|Pilot Norihiko Hiramatsu (KIA)
Observer Mitsuru Hayashita (WIA, survived)
Crashed January 13, 1944 between 11pm-3am
Pilot Norihiko Hiramatsu was from the Hei 7th term, and was killed in the crash on January 13, 1944. Observer Mitsuru Hayashida was from Fu-Den-Ren (radio communications trainee), 55th term. He learned radio communications and became a radioman. Then, he wished to be a plane crewman and entered the Hei (C) 3rd term flight training course as a radio communications man and entered the (advanced) 20th term flight training course (Aug. 1941- May 1942), majoring in aircraft radio communications. Afterwards, he became an observer of the Val bomber with the 552 Kōkūtai. Wounded in the Val crash of January 13, 1944, but survived. He returned from combat and was posted to the Jinrai Special Attack Ohka Tai as a petty officer crewman aboard a G4M Betty. Killed in action off Kyushu on 21 March 1945. Hei 3rd air crewman was a veteran at that time. (As a Hei 3rd pilot, the name of CPO Shoichi Sugita is well known.)
Built by Aichi, completed during late December 1943. Delivered to the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN). Assigned to the 522 Kōkūtai, based at Kerevat Airfield west of Rabaul and Kavieng Airfield during November 1943 to January 1944.
Justin Taylan adds:
"The aircraft had the manufacture number stencil visible in the following places: (1) tip of the tail, (2) inside the cowl, and in both landing gear legs: (3, 4, 5, 6) inside each wheel spat in two places, (7, 8) base of each main landing gear leg. The left side off the tail has tail number '5' visible. The right side has tail number: '265', both in white paint. The landing gear boots had '65' in white paint. The tip of the propeller blade had a red stripe, and a yellow leading edge of the wing."
Richard Dunn adds:
"Replenishment plans for December 1943 called for 7 Type 99 model 22 carrier bombers consigned to 552nd Kōkūtai. These were ferried by Yokosuka Naval District to 2nd Air Arsenal and then shipped aboard an aircraft carrier to Truk. Completion date for these a/c was 15 Dec 43."
Osamu Tagaya adds:
"This plane must have been lost sometime during 552 Kōkūtai's second deployment to Rabaul. The unit first went to Rabaul between 14 and 17 November 1943 with 25 Val 22s, then withdrew to Truk on December 5, 1943. It was there for R&R no more than ten days when news of the Allied landing at Arawe caused the unit to be ordered back to Rabaul on the 15th. It reached Rabaul by December 18th with some 20+ Vals and was based at Kerevat up through January 25, 1944. The unit withdrew again to Truk on January 26 '44. This was the last time Vals operated out of Rabaul.
Kanbaku (Val) crews were training in night dive-bombing techniques from before Pearl Harbor. I suspect, however, that by this stage of the war, given lower level of experience and skill among dive-bomber crews, these attacks were more in the nature of glide bombing attacks at angles of 45 degrees or less. IJN defined dive-bombing as 45 degrees or steeper, typically at 55 to 65 degrees. This is somewhat shallower than the 70 degree dives regularly undertaken by USN dive bomber crews."
On January 13, 1944 one of four Vals that took off from Kerevat Airfield west of Rabaul at 11:15pm on a night bombing mission against Mono Island, armed with 250kg centerline bombs, and some of the planes also had two 60kg wing bombs. This aircraft was in the 2nd Shotai, 2nd aircraft.
Over the target between 12:45am to 1:00am, the Vals bombed Mono Island (more likely Stirling Island) and were attacked by at least two F4U-2(N) Corsair night fighters from VF(N)-75, and one claimed a Val shot down.
Returning from the mission, this Val either sustained damage or became lost. Over New Ireland, it attempted to force land on a ridge top, with the engine under power. The aircraft impacted trees and and flipped over before hitting the ground and ripping off the tail. On impact, the pilot was killed in the crash, and observer was wounded.
Justin Taylan adds:
"I searched the records of the 552 Kōkūtai at the Defense Archives at Tokyo for December 1943 - January 1944. No tail numbers are noted in the records, only pilot names. The exact operational history of this aircraft will be unknown, despite the presence of the tail number. In January 1944 they did several strikes against Torokina, but suffered no losses. The most likely loss, that fit the circumstances of the crash was the Mono mission, although no crash location is given.
The first known visitor to this aircraft was in early 1977.
John McKenzie, RAAF visited the site in 1977:
"The locals say that the man in the back was thrown out and killed. The pilot escaped."
Justin Taylan adds:
"According to the locals, after the crash a villager buried the remains of the crew at the site. It looked like someone cut into the left side of the cockpit, to get inside, this might have been done to salvage the weapons and instruments. All the machine guns and ammunition were missing. This wreck has many original paint and stencils present over it. Upside down, the upper green surfaces were persevered, with angle markers for dive bombing. There was no tail hook present."
Kodochosho, 552 Kōkūtai, January 13, 1944
"Jungle Hides Wrecked Aircraft" January 18, 1977
"Serial Number & Production Sequence D3A2 Carrier Bombers" by Jim Long
Thanks to Koji Takaki, Hiroshi Ujita, Minoru Kamada, Sawruk, Jim Long, Richard Dunn and Osamu Tagaya for additional information
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February 4, 2018