Friday 17 August 2012

Zero Over Hong Kong Harbour

This especially clear image of a well-known photograph showing a Zero attempting to intercept B-24 bombers of the 308th BG attacking the Kowloon dockyards on 16th October 1944 is interesting because it appears to show a light painted starboard wing tip. The fin might be painted in this light colour too. This form of marking has been associated with some IJN fighter units for special operations and particular air defence commands - such as 331 Ku for their participation in the joint Army-Navy raid against Calcutta on 5th December 1943 and air defence at Balikpapan. The marking has been variously described as being on one or both upper wingtips and in light grey-green or white. According to an article in the (Japanese) Military Classics magazine #19 (2007) for the Ryu Ichi-Go operation against Calcutta the following command special instructions were  given:-

"For participating IJAAF aircraft the yellow identification band on leading edge of wings should be made more clearly visible.

"For participating IJNAF aircraft the upper surface of right wing tip and both sides of vertical tail should be painted in light gray-green (lower surface colour)."

The high altitude B-24 raid against the dockyards (the area of smoke and conflagration in the centre part of the image) was co-ordinated with low-level skip bombing attacks against shipping in the harbour by B-25s, the results of which are visible in the image. It was one of the most successful strikes in CBI with 90% of the bombs dropped hitting the target which was only a 1,000 x 3,500 ft area. 15 cargo vessels were sunk (32,000 tons) or damaged and the largest Japanese ship repair facility in the area sustained major damage*. During the raid only a few Japanese fighters were reported attempting to intercept the B-24s unsuccessfully.

The resident Zero unit at Kai Tak aerodrome was 254 Ku based at Sanya on Hainan Island which sent detachments to Hong Kong for air defence even though the garrison was an Army responsibility. Directly beneath the Zero on the far side of the harbour is the Tsim Tsa Tsui peninsula and on this side below left the distinctive shape of the race course at Happy Valley, the Yaumatei typhoon shelter and Kellett Island, now home of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club. Kai Tak is the large light area at the extreme right below Lion Rock. Pity the photo is not clear enough to make out the tail code on the Zero!

* 'Chennault's Forgotten Warriors - The Saga of the 308th BG in China' by Carrol V Glines (Schiffer, 1995)

Image credits:- NARA


Ronnie Olsthoorn said...

To me it looks like the right wing is half in shadow (similar to right horizontal tail) and half in the sun (similar to rear fuselage). Or did you mean the extreme wing tip (hard to see).
What I can see are a silver spinner, black cowling and white outlines on the wing hinomaru, plus what appears to be some characters on the vertical fin.

noel said...

Hello Nick;
An interesting photo, I really don't remember having seen it before. Thank you for posting it.
I believe that the 721 Ku "thunder corps" Zeros are also supposed to have featured white wingtips.
Is this correct?
Kind regards, noel

Milo Burgh said...

This is the first time I see this photo. Is amazing.

Mark Smith said...

Here is a photo of one example as represented by the Sweet kit 1/144 kit of the Zero, as these markings were interpreted by its decals:

Trying to find photos of this, I just noticed that Sweet has a whole new line of decals for some very unusual "special use" Zero markings that readers of this blog should appreciate seeing:

Milo Burgh said...

Thanks for the link Mark.

Anonymous said...

Excellent photo! I've not seen this one before either.....