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  A6M2 Model 21 Zero Tail V-1??
IJN
Tainan Kōkūtai
2nd Chutai

Click For Enlargement
Masao Satake, 2003

Click For Enlargement
Justin Taylan 2003

Pilot  Lt(jg) Kaoru Yamaguchi (MIA / KIA)
Crashed  May 17, 1942


Pilot History
Kaoru Yamaguchi was one of four brothers born in Okuchi in northern Kagoshima Prefecture, and attended Okuchi Secondary School before joining the Navy. After his death, a funeral was held for two days by the villagers of his hometown, and the family members prayed for the repose of his soul every morning since.

Aircraft History
Built by Mitsubishi at the Nagoya Aircraft Factory. The manufacture number of this Zero is unknown, but the tail wheel assembly and the carrier landing hook both had component dataplates that were stamped with dates that suggest a date of completion around October 1941. [ See note ]. It was painted specular grey on all surfaces, with a black cowl. Traces of a tail number are visible, but not readable.

Mission History
On May 17, 1942 took off from Lae Airfield near Lae on a mission against Port Moresby. Yamaguchi was flying as the 1st Chutai, 2nd Shotai leader. 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 maching guns on the ground and rejoined the formation with damage to the engine resulting in reduced engine power. Also damaged by machine gun fire was A6M2 Zero 645 piloted by Ito that failed to rejoin formation and later force landed elsewhere in the Owen Stanley Range.

Damaged, Lt. Yamaguchi's lagged behind the formation. Coming to his aid, fellow pilot Saburo Sakai throttled back his Zero and stayed in formation with Yamaguchi, encouraging him to continue flying home. Over the southern Owen Stanley Mountains, Yamaguchi lost all engine power, saluted the rest of the formation and descended into forest covered mountains. His Zero appeared to disappear into the trees, no smoke was observed by the rest of the formation.

Search
According to Saburo Sakai, when the rest of the formation returned to Lae Airfield, they pleaded with their commander to fly over Yamaguchi's crash site to drop emergency supplies to him, in the hope he might have survived. No sign of the pilot or crash was observed.

Wreckage
This Zero crashed into the forested moutains of the Owen Stanley Range. On July 27, 2003 the crash site and bone fragments of the pilot were discovered by Justin Taylan. Afterwards, the site was reported to the Japanese Embassy who delegated the recovery of the pilot's remains to the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

Recovery of Remains
On October 24, 2003 a team from the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare led by Yoshiaki Aoki with Michael Claringbould flew by helicopter to the nearest village and trekked to the crash site to recover the remains of the pilot. The team was on a mission in the Kokoda area to recover the remains of Japanese war dead.

Afterwards, the bones were transported to Japan and identified the pilot to be Yamaguchi. The Ministry presented the bones to the Yamaguchi's younger brother but the family stated they were not interest in the discovery and declined to be DNA tested against the remains.

Memorials
After the identification was presented to the Yamaguchi family, the recovered remains from the crash site were laid to rest at the National Cemetery for Unknown Soldiers at Yasukuni Shrine.

Since the Yamaguchi family declined DNA testing and the action report the May 17, 1942 mission does not list the manufacture number or tail number of Yamaguchi's Zero, 100% certainty of the identity of this wreck or the pilot is impossible to determine.

References
Kodochosho, Tainan Kōkūtai, May 17, 1942
Ôzora no samurai page 250 - 254
The Samurai by Masao Stake "Farewell to Lieutenant Yamaguchi" depicts this aircraft.
A6M2 Zero component dataplates by Jim Long
Koku-Fan "Discovery of Zero" 2004 by Justin Taylan
Flightpath Magazine "Welcome Home Kaoru Yamaguchi" by Michael Claringbould 2004
Flight Journal Magazine "Discovery of Zero" by Justin Taylan February 2006
Eagles of the Southern Sky pages ?-?
Thanks to Harumi Sakaguchi, Kunio Iwashita, Tatsuaki Inoue, Jim Long, Michael Claringbould and John Douglas for additional information

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Last Updated
February 4, 2018

 

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