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105th Naval Base Unit
Built by Nakajima. At the factory, painted with green upper surfaces and gray lower surfaces. Delivered to the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) as Type 97 Carrier Attack Bomber / B5N2 Kate manufacture number unknown.
Assigned to an unknown Kōkūtai (Air Group) or carrier detachment operating land based from Rabaul. During late February 1944 when the last flyable aircraft from Rabaul were withdrawn to Truk, this Kate remained behind, possibly due to damage or mechanical issues.
Afterwards, this Kate was repaired to flying condition at Vunakanau Airfield and was assigned to 105th Naval Base Unit part of the reborn "Rabaul Air Force". Tail number 302. By 1945, the exterior paint paint scheme was weathered from being outdoors in the tropics and from constant use.
On April 22, 1945 an A6M2 Zero modified two seater pilot Shimbo with Ensign Chuhei Okubo overflew Seeadler Harbor off Manus Island at 14,000' and observed two "aircraft carriers" that were actually floating dry docks USS ABSD-2 (Auxiliary Floating Dry Dock 2) and USS ABSD-4 (Auxiliary Floating Dry Dock 4). Back at Rabaul, the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) 105th Naval Base Unit planned to strike the two "aircraft carriers" with two repaired Kates including this aircraft.
On April 27, 1945 at 8:10pm took off from Vunakanau Airfield armed with an aerial torpedo piloted by Ensign Tokuya Takahashi with navigator Ensign Chuhei Okubo (previously observer the No. 5 Kate from Shōkaku during the December 7, 1941 attack on Oahu bombing hangers at Kaneohe Field) and radio operator CPO Shigeo Terao on a mission to attack two American "aircraft carriers" (actually floating dry docks) in Seeadler Harbor. The No. 2 aircraft (wingman) was B5N2 Kate pilot Nagai.
The two Kates flew westward at 6,000' then descended to 300' to 600' and flew through poor weather before reaching Rambutyo Island and proceeded to the target area flying at 150' and the pair spotted a searchlight at Momote Airfield and as the clouds cleared, Seeadler Harbor was fully illuminated with flood lights from numerous vessels at anchor and were not observing any black out, believing there were no Japanese aircraft capable of threatening the anchorage.
At 11:15pm the Kates commenced their attack run and became separated. This Kate aimed at an "aircraft carrier" actually Auxiliary Floating Dry Dock 2 (USS ABSD-2) and scored a hit damaging the dry dock. Returning alone, this Kate landed safely at Vunakanau Airfield on April 28, 1945 at 2:00am.
Meanwhile, the No. 2 aircraft B5N2 Kate pilot Nagai attacked the other "aircraft carrier" actually USS Auxiliary Floating Dry Dock 4 (ABSD-4) and scored a hit damaging the dry dock and returning form the mission this Kate and was either lost over the target area or lost on the return flight, likely due to bad weather and was reported as missing.
This Kate survived the Pacific War as one of the few Japanese aircraft in flyable condition at Rabaul. On August 15, 1945 after Japan surrendered, never painted in surrender markings (white or with green crosses) in accordance with the terms of the surrender.
On September 10, 1945 when the Allies occupied Rabaul, the Japanese requested permission to surrender their flyable aircraft to an Air Force unit. Their request was granted and Japanese pilots were allowed to fly to the nearest Allied airfield. Around this time, the Kate was photographed at Vunakanua Airfield with a damaged propeller.
On September 18, 1945 surviving Japanese aircraft were flown from Vunakanau Airfield on a flight bound for Jacquinot Bay Airfield to formally surrender. Due to mechanical problems, this Kate was unable to participate and remained behind. Meanwhile, the other aircraft departed including A6M5 Zero 4043, A6M3 Zero 3479 and A6M5 Zero 4444 and Ki-46 Dinah 2783. Afterwards, this Kate was repaired by Japanese personnel at Vunakanau Airfield and was ready to fly by early October, 1945.
On October 14, 1945 after 9:00am took off from Vunakanau Airfield piloted by P.O. Goro Kataoka on a flight bound for Jacquinot Bay Airfield to formally surrender. After climbing to 1,000' rolled over and dove steeply back towards the runway and made a low pass over the runway as a goodbye pass then climbed to 2,000' and was joined by four Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) F4U Corsairs from No. 16 Squadron led by Bryan B. Cox. The Kate flew westward on the wrong course until Bryan B. Cox used hand signals to the Japanese pilot to signal a new course. Meanwhile E13A Jake 4326 took off from Simpson Harbor and flew to Jacquinot Bay Airfield to formally surrender. This was the last confirmed flight of Japanese aircraft in present day Papua New Guinea (PNG).
Afterwards, the Kate was parked at Jacquinot Bay Airfield and was photographed and inspected by Allied personnel. There is no indication it was ever flown again. When New Zealand personnel withdrew, this Kate was abandoned at Jacquinot Bay Airfield.
In the early 1970s, it remained on its landing gear, with only the left outer wing panel and engine cowling removed overgrown with vegetation.
By 1981, the wreckage was disassembled and taken from the airfield and moved near shore next to what had been the old district office, along with the wreckage of Ki-46 Dinah 2783. In the middle 1980s, Brian Bennett arranged for the engine to be transported to the Kokopo Museum for display. The rest of the aircraft remained at the old district office.
Brian Bennett adds:
"The Kate and consisted of the fuselage less the tail group, the center section that incorporates the main fuel tanks and both main carts, and one vertical folding outer main plane panel. The Sakai 12 Radial engine for the Kate is at Kokopo Museum and if you have pictures of the aircraft engines at the Kokopo Museum, the engine is the one with the good mount on it and the straight individual exhaust stacks. I arranged to get the engine out to Kokopo back in the mid 1980's."
During the middle of 2003, this Kate was recovered along with Ki-46 Dinah 2783 by Bruno Carnovale and Ian Whitney of '75 Squadron' and barged to Lae where it was put in a container for export to Melbourne Australia.
Instead, the container was impounded by the PNG Museum and their ownership disputed in court. Reportedly, the case was resolved in a local court case ending in 2005 and the container was exported to Australia during late 2005 or early 2006. This recovery was cited as an illegal recovery in the PNG Government Public Accounts Committee Report in 2006.
Later, transported to New Zealand and was stored at Pioneer for early restoration, but was not put on public display according to the instructions of the owner or the potential purchaser. During 2010, the Pacific Aviation Museum became interested in this aircraft and acquired it, listing it as an aircraft coming soon in their 2011 annual report and part of their collection in their 2012 annual report. Initially, Pacific Aviation Museum attempted to restore the aircraft at Pioneer without revealing the type of aircraft or nature of the project, insisting it be locked in a container at all times. Ultimately, the Pacific Aviation Museum board of directors stopped the restoration, unable to hide or justify the costs without revealing the project and the aircraft was instead shipped to Hawaii and transported to the Pacific Aviation Museum.
On April 18, 2016 the wing and a portion of the fuselage of this Kate were publicly unveiled at the Pacific Aviation Museum and placed on display inside Hanger 79 next to an aerial torpedo. According to Ken DeHoff Pacific Aviation Museum director, the aircraft will be restored to static display over the next five years, using parts from all over the world. Although the museum claims this Kate could have flown over Pearl Harbor and that the "serial number" [sic] indicates it was built before the December 7, 1941 attack.
Pacific Wrecks and other prior visitors to the wreck has never reported any manufacture number of this aircraft, thus the construction date and possible wartime history is impossible to determine. Aside from this Kate's confirmed service at Rabaul and surrender, speculation about this aircraft's use elsewhere, including Pearl Harbor is tenuous at best. The Pacific Aviation Museum - 2011 Annual Report [PDF] page 6 cites the serial number [sic] as 1939, but this has not been confirmed by photographs or to be a manufacture number, versus a component number. Anyone with photos or information, please contact us.
This Kate has several numbers associated with this aircraft, but no photographic documentation confirm their location or if they are the aircraft's manufacture number or a part number or component numbers that might have been replacement parts that are not necessarily the same as the aircraft's true stenciled manufacture number. Charles Darby noted this Kate as number 3176. The Pacific Aviation Museum (PAM) notes "serial number 1939" in their 2012 Annual Report.
Type 97 Carrier-based Attack Plane - A Production Record by James I. Long September 22, 2011
Charles Darby noted B5N2 Kate number 3176
The Siege of Rabaul (1996) by Henry Sakaida pages 79-85, 89
Too Young To Die: The Story of a New Zealand fighter pilot in the Pacific War (1987) pages 176-178
Pacific Aviation Museum - 2012 Annual Report [PDF] page 5 lists "Nakajima Type 97 B5N Kate serial number 302 [sic] (in restoration-NZ) date of manufacture 1939.
Pacific Aviation Museum - 2011 Annual Report [PDF] page 6 lists "Aircraft coming Nakajima B5N Kate (in storage in New Zealand) serial number 1939"
J-Aircraft "Re: Major WW II IJN a/c roll-out, 08/15/15" August 29, 2015
Katch "Pearl Harbor: Unveiling Wing and fuselage of Nakagima [sic] Kate" April 18, 2016
Katch "Ken DeHoff, Exec. Director tells us about the Nakajima Kate. NOW" April 18, 2016
Huffington Post "You Can Finally See One Of WWII’s Most Infamous And Rare Japanese Bombers In Hawaii" by Chris D’Angelo May 10, 2016
Thanks to Henry Sakaida , Ray Fairfield, Brian Bennett, Richard Leahy, Charles Darby and Mike Wenger for additional information
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