In the late summer of 1936, the Imperial Japanese Navy issued a 11-shi specification calling for an advanced design to their exciting carrier based bomber the Navy type 96 (Aichi D1A2). This particular aircraft gained notearitary in 1937 when it sunk the American gun boat "Panay",and during the second world war the D1A mainly served in 2nd line units, and received the Allied code name Susie.
The 11 Shi specifications called for a Carrier Based Dive Bomber of a low winged mono plane design. From the protype to the production models all were of single engine with elliptical wings, fixed undercarriage and crew of two. The D3A was first launched by the Japanese Navy in December 1941 and used during the Japanese attack on military installations on Oahu Island, Hawai of the same year. The aircraft was given the code name VAL by the Americans soon after the Hawaii attack and thuss became the first Japanese aircraft to drop bombs on American soil. This plane was also the last type of Japanese carrier-borne aircraft to use a fixed undercarriage as this was considered by many to be a almost obsolete design. A total of 1,495 D3A’s were built including prototype. 1294 by Aichi Kokuki of Nagoya and 201 by Showa Hikoki of Tokyo. During the first 10 months of the war the VAL enjoyed considerable success being responsible for sinking more Allied ships than any other type of Japanese aircraft.
The Japanese Navy's 2nd Air Group consisting of fighter units and bomber units, namely VAL's was established at the Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan on 31 May 1942 and arrived in Rabaul on 6th August of the same year and went into action for the first time the next day against the American landing at Gutcanual. On 1 November 1942, as a result of the air groups re-organization due to catastrofic losses, the 2nd Air Group was renamed the 552 and 582 Air Group's. The 582’s Group consisted of Vals and began to participate in battles in New Guinea, commencing with an attack against the enemy transports on 16 November 1942.
On 15 December 1943, allied force's began landing operations at Cape Markus (Arawee) in the south western shore of New Britain. The Rabaul-based air groups launched nine attacks before the month was over involving a combined total of 622 bombers and fighters. Some of the fighters were adapted to carry external ordenance along with the Vals which also joined the missions. Starting on 18 December, Rabaul was reinforced by the Carrier Zuikaku and its 18 Zero's A6M's led by Kenji Nakagawa were placed under the command of the 253rd Air Group and commenced air attacks the next day. Also Kates B5N's and Betty Bombers G4M's carried out night attacks against the invaision force.
Between 17 – 27 December 1943 seven missions were flown from Rabaul against the Allied landings by the Japanese 582 and 552 Air Groups. Over 122 sorties were flown by the Vals and over 40 Val crew members were lost along with their aircraft.
Memoir by Sekizen Shibayama. "A Zero pilot at Cape Merkus":
"I seldom ever flew the Zero on bombing missions.. One of the bombing attacks was against Cape Merkus. . Kates and Vals took off respectively from Vunakauna airfield and the first airfield with about 40 Zeros in escort and about 30 Zeros each carrying two 60 kg bombs.
Commander Shibata stood in front of the command post and ordered in a strong tone. “We shall now launch attacks against the enemy vessels at Cape Merkus. The Zeros equipped with bombs should release them at below 1,000 meters in altitude. The bomb-carrying Zeros shall be called a Special Attack Force (not the same as the Kamikaze special attack in later years).
Equipping my Zero with bombs and moreover releasing them at a low altitude was a totally new experience for me. The Kates and the Vals as well as the Zeros tasked for direct escort flew far ahead at about 3,000 meters. When the destination was near, the bomb-equipped Zeros released their drop tanks. It appeared that there was no enemy fighter in the sky. Vals were already commencing attacks. I could see columns of water rising or black smoke rising high from the ships hit.
Our commander banked to signal attacks. Enemy ships were so numerous that it was difficult to pick up a target to plunge at following the plane ahead of me. While descending, enemy shells exploded right and left shaking the plane violently. Sweat must have been running from my hand that gripped the control stick. Unable to choose a target despite rapid descent, I followed the plane immediately ahead of and let go of the bombs to attack the vessel that entered my gun sight. I pulled the bomb-releasing cord with all my power, took an evasive action by flying down to the right. I then looked up and joined the friendly planes. I had no idea if my bombs hit anything.
In 1984, while looking for another downed aircraft in the Arawee area a national informed me of a crashed aircraft in the water near an exposed American B25 Mitchell bomber. Over the next few years whenever I was in the area I searched for this aircraft but with out results. After 18 years or so I passed this information on to a friend of mine, Mark Reichman who is a New Tribes Mission worker living and working in Kandrian some 25 miles south east of Arawee. Mark is also a keen WWII enthusiast and an avid scuba diver. He has also located other missing aircraft in the surrounding mountains of Arawee and one has to ask if these's other aircraft are also Vals from 582 Air Group . Certainly one of his finds is a Val.
In 2001 a local informed Mark of a crashed aircraft in the water at the Arawee Islands and he would show Mark the crash site. After a number of hours of fruitles searching Mark went back to the area they had first started to search with his sons whom he then towed behind their boat with their googles and flippers. After about 45 minutes the boys started yelling. “”We found it” After anchoring and kitting up Mark then took his sons for a very exciting first dive looking at this fantastic air wreck.
Initially Mark and his sons had no idea what kind of aircraft it was but when returning home that night they looked in every book they had with a picture of an aircraft in it. Remembering some distinguishing features of the aircraft they soon decided that it must be a VAL. Mark has commented to me that having returned to the site a number of times the water has never been as clear as it was that first day.
When Mark informed me of his find and his identification of the aircraft, I decided while on a charter to the Arawee area to pay the aircraft a visit. The aircraft lies in seven meters of water and 2 miles from the outer Arawee Islands. When I first dived, the visibility was excellent for that particular area but I had no camera equipment to record the find. On examining the aircraft in detail I found that it was an Aichi D3A1 Navy Type 99 Carrier Based Bomber. She had overiously tryed to make a water landing after what appears to be battle damage and with her fixed undercarrige sumersaulted on contact with the water. She has come to rest upside down with one landing gear intact and the other sheared off, although the hydrolic ram remains. The aircraft lies on her left side with a broken back and server damage to the frount of the plane resulting in the engine tourn from its mounts and lying under the wing on the right side. Both the 7.7mm machine guns in the cocpit are badly bent resulting from the crash. Her back is also broken just behind the observer’s seat but apart from the overious damage it is fairly well intact. Both soft and hard coral has now grown around certin parts making it a coulourful dive and alive with fish life.
It was soon quite obvious that both crew members would not have survived this incident unless having bailed out prior to impact.On closer examination of the cockpit I found human remains, and at this point decided to notify the Japanese embassy in Port Moresby to see if they were interested in doing a recovery. The makers plate on the tail hook of the plane was photographed for identification as were the remains, and along with maps of the area was promptly provided to the Embassy.
As I was again in the Arawee area during May 2005 and again dived on the Val to do a feasability study for the Embassy as they had indecated that a recovery was possible, but would be at a later date. I also wanted to see if the observer was still in his conpartment and on fanning the silt away with one hand I came accross the remaining crew member not two centermeters beneth the silt. This was photographed as proof for the Embassy that the second crew member had been found.
My team then photographed the plane and the observer's remains, once again notifying the embassy of this new information. The remains of both MIAs on this wreck are in remarkable condition considering the sixty plus years they have been in the water. I believe this has been assisted by the soft silty bottom that the aircraft lays on.
Having previously found other aircraft underwater with MIA's including A9-217, An Australian Beauford with the remains of four crew members still on board that ditched after returning from a mission to Rabaul, thus resulting in a complete recovery by the RAAF of the aircraft's crew. I feel that in many circumstances remains on underwater aircraft are better preserved provided they are covered by silt or sand as was the case with A9-217, than remains on land based aircraft wrecks. This is probably due to the isolation and limited external interference of these underwater resting places.
I remain committed to seeking closure for the lost airmen particular in the water of both Allied and Axis forces in and around Papua New Guinea and I am hoping in this case that both crew menbers can be identified and next of kin notified. With the posibility of the makers plate beening located once the remains are removed I feel certin that a positive ID can be made especialy as complete records exceist for the 582 Air Group in Japan.