Fine Molds Nakajima A6M2 Zero of CDR Taketora Ueda in 1/72 Scale

This aircraft is Tora (Tiger) – 110, the mount of the CO of the 261 Kokutai.  This aircraft features prominently in Thorpe’s classic Japanese Naval Air Force Camouflage and Markings of WWII, being pictured on the cover, a photograph (below), and a color profile.  Very attractive, but also problematic.  The photograph shows a Type 21, with a dark finish on the forward fuselage and a lighter finish aft.  Various people (all of whom know much more about this than me) have interpreted the difference in colors as two greens, discoloration due to primer, dirt or fading, or even as the aft fuselage being painted red matching the Hinomaru.  Thorpe’s cover artwork depicts a Type 22 with the wing stripes and upper wing Hinomaru moved inward.

For my build I chose the primer interpretation and mixed the green a little lighter for the aft fuselage and sections of the upper wings, but I keep thinking it would look good in red.  Fine Molds kit, all stripes are painted, tail codes are Hasegawa decals.

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Hasegawa Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero of Takeo Okumura in 1/72 Scale

The fifth leading Imperial Japanese Navy ace was Takeo Okumura with 54 victories.  The model represents WI-108, an A6M3 Type 22 assigned to the 201 Kokutai at Buin in September 1943.  The only profile I was able to locate of this aircraft was in Osprey Aces 22, IJN Aces 1937-45, which was depicted in a badly chipped paint job.  Most photographs of operational Zeros show little or no chipping, so mine is rendered similarly. Okumura was credited with four Chinese aircraft prior to the start of the Pacific War.  He was assigned to the aircraft carrier Ryujo during the Guadalcanal Campaign and was transferred to the Tainan Air Group at Rabaul.  When operating from Buin in September 1943, he was credited with nine victories and one shared over five sorties, a record for the Pacific War.  He was lost at the end of the month attacking a convoy off Cape Cretin, New Guinea.

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Tamiya Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero of Saburo Sakai in 1/72 Scale

Saburo Sakai is the most well-known of the Japanese aces in the West, thanks to the publication of books in English of his exploits by Martin Caiden and by Henry Sakaida.  He opened his account in China where he scored four victories.  He was part of the force which attacked US airfields in the Philippines on 08DEC41 (local time).  Over Guadalcanal he was wounded by rear gunners of a formation of SBD Dauntless dive bombers which he mistook for Wildcats, the mistake cost him an eye.  He survived the war and was credited with 64 victories.  V-103 was one of the aircraft flown by Sakai while a member of the Tainan Air Group.  The remains of this aircraft (and those of its’ last pilot) were discovered on Guadalcanal in 1993, and Sakai himself has verified that this is one of the aircraft which he flew while with the Tainan Air Group.

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Hasegawa Mitsubishi A6M3 Zero of Shoichi Sugita in 1/72 Scale

Shoichi Sugita was credited with his first arial victorie on 01DEC42, a B-17 Flying Fortress.  He formed part of the escort for the transport carrying ADM Isoroku Yamamoto on the day he was shot down.  T2 190 was an A6M3 Type 32 assigned to the 204 Kokutai at Rabaul in May, 1943, and wears a field applied mottled camouflage.  In August of 1943 he was himself shot down but escaped by parachute, although badly burned.

Chief Petty Officer Shoichi Sugita flew the Kawanishi N1K2 Shiden-Kai with the 343rd Kokuti operating from Matsuama, Japan in March 1945.  CPO Sugita was credited with approximately seventy victories, including seven in the Shiden-Kai.  He was killed on 15APR45, shot down while attempting to take off by US Navy F6F Hellcats.  His Shiden-Kai is modeled here:  https://inchhighguy.wordpress.com/2020/05/07/hasegawa-kawanishi-n1k2-shiden-kai-%e7%b4%ab%e9%9b%bb-violet-lightning-george-in-1-72-scale/

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Tamiya Mitsubishi A6M5 Zero of Tetsuzo Iwamoto in 1/72 Scale

This aircraft is only known from entries and a sketch in Iwomoto’s journal, and is one of three he flew from Rabaul which displayed kill markings.  Researchers have been trying to determine the manufacturer, model, and markings for these aircraft, but only one rather fuzzy photograph has surfaced publicly thus far.  Tetsuzo Iwamoto survived the war.  His personal diaries record 202 enemy aircraft claimed, historians have put the actual total at 80.

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Hasegawa Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero of Hiroyoshi Nishizawa in 1/72 Scale

The highest-scoring Japanese naval aviator was Hiroyoshi Nishizawa, credited with 87 victories.  A Japanese photographer shot several in flight photographs of UI-105, which was flown by Nishizawa while assigned to the 251 Kokutai operating out of Rabaul in May of 1943.  On 25OCT44 he led the escort group during the first Kamikaze mission in the Philippines, claiming two American aircraft.  The following day he was flying as a passenger on a transport plane when it was attacked and shot down by two US Navy F6F Hellcats.  Nishizawa died in the crash.

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Winged Samurai Book Review

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Winged Samurai: Saburo Sakai and the Zero Fighter Pilots

By Henry Sakaida

Softcover, 159 pages, heavily illustrated

Published by Champlin Fighter Museum, August 1985

Language: English

ISBN-10: 091217305X

ISBN-13: 978-0912173054

Dimensions: 8.2 x 0.5 x 11.0 inches

First-hand accounts of Japanese airmen from the Pacific War are rare in the West; biographies are almost unique.  In Winged Samurai author Henry Sakaida presents the results of several interviews with Saburo Sakai, who is recognized as Japan’s fourth-highest scoring ace.

There has been a biography of Sakai’s exploits published in English, Samurai! by Martin Caiden, an adaptation of Sakai’s own Ôzora no samurai (Samurai in the Sky).  It appears Caiden took several liberties with the narrative in order to dramatize the account for Western readers.  These are not limited to the construction of details and conversations, Sakai himself indicates many incidents related in Caiden’s book never actually happened.

Henry Sakaida corrects Sakai’s record.  The book is not presented in the usual narrative form, but it reads more as a collection of reference materials, much of which comes from Sakai’s own personal collection.  It is heavily illustrated with photographs, maps, and copies of official reports.  The author has researched each engagement from both sides wherever possible.  Combatants are identified by name and unit, and Sakai’s own evaluations of the Allied aircraft, pilots, and tactics are of particular interest.  Several pages are devoted to the combat over Guadalcanal on 07AUG42, where Sakai encountered U.S. Navy carrier aircraft for the first time and was severely wounded.  Much of this account is based upon an article written by John B. Lundstrom and draws upon interviews and records of the U.S. Navy aircrews involved.

Also included are brief biographies of many of the Zero pilots Sakai flew with as well as photographs and accounts of reunions held after the war, where Sakai was treated as an honored guest by many of the men he fought against.  This is an interesting book and a valuable addition to the history of the Pacific War.  I would love to see it reprinted in hardback on glossy paper with color profiles of the aircraft.  Maybe someday! 

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Ship of Ghosts Book Review

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Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR’s Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of Her Survivors

By James D. Hornfischer

Hardcover in dustjacket, 530 pages, bibliography, notes, crew list, and index

Published by Bantam Books, 2006

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0-553-80390-5

ISBN-13: 978-0-553-80390-7

Dimensions:  6.1 x 2.0 x 9.4 inches

The USS Houston (CA-30) was a Northampton-class heavy cruiser commissioned in 1930.  She had a reputation as a spit and polish ship, and became a favorite of President Franklin Roosevelt, who was embarked several times in the pre-war years.  At the beginning of the Pacific War she was the flagship of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet, stationed in the Philippines.  She joined the American-British-Dutch-Australian (ABDA) naval force at Java under the overall command of Admiral Karel Doorman of the Royal Netherlands Navy.  She was bombed by Japanese aircraft during the Battle of Makassar Strait on 04FEB42, destroying her after 8” gun turret, which could not be repaired locally.  On 26FEB42 ADM Doorman dispatched the ships of the ABDA to intercept a Japanese invasion fleet bearing down on Java.  The ABDA force was badly mauled, loosing two cruisers and three destroyers while inflicting no meaningful damage in return.  Houston and HMAS Perth survived and returned to the port of Tanjong Priok, but were unable to resupply their depleted fuel and ammunition stocks.

The Houston and Perth were ordered to withdraw south through the Sunda Strait under the cover of darkness.  Unknown to them at the time the Japanese were in the process of conducting landing operations in Bantam Bay.  The two cruisers wandered into the midst of the Japanese invasion force.  In a confused close-quarters engagement both Allied ships were sunk.  Approximately one-third of the complements of the cruisers were eventually taken prisoner by the Japanese.

The first third of the book details the history of the Houston and her actions with the ABDA against the Japanese.  The remainder follows the story of the Houston’s survivors while in Japanese captivity.  The Houston’s sailors and Marines were held alongside the crew of the Perth and soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery Regiment, a Texas National Guard unit which had been captured on Java, the three groups sharing the same fate.  The prisoners were moved to Burma, packed onto ships at the ratio of one man per ton of the transport’s displacement.  There they were used as slave labor constructing the infamous “Death Railway” of Bridge Over the River Kwai fame through the Burmese jungle.  The work was all done without the aid of machinery, the jungle offering no hope of escape.  Approximately 20% of the prisoners there died of disease and starvation.

 Hornfischer is a great author and a diligent researcher, most of the material for this book comes from interviews with survivors of the Houston’s crew or their records, and those of the Perth and the 131st Field Artillery as well.  The fates of the Houston and Perth were mysteries to the Allies for most of World War Two and are little know even today so this work fills a gap in the record.  The experiences of the prisoners are grim, readers should not expect anything uplifting there other than the resilience of the men in the face of overwhelming adversity.  Recommended.

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Japanese Naval Aces and Fighter Units in World War II Book Review

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Japanese Naval Aces and Fighter Units in World War II

By Ikuhiko Hata and Yasuho Izawa, Translated by Don Cyril Gorham

Hardcover in dustjacket, 432 pages, appendices, and index.  Illustrated with photographs throughout.

Published by Naval Institute Press November 1989

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0-87021-3156

ISBN-13: 978-0-87021-3151

Dimensions: 7.3 x 1.4 x 10.3 inches

Even today, it is comparatively difficult to find detailed information about Japanese military units in the Second World War.  The Pacific Theater was vast, the ocean or jungles swallowed up entire units with their ultimate fates being inferred only after the war by comparison with Allied records.  Most original wartime records and photographs were ordered destroyed by the Japanese government, whether officially held or in private collections.  This periodically results in the re-discovery of some lost detail of interest of historians and modelers, such as the recent revelation of the shape of the stern of the battleship Yamato as revealed by photographs of her wreck.

This work is the result of years of research by the authors, who originally published their findings in Japan in 1975 as Nihon Kaigun Sentoki-tai.  Translator Don Gorham removed another major obstacle for the Western reader by translating their work into English.  What results is a unique insight into the fighter arm of the Imperial Japanese Navy, and is likely to be the definitive reference on the subject for some time to come.

The book is divided into two major sections.  The first is comprised of histories of all the IJN fighter groups whether assigned to aircraft carriers or ashore.  These are supplemented by portraits of the pilots and aircraft where available, and artwork consisting of line drawings illustrating the markings carried by the aircraft.  The second section is biographies of the aces, what is known of their combat records, and their photographs.  These are rarely more than a single page but there are many names here which are virtually unknown in the West.

Historians researching American, German, or British have several volumes detailing the history of aviation units and multiple biographies of notable figures.  Those interested in Japanese aviation have only a few print references to rely upon.  This book fills a major informational void and is a valuable addition to a reference library.  Recommended.

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