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Tainan Kōkūtai (Tainan Air Group)
Imperial Japanese Navy Kokutai
Background
The Tainan Kōkūtai (Tainan Air Group) was formed at Taiwan Airfield on Formosa (Taiwan). At the start of the Pacific War, equipped with the Type 0 / A6M2 Model 21 Zero.

Wartime History
On December 8, 1941 A6M2 Zeros from the Tainan Kokutai participated in escort bombers and conducting fighter sweeps over Clark Field on Luzon in the Philippines. Lost is A6M2 Zero piloted by Hirose Yoshio, circumstantial evidence points him being shot down by P-40B Warhawk pilot Randall D. Keator. This was the first Japanese aircraft shot down over the Philippines.

On December 9, 1941 despite bad weather flew missions over Luzon.

On December 10, 1941 Tainan pilots including Saburo Sakai intercepted and shot down B-17C 40-2045 piloted by Captain Colin Purdie Kelly, Jr. over Luzon.

During late December 1941, a detachment operated from Legaspi Airfield and in early January 1942 operated from Zettle Airfield (Jolo Airfield). On January 16, 1942 transfered to Tarakan Airfield.

Operations from Rabaul and Lae
On April 1, 1942 all 4th Kokutai A6M2 Zeros and their pilots at Lakunai Airfield near Rabaul were transfered the Tainan Kokutai (Tainan Air Group).

During April 1942, the Tainan Kokutai moved to Lae Airfield on New Guinea and began flying fighter sweeps and bomber escort missions over Port Moresby. When Allied aircraft began attacking their base, they also flew combat air patrols (CAP) to protect the Lae Airfield area and intercept attacking enemy planes.

On May 17, 1942 A6M2 Zeros took off from Lae Airfield on a fighter sweep over Port Moresby and were intercepted by P-39 Airacobras from the 8th Fighter Group. Damaged over the target bey anti-aircraft fire and lost on the return flight was A6M2 Zero pilot Lt(jg) Kaoru Yamaguchi. Also crashed was A6M2 Zero 645 pilot PO2c Tsutomou Ito survived but was later captured by an Australian Patrol Officer (Kiap) and became a Prisoner Of War (POW).

On May 27, 1942 fifteen A6M2 Zeros in two flights of nine and six aircraft took off on a fighter sweep over Port Moresby and were intercepted by P-39 Airacobras from the 8th Fighter Group (8th FG).

On June 16, 1942 A6M2 Zeros from the Tainan Kokutai conduct a fighter sweep over Port Moresby. Over the target, intercepted by P-39 Airacobras and P-400 Airacobras from the 39th Fighter Squadron and 40th Fighter Squadron and claim 17 shot down and 2 probables (in fact, 4 shot down and 2 damaged) and lost no aircraft damaged or shot down.

During August 1942 Tainan Kokutai began to equipped with new early model A6M3 Model 22 Zero (Hamp) at Rabaul and then were flown to forward operating bases at Lae Airfield and Buna Airfield. Quickly, pilots learned the new A6M3 had had less range, so the earlier A6M2 Model 21 Zeros were retained and preferred by many pilots for longer range missions.

On August 14, 1942 three A6M3 Model 32 Zeros from the Tainan Kokutai, 2nd Shotai: Lt(jg) Takeyoshi Ono, FPO1c Sadao Yamashita, FPO3c Masami Arai landed at Buna Airfield. At 7:35 they intercepted and shot down B-17E "Chief Seattle" 41-2656. During the attack, Lt(jg) Takeyoshi Ono's Zero was damaged by defensive fire from the bomber.

On August 22 1942 another detachment from the Tainan Kokutai from Lakunai Airfield arrived at Buna Airfield.

By early September 1942, the Tainan Kokutai withdrew from Buna Airfield due to losses and Allied bombing raids and abandoned several aircraft that were captured by Allied forces in late December 1942 including two transports: G6M1-L2 Betty 209 and G6M1-L2 Betty 613 plus at least three fighters: A6M3 Zero 3018, A6M3 Zero 3028 and A6M3 Zero 3032. Afterwards, some of the Zero wrecks were transported to Eagle Farm Airfield and used in the construction of a A6M3 Hamp (Hybrid) that was flight tested by the Allies.

Missions against Guadalcanal
On August 7, 1942 when American forces conducted amphibious landings at Tulagi and Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. In retaliation, Tainan Kokutai A6M2 Zeros took off from Lakunai Airfield near Rabaul on escorting G4M1 Betty bombers from the 4th Kokutai attacking ships in Iron Bottom Sound. During the mission, A6M2 Zero V-108 piloted by Saburo Sakai shot down F4F Wildcat 5192 piloted by James "Pug" Southerland, the first American aircraft shot down over Guadalcanal. Afterwards, his Zero was damaged and he was wounded while attacking SBD Dauntless dive bombers but managed to return to base safely.

On November 1, 1942 the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) renamed Air Groups with three digit identifiers and the Tainan Kokutai was redesignated as the 251 Kokutai (251 Air Group).

Tail Code and Markings
Tainan Kokutai A6M2 / A6M3 Zeros tail code "V-1??" (three digits in 100's range).
Tainan Kokutai / 1N1 Gekko/Irvings tail code "V-? (one digit).

Tainan Kokutai Aircraft
G6M1-L2 Betty 209 Tail V-903  destroyed August 29, 1942 at Buna Airfield wreckage remains
G6M1-L2 Betty 613 Tail V-902  destroyed August 29, 1942 at Buna Airfield wreckage remains

Tainan Kokutai Personnel (Partial List)
Saburo Sakai  pilot A6M2 Zero
Takeyoshi Ono  pilot A6M3 Zero
Sadao Yamashita  pilot A6M3 Zero
Masami Arai  pilot A6M3 Zero

References
Pacific Wrecks - Port Moresby Air Raid May 17, 1942 Fighter Sweep Over Port Moresby
Ôzora no samurai (1957) by Saburo Sakai
Samuari! (1957) by Saburo Sakai
Naval Night Fighters by Yoji Watanabe 28-45
The Siege of Rabaul (1996) by Henry Sakaida page 38-41
Imperial Japanese Navy Aces 1937-45 (1998) by Henry Sakaida page 49-50
Thanks to Henry Sakaida, Osamu Tagaya and Edward Rogers for additional information

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