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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
FIGURE 4: 4TH AIR ARMY STRENGTH – 28 JULY 1943
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
Light bombers: 31
Heavy bombers: 46
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.
FIGURE 5: 5TH AIR FORCE A/C IN COMMISSION IN OPERATIONAL
UNITS – 31 JULY 1943
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
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
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
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
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
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.