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|Pilot Sekizen Shibayama (survived)
Ditched November 11, 1943
Shibayama was an ace with the 253 Kōkūtai who claimed 13 victories.
Built by Mitsubishi estimated date of assembly December 1943. Note, this manufacture date conflicts with the claimed mission history of this Zero. Either the manufacture number is incorrect, or the mission details are incorrect.
Assigned to a Kokutai (Air Group), likely the 253rd Kōkūtai (253 Air Group). No known markings or tail code.
This Zero ditched into in Simpson Harbor. Reportedly, it was lost on November 11, 1943 took off piloted by Sekizen Shibayama on a ferry flight from Rabaul bound for Truk. After take off, this Zero reportedly developed engine trouble then encountered eight F6F Hellcats from VF-9 aboard USS Essex (CV-9) flying a fighter sweep over Rabaul. During air combat, this Zero was damaged including bullet holes in the cockpit and engine, and pilot Shibayama was wounded in the knee by pilot Lt. A. B. Smith, who claimed two aerial victories that day. Damaged, this Zero ditched into in Simpson Harbor off Matupi Island and Shibayama escaped and was rescued.
Until 1971, this Zero remained in situ at a depth of 50' underwater sunk into Simpson Harbor off Matupi Island. The plane was fully intact with the cockpit canopy undamaged with bullet holes in the engine and fuselage. During the late 1960s or early 1970s, discovered by Rabaul resident and salvager diver Bob Scott while searching for a ship propeller.
The American Fighter Ace Association (specifically the work of members Eugene Valencia, Marshall Beebe and Jim French) were interested to acquire a Zero for their San Diego based collection. In 1967, they put in requests to the Australian Historical Aviation Association.
Later, Bob Scott heard about their request and offered this Zero, that he had discovered while searching for a ship propeller in Simpson Harbor. During 1971, this Zero was recovered by Bob Scott using lifting straps and a large cradle. Afterwards, it was placed on his property at Rabaul and washed with freshwater and the marine growth removed.
Afterwards, the Zero was shipped to Tokyo and then flown by a Hercules to Kern County Airport in Bakersfield, California. Later, delivered to the San Diego Aerospace Museum.
The unrestored Zero was displayed at the museum and restoration begun. Reportedly, the machine guns were restored to firing condition with only hours of work by U.S. Navy personnel. Working in cooperation, Mitsubishi managed to locate the former pilot Shibayama who was living in Kyoto and was invited to visit his former Zero.
On February 22, 1978, this Zero and the museum were destroyed during an arson fire.
Production figures of the Mitsubishi/Nakajima A6M Zero by Jim Long
Pacific Aircraft Wrecks (1979) page 23
Winged Samurai (1985) includes this Zero
Rabaul's Forgotten Fleet (1994) page 129
Hostages To Freedom (1995) page 441
Imperial Japanese Navy Aces (1998) profiles Sekizen Shibayama
Thanks to Alan Renga and San Diego Aerospace Museum and Henry Sakaida for additional information
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February 8, 2022
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