On May 17, 1942 eighteen A6M2 Zeros of the Tainan Kokutai took off from Lae Airfield on a fighter sweep and to strafe targets at Port Moresby. On the way to the target, one Zero aborted and returned to base.
The 1st Chutai (pilot names unknown).
The 2nd Chutai was led by Tadashi Nakajima, with Hiroyoshi Nishizawa, Jnicchi Sasai, Toshio Ota, Saburo Sakai, Tsuomo Ito and Kaoru Yamaguchi. [This was the only mission when Nishizawa, Sasai and Sakai flew together on the same day over Port Moresby]. Over Port Moresby, they were intercepted by Airacobras and claimed six shot down (only one was lost and one damaged).
Over Port Moresby, the Zeros found few targets on the ground, as American aircraft were well dispersed, including A-24 dive bombers warned to leave the area. As the 2nd Chutai Zeros strafed 7-Mile Drome and 12 Mile Drome, two were damaged by .50 caliber machine gun fire from the 101st Separate Coast Artillery Battalion Antiaircraft, Automatic Weapons (AAA) emplaced around the airfields.
Returning from the mission, the two damaged Zeros were unable to climb over the Owen Stanley Mountains and were both lost. A6M2 piloted by Kaoru Yamaguchi was observed to crash. A6M2 Zero piloted by Tsuomo Ito departed the target alone and force landed unobserved. Later, he was captured and became a Prisoner Of War (POW) and survived the war. The remaining thirteen Zeros returned safely to Lae Airfield. Two Zeros landed at Salamaua Airfield and later returned to Lae Airfield.
On May 17, 1942 sixteen Airacobras of the 8th Fighter Group's 36th Fighter Squadron and 35th Fighter Squadron scrambled to intercepted the Zeros. The formation included Airacobras and pilots from the 39th Fighter Squadron and 40th Fighter Squadron.
During the air combat, P-39F 41-7122 piloted by 2nd Lt.
Jessie M. Bland was damaged and ditched, pilot rescued. P-39 Airacobra piloted by Brown was damaged by a 20mm cannon but managed to land at 30 Mile Drome under construction. The Americans made extensive claims for Zeros shot down. The claims included Lt. Harvey J. Scandrett who was officially credited with a victory.
Kodochosho, Tainan Kōkūtai, May 17, 1942
War Diary 1942: page 56
"Moresby raided by nine Zeros. They were driven off the target at the drome and strafed all along the Laloki Valley, as we had long expected."
C.O.I.C. Intelligence Resume to 1100Z/18/5/42
Australia Station - Sightings and Reports 17/5/42
"(a) Sightings etc. New Guinea Area 17/5 - [?]
BUNA reported unidentified aircraft, probably 9, flying SW. 0944K KIKODA " large enemy force heading P/M at 0956K/17
(b) RAID 51 PORT MORESBY 0014Z to 0027Z/17 by 9 Zero fighters. Approached from North, came down on NW end 7-Mile drome and 8 P39's and 7 P400's intercepted and prevented further strafing although further attempts were made to strafe Bomana drome and shipping in harbor - .5 A/A Bomana scored shots on 2 Zeros which were seen smoking when going away to NW. .5 A/A TUAGUSA [?] also engaged Zeros attempting to straff shipping in harbour.
1 Zero shot down (confirmed)
1 P39 shot down in BOOTLESS INLET pilot safe. (injured) [P-39F 41-7122 piloted by Bland]
1 P39 forced landed RORONA - pilot safe [P-39 Airacobra piloted by Brown, damaged]
1 P400 " " BEAGLE [?] BAY - pilot safe [?]"
40th Fighter / Flight Test Squadron Association - Organization via WayBack Machine July 23, 2008
"Lt. Harvey J. Scandrett had scored the first victory for the 40th while on TDY with another unit on 17 May."
USAF Aerial Victory Credit List - Scandrett, Harvey J. - May 17, 1942 page 173
Come What Will
A Chronicle of Georgia's 101st Separate Coast Artillery Battalion Antiaircraft, Automatic Weapons
Thanks to Edward Rogers for additional information.