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Masao Satake, 2003
Justin Taylan 2003
|Pilot Lt(jg) Kaoru Yamaguchi (MIA / KIA)
Crashed May 17, 1942
Kaoru Yamaguchi was one of four brothers born in Okuchi in northern Kagoshima Prefecture, and attended Okuchi Secondary School before joining the Navy. After his death, a funeral was held for two days by the villagers of his hometown, and the family members prayed for the repose of his soul every morning since.
Built by Mitsubishi at the Nagoya Aircraft Factory. At the factory painted overall gray with a black cowling and Hinomaru markings on the wings and fuselage. Delivered to the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) as A6M2 Model 21 Zero manufacture number unknown. Based on the dates of component dataplates from the tail wheel assembly and landing hook this Zero was likely completed around October 1941. [See note].
Assigned to the Tainan Kōkūtai. Tail code V-??? (three digits unknown).
On May 17, 1942 took off from Lae Airfield near Lae piloted by Lt(jg) Kaoru Yamaguchi on a fighter sweep and strafing mission against Port Moresby. Yamaguchi was leading the 1st Chutai, 2nd Shotai with wingman A6M2 Zero 645 pilot Ito.
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 645 piloted by Ito that failed to rejoin formation and later force landed in the Owen Stanley Range.
Damaged, Lt. Yamaguchi rejoined the formation but lagged behind due to reduced engine performance. Coming to his aid, A6M2 Zero pilot Saburo Sakai reduced his throttle to stay in formation with Yamaguchi and encouraging him to continue with hand signals. Over the southern Owen Stanley Range, Yamaguchi lost all engine power, saluted the rest of the formation and descended towards the mountains. His Zero appeared to disappear into the trees. Afterwards, no fire or smoke was observed by the other pilots.
According to Saburo Sakai, when the rest of the formation returned to Lae Airfield, they pleaded with their commander to fly over the location where Yamaguchi crashed to drop emergency supplies in the hope he survived. When they returned to the location, no sign of the pilot or crash site was visible.
This Zero crashed into the southern Owen Stanley Range. On July 27, 2003 the crash site and bone fragments of the pilot were discovered by Justin Taylan. Afterwards, the site was reported to the Japanese Embassy who delegated the recovery of the pilot's remains to the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.
Recovery of Remains
On October 24, 2003 a team from the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare led by Yoshiaki Aoki with Michael Claringbould flew by helicopter to the nearest village and trekked to the crash site to recover the remains of the pilot. The team was on a mission in the Kokoda area to recover the remains of Japanese war dead.
Afterwards, the bones were transported to Japan and identified the pilot to be Yamaguchi. The Ministry presented the bones to the Yamaguchi's younger brother but the family stated they were not interest in the discovery and declined to be DNA tested against the remains.
After the identification was presented to the Yamaguchi family, the recovered remains from the crash site were laid to rest at the National Cemetery for Unknown Soldiers at Yasukuni Shrine.
Since the Yamaguchi family declined DNA testing and the action report the May 17, 1942 mission does not list the manufacture number or tail number of Yamaguchi's Zero, 100% certainty of the identity of this wreck or the pilot is impossible to determine.
Production figures of the Mitsubishi/Nakajima A6M Zero by Jim Long
Kodochosho, Tainan Kōkūtai, May 17, 1942
Ôzora no samurai page 250 - 254
The Samurai by Masao Stake "Farewell to Lieutenant Yamaguchi" depicts this aircraft.
A6M2 Zero component dataplates by Jim Long
Koku-Fan "Discovery of Zero" 2004 by Justin Taylan
Flightpath Magazine "Welcome Home Kaoru Yamaguchi" by Michael Claringbould 2004
Flight Journal Magazine "Discovery of Zero" by Justin Taylan February 2006
Eagles of the Southern Sky pages ?-?
Thanks to Kunio Iwashita, Tatsuaki Inoue, Harumi Sakaguchi, Jim Long, Michael Claringbould and John Douglas for additional information
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November 3, 2020
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