|Born||13 Feb 1918|
|Died||26 Aug 1942|
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseJunichi Sasai was born in Tokyo, Japan to a Navy captain. His childhood was marked by weak health, but his interest in Judo (in which he eventually achieved black belt). He attended Tokyo Municipal High School No. 1. He graduated from the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy in 1939, and then entered the 35th Aviation Student Course, which he completed in Nov 1941. On 10 Dec 1941, as a member of the Tainan Air Group based in Taiwan, he flew a fighter destined for American targets in the Philippine Islands, but had to abort mission due to engine trouble. on 2 Feb 1942, he achieved his first kill near the Maospati airfield, Java, when he downed a Dutch Buffalo fighter. Because of his skills as a fighter pilot and the tiger head belt buckle he always wore (a gift from his father), he earned the nickname "Flying Tiger". In Mar 1942, the Tainan Air Group was transferred to Lae, New Guinea, and became the squadron leader of the six-plane 3rd Squadron at the rank of lieutenant (jg). An experienced member of his squadron, Saburo Sakai, became a friend of his and taught him much about aerial combat. Sasai was well-respectived officer by his subordinates, largely due to his compassionate qualities. "The navy had a very rigid hierarchy and caste system; officers never made friends with enlisted men, it was not allowed. But Sasai was a different kind of officer", recalled Sakai. On 11 Apr, Sasai led nine A6M Zero fighters in a scouting mission over Port Moresby, New Guinea. On 4 May 1942, he became an ace after shooting down three P-39 Aircobra fighters within a 20-second time span. On 24 May, he shot down a B-25 Mitchell bomber of the 3rd Bomber Group of the US 13th Squadron. On 11 Jul, he led 12 A6M Zero fighters in an escort mission for 21 bombers targeting Port Moresby; en route, they encountered six B-17 Flying Fortress bombers of the 19th Bomb Group, but failed to down any while the Japanese bombers were attacked by interceptors, leading to a severe reprimand against Sasai. On 2 Aug, he flew head-on against a B-18 Flying Fortress bomber and downed the opposing aircraft. On 3 Aug, the Tainan Air Group transferred to Rabaul, New Britain, Solomon Islands. On 7 Aug, while attacking American targets at Guadalcanal, his comrade Saburo Sakai was seriously injured and must return to Japan for medical treatment; Sasai gave him the tiger head belt buckle, telling him "[P]lease go back to Japan and please come back to Rabaul!" Less than a month later, on 26 Aug 1942, he led eight A6M Zero fighters in a bomber escort mission against Henderson Field, Guadalcanal, and was hit by a F4F Wildcat fighter possibly piloted by United States Marine Corps' first fighter pilot ace Major Marion E. Carl. The fuel tank of Sasai's aircraft exploded, likely to have killed him instantly. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander.
Last Major Revision: Feb 2009
Junichi Sasai Timeline
|13 Feb 1918||Junichi Sasai was born.|
|26 Aug 1942||Junichi Sasai led eight Zero fighters escorting G4M bombers to Henderson Field, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands. Over Guadalcanal, Sasai engaged an American F4F Wildcat fighter, probably that of US Marine Corps Captain Marion E. Carl of VMF-223 squadron, who surprised Sasai by turning upright, machine guns firing. Sasai's Zero fighter was hit and exploded, killing him.|
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24 Apr 2023 04:38:44 PM
In the afternoon of August 26, 1942, Junichi Sasai's plane blew up over Henderson Field, killing Sasai, when a bullet fired by 2nd Lieutenant Eugene Trowbridge's F4F wildcat penetrated Sasai's wing tank.