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105th Naval Base Unit
|Pilot Seaman 3rd Class Masajiro Kawato (POW, survived)
Observer P. O. Tokio Shimizu (MIA / KIA March 9, 1945) Enzan City
Ditched March 9, 1945
Seaman 3rd Class Masajiro Kawato flew 35 combat missions as a Zero pilot between December 1, 1943 until February 6, 1944. Although he claimed 18 victories, he actually only earned 1.25 victories. On December 17, 1944 he collided with a RNZAF Kittyhawk, his first aerial victory. During the night of March 22, 1944 he earned a quarter victory claiming a PBJ Mitchell with three other Zeros. Observer Shimizu was assigned to the 958 Kokutai and after February 1944 transferred to the 105th Naval Base Unit.
During October 1944, this Zero was field modified at Rabaul into a two seat variant conceived by commander Tomoyoshi Hori with a rear facing seat for an observer behind the pilot with a telegraph for transmitting long range communications during reconnaissance missions. Assigned to the 105th Naval Base Unit.
On March 9, 1945 took off from Tobera Airfield piloted by Seaman 3rd Class Masajiro Kawato with observer Pilot Officer Tokio Shimizu armed with two 70kg cluster bombs on a mission to attack Australian forces off Zungen (Tol). Also participating in the mission was A6M2 Zero piloted by Shimbo. Due to bad weather, Shimbo aborted the mission.
Alone, Kawato flew eastward in a spontaneous attempt to attack on Green Island Airfield (Nissan) but found it covered in heavy clouds. Returning to the west he flew over Zungen (Tol) and Wide Bay then spotted an enemy gunboat ten miles southwest of Cape Orford. In fact, the vessel was Fairmile Motor Launch ML825.
Diving to attack ML825, Kawato released one cluster bomb that exploded 30 yards away. Turning for another attack run, the vessel opened fire with anti-aircraft fire from the 40mm Bofors, 20mm cannons and .50 caliber machine guns as the Zero fired three bursts of gunfire that hit the gunboat nine times before the Zero was hit by anti-aircraft fire that exploded the right fuel tank and mortally wounded observer Shimizu. The entire attack lasted only 42 seconds.
Damaged, Kawato salvoed his second bomb then ditched into the sea roughly a mile away. Observer Shimizo did not escape, he was either already dead or went down with aircraft. Afterwards, ML825 searched where the Zero ditched, but did not find any trace of the crew.
Fates of the Crew
During the ditching, Kawato suffered a broken wrist and concussion. Although injured, he swam over a mile and a half before reaching East Owen Point and attempted to follow the coastline in the jungle. On March 14, 1945 at Baien he was spotted by local people and was given food. The people he encountered were loyal to the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU) and delivered him to the Australian Army, 6th Infantry Brigade where he was captured.
As a Prisoner Of War (POW) he was taken to the 5th Division Provost Company. On March 17, 1945 he was transported to Jacquinot Bay. Kawato was assigned PW Number JA-161003. On March 24, 1945 he was interrogated by Major R. E. M. Cameron, ATIS. Afterwards, transported to Australia and on April 2, 1945 interned in the Gaythorne POW Camp in Queensland. On August 6, 1945 transferred to the U. S. Army, Provost Marshal Department and was detained until the end of the Pacific War. In November 1945 he was repatriated to Japan.
Shiro Shimizu (brother of Tokio Shimizu)
"We were not notified of Tokio's death until eight months had passed. On March 9, 1946, we held a funeral service for him. His name and date of death were inscribed on the tombstone of our ancestral grave."
Sabretache: The Journal of the Military Historical Society of Australia "The Duel: Petty Officer Kawato flew in what is believed to be one of the last Zero fighter actions in the South West Pacific during World War II" by Robert Piper vol. 27 no. 3 (1986) pages 25-28
The Siege of Rabaul (1996) by Henry Sakaida pages 62-63, 73-78
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March 10, 2020
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