Contributor: Bob Bryant
ww2dbaseMasaichi Kondo served in the Imperial Japanese Navy from 1935 to 1944, flying with four different carrier-based and two different land-based air groups (Kokutai) in China and in the South Pacific.
ww2dbaseThe civil war in China between the Chinese Nationalists and the Communists beginning in 1927 created opportunities for expansionist-minded Japan. A contrived incident by the Japanese in 1931 near Mukden (now Shenyang) was used to justify invasion of Northern China. This ultimately resulted in Japan's annexing Manchuria and subduing Chinese forces around Shanghai. Japan invaded again in July 1937 initiating the Second Sino-Japanese War, which Japan referred to as "The China Incident" throughout the war. With successive Japanese victories at Beiping, Shanghai, Nanjing, and Wuhan, the Chinese shifted their capital westward and inland until establishing it at Chongqing in central China. By 1941, Japanese forces held large portions of northern and coastal China but had been weakened by the battles for central China. Continued resistance by China's National Revolutionary Army led to a war of attrition that tied down Japanese troops and that persisted until the end of World War II in 1945.
ww2dbaseAt mid-August 1937, the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) had all three of her operational aircraft carriers, along with a total of 136 carrier-launched aircraft, off of the central China coast to support the invasion of Shanghai. Masaichi Kondo was aboard the light carrier Ryujo that, along with Hosho, formed Japan's 1st Air Flotilla, First Carrier Division (Carrier Division 1) of the 3rd Fleet.
ww2dbaseKondo was born in Aug 1917 at Ehime Prefecture, Japan. At age 18, he graduated from the 27th Pilot Training Class. When hostilities broke out, he was flying the newly introduced biplane fighter Nakajima A4N (Type 95). On August 23, 1937 he flew this aircraft over Paoshan near Shanghai when his air group surprised 18 Curtis Hawk III biplane fighters of the Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF). His air group claimed shooting down ten of them without taking any losses. Kondo claimed shooting down two himself. (Note that claims of combat air "victories" were generally much inflated by combatants of all nations; indeed, at least two Chinese pilots in this engagement each claimed a victory.) After two weeks of almost daily aircraft launches in support of land operations around Shanghai, Ryujo returned to her base at the Sasebo Naval Arsenal in Japan for resupply. In early September, Ryujo and Hosho sailed to the southern China coast.
ww2dbaseAt that time, most of the supplies critical for maintaining China's war effort, including American, British, German and Italian aircraft, were arriving by ship in southern China at Guangzhou (Postal Map romanization: Canton) or Hong Kong. Accordingly, the IJN attempted to blockade these ports. During the last week of September 1937, Kondo was with Carrier Division 1 aircraft as they made almost daily raids around Guangzhou, Guangdong Province in southern China, including attacks on the Teinho and Peiyun airfields. Fighters such as Kondo's escorted IJN dive-bombers and torpedo bombers to protect them from enemy fighters. They were opposed by Chinese Curtiss Hawk III fighters. Many aircraft from both sides were shot down. Japanese aircrew in planes that ran out of fuel returning to their carriers and had to ditch were rescued by IJN destroyers and other vessels. Overall, Japanese air attacks appeared to have successfully eliminated most Chinese air opposition in southern China. The carriers sailed away in October, leaving the responsibilities for suppressing China's air activity to the float planes, which dive-bombed as well as conducted reconnaissance and spotted for bombardment. On October 3, Ryujo and the rest of Carrier Division 1 sailed north, returning to the waters off Shanghai. On October 5, her air group left the carrier and became land-based at Kunda airfield near Shanghai to provide support for Japanese ground forces.
ww2dbaseIn early 1938, it became apparent that effective Chinese resistance around Guangdong was continuing. China's Gloster Gladiators were successfully challenging IJN's float plane force. Carriers Kaga, Soryu, and Ryujo were sent south tasked with destroying the resurgent Chinese Air Force. By now, Kondo had been transferred to the Kaga air group. On April 13th, he was part of the Nakajima A4N biplane and A5M monoplane fighter escort for Aichi D1A2 dive-bombers targeting Tien He airfield near Guangdong when they were intercepted by ROCAF Gladiators based at Tien He. During 40 minutes of aerial combat, five Japanese and four Chinese aircraft were lost. In June, Kondo was posted to 15th Air Group of the IJN Air Service. The battle for Guangzhou continued until it fell to the Japanese on October 29. As a result, the only important supply routes left open to China were the Burma Road and the "Hump" air route over the Himalayas. In November 1938 Kondo returned to Japan.
ww2dbaseIn central China, Wuhan fell to the Japanese in late October 1938, and China moved its capital further inland to Chongqing. That month, the 12th Air Group, now exclusively a fighter aircraft unit, was transferred to an airbase at nearby Hankou. Kondo was assigned to this air group in October 1939. Between February 1938 and August 1943, Japanese bombers from Hankou made 268 raids on the new Chinese capital, mostly with incendiaries dropped on civilian targets, as part of softening it up for the proposed Japanese invasion of Sichuan. Chongqing was out of range for fighter escorts, even for the new Mitsubishi A5Ms monoplanes. (The A6M "Zeros" with longer range did not arrive until the summer of 1940.) Consequently, the 12th Air Group did not participate in these actions. Kondo did participate in the attack on Liuzhou (Postal Map romanization: Liuchow) on December 30th, 1939 and on Guilin (Postal Map romanization: Kweilin) on January 10th, 1940, both in Guangxi Province, successfully shooting down enemy aircraft.
ww2dbaseWhen Japan initiated the Pacific War against the western powers on December 1941, the IJN had the most highly trained and experienced naval aircrews in the Pacific Theater. It had about 2,000 carrier-qualified aircrew including 900 pilots. When land-based naval pilots are included, the number of Japanese naval aircrew totaled 3,500. Within six months following the attack on Pearl Harbor, IJN lost five aircraft carriers and many experienced pilots in carrier battles at the Coral Sea and Midway. Some experienced naval pilots, including Kondo, were then transferred from the China front to the South Pacific. In July 1942, Kondo was assigned to the light carrier Zuiho. The following month, the US Marines successfully established a toehold on Guadalcanal, and the next six months saw extensive and costly fighting on land, sea, and air as Japan and America sought to control the airfield there. In late August, another Japanese carrier and many additional Japanese aircrews were lost in another carrier battle at the Eastern Solomon Islands. Now assigned to the reformed Carrier Division 1 of the 3rd Fleet, Kondo on Zuiho sortied in early October from Japan to Truk and from there to the Santa Cruz Islands area to help support a major Japanese assault on Guadalcanal.
ww2dbaseThe Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands of October 26, 1942 involved four Japanese carriers (Shokaku, Zuikaku, Zuiho, and Junyo) and two American carriers (Enterprise and Hornet). Having learned from previous carrier battles about the supreme importance of striking first and hard, Japan's Admiral Ryunosuke Kusaka ordered a first attack wave as soon as he received a contact report and ordered a second wave off as soon as possible afterward. A total of 115 bombers and fighters, including Masaichi Kondo in the first wave, raced toward the American carriers. Half an hour later, the Americans launched 73 strike aircraft toward the Japanese carriers. The first wave aircraft of the opposing forces passed within sight of each other. The leader of Zuiho's escorting Zero fighters, Lieutenant Moriyasu Hidaka, decided to attack the 19 planes from Enterprise that had just passed him rather than continuing to provide escort support for the Japanese bombers en route to Enterprise itself. Eight Zero pilots followed him, including Kondo. They caught up with the unsuspecting enemy planes and dived on them out of the sun, firing their 20-millimeter canon and 7.7-millimeter machine guns. Four Wildcat fighters and four Avenger torpedo-bombers were shot down. Kondo claimed two of these. A total of 14 were claimed by the total group, but there were in fact only eight Japanese "victories." Two Zero were lost during the attack with another severely damaged and, because pilots lost their bearings during the aerial combat, another two Zeros failed to return to their ship. While Hidaka's initiative diminished the threat to the Japanese carriers, it also reduced the protection for the Japanese bombers attacking the American carriers. Losses for those bombers were high. As a result of the battle, the Americans lost the fleet carrier Hornet and Enterprise was severely damaged. However, the losses in Japanese aircraft and aircrew and the extensive damage to Shokaku and Zuiho made it a Pyrrhic victory for the IJN. The United States could make good their losses, but Japan could not.
ww2dbaseShortly after Kondo took off from Zuiho with Lieutenant Hidaka, the carrier took hits from American dive bombers that resulted in her being unable to launch or recover aircraft. Zuiho withdrew from the battle and returned to Japan, where she was in drydock until mid-December. Her orphaned aircraft and pilots, along with that from Shokaku, landed on Zuikaku. In November, Kondo was transferred to Junyo, which had participated effectively in the Santa Cruz battle and had lost aircraft and aircrews but had not been damaged. Her new air group was formed from various units available following the losses at Santa Cruz.
ww2dbaseA major but unsuccessful land assault by the IJA had been underway on Guadalcanal at the same time the carrier fleets were battling in the Santa Cruz islands. Japan continued to try to retake the airfield on Guadalcanal through November, and Junyo's 27 Zeros, including Masaichi Kondo's, provided air cover for troop convoys intended to reinforce Guadalcanal. During the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, Junyo's fighters provided air cover for ships en route to the war zone and afterward for ships damaged during the battle, including the battleship Hiei. Junyo's fighters engaged torpedo-bombers from Enterprise, at the cost of two Zeros, but were unsuccessful in preventing them from sinking Hiei. In December 1942 and January 1943, Junyo provided air cover for troop convoys to Wewak, New Guinea. Twenty-one of her fighters flew to the airfield there to provide close support for the troops as they landed, including interceptions of B-24 heavy bombers. Afterward, they flew to Truk to rejoin their carrier. In early February, following Japan's decision to withdraw her forces from Guadalcanal, Junyo joined Zuikaku and Zuiho in a sortie to the northern Solomon Islands to divert attention from the evacuation. Following this, Junyo sortied to home base at Sacki.
ww2dbaseAfter setbacks at Guadalcanal, Buna-Gona, and the Bismarck Sea, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto worked toward creating a new defensive perimeter around their large naval base at Rabaul on New Britain. Operation I-Go was planned as a short, concentrated air campaign to temporarily establish air superiority and delay Allied advances up the Solomons and in Eastern New Guinea while the new perimeter was established. Aircraft totaling 184 of all types from Zuikaku and Zuiho (Carrier Division 1) was detached from their carriers and brought to Rabaul to augment land-based naval aircraft. Carrier aircraft from Junyo and Hiyo (Carrier Division 2), including Kondo's, was detached and sent to Ballale Island just south of Bougainville in the central Solomons. On April 7, 1943, 224 bombers and fighters from their air groups hit Guadalcanal in the largest concentration of naval aircraft since Pearl Harbor. Junyo's aircraft sank destroyer USN Aaron Ward. As usual, pilots exaggerated their successes both in aircraft shot down and ships sunk. Major strikes including fighters from Junyo were made in the following days on New Guinea at Oro Bay, Port Moresby, and Milne Bay where inflated reports claimed that 175 Allied planes had been destroyed when in fact there had only been five. Based upon such reports, Yamamoto concluded that the objectives of I-Go had been achieved and discontinued I-Go after only nine days. During the entire operation, only 25 Allied aircraft had been destroyed at a cost of 55 Japanese Aircraft. Only a destroyer and four auxiliaries had been sunk. On April 17, Kondo and his air group rejoined Junyo, which had remained at Truk.
ww2dbaseIn late June 1943, the Allies landed at Rendova Island in the central Solomons. In response, Junyo was ordered to the area and her air group detached, along with all aircraft in the 2nd Air Flotilla, to become land-based at Buin on Bougainville. There the air group was engaged in daily air battles. On August 15, 1943 Kondo was escorting dive-bombers heading for Vella Lavella when he shot down an interceptor but was himself wounded in the leg. He made it back to Buin but was hospitalized and evacuated to Japan where he spent 15 months in the hospital. Afterward posted to the 203rd Air Group, Masaichi Kondo did not see any additional combat before the war ended. He was regarded as tenacious and skillful without being showy. He was an "ace" pilot, having claimed 13 victories in air-to-air combat. Of the other 161 Japanese naval aces, 93 did not survive the war.
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Last Major Revision: Feb 2021
Masaichi Kondo Interactive Map
Masaichi Kondo Timeline
|23 Aug 1937||Japanese A4N biplanes from carrier Ryujo attacked a group of Chinese Hawk III biplanes over Baoshan District of Shanghai, China; Masaichi Kondo claimed two victory, while other pilots in his air group claimed an additional eight. On the Chinese side, Liu Cuigang claimed one victory at 0730 hours, Yuan Baokang claimed one damaged over Liuhe in Jiangsu Province, and Wong Sun-sui claimed one victory near Chongming Island north of Shanghai.|
|13 Apr 1938||Kaga launched 18 D1A2 bombers at 0830 hours, with 6 fighters in escort, to attack Tienhe airfield near Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China; Gladiator fighters of Chinese 28th Pursuit Squadron and 29th Pursuit Squadron intercepted the group, shooting down 2 A4N1 fighters and 2 D1A2 bombers; 4 Chinese fighters were also lost in combat.|
|10 Jan 1940||Masaichi Kondo engaged Chinese fighters above Guilin, Guangxi Province, China.|
|17 Apr 1943||Masaichi Kondo and his air group was transferred to carrier Junyo at Truk, Caroline Islands.|
|15 Aug 1943||Masaichi Kondo was escorting dive bombers heading to Vella Lavella, Solomon Islands when he shot down an American fighter, but he also suffered a leg wound during the dogfight.|
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939
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