|Pilot Sgt Iwao Tahata (WIA, survived)
Crashed December 22, 1943
Born in Tokyo on May 7, 1921. He entered the Army Aviation School in 1938, graduating March 25, 1941. In April 1941, he was assigned to the 13th Sentai at Kakogawa and trained at Kashiwa. Assigned to the 68th Sentai in April 1942 at Harbin Airfield. In February, transferred to Akeno Airfield and converted to the Ki-61. On April 3, 1943 boards Taiyo at Yokosuka as a passenger, arrives at Truk April 10, 1943. On July 15, 1943 Tahata flew a Ki-61 Tony southward to Rabaul then to Boram Airfield near Wewak. He flew combat missions over New Guinea.
Built by Kawasaki. Assigned to the Japanese Army Air Force (JAAF). Assigned to the 68th Sentai, 3rd Chutai. Assigned aircraft number 56. No known nickname or nose art.
On December 22, 1943 took off from Boram Airfield near Wewak scrambling to intercept American aircraft inbound against the Wewak area. Akinori Motoyama led the formation of four Ki-61s, his his wing man was Corporal Katsumi Furuhashi. Tahata was 2nd section leader and Corporal Shoji Oakada was his wing man. Their formation proceeded to 3,000m in the direction of the enemy bases, but saw no aircraft.
Turing back they saw smoke from the attack and returned to Wewak, and attacked several P-38s strafing the ground. Others P-38s then attacked them. Hit, Tahata's aircraft caught fire and flames entered the cockpit while the plane spun earthward. He managed to bail out and became caught in a large tree. Also lost is Ki-61 piloted by Motoyama.
Fates of the pilot
Burned on the face, legs and right arm, Tahata managed to pull himself to the tree trunk and descend to the ground. After spending three nights alone in the jungle, he met native people who took him to a rescue party from the 78th Sentai searching for another pilot, Major Akira Takatsuki. Returning to Wewak on December 26, Tahata was hospitalized at the field hospital and later transported to Manila for further hospitalization.
Japanese Defense Archives Library booklet "A Desperate Struggle in the Jungle" by Tabata
Attack & Conquer pages 135-136
Thanks to Henry Sakaida and Koji Takaki for additional information
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June 6, 2019