Mitsubishi G4M1 at Munda Airfield

Mitsubishi G4M1 at Munda Airfield

Mitsubishi G4M1 at Munda Airfield

A badly damaged Mitsubishi G4M1'Betty' photographed on or near to Munda airfield on New Georgia. American soldiers can be seen examining the aircraft, and also giving a handy sense of scale.

Mitsubishi G4M1 at Munda Airfield - History

List by Manufacture Number
G4M1 Model 11
G4M1 1208 Tail 370, 321 abandoned Babo Airfield salvaged 1991 displayed Planes of Fame Museum until November 2015
G4M1 1305 details unknown
G4M1 1340 crashed on Guadalcanal near "The Gifu"
G4M1 1350 crashed on Guadalcanal near Bloody Ridge (Edson's Ridge)
G4M1 1365 Tail H-352 pilot Iizuka force landed September 10, 1942
G4M1 1420 Tail 350 pilot Yagita force landed September 4, 1943
G4M1 1450 built early October 1942, US Jan 2, 1943 abandoned Lae Airfield, captured September 1943 ATIU
G4M1 1570 Tail 377 crashed June 14, 1943 near Bonegi on Guadalcanal
G4M1 1605 Tail 378 pilot Narusawa crashed April 12, 1943
G4M1 1645 built February 25, 1943 crashed May 23, 1943 abandoned Lae Airfield
G4M1 1650 Tail U2-3?? abandoned Ballale Airfield
G4M1 1651 Tail U2-323 abandoned Ballale Airfield
G4M1 1655 abandoned Ballale Airfield
G4M1 1720 built April 15, 1943 crashed September 20, 1943 on Guadalcanal
G4M1 1800 abandoned Ballale Airfield
G4M1 1825 abandoned Ballale Airfield
G4M1 1885
G4M1 1960
G4M1 1965
G4M1 1970
G4M1 2221 abandoned Ballale Airfield
G4M1 2271 Tail F-378 pilot Misao ditched May 7, 1942
G4M1 2306 crashed August 17, 1942 onto warship
G4M1 2461 abandoned Ballale Airfield
G4M1 2561 abandoned Ballale Airfield
G4M1 2656 Tail 323 pilot Kotani crashed April 18, 1943 "Yamamoto Mission" with passenger Admiral Yamamoto
G4M1 2671 abandoned Ballale Airfield
G4M1 2721 abandoned Vila Airfield
G4M1 2806 Tail 321 abandoned Ballale Airfield
G4M1 2891
G4M1 2971
G4M1 3187 force landed May 18, 1942 Lae Airfield afterwards written off
G4M1 3407 Tail U2-322 abandoned Ballale Airfield
G4M1 3617 abandoned Ballale Airfield
G4M1 3677 crashed July 6, 1943 paperback swamp, Northern Australia (DAW Rev Ed page 79)
G4M1 3697 abandoned Ballale Airfield
G4M1 3847
G4M1 3892
G4M1 3942 abandoned Borpop Airfield
G4M1 3972
G4M1 4578 fin attached to G4M1 Betty 1650
G4M1 4658 Tail U2-325 abandoned Ballale Airfield
G4M1 4698 abandoned Kahili Airfield (Buin Airfield)
G4M1 4758 abandoned Cape Gloucester
G4M1 4798 abandoned Ballale Airfield MN noted by Darby
G4M1 4853 abandoned Kai Islands
G4M1 5019 crashed Gogora region, Guadalcanal, Mfg. 1 October 1941.
G4M1 5194 abandoned Lae Airfield captured ATIU studied
G4M1 5209 built January 28, 1942 abandoned Lae Airfield ATIU studied
G4M1 5234 crashed Siara on Bougainville
G4M1 5414 crashed November 23, 1942 Darwin ATIU study
G4M1 5749 Tail 336 force landed Munda Airfield
G4M1 6049 Tail 52-073 abandoned Taroa Airfield
G4M1 6073
G4M1 6075
G4M1 6092 built November 15, 1943 crashed January 23, 1944 ATIU Roi Airfield
G4M1 6093 built November 16, 1943 crashed November 29, 1943 ATIU off Gilberts
G4M1 6094 built November 17, 1943 crashed November 29, 1943 ATIU off Gilberts
G4M1 6097 built November 19, 1943 crashed December 9, 1943 ATIU off Gilberts
G4M1 6098 built November 20, 1943 crashed January 23, 1944 ATIU off Gilberts
G4M1 6099 built November 20, 1943 crashed December 5, 1943 ATIU off Gilberts
G4M1 6107 ditched January 14, 1944
G4M1 Tail F-331 abandoned at Lae Airfield
G4M1 Tail F-32? abandoned at Lae Airfield
G4M1 Tail T-361 crashed April 4, 1942 Cox Peninsula west of Darwin
G4M1 pilot Sasaki crashed August 8, 1942 into USS George F. Elliott

G4M2 Model 12
G4M2 2095 captured Orote Airfield
G4M2 12013 captured Orote Airfield
G4M2 12017 tail section restored as part of Harada Collection
G4M2 12036 crashed near Biak Island
G4M1-L 12142 Tail 1022-81 abandoned at Lingayen Airfield
G4M2 Chi Chi Jima crash landed Susaki Airfield
G4M2 Tail 763-12 captured Clark Field, repaired by ATIU
G4M2 crashed Mindoro crashed October 26, 1944 with Hiroyoshi Nishizawa as passenger
G4M2 Truk Lagoon ditched into Truk Lagoon

G4M3 Model 34
G4M3 Tail T2-2205 forward fuselage in storage at NASM Garber Facility
G4M3 Tail 61-20 abandoned Dipolog captured March 1945

Other Known Wrecks & Aircraft
G4M1 Tail 326 pilot Hayashi crashed April 18, 1943 "Yamamoto Mission" with passenger Vice-Admiral Ugaki
G4M1 Tail 355 crashed Guadalcanal
G4M1 F-35? abandoned Lae Airfield
G4M1 F-358 abandoned Lae Airfield
G4M1 Early Tail Only Ballale early tail section abandoned Ballale
G4M1 Tail Only Ballale tail section abandoned Ballale
G4M1 Ballale nose section abandoned Ballale
G4M1 Tail ?36 tail section abandoned Ballale
G4M1 Brown River crashed near Brown River
G4M1 Tail K-393 crashed Buka Island
G4M1 Coffin Corner crashed near Coffin Corner on Guadalcanal
G4M1 Nauru Airfield abandoned Nauru Airfield
G4M1 piloted by Ono ditched February 20, 1942
G4M1 Orlofi crashed on Orlofi Island
G4M1 Tarakan abandoned or shot down near Tarakan Airfield
G4M1 Vunakanau moved to Tobera Airfield for display
G4M1 "Bataan 2" surrender delegation flight to Ie Shima August 19, 1945

Mitsubishi G4M1 at Munda Airfield - History

Aircraft History
Built by either Mitsubishi or Nakajima. Delivered to the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) as Type 96 Land Based Attack Bomber Rikko / G3M Nell manufacture number unknown. The precise model of this bomber is unknown but was one of three possibilities: 1) built by Mitsubishi as G3M2 Model 21 or 2) built by Mitsubishi as G3M2 Model 22 or 3) built by Nakajima as Type 96 Land Based Attack Bomber Rikko / G3M3 Nell.

Wartime History
Assigned to the 701 Kōkūtai. No known tail number or markings.

Mission History
On December 28, 1942 at 7:30am took off from Vunakanau Airfield piloted by Lt(jg) Keizo Kondo leading a flight of three Nells bound for Munda Airfield to pickup fighter pilots from the 252 Kōkūtai (252 Air Group) and transport them to Kahili Airfield (Buin) on southern Bougainville. The formation of three Nells were escorted by nine A6M Zeros. At 9:45 the formation flew over Buin. At 10:45am, the formation arrived over Munda and the bombers prepared to land at Munda Airfield.

Meanwhile, a pair of P-39 Airacobras from the 70th Fighter Squadron led by Lt. Rex Barber with wingman 1st Lt. William Daggitt were flying a reconnaissance patrol at 9,000' over the Munda and observed Zeros orbiting at 13,000' and bombers below them at 1,000' preparing to land.

While Daggitt made a feinting attack towards the Zeros, P-39 "Diabo" pilot Lt. Rex Barber dove on the bombers and aimed for the leader. Barber began to fire, but found his Airacobra was sluggish, because he had forgot to jettison his drop tank and immediately released it. He observed hits and caused the engine to catch fire and crash into the sea off Munda Point. After only the one pass, the P-39s departed. Climbing away, Barber thought he saw F4U Corsairs but they proved to be Zeros, but they did not intercept. After landing at Henderson Field, Barber claimed one Nell shot down, his first aerial victory claim. The shoot down had also been observed by a coastwatcher on Rendova and reported by radio.

During the attack, one engine was set on fire and three of the crew were wounded, two seriously. Pilot Kondo managed to successfully ditch roughly 30m / 98' off Munda Point.

Fates of the Crew
After successfully ditching, the entire crew was able to exit the bomber and swim ashore where they were rescued. Pilot Kondo was the last to exit the bomber as it sank.

The wreckage of this bomber remains in situ roughly 30m / 98' off Munda Point with the nose pointed northward toward Munda Airfield. The nose and fuselage were damaged in the ditching. Generally, this bomber has poor water visibility due to the proximity to shore and shallow water depth.

This bomber has been known to local people. Since the least the early 1970s this bomber has been a SCUBA dive site but usually misidentified as a "Betty" [Type 1 Bomber / G4M1 Betty]. Locally, nothing was known about the history of this bomber ditched at this location.

In fact, this bomber is a Type 96 Land Based Attack Bomber Rikko / G3M Nell based on the features including the twin tails and other features unique to that type. The nose and fuselage were damaged in the ditching

Luke Spreadborough dove in 1993:
"When I snorkelled it I had a good look at the thing and found that the port engine had been on fire and the perspex on the port side of the canopy had started to buckle from the heat. There was paneling missing from the wing behind the engine, presumably due to the fire. I made some enquiries among the locals and they claim they knew a man who had seen the aircraft ditch when he was a boy. I asked him what had happened and he told me that the engine was onfire and smoking. I asked him which engine and he thought for a little while and then indicated the port engine. Very very interesting, he had obviously seen this aircraft ditch. According to him (and the condition of the aircraft suggested this as well) the crew had escaped unharmed."

Justin Taylan dive this wreck in April 2006:
"I first dove this site in April 2006, and was amazed to find some of the cockpit perspex still intact on the cockpit including the clam shell hatches. Knowing this bomber was a Type 96 Land Based Attack Bomber / G3M Nell, I knew there was a chance it could be precisely identified and the facts about how it ditched might be determined. Based on the location, I guess it was assigned to the 701 Kōkūtai and likely lost in late 1942 or early 1943. My initial guess was it was a loss related to the Battle of Rennel Island but none of the losses matched this loss location.

In 2007, I was able to meet the former pilot Keizo Kondo in Japan and interviewed him twice."

Kodochosho 701 Kōkūtai - December 28, 1942
Haran No Sora Ni Ikite (2008) by Keizo Kondo
13th Fighter Command (2004) page 97
"On the 28th [December 1942] 1Lt Rex Barber and his wingman 1Lt William Daggitt (70th FS) were flying a two plane P-39 reconnaissance patrol over Munda Point at 9,000' when nine Japanese fighters were spotted orbiting at 13,000' directly over the airfield. At the same time a Betty (Nell?) bomber was flying below at 1,000' making a landing approach on the field. Barber and Daggitt dove on the bomber, with Daggitt feinting towards the fighters while Barber, in [P-39 nicknamed] "Diablo" attacked the Betty. As he dove his aircraft seemed sluggish and would not come up to speed. He realized that he had not dropped his belly tank, jettisoned the tank, and continued his dive on the bomber and set its right engine on fire. It continued to fly on until it crashed into the ocean for Barber's first victory. As Barber climbed he saw some aircraft off to his left and he thought were Marine [F4U] Corsairs. As he closed he discovered that they were Zeros, but the two Japanese pilots saw him and high tailed it back to base. When he returned to Cactus Barber's crew chief told him that it had been reported he "bombed" a Japanese bomber. An Australian coastwatcher had seen him drop his belly tank before he fired on the enemy aircraft and thought it was a bomb!"
Thanks to Keizo Kondo, Yoji Sakaida and Charles Darby for additional information

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Operational history [ edit | edit source ]

721st Kokutai ' s G4M2e bomber carrying Ohka

The G4M was similar in performance and missions to other contemporary twin-engine bombers such as the German Heinkel He 111 and the American North American B-25 Mitchell. These were all commonly used in anti-ship roles. The G4M Model 11 was prominent in attacks on Allied shipping in the 1941 to early 1944, but after that it became more and more an easy prey for Allied fighters.

The G4M's baptism of fire occurred on 13 September 1940 in Mainland China, when 27 "Betties" and Mitsubishi C5Ms of 1st Rengo Kokutai (a mixed force including elements of the Kanoya and Kizarazu Kokutais (Air Groups)) departed from Taipei, Omura, and Jeju City to attack Hankow. The bombers and the reconnaissance aircraft were escorted by 13 A6M Zeros of 12st [ Clarification needed ]

IJN aviators pressed home a torpedo attack against American ships off Guadalcanal on 8 August 1942, suffering heavy losses. The plane on the left and at extreme low-level (approximately 5 meters) was flown by Jun Takahashi, who is still alive in 2013.

As a torpedo bomber, the G4M's most notable use was in the sinking of Prince of Wales and Repulse off the eastern coast of British Malaya on 10 December 1941. The G4Ms carried out the attacks along with the older Japanese bombers, the Mitsubishi G3M "Nells" which were doing high-level bombing runs. The battleship Prince of Wales and the battle cruiser Repulse were the first two large capital ships to be sunk exclusively by air attack during a war, while in open waters. The bomber crews were from the Kanoya Air Group of Kanoya Kokutai (751 Ku), Genzan Air Group of Genzan Kokutai (753 Ku), and the Mihoro Air Group of Mihoro Kokutai (701 Ku), trained in torpedo attacks at an altitude of less than 30 feet (9.1 m), and in long-range over-ocean navigation, so they could attack naval targets moving quickly at sea. They later carried out an extended series of attacks against U.S. Navy and Allied ships, as well as on land targets during the six month long Battle of Guadalcanal (in the Solomon Islands) in late 1942.

On 8 August 1942 during the second day of the U.S. Marines landing on Guadalcanal, IJNAF's 23 G4M1s conducted a torpedo attack against American ships at Lunga point, Guadalcanal. A total of 18 of the attacking G4M1s were shot down, due to very heavy anti-aircraft fire, and air attacks from Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters based on three American aircraft carriers. In all 18 Japanese crews – approximately 120 aviators– were missing at the beginning of August 1942. More than 100 Japanese G4M1s and their best pilots and crews (with no replacements or substitutes available) were shot down during the subsequent numerous battles on and near Guadalcanal (August to October 1942). ΐ] In the two days of the Battle of Rennell Island, 29 and 30 January 1943, 10 out of 43 Japanese G4M1s were shot down during night torpedo attacks, all by U.S. Navy anti-aircraft fire. About 70 Japanese aviators, including Lieutenant Commander Higai, were killed during that battle.

Crashed G4M1 floating at Tulagi 8 August 1942.

Probably the best-known incident involving a G4M during the war was the attack resulting in the death of Isoroku Yamamoto. The G4M with tail number T1-323 - which was carrying the Imperial Japanese Navy Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto - was attacked and shot down by Lockheed P-38 Lightnings from the 339th Fighter Squadron of the 347th Fighter Group, Thirteenth Air Force, USAAF on 18 April 1943.

The G4M Model 11 was replaced by the Models 22,22a/b,24a/b,25,26 and 27 from June 1943 onward, giving service in New Guinea, the Solomons, and the South Pacific area, in defense of the Marianas and finally in Okinawa. Other G4Ms received field modifications resulting in the Model 24j which carried the Yokosuka MXY7 Ohka Model 11 suicide flying bombs beginning on 21 March 1945, with disastrous results due to extensive Allied fighter opposition.

Following the loss of Okinawa, G4Ms constituted the main weapon of the land-based Japanese naval bomber force, which consisted of 20 Kokutais at the end of the war, including the testing air group equipped in 1944–'45 with the latest version G4M3 Model 34 and 36 which arrived too late to have an impact on the war.

From November 1944 to January 1945, G4Ms were one of the main types of aircraft used in the Japanese air attacks on the Mariana Islands, and plans to use converted G4Ms to land commandos on the islands were developed in mid-1945 and cancelled only at the end of the war.

As part of the negotiations for the surrender of Japan, two demilitarized G4Ms, given the call-signs Bataan 1 and Bataan 2 were sent to Ie Shima carrying the first surrender delegations on the first leg of their flight to Manila, the Philippines. The G4Ms were painted white with green crosses, and were escorted by American P-38 Lightning fighters. Α]

Mitsubishi G4M1 at Munda Airfield - History

Perhaps the best known Japanese bomber of World War II, the Betty was a modern and dangerous weapon in use from the very start of the Pacific War.

Let’s take a look at an early Betty, from a very famous mission.

Japan was unique among the wartime powers in having a powerful, land-based anti-shipping force. Going back to 1932, at the insistence of the chief of the Japanese Navy’s Technology Division (Adm Isoroku Yamamoto), an order was placed for a long range torpedo carrying aircraft. The goal was to have a force multiplier, a bomber that could make up for the Washington Naval Limitations Treaty that only allowed Japan 70% as many aircraft carriers as the US or Britain. This resulted in the Mitsubishi G3M Nell entering service in 1936. As a twin engine bomber it had a combat radius of over 1300 miles at a speed of 230 mph. This was a very long range and high speed for its time. It meant the Japanese Navy had a far more capable and dangerous bomber force than the Japanese Army.

Betty is a big girl! Its not hard to see why crews called her the “Type 1 Flying Cigar”!

But the IJN knew this could be bettered. The Nell had about 2000 total horsepower but by the time it entered service Mitsubishi had a new engine of 1500 HP (the Kasei 11). So a new bomber was ordered to take advantage of it. The resulting G4M had a 1600 mile radius at 260 mph. It could carry a torpedo or 800 kg of bombs. Although that’s a fairly small bomb load for an aircraft of its size, the Japanese Navy’s Type 91 aerial torpedo was absolutely the best in the world. Nothing else was even close and Japanese torpedo performance would cause serious angst among opponents during the War.

The tail gun is a 20mm cannon. It wasn’t a very agile mount, but attackers had to take it seriously.

Of course that range and speed came with a price. Although the aircraft was structurally pretty solid (there are several stories of G4Ms returning home with significant damage) weight was saved on crew armor and self sealing fuel tanks. So often, if the aircraft was shredded the crew was too. Even worse was its propensity for bursting into flame. Apparently Japanese crews took to affectionately calling their plane the “Flying Cigar” because of its shape, but the name quickly took on a bitter tone because of how quickly it lit up.

Just enough interior detail to look like a bomber.

A quick run down of its operational career it started service in the China War where it established a good reputation. By flying high and fast, with new A6M Zeros as escort it seemed to be able to bomb targets, even those deep in enemy territory, with impunity. After Pearl Harbor Formosa based G4Ms destroyed American air power in the Phillipines. This was a major success because due to weather, the mission wasn’t flown until afternoon on December 8. Yet American bombers were still lined neatly along the runways at Clark Field and were easy targets.
On December 10, Saigon based Bettys had an even bigger success when they sank the Royal Navy’s Force Z (see below).
For the next several months Japanese airpower set the tempo across the Pacific. The first hitch came on February 20, 1942. The 4th Kokutai had just moved into the newly captured airfield at Rabual. A US Navy Task Force built around the carrier Lexington was spotted while it was still a full days steaming from being able to launch an attack. So a strike of 17 G4Ms in two waves were sent to attack at long range to bomb (torpedoes hadn’t been delivered yet), without fighter cover. The first group of 8 flew right into a well vectored fighter defense. Several did get close enough to bomb, but the entire flight was wiped out. The second wave of 9 only encountered one Wildcat. No problem. Right? This was the day Edward O’Hare became the Navy’s first Ace of the War. This was also the day the Japanese first realized their G4M might not be invincible.
After the Lexington sailed away unscathed the 4th Kokutai was rebuilt, Rabual was reinforced, fighters arrived. Bettys were actively involved in New Guinea, especially against Port Moresby they bombed Darwin from newly captured bases in Timor. In August things really heated up with the start of the Guadalcanal Campaign. Bettys did have the range to reach Guadalcanal from Rabual, and so did their Zero escorts. This became the first really epic campaign of the Pacific War, and it showed the G4M’s weaknesses sharply.

G4Ms making a torpedo attack against the initial invasion of Guadalcanal on August 8, 1942. Drop height was often less than 20 feet. On this day, out of 23 attackers only 5 returned to Rabual. Betty at lower left was flown by Jun Takahashi who survived both the attack and the War. (Public Domain)

Attempts were made to fix those weaknesses. Light crew armor appeared on later models and a rubber liner was added to the gas tank. But such fixes were limited by the power available basically the same engineering choices every aircraft design is faced with, and it was hard to correct for foundational hardware decisions. What was really needed was a new aircraft with more powerful engines. In this, the Japanese failed pretty completely. New designs DID appear, but no reliable next generation engine was ever mass produced by Japan.
Later variants, G4M2 and G4M3, served to the end of the War. After the atomic bombing, the Japanese surrender delegation flew to meet with the Americans in two white Bettys.

The G4M had a curious bomb bay. The doors did not open. For non-bombing missions a solid cover was mounted to the opening to improve aerodynamics. If a bomb load was carried, the cover was left off. For a torpedo, only the center of the cover was removed. Didn’t Chevy do a truck like this?

This particular aircraft was flown by Lt Haruki Iki of the 22nd Air Flotilla. On December 10, 1941 they were ordered to find and attack a powerful British surface force operating east of Malaysia. This was Force Z with Prince of Wales, Repulse and four destroyers. There were several Japanese amphibious and transport forces in the area so neutralizing this threat was considered important. Further, with no heavy Japanese fleet units in the area, air attack was the only possible answer. No one had ever expected land based air to establish naval dominance before.
Japanese search planes did spot Force Z on the morning of Dec. 10 but there was hope among the British and fear among the Japanese that the sighting reports would not get to the bombing force. It finally came to the location being transmitted in the clear to get the bombers pointed the right way. Force Z requested fighter cover from Singapore when the bombers were sighted. The bomber force was split in two by type. 32 G3Ms found the British fleet first. They had a mix of bombs and torpedoes. They scored hits, caused serious but not critical damage to the Prince of Wales and trivial damage to the Repulse. The second wave of 26 G4Ms were all armed with torpedoes. They put four more torpedoes into Prince of Wales. But Repulse nimbly evaded the next six attackers. That left a final section of nine planes under Lt Iki. He observed only Repulse required any attention so he split his force to attack it both flanks at once. Iki, with his two wingmen, attacked from port and scored three hits, although only Iki survived the anti-aircraft fire. The six planes attacking from starboard scored one additional hit.
Repulse then sank quickly, Prince of Wales shortly afterwards. The four destroyers where rescuing survivors when a flight of Buffalos arrived as cover.

On December 10, Buffaloes arrived when it was just too late.

This is the Tamiya kit. Its an older one now, dating back to the 1990s. Fit and engineering are good even if a few generations old. The interior is not very detailed, but even with all that glass its hard to see much of it. I sort of prefer it that way, no need to fuss with things that will never be seen when finished!

Mitsubishi G4M1 at Munda Airfield - History

On November 1, 1942 the Misawa Kōkūtai was redesignated 705 Kōkūtai (705 Air Group) or 705 Ku of the 26 Koku Sentai operating the Type 1 Attack Bomber / G4M1 Betty at Vunakanau Airfield near Rabaul.

Wartime History
On November 12, 1942 seven G4M1 Bettys from the 705 Kōkūtai plus others from the 703 Kōkūtai and 707 Kōkūtai took off from Vunakanau Airfield near Rabaul escorted by A6M2 Zeros on a torpedo mission against American shipping off Guadalcanal. The bomber force suffered 14 out of 19 shot down with the loss of ten crews.

On March 22, 1943 five G4M1 Bettys took off from Buka Airfield on a patrol mission and return safely.

On April 18, 1943 two 705 Kokutai bombers G4M1 Betty 2656 Tail 323 and G4M1 Betty Tail 326 were used to transport Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander in Chief of the Combined Japanese Fleet and his senior staff on a flight bound for Ballale Airfield. Knowledge of this flight was gleamed from a coded Japanese message sent on April 13, 1943 which American intelligence intercepted and had broken their Naval code. Decoded, the message outlined Yamamoto's itinerary and timetable and a secret mission was planned to intercept and shoot down the bombers. Over southern Bougainville, both bombers were in intercepted and shot down by P-38 Lightinings from the 339th Fighter Squadron on the "Yamamoto Mission".

On May 13, 1943 seven G4M1 Bettys took off from Buka Airfield on a night mission to bomb Guadalcanal. Over the target, intercepted by P-38 Lightning piloted by Lt. William E. Smith from the 12 Fighter Squadron who claimed an aerial victory over a Betty at 7:46pm and claimed a Betty probable at 7:47pm.

On June 30, 1943 in the early morning, G4M1 Betty piloted by PO Rokuro Saito from 705 Kokutai spots a U.S. force of transports, destroyers and landing craft 10 miles south of Rendova and reports them and afterwards is shot down by F4F Wildcats from VF-21. In the early afternoon participated in the second Japanese air raid against U.S. invasion force off Rendova. The formation included twenty-six G4M1 Bettys armed with torpedoes (seventeen from 702 Kokutai led by Lt Cdr Genzo Nakamura and nine G4M1 Bettys from 705 Kokutai) escorted by twenty-four A6M Zeros from 251 Kokutai. They spotted the U.S. transports in Blanche Channel. The Japanese were intercepted by U.S. fighters from the "Rendova Patrol" including F4F Wildcats and F4U Corsairs and targeted by anti-aircraft fire from the ships that decimated the formation. Only about ten Bettys managed to release their torpedoes that resulted in only a single hit damaged USS McCawley (APA-4) amidships, although two more torpedoes passed nearby. In total, 19 Bettys and 17 crews were lost on the mission (including 6 Bettys from 705 Ku).

Sometime in the first half of 1943, G4M1 Betty 1570 Tail 377 crashed on Guadalcanal. In July 1943, the crash site was investigated by Allied air intelligence July 1943 and recovered documents.

On September 5, 1943 withdrawn from Rabaul northward to Tinian Island. On November 11, 1943 began operating from Taroa Airfield. In November 1943 to Padang Airfield on Sumatra Island. During December 1943, the unit's bombers participated in a bombing mission against Calcutta in India.

Markings and Tail Codes
The 705 Kokutai used different tail codes at various dates. Stripes on the tail divide the flights into the various hiko chutai/buntai. These varied in width and location by time period. The wider stripes indicate the early period while the 705 Ku was based at Rabaul.

Tail Code 'T1-XXX' (three digits) used during middle 1943
Tail Code 'XXX' (three digits)
Tail Code 'U-XXX' (three digits)

Kodochosho, 705 Kōkūtai, September 6, 1942
Kodochosho, 705 Kōkūtai, September 8, 1942
Kodochosho, 705 Kōkūtai, September 10, 1942
Kodochosho, 705 Kōkūtai, October 2, 1942
Kodochosho, 705 Kōkūtai, November 12, 1942
Kodochosho, 705 Kōkūtai, March 22, 1943
Kodochosho, 705 Kōkūtai, May 13, 1942

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The Air Battle for the Solomons 1943

Before his death Yamamoto had implemented a new strategy, codenamed Operation I-GO. The Battles of Guadalcanal and Buna-Gona-Sanananda were heavy setbacks to his plans to expand the perimeter of the Japanese Empire to the east of Australia so as to throttle the supply routes to MacArthur’s Allied armies. A complete strategic rethink was required. The conclusion that Yamamoto reached was that expansionist new strategies were no longer possible. In the South Pacific, as in the Central Pacific, the United States would have to be drawn into a war of attrition so difficult and bloody that they would have to sue for peace on terms favorable for Japan. Japan’s war of aggressive expansion would now become a war of aggressive defense. In the South Pacific the new strategy would be dependent on air defense—using his bombers to try to disrupt Halsey from building airfields. In April Yamamoto had moved his HQ to Rabaul to oversee Operation I-GO. It was a decision that doomed him. When Watanabe complained that the information about Yamamoto’s visit to Ballalae Airfield should be done by courier and not by radio, the communications officer replied, “This code only went into effect on 1 April and cannot be broken.”

Yamamoto accurately anticipated that the Allied advance in the Solomons and New Guinea would focus on subjugation of the Japanese stronghold at Rabaul. Apart from one small but important twist, namely the eventual decision to isolate rather than destroy Rabaul, Yamamoto’s understanding of the Allies’ plan proved completely accurate.

Within five days of the Battle of Guadalcanal being officially declared as over on 9 February 1942, Lieutenant-General Kenney authorized a plan to “really take Rabaul apart.” This started on the night of 14–15 February with a bombing raid by thirteen B-17 Flying-Fortress bombers from the 63rd Bomb Squadron. Munitions and fuel dumps were targeted. A second wave of ten bombers from 65th Bomb Squadron dropped incendiaries on downtown Rabaul. Two more waves consisted of eight B-17s and four Liberators. There were no fighter interceptions. Japan’s failure to regain Guadalcanal was thus quickly brought home. Petty Officer Igarashi at Vunakanau Airfield noted that after the bombing, he “felt beaten physically and emotionally.”

Yamamoto had further predicted the double-pronged Allied advance through New Guinea and the northern Solomon Islands. He therefore set up the ‘ring of airfields’ around Rabaul that would determine the outcome of the battle ahead. His inspection visit to Ballalae Airfield, the cause of his death, was a key indication of the importance he now placed on these ‘ring’ airfields. The result was, “Most combat took place inside or very close to a triangle with Port Moresby at the western point, Guadalcanal at the eastern point, and Rabaul at the northern apex.”

He knew that US forces would advance under the cover of air superiority, which in turn depended on their ability to build forward airfields. In anticipation, Yamamoto ordered a massive build-up of bombers and fighters with the aim of preventing US supply of matériel for the building and equipping of their advance airfields. The battle for Henderson Field on Guadalcanal was the first of these contests and Yamamoto was sure that others would follow. What he hoped was that the shorter lines of supply from airfields closer to Rabaul would give him the advantage over US forces. Contrary to the reports coming back from his pilots indicating that great air victories were being won against US forces in the Solomon Islands, his tour of inspection was beginning to reveal the opposite. One of the things that he would surely have noticed on his tour of the new airfields built to defend Rabaul was that by comparison with the US airfields, they were poorly constructed. As early as 25 October 1942, Rear-Admiral Ugaki had noted in his diary, “every time it rained heavily, about ten planes were damaged due to skidding.” The arms race to build new, bigger and better airfields would be won ‘hands down’ by the US Seabees.

Just as Yamamoto used the post-Guadalcanal lull to bolster his defenses for the anticipated battle ahead, Halsey prepared his forces for the next stage of the advance in the central and northern Solomons. A firm advocate of unity of command, he oversaw the realignment of air command that had inevitably been confused given the presence of the US Army’s Thirteenth Air Force led by Major-General Twining, the Marine Air Corps as well as the New Zealanders who had by now arrived with their Curtiss P-40 Warhawk squadrons and Lockheed Hudson search planes. As well as different services and nationalities, there was a profusion of new equipment in addition to Warhawks, fighters included the Lockheed P-38 Lightning, Chance Vought F4U Corsair, Bell Airacobra as well as the new Grumman F6F Hellcat, an updated replacement for their Wildcats, which were still the US Navy’s mainstay. Bombers consisted of Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses, Consolidated B-24 Liberators, Dauntless Helldivers, General Motors’ Grumman Avengers and North American B-25 Mitchells.

For this extraordinarily diverse force’s operational control devolved to COMAIRSOL, the lugubrious acronym for Commander of Air Forces in the Solomons. A solution to the intricacies of command and responsibility between Lieutenant-General Millard Harmon, Deputy Commander of air forces of the South Pacific Area and Rear-Admiral Aubrey Fitch, who commanded the US Navy and Marine Air Forces in the Solomons, was achieved under Vice-Admiral Halsey’s directive that there must be a unified command. Broadly it was agreed that combat command should be vested in the respective services with minimal disruption of normal command channels by COMAIRSOL whose role was largely one of strategy and coordination. Surprisingly, the diffuse system of command adopted avoided most of the ‘political’ pitfalls and worked extremely effectively.

At Guadalcanal there was a concomitant build-up of airfield capacity to take the fighter squadrons. Four new airbases were constructed as well as vast storage facilities to cope with a huge build-up of munitions, gasoline, clothing and food that was brought in to prepare for the campaign ahead. During March 1943 Allied bombers made sporadic attacks on Japanese airfields on Ballalae, Kahili, Shortland Island and Munda on the northwest coast of New Georgia. In addition a reconnaissance picture was built of Japanese movements, airfields and installations. When photographs revealed the development of a Japanese seaplane base off southern Bougainville, a dawn fighter attack was ordered on 28 March. Led by Captain Lanphier of 70th Squadron, six P-38s destroyed eight Japanese seaplanes. Rex Barber of 339th Squadron, later Lanphier’s confederate in the slaying of Yamamoto, was lucky to survive the attack when he hit the mast of a Japanese ship and lost three feet of wing. At the end of the month however, even with these kills included, only 16 Japanese planes were shot down. As for the Allies, there was not a single loss recorded in the Solomon Islands.

It was to be a brief lacuna in the Solomons campaign. At the beginning of April the Japanese returned in force as Yamamoto’s I-GO campaign started in earnest. The channel between Tulagi and Guadalcanal hummed with the to-and-fro of US troop transports, merchantmen, tenders and warships. It was an irresistible target. On 1 April, Japanese bombers, escorted by Zeros, were launched in a mass attack on US assets at Guadalcanal. They were met with an assortment of forty-two Allied fighters. After a three hour dogfight twenty Zeros had been shot down versus six planes of Fighter Command.

After a week of sporadic bombing attacks by both sides, Allied watchers on the coast of New Guinea indicated that a major attack was imminent. In total 160 Japanese aircraft were headed down the ‘Slot.’ All seventy-six Allied fighters were put in the air. Thirty-nine Japanese planes were downed against seven scored in return. Only Major Walden Williams of 70th Fighter Squadron was killed as the US had by now developed a sophisticated and rapid pilot rescue service for pilots dunked in the sea. Brigadier-General Nathan Twining, commander of the Thirteenth Air Force had himself been rescued from the sea by the US Navy in early February after six days spent in rafts with fourteen colleagues after their plane had been forced to ditch on its way from Guadalcanal to the US Air Force HQ at Espiritu Santo.

Yamamoto also launched mass attacks on US airfields on New Guinea. On 12 April 1943, just six days before Yamamoto’s assassination, Mitsubishi G4M1 ‘Bettys’ took off from Vunakanau Airfield near Rabaul. They were accompanied by 130 Navy Zeros along with 65 Zeros from the carriers Zuikaku, Hiyo and Junyo. They were headed for Milne Bay and all US fighters were scrambled to meet them. US defenses were sold a dummy. The Japanese attack switched course and was only picked up as it was crossing the Owen Stanley Mountains headed for Port Moresby. Kenney was on hand to witness a mêlée involving over a hundred aircraft. Kenney noted that the Japanese “came into sight of my headquarters at 10.23 a.m. Forty-five bombers in one beautifully flown mass formation … while above them between 60 and 70 fighters for protection.” Ten Japanese aircraft including two fighters were shot down. It was the 106th air raid on Port Moresby and the largest to date.

The expected raid on Milne Bay the following day, 13 April, did not materialize. But on 14 April Yamamoto waved off the last attack of Operation I-GO. Twenty-three ‘Val’ bombers and 44 ‘Bettys’ were accompanied by 129 Zeros from the 11th Air Fleet and the Third Fleet. Only three ships at Milne Bay took hits and none were sunk. Japanese claims were exorbitant: three large and one medium transport sunk, six transport heavily damaged and forty-four Allied aircraft shot down. In reality only one P-40 Warhawk was lost and the defenders claimed nineteen confirmed kills. In the battle Lieutenant Richard Bong, who was described by Kenney as “a little blonde-haired Norwegian boy” started to make a name for himself with the double shooting of ‘Betty’ bombers. Kenney, who liked heroes and their legends, told his staff to “watch for that boy Bong.” In the combined reports coming from I-GO, the Japanese claimed a massive victory in which their bomber units had supposedly sunk a cruiser, two destroyers, six cargo ships, ten medium cargo ships as well as shooting down 134 Allied planes and damaging fifty-six more. Emperor Hirohito was impressed. “Please convey my satisfaction to the Commander in Chief, Combined Fleet, and tell him to enlarge the war result more than ever.”

By contrast, Kenney was damning about the use and effectiveness of Japan’s Air Force: “… the way he [Yamamoto] had failed to take advantage of his superiority in numbers and position since the first couple of months of the war was a disgrace to the airman’s profession.” Apart from the rare exception of mass attacks, Japanese attacks were marked by their use of aircraft in ‘penny-packets.’ Kenney was probably not aware that the inability of the Japanese Navy Air Force to launch sustained heavy bombing was in large part due to their logistical weaknesses including lack of experienced aviation engineers, ground crews, adequate airfield facilities and airfield equipment.

By the end of May however, US morale was rising. Apart from killing Admiral Yamamoto, the Allies had been significantly reinforced over the month. Twining was now able to rotate his pilots to allow them time for rest and recuperation (R&R). The contrast with the Japanese Air Force’s ‘fight-till-you-die’ policy could not have been starker. Essentially for Emperor Hirohito and the Japanese high command, serving pilots, as with their ground troops, were expendable commodities—used until they were either wounded or died.

Guadalcanal now served as the US rest and recuperation (R&R) base for the Solomon Islands Campaign and here resting pilots could also be put to use instructing fresh arrivals. The main problem facing the US Army Air Force at Guadalcanal was the lack of airfield construction to enable satisfactory dispersal of the 300-plus aircraft that had arrived on the island in the early summer of 1943. After ‘Hap’ Arnold complained to Vice-Admiral ‘Bull’ Halsey, new areas for dispersal were organized. Through the spring and early summer the build-up in resources at Guadalcanal allowed a steady increase in bomber action against Bougainville in night attacks. Daylight attacks by Japanese fighters coming down the ‘Slot’ also became a daily feature. Costs to Japan duly increased. In a dogfight on 13 May, the Japanese lost sixteen fighters. Towards the end of May, it seemed that Japanese attacks were losing strength. By comparison Allied attacks on southern Bougainville were increasing as Curtiss SB2C Helldivers, newly equipped with fifty-gallon auxiliary tanks, extended their operational range.

Nonetheless, by the beginning of June it was clear from reconnaissance that with 225 aircraft assembled at their airfields and some fifty ships in the harbor, Japanese forces at Rabaul were building resources for a major new effort. Nevertheless fighter exchanges remained heavily in favor of the Allies. On 7 June, a major Japanese effort ended with twenty-three of their planes downed against nine Allied aircraft. Apart from the disparity in aircraft losses, the key difference was that all the Allied pilots were rescued while all of the Japanese were assumed to have died. The 12 June air battle was even more one-sided the Allies scoring thirty-one kills to six losses and two pilots killed. Still, in the short term, the Japanese well of resources appeared undiminished.

Mitsubishi G4M1 at Munda Airfield - History


A captured Mitsubishi G4M ‘Betty’ in USAAF markings being tested (RAAF Museum)

Country of origin:


Power Plant:

Two 1,380 kw (1,850 hp) Mitsubishi MK4T Kasei 25 14-cylinder two-row air-cooled radial engines



One 20 mm Type 99 cannon in hydraulically operated dorsal turret hand held Type 99 cannon in each of two lateral positions and one in tail one 7.7 mm (0.303 in) Type 97 machine gun in nose. Max bomb load 998 kg (2,200 lb).


The Mitsubishi G4M1 type 1 Land Attack Aircraft Model 11 was encountered in the Pacific campaign by the Allies in some numbers and is the most well known Japanese bomber. The prototype was built at Nagoya and rolled-out in September 1939, making its first flight at Kasumigaura Airfield on 23 October 1939. After manufacturers trials it was taken to Yokosuka for service trials. However, the Japanese Navy declined to order the type into production for some time and the first production aircraft was not completed until October 1940. Some 1,200 examples of the Model 11 were built at the Nagoya Third Airframe Works between October 1940 and January 1944.

In 1942 a new model, the Navy Type 1 Attack Bomber Model 21 was introduced, incorporating recommendations for improvements made following combat experience. This model differed externally in having flush glazed panels in lieu of lateral fuselage machine-gun blisters, and a modified tail cone with a cut-out to improve operation of the 20 mm cannon. The power plant was now the MK4E Kasei 15 which had a higher altitude rating and this permitted a cruise above the effective ceiling of light anti-aircraft guns. Fuel tank protection was introduced, as was a fire extinguisher system.

Mitsubishi then developed the G4M2 with a view to improving range and speed, and also to increase armament. In this regard the Mitsubishi MK4P Kasei 21 engine with water methanol injection driving four-blade propellers was installed, and fuel capacity increased to 6,490 litres (1,428 Imp gals). However, due to delays in the production of the Kasei 21 engine, production did not commence until July 1943 and eventually 1,154 examples of the G4M2 were completed. A number of variants of the G4M2 were completed and these differed mainly in the model engine and armament installed. Total production of the type was 2,446 aircraft.

In addition to bombing missions, the ‘Betty’, as it was known to the Allies, was used for other purposes. One variant, known as the G6M1, was built as a convoy fighter. This was to escort groups of bombers and had extra armament, but was not a success. The G4M2e Model 24J was modified to carry the Navy Suicide Attacker Ohka Model 11 under the belly of the aircraft.

The type was operated by Japanese units in the Dutch East Indies, New Guinea, Papua and New Britain, units involved including the 1st and 4th Kanoya and Takao Kokutais, and were involved in the planned Japanese invasion of Australia. The first raid by the type on Darwin, NT was made on 19 February 1942 and subsequently further attacks were made on northern Australia up until June 1944.

One of the most successful attacks against Darwin was on 2 May 1943 when G4M1 Model 21s of the 705th Kokutai, escorted by A6M3 ‘Zero’ fighters, dropped 100 bombs on the old Darwin RAAF station. On this occasion three Spitfires from Nos 54, 452 and 457 Squadrons being shot down by the escorting fighters, five more making forced landings, for the loss of five ‘Zeroes’ but no bombers. On 30 June a flight of 27 G4M1s escorted by 23 ‘Zeroes’ was intercepted by 38 Spitfires over Fenton, NT. Three US Liberators were destroyed on the ground and seven others were damaged. Losses were four Spitfires, but three A6M3s and six G4M1 bombers were shot down.

On 19 March 1942 Kittyhawks strafed Japanese aircraft based at Lae, NG. Twelve aircraft were destroyed and five damaged, including a number of ‘Bettys’. The G4M bombers carried out attacks on Darwin from their bases on Timor, one attack being made on 22 March 1942 penetrating 322 km (200 miles) inland to bomb Katherine, NT. Such operations were carried out through to July 1943.

Towards the end of the war a number were captured, and at least one was tested by the United States Technical Air Intelligence unit and painted in US markings. One was used as a transport for the surrender delegation from Japan to Ie Shima Island near Okinawa on 19 August, 1945.

One of the most famous G4M1 ‘Bettys’ was that of Admiral Isoroku Yamato who, with his staff on board, was intercepted by USAAF Lockheed P-38 Lightnings on 18 April 1943. The aircraft was shot down 32 km (20 miles) from Kahiu on Bougainville Island. The type made many raids on northern Australia and one (serial 5415) was shot down on 23 November 1942 by Sqdn Ldr R Cresswell of No 77 Squadron. The wreck of this aircraft was taken to Melbourne, VIC for intelligence assessment. Many wrecks remain in New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and islands in the Pacific where they fell after being shot down, or were abandoned by retreating Japanese forces.

At the conclusion of World War II consideration was given to the obtaining of a number of Japanese aircraft for display in the Australian War Memorial collection. A ‘Bett was at the forefront of aircraft to be obtained but in the event, although aircraft were available, no ‘Betty’ was obtained but a ‘Sally’ was obtained and flown to Laverton, VIC by a RAAF crew but has not survived In recent years consideration has been given by private organisations to the location and recovery of one, it being well known that a number are still in the islands, particularly in the Shortland Islands, part of the Solomon Islands Group, at their crash sites or where they were abandoned but to date none have been considered to be in a good enough state to warrant their recovery.

The wreck of one has been recovered from the islands and conveyed to Japan where it is privately being restored to static display for a museum, being the only surviving ‘Betty’. In recent times the wrecks of a few have been recovered from the Solomon Islands for restoration for museums. One has been recovered from a Pacific island through Australia for restoration.

Mitsubishi G4M

The Mitsubishi G4M was a twin-engine, land-based medium bomber formerly manufactured by the Mitsubishi Aircraft Company, a part of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and operated by the Imperial Japanese Navy from 1940 to 1945. Its official designation is Mitsubishi Navy Type 1 attack bomber ( 一式陸上攻撃機, 一式陸攻 , Ichishiki rikujō kōgeki ki, Isshikirikukō) and was commonly referred to by Japanese Navy pilots as Hamaki ( 葉巻 , "cigar", lit. "leaf roll") due to the cylindrical shape of its fuselage. The Allied reporting name was "Betty". [2]

Designed to a strict specification to succeed the Mitsubishi G3M already in service, the G4M boasted very good performance and excellent range and was considered the best land-based naval bomber at the time. [2] This was achieved by its structural lightness and an almost total lack of protection for the crew, with no armor plating or self-sealing fuel tanks. [3] The G4M was officially adopted on 2 April 1941 but the aforementioned problems would prove to be a severe drawback, often suffering heavy losses Allied fighter pilots nicknamed the G4M "The Flying Lighter" as it was extremely prone to ignition after a few hits. [2] [1] [3] It was not until later variants of the G4M2 and G4M3 that self-sealing fuel tanks, armor protection for the crew and better defensive armament was installed.

Nevertheless, the G4M would become the Navy's primary land-based bomber. It is the most widely produced and most famous bomber operated by the Japanese during World War II and it served in nearly all battles during the Pacific War. [2] [3] The aircraft is also known for being the mothership that carried the Yokosuka MXY-7 Ohka, a purpose-built anti-ship suicide weapon during the final years of the war. [4] Of the 2,435 G4Ms produced, no intact aircraft have survived.

Yes, Australia Had Its Own Pearl Harbor (and It Was Worse)

The Raid at Darwin destroyed fuel, repair, and resupply facilities that the attack on Pearl Harbor did not.

Oestreicher climbed into the sun and was hit by a passing Zero but managed to get in a burst of machine-gun fire on his attacker. At 12,000 feet he counted 18 enemy fighters “in a lazy circle at … 20,000 feet” waiting for their turn to dive at the hapless and vastly outnumbered P-40s of B Flight. As the flight leader frantically ordered his unit to head for the clouds south of Darwin, Lieutenant William R. Walker, who had been hit in the left shoulder, landed his plane at Darwin RAAF airfield, which was later strafed, bombed and burned to the ground on the runway.

As Walker taxied to the RAAF airdrome, Lieutenant Max R. Wiecks found himself surrounded by “wild and frenzied” air action. His P-40 was soon riddled with bullets and out of control, forcing the 27-year-old pilot to bail out of his stricken machine. He hit the water 10 miles from land.

Of B Flight, only Oestreicher stayed in the air until the raid ended. He shot down two Japanese dive-bombers, the first aerial victories by the Allies over Australia. After he landed at 11:45 am, his plane was being repaired when it was destroyed by the second Japanese air raid of the day. He spent the rest of the 19th hunkered down at the bomb-ravaged RAAF base.

A Flight On the Ground

While B Flight fought and died in the sky over Darwin, A Flight was being destroyed on the ground at the RAAF base by fighters from the Hiryu. Commander Fuchida later commented that as his force flew over Darwin, “There were 20-odd planes of various types on the airfields. Several U.S. P-40s attempted to take off as we came over but were quickly shot down and the rest were destroyed where they stood.” Spotting approaching enemy fighters, Major Pell and the rest of his element attempted to get airborne. While rolling down the runway, he was strafed by Zeros as his plane lurched 80 feet into the air. Pell parachuted and hit the ground, injured but still alive. As he crawled away, he was machined gunned and killed by Zeros making another pass over the airfield.

Following Pell was Lieutenant Charles W. Hughes. He never got off the ground. He was strafed as he gathered speed and crashed and died in his cockpit. Twenty-one-year-old Lieutenant Robert F. McMahon tried to get into the air after seeing his commander sprint to his plane. After almost colliding with the injured Walker’s incoming B Flight plane, McMahon took off, and the next few minutes found him dueling with a score of Zeros over the harbor. Wounded in the leg, his aircraft’s engine on fire, he had to hit the silk, landing in the harbor alive after being machine gunned by the Japanese as he helplessly floated in the air.

Lieutenants Burt R. Rice and John G. Glover were the last of A Flight to lift into the air. Rice was shot down and machined gunned by Japanese Zeros as he swung below his parachute. Viewing Rice’s predicament, Glover sought to protect his helpless comrade. In doing so he downed an opposing fighter before his own plane was critically damaged by enemy fire. Crashing into the airfield, Glover miraculously survived the enemy strafing that followed as he walked away from the wreckage that had once been his aircraft. Rice landed in a swamp and was found several hours later.

Outnumbered and outfought by the more experienced Japanese pilots, B Flight had been wiped out. Some Japanese World War II historians claim that the destruction of the four B Flight planes was accomplished by one Zero airman, Naval Air Pilot 1st Class Yoshikazu Nagahama, who is also credited with shooting down the luckless PBY flown by Lieutenant Moorer.

Nine Vessels Sunk

As Pell’s airmen fought and died in the skies over Darwin, the air force and civilian airstrips in the region were repeatedly bombed and strafed by the Japanese, making them unserviceable. Besides the nine P-40s of 33rd Squadron, 11 other RAAF aircraft were destroyed in the initial Japanese 32-minute raid on Darwin.

Trailing the Japanese fighters were the Kates and Vals. At 10 am, the former began their runs over Darwin’s harbor at 14,000 feet. Fuchida wrote, “The harbor was crowded with all kinds of ships which we picked off at our leisure.” There were 46 vessels, many of them merchantmen, in port that morning. A cyclone had shut down the port from February 2-10, then a dock workers strike had created a logjam of vessels waiting to unload war material. Their stay had been prolonged even more by the fact that Darwin’s small single wharf could only unload two ships at a time.

A rain of Japanese bombs wrecked the wharf, water mains, oil pipes, and much of the pier. The destruction slowly moved across the administrative district of the town, demolishing the hospital, post office, and police barracks. Dozens of civilians were killed or wounded and trapped in the rubble. After the war Fuchida declared, “I personally gave orders to the pilots not to attack the town.” Whether this is true or not, civilian eyewitnesses attested to the fact that the Japanese methodically struck the city, adding that the “machine gunning harried the town more than the bombs.”

As the Kates completed their fiery work, the Vals, attacking singly, in pairs, or in waves of three, concentrated on the shipping in the harbor. The USS William B. Preston, an American tender, and the Australian sloop Swan got underway and were hit and damaged, losing a total of seven killed and 22 wounded. The USS Peary, a 1,190-ton U.S. Navy destroyer, was buried by five bombs that gutted her engine room and exploded a forward magazine. Peary lost 80 killed, including her captain, Lt. Cmdr. John M. Bermingham, and all her officers. Forty crew members, most of them wounded, survived. By the time the last Japanese carrier planes left the area at 11 am, Darwin harbor had witnessed the sinking of nine vessels with 12 more badly damaged 25 other ships in the port escaped serious damage or were untouched. Three Catalina flying boats were destroyed in the harbor as well, while two U.S. Navy freighters were sunk northwest of Bathurst Island by Vals from Hiryu and Soryu.

A Sledgehammer to Crack an Egg

When the Japanese bombers began to unload their deadly cargo on the port and the Zeros started strafing the harbor, the defending antiaircraft batteries of the 2nd AA and 14th Heavy AA Batteries, sporting 3.7-inch guns for highaltitude fire, and a small number of Lewis machine guns for low-flying intruders, opened fire from locations at Darwin Oval, Fannie Bay, and other strategic locations around the city. Joined by the 19th Light Horse Machine Gun Regiment, which had mounted its weapons on oil tanks near the port, the Australian guns sent a lot of lead into the air above the harbor but managed to damage only a few enemy planes and shot down one Val. The problem for the gunners was that their pieces were just too slow to effectively engage the attacking aircraft at short range.

Around noon, 27 Japanese Army Mitsubishi G4M1 Betty bombers from Kendari and 27 Mitsubishi G3M1 Nell bombers staging from Ambon appeared above Darwin. Flying at 18,000 feet, the bombers separated into two groups. They ignored the town and port, instead concentrating their attention on the military airfield. While one formation flew in from the southwest, the other roared in from the northeast, both arriving over the base and dropping their ordnance at the same time. They then turned and made a second pass over the field. Two hangars, four barracks, the mess hall, the hospital, and a number of storage buildings were obliterated. The attack also took out six Lockheed Hudson light bombers and damaged another while two P-40 fighters, the ones landed by B Flight, 33rd Squadron after their aerial encounter of that morning, and a U.S. Consolidated B-24 Liberator bomber were blown to pieces. Six RAAF personnel were killed.

After the attacking aircraft were recovered, Admiral Nagumo steered for Kendari, arriving there on February 21. The Darwin operation had been a complete success, topped off by the capture of Timor on the 20th. Both actions severed vital supply lines needed by the Allies to prevent the fall of Java, which was soon invaded from the sea and taken by the Japanese. After the war, Fuchida expressed some reservations about the action, appearing not to want to identify the leader of the Pearl Harbor raid as the leader of the Darwin raid. He candidly admitted that the Darwin blow ”seemed hardly worthy of us. If ever a sledgehammer was used to crack an egg it was then.”

Eliminating Darwin as a Supply Base

Unlike Pearl Harbor, where Nagumo’s airmen failed to hit fuel stocks, repair facilities, and other storage installations, these were thoroughly destroyed in the Darwin raid by 206 bombers dropping 681 bombs. As a result, Darwin was eliminated as an Allied supply and transport base from which aid to the Dutch East Indies could be delivered.

Watch the video: Warplanes WW2 Dogfight: Japan - Mitsubishi G4M Hamaki (December 2021).

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