ChapterV: High Ranking Visitors
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Combat over Hansa Bay, could be a scene at Cape Gloulester

Deflection Shots and tail shots. P-38 versus type 2 heavy fighter

On July 30th two type 96 land attack planes of the 11th Air Fleet used as transports landed with Vice-Admiral Junichi Kusaka, commander of the Southeast Area Fleet, and members of his staff on board. Sixteen Zeros flew cover during the Admiral’s brief visit. Three of the Zeros from Air Group 201 also landed. Little is known of the Admiral’s visit but its seems likely that the security of future destroyer runs was certainly on his mind. When the transports departed they carried an additional passenger. One transport took Maj. Gen. Shun Iwasa, former 65th Brigade commander, to his new post as commander of the Infantry Group of the 6th Division on Bouganville.

Allied radio intelligence intercepted a message directed to Tuluvu that day and addressed to 8th Area Army Headquarters. For a time, intelligence officers suspected General Imamura had shifted his headquarters to Tuluvu. Most likely the message was meant for a member of Imamura’s staff accompanying Admiral Kusaka.

July 30th was also an auspicious day for another reason. Three Type 2 heavy fighters (Ki 45kai Toryu) of the 13th FR arrived to become Tuluvu’s first air garrison. July ended as the most active month of aerial activities at Tuluvu. Records indicate forty-eight aircraft were serviced there during the month and total activity may have been higher. Ninety-eight barrels of aviation fuel were expended more than twice the quantity in any other month. As the month ended it appeared flight activity was on the increase.

Just a few days later Tuluvu received its next high- ranking visitor. On August 2nd Lt. Gen. Hatazo Adachi, commander of the 18th Army, the highest ranking Army officer in New Guinea arrived at Tuluvu under circumstances very different from Admiral Kusaka’s brief liaison.

Fighting had been going on near Salamaua for months. Lt. Gen. Adachi had visited the troops there more than once. Once again Adachi felt the need to visit front-line commanders in the Lae-Salamaua area. On August 2nd he planned to fly from Madang to Lae. Adachi and his aide flew in a Type 99 army reconnaissance plane of the 83d FCs. Nine Type 1 model 2 fighters of the 24th FR escorted the General. The importance of the mission was emphasized by the presence of Lt. Col. Hachio Yokoyama, the regimental commander, among the fighter pilots. Adachi’s flight proceeded at a planned height of 1500 meters (4900’) with two flights of three fighters each flying above in front and behind the reconnaissance plane and a third flight trailing below and behind.

Unfortunately for the Japanese pilots the air between Madang and Lae was thick with American fighters. Some 30 P-38s and 38 B-25s were flying missions in the area at the same time Adachi’s flight reached Teliata Point. Twelve P-38s of the 9th FS were escorting eleven B-25s about thirty miles south of Saidor when they sighted twelve to fourteen OSCARS. The P-38s were at about 6,000 feet and reported the Japanese at 3-4,000 feet. Adachi’s plane was squeezed between the P-38s and the B-25s. The Ki 51 dove to hug the mountainsides and was apparently never recognized by the Lightning pilots. The B-25s sighted it for they reported encountering a fixed landing gear NATE. Adachi’s pilot went to low level and crossed the straights headed for the cover of New Britain’s mountains and Tuluvu.

The twelve P-38s dove on the nine Type 1 fighters. In the ensuing combat the three separate Japanese flights were further scattered and the Japanese fought individual combats. All the P-38s returned from this combat and their pilots were credited with eleven victories! Two Japanese fighters were lost but they constituted a severe blow to the regiment as they were flown by Lt. Col. Yokoyama and 1st chutai commander, 1Lt. Motosuke Kashima. Once again Capt. James Watson claimed three victories. In addition to eleven victories one probable was credited to the fighters and a B-25 gunner also received credit for a kill.

The lack of discipline in the 9th FS’s claims verification system is illustrated in this combat. Four pilots returned each separately claiming a victory achieved by chasing an enemy fighter into the sea. Each victory was officially credited. In retrospect it seems clear that four pilots claimed the same fighter either Lt. Col. Yokoyama or 1Lt. Kashima (this was one of Capt. Watson’s three victories).

This combat also illustrates that despite its exceptional high altitude performance the P-38 did have limitations fighting the nimble Type 1 fighter at low level. Five of the 9th’s pilots encountered a single OSCAR with the following results:

“By this time, the enemy fighters were well thinned out, I saw one below me on the water being worked over by two P-38s. Three more of us joined the party. For 15 minutes the five of us made pass after pass at this fighter, although we didn’t get it. When he got the opportunity the pilot would straighten momentarily up-coast, sucking us with him. He never seemed to have much throttle on and lazily turned toward us when we got in range, but never came head-on at anyone or fired a shot. Its canopy must have been open the whole time…15 minutes of this maneuvering and we returned to base.”

Another of the P-38 pilots reported “This pilot was pretty good. He kept close to the water and would turn gradually until we were on him, then would slip down to the water in a tight turn.” He also observed, “This Oscar had a green fuselage and brown spots in leopard fashion.”

Despite his rough ride Lt. Gen. Adachi made the most of his surprise visit to Tuluvu. He took the opportunity to engage in discussions with the acting Commander of the 65th Brigade concerning security and transportation matters. He then proceeded to Lae. On August 3rd he went to Salamaua to praise the front-line troops of the 51st Division. There he revealed his plans for shortening the Salamaua defense line. Giving up ground that had cost many lives was not popular with Japanese troops and Adachi may have felt the need to announce his plans in person. Returning to Lae Adachi discussed the defensive situation and transportation matters with the Guard commander there. Lt. Gen. Adachi returned to Madang on August 6th without further incident.

General Adachi probably held the 83rd FCs in high esteem before this incident. He certainly did afterward. In late September 1943 he issued this citation concerning the squadron:

“In early May 1943 they co-operated with the 41 Div in the Sepik operation. Their heroic deeds had an inspiring affect on the morale of the ground forces. Particularly in late June, during the attack on Waipali by 51 Div, the combat at Bobdubi area, and the enemy landing at Nassau, their distinguished services rendered great assistance to the Army operations. Furthermore they inflicted casualties on the enemy during the Hopoi landing. It is a deep regret that the majority of their personnel were either killed or wounded during these operations.”

During this period the 8th Photo Squadron got clear aerial photographs of Cape Gloucester. Photos taken on August 4th identified two NELLS parked near the runway and assessed both as damaged beyond repair. A single-seat fighter was also observed and assessed as unserviceable.

August 6th was an important day for the Japanese Army Air Force in the Southeast Area. On that day the first elements of the headquarters of the newly formed 4th Air Army arrived in Rabaul. The Army’s order of battle had been issued on July 28th. This included two Flying Divisions (6th and 7th FD), the 14th FB and ancillary units.

The operational strength of the Air Army at that time is shown in figure 4. For comparison, the strength of the 5th Air Force is shown in figure 5.


6th FD - 6 Ki 46, 24 Ki 43-I&II, 17 Ki 45, 13 Ki 48, 11 Ki 21, and 5 Ki 51

7th FD – 5 Ki 46, 18 Ki 43-II, 18 Ki 48, 35 Ki 49, 20 Ki 45, and 6 Ki 51

14th FB – 23 Ki 61

Total strength by type
Fighters: 102
Light bombers: 31
Heavy bombers: 46
Reconnaissance: 22

Note – Approximately half the strength of the 7th FD was based in the Netherlands East Indies. Total strength in New Guinea was about 250 of which about 150 were serviceable.



Light/Medium Bombers - 113

Heavy Bombers - 51

Fighters - 216

Reconnaissance - 10

Note – Not included above are B-24s of 380th BG at Darwin and 9 squadrons of No. 9 Operational Group (RAAF) assigned to 5th Air Force.


In early August destroyer Kawakaze completed a supply and reinforcement run to Tuluvu. The troops were safely landed but the effect of the supply run was almost immediately neutralized. On the morning of August 3rd nine B-25C-1s roared down on the anchorage where twelve MLCs loaded with provisions, fuel and ammunition transported by Kawakaze were in the open. Also there were five MLCs loaded with anti-aircraft gun prime movers and recently arrived from Rabaul. The B-25s showered the barges with 64 three hundred pound bombs and 16,000 fifty-caliber rounds. The supplies were all destroyed by fire and two prime movers were destroyed as well. Seven MLCs were knocked out of action and others were damaged to a lesser extent. These losses caused one of the recurring food shortages suffered at Tuluvu.

The loss of two destroyers at the end of July and serious barge losses were probably responsible for the attempt to provide additional fighter cover in the area. Ten Hayabusas under 1Lt. Tsune Osato of 3rd chutai, 24th FR landed at Tuluvu on August 5th. Word had it that these fighters were to stay for a considerable period. If it was in fact planned to base these fighters at Tuluvu events soon changed those plans. Details are unclear but at least some of these fighters apparently stayed through the 17th. Also on the 5th a Type 100 command reconnaissance plane landed en route from Wewak to Rabaul. Senior staff officer Lt. Col. Shuichi Okamoto (lately CO of the 12th FB, now attached to 6th FD) engaged in liaison discussions during his stop over.

On August 7th two Hayabusas of 1st FR and three Hiens of 78th FR force-landed with engine trouble while providing shipping cover. On this day nine B-25D-1s on a barge sweep reported being attacked by two or three fighters that took off from Cape Gloucester airfield and claimed one destroyed. The B-25s dropped to low level, maintained tight formation and escaped without loss. They apparently encountered some of Osato’s fighters. Two days later 5 Type 1 fighters near Talasea intercepted a B-24. These were thought to have come from Cape Gloucester. The fighters aggressively pressed their passes to close range but their marksmanship was poor and the B-24 escaped. In contrast, six B-25C-1s engaged in a barge hunt over Borgen Bay that day were not intercepted.

On the 9th a navy Zero fighter of 251 Ku landed carrying material for a navy small craft unit. A number of Hayabusas of the 24th FR are recorded as operating from Tuluvu between on August 11th and 17th (possibly part of Osato’s contingent). Reconnaissance planes of the 6th FD providing personnel transport arrived on the 9th and 17th. On August 21st two Type 1 model 1 fighters of the 13th FR under 1Lt. Yamakawa landed with engine trouble. The 13th FR, originally equipped with Type 2 heavy fighters, suffered heavy losses along with other army air units at Wewak in mid-August. It supplemented its few remaining twin-engine fighters with single engine fighters – initially old model Type 1 fighters left behind when the 1st FR transferred back to Japan.

The 4th Air Army suffered a disastrous set back almost before its headquarters was fully operational. Beginning on the night of 16/17th August and continuing for several days the 5th Air Force carried out a series of heavy raids on the Wewak-But airfield complex. Radar sets had been delivered to Wewak in April but were not yet operational. Most of the raids took the Japanese by surprise. By the end of the month B-25s claimed 153 aircraft destroyed on the ground and B-24s claimed 22 more.

Prior to the raids Allied aerial reconnaissance had spotted 199 aircraft on the four airfields. Most of these were combat aircraft but only about 50% were operational at any one time. This was the bulk of the 4th Air Army in New Guinea (total strength at all bases was about 250 aircraft with 130 serviceable). Japanese records indicate 92 to 96 aircraft were burned out or badly damaged on the ground during August. At least another 85 aircraft suffered damage to a lesser extent. For a time after this loss only thirty aircraft were operational. By September 10th after strenuous repair and reinforcement efforts the number of operational aircraft was still less than one hundred.

On August 27th while the raids at Wewak were still going on, 1Lt. Yamakawa made an emergency landing at Tuluvu and his fighter was badly damaged. On that day an 8th Photo Squadron Lightning photographed the airfield and spotted five damaged aircraft. These included the two NELLS west of the runway that had been photographed earlier in the month. There was also a “light bomber” west of the runway (possibly a Type 2 heavy fighter) and two single-engine fighters in revetments. Four months later when U.S. Marines occupied the airfield three times this number of wrecks were found.

On August 11th an Allied intelligence summary stated that there “is evidence that the Cape Gloucester airfield is beginning to play a major part in the defense of New Britain and the barge routes to New Guinea.” The report noted that though somewhat exposed to allied attacks “…Cape Gloucester is particularly well suited as a base for fighters intercepting missions against New Britain and the northern New Guinea coast.” The Japanese command no doubt agreed. Unfortunately, after the August attacks on Wewak it could spare few aircraft to operate from Tuluvu.

The 11th Air Fleet was much stronger than the 4th Air Army after the army losses at Wewak. Its operational strength included some 95 Zero fighters, 50 land attack bombers, 20 dive bombers, 13 carrier attack bombers, and six reconnaissance planes (army Type 100 command reconnaissance, Type 2 land reconnaissance and Type 2 carrier reconnaissance) supplemented by float planes of the 8th Fleet. However, Munda had fallen to American troops, the Japanese were about to evacuate New Georgia Island, and, the Americans had invaded Vella LaVella Island. The navy considered itself fully committed in the Solomons and particularly short of dive-bombers and carrier attack bombers. Unless significant naval targets presented themselves off the New Guinea coast, it had no intention of intervening there in strength.

On the Salamaua front fighting was still raging in early September. A heavy concentration of Japanese troops had been drawn to that area. The Allies were about to unleash a new offensive outflanking the Japanese east of Lae by an amphibious landing and outflanking them on the west with a parachute drop. This would cut off the troops at Salamaua as well as those at Lae. The long stalemated campaign was about to enter a dynamic new phase, one that would bring action to the Huon Peninsula directly across Vitiaz Straight from Tuluvu.

The Tuluvu area suffered eleven air attacks in July and the same number in August. September brought an increase in both the number and severity of attacks including the first use of parafrags (23 lb. parachute fragmentation bombs).

The vital task of re-supply competed with ground combat operations for Japanese air support. On September 2nd a small convoy of cargo vessels unloaded its supplies at Wewak. At the same time destroyers Shigure and Isokaze ran supplies to Tuluvu. The Japanese army concentrated its fighters to cover the Wewak convoy.

The 5th Air Force struck both Wewak and Tuluvu on September 2nd. The U.S. mid-morning attack at Tuluvu was actually the second attack there that day. Neither strike bothered the destroyers, which were well to the east by sunrise. Nine B-26s of the 22nd BG looked for shipping targets at low level while B-17s of the 43rd BG cratered the runway from 9,000 feet and left it badly damaged. Fourteen P-38s flying in flights stacked from 7 to 15,000 feet tried to keep on eye on both formations. Anti-aircraft fire challenged the American attack. Three Type 2 heavy fighters being ferried from Rabaul to Wewak that day were in the area. Immediately after the bombing the three Toryus found four of the B-17s among the clouds and commenced independent attacks. With their heavy armament the twin-engine fighters were potentially dangerous to the heavy bombers. In a brisk engagement B-17 gunners claimed three fighters destroyed while radio operators called for P-38 help. One B-17 returned to base sporting four large holes.

Various P-38 flights pounced on the three separated Japanese fighters and carried out damaging coordinated attacks against individual aircraft. Some of the Toryus may have suffered damage attacking the bombers and some of them were certainly attacked successively by a number of P-38 flights. One NICK was credited to a P-38 pilot as a kill despite the fact that the damaged aircraft disappeared into clouds over the New Britain mountains before being seen to crash.

It appears that one NICK was shot down outright, crashing in Borgen Bay and killing newcomer Cpl. Takeo Kajima; a second, flown by another newcomer Cpl. Akindo Wakai, landed at Tuluvu badly damaged (the Americans reported it exploded in flames as it landed); and, the third was also badly damaged (100+ hits, windscreen ruined) but veteran W.O. Mitsugu Hyakutomi managed to return to Rabaul in this fighter. All the P-38s returned safely. Their pilots were credited with five NICKS destroyed and two others probably destroyed. Hyakutomi claimed a B-17 destroyed.

At Tuluvu the destroyers escaped harm but the air battle went to the Americans. The 7th Wewak Convoy did not fare so well. American bombers sank two of the five transports. The air battle was more even. Seventeen B-25s and forty P-38s attacked Wewak where they encountered thirty-six fighters from 13th, 24th, 59th, and 68th FRs. Three B-25s and two P-38s went down. The Japanese lost four fighters with two pilots killed. The Americans evened the score on the trip home when Capt. George Welch shot down a DINAH. The Type 100 reconnaissance plane carried 1Lt. Susumu Sakamoto and 1Lt. Masaki Tanaka of the 74th FCs to their deaths. The Japanese listed the plane as missing. Added to the three ZEKES he claimed that day this victory put Welch in a tie with Dick Bong as the Army Air Force’s second leading ace. P-38s claimed six single-engine fighters, a twin-engine fighter and two DINAHS. B-25s made additional claims. The Japanese fighters claimed six P-38s and four B-25s definite and three other B-25s uncertain.

On the following day there were no Japanese fighters to defend Tuluvu from a heavy American raid. Many Japanese troops were caught by surprise in the open by machine gun fire, parafrags and conventional bombs. Japanese casualty figures are not entirely consistent but it seems the total came to nearly 200 with fifty-eight dead. This was by far the worst disaster to befall Tuluvu airfield to date.

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