On December 29th, 1943, Combat Command
“B” of the 1st Marine Division primarily consisting
of the 1st and 5th Marine Regiments occupied the Tuluvu airfield.
Members of the technical air intelligence (TAI) team were soon on
hand to inventory captured aircraft. By December 30th more than
a dozen aircraft wrecks were found and within a few days additional
wrecks and an intact aircraft were found. Most of the aircraft that
were potentially repairable or salvageable had been stored away
from the East (active) runway and camouflaged with foliage.
This section is an attempt to present a comprehensive list of
the Japanese aircraft captured at Tuluvu along with a description
and data concerning individual aircraft. For each aircraft pertinent
data recorded in the contemporaneous intelligence sources (1) the
TAI “pro forma” report, (2) the Captured Enemy Aircraft
Report (CEAR), and (3) Japanese Aircraft Makers’ Plates and
Markings Report (MPMR) No. 68, “Life of Japanese Aircraft”
is summarized. The source is respectively (1) SWPA Technical Intelligence
Report No. 220, (2) the applicable CEAR or (3) MPMR. These data
are then supplemented by information from a variety of sources in
an attempt to shed additional light on the aircraft’s history
and where possible tie it into the primary narrative.
The amount and quality of information available on the aircraft
varies considerably. Some were very badly damaged and described
as “completely demolished” or “burned out”.
One was completely intact and at least one other thought to be repairable.
Others fell in between. In some cases the fuselage maker’s
plate was on the aircraft and in other cases even the serial number
had to be derived from less authoritative evidence. These and many
other factors assure that any attempt to tell their story will of
necessity be incomplete. The aircraft are presented in the alphabetical
order of their Allied codename.
1. Type 1 Land Attack Plane (BETTY)
Three navy BETTY bombers were found and contemporary intelligence
sources provide us with some of the scantiest information on these
aircraft of any of those captured at Tuluvu. Their serial numbers
survive and little else. BETTY No. 2836 was spotted in aerial photographs
and assessed unserviceable on September 14, 1943. BETTY No. 4758
was photographed and assessed unserviceable on September 25, 1943.
BETTY No. 6078 was not identified until Cape Gloucester was occupied
and was in a completely demolished state. The only information about
it that was provided was that it was camouflaged dark green on upper
surfaces and natural metal on lower surfaces.
SUPPLEMENT: No. 2836 was almost certainly the 702 Ku bomber that
force landed at Tuluvu badly damaged on September 4, 1943 after
the convoy attack near Lae. This was the aircraft of Lt. (j.g.)
Kiyoshi Yagita and carried on board Lt. Cdr. Genzo Nakamura, hikotaicho
or wing leader, of 702. The aircraft was a Type 1 land attack bomber,
model 11 and probably supplied to 702 as a replacement aircraft
in June or July 1943 during its final tour in the Southeast Area.
No. 4758 was undoubtedly the 751 Ku bomber that force landed at
Tuluvu in a badly damaged state after the September 22nd attack
on destroyers off Finschhafen. This aircraft was a G4M1 (model 11).
It was produced in April 1943 and probably assigned to 751 in May
of 1943 when that unit was training and re-fitting on Tinian. The
Group returned to combat from its rest on Tinian barely two weeks
before this aircraft was damaged. Aircraft commander was Warrant
Officer Hisaji Aoki, shotaicho in No. 2 buntai, and leader of a
two-plane section during the attack.
No. 6078 was a G4M1 assigned to 751 at the time of its loss. This
aircraft was produced at the very end of October 1943 and was almost
certainly a part of either of two batches each of five aircraft
completed at the end of October and beginning of November 1943 and
assigned to the 11th Air Fleet and subsequently assigned to an air
group. Whether it went initially to 702 or 751 is unknown but after
December 1st, 1943, all BETTYS were consolidated in 751.
This aircraft must have had an interesting last flight. It seems
it was part of an attack unit of four bombers assigned to attack
an American task force that had raided Kavieng. Its target was 375
miles east of Rabaul. It ended up in a force landing at Tuluvu late
on the night of the 25th a few hours before the Allied landing.
This aircraft’s “completely demolished” condition
might be attributed to its having been left in the open at the time
the final air and naval bombardment followed by ground combat. It
was captained by Petty Officer 2/C Ryouhei Senda. The crew was reported
safe in the hands of a Japanese Army unit but their ultimate fate
is unknown. This aircraft’s prominent position in the open
on Tuluvu’s runway made it a landmark for the Marines. It
even became the site of a prayer meeting.
Photographs show that one of these aircraft bore the tail number
350 with a band above it across the entire width of the tail (both
markings apparently white). Though Allied intelligence considered
tail markings important and they were included in the “pro
forma” checklist as items to be recorded, the TAI team at
Cape Gloucester was in this and other instances less than thorough
in describing these markings. This instance is noteworthy in that
they failed to record an alphanumeric marking something they usually
did in other instances.
Tail number 350 is apparently one of the September losses (likely
Yagita’s of 702 Ku). Photographs of what is apparently No.
6078 (the aircraft photographed in the open on the runway) show
its rear fuselage and tail completely destroyed.
2. Type 100 Heavy Bomber (HELEN)
A single HELEN was found on No. 2 strip (East Airfield) in a burned
out condition. The TAI “pro forma” report concluded
that it had apparently landed wheels up and was later burned by
the Japanese. Upper surfaces were a mottled green and lower surfaces
were unpainted. Its wingspan of 66 feet 7 inches is incorrect for
a HELEN (measurement could hardly have been correct given the condition
of the aircraft). The serial number was 3297 and date of manufacture
May 1943. Engine serial numbers were 876 (right) and 884 (left)
also manufactured in May 1943. Armor plates protecting the pilots
(approximately 14mm) and dorsal turret gunner (approximately 10mm)
were found. Armament recovered was one 20mm and two 7.7mm machine
guns in free mounts and the same number and type of weapons found
in dorsal, nose and tail turrets.
SUPPLEMENT: HELEN No. 3297 was the sole survivor of the six heavy
bombers involved in the 9th FB attack on Arawe on December 16th,
1943. Combat that day took place near Tuluvu. A twin-engine bomber
was visually observed there on the 17th. On the 18th a “damaged
HELEN” was photographed there. This was a 7th FR Ki 49-II
captained by 1Lt. Negi. It had flown from Wewak to attack Arawe
but was intercepted off Cape Gloucester. Photographs tend to confirm
the TAI team’s assessment that the bomber bellied in and then
was burned out. No tail markings are evident in photographs. A good
low-level photograph of a HELEN taken on October 22nd at Dagua (Allied
term for But-East airfield) shows an aircraft similarly camouflaged
with no tail markings. Since tail markings have not been established
for 7th FR HELENS during this period these photographs tend to confirm
that none were carried.
The “turrets” mentioned in the TAI report do not imply
power operated turrets familiar on many Allied bombers but were
just more elaborate positions than the simple eye and socket free
mounts in the bomber’s side and ventral positions. The tail
gun could be retracted inside the aircraft when not in use. The
dorsal cannon had a retractable canopy and was mounted on a circular
support ring. Standard armament for the first version of the Ki
49-II was five type 89 machine guns and one type 97 20mm cannon
(modified anti-tank gun). If this aircraft actually mounted two
cannon it would have been a specially modified version. It would
be interesting to know in which free mount the second cannon was
3. Type 96 Land Attack Bomber (NELL)
From this aircraft’s tail number of P-905 and the lack of
bomb racks the CEAR concluded that this aircraft had been used as
a transport rather than a bomber. It was painted dark green on upper
surfaces and unpainted on lower surfaces. The “pro forma”
gave the serial number as 397 but the CEAR stated that components
indicated that 197 was the correct serial number. This was a Nakajima-built
aircraft. A serial number of 197 would establish a production date
in early 1942. The aircraft was determined to be in a salvageable
SUPPLEMENT: Many NELL transports called at Tuvulu over a period
of several months as late as November 1943. The only NELL known
to have been attacked on the ground was Pappy Gunn’s July
28th target. From Gunn’s report it sounds as if this aircraft
was totally destroyed. However, a field diary of No. 4 Air Intelligence
Unit undercuts this.
It states ten maintenance men worked on Gunn’s victim on a
daily basis between July 28th and August 2nd. This is more effort
than needed to drag a totaled aircraft off to a bone-yard. Unfortunately
there is no documentary evidence as to whether the aircraft was
successfully repaired and flown out, whether it was subsequently
damaged, or its repair given up as a hopeless cause.
The “pro forma” lists P-905’s cause of loss
as unknown and does not describe its damage. Two aircraft identified
as NELLS were photographed at Tuluvu as early as August 4th. One
of these was likely Gunn’s victim. In photos three weeks later
two NELLS were still there and assessed as unserviceable. It is
possible P-905 was Gunn’s victim still at Tuluvu months after
repair efforts failed. Photographs of this aircraft are intriguing
but not conclusive. The right wing is shown attached to the aircraft
and not drooping. It has a dent in the leading edge and some evidence
of skin damage. There also appears to be a separation just outboard
of the engine. Shrapnel damage is evident on the right side of the
nose of the aircraft. No extensive fire damage is evident in the
photographs but rudder fabric on the right vertical stabilizer is
missing. The right engine and propeller appear undamaged. The damage
seen on this aircraft is at least partially consistent with Gunn’s
version of events. If the aircraft’s wing and engine were
repaired or replaced and fire damage was not extensive, the damage
to this aircraft is quite consistent with his version. Records indicate
maintenance personnel worked on the aircraft. The presence of only
a single NELL when two were seen earlier may suggest one was cannibalized
in an attempt to repair the second. Then again one of the aircraft
may merely have been so badly destroyed in subsequent bombing attacks
as to be unrecognizable as an aircraft.
This aircraft was a Type 96 land attack plane model 23 (G3M3).
The coded serial number 197 indicates this was the 97th production
Nakajima NELL completed in December 1941. The number 397 violates
the Nakajima coding system and is invalid. This aircraft was almost
certainly assigned to an operational air group in a bomber role
before becoming a transport.
4. Type 2 Two-Seat Fighter (NICK)
Three Type 2 heavy fighters were found at Tuluvu with serial numbers
237, 1023, and 1024 according to CEARs. The “pro forma”
apparently identified CEAR No. 1024 as No. 1210 based on finding
a “10” marked on the aircraft. This particular NICK
was burned out and the only information derived from it was that
it carried a 37mm cannon mounted on the right side of the belly
and was painted a mottled green camouflage. The CEAR identified
one of its engines as a type 1 1050 HP engine No. 1878 manufactured
in November 1942.
No. 237 was in a “demolished” condition. Its fixed
armament was “believed two 12.7 in the nose…one 37mm
firing forward. Believed 7.7mm flexible rear cockpit.” No
basis for the “belief” is stated. The CEAR identifies
one engine as No. 1625 dated September 1942. The aircraft was painted
mottled green upper and light grey lower. Like No. 1024 no unit
or patriotic marking was noted. MPMR assumes a loss date of 14 January
1943 but assigns the aircraft a life of eight months from October
1942. Thus June (“Jun” rather than “Jan”)
1943 is probably meant.
No. 1023 was, like the other two NICKs, missing an engine but
the right engine (No. 1871, dated November 1942) was present. On
the whole the aircraft was “in fair condition and complete
repair might be possible.” This conclusion was despite the
fact that the “ the airplane has been thoroughly strafed and
there were numerous strikes of unknown caliber.” The aircraft
mounted a single 37mm cannon. Other armament was “thought
to be” two 12.7mm fixed and one 7.7mm flexible. The upper
surfaces and side were painted mottled green, the bottom light grey.
Provision for external fuel tank attachments were found inboard
of each engine. Inspectors doubted bombs could be fitted. Despite
this they characterized the aircraft as a “Fighter bomber.
Probably used as a night fighter.” The aircraft was found
on No. 1 strip (West Airfield). MPMR assessed it unserviceable on
22 September 1943.
SUPPLEMENT: The first six Ki 45kai Type 2 heavy fighters arrived
in Rabaul in February 1943 as part of an experimental detachment
of 5th FR (W.O. Hyakutomi who fought over Tuluvu on September 2nd
was originally a member of this unit). These aircraft were reportedly
armed with manually loaded type 94 37mm tank cannon reloaded from
the rear-seat position of the aircraft. 13th FR absorbed the experimental
detachment when it arrived in May 1943. While No. 237 (given a production
date of October 1942) might have arrived with the 5th FR detachment,
that is not certain. The only other unit known to have operated
the Type 2 fighter in the area was the 12th FB.
The fixed armament of two of these aircraft as deduced by the
TAI inspectors, namely 2x12.7mm and 1x37mm, does not fits the description
of any official service version the Ki 45kai. The “a”
version had 2x12.7mm and one 20mm cannon and the “b”
version had one each 37mm and 20mm forward firing (per Army Air
HQ Secret Order No. 16979, Dec. 1943). The armament may suggest
these aircraft were original equipment of the experimental Tokushu
Kogekitai (Special Attack Unit) that was so armed. Other evidence
must be considered, specifically documents of the 14th Field Air
Repair Depot. These show that from January to April 1943 the depot
was supplied with five Type 2 heavy fighters and eleven anti-tank
guns (the type 94 tank gun was often referred to as an anti-tank
gun) in addition to other material (including 12.7mm machine guns).
The depot was quite capable of modifying those five fighters as
well as others of the 13th FR arriving later with 37mm cannon such
as those found at Tuluvu. In addition to a limited amount of production
or conversions to this configuration in Japan (twenty according
to some sources) an additional quantity may have been converted
in the field. The type may be more common than previously thought.
Note that the armament described for the Ki 45 Kai-b in the order
referenced above (1x37mm and 1x20mm forward) specifies that the
Ho 3 20mm cannon is mounted below the fuselage. This is an error.
Most published sources correct this to have the 37mm gun below the
fuselage and that’s where it was in the No. 1023 aircraft
at Tuluvu. A photograph of the 37mm cannon breach block in the rear
cockpit exists. In any event, the armament of the Tuluvu aircraft
cannot be used to authoritatively determine the origins of the aircraft.
Some sources list the flexible gun on these aircraft as the type
98 7.92mm gun but the order specifies the type 89 machine gun (7.7mm).
Finally the order carries the notation “(special equipment)”
after the armament configuration adding to the likelihood that the
armament was fitted after the aircraft came off the production line.
It is possible that the Tuluvu version of this aircraft at one time
shared the “b” designation or never received an official
designation and had been superceded by the time the December 1943
order was promulgated.
After the initial intelligence reports surveyed the Cape Gloucester
aircraft a later report stated: “Until the airstrip at Cape
Gloucester was taken, very little was known about NICK, nothing
about NICK’S armor.” Photographs of the Cape Gloucester
NICK allowed experts to determine that the pilot had only a small
9.5mm thick head plate and a larger 6.5mm body plate protected his
back. Both were located behind the pilot’s seat.
It seems virtually certain that all three aircraft reached Tuluvu
by September 1943, for after then 13th FR rarely had any NICKS in
serviceable condition. On the few days that it did there were only
one or two. Between mid-September and the invasion of Tuluvu 13th
FR was basically a single-engine fighter unit (Type 1 fighters).
MPMR’s (corrected) June date for No. 237 suggests it might
have been among the first two of this type aircraft arriving at
Tuluvu. One of these was reported to have been damaged landing there.
This is far from clear, however. Two damaged aircraft were in the
custody of a maintenance unit at Tuluvu in June 1943. A damaged
“light bomber” was photographed there in August. This
aircraft may well date from that period.
No. 1023 was assessed as possibly repairable and photographs of
this aircraft tend to support that conclusion. Photographs and various
intelligence reports record the colorful 13th FR markings on the
tail of this aircraft, tail number 23, and fuselage band. Scott’s,
Emblems of the Rising Sun (Hikoki Publications, 1999, pp. 78, 108)
contains two good illustrations of this aircraft, a color profile
and a photo enhancement (but misidentified as to date and place
of capture). This aircraft was filled with many bullet holes (“thoroughly
strafed”). Three NICKS were probably based at Tuluvu from
late July until mid-August. It is possible this was one of those
aircraft. Were not published Japanese accounts so explicit that
Hyakutomi’s aircraft returned to Rabaul it would be natural
to assume that this was the aircraft claimed by 1Lt. Theron Price
on September 2nd. That aircraft was badly damaged but not actually
seen to crash.
No. 1024’s burned out condition allows us to speculate this
might have been the aircraft that landed at Tuluvu under attack
by a P-38 on September 2nd. 1Lt. Grover Fanning claimed this fighter
exploded in flames as it reached the runway.
No. 237 was a product of Kawasaki’s plant at Gifu (Kagamigahara).
The other two fighters were produced at Akashi in March 1943.
In the September 2nd combat the P-38s clearly outperformed the
NICKS. This is hardly surprising for, apart from the fact that two
of the pilots were inexperienced, after the NICK’S disappointing
initial showing in China in 1942 the Japanese hardly expected it
to play a role in fighter versus fighter combat. Official flight
limitations on airframes up to No. 245 included a maximum dive-bombing
speed of 500kph IAS and acceleration of 5g’s. For airframes
after No. 245 this was increased to 600kph and 6g’s. Forbidden
acrobatics were steep turns, steep rolls, spins and sharp pullouts.
These limitations illustrate that the aircraft was not considered
a dog-fighter. This tends to contradict some published accounts
that assert, “at medium altitudes the Toryus easily outmaneuvered”
the P-38 (Francillon, Aircraft in Profile, vol. V).
5. Type 1 Fighter (OSCAR)
Three army Type 1 model 1 fighters (Ki 43) were found at Tuluvu
with serial numbers 776, 804 and 808. The first two were in fair
condition and the latter was demolished. No. 808’s armament
could not be determined but 776 and 804 were each armed with two
7.7mm machine guns. No. 776’s engine was Kawasaki No. 4470
manufactured in August 1942. This aircraft was painted light blue
on upper surfaces and unpainted underneath. Rudder and elevator
were painted red. The upper surfaces of No. 804 were painted light
green and the lower surfaces were unpainted. No tail markings were
recorded (TAI inspectors at Tuluvu seem to have ignored most stylized
tail markings and reported only alphanumeric details). Its engine
was a type 99, 950 HP engine, manufactured by Nakajima, No. 8232,
dated July 1942. No. 808 was painted dark green on upper surfaces
and unpainted underneath. MPMR (which is not always reliable) gives
loss dates of these aircraft as May 30th (808), August 27th (804),
and September 1st (776).
SUPPLEMENT: One of these aircraft was most likely the fighter that
1Lt. Yamakawa of 13th FR badly damaged in a force landing on August
27th, 1943. Two single-engine fighters were photographed dispersed
in revetments on August 27th. MPMR assesses Nos. 776 and 804 as
unserviceable by September 1st. In addition several aircraft of
this type belonging to 1st FR force landed at Tuluvu due to mechanical
problems during June, July and August 1943. The possible significance
of the armament of two 7.7mm machine guns has been discussed in
another article by the author on this website and will not be repeated
A good photograph (Scott, op. cit., p. 107 [captioned incorrectly
as to sub-type and date]) of one of these aircraft clearly shows
a lightning flash tail marking indicating it was an 11th FR aircraft
at some point (the aircraft in the photograph is presumably No.
804, certainly not the demolished No. 808). This may be the fighter
claimed damaged by a B-24 on May 3rd, the same day a fighter was
seen at Tuluvu. Thus this aircraft would have been there by May
30th (MPMR’s date for No. 808 and intriguingly a possible
typo for May 3rd). It is possible this aircraft was transferred
to another regiment and retained its 11th FR livery but also quite
possible it arrived there in May just about a month before the regiment
left the area (records show 21st Ab had two badly damaged aircraft
in its custody in June, this may be one of them). Photographs of
one of these aircraft (undoubtedly No. 776) show a dark colored
(red) rudder with two horizontal white stripes. This is a version
of the tail marking the 1st FR. We can identify two of these aircraft
with the 1st and 11th FRs. Unfortunately we cannot state with certainty
those were the units to which they belonged at the time of their
loss. The 13th FR undoubtedly had acquired one of the Tuluvu OSCARS
and possibly one or both of the others, though the existence of
their unit markings militates against this possibility.
These aircraft were late production versions of the Type 1 fighter.
Popular literature suggests late production versions would be the
Ki 43-1c sub-type, a designation that seems to be post-war creation.
They were produced in late-November (No. 776) and December 1942
by the original manufacturer, Nakajima, at Ota.
6. Type 99 Assault Plane (SONIA)
Three SONIAS were found on or near the Tuluvu airfield. These
bore serial numbers 901, 959, and 1082 (given as 347 in the pro
forma report but appearing as this number in CEAR). No. 901 was
assessed as destroyed on the ground. It was dark gray, had two 7.7mm
fixed wing guns and four wing bomb racks. Engine serial number was
given as No. 3602, manufactured In February 1943. It was found on
No. 2 strip (East or new airfield). No. 1082 was in a completely
demolished condition. Its camouflage was dark green upper and light
gray lower. No. 959 presents an interesting and somewhat confusing
picture. It is included among the Tuluvu wrecks but the “pro
forma” gives its location as Mt. Talawe, the dominant feature
south of Tuluvu. It was not inspected until January 27th, 1944 (this
date is interesting as at least part of the Gloucester TAI team
was on Long Island on this date). No cause of crash was given. It
was overall dark gray. Bombing had destroyed its wings and a falling
tree had broken the fuselage in two. The report on this aircraft
provided considerable detail including oil and fuel tank capacities,
armament and noted curved armor plate protecting the oil cooler
just behind the engine. The report notes: “This aircraft had
just released four bombs from its racks as rusty arming wires were
still attached to their positions.”
SUPPLEMENT: Later reports showed that the assault bomber version
of SONIA was the most extensively armored Japanese aircraft yet
encountered. The pilot’s back was protected by 7mm armor,
a 5-½ in. x 14-½ in. head plate and a 13-½
in. x 16-½ in. body plate. His seat bottom was also protected
by 7mm armor, 15-¼ in. x 16 5/8 in. The engine bottom and
oil cooler were protected by shaped 6.5mm armor plate.
While it would be convenient (and probably correct) to identify
all these aircraft with 26th FR which operated the type at Tuluvu
from November 1943, it should be remembered that 83rdFCs (though
as far as is known this unit flew the recon version) and various
headquarters and other units also operated the Ki 51 in the area
and sometimes landed at Tuluvu. With that caveat, No. 901 or 1082
may well be the 26th FR aircraft damaged on the ground by B-24s
on November 30th (the 26th’s field diary describes one of
these as “badly damaged” and another Japanese source
uses the term “disabled” while the B-24s claimed two
aircraft “destroyed”). Two aircraft of the 26th were
reported as badly damaged on the 20th of December. No. 959 was probably
engaged on a bombing mission shortly before it met its demise. This
was the aircraft mentioned in the radio message from Tuluvu to Rabaul
intercepted on December 15th concerning “an Army reconnaissance
plane from this base…” The Ki 51 came in two versions,
one an armored assault bomber and the other an army reconnaissance
(“Guntei”) plane. A forty-four page Japanese aircraft
recognition manual captured at Tuluvu describes both types in the
same entry with a single silhouette. Both types engaged in similar
missions either attack or reconnaissance and were virtually identical.
No doubt the distinction between the two types was lost on the navy
man originating the message. Since the mission on the 15th was a
reconnaissance mission that was successfully completed, it appears
No. 959 met it demise sometime after December 15th. It is unclear
from available descriptions whether the aircraft crashed on Mt.
Talawe or was merely dispersed south of the runway near Mt. Talawe
(some reports give its location as strip no. 2). If the aircraft
was destroyed on the ground, as seems likely, it was probably one
of the two aircraft destroyed on the 20th.
8. Type 3 Fighter (TONY)
Two TONYS were found. One was completely burned out (No. 467)
and one was in excellent condition (No. 263). Despite its condition
No. 467 was the subject of a fairly extensive pro-forma report.
No armament was found but 7.7mm and 12.7mm ammunition was. The engine
was determined to be No. 490 manufactured in July 1943.
TONY No. 263 was found on No. 1 or the old strip. Although MPMR
says it was assessed unserviceable on August 4th, 1943, the pro-forma
report estimated that it had landed and not been moved for three
weeks to a month (prior to January 2nd, 1944). A recent flood had
submerged the aircraft up to the lower part of the wing. It was
painted mottled green on upper surfaces and unpainted on lower surfaces.
The engine was No. 252, dated March 1943. Two 12.7mm machine guns
and two 7.7mm guns were fitted. Ammunition was armor piercing-tracer
and high explosive. Fuel rating was 92 octane.
SUPPLEMENT: No. 263 was produced at the end of April 1943 at Kawasaki’s
Kagamigahara plant. It bore the markings of 68th FR and was probably
supplied to that unit as a replacement aircraft rather than original
equipment. No. 467 was produced at the beginning of September 1943.
Both aircraft were the initial Ki 61 production configuration later
designated Ki 61-Ia. They were essentially similar versions but
No. 467 being one of the last examples of this model would have
been equipped with improved fuel tank protection. The early version
had fuel tanks protected by what Allied intelligence called “leak
absorbing” material (“fire-proof jacket” in Japanese
parlance) that was but little improved over that on OSCAR and essentially
worthless under combat conditions in the SWPA. In the last several
weeks of production a “self-sealing” tank lining of
layered strips of absorbent rubber was introduced. This was a great
improvement and provided a reasonable amount of protection. Both
aircraft would have been equipped with 10mm armor plate protecting
the pilot’s head and body. This provided some protection but
was to be improved upon in later aircraft. No. 467 was among the
last of the Ki 61s fitted with an armament of two 12.7mm machine
guns and two 7.7mm machine guns. Shortly after it was produced Ki
61s began to come off the production line equipped with either four
12.7mm machine guns or two 12.7mm guns and two 20mm cannon. The
first examples of both types had just reached New Guinea just before
the December 1943 air battles over western New Britain were fought.
Given a production date of September 1943, No. 467 probably was
not assigned to a unit (68th or 78th FR) until October 1943. October
is the last month for which we have reasonably reliable records
of air operations at Tuluvu. No Type 3 fighters are recorded as
arriving that month. No. 467 probably arrived in November or December
1943. A report of the 6th FD states that two 78th FR Type 3 fighters
were missing on the 26th of December. U.S. fighters only claimed
one TONY that day. There is tantalizing (but unverified) evidence
that the second missing TONY was No. 467. A U.S. intelligence report
states that a captured signal form addressed to 4th Air Army and
6th FD from a ground commander at Cape Gloucester contains this
message: “KIMURA CHUI of 78 HIKO SENTAI made a forced landing
on 27 (December).” The author is not in possession of a copy
of the message form or the message itself (if it was ever sent).
If a garbled date is accepted as understandable under trying circumstances,
then it seems quite likely that No. 467 was the second 78th FR TONY
lost on the 26th and was flown by a 1Lt. Kimura. Damaged and left
out in the open the aircraft could well have been demolished in
the heavy fighting. There was a 1Lt. Kimura assigned to the 78th
in late 1943. He was shot down and listed as missing in September
1943 but apparently returned to the unit later.
Tests of TONY’S 10.3mm armor were later conducted at Aberdeen
Proving Ground. It could be easily defeated by .50 caliber fire
and in one test at close range even failed to stop a .30 caliber
round. These tests were carried out directly against the freestanding
armor. It should be kept in mind that in combat enemy fire would
most likely first penetrate the aircraft’s aluminum skin and
possibly structural members before encountering the armor. Less
than a month after the capture of two TONYS at Cape Gloucester a
TONY was found with pilot protection of 17.5mm and 12.7mm plates
and radiator armor.
No. 263 was photographed apparently bearing a white command stripe
and tail marking in red outlined in white (the aircraft is thus
portrayed in Scott, op. cit., p. 91 and also in Francillon, op.
cit.). These markings would indicate the aircraft was assigned to
the chutai-cho of 2d chutai of the 68th FR (the recognition stripe
and command stripe appear to be different colors in some black and
white photos and one of the earliest drawings of this aircraft depicted
the command stripe as yellow). Prior to his death on December 21st,
the leader of 2nd chutai was Capt. Shogo Takeuchi. Experts apparently
disagree whether this was Takeuchi’s aircraft. Some who think
it was seem to rely on the August 4th MPMR date for some support.
This aircraft was most likely the TONY seen taxiing at Tuluvu on
December 17th (the August 4th crash date assigned by MPMR seems
clearly erroneous) and sighted at various locations on the airfield
by Allied aircraft over the next couple days before being effectively
hidden. It seems highly unlikely that a squadron commander would
be flying such an old aircraft especially when newer models with
substantially increased protection and fire-power were available.
Takeuchi may well have flown this aircraft at an earlier date but
most likely it was assigned to another pilot during the December
Despite its potentially flyable condition No. 263 was unable to
fly out of Tuluvu due to the condition of the airfield. It was disassembled
and transported to Australia on an LST. There it was painstakingly
refurbished and reassembled. The aircraft flew with bare metal finish
and American markings. In three test flights basic data about the
aircraft’s stall characteristics and heavy stick forces at
high airspeeds were revealed. Mechanical difficulties thwarted a
full range of tests. In the meanwhile the Allies captured a comprehensive
flight manual on the Type 3 fighter that provided all its essential
flight characteristics. The intelligence coup seemingly represented
by TONY No. 263 proved less important in fact than at first appeared.
9. Type 99 Carrier Bomber (VAL)
One VAL described as a “type 99 Dive Bomber, Mark 2”
was found at Tuluvu. Its serial number was determined to be No.
3019 by the field inspector. Its engine was thought to be a Kinsei
54, manufactured by Mitsubishi, serial number 5487, dated 21 October
1942. However, the field report did not definitely establish that
the engine had been mounted in the aircraft. It was apparently found
The pro forma on this aircraft was not found by this author and
the only information available comes from the CEAR and MPMR. MPMR
gives a production date for No. 3019 as mid-September 1942. Its
crash date or at least the date when it was assessed as unserviceable
at Cape Gloucester is given as November 30th, 1943.
SUPPLEMENT: The crash date for this aircraft given in MPMR appears
highly suspect. VALS landed at Tuluvu in damaged condition as a
result of the Japanese navy’s September New Guinea attacks.
Although there was one large VAL raid to the Oro Bay area of New
Guinea in mid-October 1943, most of the Japanese navy’s offensive
air operations in November 1943 were occupied with countering U.S.
Navy carrier strikes against Rabaul and in attacking shipping in
the vicinity of Bouganville Island. It is also interesting to note
that November 30th is the same date that Japanese records indicate
assault planes (SONIAS) were damaged on the ground at Tuluvu. One
of these was reported as disabled and was probably visibly unserviceable.
Mistaking a damaged SONIA for a damaged VAL is certainly a possibility.
It appears that once again the compiler(s) of MPMR have gotten it
wrong. This aircraft probably arrived either earlier or possibly
later than November 1943 but almost certainly did not arrive during
10. Type Zero Carrier Fighter (ZEKE)
Two ZEKES are listed in CEARS as captured at Tuluvu. There is
no pro forma available on these aircraft and only one is listed
in MPMR. The aircraft are Nakajima built Zero model 21 No. 1491
and Zeke No. 3580 (this serial number was established by stencil
not maker’s plate) manufactured by Mitsubishi. The production
date for No. 1491 is given as early December 1942 and its crash
date as November 22nd, 1943.
SUPPLEMENT: For reasons similar to those discussed for VAL No.
3019, the crash date established by MPMR for ZEKE No. 1491 seems
suspect. Zeros landed at Tuluvu or operated near by over a period
of several months during 1943. In addition to the action on July
28th there were several heavy combats involving Zeros over the Huon
Gulf during September and October 1943. After the Arawe invasion
Zeros were also frequently operating near Tuluvu during December
1943. November 1943 seems the least likely month for a Zero to become
stranded at Tuluvu. November 22nd was in fact a day on which the
Japanese Navy sent forty-eight Zeros in a fighter sweep from Rabaul
against the Torokina bridgehead on Bougainville, hardly a likely
date to have aircraft also operating over western New Britain.
If the serial number given for No. 3580 is correct, this aircraft
would have been a Zero 22 produced in late March 1943. There is
a good possibility this aircraft was issued to Air Group 251. Although
Air Group 251 had received several Zero 22’s fitted with long
barrel type 99, mark II cannon in February 1943 and earlier in March,
available documentation indicates that the Zero 22’s delivered
in late March 1943 were not equipped with the new weapons. The aircraft
was probably a Zero 22 with short barrel wing cannon.
Beyond a general discussion of when Zeros were active around Tuluvu
there is little to suggest when these aircraft were disabled there.
One fighter force landed there with engine trouble on July 28th.
This was an aircraft of 201 Ku. Two Zeros landed at Tuluvu in badly
damaged condition after a night raid on Finschhahen on October 22nd.
These were aircraft of 204 Ku (by that time 251 Ku had given up
its Zeros and had turned some over to 204 Ku). A good guess might
be that one or both of these aircraft were the aircraft damaged
on that night mission to Finschhafen.