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202 Kokutai IJN

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History

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CDR Fukuda 202/3 IJN 1942

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Some of the 202/3 IJN Squadron Pilots 1942

"THE LAST SAMURAI"

A virtual squadron of elite CFS2 pilots flying Japanese fighters and bombers.

The general history of the A6M Zero should be pretty well known by the knowledgeable readers of Modeling Madness, but less well known I would guess would be the exploits of the 3rd Kokutai, the unit of the plane chose to model. From the Philippines to distant Darwin, this crack outfit cut a swath through all opponents, and was a major part of the weapons system that conquered more square mileage in 6 months than any other in history.

 

Formed on 10 April 1941, the 3 Kokutai was originally a mix of bomber and fighters, but soon became all fighters. Roughly equivalent to a U.S. fighter Group, in top form the unit had about 45 planes. Pilots of the Imperial Japanese Navy at that time were among the world's best, only the cream of the crop accepted from flying schools, the "newest" of who had 1000 flying hours. With its "sister" unit, Tainan Kokutai, these outfits were entirely land-based.

 

Along with the Tainan Air Group, the 3rd Air Group  was among the most distinguished naval fighter units of the entire Pacific War. The group survived the war as perhaps the sole fighter unit that was always victorious, from the beginning of the war in the Philippines, through the air battles over the Dutch East Indies, and on into the attack on Darwin (Australia).

 

The 202/3 Kokutai was designed for land attack (bomber) operations and was attached to the 11th Air Fleet. In July of 1941, the unit advanced to Hanoi in northern French Indochina. Then in September of 1941, the 202/3 Kokutai was reorganized into the greatest fighter unit of the Imperial Japanese Navy. With hostilities between Japan and the United States imminent, the 202/3 Kokutai was expected to play a key role as a fighter unit in the battle for air control, together with the Tainan Air Group, in the southern area of operations.

 

In contrast to the fact that the air groups were traditionally composed of a number of different types of aircraft, the 202/3 Kokutai was constituted only of fighters, which was the first historically speaking. The squadron allowance was also increased to fifty-four (54) operational carrier fighters with eighteen (18) aircraft in reserve. Also had nine (9) land reconnaissance planes. The actual strength on the eve of the outbreak of hostilities was forty-five (45) Zero Model 21 fighters and twelve (12) Type 96 carrier fighters.

 

Experimentation by its dedicated leaders showed the ability of the A6M2 to use its designed-in very long range to reach the Philippine Islands, and still retain fuel for useful combat time. This saved the use of Aircraft Carriers and freed them up for other tasks. When the 3rd and Tainan Kokutais hit the Philippines from bases in Taiwan in December 1941, no missions the likes of this were seen until the advent of the Very Long Range P 51 missions in 1945. 3 Kokutai played a major part in the December 8th disaster visited upon the P40 squadrons on Luzon, catching many on landing, low on fuel. This was the unit involved in the storied tangle with Philippine A.F. P26's, the outcome being in no doubt. Quickly, opposition was subdued, and the planes moved south to newly captured bases, to attack the Dutch East Indies. With little or no early warning, it was the same story for the Allied air forces, usually caught at disadvantage by the Zero fighters, and quickly worn down.

 

After the conquest of the Indies, the 3rd Kokutai took part in the summer raids on Darwin, fighting the P40's of the 49th fighter group. This was the first outfit to give them trouble, honors being about even. When the invasion of Guadalcanal caused excessive losses to the units involved, 3rd Kokutai. was sent to Rabaul as reinforcement. Here they came up against the  Wildcats of Joe Foss and the Marines, their tactics and teamwork causing problems for even these veterans. In a rearrangement in November, 3rd Kokutai became 202 Kokutai. all Japanese Groups getting 3 digit numbers. Summer of 1943 was spent raiding Darwin again, escorting G4M bombers on long missions. This time the opponents were Spitfire Vic’s of the 1st RAAF wing. Once again they bested their enemies, the Spitfire pilots allowing themselves to be drawn into the circling combat that was the Zero's forte.

 

After this campaign, the 202 Kokutai. was taken off operations for a time. Split up and distributed among the Central Pacific islands, gradually the units were chewed up and dispersed, disappearing into the maw of the now Allied meat-grinder. In their prime they were a top notch outfit. Many photos of these planes at their newly won bases were published in the Japanese papers, a symbol of the Empire at full flood.

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(Left) Young 202/3 Pilots training (Right) 202/3 Pilot and his A6M2
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202 Pilot back safe from a patrol

***A special Thanks to the staff of the University of Texas Library for the pictires and most of the history located here***

202 Kokutai IJN