~15:40, NEC.
I- Six "Rufe" seaplanes are engaged in air battle three times. Fought against three B-24 claiming one shot down.
According to Hammel: July 17, 1942 ALEUTIAN ISLANDS: Three 28th Composite Bombardment Group B-17s and seven B-24s reconnoiter, photograph, and attack land and shipping targets at Kiska. IJN fighters down one B-17.”
But also: “July 18, 1942 ALEUTIAN ISLANDS: A 28th Composite Bombardment Group B-17 crashes at Umnak/ Fort Glenn Field after reconnoitering Kiska.”
According to The Thousand-Mile War - World War II in Alaska and the Aleutians” by Brian Gardfield, p.138-139:
“Old Seventy, the antique prototype B-17, had developed a reputation for willfulness. Nothing could touch her; she seemed invulnerable. When she was not part of a bombing mission she flew the morning weather patrol over Kiska; she was in the air every day. Billy Wheeler wrote, "The old crate is a light ship and capable of greater range than the new type." But Old Seventy, treated with the warm affection of a mascot, ran out of luck on July 17, 1942.
  The Aleutian Campaign was just seven weeks old, but both Old Seventy and her pilot, Major Jack Marks, were blooded veterans. Then squadron leader Russell Cone recalls, "Jack Marks kept begging me for weeks to let him handle a mission. I relented and let him lead a flight of three B-17s on a Kiska mission." Marks was jumped over Kiska by a pack of Rufe fighters; they shot up Old Seventy but it looked as if she could get home. She didn't make it; she ran into a mountain in the fog. Cone took the news bitterly. "It always bothered me awfully that I had let him go."
  It had been a heavy day for the Rufes. One pilot on the mission estimated that more than fifty individual fighter attacks were made on his ship during the short period he was locked into his bomb run. Of the eight bombers in the day's missions to Kiska, seven returned to Umnak—every one riddled.” 
I suspect the two Hammel entries are actually referring to the same incident, the confusion caused by the day zones.
The article, here, has more on the Old Seventy and the date of her crash is given as July 17.
DR- 5 Japanese seaplanes intercepted an attack group of B 24's which delivered a fruitless attack on enemy shipping at Kiska.
CC- 7/17/42 Eleventh AF - 3 B-17’s and 7 B-24’s fly weather, bombing and photo missions. Shipping is bombed- North and South Heads of Kiska are photographed. Ftrs down 1 B-17.”
In any case, the Toko Ku Rufe seaplanes can be credited with at least one B-17 confirmed shot down in this incident.

July 19
K- Yamada (pair), anti submarine patrol. 12:15~13:00, NEC.

July 20
K- Yamada (three), Saito (pair), Okawa (pair) patrol. NEC. On that day the Yamada shotai has three aircraft, the other two.

July 21
K- Okawa (pair) took-off at 04:50, found two B-17 at 06:15, attacked spending together 20mmX240, 7.7mmX300. Both enemy a/c escaped, one B-17 trailed black smoke; no confirmed kill.
At 06:15 Yamada takes off with three a/c in his shotai but NEC.
One more patrol by Yamada (pair), Saito (pair), Okawa (pair) between 08:15~14:30 but NEC.
I- Two "Rufe" fought against two Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. One B-17 trailed black smoke.
DR- On July 20 two B-17's bombed the Kiska area, but results could not be observed. Japanese seaplanes intercepted, but failed to damage our planes.
CC- “7/20/42 Eleventh AF - Gen Butler moves adv HQ to Umnak. 3 B-17’s bomb Kiska (especially barracks) with incendiaries and demolition charges. 4 P-38’s try to intercept 4 ftrs reported by Navy aircraft. No contact made.” 

July 22
K- Yamada, Saito (twice) patrol in pairs, NEC.
DR- On July 22 eight U.S. bombers attacked Kiska, but cloudy weather prevented any observation of the results. No enemy AA fire or fighters were encountered during the attack.
CC- “7/21/42 Eleventh AF - 4 B-24’s fly search and bomb missions over Kiska but make no contact because of weather.”

July 23
K- Yamada, Saito (twice), Okawa (twice) patrol in pairs, NEC.

July 24
K- Saito, Okawa patrol in pairs, NEC.

July 25
K- Yamada, Saito patrol in pairs, NEC.

July 27
K- Okawa (pair) patrol, NEC.

July 28
K- Yamada (pair) patrol, NEC. Saito (pair) submarine escort (?).

July 29
K- Yamada (1st time two a/c, 2nd time three a/c), Saito (pair) (twice), Okawa (pair) patrol, 10:50~17:10, NEC.

July 30
K- Yamada (1st time pair, 2nd time alone), Saito (pair), Okawa (pair), Suzuki (pair) (twice) patrol 04:25~12:00, NEC.
At 12:20 Saito took-off again with three a/c in his shotai. Immediately found three B-24, attacked spending altogether 20mmX46, 7.7mmX100. Enemy escaped. 
I- Air battle.
Hammel - “July 30, 1942 ALEUTIAN ISLANDS: Three 28th Composite Bombardment Group B-17s, three B-24s, and one LB-30 reconnoiter and attack targets at Tanaga and Kiska islands, but results are negligible because of bad weather over the targets.” 
CC- 7/29/42 Eleventh AF - 4 B-24’s and 5 B-17’s bomb vessels and installations in Kiska Harbor area with unobserved results due to clouds.”
CC- 7/30/42 Eleventh AF - 1 LB-30, 3 B-17’s and 3 B-24’s fly photo rcn and bombing missions to Tanaga and Kiska. Missions are unsuccessful due to weather.”

July 31
K- Anti-submarine patrol. Yamada (pair) 06:15~07:40, Saito alone 07:25~08:10 and again 13:30~14:20. NEC.
I- A "Rufe" pilot was forced to make an emergency landing and was saved by an unnamed ship. 
Hammel - July 31, 1942 ALEUTIAN ISLANDS: A planned attack against Kiska is canceled because of bad weather, but one B-24 and one LB-30 are able to complete photographic- and weather-reconnaissance flights to that objective.”
The Kodochosho entry does not mention any losses.
August 1
K- Suzuki (3 times. First two times pair, last time alone), Yamada (pair), Saito (pair) patrol, 08:55~12:50, NEC

August 3
K- Suzuki, Okawa, patrol in pairs 11:15~14:40. NEC.

August 4
K- Saito (twice), Suzuki (twice), Okawa, Yamada patrol in pairs 03:55~15:40. NEC.
Gardfield though mentions: “...Eareckson's command had diminished to a total strength of eleven heavy bombers. The number dropped to ten on August 4, when Captain Ira F. Wintermute (who had already lost a navigator and ditched a plane a month earlier) had his B-24 Liberator chewed up by flak and Rufes. With two engines on fire, Wintermute lost altitude but deter-mined to stay in the air. His navigator, Lieutenant Paul A. Perkins, kept saying, "We'll make it—we'll make it." But Wintermute rehearsed ditching procedures with the crew. The ship had crabbed about 150 miles toward home when one engine fell off. Wintermute felt the plane going out of con-trol, and gave the order to bail out.”

Closer Inspection - Observations
It is really incredible that this small fighter unit with only six seaplanes was able to put in the air almost on a daily basis for a whole month and engage in combat in at least five occasions without any loses. From July to August we can see that all six aircraft are in perfect condition to take off and alight sometimes three or four times in a day. A testament to the work of the ground crew who kept these planes constantly in combat-ready condition without any mechanical failures. Notice also the absence of accidents or mis-alightments or pilots getting lost even in the most adverse weather conditions as those prevailing in the Aleutians. A testament to the pilot skills. In all the encounters with US aircraft there was only one instance when the "Rufe" reported damage, on July 18 the Saito and Yamada pairs reported their aircraft having two bullet holes. Let's not forget that the "Rufe" had the same protection as any A6M2.
Of interest is also the amount of ammunition they spent, confirming that the "Rufe" had 60-round drums for the 20mm cannons; the amount two pilots spend in any one case never exceeding 240 rounds. Notice also the two instances 30kg aerial bombs were used and the anti-submarine patrols perhaps with different ordnance.
On July 8 the three pairs took off to patrol different areas. Saito makes contact with the enemy aircraft and sends word back to base. Yamada returns to base at 06:00 and he is notified of the enemy's presence. It is easy to imagine the ground crew refueling the seaplanes in a frenzy while the pilots discuss the flight plan, taking off again only 45 minutes later.

Tail Marking etc.
According to Akimoto, the official tail marking for the Toko Kokutai was “トコ” (katakana ToKo) on their flying boats but actually used the letter “O”. Izawa, though, mentions that the tail marking for the "Rufe" unit was the letter “D” and he repeats this in his book "Japanese Naval Fighter Aces: 1932-45" by Ikuhiko Hata, Yashuho Izawa, Christopher Shores (Stackpole Books). There is a photo in the “Koku Journal” article of a "Rufe" with a not very clear tail marking. Here's a close up of the photo in question. Note that all fabric surfaces have a lighter color.
The tail marking could be “D-105” and our friend Devlin Chouinard created artwork.
Notice the different color tone on the canvas covered rudder. This a common feature on Aleutian "Rufe" seaplanes. We decided to depict it in this article as lighter gray but Hasegawa has released a kit showing the area in question as yellow. Note ofcourse the naughty purplish color of the fuselage. 
Wind Swords mentioned that the tail marking could be an “O” instead of a “D”.
Here's a close of another photo from a different publication (FAOW #54, October 1974) that confirms that the tail marking is “-105” but is it an “O” or a “D”? In the photo above it looks like a “D”, in the photo below more like an “O”.
Aircraft Carrier Ryujo had tail marking starting with "DI-" from April 1941. From July 1942 had "A2-3". Junyo was completed as aircraft carrier on May 3, 1942.
During the Aleutians both carriers were under the 4th Koku Sentai which had "D" (D=4) for tail marking. So, Ryujo had "DI-" and Junyo had "DII-". Therefore if the Toko Ku planes were under the 4th Koku Sentai they could have "D" as their tail number.
Watanabe Yoji too in his book "Ginyoku Minami e Kita e" also says that "when the Toko Ku became 5th Ku changed their tail marking from D to R".
Akimoto says that the flying boats of Toko Ku had "O" as their tail marking but does not mention anything about the Rufe seaplanes and their marking.
On the other hand, there is no evidence and nobody claims that the Toko Ku "Rufe" seaplanes came under the command of the 4th Koku Sentai. Actually they arrived in the area after the aircraft carriers were gone and therefore it would be more logical to say that they kept the tail marking of their unit, i.e. "O".
Below are two photos of Toko Ku "Mavis" flying boats.
The first is a close up of a photo found on p.175, of Model Art#541.
Nohara says the marking is "O-46" but it's barely visible.
A much better photo can be found in Maru Extra #3. The marking in this case is clearly visible. 
Here's a better version of the first "Rufe" photo courtesy of Akimoto Minoru and his book "Nihon Kaigun Kokutai Shashin-shu", Shupan Kyodo 1960.

A closer inspection of the tail reveals that the tail number is "O-101". Here's artwork of this particular seaplane by Devlin Chouinard.

And here's a better version of the second photo again courtesy of Akimoto Minoru and the same publication with artwork by Devlin Chouinard. Notice how similar is the tone of the tail marking with the fuselage hinomaru indicating that the tail marking is probably red, not black. 
Hasegawa has also released a kit with “O” tail marking in 1/72. The yellow painted fabric tail part is doubtful and, according to the instructions and the box artwork, the seaplane should have the yellow IFF stripes on the wing leading edges which are also highly doubtful.
Michael Thurow reminded us that Don Thorpe in his 1977 “Japanese Naval Air Force Camouflage and Markings WWII” on page 144 shows the drawing of a Toko Ku "Rufe" in green camouflage with tail code O-125. 
Thorpe explains: "RUFE, TOKO NAG, 1942-1943" and "TOKO Naval Air Group, 1942-1945. Although the TOKO NAG was basically a flying boat unit, some RUFEs were attached for escort and scout service. The color scheme shown is typical for the mid and late war periods with this type of aircraft. (Scheme S1)"
From the two photos above we can infere that Toko Ku "Rufe" seaplanes had tail markings from "O-101" to "O-106" (certainly not "O-125") and were painted in the typical for the period overall gray (not green). 


Anonymous said...

Great articles, keep them coming! One of my sources says the tail code for the Toko Ku is "O" instead of "D". If the photo is as unclear as you say I can see how it could be interpreted as either letter.

Wind Swords

D. Chouinard said...

I think both side in the conflict were fighting weather just as much as each other.
"naughty purplish color" :)

Michael Thurow said...

My understanding of tail letters before the discussion started was this: in the early war period Ku‘s received letters ascending through the alphabet with A-E reserved for the carrier air groups. If this was the case (as supported by some lists in books - I can‘t refer now since on vacation, but remember that Thorpe might be one of them) then ‚O‘ would seem correct for Toko Ku. This is by no means scientific evidence however. Btw, for me David‘s comment didn‘t come across as overly impolite. It would be a strong indication if there were pictures of flying boats with ‚O‘.

Michael Thurow said...

If I remember correctly ‚D’ stood for the carrier air group 4 (Ryujo and Junyo) engaged in the diversionary attack on the Aleutians. The famous Zero shot down and captured there by American forces carried the letter ‚D‘. Unfortunately I don‘t have my references handy. Maybe the confusion comes from both units being active in the same area at the same time?

Anonymous said...

I think it's very easy to get confused because the Japanese changed their markings so much. Just keeping up with the carrier group changes drives me batty.
And sometimes a naval air group had one tail marking in Japan but another when stationed in foreign lands. For example, the Toko group had the tail symbol トコ in Japan. Then it was renamed the 851st Kokutai on 1 November 1942. But after that date the tail code might be either 51 or 851! I think I have a headache!
The Army Air Force was a little better with their tail symbols but some of them did change also (look at all the symbols for the 5th Sentai).
In my first post I forgot to thank Devlin Chouinard for his great illustrations. No matter the tail code these drawings are a great resource for the researcher or modeler to see colors and markings. Thank you Devlin!

Wind Swords

David Brizzard said...

I agree with Wind Swords. Great art work. Wish I had the talent.
So also a big Thank You to Devlin. Hope to see more.


D. Chouinard said...

You're welcome and thank you! I'm glad you like the artwork!

David Brizzard said...

Toko tail marking. Found this. May help. Thoughts...

If you convert an English O to kanji you get this, 回

Kind of looks like an O. ( not sure how to enlarge )

David B.

D. Chouinard said...

Interesting. I enlarged the photo shown above, and from what I can tell, it looks like an "O". However, the photo is very grainy, so there is a possibility of it being a "D". I Don't have enough resources to make any assumption, so I have to go with what I see, and what others with more informed knowedge can tell me. This is very interesting and provides a great deal of insight.

David Brizzard said...

Toko "Rufe" tail code colors.

Red or Black. Opinions please.

Michael Thurow said...

Following up on the earlier discussion I now have access to my sources and can confirm that Thorpe 1977 'Japanese Naval Air Force Camouflage and Markings...' on page 114 shows the drawing of a Toko Ku Rufe in green camouflage with tail code O-125. This is no proof but the late Don Thorpe is one of the original researchers on Japanese aircraft colours and quite reliable.
The Toko Ku was 'basically a flying boat unit, some Rufes were attached for escort and scout service'. If that so, it's unlikely that Rufes had a tail code different from the flying boats (we're still missing that picture, David).
As to the code's colour: red appears to be predominent in the early war period, black later (after mid 1942), but there was also a wild mixture, e.g. in the Tainan Ku - so everything seems possible.