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Battle of Rennell Island
Both formations departed an hour before sunset and proceeded at medium altitude down the slot, and in fair weather. Being slightly faster, the Bettys worked ahead of the Nells and were first to arrive on the scene. With sunset to their right, Nakamura led his Bettys around in a wide sweep to approach the U. S. ships from the south, thus silhouetting the warships as targets against the horizon, while his own torpedo-equipped Bettys should remain hidden against a dark and obscure horizon and attacked at 1919 hours.
Their torpedoes narrowly missed heavy cruiser USS Louisville. G4M1 Betty piloted by Bunzaburo Imamura's was shot down astern of USS Chicago. The attack did however take Rear Admiral Robert Giffen's Task Force Eighteen by surprise, although no hits were achieved. In a textbook night attack, Nakamura gathered his spent Bettys, and headed northwest back to Vunakanau. The lack of results was as much due to bad luck as other factors.
As the Nells approached, a J1N1 Irving dropped a string of parachute flares just prior to 1940 hours. The 701st Kokutai G3M2 Nells attacked and scored two torpedo hits on USS Chicago in the starboard hull, whilst others struck USS Louisville and USS Wichita, but failed to detonate.
During the attack, C. O. Lt-Commander Higai was shot down into the sea. Another Nell was hit, struggling back on one engine, it was clear that it would not make Rabaul. It was too dark to land on a runway, so its pilot chose to ditch instead.
The next morning, January 30, 1943 found the USS Chicago under tow at three and a half knots. Rabaul high command decided that the 751st Kokutai, temporarily based at Buka, possessed insufficient skill to launch night attacks, and so resigned to heavy casualties in a daylight raid, eleven of 751st Kokutai G4M1 Bettys departed Buka in the afternoon to locate Chicago.
They found her easily, still under tow north of Rennell Island. Lurking Grumman F4F Wildcats from VF-10 intercepted aggressively as Nishioka ordered the attack to proceed at 1610 hours. Two Bettys fell to the Wildcats before torpedo launch, whilst another caught fire, dropped back, then crashed. However it managed to loose a torpedo against destroyer USS La Vallette prior to hitting the water. Four torpedoes struck the damaged starboard side of USS Chicago at 1624 hours, and she sank stern-first about seventeen minutes later.
The Bettys withdrew quickly, but two more were shot down by F4F Wildcats. Of only four surviving Bettys, three returned on one engine. Lost was F4F Wildcat 11758. One Betty force-landed at Munda, while the other three landed at Ballale Airfield. Ironically, the January 29, 1943 night attack constituted the last attack for 701st Kokutai G3M2 Nells, and the unit was officially disbanded on 15th March 15, 1943.
Only four days after the Nells had lost their Commanding Officer in the attack off Rennell Island, the Commanding Officer of 705th Kokutai, Lt. Commander Mihara, was lost in a mid-air collision in poor weather with another Betty during a similar mission. At total of six Bettys were lost. One crewmen was rescued by a Japanese warship after having floated in the water for days in the Solomons Sea.
SO3C-1 Seagull Bureau Number 4871
Lake Tegano (Te Nggano, Tungano, Lavimala Bay)
Jim Sawruk adds:
SBD-3 Dauntless 03293
SBD-3 Dauntless 03294
PBY-5 Catalina 08253
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