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RAAF late May 1942
Lawrence Kiilemu 1990s
Justin Taylan 2005
|Pilot PO2c Tsutomou
Ito (POW, survived)
Crashed May 17, 1942
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.
Assigned to the Tainan Kōkūtai. Tail code V-??? (last three digits unknown).
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.
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:
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