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105th Naval Base Unit
|Pilot CPO Jiro Nagai (MIA / KIA) Tokushima Prefecture
Observer PO1c Yoshio Sakamoto (MIA / KIA)
Radio PO2c Nobuo Miwata (MIA / KIA)
MIA April 27, 1945
Built by Nakajima. Delivered to the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) as Type 97 Carrier Attack Bomber / B5N2 Kate manufacture number unknown.
During 1943, this Kate operated from Rabaul. During late February 1944 when the last flyable aircraft from Rabaul were withdrawn to Truk, this Kate remained behind, likely because it was damaged or unservicable. At Vunakanau Airfield, this Kate was repaired and assigned to 105th Naval Base Unit dubbed the "Rabaul Air Force". Possibly, this Kate had a three digit tail code. The aircraft paint scheme was heavily weathered from being outdoors in the tropics.
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 Auxiliary Floating Dry Dock 2 (ABSD-2) and USS Auxiliary Floating Dry Dock 4 (ABSD-4). Back at Rabaul, the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) 105th Naval Base Unit dubbed the "Rabaul Air Force" 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 CPO Jiro Nagai flying as the no. 2 (wingman) for flight leader B5N2 Kate pilot Takahashi on a mission to attack two American "aircraft carriers" (actually floating dry docks) spotted on April 22, 1945 in Seeadler Harbor between Manus Island and Los Negro Island. The No. 2 aircraft (flight leader) was B5N2 Kate pilot Takahashi.
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 pair commenced their attack and became separated, each attacking separate targets. This Kate aimed at an "aircraft carrier" actually Auxiliary Floating Dry Dock 4 (USS ABSD-4) and scored a hit damaging the dry dock.
After the attack, this Kate failed to return to Rabaul and was declared Missing In Action (MIA). The precise fate of this Kate is unknown and their are conflicting accounts from the Japanese and Americans. It was either lost over the target area or more likely lost returning in bad weather.
The Americans claimed one attacking Kate crashed into Seeadler Harbor. The U. S. Navy combat report stated: "After dropping the torpedo, the plane [B5N2 Kate piloted Nagai] climbed sharply, making a steep right bank over the starboard side and barely missing the crane [aboard ABSD-4]. The pilot seemed to loose control, and the plane fell sideways into the harbor. Searching afterwards, US Navy divers failed to locate the plane.
Aboard B5N2 Kate pilot Takahashi, navigator Ensign Chuhei Okubo claimed returning from the mission, this Kate rejoined formation and flew eastward for about thirty minutes until the pair became separated in bad weather and was never seen again. Returning alone, this Kate landed safely at Vunakanau Airfield on April 28, 1945 at 2:00am.
When this Kate failed to rejoin formation, the other Kate flashed their signal lamp, in hopes it was in the vicinity and would see the light. After landing safely at Vunakanau Airfield on April 28, 1945 at 2:00am, searchlights around the runway were briefly illuminated in hopes the missing Kate was nearby and would see the lights help it return.
Type 97 Carrier-based Attack Plane - A Production Record by James I. Long September 22, 2011
The Siege of Rabaul (1996) by Henry Sakaida pages 79-85
Thanks to Henry Sakaida for additional information
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October 13, 2020
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