On the sixteenth [June, 1942] the air war exploded with renewed furry. It was a field day for our fighters, when 21 Zeros caught three enemy formations napping.
We hit the first group of twelve fighters in a massed formation dive which shattered the enemy ranks. I shot down one plane, and five other pilots each scored a victory. The remaining six enemy fighters escaped by diving.
Back at high altitude, we dove from out of the sun at a second enemy formation of twelve planes. Again we struck without warning, and our plunging pass knocked three fighters out of the air. I scored my second victory in this firing run.
A third wave of enemy planes approached even as we pulled out from the second diving attack. Some two dozen fighters came at us as we split up into two groups. Eleven Zeros dove to hit a climbing formation, and the others met us at the same height. The formation disintegrated into a tremendous free-for-all directly above the Moresby air base. The enemy planes were new P-39s faster and more maneuverable than the older models; I jumped one fighter, which amazed me by flicking out of the way every time I fired a burst. We went around in the sky in a wild dogfight, the Airacobra pilot running through spins, loops, immelmanns, dives, snap rolls, spirals and other maneuvers. The pilot was superb, and with a better airplane he might well have emerged the victor.
But I kept narrowing the distance between our two planes with snap rolls to the left and clung grimly to his tail at less than twenty yards. Two short cannon bursts and the fighter exploded into flames.
That would be my third victory for the day. The fourth, which followed almost immediately after, was ridiculously simple. A P-39 flashed in front of me, paying attention only to the pursuing Zero which zoomed upward in a desperate climb, firing as he went. The Airacobra ran directly into my fire, and I poured 200 rounds of machine gun bullets into the nose. The fighter snapped into an evading roll. I was out of cannon shells, and fired a second burst into the belly. Still it would not fall, until a third burst caught the still-rolling plane in the cockpit. The glass erupted and I saw the pilot slam forward. The P-39 fell into a spin, then dove at great speed to explode in the jungle below.
For enemy fighters in one day! That was my record to date, and it contributed to the greatest defeat ever inflicted on the enemy in a single day’s action by the Lae Wing. Our piloted claimed a total of nineteen enemy fighters definitely destroyed in the air.
On our way back, Yonekawa kept breaking formation… I understood why when he pulled along side my own plane and held up two fingers, grinning broadly. Yonekawa was no longer the untried fledgling, now he had three planes to his credit… He exuberance was infection. I waved four fingers at him, and then opened my lunch box and we drank a happy toast to one another.
The day of victory was not over yet. Hardly had our planes been refueled and our ammunition belts replaced then a spotter report came in. The B-26s were on their way to the base. They could not have chosen a worse time, for 19 fighters were off the ground before the Maruaders reached Lae. We failed to shoot any down but damaged most of the planes, and caused them to scatter their bombs wildly. During the pursuit away from Lae, ten P-39s came after us over Cape Ward Hunt, apparently in reply to the bombers’ distress calls. One Airacobra went down in flames.
Lae went wild with the victory that night. All the pilots were given extra rations of cigarettes, and the mechanics swarmed over us to share our jubilation. Even better news was the word that we were to receive five days leave at Rabaul. The cheers of the pilots shook the surrounding jungle. I was particularly relieved of the new of five days’ rest. Not only was I tired from the almost daily flights, but my mechanics wanted several days to work on my fighter. They called me over to show me the bullet holes in the wings and fuselage, and my stomach dropped when I saw a row of holes running directly behind the cockpit. They had missed me by no more than six inches.