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105th Naval Base Unit
Built by Nakajima. Delivered to the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) as Type 97 Carrier Attack Bomber / B5N2 Kate manufacture number unknown. During 1945, assigned to the 105th Naval Base Unit at Vunakanau Airfield near Rabaul. This aircraft was painted with green upper surfaces weathered with gray lower surfaces. Tail number 302.
On April 27, 1945 at 8:10pm took off from Vunakanau Airfield as one of two Kates armed with an aerial torpedo on a mission to attack two "aircraft carriers" and warships spotted by a reconnaissance flight five days earlier in Seelder Harbor between Manus Island and Los Negros Island.
This Kate was piloted by Ensign Tokuya Takahashi with navigator Ensign Chuhei Okubo (previously an observer aboard the no. 5 Kate from Shōkaku that participated in the attack on Oahu on December 7, 1941 bombing hangers at Kaneohe Field) and radio operator CPO Shigeo Terao. The No. 2 aircraft was B5N2 Kate piloted Nagai.
Flying at 6,000', the pair descended to 300' to 600' flying through poor weather before reaching Rambutyo Island and proceeded to the target area 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.
At 11:15am the Kates commenced their attack run and became separated. This Kate aimed at an "aircraft carrier" actually 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 and was either shot down over the target or lost returning from the mission. Afterwards, on April 28, 1945 at 2:00am this Kate returned safely to land at Vunakanau Airfield.
By August 1945, this Kate was one of the last flyable Japanese aircraft that remained at Rabaul.
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.
Afterwards, the Kate was parked at Jacquinot Bay Airfield and was photographed and inspected by Allied personnel. There is no indication it was ever flown again. When New Zealand personnel withdrew, this Kate was abandoned at Jacquinot Bay Airfield.
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:
"The Kate and consisted of the fuselage less the tail group, the center section that incorporates the main fuel tanks and both main carts, and one vertical folding outer main plane panel. The Sakai 12 Radial engine for the Kate is at Kokopo Museum and if you have pictures of the aircraft engines at the Kokopo Museum, the engine is the one with the good mount on it and the straight individual exhaust stacks. I arranged to get the engine out to Kokopo back in the mid 1980's."
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.
This Kate has several numbers associated with this aircraft, but no photographic documentation confirm their location or if they are the aircraft's manufacture number or a part number or component numbers that might have been replacement parts that are not necessarily the same as the aircraft's true stenciled manufacture number. Charles Darby noted this Kate as number 3176. The Pacific Aviation Museum (PAM) notes "serial number 1939" in their 2012 Annual Report.
Type 97 Carrier-based Attack Plane - A Production Record by James I. Long September 22, 2011
Charles Darby noted B5N2 Kate number 3176
The Siege of Rabaul page 79-85, 89
Pacific Aviation Museum - 2012 Annual Report [PDF] page 5 lists "Nakajima Type 97 B5N Kate serial number 302 [sic] (in restoration-NZ) date of manufacture 1939.
Pacific Aviation Museum - 2011 Annual Report [PDF] page 6 lists "Aircraft coming Nakajima B5N Kate (in storage in New Zealand) serial number 1939"
J-Aircraft "Re: Major WW II IJN a/c roll-out, 08/15/15" by Ron Werneth August 29, 2015
Katch "Pearl Harbor: Unveiling Wing and fuselage of Nakagima [sic] Kate" April 18, 2016
Katch "Ken DeHoff, Exec. Director tells us about the Nakajima Kate. NOW" April 18, 2016
Huffington Post "You Can Finally See One Of WWII’s Most Infamous And Rare Japanese Bombers In Hawaii" by Chris D’Angelo May 10, 2016
Thanks to Ray Fairfield, Brian Bennett, Richard Leahy, Charles Darby and Mike Wenger for additional information
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