I love it when research in one area fills in gaps in another.
It appears author, historian, and aviation artist Michael Claringbould has solved a lingering mystery in the Eager Beaver story.
Richard Dunn hypothesized to me several years ago that the mystery plane could have been either a Ki 45 or 46 specially armed with 37mm cannon. He’d found that Type 2 two-seaters sporting 20mm and 12.7mm arrived with the 13th Flying Regiment at Rabaul in May 1943, and that lone wolf missions in areas frequented by heavy bombers on recon was part of their operations. It was feasible to him, then, that one could have encountered “Lucy” that day over Bougainville, completely unrelated to the naval Zero contingent the Eager Beavers stirred up on their Buka recon.
Not only was it feasible, it turns out he was largely correct. In a post over at Jack Cook’s 5th Air Force Facebook page, Mr. Claringbould shares how he discovered that very coincidence in the course of researching the third volume of his “Pacific Adversaries” series:
“[It] appears it was a 151 Ku Irving J1N1-S fighter aircraft based at Rabaul, cruising at high altitude on a reconnaissance mission. Flown by FCPO Mashita Chozo, it was under the command of Lieutenant Koko Nagao who occupied the rear observer’s position. Mashita had departed Rabaul that morning at 0520 hours and was heading for Ballale when he saw the Fortress in the distance. It appears curiosity took the better of Mashita and he swept past to inspect the Fortress.”
What’s fascinating is that the incident is the second connecting the attack on ’666 to Guadalcanal later that day.
It’s been known for years that O’oki Yoshio, the leader of the Zeros from Buka, led part of the Japanese aerial attack on Guadalcanal that afternoon, and in fact was killed on that mission.
As it happens, it wasn’t just any Irving that the Eager Beavers tangled with. According to Claringbould, “[it] was Mashita’s detailed report of shipping numbers anchored offshore Lunga Point which precipitated the later Japanese attack against US shipping at Guadalcanal.”
It appears Zeamer’s hunch the night before, that the late night order from group command to recon Buka was a bad idea, was more right then he knew. The Eager Beavers were flying into the turn of a wheel much bigger than even Zeamer had guessed.