26 March 44
Think of that number
Think of the time it has taken to accumulate those missions. Think of the crappy airfields, the dodgy maintenance, the in hospitable sky full of thunderheads, rain, clouds.
Think of the number of encounters with the enemy.
And yet, on this glorious morning, there is still that anticipation, still that thrill as Fuchida climbs up and into the 'office" this tatterd worn home of fading timber, aluminium and glass.
It helps, of course, to know that today he does not fly alone, today they fly in real strength.
Boela airfield, a great dirty strip carved through the jungle. Nearly 100 metres wide , with its scattering of tents at one end, the windsocks, the ugly patches of mud and canvas scattered, the even uglier AA batteries inside those patches.
All along its length, openings into the jungle, paths to the reverments, where carefully camoflaged lairs hide the beasts.
A dirty road surrounds the strip, vehicled by a wierd mixture of trucks and old civilian cars (and even a bus).
This is boela airfield.
Front line fighter field, home of the 24th air flottilla, 47th Sentai, 85th sentai, and today, a sentai of navy N1Ki's.
The stillness of the dawn is being brocken now, as the great beasts stir, fire spits from exhausts, propellers spin, gleaming, clouds of smoke drift through the trees.
Tojo's Tigers will lead today.
Fuchida 's hands move automatically, and his fighter shakes, and shakes, the gout of flame and smoke, the savage bark, and the blade spins, the air beats, the vibration begins, low, sweet, life.
The dragons emerge from their lairs, men leading, guiding them, for on the ground they are such blind clumsy beasts.
Fuchida taps the brakes, taps his rudder, carefully guiding her onto the smoother surface of the strip, a burst of throttle, swinging her hard towards the end of the strip, the sea.
She beats, rhythmatically.......I am ready, I am ready, I am ready...............a green flare rises, "Lets go!"
The surge, the swing, the correction, the tail up, the climb, wheels up!, ocean below, the gentle bank, friends left and right, more joining, the great circling, climbing, climbing, yet more friends, above, below...........
The leaders wings wobble. Follow me!
108 japanese fighters turn south. Target: Saumulaki, home of the corsairs............
20000 feet. Oxygen sweet, dry, air outside, cold, crisp, clear. Sea blue, scattered clouds at 10000, so far below. Visibility to eternity.
They fly on, and Fuchida is again surrounded by friends, and utterly alone.
Th sky bounces them occasionally, the great string of fighters bouncing like a train, he can look left, right, watch the array dance.
"Island in sight"
Out of the mist, it begins to emerge.
Enemy territory. American territory. Once ours, now theirs. Grave for so many.
Grave for so many more to come.
'Enemy fighters.........6 strong, 10000 feet climbing towards us"
On the far flank, 9 Tigers peel away, and dive
The island is directly below now, and the leader leads them in a great circle, seeking the enemy. But the enemy does not come.
The tigers rise again, rejoin, one missing. They circle again, eyes , 100 pairs of eyes seeking, seeking.
"Enemy fighters, above!, 3 oclock!
he see's them, 2 sharks, no mistaking those wings, spitfires...........
2 against 100.
But they attack anyway, diving down upon them.........
the contact is brutally fast, diving through, one dies, one kills..............
The great formation circles.
The Japanese bombers from Ambon arrive, flying straight, flying true. The bombs tumble,the field vanishes in clouds of dust and flame.
And then for home.
Offensive sweep, 3 hours
Minor enemy contact, guns not fired.
Are we achieving anything?