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252 Kōkūtai (252 Air Group)
Imperial Japanese Navy Kokutai

Background
On September 20, 1942 at Rabaul the Genzan Kōkūtai figher complement of 36 A6M Zeros was expanded to 60 A6M Zeros and redesignated the 252 Kōkūtai (252 Ku) as a seporate fighter air group.

Wartime History
Between December 23, 1942 to December 25, 1942 the first A6M Zeros from 252 Ku moved from Rabaul to the newly completed Munda Airfield on New Georgia. Immediately, they were attacked by American aircraft and neutralized within six days. On December 29, 1942, the surviving pilots were evacuated by four G4M1 Bettys and flown back to Rabaul, escorted by nine A6M Zeros. Later, in early August 1943 when the U. S. Army captured Munda Airfield many Japanese aircraft wrecks were captured including several A6M Zeros from 252 Kokutai including A6M2 Zero Tail 1157 assigned to either 252 Kokutai or 253 Kokutai that was salvaged for technical evaluation.

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On January 25, 1943 A6M2 Zeros from 252 Kokutai took off on an escort with Zeros from 582 Kokutai and 204 Kokutai to escort G4M1 Bettys over Guadalcanal. Lost was A6M2 Zero Tail 1140 that either ditched or force landed on the beach at Verahue west of Cape Esperence. Later, on February 10, 1943 captured by the U. S. Army and studied by technical intelligence.

On January 26, 1943 six A6M Zeros from 252 Kokutai escorted H6K Mavis pilot Kira to eastern Choiseul Island to rescue a downed Zero pilot. After sucessfully rescuing the pilot while the flyingboat was taking off, a pair of P-39 Airacobras approached low and made a single firing pass causing damage. The five escorting Zeros had not noticed the low approach of the P-39s but dove down to intercepted, claiming one shot down, P-39 pilot McCulla and the other escaped.

On February 14, 1943 eighteen Zeros from 252 Kokutai took off on a mission to intercept formation of nine PB4Y-1 Liberators escorted by ten P-38 Lightnings plus twelve F4U Corsairs from Marine Fighting Squadron 124 (VMF-124). Also intercepting were thirteen A6M Zeros from 204 Kōkūtai and eleven A6M2-N Rufes from 802 Kōkūtai for a total of 42 Japanese fighters airborne.

During July 1943, the 252 Kokutai was transfered to the Marshall Islands to replace the 201 Kokutai and inheriting many of their Zeros. The 252 Kokutai operated from several airfields including locations including Tarawa Airfield, Taroa Airfield, Wake Island Airfield. During late November 1943

During January 1944 the 252 Kokutai operated from Tobera Airfield south of Rabaul.

On January 16, 1944 thirteen

On January 17, 1944 sixteen A6M Zeros took off from Tobera Airfield on a mission to intercept U. S. aircraft.

Later, moved to the Philippines and operated from Dewey Boulevard Airfield in Manila operating A6M5 Model 52 Zero. On February 20, 1945 the U. S. Army liberated the area and captured several of their aircraft dispersed in the compound of the U. S. Embassy.

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Tail Codes
The group used different codes at various dates with three digit aircraft codes for each aircraft.

Y2-??? – March 15, 1943-August 1943
52-??? – September 1943

References
Kodochosho 252 Kōkūtai
Nippon News - Rabaul Kokutai footage of A6M3/A6M5 Zeros taking off and landing at Lakunai Airfield near Rabaul January 16, 1944

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