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  A6M2 Model 21 Zero Manufacture Number 645 Tail V-???
IJN
Tainan Kōkūtai

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RAAF late May 1942

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Lawrence Kiilemu 1990s

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Justin Taylan 2005

Pilot  P. O. 2nd Class Tsutomou Ito (POW, survived)
Crashed  May 17, 1942

Aircraft History
Built by Nakajima on February 27, 1942. Assigned to the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN). Assigned to the Tainan Kōkūtai. Tail code V-??? (last three digits unknown).

Mission History
On May 17, 1942 took off from Lae Airfield near Lae on a strafing mission against 7-Mile Drome at Port Moresby. Ito was flying as the 1st Chutai, 2nd Shotai as wingman for A6M2 Zero piloted by Yamaguchi. Over the target, Yamaguchi and Ito dove down to low level and strafed 12-Mile Drome.

During the strafing run, this Zero was damaged by anti-aircraft fire from 50 caliber machine guns on the ground and was damaged and failed to rejoined the formation. Alone, Ito flew northward towards Lae before his engine stopped and force landed in a flat area of the mountains. During the landing, trees tore off the outer wings and twisted the tail.

Fate of the Pilot
Dazed but unhurt, Ito traveled away from the crash by day and climbing trees at night to sleep. He discovered local people and with their help made his way from village to village. On May 23, Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU) Patrol Officer (Kiap) Eric-Owen Turner, from Ononge Mission was alerted to the presence of a Japanese pilot in the area and went in pursuit of him.

Prisoner of War
On June 2, he confronted Ito, who drew his pistol to defend himself, but was restrained by the native people who were assisting him and was taken prisoner. After being disarmed, he offered no further resistance. As a prisoner, Ito claimed his name was "Tetsuo Yamakawa" and that his hometown was Okayama. He maintained this false identity until late 1942.

Accompanied by Turner and a group of police and boys, Ito was walked out of the mountains via Ioma to Awala then westward across the Kokoda Trail. Ironically, he was the only Japanese person to walk the entire length of the trail. In Port Moresby, Ito was placed in the custody of Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Intelligence.

During late June 1942, he was flown to Townsville. In Australia, he was assigned prisoner number PWJA.110009. Transported to Redholme Manson in South Yarra, Victoria and interrogated. During that time, he suffered a bout of malaria for four days.

Under interrogation, He claimed he was the co-pilot of a bomber from the "Araki Butai" and the sole survivor of his crew, so they would not look for his Zero. But, his story, did not hold up under detailed interrogation. His story varied when he claimed his bomber was hit by anti-aircraft fire in one telling and fighter attacks in another. Also, the bombing raids over Port Moresby he claimed to have participated on May 15 and 22, no bombers had been observed over Port Moresby on either date.

In later interrogations, he admitted: "On May 17, 1942 I was strafing Moresby air base [7-Mile Drome] following Lt. Yamaguchi.  AA fire perforated the engine.  I decided to return to Lae by direct route.  While flying solely, engine stopped and crash landed in the jungle before crossing the ridge."

Afterwards, he was transferred to Hay Camp, NSW on September 14 and quartered with civil internees and volunteered to work at road maintenance to earn extra money to buy things at the canteen.

On January 9, 1943, he was sent to Cowra POW Camp. Again hospitalized on February 17 - March 11, then returned to the camp. Ito participated in the "Cowra Breakout" during the early morning of August 5, 1944. He spent the night pinned down by machine gun fire in a storm drainage ditch. The next morning, he ran towards a sentry post, and ignored orders to halt in an apparent attempt to commit suicide. He was shot twice and immobilized with compound fractures to both shoulders and taken to Murchison Camp. Afterwards, he was hospitalized from August 22 until March 7, 1945, then returned to Murchison Camp, then March 12 to Liverpool.

On March 1, 1946 taken to Sydney and departed aboard the Daikai Maru on March 2 and returned to Japan. Postwar, in Japan and lived under an assumed name "Isshiki". He never participated in Zero Pilot Reunion events. Saburo Sakai also confirmed Ito was reluctant to apply for medical benefits as wounded in action from the Japanese Government as he was ashamed of his captivity. Eventually he applied by Sakai's advice, but he claimed in an affidavit that he crashed and survived the war with natives until liberated.

Naoki Kodachi, V-P of Zero Fighter Association:
"We do not know if Mr Tsutomu Isshiki (former PO2/c Tsutomu Ito) is alive or not and the Association will not make contact with him even if he is found alive because Ito was said to be unwilling to meet any of surviving comrades and was not a member of the Association. He was ashamed of his being a POW."

Wreckage
Located in a swamp near Kosipe. Later, it was visited by US Army ATIU who noted its manufacture number as 645. In the 1950s, an area a missionary took out its electric generator, attached a fly-wheel to it, and used it for power at the mission.

Lawrence Kilemu adds:
"You will see the tree is right across the plane but the tree grew later and natural humidity and surrounding air caused the tree to bend the airplane."

Justin Taylan adds:
"Yoji Sakaida, Daniel Leahy and myself inspected this wreck on August 27, 2005."

References
Winged Samurai by Henry Sakaida
"Zero in the Tree Tops" by Robert Piper (unpublished)
Australian Post "Where Japs got the third degree" by David Sissons, July 17, 1986, page 4
"SWPA Technical References to Inspected Enemy Airplanes" ATIU, September 27, 1943, p 2
Japanese Aircraft - Plates and Markings No. 87
Jim Long adds:
"A6M No. 645 is listed in two documents as a Nakajima built A6M2. The documents are Makers' Plates & Markings Report #68, "Life of Japanese Combat Planes," issued by the Military Intelligence Division, War Dept., 20 March 1945, and "Preliminary Report on Japanese Fighter Plane Production (based solely on name-plate analysis)," compiled by the Joint Intelligence Subcommittee, Working Committee on Japanese Aircraft, 1 June 1943. Neither of these documents does anything more than list the aircraft by serial number 645 and manufacturer and give its date of assembly as 27 February 1942. In addition, MP&M No. 68 identifies the date of crash as Mid May 1942 in Kosipi [sic] swamp."

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Last Updated
January 5, 2018

 

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