|Aircraft Captain PO1c Sugii Misao (rescued)
Pilot PO2c Kura Tsutomu (KIA)
Co-Pilot PO2c Isao Morita (WIA, rescued)
Ditched May 7, 1942 at 3:30pm
Built by Mitsubishi at Nagoya No.3 Works during February 1942. Painted with green upper surfaces and gray lower surfaces. Delivered to the Japanese Navy (IJN) as G4M1 Betty manufacture number 2271. Assigned to the 4th Kokutai. Tail code F-378 was painted in white on both sides of the tail with a white horizontal stripe above the code.
On May 7, 1942 one of twelve G4M1 Betty bombers that took off from Vunakanau Airfield near Rabaul armed with an aerial torpedo on a strike against the joint Australian–U. S. Navy Task Force 44 (TF 44) under the command of RAN Rear Admiral John Crace during the Battle
of the Coral Sea. The formation was led by Lt. Kuniharu Kobayashi in the lead bomber. This aircraft was part of the 2nd Chutai, 3rd Shotai, no. 2 position, the last bomber in the formation.
Over the enemy fleet, the bombers attacked 3:06pm and released their torpedoes from 1,000 to 1,500 yards, then strafed the warships. HMAS Australia maneuvered to avoid two torpedoes. USS Chicago avoided three torpedoes. None of the torpedoes hit. Three bombers were lost during the attack including Lt. Kuniharu Kobayashi.
Damaged by anti-aircraft fire that killing pilot PO2c Tsutomu and seriously wounding co-pilot PO2c Morita. Returning from the mission, this bomber successfully ditched
into Deboyne Lagoon off Panaeati Island.
On the return flight, another damaged bomber force landed at Lae Airfield. The rest of the formation landed back at Vunakanau Airfield, five with battle damage.
Fate of the Crew
Afterwards, the crew was rescued by a Japanese launch from Nivani Island. Deceased crew member PO2c Tsutomu was cremated on Nivani Island. The rest of the crew was evacuated when the Japanese withdrew from the area three days later on May 10, 1942. In 1979, local resident Timi Maru remembered the dead crew member (Tsutomu) being cremated.
The Betty ditched into shallow water with the upper half and both wingtips above the water. Afterwards, the Japanese removed the guns, radios and other salvageable materials from the aircraft. On May 8, 1942 photographed intact with the tail number visible. By May 10, 1942 abandoned by the Japanese when they withdrew from Deboyne Lagoon.
During late May 1942 and June 1, 1942 this bomber was visited by Australian Army patrols including Lt Mac Rich and Ivan Chapman. During July 1942 visited by an Australian Technical Reconnaissance Party including photographer Lindsay Smooker who photographed the wreckage including the tail number F-378 and manufacture number 2271. Likely, the team removed parts deemed to have intelligence value. In their report, this bomber was noted at "'AD6 Betty 2271".
Australian Army Lt Luetchford compiled statements from villagers at Deboyne about this bomber:
"On Friday [sic Thursday the May 7, 1942] about 3 p.m. [sic 3:30pm] a big Japanese twin engined bomber circled low over Nivani and the Japanese on the island opened fire on it and it crashed on the foreshore of Panapompom opposite the sand spit on Nivani Island. A Japanese launch went across from Nivani and picked up the crew, number unknown and it is not known whether any was killed or wounded. Guns, radio and other parts removed by Japanese."
Australian Army Lt Mac Rich, Lousiade Archipelago Patrol diary:
"Monday 1st June  – With a couple of the landing party crossed to the eastern end of Panapompom [actually Panaeati], a larger nearby island in the ships boat to inspect the remains of what had been a big two engine low wing Japanese monoplane [G4M1 Betty 2271] which had crash landed and was a proper wreck. Returned to the 'Laurabada' [MV Laurabada] and left at 11.30am, and ran round to the N.W. end of Panapompom to interview one Ah Gow, an old Chinese identity who has been living here for years, trading and beehe-de-mer fishing, and other local natives about the Japanese occupation of Nivani etc."
By July 1942, the tail section was damage, with the tail section broken off. The wreckage was moved by the Australian Army or by tides and weather onto the southern shore of Panaeati Island nearby the site of the ditching.
During 1952, the wreckage was further damaged by a cyclone.
By 1979, only the center section wreckage remains on the beach. In 2006, an engine was roughly 100' on the shore near Deboyne Lagoon. Today, little remains in situ due to the passage of time and storms.
William Bartsch Journal - August 16, 1979
Kōdōchōsho, 4 Kōkūtai - May 7, 1942
Japanese Aircraft Makers Plates and Markings, Report No. 20, March 20, 1945, page 152
Royal Australian Navy, 1942-1945 vol. II (1st edition, 1968)
G. Hermon Gill, mentions this attack:
"Admiral Crace continued towards the China Strait to ensure being to the westward of enemy vessels which might proceed south through the Louisiade Archipelago. Twenty-six minutes later, at 3:06 pm, the first attack on the force was made by twelve two-engined land-based navy bombers . It was 'most determined but fortunately badly delivered'. Torpedoes were dropped at ranges of between 1,000 and 1,500 yards, after which the aircraft flew on and fired on the ships with machine-guns and cannon. Timely and skillful handling enabled "Australia" to avoid two torpedoes which passed particularly close, and "Chicago" also cleverly avoided three well-aimed torpedoes. Five of the aircraft were shot down.
A few minutes after this attack, at 3.16 p.m., 19 heavy bombers attacked Australia from astern and up sun at a height of about 18,000 feet. Bombing was accurate. Some twenty 500-lb bombs, and several smaller, were dropped in a pattern with a spread of 500 yards, and the flagship was straddled in all directions, with her upper decks drenched with spray, though only superficial damage was suffered from bomb fragments. Casualties in the squadron as a result of these attacks were two fatally wounded in Chicago, and seven others slightly injured. These aircraft had only just gone when three more, flying at 25,000 feet, dropped bombs close to Perkins.
Crace later reported:
"It was subsequently discovered that these aircraft were U .S. Army B-26 from Townsville, and they were good enough to photograph Task Group 17.3 a few seconds after "bomb release", thus proving beyond all doubt that they had attacked their own ships. Fortunately their bombing, in comparison with that of the Japanese formation a few moments earlier, was disgraceful!" p. 49-50 [ Crace complained to Leary about the attack, and Leary replied that he had plans to improve army recognition of naval vessels. But the army air commander under General MacArthur insisted that there had been no bombing of Crace's force, declined the plans and prohibited further discussion of the matter. (Morrison, vol IV, p. 39.]"
Air'Tell Research Report "G4M Serial Numbers" by Jim Long
J-Aircraft Message Boards "Hard Luck Rikko! The Saga of Betty F-378"
Mitsubishi Type 1 Rikko 'Betty' Units of World War 2 page 41
"In the face of withering fire from the ships, the formation leader, Lt. Kuniharu Kobayashi, fell at the head of his men - three other aeroplanes followed in a fiery death. Another bomber staggered into Lae with serious damage, while the 'Tail End Charlie' of the formation, commanded by FPO1/c Misao Sugii, managed to ditch at Deboyne Reef with one crewman dead onboard and another seriously wounded. The six remaining aircraft returned to Vunakanau, five of them with damage."
Thanks to John Douglas, Osamu Tagaya, William Bartsch, Edward Rogers and Jim Lansdale for additional information.
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October 30, 2018