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1st Kōkūtai (1st Air Group)
Imperial Japanese Navy Kokutai

Background
The 1st Kōkūtai (1st Kokutai, 1st Ku) or 1st Air Group was a land based unit of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) that operated the Type 96 Land Based Attack Bomber (Rikko) / G3M2 Nell.

Wartime History
On December 8, 1941 participated in the Japanese attack on Clark Field on Luzon in the Philippines. In late December 1941 the 1st Kōkūtai headquarters moved to Davao Airfield (Sasa) on southeast Mindano although their aircraft were dispersed at several other airfields.

During early February 1942 operated from Kendari Airfield. On February 3, 1942 nineteen G3M2 Nells from the 1st Kokutai took off on a bombing mission Singosari Airfield on Java with all bombers returning safely. On February 4, 1942 during the Battle of Makassar Strait (Battle of the Flores Sea, Action off Madura Strait) 24 G3M2 Nells from the 1st Kokutai bombed the American, British, Dutch, Australian Flotilla (ABDA Flotilla) scoring several near misses the caused damage aboard USS Houston CA-30 hit near the aft gun turret by a bomb damaged the guns and killing 48 crew. Several near misses near Hr. Ms. De Ruyter caused minor damage to the fire control system for her 40mm AA guns.

During March 1942, the 1st Kōkūtai briefly operated from Vunakanau Airfield near Rabaul and flew several bombing missions against Port Moresby and suffered no bomber losses due to enemy action. One bomber, G3M2 Nell piloted by Harada conducted a suicide mission. During their deployment, some of the units bombers also landed at Lae Airfield returning from missions.

On March 22, 1942 nineteen G3M1 Nells from the 1st Kokutai took off from Rabaul on a bombing mission against Port Moresby escorted by three A6M2 Zeros from the 4th Kokutai that rendezvoused over Lae. The 1st Chutai (12 Nells) bomb anti-aircraft emplacements. The 2nd Chutai (7 Nells) bomb 7 Mile Drome. Three bombers return with holes from anti-aircraft fire. Lost is A6M2 Zero piloted by Yoshi'i (KIA).

On March 28, 1942 G3M2 Nell led by PO1/c Takeo Harada took off from Rabaul on a bombing mission against Port Moresby escorted by seven A6M2 Zeros from Lae.

On March 30, 1942 G3M2 Nell piloted by Harada makes a solo reconnaissance mission over Port Moresby at low altitude, taking photographs and returns to Lae Airfield without a scratch.

On March 31, 1942 G3M2 Nell piloted by Harada flew a suicide mission from Lae to Port Moresby, not returning. The attack-bomber made a vertical dive against Waigani Airfield (17 Mile Drome), Port Moresby, and crashed. Over the target at 12:45pm (local time) a message was received from the bomber back at Rabaul: “Finished bombing. All bombs hit mark”. Fifteen minutes later, another message came on the radio: “We will go in. All around is clear. Thank you for your kindnesses during our lifetime. Banzai for the Emperor (Tenno heika banzai).” Australians locate the crash site and the remains of the seven of the crewmen were recovered. It was a real suicide dive and crash. The bomber crew's plane was hit on a bombing mission to Clark Field, Luzon in the Philippines, and made a forced landing on the way back on December 12, 1941. They were captured but rescued later when the Japanese occupied the islands, but they were not allowed by the command and were forced to fly suicide missions during the succeeding operations. Ironically, they survived every time they flew. On this date, they determined to kill themselves on a single-plane mission.

References
Kodochosho, 1st Kōkūtai, December 12, 1941
Kodochosho, 1st Kōkūtai, March 22, 1942
Kodochosho, 1st Kōkūtai, March 28, 1942
Kodochosho, 1st Kōkūtai, March 30, 1942
Kodochosho, 1st Kōkūtai, March 31, 1942
Osprey Combat Aircraft 22 - Mitsubishi Type 1 Rikko 'Betty' Units of WWII (2001) page 32-33
Thanks to Osamu Tagaya for additional information

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