On November 1, 1942 part of the bomber section of the 4th Kokutai / Chitose Kokutai was re-designated as 702 Kōkūtai (702 Air Group) operating the Type 1 Attack Bomber / Mitsubishi G4M1 "Betty".
On May 1, 1943 thirty-six Betty bombers departed Kisarazu Airfield under the command of Shuzo Kuno (Naval Academy #49) in two formations of eighteen bombers departed on a ferry flight bound for Tinian. Six bombers experienced aborted the flight due to bad weather with three landing at Pagan Airfield and three led by Otsuka returning to Kisarazu Airfield.
On May 2, 1943 the three departed Kisarazu Airfield and landed at Pagan Airfield, joining the other three already there. That same day twenty-seven of the other thirty bombers on Tinian departed bound for Vunakanau Airfield near Rabaul. On May 3, 1943 the remaining six Bettys from Pagan Airfield arrived at Tinian. On May 4, 1943 the six Bettys plus three others that missed the prior flight departed Tinian and landed at Kavieng Airfield due to bad weather. On May 5, 1943 all nine remaining Bettys departed Kavieng Airfield and arrived at Vunakanau Airfield where the entire 702 Kokutai was assembled. On May 6, 1943 an additional eleven Betty bombers departed Kisarazu Airfield via Tinian arrived at Vunakanau Airfield.
These bombers were distributed as reserve aircraft.
During the middle of May 1943 operated from Ballale Airfield flying reconnaissance missions until the night of June 29, 1943 to June 30, 1943 when heavily shelled by U. S. Navy Task Force 68 (TF-68) "Merrill's Marauders" and the remaining aircraft returned to Vunakanau Airfield.
On June 30, 1943 in the early afternoon participated in the second Japanese air raid against U. S. invasion force off Rendova. The formation included twenty-six G4M1 Bettys armed with torpedoes (seventeen from 702 Kokutai led by Lt Cdr Genzo Nakamura and nine G4M1 Bettys from 705 Kokutai) escorted by twenty-four A6M Zeros from 251 Kokutai. They spotted the U. S. transports in Blanche Channel. The Japanese were intercepted by U. S. fighters from the "Rendova Patrol" including F4F Wildcats and F4U Corsairs and targeted by anti-aircraft fire from the ships that decimated the formation. Only about ten Bettys managed to release their torpedoes that resulted in only a single hit damaged USS McCawley (APA-4) amidships, although two more torpedoes passed nearby. In total, 19 Bettys and 17 crews were lost on the mission. 702 Ku lost thirteen including G4M1 Betty Tail 2-343 crashed on Rendova. Only three 702 Ku Bettys landed safely and a fourth ditched with the crew rescued.
By October 27, 1943 the 702 Kokutai lost most remaining planes during the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay off Bougainville. On December 11, 1943 the 702 Kokutai was disbanded and surviving air crews were absorbed into the 751 Kokutai.
Markings and Tail Codes
The 702 Kokutai used different tail codes at various dates. In Japan, a letter and three digit tail code were used, likely 'U2-XXX' (three digits). In combat, each Hiko Buntai had nine bombers, with extra bombers used as replacement aircraft. In combat, the tail code became 2-3?? (last two digits determined Hiko Buntai assignment).
1st Hiko Buntai - assigned tail numbers 301 to 320. Tail had three horizontal white stripes surrounding the number.
2nd Hiko Buntai - assigned tail numbers 321 to 340. Tail with a double width upper stripe and a lower stripe above the number.
5th Hiko Buntai -
assigned tail numbers 341 to 360. Tail with a single white strip above the number.
6th Hiko Buntai - assigned tail numbers 361 to 380. Tail with a double white strip above the number.
Serial 296 - Page 5
Mitsubishi Type 1 Rikko 'Betty' Units of WWII (2001) by Osamu Tagaya page 74
"Confronting a new enemy landing [at Rendova], the air command felt compelled to strike back at the earliest opportunity by whatever means possible. Once again, the rikko crews were ordered out on a daylight torpedo mission, and it is a tribute to their stoic bravery that the attack was pressed home - 17 Type 1s of 702 Ku and nine from 705 were led by the 702 Ku Hikotaicho, Lt Cdr Genzo Nakamura. Precious minutes lost in the search for the ships, which were eventually found in Blanche Channel, between Rendova and New Georgia, brought a swarm of F4Us and F4Fs.
Three rikko from 702, including Nakamura, managed to return, whilst a fourth aircraft ditched and the crew were saved. Thirteen others never came back. 705 counted four missing and one crash-landed. In all, 19 out of 26 aircraft, and 17 crews, were lost. About ten rikko fought their way through the fighters and flat to launch torpedoes, but their only score was a single torpedo hit against the transport USS McCawley, flagship of their old nemesis Kelly Turner."
Thanks to Minoru Kamada and Richard Dunn for additional information
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