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Dogfight between Saburo Sakai and James Southerland August 7, 1942
Excert from Samurai! Autobiography of Japan's Fighter Ace Saburo Sakai pages 160-162

"...The Wildcat was clinging grimly to the tail of a Zero, its tracers chewing up the wings and tail. In desperation, I snapped out a burst. At once the Grumman snapped away in a roll to the right, clawed around in a tight turn, and ended up in a climb straight at my own plane. Never before had I seen an enemy plane move so quickly or gracefully before, and every second his guns were moving closer to the belly of my fighter. I snap-rolled in an effort to throw him off. He would not be shaken. He was using my favorite tactics, coming up from under.

I chopped the throttle back and the Zero shuddered as its speed fell. It worked; his timing off the enemy pilot pulled back in a turn. I slammed the throttle forward again, rolling to the left. Three times I rolled the Zero, then dropped in a spin, and came out in a left vertical spiral. The Wildcat matched me turn for turn. Our left wings pointed at a right angle to the sea below us, the right wing at the sky.

Neither of us could gain the advantage. We held to the spiral, tremendous G pressures pushing us down in our seats with every passing second. My heart pounded wildly, and my head felt as if it weighed a ton. A gray film seemed to be clouding my eyes. I gritted my teeth; if the enemy pilot could take it, so could I. The man who failed first and turned in any other direction to ease the pressure would be finished.

On the fifth spiral, the Wildcat skidded slightly, I had him, I though. But the Grumman dropped his nose, gained speed, and the pilot again had his plane in full control. There was a terrific man behind that stick.

He made his error, however, in the next moment. Instead of swing back to go into a sixth spiral, he fed power to his engine, broke away at an angle, and looped. That was the decisive split second. I went right after him, cutting inside the Grumman's arc, and came out on his tail. I had him. He kept flying loops, trying to narrow the distance of each arc. Every time he went up and around I cut inside his arc and lessened the distance between our two planes. The Zero could out fly any fighter in the world in this kind of maneuver.

When I was only fifty yards away, the Wildcat broke out of his loop and astonished me by flying straight and level. At this distance I would not need the cannon; I pumped 200 rounds into the Grumman's cockpit, watching the bullets chewing up the thin metal skin and shattering the glass.

I could not believe what I saw; the Wildcat continued flying almost as if nothing had happened. A Zero which had taken that many bullets into its vital cockpit would have been a ball of fire by now. I could not understand it. I slammed the throttle forward and closed in to the American plane, just as the enemy fighter lost speed. In a moment I was ten yards ahead of the Wildcat, trying to slow down. I hunched my shoulders, prepared for the onslaught of his guns, I was trapped.

No bullets came. The Wildcat's guns remained silent. The entire situation was unbelievable. I dropped my speed until our planes were flying wing-to-wing formation. I opened my cockpit window and stared out. The Wildcat's cockpit canopy was already back, and I could see the pilot clearly. He was a big man, with a round face. He wore a light khaki uniform. He appeared to be middle-aged, not as young as I had expected.

For several seconds, we flew along in our bizarre formation, our eyes meting across the narrow space between the two planes. The Wildcat was a shambles. Bullet holes had cut the fuselage and wings up from one end to the other. The skin of the rudder was gone, and the metal ribs stuck out like a skeleton. Now I understood his horizontal flight, and also why the pilot had not fired. Blood stained his right shoulder, and I saw the dark patch moving downwards over his chest. It was incredible that his plane was still in the air.

But this was no way to kill a man! Not with him flying helplessly, wounded, his plane a wreck. I raised my left hand and shook my fist at him shouting uselessly, I knew, for him to fight instead of flying along like a clay pigeon. The American looked startled; he raised his right hand weakly and waved.

I had never felt so strange before. I had killed many Americans in the air, but this was the first time a man had weakened in such a fashion directly before my eyes, and from the wounds I had inflicted upon him. I honestly, didn't know whether or not I should try and finish him off. Such thoughts were stupid, of course. Wounded or not, he was the enemy, and he had almost taken three of my own men a few minutes before. However, there was no reason to aim for the pilot again. I wanted the plane, not the man.

I dropped back and came again in on his tail. Somehow the American called upon a reserve of strength and the Wildcat jerked into a loop. That was it. His nose started up. I aimed carefully at the engine, and barely touched the cannon trigger. A burst of flame and smoke explode outward from the engine. The Wildcat rolled and the pilot bailed out. Far below me, almost directly over the Guadalcanal coast, his parachute opened. The pilot did not grasp the shroud lines, but hung limply in his chute. The last I saw of him he was drifting in towards the beach..."

Sakai 's autobiography Ôzora no samurai (Japanese language) originally published in 1957.

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