From: Lone Star Nation
December 17, 1942
Kawashi Hideyoshi, commanding officer of the 251st Kokutai, scanned the partly cloudy skies around his A6M2 fighter plane with the calm efficiency of an ace pilot in the Imperial Naval Air Service. There was only one problem - he was not in fact an ace.
It was a ritual for Kawashi to constantly remind himself of the number of his confirmed kills during a flight. For months, the number remained at three. For months, his unit had remained at Munda Point in the Solomons training, flying combat air patrol, and occasionally attacking the small American base at Ndeni. Since the Japanese conquest of this beautiful and miserable corner of the world in early 1942, there had been no one for him to fight, much less shoot down.
All that had changed over the past 48 hours. American warships shelled the airfield at Munda during the night of the 15th, and this morning G4M bombers on search missions had spotted a large enemy task force sailing for the Japanese outpost at Tulagi, covered by another group containing both warships and escort carriers. The latter force was the target of a raid by 30 G4Ms, escorted by 33 A6M fighters under Kawashi's command. His plan was for most of the Imperial fighters to fly above and slightly behind the bombers, while a single Chutai under Kawashi's personal direction would take position a thousand feet higher and a short distance to the West. The intention was to have American fighters engage the main force, then for Kawashi's Chutai to dive on them out of the afternoon sun, quickly dispatching attackers in the first deadly pass.
The strike force did not have to wait long after clearing the southeastern coast of the island of Guadalcanal. Hideyoshi was brought to full alert as numerous Japanese pilots reported about 24 Wildcats approaching dead ahead over their rather unreliable radio sets. Just as Kawashi hoped, the American carrier pilots closed in on the bombers, ignoring his 9 A6Ms. Waggling his wings to signal his Chutai, Hideyoshi increased throttle. Approaching via a looping dive, Kawashi found himself behind an F4F whose pilot was too fixated on his target to notice the sleek Zero. After a short burst from his 7.7s ensured he was on target, Kawashi fired his 20mm cannon, shredding the enemy plane's fuselage and putting it into a smoking tailspin.
Snapping his head around quickly, Kawashi looked for threats first and targets second, spotting a flight of American fighters that hadn't fallen for his trap. The bombers were now dropping into their torpedo runs and made excellent targets. Several G4Ms were quickly consumed by flames and went into the Pacific. A6Ms from the main escort engaged the interlopers, but the leader separated from his fellows and kept after the twin engine attackers. Kawashi was surprised at the Wildcat pilot's persistence - usually fighter planes of both sides cleared out once bombers entered the envelope of ship borne anti-aircraft fire, but this flyer was heedless of the possibility of falling to an errant flak burst from his own side. Kawashi admired the pilot's fighting spirit, willing to sacrifice himself for the mission. Noticing that the enemy plane was pursuing a G4M making a run on one of the two American escort carriers present, it occurred to Hideyoshi that this man was fighting to protect his home. Unfortunately, it was Kawashi's job to protect the bombers trying to sink it.
Putting the stick down, Kawashi raced for the deck, flak exploding all around his Zero. His only chance to hit the Wildcat before it fired on the G4M was to attempt a difficult deflection shot. Lining up ahead of the enemy machine, he opened fire with a long burst. As is so often the case with deflection shots, Kawashi's aim was off. Instead of striking the engine of the Wildcat as intended, his bullets and shells shattered the canopy, no doubt grievously wounding the American pilot, who lost control and went in hard.
The G4M dropped its torpedo against the CVE, and it was immediately clear that the already damaged ship was going to take another hit. The bomber broke left, but flak from an escort vessel sheared off its starboard wing near the engine and she cartwheeled over the surface of the water.
Kawashi broke right and roared past the stern of the enemy carrier, choosing to wait before gaining altitude in order to hopefully duck some of the murderous AA fire. He saw a flash to his left a moment before his Zero was bucked wildly to the right. Struggling for control, he scanned his surroundings for an attacker, pulse racing. What he saw instead would stay with him for years and forever convince him of the horror of war. The CVE (the Copahee, he later learned) was gone. Not burning, not sinking, just gone - destroyed by a magazine explosion touched off by the doomed G4M's torpedo striking home. Hideyoshi was shaken to realize that he may well be the only man still alive out of the hundreds who had occupied a circle 300 meters or so in diameter just two minutes ago. He continued on a southeasterly course until he cleared the battle zone, then turned for home.
All in all, it was a hell of a way to become an ace.
< Message edited by Cribtop -- 10/5/2012 3:35:56 AM >