On May 14th, 1943 eighteen type 1 land attack bombers (G4M1) of 751 Kokutai (Air Group) took off from Kavieng, New Ireland to attack Allied shipping and installations on New Guinea’s north coast. The bombers met their escort, thirty-two Zero fighters (A6M3) of 251 Kokutai from Rabaul, en route to the target.
Alerted by radar early warning and guided by radar control, three fighter squadrons of the 49th Fighter Group scrambled from airfields near Dobodura. Sixteen P-40Ks (7th FS), sixteen P-40Es (8th FS), and thirteen P-38Fs and Gs (9th FS) rose to meet the incoming Japanese formation.
The bombers hit targets at Oro Bay despite anti-aircraft fire and interception from the first Kittyhawks . A large fuel-laden barge was destroyed along with its cargo, the wharf was hit, a bitumen dump destroyed, and casualties included at least three killed and twelve wounded.
Air combat took place over the New Guinea coast and far out over the Huon Gulf. Five medium bombers were lost and others were damaged including two with personnel casualties. No Zeros were lost. Though Japanese Army aircraft were active over New Guinea on this date they were in action farther west and none was lost in this action. The 49th Fighter Group lost a P-38 with its pilot and a P-40K, which crash-landed in a damaged condition and was determined to be a complete loss. Five Japanese bombers and two American fighters were the total loss for the mission.
As against five Japanese bombers lost, American pilots received credit for eleven bombers and nine fighters destroyed. Others were claimed probably destroyed and damaged. The Japanese fighters claimed thirteen destroyed (including five uncertain). The bombers apparently claimed two additional fighters destroyed.
Petty Officer Masao Yoshihara was the pilot of one of the Japanese bombers on this mission. Shot down but later rescued by the Japanese Army his story was recorded in an Army intelligence report. This story may have historical value (as well as being interesting) as it sheds light on the ability of the type 1 bomber to accept damage and may offer some perspective on American fighter pilots’ claims for bombers that were not destroyed as well as multiple claims for the same aircraft.
The content of the report, while that of the crew, appears to be predominately that of pilot Yoshihara despite his use of the third person in one instance. I have rearranged the sequence of some part of the report and made some editorial comments which are noted in brackets [--]. Here is Yoshihara’s story.
“We left the base at 0610 hrs on 14 May with 18 bombers and at RABAUL were joined by 36 fighters (escorts) and flew directly to ORO Bay. Reached there at 0910 hrs.
“One 10,000 ton enemy transport, apparently fully loaded, was sighted in the bay. Gunfire on the ground was well organized. Approximately 20,000 meter [12 ½ miles] to the front and at an altitude of about 5000m [16,400 ft] about 50 enemy fighters came out to intercept. Presume they were from BUNA airfield [the Dobodura airfield complex was not far from Buna].
“Sunk one transport ship; pier demolished in several places. Warehouse on hill near the fill was left burning fiercely. [the official Japanese report claims the fuel barge as a 7,000-ton transport; the warehouse would appear to be the bitumen dump]
“Over ORO Bay, first of all, the airplane was hit in her right aileron [possibly attacked by Lt. George Davis of the 8th FS, one of the first pilots to attack who claimed his hits caused two bombers to fall out of formation, (one due to aileron damage?)], and during the second dive she received seven hits from MG in her fuselage. At the same time an incendiary shell penetrated the fuselage, but the fire was extinguished with fire fighting equipment. [Possibly the attack by Lt. John Yancey of the 8th FS who attacked a bomber, which had dropped out of formation and claimed it fell in flames into the sea]. Later, the second tank on the left was hit and began to burn, but the fire was again extinguished. Just then the left engine stopped as though it had been hit. After flying for a while the right engine also stopped, but started again a moment later. Gasoline was welling out, but by relying on one engine and lowering the elevation I continued my flight. The difference of elevation between my plane and formation was great, but by watching the formation above, we headed for home. At that moment one LOCKHEED flew over to intercept but was repulsed immediately. [Possibly the attack by Lt. Keith Oveson who reported he attacked a Betty and shot out its left engine but was driven off by Zekes].
“From ORO Bay we flew approximately 30 minutes on one engine (approximately 90 miles) and at about 040 hrs made a forced landing on the sea approximately 100 miles from the coast. The plane was floating 0120 hrs. During that time we prepared a raft. I presume that heavy damage to the tail [broken off?] and empty tank made her float. We transferred to the five-man raft because the plane had completely sunk. The only provisions we had at that time was one bottle of cider.
“One of our attack planes escorted by two fighters passed overhead. The fighters flew low and circled round, and we thought they were coming to rescue us. We drifted all day on the raft anxiously. The same day at 1920 hrs an airplane resembling an enemy seaplane passed overhead at low altitude. The next day, the 15th, enemy airplanes (not more than 10) flew overhead at low altitude three times at very low altitude…however, fortunately we were not spotted. (Everyone took their clothes off and covered the red raft). Everyone, at that time, was in fine spirits, and the moral of OSHIMA who sustained two bullet wounds in his stomach, was also good.
“We drifted eight days…On the eighth day out, we located a desert island (Fleigen I.), and pulled hard on our oars to get there. However, around 0600 hrs. YOSHIHARA sustained a wound on his right hand, from a shark, which was chasing bonitos. At 2100 hrs (21st) we landed on this island where we stayed two days. On the second day we camped at the back of a coconut grove but there were no signs of natives living there.
“Next day, on the 23d, we landed on the third island north of [Fleigen I.], and ate coconuts. We then rowed and landed on LASANGA Island. We stayed there one day, but there was nothing to eat. The eight [?] of us revived our strength with the only coconut we could find on the shore. On the 24th we sighted an island which was apparently New Guinea, and rowed toward a coconut grove; at last we landed at BUSO. [Natives greeted them in four canoes, made a fire for them, fed them coconuts, bananas and cooked potatoes and took them to Japanese lines where they arrived at 0200 hrs, 25th May].”
The crew reported that they obtained water from rainsqualls and recommended the provision of emergency rations on bombers.
Petty Officer 2d Class Masao Yoshihara was from Fukushima Village, South Kabara, Niigata Prefecture. The other men rescued (all aviators unless indicated) were: Petty Officer 2d Class Tsugi Kimura; Chief Petty Officer Koichi Shibayama; Airman 1st Class Saburo Matsumoto; Superior Seaman (Maintenance) Yutake Oshima; and, Airman 2d Class Tomiji Shimotsuma.
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