GUNFIGHTER OF THE RISING SUN
Flight Journal|Annual 2020
A Zero pilot’s own story
RON WERNETH
Kaname Harada, who flew Zeros in WW II, didn’t like speaking about the War because it was a painful experience for him. e was haunted by the horrible memory of seeing his fellow navy Pilots die on Guadalcanal Island in October 1942, and he wanted see their remains recovered to bring closure to their families.

From December 7, 1941, through the Battle of Midway (June 4 to 7, 1942), Kaname Harada was a Zero pilot onboard the carrier Soryu. During that time, he scored several aerial victories in the Indian Ocean operations and Midway. His carrier, however, along with the Akagi, Kaga and Hiryu, was sunk during the disastrous Midway operation. The young naval aviator spent several hours in the ocean before being rescued by a destroyer. After this terrible loss for Japan, he was one of the surviving veteran airmen who vowed to get their revenge the next time they fought in combat with U.S. military forces.

In July 1942, Harada-san was transferred to the carrier Hiyo. During this period, Japan was focusing all of its resources to reclaim Guadalcanal Island. On October 17, Harada flew what would turn out to be his last combat mission.

The target of our mission was a group of American ships off Lunga Point. Our aircraft flew in two groups. First came eight

Junyo Type 97s (Kates), but there should have been nine. One Type 97 (flown by WO Tatsuyasu Otawa) returned to the carrier because of engine trouble. My group of nine Zero fighters from Hiyo was assigned to escort them and flew above the formation of Type 97 Kate; then came the second group of nine Hiyo Type 97s along with nineJunyo Type 0 carrier fighters.

I heard that the Junyo Type 97 carrier attack plane leader (Lt. Tadao Ito) was more experienced than the Hiyo leader (Lt. Yoshiaki Irikiin). Regarding the Zero fighter leaders, I also heard the Hiyo fighter leader (Lt. Tadashi Kaneko) was more experienced than the Junyo fighter leader (Lt. Yoshio Shiga). That’s why it was such a strange formation with Hiyo Zeros escorting the Junyo Type 97s and Junyo Zeros escorting the Hiyo Type 97s. So I believe the more experienced pilots were chosen to lead the attack. I was escorting the Junyo Type 97 group, which was commanded by Lt. Ito, but they were going the wrong way. Nevertheless, the second group, commanded by Lt. Irikiin, hit the target successfully.

My group of escorting Zero fighters flew 400 to 500 meters above the formation of Type 97s. The Zeros flew in three groups of three, with the fighter in the top center being the leader and the second airplane on the left and the third one on the right. The escorting Zero fighters were faster than the bomb-laden Type 97s, so if we continued to fly normally, it would have been too fast. We couldn’t just stop, however, so we did snake movements to slow down. Sometimes, we got separated at a greater distance, and the Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters were waiting for this moment to attack our Type 97s. The enemy fighters were not trying to attack our Zero fighters; instead they went after the vulnerable Type 97s because it was wiser to attack them. It was difficult to defend our Type 97s against the Wildcat fighters.

During this mission, I saw a series of clouds that could only be found on a clear day. With this particular type of cloud, an enemy fighter pilot could hide his aircraft and still see the sky below very well. These clouds were 700 to 800 meters above and to the right of us. We never expected to see Wildcat fighters coming from behind these clouds, but I thought those clouds were an ominous sign. In reality, the enemy fighters were waiting to attack us. Our group made a directional error, and while we were changing our course, we were attacked. During this attack, we were annihilated. Right in front of my eyes, six Type 97s were on fire, and two of these crash-landed. After the Kates were attacked, our nine Zero fighters tried to chase the Wildcats while they tried to escape. One Grumman F4F Wildcat fighter, however, turned around and came back to fight us.

When I made a sudden directional change to get into position to fight him, I became light-headed because of the G-force. I then released my throttle, and because of this, my position was lower than the Wildcat fighter. When I came to my senses, I was in a disadvantageous position: the enemy was above me. I thought that if I tried to escape, I would be shot down for sure; so I decided to fight him, even in an unfavorable position.

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