Tuesday 8 December 2020

Zero-sen Special #2 - 221 Kokutai pt.2

Below is a selection of the most interesting entries in the "Sento Shoho" (Combat Report) of the Kagoshima based 407 Hikotai

August 1944
1/8 - The unit had: Eight operational A6M2 Model 21 and five more undergoing repairs, two A6M3 Model 32 and four in repairs, 19 A6M5 Model 52 and 18 in repairs, two A6M2-K and two in repairs, eight Yokosuka/Kawanishi K5Y1 "Akatonbo" (Willow), none in repairs.

[This is the first time A6M3s are mentioned in the 221Ku]

13/8 - During flight training one "Akatonbo" had to make an emergency alighting and sunk.
19/8 - During flight training involving 19 Zeros
30/8 - Another "Akatonbo" fell in the sea and sunk.

1/9 - The unit had: three Model 21s and 12 in repairs, no Model 32s operational and one in repairs, 14 Model 52s and 28 in repairs, one A6M2-K and one in repairs, six "Akatonbo" and one in repairs.
On the same day, while eight Zeros were engaged in high altitude shooting tests and dive bombing training, two Zeros, Nakajima s/n 567 and Nakajima s/n 795, crashed into each other suffering very serious damage. 
4/9 - Ten Zeros and two "Akatonbo" were engaged in dive bombing training and air battle. One Zero, Nakajima c/n 1490, suffered serious damage during a landing accident.
5/9 - During air battle training involving ten Zeros, two of them, "221-D50" and "221-D23", hit each other in the air and crashed.
7/9 - Received six Zeros from Kasanohara.
9/9 - During night flight training, one carrier attacker [possibly Nakajima B5N "Kate"] hit two Zeros in the air. Both Zeros suffered serious damage, one burst into flames.
18/9 - During a communication flight, one Zero, "221-D56", had a landing accident and suffered serious damage. 
30/9 - After, formation flight training involving 16 Zeros, one of them, "221-D57", had a landing accident and suffered serious damage. 

The 312 Hikotai was based in Shinchiku (modern-day Hsinchu) in Taiwan, starting the relocation from August 11 as we saw in the previous post. Below is a selection of the most interesting entries in the "Sento Shoho" (Combat Report) of the unit.

11/8 - 16 Model 52 Zeros took off from Kasanohara at 12:30 and reached Shinchiku.
15/8 - 19 Model 52 took off from Kasanohara, but during landing at Shinchiku two of them, "21-57" and "21-81", suffered serious damage.
17/8 - 16 Model 52s arrived from Kasanohara but the leg of one Zero, "21-117", snapped during landing.
18/8 - Another snapped leg during landing, this time of Zero "21-118", resulting in serious damage.
22/8 - Yet another landing accident. Zero with tail number "221-143".
29/8 - Returning from patrol, one Zero stalled and crashed in the south corner of the airfield. The aircraft was damaged beyond repair and the pilot died. 
On the same day, two Zeros hit each other on the ground. "221-38" had little damage and "221-18" suffered serious damage.
30/8 - The unit had: 20 Model 52 Zeros and 25 undergoing repairs. This entry clarifies that the unit was equipped with Model 52 Zeros only and therefore the accidents mentioned above involved Model 52s.

2/9 - Another landing accident. The Zero "221-43" was seriously damaged.
On the same day, two more Zeros hit each other during taxing. "221-13" had little damage, "221-38" searious damage.

[This is the second time "221-38" is involved in an accident. A rather unlucky aircraft and pilot.]

9/9 - Received 11 Model 52 from 305Ku based in Takao. 
14/9 - Three Model 52s arrived from Kasanohara
15/9 - The unit had: 15 Model 52s and 26 in repairs
18/9 - Two Zeros, "221-8" and "221-47", hit each other while on the ground. Only small damage to both.
20/9 - The unit had: 30 Model 52s and 28 in repair.   
24/9 - During a landing accident "221-09" suffered little damage.
26-28/9 - The unit took part in the "Setsu-Go" operation, a side operation of the major Ichi-Go Operation, against Fuchow (present-day Fuzhou) and Fujian Province. 
The IJA 62nd Independent Mixed Brigade departed Shanghai on September 24 on six ships, and landed on the 27th near Fuchow.
The 312 Hikotai provided air cover and escorted the ships during the whole operation. Below is a map from the "Sento Shoho" showing the exits 32 Zeros of the unit did on September 26 in support of the convoy. The solid line with the numbers 90-348 indicates the area until IJAAF units provided cover.
And below is a map from Wiki showing the area. 
Shinchiku is shown as Hsin-chu. Fuchow is shown as Fu-chou.
The map below shows the area the unit provided air cover with 24 Zeros on September 27.

And finally the map below shows the air cover 32 Zeros of the unit provided when the transports retreated to Taiwan.


[Starting from October 10, the U.S. Task Force 38 (TF38) with 17 aircraft carriers, six battleships, four heavy cruisers, 11 light cruisers and 57 destroyers, begun a series of attacks against Japanese military installations on Okinawa, the  rest of the Ryukyus and the Philippines but primarily against airfields in Taiwan.
More, here.
The first major air battle over Taiwan was on October 12, and below is the Combat Report of the 312 Hikotai.]

12/10 - Anticipating enemy attacks the plan called for three chutai to patrol over the base.
The 1st with 14 a/c, commander Lt Katagi Keiji,
the 2nd with 8 a/c, commander LTJG Otsuki Yosaburo
and the 3rd with 11 a/c, commander LTJG Meguro Yoshihiro

06:20 - four Zeros Model 52 took off on patrol.
07:20 - they located about 20 Grumman F6F and TBFs 5km north east of Shinchuku, flying at 2500m. The Zeros attacked shooting down one enemy aircraft but losing two of their own. The remaining two aircraft returned to base at 07:45.
Below is a map from the Combat Report showing the movement of Japanese and enemy forces and the Japanese bases.

Then the unit a/c made four group exits.
In the 1st exit, a total of 33 Zeros took off. 14 a/c from the 1st Chutai (3 shotai of 4 a/c each plus two extra a/c), eight from the 2nd Chutai (2 shotai of 4 a/c each) and 11 from the 3rd Chutai (3 shotai with 4, 3, and 4 a/c respectively).
07:10 - took off from Shinchuku
07:20 - over Taoyuan spotted about 50 enemy fighters and bombers flying at 4000~5000m. Following air battle, claimed 23 enemy a/c shot down (7 probables), while losing 10 (plus two that failed to return to base) and 9 a/c received hits.
08:45~09:00 - the remaining a/c returned to base.
Below is a map from the Combat Report showing the details of this encounter.

In the 2nd exit three shotai took off; total 12 Zeros. A mixed formation with pilots from all three chutai. Obviously pilots that survived the first battle flying a/c in good condition. 
07:50 - two a/c of the 1st Shotai took off from Shinchuku
08:20 - spotted enemy a/c at 2500m in the area between Shinchuku and Taipei but there was no air battle.
08:43 five a/c of the 2nd Shotai took off
08:45 - they engaged in air battle with six Grumman F6F over their base. They claimed two shot down, losing one of their own while another received hits. Three Zeros landed in Taichung, one in Taipei.
10:00 - five Zeros of the 3rd Shotai took off, but spotted no enemy a/c.
16:50 - returned to base.

In the 3rd exit only three a/c took off at 09:10. They engaged in aerial battle over Houlong with enemy a/c at 2500m. Claimed two shot down, losing two of their own. One pilot parachutted and suffered only light injuries.

In the 4th exit only two a/c took off at 13:20. At 14:45 and at an altitude of 3500m, they spotted about 10 Grumman F6Fs and attacked. They shot down one while losing one of their own. The other Zero was hit, but managed to return to base.

The casualties of the unit that day was:
1st exit: 11 dead, 1 MIA / 2nd exit: 1 dead / 3rd exit: 1 dead / 4th exit: 1 dead / TOTAL: 14 dead and 1 MIA.
The unit also claimed:
1st exit: 23 (7 probables) / 2nd exit: 2 / 3rd exit: 2 / 4th exit: 1 / TOTAL: 28 enemy a/c shot down and 7 probables.  

[The U.S. Navy Task Force 38 had divided their areas of responsibility into three sections; south Taiwan, central and north. Although I was able to locate a rather detailed combat report for the operations in the central and southern Taiwan, I was not able, so far, to do so for the northern part of the island where the 312 Hikotai was based. The only information I was able to confirm is that the USS Intrepid was involved in the October 12 attack. I haven't found yet if the rest of the aircraft carriers of the Intrepid's task group (Task Group 38.2 (TG 38.2): USS Bunker Hill, USS Cabot, USS Hancock, USS Independence) also participated in the attacks of that day. From recollections and post-war documentation the Intrepid group was the one that was involved in the air battles of the 1st exit we saw above. No mention is made of further attacks by Intrepid a/c that would explain the air battles of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th exits. Here's what I found:

From here:
On the 12th, the Fast Carrier Task Force began three days of strikes against the large Japanese air forces on Formosa. VF-18 flew cover for the torpedo squadron, VT-18, and the dive-bombing squadron, VB-18. Harris was one of 16 pilots from VF-18 participating in the day's fighter sweep, launched before dawn in order to catch the enemy aircraft on the ground at first light.
VF-18 flew northwest from the Intrepid, to hit an airfield on the northeastern corner of Formosa, as squadron CO Lt. Cdr. Ed Murphy had briefed them the previous night. On schedule, all the Hellcats catapulted off the carrier, and began the slow climb to altitude. Murphy's own division of four planes was in the lead, the second division behind and to his right. Behind the second division, and well to the left was Harris' third division. The fourth division flew behind and to the left of Harris; all climbing at 150 knots. Many other planes from Task Force 38 carriers accompanied VF-18. All maintained radio silence, as they leveled off at 15,000 feet.
As they approached Formosa, they pointed their noses downward and began to gain speed. When Harris, his wingman Burley, and Lt. Bill Zeimer's section approached the field, five enemy bombers had just taken off from the field. In a few seconds Zeimer's gunfire tore into and exploded the first bomber. Harris soon added one of his own. They turned and both quickly splashed another bomber each. Easy so far, but Zeroes appeared up above, dove down and shot up Zeimer's plane. His chute opened and Zeimer floated down. His wingman, DiBatista, locked onto the Zero and avenged Zeimer's loss. Another Zero dived onto DiBatista, and hit him with 20mm cannon fire. But in the deadly round-robin of aerial combat, Harris got behind this Zero and his concentrated 50 caliber fire took a heavy toll. The Zero crashed into the trees and blew up, for Harris' third victory of the day.
While escorting the DiBatista's damaged plane back to Intrepid, he downed another Zero, his fourth of the day.
The following rather fictionalized account is from the book, Intrepid: The Epic Story of America's Most Legendary Warship, by Bill White, Robert Gandt, Crown, Sep 30, 2008
The SB2C Helldiver squadron, Bombing 18, drew the toughest target. Kiirun Harbor was the port of Formosa's major city, Taipei. It had not only the most enticing targets—fat freighters and tank-ers at anchor—but also the most guns. Kiirun Harbor would be the most heavily defended facility outside the Japanese homeland. It was still dark when the pilots went to the flight deck to man their aircraft. As usual, the Hellcats were going first. Their job would be to engage the swarms of Japanese fighters that were sure to come. 
Bombing 18's skipper, Lt. Cdr. Mark Eslick Jr., would lead the flight of twelve dive-bombers. Behind them would come twelve Avengers, loaded with bombs instead of torpedoes. 
The Helldiver crews climbed into their bombers and waited their turn to launch. 
Further up the deck, Lt. Cecil Harris was starting the engine of his Hellcat. Up and down the still-darkened flight deck, big round engines were chuffing to life. Harris could smell the sweetish ex-haust from the tighter in front of him as orange flame spat from its stacks. 
Aircraft handlers were moving among the airplanes, performing their dangerous ballet between the whirling propellers. Harris released the brakes on his Hellcat, following the signals of the director beneath his nose. Each fighter had full fuel tanks and carried a single 500-pound bomb on the center station. Because they were so heavy, they would be catapulted this morning instead of making a deck run takeoff. 
Fighting 18 was putting up sixteen Hellcats that morning—four divisions of four fighters each—with skipper Ed Murphy leading the first division. The second division would take station on Murphy's right side, and to his left would be the third division, led by Cecil Harris. 
The sixteen Hellcats joined up and climbed through the pale gray sky until they leveled at 13,000 feet. The targets were Shinchiku and Matsuyama airfields. If they were jumped by enemy fighters before reaching the target, the Hellcats would shed their bombs and engage the fighters. In the intel briefing they'd been told to expect aerial opposition over Formosa. The Japanese had at least 350 aircraft on the island, half of them fighters. The pilots hoped, as they always did, that they would have the element of surprise. 
They almost did. Even though the fast carrier force reached the launching point southeast of Formosa before sunrise on October 12 without being detected, the initial fighter sweep was picked up on Japanese radars. By the time Intrepid's strike aircraft reached their targets, more than two hundred Japanese aircraft were in the air. 
Even before the bombers reached the target, the situation turned grim. In the heavy cloud cover that clung to the 13,000-foot-high mountains of Formosa, the two 6-plane bomber divisions became separated. Worse, clouds obscured their target, Kiirun Harbor, on the north of the island. Then, seeing a hole, Eslick led his division in a dive down through the overcast and emerged directly over the harbor. The Helldivers went roaring across the docks and warehouses, releasing their bombs at low altitude. 
As expected, Japanese guns opened up from each side of the harbor. As the Helldivers flashed across the harbor and zoomed for safety, the Japanese gunners sighted on them. The lead Helldiver, flown by Eslick, took a hit and spun into the harbor. Seconds later another Helldiver burst into flames and followed Eslick's plane into the water. 
Led by Jack Forsyth, the surviving four Helldivers pulled up at the end of the valley, on the north end of Formosa. Their troubles weren't over. Waiting for them was a swarm of twin-engine Japanese fighters. The Helldivers clustered together, each trying to protect the others as the fighters swept down on them. And then as the fight developed, more bombers appeared from the south—Intrepid's Avengers, just coming off their own target. 
The battle dissolved into a chaotic blur of swirling bombers and fighters. The big plodding bombers—Curtiss SB2C "Beasts" and the equally ponderous Grumman TBM "Turkeys"—couldn't maneuver against the agile Japanese fighters, but they could match them in firepower. Each Helldiver and Avenger had not only its own forward-firing guns but gunners firing from the back. When Bob Christofferson, a Helldiver rear-seat gunner, flamed one of the more aggressive fighters, the other Zero pilots backed off. 
The bombers finally disengaged and worked their way north to the open ocean, where Intrepid waited for them. When the Helldivers landed back aboard, they counted heads. Eleven men were gone, including their skipper, Mark Eslick Jr. Of the twelve airplanes the squadron had put over Formosa that day, a third were still back there, their pieces strewn like chaff in the hills and the harbor. It was the worst day in the squadron's history. 
Cecil Harris could see the hangars below on the Shinchiku airfield. Leading the flight of four Hellcats, he rolled into a 60-degree dive. As the target swelled in the reticules of his windshield-mounted gun sight, Harris jabbed the pickle button on the control stick, then felt the thump as his 500-pound bomb released from its rack. Pulling off target, Harris rendezvoused with his flight at 8,000 feet and headed for the Matsuyama airfield, their next target. 
Then another opportunity appeared. In the distance Harris spotted a flight of Japanese aircraft—four Kawasaki Ki-48 "Lily" bombers, and one twin-engine Mitsubishi Ki-2l bomber, code-named "Sally"—in the landing pattern at the Taien airfield. Harris and his flight rolled in on the hapless bombers. 
The action lasted two minutes. Harris gunned down the Sally bomber and one of the Lilys. His wingmen shot down the other three. But there was no time to celebrate. Dropping from a cloud layer above them were at least fifteen Zeroes. Harris's number three, Lt. (jg) Bill Ziemer, took a barrage of 20-mm hits from a Zero. Trailing smoke from his shattered engine, Ziemer opened his canopy and went over the side. Meanwhile, his wingman, E. J. DiBatista, locked onto the Zero that had shot Ziemer down and destroyed it with his .50-caliber machine guns. 
The melee turned into a deadly round-robin dogfight. While DiBatista was still firing at his Zero, another Japanese fighter rolled in on his tail and ripped DiBatista's Hellcat with cannon fire. At the same time, Cecil Harris slid in behind the Zero that was still trying to finish off DiBatista, and hammered hint with machine-gun fire. The Zero expbded into the trees below. 
It was Harris's third kill, and the day wasn't over. 
It was a costly day for both sides. In after-action reports, pilots reported that during the height of the air battle there was always at least one parachute in the air and at one time five. Intrepid airmen shot down forty-six Japanese airplanes, with seven more probables and two destroyed on the ground. Two large Japanese warships had been sunk, and ten more were damaged. Buildings, hangars, ware-houses, and a large fuel dump had been razed. 
Only twelve of the sixteen Hellcats made it back to Intrepid. Three Fighting 18 pilots were dead, and one, Ziemer, was in enemy hands. DiBatista, who nursed his bullet-shattered Hellcat away from Formosa while being protected by Harris, broke his leg when he bailed out over open water and was now aboard a U.S destroyer. 
For Harris, the South Dakota schoolteacher, it was a day of mixed emotions. With the rest of his squadron he was mourning the loss of three pilots. Harris's four victories propelled him into lofty ter-ritory. He was now a double ace—and the highest-scoring fighter pilot on the Intrepid. 
The worst losses of the day were suffered by Bombing 18. Six SB2C Helldivers had been destroyed, and twelve airmen were dead, including squadron skipper Lt. Cdr. Mark Eslick Jr.

The Combat Report of Combat Air Group #18, actually the fighter VF-18, based on USS Intrepid is HERE.
Pages 1~57 detail ops against targets on Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands.
Pages 58~139 detail the air battle of October 12 and subesequent attacks in north Taiwan until October 14. After that date, Intrepid is engaged in attacks against targets in the Philippines.
So let's start with the events of October 12.
According to the above report, the U.S. fighter forces consisted of: 16 F6F-5 from USS Intrepid, 16 F6F-3 from USS Bunker Hill and 4 F6F-5 from USS Hancock .
Their targets on that day were Shinchuku airfield, thei airfield of Taipei that the Japanese called Machuyama and appears with the same name in the U.S. combat reports (present-day Songshan Airport), and the Keelung Port of Taipei, "Kiirun" in the combat reports the way the Japanese pronounced it.
The Intrepid War Diary has more details.
Obviously this is the force of "50 enemy fighters and bombers" the 1st exit of Zeros encountered at 07:20. Here's what the "Action Report" says about the encounter.

From the numbers of a/c launched and landed, it seems that the "First Sweep" and "Strike 2A" lost five VFs and two VBs. The 312 Hikotai  claimed 31 a/c including probables and admitted losing at least 12 of their own.

Another Action Report mentions a photographic mission over Shinchuku.

These would be the five Zeros of the 2nd Shotai of the 2nd exit. Certainly no "Shoki".

For the rest of the day, Intrepid a/c attacked Matsuyama airfield and "Kiirun" harbor and did not engage any Zeros.  
I believe the 3rd and 4th exits encoured U.S. a/c operating in the central Taiwan section.
Need to find which U.S. a/c carriers operated there and their combat reports if available...

On October 15, a combined force of 11 Zeros from the 312 Hikotai with five Zeros from the 201Ku, were to escort three "Betty" bombers from the Kogeki 718 (or 708, the entry is not clear) and one more "Betty" from Kogeki 702. One "Gekko" from the 804Ku was to complete the whole formation that was to attack the enemy fleet.
The 312 Hikotai Zeros took off at 09:15 but soon six of them had to return to base because of engine problems. The rest of the formation encountered unfavorable weather and at 11:05 three Zeros were forced to return to base. At 11:30 four more Zeros gave up and returned to base. But around that time a force of about 15 F6Fs was spotted and only three Zeros were able to engage them. One Zero was shot down another failed to return to base and the last one managed to do so at 12:50. During that encounter two "Betty" bombers were also shot down.

The next day, October 16, 14 312 Hikotai Zeros with one "Suisei" from Kogeki 5, one "Betty" from Kogeki 704 and two more "Bettys" from Kogeki 708 made an attempt to reach the U.S. fleet.
The Zeros took off between 11:45~11:53 but at 13:00 received radio reports that about 20 large size enemy aircraft were raiding Takao airfield. At 13:30, while flying towards Takao, the bomber unit mistook friendly a/c for enemy fighters and returned to base. The Zeros encountered heavy fog and were ordered to return to base. One of them had a landing accident but was not seriously damaged.

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