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Shigetoshi Kudo
251st Kokutai J1N1 Gekko Night Fighter Pilot
Research by Justin Taylan

Background
Shigetoshi Kudo was born in 1920 in Oita Prefecture. He joined the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1937. Kudo's first assignment was as a mechanic, then a reconnaissance pilot before being assigned to the Tainan Kokutai in October 1941.

Wartime History
At the start of the Pacific War, Kudo flew combat missions over the Philippines and Dutch East Indies.

August 29, 1942 - Victory and probable claim dropping aerial bomb
Click For EnlargementOn August 29, 1942 took off piloting a C5M Babs on a mission to intercept a formation of eight B-17s. Climbing above their formation to an altitude of 7,500m and dropped an aerial burst bomb (Sango aerial burst bomb). He aimed for the B-17s on the left of the formation and claimed to have hit both that bomber and the no. 2 plane, claiming it caught fire and went down while the no. 1 bomber went into the clouds. He was awarded a definite and a probable claim. American records do not show any B-17 losses on this date.

Click For EnlargementOn November 1, 1942 the Tainan Kokutai was redesignated the 251 Kokutai. During May 1943 the unit received two J1N1 Gekko (Irving). These aircraft were field modified as night fighters armed with upward and downward firing 20mm cannons. Flying from Lakunai Airfield near Rabaul, Kudo was the first to test the aircraft in combat, flying with Lt(jg) Akira Sugawara as observer. He would become the first Pacific night fighter ace. Another night fighter pilot who flew from Rabaul was Satoru Ono.

May 21, 1943 - Double victory using upward firing 20mm cannons
On May 21, 1943 took off from Lakunai Airfield at Rabaul on a night patrol mission. Flying below enemy bombers and using the upward firing oblique 20mm cannons, he shot down B-17E "Honi Kuu Okole" 41-9244 (his first confirmed victory with upward firing cannons) and later that same night B-17E 41-9011. He returned to base at 5:35am, having fired a total of 178 rounds of ammunition.

June 26, 1943 - Double victory using upward firing 20mm cannons
On June 26, 1943 took off from Lakunai Airfield at Rabaul on a night patrol mission. Flying from below and using his Gekko's upward firing 20mm cannons Kudo fired a total of 164 rounds of 20mm cannon ammunition and shot down two enemy bombers: B-17E "Naughty But Nice" 41-2430 and B-17F "Taxpayers Pride" 41-24448.

June 30, 1943 - B-17 victory and B-24 probable
On June 30, 1943 took off from Lakunai Airfield at Rabaul on a night patrol mission. During the flight, he shoot down B-17F "Pluto" 41-24543 and observes it crash into the mountains southeast of Cape Lambert. This was his fifth B-17 victory. He also claims a probable claim for a B-24, possibly B-24D 42-40254 that sent Missing In Action (MIA) on the same mission.

During July, Kudo flew from Lakunai Airfield southward to Ballale Airfield to fly patrol missions over the Shortlands and southern Bougainville area.

Click For EnlargementJuly 7, 1943 - Last confirmed aerial victory
On July 7, 1943 took off from Ballale Airfield on an evening patrol with Akira Sugawara as observer. Their Gekko used their two downward pointing 20mm cannons. This required Kudo to approach Hudson NZ2033 unseen from above and behind and then firing when in position 30°  above the Hudson's fore-aft axis (allowing for deflection). The Hudson was set on fire and crash, his last verifiable and confirmed victory.

Click For EnlargementDuring July 1943, he was presented with a ceremonial sword by Admiral Jinichi Kusaka (C.O., 11th Air Fleet) at Lakunai Airfield at Rabaul to recognize his air service. In total, he was credited with nine victories and known as 'King of the Night'. He was photographed by Japanese war correspondent Hajima Yoshida.

During February 1944, he was transferred to Japan with the Yokosuka Kokutai. During May 1945, he was severely wounded during a landing accident and hospitalized.

Memorial
Postwar, Kudo lived in Japan. He passed away during 1960.

Aerial victory claims in C5M Babs
1. August 29, 1942 - B-17 claimed using aerial burst bomb

Probable claims in C5M Babs
P. August 29, 1942 - B-17 claimed using aerial burst bomb

Confirmed Night Fighter Victories
1. May 21, 1943 - B-17E "Honi Kuu Okole" 41-9244 shot down from below with upward firing cannons
2. May 21, 1943 - B-17E 41-9011 shot down from below with upward firing cannons
3. June 13, 1943 B-17E "Georgia Peach" 41-24454 shot down from below with upward firing cannons
4. June 26, 1943 B-17E "Naughty But Nice" 41-2430 shot down from below with upward firing cannons
5. June 26, 1943 B-17F "Taxpayers Pride" 41-24448 shot down from below with upward firing cannons
6. June 30, 1943 B-17F "Pluto" 41-24543 shot down and observed to crash
7. July 7, 1943 RNZAF Hudson NZ2033 shot down from above with downward firing cannons

Probable claims in J1N1 Gekko
P. June 30, 1943 probable claim for a B-24, likely B-24D 42-40254 (MIA)

References
Kodochosho, Tainan Kōkūtai, August 29, 1942
Kodochosho, 251 Kōkūtai, May 21, 1943
Kodochosho, 251 Kōkūtai, June 13, 1943
Kodochosho, 251 Kōkūtai, June 26, 1943
Kodochosho, 251 Kōkūtai, June 30, 1943
Kodochosho, 251 Kōkūtai, July 7, 1943
Moonlight Interceptor covers Kudo's victories.
Naval Night Fighters by Yoji Watanabe 28 - 45
Imperial Japanese Navy Aces 1937-45 by Henry Sakaida page 49 - 50
The Siege of Rabaul by Henry Sakaida page 38 - 41
70,000 to One by Quentin James Reynolds page 8
Thanks to Henry Sakaida, Osamu Tagaya and Edward Rogers for additional information

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