|Pilot Norihiko Hiramatsu (KIA)
Observer/Gunner Mitsuru Hayashita (WIA, survived)
Crashed January 13, 1944 between 1:30am to 3:00am
Built by Aichi and completed by the middle of December 1943. Uncoded serial number 517. At the factory, painted with dark green upper surfaces and gray lower surfaces.
On December 15, 1943 delivered to the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) as Type 99 Carrier Bomber Model 22 / Ku Ku Kamba (Kanbaku) / D3A2 Val. One of seven replacement aircraft ferried by the Yokosuka Naval District to 2nd Air Arsenal and then shipped aboard an aircraft carrier to Truk. Assigned to the 522 Kōkūtai. Tail code 52-265 painted in white with aircraft number 65 (last two digits of tail code) painted on each wheel spat.
Justin Taylan adds:
"This D3A2 Val manufacture number 3571 was observed stenciled in the following locations: (1) tip of the tail, (2) inside the cowl, (3, 4) both landing gear legs, (5, 6) inside each wheel spat in two places, (7, 8) base of each main landing gear leg. The left side off the tail has tail number '5' visible. The right side has tail number: '265' in white paint. The landing gear boots had '65' in white paint. The tip of the propeller blade had a red stripe, and the leading edge of the wings had a yellow identification stripe. The upper surfaces had dark green paint and the lower surfaces had traces of gray paint atop red primer paint."
Richard Dunn adds:
"Replenishment plans for December 1943 called for seven Type 99 model 22 carrier bombers consigned to 552 Kōkūtai. These were ferried by Yokosuka Naval District to 2nd Air Arsenal and then shipped aboard an aircraft carrier to Truk. Completion date for these aircraft was 15 Dec 43."
Osamu Tagaya adds:
"This plane must have been lost sometime during 552 Kōkūtai's second deployment to Rabaul. The unit first went to Rabaul between 14 and 17 November 1943 with 25 Val 22s, then withdrew to Truk on December 5, 1943. It was there for R&R no more than ten days when news of the Allied landing at Arawe caused the unit to be ordered back to Rabaul on the 15th. It reached Rabaul by December 18th with some 20+ Vals and was based at Kerevat up through January 25, 1944. The unit withdrew again to Truk on January 26 '44. This was the last time Vals operated out of Rabaul. Kanbaku (Val) crews were training in night dive-bombing techniques from before Pearl Harbor. I suspect, however, that by this stage of the war, given lower level of experience and skill among dive-bomber crews, these attacks were more in the nature of glide bombing attacks at angles of 45 degrees or less. IJN defined dive-bombing as 45 degrees or steeper, typically at 55 to 65 degrees. This is somewhat shallower than the 70 degree dives regularly undertaken by USN dive bomber crews."
On December 15, 1943 took off from Truk on a flight to Rabaul. On December 18, 1943 the unit moved to Keravat Airfield. Likely, this Val flew dive bombing missions between December 17-31, 1943 against Arawe (Cape Merkus) on West New Britain. During January 1944 also operated from Kavieng Airfield until lost on January 13, 1944.
On January 12, 1944 took off from Kerevat Airfield west of Rabaul at 11:15pm piloted by Norihiko Hiramatsu with observer/gunner Mitsuru Hayashita as one of four Vals on a night bombing mission against Mono Island. Each Val in the formation was armed with a 250kg bomb. Some also carried two 60kg bombs on the wings. This aircraft was in the 2nd Shotai, 2nd aircraft.
On January 13, 1944 between 12:45am to 1:00am the four Vals bombed Mono Island, more likely nearby Stirling Island. Over the target area, they were intercepted by at least two F4U-2(N) Corsair from VF(N)-75 that were radar equipped night fighters that one claimed one Val shot down.
Returning, this Val either sustained damage from the Corsairs or became lost over southern New Ireland and crashed onto the top of ridge covered with trees with the engine under power. Impacting trees, the aircraft flipped upside down and the tail section was ripped off before hitting the ground. During the crash, pilot Norihiko Hiramatsu was killed and observer Mitsuru Hayashita was thrown clear of the aircraft and sustained injuries.
Justin Taylan adds:
"I searched the records of the 552 Kōkūtai at the Defense Archives at Tokyo for December 1943 to January 1944. No tail numbers are noted in the records, only the names of pilots. Therefore, the precise operational history of this aircraft will never be known, despite the presence of the tail number. In January 1944 the unit flew several missions against Torokina without losses. The most likely loss, that fit the circumstances of the crash was the January 13, 1944 mission against Mono when a single Val was lost, but the records do not give the location of the crash."
Fates of the Crew
Injured Mitsuru Hayashita was aided by local people to the coast and he was later rescued by the Japanese and returned to Rabaul. At the crash site, locals buried the pilot.
This Val remains in situ upside down in the jungle in southern New Ireland. Although known to locals since the war, the first foriegner to visit was in early 1977 when RAAF John McKenzie visited the crash site and reported in the press.
Justin Taylan visited the crash site on April 16, 2006:
"According to the locals, after the crash a villager buried the remains of the one crewmember at the site. It looked like someone cut into the left side of the cockpit, to get inside, this might have been done to salvage the weapons and instruments. All the machine guns and ammunition were missing. This wreck has many original paint and stencils present over it. Upside down, the upper green surfaces were persevered, with angle markers for dive bombing. There was no tail hook present."
Serial Number & Production Sequence D3A2 Carrier Bombers by Jim Long
Kodochosho 552 Kōkūtai, January 12-13, 1944
NARA U. S. Navy (USN) Night Fighter Squadron Seventy-Five / VF(N)-75 - January 13, 1944
"Jungle Hides Wrecked Aircraft" January 18, 1977
"John McKenzie, RAAF: The locals say that the man in the back was thrown out and killed. The pilot escaped."
Thanks to Koji Takaki, Hiroshi Ujita, Minoru Kamada, Sawruk, Jim Long, Richard Dunn and Osamu Tagaya for additional information
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February 14, 2020