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105th Naval Base Unit
On April 27, 1945 at 8:10pm one of two Kates that took off from Vunakanau Airfield piloted by Ensign Tokuya Takahashi, navigator Ensign Chuhei Okubo (previously an observer aboard the no. 5 B5N Kate from Shōkaku that participated in the December 7, 1941 bombing hangers at Kaneohe Field) and radio operator CPO Shigeo Terao armed with an aerial torpedo. The No. 2 aircraft was B5N2 Kate piloted Nagai. The pair was to bomb two "aircraft carriers" (actually two floating dry docks ABSD-2 and ABSD-4) and warships spotted by a reconnaissance flight five days earlier in Seelder Harbor. Flying at 6,000', the pair descended to 300' to 600' flying through poor weather before reaching Rambutyo Island and proceeded to the target at 150'. The pair spotted a searchlight at Momote Airfield and as the clouds cleared Seelder Harbor was it lit up with flood lights from numerous vessels at anchor. The Kates commenced their attack at 11:15pm. During the attack run the pair became separated and attacked separate targets. This Kate aimed its torpedo at ABSD-2 Floating Dry Dock and scored a hit damaging the vessel. The No. 2 aircraft B5N2 Kate piloted Nagai failed to return from the mission, either shot down over the target or returning from the mission. This aircraft landed safely at Vunakanau Airfield on April 28, 1945 at 2:00am.
After Japan officially surrendered on August 15, 1945, Australian forces occupied Rabaul and the Japanese requested permission to surrender their flyable aircraft to an air force unit. Their request was granted and Japanese pilots were allowed to fly to the nearest Allied airfield to surrender their aircraft. This aircraft was never painted white or with green crosses in accordance with the terms of the surrender.
On September 18, 1945 six Japanese aircraft took off from Vunakanau Airfield piloted by Japanese including: Ki-46 Dinah 2783, A6M5 Zero 4043, A6M3 Zero 3479 and A6M5 Zero 4444 plus two other Zeros on a surrender flight to Jacquinot Bay Airfield. Due to mechanical problems, this Kate was not able to join the flight. Repaired, it was ready to fly by early October, 1945.
On October 14, 1945, took off from Vunakanau Airfield piloted by P.O. Goro Kataoka on a ferry flight with E13A Jake 4326 to Jacquinot Bay Airfield, escorted by four Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) F4U Corsairs from 16 Squadron led by Bryan Cox. This was the last confirmed flight of Japanese aircraft in present day Papua New Guinea.
In the early 1970s, it remained on its landing gear, with only the left outer wing panel and engine cowling removed overgrown with vegetation.
By 1981, the wreckage was disassembled and taken from the airfield and moved near shore next to what had been the old district office, along with the wreckage of Ki-46 Dinah 2783. In the middle 1980s, Brian Bennett arranged for the engine to be transported to the Kokopo Museum for display. The rest of the aircraft remained at the old district office.
Brian Bennett adds:
During the middle of 2003, this Kate was recovered along with Ki-46 Dinah 2783 by Bruno Carnovale and Ian Whitney of '75 Squadron' and barged to Lae where it was put in a container for export to Melbourne Australia.
Instead, the container was impounded by the PNG Museum and their ownership disputed in court. Reportedly, the case was resolved in a local court case ending in 2005 and the container was exported to Australia during late 2005 or early 2006. This recovery was cited as an illegal recovery in the PNG Government Public Accounts Committee Report in 2006.
Later, transported to New Zealand and was stored at Pioneer for early restoration, but was not put on public display according to the instructions of the owner or the potential purchaser. During 2010, the Pacific Aviation Museum became interested in this aircraft and acquired it, listing it as an aircraft coming soon in their 2011 annual report and part of their collection in their 2012 annual report. Initially, Pacific Aviation Museum attempted to restore the aircraft at Pioneer without revealing the type of aircraft or nature of the project, insisting it be locked in a container at all times. Ultimately, the Pacific Aviation Museum board of directors stopped the restoration, unable to hide or justify the costs without revealing the project and the aircraft was instead shipped to Hawaii and transported to the Pacific Aviation Museum.
On April 18, 2016 the wing and a portion of the fuselage of this Kate were publicly unveiled at the Pacific Aviation Museum and placed on display inside Hanger 79 next to an aerial torpedo. According to Ken DeHoff Pacific Aviation Museum director, the aircraft will be restored to static display over the next five years, using parts from all over the world. Although the museum claims this Kate could have flown over Pearl Harbor and that the "serial number" [sic] indicates it was built before the December 7, 1941 attack.
Pacific Wrecks and other prior visitors to the wreck has never reported any manufacture number of this aircraft, thus the construction date and possible wartime history is impossible to determine. Aside from this Kate's confirmed service at Rabaul and surrender, speculation about this aircraft's use elsewhere, including Pearl Harbor is tenuous at best. The Pacific Aviation Museum - 2011 Annual Report [PDF] page 6 cites the serial number [sic] as 1939, but this has not been confirmed by photographs or to be a manufacture number, versus a component number. Anyone with photos or information, please contact us.
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