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  A6M2 Model 21 Zero Manufacture Number 645 Tail V-???
IJN
Tainan Kōkūtai
1st Chutai
2nd Shotai

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RAAF late May 1942

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Lawrence Kiilemu 1990s

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Justin Taylan 2005
Pilot  PO2c Tsutomou Ito (POW, survived)
Crashed  May 17, 1942


Aircraft History
Built by Nakajima on February 27, 1942. At the factory, painted with gray surfaces and a black engine cowling. Delivered to the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) as A6M2 Model 21 Zero manufacture number 656.

Wartime History
Assigned to the Tainan Kōkūtai. Tail code V-??? (last three digits unknown).

Mission History
On May 17, 1942 took off from Lae Airfield near Lae piloted by P. O. 2nd Class Tsutomou Ito on a fighter sweep and strafing mission against Port Moresby. Ito part of the 1st Chutai, 2nd Shotai flying as the wingman for A6M2 Zero pilot Yamaguchi.

Over the target, Yamaguchi and Ito dove down to low level to strafe 12-Mile Drome. During the strafing run, this Zero sustained engine damage from .50 caliber machine guns on the ground. Also damaged was A6M2 Zero pilot Yamaguchi that rejoined formation but lagged behind then crashed in the Owen Stanley Range.

Damaged, Ito did not rejoin the formation and attempted to fly alone northward to Lae. Alone over the Owen Stanley Range, his engine stopped. As he force landed, trees tore off the outer wings and twisted the tail. Ito survived the landing dazed but otherwise unhurt.

Fate of the Pilot
Afterwards, he began walking and at night slept in trees. He found local people and with their assistance was escorted from village to village. On May 23, 1942 Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU) Patrol Officer (Kiap) Eric-Owen Turner at Ononge Mission was alerted to the presence of a Japanese pilot in the area and went in pursuit of him.

On June 2, 1942 Turner confronted Ito, who drew his pistol but was restrained by the native people. Once disarmed, he offered no further resistance. Accompanied by Turner and a group of police and boys, Ito was walked out of the Owen Stanley Range via Ioma to Awala then westward over the Kokoda Trail and then to Port Moresby. Ironically, he was the only Japanese person to walk the entire Kokoda Trail.

Prisoner of War
When initially interrogated, he falsely claimed his name was "Tetsuo Yamakawa" and that his hometown was Okayama. During late June 1942, he was flown to Townsville. As a Prisoner Of War (POW), he was placed in the custody of Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Intelligence and assigned prisoner number PWJA.110009. Next, he was transported to Redholme Manson in South Yarra, Victoria for further interrogation.

At Redholme Manson, he suffered a bout of malaria for four days. When interrogated further, he claimed he was the co-pilot of a bomber from the "Araki Butai" and the sole survivor of his crew, in hopes the Allies would not look for his Zero. Under more detailed interrogation, his cover story did not hold up. In one telling he claimed his bomber was damaged by anti-aircraft fire. In another telling he claimed it was damaged by fighters. Also, he claimed to have flown bombing missions on May 15, 1942 and May 22, 1942 over Port Moresby but no bombers were observed on either date.

In later interrogations he admitted: "On May 17, 1942 I was strafing Moresby air base [12-Mile Drome] following Lt. Yamaguchi.  AA fire perforated the engine. I decided to return to Lae by direct route.  While flying solely, engine stopped and crash landed in the jungle before crossing the ridge."

Afterwards, he was transferred to Hay Camp, NSW on September 14 and quartered with civil internees and volunteered to work at road maintenance to earn extra money to buy things at the canteen.

On January 9, 1943, he was sent to Cowra POW Camp. Again hospitalized on February 17 - March 11, then returned to the camp. Ito participated in the "Cowra Breakout" during the early morning of August 5, 1944. He spent the night pinned down by machine gun fire in a storm drainage ditch. The next morning, he ran towards a sentry post, and ignored orders to halt in an apparent attempt to commit suicide. He was shot twice and immobilized with compound fractures to both shoulders and taken to Murchison Camp. Afterwards, he was hospitalized from August 22 until March 7, 1945, then returned to Murchison Camp, then March 12 to Liverpool.

On March 1, 1946 taken to Sydney and departed aboard the Daikai Maru on March 2 and returned to Japan. Postwar, in Japan and lived under an assumed name "Isshiki". He never participated in Zero Pilot Reunion events. Saburo Sakai also confirmed Ito was reluctant to apply for medical benefits as wounded in action from the Japanese Government as he was ashamed of his captivity. Eventually he applied by Sakai's advice, but he claimed in an affidavit that he crashed and survived the war with natives until liberated.

Naoki Kodachi, V-P of Zero Fighter Association:
"We do not know if Mr Tsutomu Isshiki (former PO2/c Tsutomu Ito) is alive or not and the Association will not make contact with him even if he is found alive because Ito was said to be unwilling to meet any of surviving comrades and was not a member of the Association. He was ashamed of his being a POW."

Wreckage
After the crash landing, this Zero was found in a swamp near Kosipe. Later, the aircraft was visited by a team from U. S. Army that noted the manufacture number as 645 and recovered the main dataplate.

In the 1950s, a missionary based in the area removed the plane's electric generator and brought it to the mission where it was modifed with a fly wheel to generate power.

Lawrence Kilemu adds:
"You will see the tree is right across the plane but the tree grew later and natural humidity and surrounding air caused the tree to bend the airplane."

Justin Taylan adds:
"Yoji Sakaida, Daniel Leahy and myself inspected this wreck on August 27, 2005."

References
Winged Samurai by Henry Sakaida
"Zero in the Tree Tops" by Robert Piper (unpublished)
Australian Post "Where Japs got the third degree" by David Sissons, July 17, 1986, page 4
"SWPA Technical References to Inspected Enemy Airplanes" ATIU, September 27, 1943, p 2
Japanese Aircraft - Plates and Markings No. 87
Jim Long adds:
"A6M No. 645 is listed in two documents as a Nakajima built A6M2. The documents are Makers' Plates & Markings Report #68, "Life of Japanese Combat Planes," issued by the Military Intelligence Division, War Dept., 20 March 1945, and "Preliminary Report on Japanese Fighter Plane Production (based solely on name-plate analysis)," compiled by the Joint Intelligence Subcommittee, Working Committee on Japanese Aircraft, 1 June 1943. Neither of these documents does anything more than list the aircraft by serial number 645 and manufacturer and give its date of assembly as 27 February 1942. In addition, MP&M No. 68 identifies the date of crash as Mid May 1942 in Kosipi [sic] swamp."

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Last Updated
February 14, 2020

 

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