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552 Kōkūtai (552 Air Group)
Imperial Japanese Navy Kokutai

Background
The 552 Kōkūtai (552 Kokutai, 552 Ku) operated the Type 99 Carrier Bomber / Ku Ku Kamba (Kanbaku) / D3A Val dive bomber.

Wartime History
Late in 1943, the unit was equipped with 25 factory new D3A2 Model 22 Val dive bombers.

Between November 14-17, 1943 the unit arrived at Rabaul and also operated from Kavieng Airfield. On December 5, 1943 withdrawn to Truk for rest and recuperation for ten days until news of the Allied landing at Arawe in Western New Britain caused the unit to be ordered back into action.

On December 15, 1943 returned to Rabaul and on December 18, 1943 the unit's 20 Vals moved to Kerevat Airfield near Rabaul for combat missions against Arawe. During these missions, the 552 Kokutai suffered tremendous losses and ceased combat operations on January 25, 1944. This was the last time Val dive bombers operated from Rabaul. During December 1943, the units suffered 6 Vals shot down and suffered the loss of 12 air crews.

December 17, 1943
(IJN) 12 x D3A2 Vals from the 582nd Kokutai plus D3A2 Vals from the 552 Kokutai bomb Mercus at 7:06am local time, claiming damage to one small cargo ship, 1 sea tiger and an LVCP sunk. Plus, one small and one sea tiger burning. Also, one "P-43" [sic] shot down. Over the target, three Vals are lost. They report the American forces as APC 21, YMS 50, SC743 and 4 LSTs.

December 21, 1943 (first sortie)
(IJN) 32 x D3A2 Vals (12 x 582nd Kokutai plus 20 x 552nd Kokutai) attack Mercus between 10:55am until 11:08am and are intercepted by P-38 Lightnings.

Losses
552nd Kokutai: 3 Vals MIA
D3A2 Val pilot PO1 Ternuma, PO1 Daicku
D3A2 Val pilot PO1 Yoshida, PO1 Monita
D3A2 Val pilot CPO Muro, PO1 Yasumori

December 21, 1943 (second sortie)
18 x D3A2 Vals (9 x 552nd Kokutai and 9 x 582nd Kokutai) attack Mercus at 3:45pm and calim 3 small transports sunk, 2 x LCT sea tigers sunk and ten small vessels burned, one large transport and part of the base destroyed. 20 x "F6F" and P-40s intercept.

Losses
552nd Kokutai
D3A2 Val pilot PO1 Honda, PO1 Tashiro
Total = 1

December 26, 1943
Japanese D3A2 Vals (15 x 582 Kokutai and 12 x 552 Kokutai) attack shipping off Mercus.
552nd Kokutai Vals attacked a small vessel near Piriu Island
582nd Kokutai Vals claim 2 big cargo ships, 2 cruisers, 3 large cargo ships burning.

Losses
552nd Kokutai
D3A2 Val pilot LS Numao, observer PO1 Saruwairi **

December 27, 1943
17 D3A2 Vals (8 x 582 Kokutai, two abort plus 9 x 552 Kokutai) attack shipping off Mercus escorted by 40+ Zeros. Lost is D3A2 Val piloted by Ishisugi (MIA).
Also lost were two D3A2 Vals from the 582 Kokutai. During a 45 minute attack the Vals attack PT-190 "Jack O' Diamonds" and PT-191 "Bambi" until P-47s arrive and intercept them. The PT boat gunners claim four planes shot down with Lt. Farley reporting "Toward the end of the attack, the enemy became more and more inaccurate and less willing to close us. It is possible that we may have knocked down the squadron leader as the planes milled about in considerable confusion, as if lacking leadership."

December 29, 1943
17 Vals attack (9 x 582nd Kokutai, 8 x 552nd Kokutai) attack Mercus at 7:50pm and claim two PT Boats sunk and enemy base on island burned.

December 31, 1943
9 x Val attack Mercus at 13:15 and meet 30 fighters and claim cargo ships sunk. This was the last mission against Mercus.

During January 1944 also operated from Kavieng Airfield.

January 13, 1944
4 x Vals from 552 Kokutai took off on a night bombing mission against Mono Island. Lost is D3A2 Val 3517 (pilot KIA, gunner rescued).

On January 26, 1944 the surviving Vals and air crews withdrew to Truk and continued to operate there until the end of February 1944.

References
Kodochosho, 552 Kōkūtai, December 1943–January 1944
Japanese missions against Arawe (Cape Merkus) December 15–31, 1943

Aichi D3A2 Val losses and air crews by Justin Taylan

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