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L Spreadborough 1993
Christophe Rouziou 2006
|Pilot Lt(jg) Keizo Kondo (survived)
Co-Pilot PO1 Takeshi Takado (seriously wounded)
Observer CPO Kiyoshi Arai (survived)
Radio PO2 Morito Fujiwara (seriously wounded)
Mechanic CPO Toshinorii Irikura (slightly wounded)
Ditched December 28, 1942
Built by either Mitsubishi or Nakajima. Delivered to the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) as Type 96 Land Based Attack Bomber Rikko / G3M Nell manufacture number unknown. The precise model of this bomber is unknown but was one of three possibilities: 1) built by Mitsubishi as G3M2 Model 21 or 2) built by Mitsubishi as G3M2 Model 22 or 3) built by Nakajima as Type 96 Land Based Attack Bomber Rikko / G3M3 Nell.
Assigned to the 701 Kōkūtai. No known tail number or markings.
On December 28, 1942 at 7:30am took off from Vunakanau Airfield piloted by Lt(jg) Keizo Kondo leading a flight of three Nells bound for Munda Airfield to pickup fighter pilots from the 252 Kōkūtai (252 Air Group) and transport them to Kahili Airfield (Buin) on southern Bougainville. The formation of three Nells were escorted by nine A6M Zeros. At 9:45 the formation flew over Buin. At 10:45am, the formation arrived over Munda and the bombers prepared to land at Munda Airfield.
Meanwhile, a pair of P-39 Airacobras from the 70th Fighter Squadron led by Lt. Rex Barber with wingman 1st Lt. William Daggitt were flying a reconnaissance patrol at 9,000' over the Munda and observed Zeros orbiting at 13,000' and bombers below them at 1,000' preparing to land.
While Daggitt made a feinting attack towards the Zeros, P-39 "Diabo" pilot Lt. Rex Barber dove on the bombers and aimed for the leader. Barber began to fire, but found his Airacobra was sluggish, because he had forgot to jettison his drop tank and immediately released it. He observed hits and caused the engine to catch fire and crash into the sea off Munda Point. After only the one pass, the P-39s departed. Climbing away, Barber thought he saw F4U Corsairs but they proved to be Zeros, but they did not intercept. After landing at Henderson Field, Barber claimed one Nell shot down, his first aerial victory claim. The shoot down had also been observed by a coastwatcher on Rendova and reported by radio.
During the attack, one engine was set on fire and three of the crew were wounded, two seriously. Pilot Kondo managed to successfully ditch roughly 30m / 98' off Munda Point.
Fates of the Crew
After successfully ditching, the entire crew was able to exit the bomber and swim ashore where they were rescued. Pilot Kondo was the last to exit the bomber as it sank.
The wreckage of this bomber remains in situ roughly 30m / 98' off Munda Point with the nose pointed northward toward Munda Airfield. The nose and fuselage were damaged in the ditching. Generally, this bomber has poor water visibility due to the proximity to shore and shallow water depth.
This bomber has been known to local people. Since the least the early 1970s this bomber has been a SCUBA dive site but usually misidentified as a "Betty" [Type 1 Bomber / G4M1 Betty]. Locally, nothing was known about the history of this bomber ditched at this location.
In fact, this bomber is a Type 96 Land Based Attack Bomber Rikko / G3M Nell based on the features including the twin tails and other features unique to that type. The nose and fuselage were damaged in the ditching
Luke Spreadborough dove in 1993:
"When I snorkelled it I had a good look at the thing and found that the port engine had been on fire and the perspex on the port side of the canopy had started to buckle from the heat. There was paneling missing from the wing behind the engine, presumably due to the fire. I made some enquiries among the locals and they claim they knew a man who had seen the aircraft ditch when he was a boy. I asked him what had happened and he told me that the engine was onfire and smoking. I asked him which engine and he thought for a little while and then indicated the port engine. Very very interesting, he had obviously seen this aircraft ditch. According to him (and the condition of the aircraft suggested this as well) the crew had escaped unharmed."
Justin Taylan dive this wreck in April 2006:
"I first dove this site in April 2006, and was amazed to find some of the cockpit perspex still intact on the cockpit including the clam shell hatches. Knowing this bomber was a Type 96 Land Based Attack Bomber / G3M Nell, I knew there was a chance it could be precisely identified and the facts about how it ditched might be determined. Based on the location, I guess it was assigned to the 701 Kōkūtai and likely lost in late 1942 or early 1943. My initial guess was it was a loss related to the Battle of Rennel Island but none of the losses matched this loss location.
In 2007, I was able to meet the former pilot Keizo Kondo in Japan and interviewed him twice."
Kodochosho 701 Kōkūtai - December 28, 1942
Haran No Sora Ni Ikite (2008) by Keizo Kondo
13th Fighter Command (2004) page 97
"On the 28th [December 1942] 1Lt Rex Barber and his wingman 1Lt William Daggitt (70th FS) were flying a two plane P-39 reconnaissance patrol over Munda Point at 9,000' when nine Japanese fighters were spotted orbiting at 13,000' directly over the airfield. At the same time a Betty (Nell?) bomber was flying below at 1,000' making a landing approach on the field. Barber and Daggitt dove on the bomber, with Daggitt feinting towards the fighters while Barber, in [P-39 nicknamed] "Diablo" attacked the Betty. As he dove his aircraft seemed sluggish and would not come up to speed. He realized that he had not dropped his belly tank, jettisoned the tank, and continued his dive on the bomber and set its right engine on fire. It continued to fly on until it crashed into the ocean for Barber's first victory. As Barber climbed he saw some aircraft off to his left and he thought were Marine [F4U] Corsairs. As he closed he discovered that they were Zeros, but the two Japanese pilots saw him and high tailed it back to base. When he returned to Cactus Barber's crew chief told him that it had been reported he "bombed" a Japanese bomber. An Australian coastwatcher had seen him drop his belly tank before he fired on the enemy aircraft and thought it was a bomb!"
Thanks to Keizo Kondo, Yoji Sakaida and Charles Darby for additional information
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March 3, 2021
10m / 32'
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