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Tainan Kōkūtai (251 Kōkūtai)
Imperial Japanese Navy Kokutai

Background
The Tainan Kokutai was formed at Taiwan Airfield in southwestern Formosa (Taiwan).

Wartime History
At the start of the Pacific War, A6M2 Zeros of the Tainan Kokutai participated in the December 8, 1941 attack on the Philippines escorting bombers over Clark Field on Luzon.

During late December, a detachment transfered to Legaspi Airfield and on January 16, 1942 transfered to Tarakan Airfield.

Next, the Tainan Kokutai transferd to Rabaul and began operating from Lakunai Airfield.

Operations from Lae Airfield against Port Moresby
As of April 1, 1942 all 4th Kokutai Zero pilots at Rabaul transfered the Tainan Kokutai. During April 1942, the unit began operating from Lae Airfield flying fighter sweeps and escort missions over Port Moresby.

During August 1942, equipped with new early model A6M3 Model 22 Zero (Hamp).

Operations from Buna Airfield
On August 22 1942 Tainan Kokutai Zeros began operating from Buna Airfield, until withdrawn by late August to early September 1942. Several Tianan Kokutai aircraft were abandoned at Buna and captured by Allied forces in late December 1942 including G6M1 Betty 209 and G6M1 Betty 613 plus A6M3 Zero 3018, A6M3 Zero 3028 and A6M3 Zero 3032. After the U. S. Army occupied Buna Airfield, Zero wreckage was transported to Eagle Farm Airfield and used in the construction of a A6M3 Hamp (Hybrid) and flight tested by the Allies.

Operations against Guadalcanal
After the August 7, 1942 American landings on Tulagi and Guadalcanal, Tainan Kokutai A6M2 Zeros took off from Lakunai Airfield near Rabaul on a mission to escort G4M1 Betty bombers from the 4th Kokutai attacking ships in Iron Bottom Sound. During the mission, A6M2 Zero V-108 piloted by Saburo Sakai shot down F4F Wildcat 5192 piloted by James "Pug" Southerland, the first American aircraft shot down over Guadalcanal. Afterwards, his Zero was damaged and he was wounded while attacking SBD Dauntless dive bombers but managed to return to base safely.

On November 1, 1942 the Tainan Kokutai was redesignated the 251 Kokutai.

Night Fighter operations over Rabaul and Southern Bougainville
During early June 1942, received their first three J1N1 Gekko / Irving reconnaissance aircraft from the 3rd Kokutai. These three aircraft were assigned tail codes V-1, V-2 and V-3. These were later reinforced with two pre-production J1N1 Gekko / Irving aircraft.

During May 1943 the 251 Kokutai received two J1N1 Gekko (Irving). These aircraft were field modified as night fighters armed with upward and downward firing 20mm cannons at Lakunai Airfield. These aircraft were flown by Shigetoshi Kudo and Satoru Ono.

On May 21, 1943 J1N1 Irving piloted by Shigetoshi Kudo was the first to test the aircraft in combat and score confirmed victories. Over Rabaul, he shot down B-17E "Honi Kuu Okole" 41-9244 and B-17E 41-9011 firing only 178 rounds of ammunition. Next on June 26, 1943 Kudo shot down B-17E "Naughty But Nice" 41-2430 and B-17F "Taxpayers Pride" 41-24448. Then on June 30, 1943 shot down B-17F "Pluto" 41-24543 and possibily B-24D 42-40254.

Click For EnlargementDuring June to July 1943, several J1N1 Irvings from 251 Kokutai operated from Ballale Airfield. On June 17, 1943 J1N1 Irving piloted by Satoru Ono shot down PB4Y 31952. On July 7, 1943 Kudo shot down Hudson NZ2033 from above. Back at Rabaul, Shigetoshi Kudo was presented a ceremonial sword by Admiral Jinichi Kusaka for his service and was credited with nine victories and known as 'King of the Night'.

Tail Code and Markings
In the South Pacific, Tainan Kokutai A6M2 / A6M3 Zeros had tail code "V-1XX" (three digits) or "V-X (one digit) for J1N2 Gekko / Irivings.

References
Samuari! by Saburo Sakai
Moonlight Interceptor details the Tainan Kokutai J1N1 Gekko / Irving operations including pilots Shigetoshi Kudo and Satoru Ono.
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
Thanks to Henry Sakaida, Osamu Tagaya and Edward Rogers for additional information

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