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Saburō Sakai

Sub-Lieutenant Saburō Sakai (坂井 三郎, Sakai Saburō, 25 August 1916 – 22 September 2000) was a Japanese naval aviator and flying ace ("Gekitsui-O",撃墜王) of the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II. Sakai had 28-64 aerial victories (including shared) by official Japanese records, while his autobiography Samurai!, co-written by Martin Caidin and Fred Saito, claims 64 aerial victories. Such discrepancies are common, and pilots' official scores are often lower than those claimed by the pilots themselves, due to difficulties in providing appropriate witnesses or verifying wreckage, and variations in military reports due to loss or destruction.

Saburō Sakai (坂井 三郎)
Sakai in the cockpit of a Mitsubishi A5M Type 96 fighter (Hankow airfield, China in 1939)
Nickname(s)Sky Samurai
Born(1916-08-25)25 August 1916
Saga, Japan
Died22 September 2000(2000-09-22) (aged 84)
Atsugi Naval Air Station, Japan
AllegianceEmpire of Japan
Service/branchImperial Japanese Navy Air Service (IJN)
Years of service1933–45
RankNavy Lieutenant
UnitTainan Air Group
Yokosuka Air Wing
Battles/warsSecond Sino-Japanese War

Pacific War

Contents

Saburō Sakai was born on 25 August 1916 in Saga in Japan. Sakai was born into a family with immediate affiliation to samurai and their warrior legacies and whose ancestors (themselves samurai) had taken part in the Japanese invasions of Korea between 1592 and 1598, but who were later forced to take up a livelihood of farming following haihan-chiken in 1871. He was the third-born of four sons (his given name literally means "third son"), and had three sisters. Sakai was 11 when his father died, leaving his mother alone to raise seven children. With limited resources, Sakai was adopted by his maternal uncle, who financed his education in a Tokyo high school. However, Sakai failed to do well in his studies and was sent back to Saga after his second year.


On 31 May 1933 at the age of 16, Sakai enlisted in the Japanese Navy as a Sailor Fourth Class (Seaman Recruit) (四等水兵). Sakai described his experiences as a naval recruit:

Sakai posing in front of the hinomaru on his Mitsubishi A5M Type 96 fighter (Wuhan, 1939).
"The petty officers would not hesitate to administer the severest beatings to recruits they felt deserving of punishment. Whenever I committed a breach of discipline or an error in training, I was dragged physically from my cot by a petty officer. 'Stand tall to the wall! Bend down, Recruit Sakai!' he would roar. 'I am not doing this because I hate you, but because I like you and want you to make a good seaman. Bend down!' And with that he would swing a large stick of wood and with every ounce of strength he possessed would slam it against my upturned bottom. The pain was terrible, the force of the blows unremitting."

After completing his training the following year, Sakai graduated as a Sailor Third Class (Ordinary Seaman) (三等水兵). He then served aboard the battleship Kirishima for one year. In 1935, he successfully passed the competitive examinations for the Naval Gunners' School. Sakai was promoted to Sailor Second Class (Able Seaman) (二等水兵) in 1936, and served on the battleship Haruna as a turret gunner. He received successive promotions to Sailor First Class (Leading Seaman) (一等水兵) and to Petty Officer Third Class (三等兵曹). In early 1937, he applied for and was accepted into the navy pilot training program. He graduated first in his class at Tsuchiura in 1937 and earned a silver watch, presented to him by Emperor Hirohito himself. Sakai graduated as a carrier pilot, although he was never assigned to aircraft-carrier duty. One of Sakai's classmates was Jūzō Mori, who graduated as a carrier pilot and served on the Japanese aircraft carrier Sōryū flying Nakajima B5N torpedo bombers early in the war.

Promoted to Petty Officer Second Class (二等兵曹) in 1938, Sakai took part in aerial combat flying the Mitsubishi A5M at the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1938–1939 and was wounded in action. Later, Sakai was selected to fly the Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero fighter in combat over China.

Southeast Asia

Saburō Sakai as a petty officer wearing life jacket
Saburo Sakai posing in front of a bomber aircraft

When Japan attacked the Western Allies in 1941, Sakai participated in the attack on the Philippines as a member of the Tainan Air Group. On 8 December 1941, Sakai flew one of 45 Zeros from the Tainan Kōkūtai (a Kōkūtai was an Air Group) that attacked Clark Air Base in the Philippines. In his first combat against Americans, he shot down a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk and destroyed two B-17 Flying Fortresses by strafing them on the ground. Sakai flew missions the next day during heavy weather.

On the third day of the battle, Sakai claimed to have shot down a B-17 flown by Captain Colin P. Kelly. Sakai, who has often been credited with the victory, was a Shotai leader engaged in this fight with the bomber, although he and his two wingmen do not appear to have been given official credit for it.

Early in 1942, Sakai was transferred to Tarakan Island in Borneo and fought in the Dutch East Indies. The Japanese high command instructed fighter patrols to down all enemy aircraft encountered, whether they were armed or not. On a patrol with his Zero over Java, just after shooting down an enemy aircraft, Sakai encountered a civilian Dutch Douglas DC-3 flying at low altitude over dense jungle. Sakai initially assumed it was transporting important people and signaled to its pilot to follow him; the pilot did not obey. Sakai descended and approached the DC-3. He then saw a blonde woman and a young child through a window, along with other passengers. The woman reminded him of Mrs. Martin, an American who occasionally had taught him as a child in middle school and had been kind to him. He ignored his orders and flew ahead of the pilot, signaling him to go ahead. The pilot and passengers saluted him. Sakai did not mention the encounter in the aerial combat report.

During the Borneo campaign, Sakai achieved 13 more victories before he was grounded by illness. When he recovered three months later in April, Petty Officer First Class Sakai joined a squadron (chutai) of the Tainan Kōkūtai under Sub-Lieutenant Junichi Sasai at Lae, New Guinea. Over the next four months, he scored the majority of his victories, flying against American and Australian pilots based at Port Moresby.

On the night of 16 May, Sakai and his colleagues, Hiroyoshi Nishizawa and Toshio Ota, were listening to a broadcast of an Australian radio program, when Nishizawa recognized the eerie "Danse Macabre" of Camille Saint-Saëns. Inspired by this, Nishizawa came up with the idea of doing demonstration loops over the enemy airfield. The next day, his squadron included fellow aces Hiroyoshi Nishizawa and Toshio Ōta. At the end of an attack on Port Moresby that had involved 18 Zeros, the trio performed three tight loops in close formation over the allied air base. Nishizawa indicated he wanted to repeat the performance. Diving to 6,000 ft (1,800 m), the three Zeros did three more loops, without receiving any AA fire from the ground. The following day, a lone Allied bomber flew over the Lae airfield and dropped a note attached to a long cloth ribbon. A soldier picked up the note and delivered to the squadron commander. It read (paraphrased): "Thank you for the wonderful display of aerobatics by three of your pilots. Please pass on our regards and inform them that we will have a warm reception ready for them, next time they fly over our airfield". The squadron commander was furious and reprimanded the three pilots for their stupidity, but the Tainan Kōkūtai's three leading aces felt Nishizawa's aerial choreography of the "Danse Macabre" had been worth it.

Pacific Theater

On 3 August 1942, Sakai's air group was relocated from Lae to the airfield at Rabaul.

Sakai in flightsuit

On 7 August, word arrived that U.S. Marines had landed that morning on Guadalcanal. The initial Allied landings captured an airfield, later named Henderson Field by the Allies, that had been under construction by the Japanese. The airfield soon became the focus of months of fighting during the Guadalcanal Campaign, as it enabled U.S. airpower to hinder the Japanese attempts at resupplying their troops. The Japanese made several attempts to retake Henderson Field, resulting in continuous, almost daily air battles for the Tainan Kōkūtai.

U.S. Marines flying Grumman F4F Wildcats from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal were using a new aerial combat tactic, the "Thach Weave", developed in 1941 by the U.S. Navy aviators John Thach and Edward O'Hare. The Japanese Zero pilots flying out of Rabaul were initially confounded by the tactic. Saburō Sakai described their reaction to the Thach Weave when they encountered Guadalcanal Wildcats using it:

For the first time Lt. Commander Tadashi Nakajima encountered what was to become a famous double-team maneuver on the part of the enemy. Two Wildcats jumped on the commander's plane. He had no trouble in getting on the tail of an enemy fighter, but never had a chance to fire before the Grumman's team-mate roared at him from the side. Nakajima was raging when he got back to Rabaul; he had been forced to dive and run for safety.

On 7 August, Sakai and three pilots shot down an F4F Wildcat flown by James "Pug" Southerland, who by the end of the war became an ace with five victories. Sakai, who did not know Southerland's guns had jammed, recalled the duel in his autobiography:

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.

They were soon engaged in a skillfully maneuvered dogfight. After an extended battle in which both pilots gained and lost the upper hand, Sakai shot down Southerland's Wildcat, striking it below the left wing root with his 20 mm cannon. Southerland parachuted to safety.

Sakai was amazed at the Wildcat's ruggedness:

I had full confidence in my ability to destroy the Grumman and decided to finish off the enemy fighter with only my 7.7 mm machine guns. I turned the 20 mm cannon switch to the 'off' position and closed in. For some strange reason, even after I had poured about five or six hundred rounds of ammunition directly into the Grumman, the airplane did not fall, but kept on flying. I thought this very odd — it had never happened before — and closed the distance between the two airplanes until I could almost reach out and touch the Grumman. To my surprise, the Grumman's rudder and tail were torn to shreds, looking like an old torn piece of rag. With his plane in such condition, no wonder the pilot was unable to continue fighting! A Zero which had taken that many bullets would have been a ball of fire by now.

Not long after he downed Southerland, Sakai was attacked by a lone Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber flown by Lt. Dudley Adams of Scouting Squadron 71 (VS-71) from USS Wasp. Adams scored a near miss, sending a bullet through Sakai's canopy, but Sakai quickly gained the upper hand and succeeded in downing Adams. Adams bailed out and survived, but his gunner, R3/c Harry Elliot, was killed in the encounter. According to Saburō Sakai this was his 60th victory.

Serious wounds

Shortly after shooting down Southerland and Adams, Sakai spotted a flight of eight aircraft orbiting near Tulagi. Believing they were another group of Wildcats, Sakai approached them from below and behind, aiming to catch them by surprise. However, he soon realised that he had made a mistake - the planes were in fact carrier-based bombers with rear-mounted machine guns. Despite this realisation, he had progressed too far into the attack to back off, and had no choice but to see it through.

In Sakai's account of the battle, he identifies the aircraft as Grumman TBF Avengers - he stated he could clearly see the enclosed top turret. He claimed to have shot down two of the Avengers (his 61st and 62nd victories) before return fire struck his plane. These kills were seemingly verified by the three Zero pilots following him, although no Avengers were reported lost that day.

However, according to US Navy records, only one formation of bombers reported fighting Zeros under these circumstances. This was a group of eight SBD Dauntlesses from Enterprise, led by Lt Carl Horenberger of Bombing Squadron 6 (VB-6). The SBD crews reported being attacked by two Zeros, one of which came in from directly astern and flew into the concentrated fire from their rear-mounted twin 7.62 mm (0.3 in) .30 AN/M2 guns. The rear gunners claimed the Zero as a kill when it dove away in distress, in return for two planes damaged (one seriously).

Whatever the case, Sakai sustained serious injuries from the bombers' return fire. He was hit in the head by a .30 caliber bullet, injuring his skull and temporarily paralyzing the left side of his body. (The wound is described elsewhere as having destroyed the metal frame of his goggles, and having "creased" his skull, a glancing blow which broke the skin and made a furrow in, or even cracked the skull, but did not actually penetrate it). Shattered glass from the canopy temporarily blinded him in his right eye and reduced vision in his left eye severely. The Zero rolled inverted and descended toward the sea. Unable to see out of his left eye due to glass and blood from his serious head wound, Sakai's vision started to clear somewhat as tears cleared the blood from his eyes, and he was able to pull his plane out of the dive. He considered ramming an American warship: "If I must die, at least I could go out as a Samurai. My death would take several of the enemy with me. A ship. I needed a ship." Finally, the cold air blasting into the cockpit revived him enough to check his instruments, and he decided that by leaning the fuel mixture he might be able to return to the airfield at Rabaul.

Rabaul, 8 August 1942: A seriously wounded Sakai returns to Rabaul with his damaged Zero after a four-hour, 47-minute flight over 560 nmi (1,040 km; 640 mi). Sakai's skull was penetrated by a machine-gun bullet and he was blind in one eye, but insisted on making his mission report before accepting medical treatment.

Although in agony from his injuries Sakai managed to fly his damaged Zero in a four-hour, 47-minute flight over 560 nmi (1,040 km; 640 mi) back to his base on Rabaul, using familiar volcanic peaks as guides. When he attempted to land at the airfield he nearly crashed into a line of parked Zeros but, after circling four times, and with the fuel gauge reading empty, he put his Zero down on the runway on his second attempt. After landing, he insisted on making his mission report to his superior officer before collapsing. His squadron mate Hiroyoshi Nishizawa drove him to a surgeon. Sakai was evacuated to Japan on 12 August, where he endured a long surgery without anesthesia. The surgery repaired some of the damage to his head, but was unable to restore full vision to his right eye. Nishizawa visited Sakai while he recuperated in the Yokosuka hospital in Japan.

Recovery and return

After his discharge from the hospital in January 1943, Sakai spent a year training new fighter pilots. With Japan clearly losing the air war, he prevailed upon his superiors to let him fly in combat again. In November 1943, Sakai was promoted to the rank of flying warrant officer (飛行兵曹長). In April 1944, he was transferred to Yokosuka Air Wing, which was deployed to Iwo Jima.

On 24 June 1944, Sakai approached a formation of 15 U.S. Navy Grumman F6F Hellcat fighters which he had mistakenly assumed were friendly Japanese aircraft. William A. McCormick saw four Hellcats on the Zero's tail, but decided not to get involved. Despite facing superior enemy aircraft, Sakai demonstrated his skill and experience by eluding the attacks and returning to his airfield unscathed.

Sakai claimed to have never lost a wingman in combat, but he lost at least two over Iwo Jima.

Sakai said he was ordered to lead a kamikaze mission on 5 July, but he failed to find the U.S. task force. He was engaged by Hellcat fighters near the task force's reported position, and all but one of the Nakajima B6N2 "Jill" torpedo bombers in his flight were shot down. Sakai managed to shoot down one Hellcat, then escaped the umbrella of enemy aircraft by flying into a cloud. Rather than follow meaningless orders, in worsening weather and gathering darkness, Sakai led his small formation back to Iwo Jima. However, according to the aerial combat report, his mission was to escort bombers to and from their targets, and the afternoon of 24 June was the day Sakai joined the attack on the U.S. task force.[clarification needed]

In August 1944, Sakai was commissioned an ensign (少尉). After he was transferred to 343rd Air Group, he returned to the Yokosuka Air Wing again.

About the same time, Sakai married his cousin Hatsuyo, who asked him for a dagger so she could kill herself if he fell in battle. His autobiography, Samurai!, ends with Hatsuyo throwing away the dagger after Japan's surrender, saying she no longer needed it.

Saburo Sakai participated in the IJNAS's last wartime mission, attacking two reconnaissance Consolidated B-32 Dominators on 18 August, which were conducting photo-reconnaissance and testing Japanese compliance with the cease-fire. He initially misidentified the planes as Boeing B-29 Superfortresses. Both aircraft returned to their base at Yontan Airfield, Okinawa. His encounter with the B-32 Dominators in the IJNAS's final mission was not included in Samurai!.

Sakai was promoted to sub-lieutenant (中尉) after the war ended.

Sakai's A6M2 Zero, tail code V-173, preserved at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra

After the war, Sakai retired from the Navy. He became a Buddhist acolyte - vowing to never again kill anything that lived, not even a mosquito.

Likewise, although Japan had been defeated in the Second World War with great loss of life, Sakai serenely accepted this outcome: "Had I been ordered to bomb Seattle or Los Angeles in order to end the war, I wouldn't have hesitated. So I perfectly understand why the Americans bombed Nagasaki and Hiroshima."

Times were difficult for Sakai: he had trouble finding a job; Hatsuyo died in 1947. He remarried in 1952 and started a printing shop.

Sakai sent his daughter to college in the United States "to learn English and democracy."

Sakai visited the US and met many of his former adversaries, including Harold "Lew" Jones, the rear-seat gunner who had wounded him.

Following a US Navy formal dinner in 2000 at Atsugi Naval Air Station where he had been an honored guest, Sakai died of a heart attack at the age of 84.

Saburo Sakai was survived by his second wife Haru, two daughters, and a son.

Book

Claims have been made that his autobiography Samurai! includes fictional stories, and that the number of kills specified in that work were increased to promote sales of the book by Martin Caidin. The book was not published in Japan and differs from his biographies there.

Film

The 1976 movie Zero Pilot dramatized Saburo Sakai's experiences as a WWII fighter pilot. In it, Sakai is portrayed by the actor Hiroshi Fujioka. The screenplay is based on Sakai's book Samurai!.

Notes

  1. Sakai saburo research book, pp.277.
  2. Sakai, Saburo (1985). Samurai!. Bantam. p. 2. "I was at the time the leading live ace of my country, with an official total of sixty-four enemy planes shot down in aerial combat.".
  3. Sakai 1985, p. 1, 3.
  4. Forquer, John A. "The Kamikaze: Samurai Warrior, A New Appraisal." globalsecurity.org. Retrieved: 5 April 2015.
  5. Mori. 2015 Foreword.
  6. "A6M2b Zero Model 21 - Saburō Sakai, V-107, Tainan Kōkūtai." imageshack.us. Retrieved: 5 April 2015.
  7. Shores, Cull and Izawa 1992, p. 182.
  8. Interview from April 2000 Archived June 6, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  9. Japan Center for Asian Historical Record, Tainan Air Group action report Reference code C08051602100.
  10. "V-173, a Mitsubishi Zero A6M2, flown by Sakai during summer of 1942." Archived 2012-02-04 at the Wayback Machine militaryimages.net. Retrieved: 9 April 2015.
  11. Guttman, Jon. "Hiroyoshi Nishizawa: Japan's World War II Ace of Aces." historynet.com, 12 June 2006 (originally published in Aviation History, July 1998 issue). Retrieved: 27 December 2015.
  12. "Naval Aviation News" July/August 1993 Archived June 19, 2006, at the Wayback Machine Archived copy at the Library of Congress (April 10, 2010).
  13. Sakai, S. "Samurai!" p. 160-162
  14. "Dogfight with James Southerland flying F4F Wildcat." Pacific Wrecks. Retrieved: April 5, 2015.
  15. Saburo Sakai: "Zero"
  16. Sakaida 1985, pp. 74-75.
  17. Sakai et al. 1978[page needed]
  18. Winged Samurai, pp. 74-76.
  19. Stafford, The Big E, p.134; Hammel, Carrier Clash, pp.69-70; Lundstrom, The First Team and the Guadalcanal Campaign, p.56; Basic report in Enterprise Action Report for August 7, 1942 (Flight 319)
  20. "[permanent dead link][dead link]
  21. "Original flight helmet Sakai wore on his fateful mission when he was wounded." www.j-aircraft.com. Retrieved: April 5, 2015.
  22. Hards, Scott."An afternoon with Saburo Sakai." warbirdforum.com, 1998. Retrieved: 9 April 2015.
  23. Sakaida 1985.[page needed]
  24. Japan Center for Asian Historical Record, Yokosuka Air Group action report Reference code C13120487500.
  25. Sakaida 1998.[page needed]
  26. "REL/08378 - Mitsubishi A6M2 Model 21 Zero Fighter Aircraft: Japanese Navy Air Force." Archived 2012-03-25 at the Wayback Machine Australian War Memorial. Retrieved" 13 April 2012.
  27. Pike, Francis. Hirohitos War (The Pacific War, 1941-1945), p. 449
  28. Taylan, Justin R. "Saburo Sakai and Harold 'Lew' Jones meet on Memorial Day 1982. Sakai holds his tattered and damaged flight helmet from his near fatal mission to Guadalcanal." Pacific Wrecks, 26 October 2012. Retrieved: 5 April 2015.
  29. [1] The New York Times 8 October 2000.
  30. Kodachi 2010, pp. 315-325.
  31. <https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074370/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1>

Bibliography

  • Hammel, Eric. Carrier Clash: The Invasion of Guadalcanal & The Battle of the Eastern Solomons, August 1942. St Paul, Minnesota: Zenith Press, 2004. ISBN 0-7603-2052-7.
  • King, Dan. The Last Zero Fighter, Firsthand Accounts from WWII Japanese Fighter Pilots. Oakland, California: Pacific Press, 2012. ISBN 978-1-4681-7880-7.
  • Kodachi, Naoki. Fighters of Our Grandfathers (in Japanese). Tokyo: Kodansha Ltd., 2010. ISBN 978-4-0621-6302-6.
  • Leckie, Robert. Challenge for the Pacific: Guadalcanal: the Turning Point of the War. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1968. ISBN 0-306-80911-7.
  • Lundstrom, John B. The First Team and the Guadalcanal Campaign: Naval Fighter Combat from August to November 1942. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1994. ISBN 1-55750-526-8.
  • Mori, Juzo. The Miraculous Torpedo Squadron. Kindle Edition, 2015 ASIN B00THSCSS8.
  • Ruffato, Luca and Michael J Claringbould. Eagles of the Southern Sky: The Tainan Air Group in WWII, Volume One: New Guinea. Tainan City, Taiwan: Tainan Books, 2014. ISBN 978-0-473-21763-1.
  • Sakaida, Henry. "Osprey Aircraft of the Aces No. 22 - Imperial Japanese Navy Aces 1937-45" London: Osprey Publishing, 1998. ISBN 978-1-8553-2727-6.
  • Sakaida, Henry. Winged Samurai: Saburo Sakai and the Zero Fighter Pilots. Phoenix, Arizona: Champlin Fighter Museum, 1985, ISBN 0-912173-05-X.
  • Sakai, Saburo, Martin Caidin and Fred Saito. Samurai!. New York: Bantam, 1978. ISBN 978-0-5531-1035-7.
  • Sakai, Saburo. Sakai saburo kusen kiroku, Volume 1 (in Japanese). Tokyo: Kodansha, 1995. ISBN 978-4-0625-6087-0.
  • Shores, Christopher, Brian Cull and Yasuho Izawa. Bloody Shambles: Volume One: The Drift to War to the Fall of Singapore. London: Grub Street, 1992. ISBN 0-948817-50-X.
  • Stafford, Edward P. The Big E: The Story of the USS Enterprise. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1962. ISBN 1-55750-998-0.
  • Yositake, Kori. Saburo Sakai (in Japanese). Tokyo: Kojinsha, 2009. ISBN 978-4-7698-1442-9.
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Saburō Sakai
Saburō Sakai Article Talk Language Watch Edit 160 160 Redirected from Saburo Sakai Sub Lieutenant Saburō Sakai 坂井 三郎 Sakai Saburō 25 August 1916 22 September 2000 was a Japanese naval aviator and flying ace Gekitsui O 撃墜王 of the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II Sakai had 28 64 aerial victories including shared by official Japanese records 1 while his autobiography Samurai co written by Martin Caidin and Fred Saito claims 64 aerial victories 2 Such discrepancies are common and pilots official scores are often lower than those claimed by the pilots themselves due to difficulties in providing appropriate witnesses or verifying wreckage and variations in military reports due to loss or destruction Saburō Sakai 坂井 三郎 Sakai in the cockpit of a Mitsubishi A5M Type 96 fighter Hankow airfield China in 1939 Nickname s Sky SamuraiBorn 1916 08 25 25 August 1916 Saga JapanDied22 September 2000 2000 09 22 aged 84 Atsugi Naval Air Station JapanAllegianceEmpire of JapanService wbr branchImperial Japanese Navy Air Service IJN Years of service1933 45RankNavy LieutenantUnitTainan Air Group Yokosuka Air WingBattles warsSecond Sino Japanese War Battle of Wuhan Battle of Chongqing Chengdu Pacific War New Guinea campaign Solomon Islands campaign Contents 1 Early life 2 Service in World War II 2 1 Southeast Asia 2 2 Pacific Theater 2 3 Serious wounds 2 4 Recovery and return 3 Back to civilian life 4 In popular culture 4 1 Book 4 2 Film 5 References 6 External linksEarly life EditSaburō Sakai was born on 25 August 1916 in Saga in Japan Sakai was born into a family with immediate affiliation to samurai and their warrior legacies and whose ancestors themselves samurai had taken part in the Japanese invasions of Korea between 1592 and 1598 but who were later forced to take up a livelihood of farming following haihan chiken in 1871 3 He was the third born of four sons his given name literally means third son and had three sisters Sakai was 11 when his father died leaving his mother alone to raise seven children With limited resources Sakai was adopted by his maternal uncle who financed his education in a Tokyo high school However Sakai failed to do well in his studies and was sent back to Saga after his second year On 31 May 1933 at the age of 16 Sakai enlisted in the Japanese Navy as a Sailor Fourth Class Seaman Recruit 四等水兵 Sakai described his experiences as a naval recruit Sakai posing in front of the hinomaru on his Mitsubishi A5M Type 96 fighter Wuhan 1939 The petty officers would not hesitate to administer the severest beatings to recruits they felt deserving of punishment Whenever I committed a breach of discipline or an error in training I was dragged physically from my cot by a petty officer Stand tall to the wall Bend down Recruit Sakai he would roar I am not doing this because I hate you but because I like you and want you to make a good seaman Bend down And with that he would swing a large stick of wood and with every ounce of strength he possessed would slam it against my upturned bottom The pain was terrible the force of the blows unremitting 4 After completing his training the following year Sakai graduated as a Sailor Third Class Ordinary Seaman 三等水兵 He then served aboard the battleship Kirishima for one year In 1935 he successfully passed the competitive examinations for the Naval Gunners School Sakai was promoted to Sailor Second Class Able Seaman 二等水兵 in 1936 and served on the battleship Haruna as a turret gunner He received successive promotions to Sailor First Class Leading Seaman 一等水兵 and to Petty Officer Third Class 三等兵曹 In early 1937 he applied for and was accepted into the navy pilot training program He graduated first in his class at Tsuchiura in 1937 and earned a silver watch presented to him by Emperor Hirohito himself Sakai graduated as a carrier pilot although he was never assigned to aircraft carrier duty One of Sakai s classmates was Juzō Mori who graduated as a carrier pilot and served on the Japanese aircraft carrier Sōryu flying Nakajima B5N torpedo bombers early in the war 5 Promoted to Petty Officer Second Class 二等兵曹 in 1938 Sakai took part in aerial combat flying the Mitsubishi A5M at the beginning of the Second Sino Japanese War in 1938 1939 and was wounded in action Later Sakai was selected to fly the Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero fighter in combat over China Service in World War II EditSoutheast Asia Edit Saburō Sakai as a petty officer wearing life jacket Saburo Sakai posing in front of a bomber aircraft When Japan attacked the Western Allies in 1941 Sakai participated in the attack on the Philippines as a member of the Tainan Air Group On 8 December 1941 Sakai flew one of 45 Zeros 6 from the Tainan Kōkutai a Kōkutai was an Air Group that attacked Clark Air Base in the Philippines In his first combat against Americans he shot down a Curtiss P 40 Warhawk and destroyed two B 17 Flying Fortresses by strafing them on the ground Sakai flew missions the next day during heavy weather On the third day of the battle Sakai claimed to have shot down a B 17 flown by Captain Colin P Kelly Sakai who has often been credited with the victory was a Shotai leader engaged in this fight with the bomber although he and his two wingmen do not appear to have been given official credit for it 7 Early in 1942 Sakai was transferred to Tarakan Island in Borneo and fought in the Dutch East Indies The Japanese high command instructed fighter patrols to down all enemy aircraft encountered whether they were armed or not On a patrol with his Zero over Java just after shooting down an enemy aircraft Sakai encountered a civilian Dutch Douglas DC 3 flying at low altitude over dense jungle Sakai initially assumed it was transporting important people and signaled to its pilot to follow him the pilot did not obey Sakai descended and approached the DC 3 He then saw a blonde woman and a young child through a window along with other passengers The woman reminded him of Mrs Martin an American who occasionally had taught him as a child in middle school and had been kind to him He ignored his orders and flew ahead of the pilot signaling him to go ahead The pilot and passengers saluted him 8 Sakai did not mention the encounter in the aerial combat report 9 During the Borneo campaign Sakai achieved 13 more victories before he was grounded by illness When he recovered three months later in April Petty Officer First Class Sakai joined a squadron chutai of the Tainan Kōkutai under Sub Lieutenant Junichi Sasai at Lae New Guinea Over the next four months he scored the majority of his victories flying against American and Australian pilots based at Port Moresby On the night of 16 May Sakai and his colleagues Hiroyoshi Nishizawa and Toshio Ota were listening to a broadcast of an Australian radio program when Nishizawa recognized the eerie Danse Macabre of Camille Saint Saens Inspired by this Nishizawa came up with the idea of doing demonstration loops over the enemy airfield The next day his squadron included fellow aces Hiroyoshi Nishizawa and Toshio Ōta At the end of an attack on Port Moresby that had involved 18 Zeros 10 the trio performed three tight loops in close formation over the allied air base Nishizawa indicated he wanted to repeat the performance Diving to 6 000 ft 1 800 m the three Zeros did three more loops without receiving any AA fire from the ground The following day a lone Allied bomber flew over the Lae airfield and dropped a note attached to a long cloth ribbon A soldier picked up the note and delivered to the squadron commander It read paraphrased Thank you for the wonderful display of aerobatics by three of your pilots Please pass on our regards and inform them that we will have a warm reception ready for them next time they fly over our airfield The squadron commander was furious and reprimanded the three pilots for their stupidity but the Tainan Kōkutai s three leading aces felt Nishizawa s aerial choreography of the Danse Macabre had been worth it 11 Pacific Theater Edit On 3 August 1942 Sakai s air group was relocated from Lae to the airfield at Rabaul Sakai in flightsuit On 7 August word arrived that U S Marines had landed that morning on Guadalcanal The initial Allied landings captured an airfield later named Henderson Field by the Allies that had been under construction by the Japanese The airfield soon became the focus of months of fighting during the Guadalcanal Campaign as it enabled U S airpower to hinder the Japanese attempts at resupplying their troops The Japanese made several attempts to retake Henderson Field resulting in continuous almost daily air battles for the Tainan Kōkutai U S Marines flying Grumman F4F Wildcats from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal were using a new aerial combat tactic the Thach Weave developed in 1941 by the U S Navy aviators John Thach and Edward O Hare The Japanese Zero pilots flying out of Rabaul were initially confounded by the tactic Saburō Sakai described their reaction to the Thach Weave when they encountered Guadalcanal Wildcats using it 12 For the first time Lt Commander Tadashi Nakajima encountered what was to become a famous double team maneuver on the part of the enemy Two Wildcats jumped on the commander s plane He had no trouble in getting on the tail of an enemy fighter but never had a chance to fire before the Grumman s team mate roared at him from the side Nakajima was raging when he got back to Rabaul he had been forced to dive and run for safety On 7 August Sakai and three pilots shot down an F4F Wildcat flown by James Pug Southerland who by the end of the war became an ace with five victories Sakai who did not know Southerland s guns had jammed recalled the duel in his autobiography 13 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 They were soon engaged in a skillfully maneuvered dogfight After an extended battle in which both pilots gained and lost the upper hand Sakai shot down Southerland s Wildcat striking it below the left wing root with his 20 mm cannon Southerland parachuted to safety 14 Sakai was amazed at the Wildcat s ruggedness 15 I had full confidence in my ability to destroy the Grumman and decided to finish off the enemy fighter with only my 7 7 mm machine guns I turned the 20 mm cannon switch to the off position and closed in For some strange reason even after I had poured about five or six hundred rounds of ammunition directly into the Grumman the airplane did not fall but kept on flying I thought this very odd it had never happened before and closed the distance between the two airplanes until I could almost reach out and touch the Grumman To my surprise the Grumman s rudder and tail were torn to shreds looking like an old torn piece of rag With his plane in such condition no wonder the pilot was unable to continue fighting A Zero which had taken that many bullets would have been a ball of fire by now Not long after he downed Southerland Sakai was attacked by a lone Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber flown by Lt Dudley Adams of Scouting Squadron 71 VS 71 from USS Wasp Adams scored a near miss sending a bullet through Sakai s canopy but Sakai quickly gained the upper hand and succeeded in downing Adams Adams bailed out and survived but his gunner R3 c Harry Elliot was killed in the encounter 16 According to Saburō Sakai this was his 60th victory 17 Serious wounds Edit Shortly after shooting down Southerland and Adams Sakai spotted a flight of eight aircraft orbiting near Tulagi 18 Believing they were another group of Wildcats Sakai approached them from below and behind aiming to catch them by surprise However he soon realised that he had made a mistake the planes were in fact carrier based bombers with rear mounted machine guns Despite this realisation he had progressed too far into the attack to back off and had no choice but to see it through 18 In Sakai s account of the battle he identifies the aircraft as Grumman TBF Avengers he stated he could clearly see the enclosed top turret He claimed to have shot down two of the Avengers his 61st and 62nd victories before return fire struck his plane These kills were seemingly verified by the three Zero pilots following him although no Avengers were reported lost that day 17 However according to US Navy records only one formation of bombers reported fighting Zeros under these circumstances This was a group of eight SBD Dauntlesses from Enterprise led by Lt Carl Horenberger of Bombing Squadron 6 VB 6 The SBD crews reported being attacked by two Zeros one of which came in from directly astern and flew into the concentrated fire from their rear mounted twin 7 62 mm 0 3 in 30 AN M2 guns The rear gunners claimed the Zero as a kill when it dove away in distress in return for two planes damaged one seriously 19 Whatever the case Sakai sustained serious injuries from the bombers return fire He was hit in the head by a 30 caliber bullet injuring his skull and temporarily paralyzing the left side of his body 20 The wound is described elsewhere as having destroyed the metal frame of his goggles and having creased his skull a glancing blow which broke the skin and made a furrow in or even cracked the skull but did not actually penetrate it Shattered glass from the canopy temporarily blinded him in his right eye and reduced vision in his left eye severely The Zero rolled inverted and descended toward the sea Unable to see out of his left eye due to glass and blood from his serious head wound Sakai s vision started to clear somewhat as tears cleared the blood from his eyes and he was able to pull his plane out of the dive He considered ramming an American warship If I must die at least I could go out as a Samurai My death would take several of the enemy with me A ship I needed a ship Finally the cold air blasting into the cockpit revived him enough to check his instruments and he decided that by leaning the fuel mixture he might be able to return to the airfield at Rabaul Rabaul 8 August 1942 A seriously wounded Sakai returns to Rabaul with his damaged Zero after a four hour 47 minute flight over 560 nmi 1 040 km 640 mi Sakai s skull was penetrated by a machine gun bullet and he was blind in one eye but insisted on making his mission report before accepting medical treatment Although in agony from his injuries 21 Sakai managed to fly his damaged Zero in a four hour 47 minute flight over 560 nmi 1 040 km 640 mi back to his base on Rabaul using familiar volcanic peaks as guides When he attempted to land at the airfield he nearly crashed into a line of parked Zeros but after circling four times and with the fuel gauge reading empty he put his Zero down on the runway on his second attempt After landing he insisted on making his mission report to his superior officer before collapsing His squadron mate Hiroyoshi Nishizawa drove him to a surgeon Sakai was evacuated to Japan on 12 August where he endured a long surgery without anesthesia The surgery repaired some of the damage to his head but was unable to restore full vision to his right eye Nishizawa visited Sakai while he recuperated in the Yokosuka hospital in Japan Recovery and return Edit After his discharge from the hospital in January 1943 Sakai spent a year training new fighter pilots 22 With Japan clearly losing the air war he prevailed upon his superiors to let him fly in combat again In November 1943 Sakai was promoted to the rank of flying warrant officer 飛行兵曹長 In April 1944 he was transferred to Yokosuka Air Wing which was deployed to Iwo Jima On 24 June 1944 Sakai approached a formation of 15 U S Navy Grumman F6F Hellcat fighters which he had mistakenly assumed were friendly Japanese aircraft William A McCormick saw four Hellcats on the Zero s tail but decided not to get involved Despite facing superior enemy aircraft Sakai demonstrated his skill and experience by eluding the attacks and returning to his airfield unscathed 23 Sakai claimed to have never lost a wingman in combat but he lost at least two over Iwo Jima 24 Sakai said he was ordered to lead a kamikaze mission on 5 July but he failed to find the U S task force He was engaged by Hellcat fighters near the task force s reported position and all but one of the Nakajima B6N2 Jill torpedo bombers in his flight were shot down Sakai managed to shoot down one Hellcat then escaped the umbrella of enemy aircraft by flying into a cloud Rather than follow meaningless orders in worsening weather and gathering darkness Sakai led his small formation back to Iwo Jima 25 However according to the aerial combat report his mission was to escort bombers to and from their targets and the afternoon of 24 June was the day Sakai joined the attack on the U S task force clarification needed 24 In August 1944 Sakai was commissioned an ensign 少尉 After he was transferred to 343rd Air Group he returned to the Yokosuka Air Wing again About the same time Sakai married his cousin Hatsuyo who asked him for a dagger so she could kill herself if he fell in battle His autobiography Samurai ends with Hatsuyo throwing away the dagger after Japan s surrender saying she no longer needed it Saburo Sakai participated in the IJNAS s last wartime mission attacking two reconnaissance Consolidated B 32 Dominators on 18 August which were conducting photo reconnaissance and testing Japanese compliance with the cease fire He initially misidentified the planes as Boeing B 29 Superfortresses Both aircraft returned to their base at Yontan Airfield Okinawa His encounter with the B 32 Dominators in the IJNAS s final mission was not included in Samurai Sakai was promoted to sub lieutenant 中尉 after the war ended Back to civilian life Edit Sakai s A6M2 Zero tail code V 173 preserved at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra 26 After the war Sakai retired from the Navy He became a Buddhist acolyte vowing to never again kill anything that lived not even a mosquito 20 Likewise although Japan had been defeated in the Second World War with great loss of life Sakai serenely accepted this outcome Had I been ordered to bomb Seattle or Los Angeles in order to end the war I wouldn t have hesitated So I perfectly understand why the Americans bombed Nagasaki and Hiroshima Times were difficult for Sakai he had trouble finding a job Hatsuyo died in 1947 27 He remarried in 1952 and started a printing shop Sakai sent his daughter to college in the United States to learn English and democracy 28 Sakai visited the US and met many of his former adversaries including Harold Lew Jones the rear seat gunner who had wounded him 29 Following a US Navy formal dinner in 2000 at Atsugi Naval Air Station where he had been an honored guest Sakai died of a heart attack at the age of 84 Saburo Sakai was survived by his second wife Haru two daughters and a son 30 In popular culture EditBook Edit Claims have been made that his autobiography Samurai includes fictional stories and that the number of kills specified in that work were increased to promote sales of the book by Martin Caidin The book was not published in Japan and differs from his biographies there 31 Film Edit The 1976 movie Zero Pilot dramatized Saburo Sakai s experiences as a WWII fighter pilot In it Sakai is portrayed by the actor Hiroshi Fujioka The screenplay is based on Sakai s book Samurai 32 References EditNotes Sakai saburo research book pp 277 Sakai Saburo 1985 Samurai Bantam p 2 I was at the time the leading live ace of my country with an official total of sixty four enemy planes shot down in aerial combat Sakai 1985 p 1 3 Forquer John A The Kamikaze Samurai Warrior A New Appraisal globalsecurity org Retrieved 5 April 2015 Mori 2015 Foreword A6M2b Zero Model 21 Saburō Sakai V 107 Tainan Kōkutai imageshack us Retrieved 5 April 2015 Shores Cull and Izawa 1992 p 182 Interview from April 2000 Archived June 6 2007 at the Wayback Machine Japan Center for Asian Historical Record Tainan Air Group action report Reference code C08051602100 V 173 a Mitsubishi Zero A6M2 flown by Sakai during summer of 1942 Archived 2012 02 04 at the Wayback Machine militaryimages net Retrieved 9 April 2015 Guttman Jon Hiroyoshi Nishizawa Japan s World War II Ace of Aces historynet com 12 June 2006 originally published in Aviation History July 1998 issue Retrieved 27 December 2015 Naval Aviation News July August 1993 Archived June 19 2006 at the Wayback Machine Archived copy at the Library of Congress April 10 2010 Sakai S Samurai p 160 162 Dogfight with James Southerland flying F4F Wildcat Pacific Wrecks Retrieved April 5 2015 Saburo Sakai Zero Sakaida 1985 pp 74 75 a b Sakai et al 1978 page needed a b Winged Samurai pp 74 76 Stafford The Big E p 134 Hammel Carrier Clash pp 69 70 Lundstrom The First Team and the Guadalcanal Campaign p 56 Basic report in Enterprise Action Report for August 7 1942 Flight 319 a b permanent dead link dead link Original flight helmet Sakai wore on his fateful mission when he was wounded www j aircraft com Retrieved April 5 2015 Hards Scott An afternoon with Saburo Sakai warbirdforum com 1998 Retrieved 9 April 2015 Sakaida 1985 page needed a b Japan Center for Asian Historical Record Yokosuka Air Group action report Reference code C13120487500 Sakaida 1998 page needed REL 08378 Mitsubishi A6M2 Model 21 Zero Fighter Aircraft Japanese Navy Air Force Archived 2012 03 25 at the Wayback Machine Australian War Memorial Retrieved 13 April 2012 Sakaida Henry Winged Samurai Saburo Sakai and the Zero Fighter Pilots Phoenix Arizona Champlin Fighter Museum 1985 ISBN 0 912173 05 X Pike Francis Hirohitos War The Pacific War 1941 1945 p 449 Taylan Justin R Saburo Sakai and Harold Lew Jones meet on Memorial Day 1982 Sakai holds his tattered and damaged flight helmet from his near fatal mission to Guadalcanal Pacific Wrecks 26 October 2012 Retrieved 5 April 2015 1 The New York Times 8 October 2000 Kodachi 2010 pp 315 325 lt https www imdb com title tt0074370 ref fn al tt 1 gt Bibliography Hammel Eric Carrier Clash The Invasion of Guadalcanal amp The Battle of the Eastern Solomons August 1942 St Paul Minnesota Zenith Press 2004 ISBN 0 7603 2052 7 King Dan The Last Zero Fighter Firsthand Accounts from WWII Japanese Fighter Pilots Oakland California Pacific Press 2012 ISBN 978 1 4681 7880 7 Kodachi Naoki Fighters of Our Grandfathers in Japanese Tokyo Kodansha Ltd 2010 ISBN 978 4 0621 6302 6 Leckie Robert Challenge for the Pacific Guadalcanal the Turning Point of the War New York Doubleday amp Company 1968 ISBN 0 306 80911 7 Lundstrom John B The First Team and the Guadalcanal Campaign Naval Fighter Combat from August to November 1942 Annapolis Maryland Naval Institute Press 1994 ISBN 1 55750 526 8 Mori Juzo The Miraculous Torpedo Squadron Kindle Edition 2015 ASIN B00THSCSS8 Ruffato Luca and Michael J Claringbould Eagles of the Southern Sky The Tainan Air Group in WWII Volume One New Guinea Tainan City Taiwan Tainan Books 2014 ISBN 978 0 473 21763 1 Sakaida Henry Osprey Aircraft of the Aces No 22 Imperial Japanese Navy Aces 1937 45 London Osprey Publishing 1998 ISBN 978 1 8553 2727 6 Sakaida Henry Winged Samurai Saburo Sakai and the Zero Fighter Pilots Phoenix Arizona Champlin Fighter Museum 1985 ISBN 0 912173 05 X Sakai Saburo Martin Caidin and Fred Saito Samurai New York Bantam 1978 ISBN 978 0 5531 1035 7 Sakai Saburo Sakai saburo kusen kiroku Volume 1 in Japanese Tokyo Kodansha 1995 ISBN 978 4 0625 6087 0 Shores Christopher Brian Cull and Yasuho Izawa Bloody Shambles Volume One The Drift to War to the Fall of Singapore London Grub Street 1992 ISBN 0 948817 50 X Stafford Edward P The Big E The Story of the USS Enterprise Annapolis Maryland Naval Institute Press 1962 ISBN 1 55750 998 0 Yositake Kori Saburo Sakai in Japanese Tokyo Kojinsha 2009 ISBN 978 4 7698 1442 9 External links EditWikimedia Commons has media related to Saburo Sakai Tainan Air Corps In Sakai Saburou on YouTube The Last Samurai A Detailed Look at Saburo Sakai Saburo Sakai passed away September 22 2000 at the Wayback Machine archived May 22 2013 Memorial To Saburo Sakai Sakai s Saburo Sakai Is Dead at 84 War Pilot Embraced Foes Excerpt from Samurai WarbirdForum An afternoon with Saburo Sakai Interview with Sakai during the production of Microsoft Combat Flight Simulator 2 at the Wayback Machine archived March 6 2013 My Father and I and Saburo Sakai at the Wayback Machine archived May 30 2013 PBS Secrets of the Dead Enterprise Action Report for August 7 1942 Retrieved from https en wikipedia org w index php title Saburō Sakai amp oldid 1046705384, wikipedia, wiki, book,

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