Morbid Fact Du Jour For January 5, 2017

Today’s Onrushing Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The Guadalcanal Campaign, also known as the Battle of Guadalcanal and code-named Operation Watchtower, originally applying only to an operation to take the island of Tulagi, by Allied forces, was a military campaign fought between August 7, 1942 and February 9, 1943 on and around the island of Guadalcanal in the Pacific theater of World War II. It was the first major offensive by Allied forces against the Empire of Japan.  The Americans caught the Japanese off-guard and were able to capture an airfield (named Henderson Field by the Americans) that the Japanese were building on the island.  The airfield soon became the focus of months of fighting during the Guadalcanal Campaign, as it enabled U.S. airpower to hinder the Japanese attempts at resupplying their troops. The Japanese made several attempts to retake Henderson Field, resulting in continuous, almost daily air battles.

The following is a continuation of the tale of Japanese flying ace Saburo Sakai whose plane was struck by an American Dauntless plane during the first Japanese attempt to retake Henderson Field on August 7, 1942.

Saburo Sakai regained consciousness just as his plane was about to crash into the water and, although still blind from blood, he managed to right the Zero by sheer instinct. But his whole left side seemed to be paralyzed. Tears washed away enough blood for him to see his instruments dimly, but his situation seemed hopeless. It was more than five hundred miles to Rabaul. His cockpit cover was gone, the plane was surely seriously damaged and he was in need of immediate medical attention. Somehow he managed to work his silk flier’s scarf up and under his helmet to help staunch the flow of blood and to position a seat cushion as a windbreak.

Slouched as low as possible to avoid the onrushing wind, and unable to see where he was going, Sakai now found himself fighting the desire to sleep. time and again he dozed off, starting awake to find himself flying upside down or almost crashing into the waves. He tried hitting himself on his wounded cheek, hoping the pain would help him maintain consciousness, but this only caused his face to bloat out, as if a rubber ball were growing inside his mouth. “If I must die,” he began to say to himself, “at least I will go out as a Samurai.” More than once he turned back toward Guadalcanal to look for an enemy ship to crash into, then changed his mind and reversed course for Rabaul. But each backtrack wasted precious fuel, making his safe return more and more unlikely. At one point he came out of his stupor to realize that for some time he had been flying north into the empty Pacific. Finally, with the increasing pain from his head wound now keeping him awake, he regained his bearings and headed once and for all for Rabaul, flying at minimum speed to conserve fuel.

A Mitsubishi Zero in Flight

After what seemed like many hours, Sakai spotted the familiar volcanic peaks of New Britain, but the direct route over its mountainous interior seemed too perilous, so he decided to skirt the coast, following St. George’s Channel between Rabaul and New Ireland. As he entered the channel he glanced below him to see the white wakes of two cruisers heading rapidly southeast. He hoped they were headed for Guadalcanal.

A few minutes later, the airfield at Rabaul was at last in his sights, but he and his plane were both near their limits. He circled, debating whether to ditch in the water just off the beach. The thought of a bone-jolting crash into the water was too much to bear, so he determined to attempt a landing. His first try almost ended in disaster when he missed the runway and nearly crashed into the parked fighters. Pulling up, he circled four times and then went in for another try. His fuel gauge read empty, but he was taking no chances of an engine fire on crash landing. When he cleared the palms at the edge of the runway he switched off the ignition with a kick of his right boot (his left leg was still useless). A few seconds later the plane hit the ground with a jolting thud and rolled to a halt in front of the command post. As his mind let go and he fell into blackness he heard shouts of “Sakai! Sakai!’

“I cursed to myself,” he later recalled. “Why didn’t they keep quiet? I wanted to sleep.”

The Wounded Sakai

Culled from: The Lost Ships of Guadalcanal

More details from Wikipedia:  Sakai was struck in the head by a 7.62 mm (0.3 in) bullet, blinding him in the right eye and paralyzing the left side of his body.After landing, he insisted on making his mission report to his superior officer before collapsing. His squadron mate Hiroyoshi Nishizawa drove him to a surgeon. Sakai was evacuated to Japan on 12 August, where he endured a long surgery without anesthesia. The surgery repaired some of the damage to his head, but was unable to restore full vision to his right eye. Nishizawa visited Sakai while he recuperated in the Yokosuka hospital in Japan.

He eventually returned to combat but after the war he became a devout Buddhist and vowed to never again kill a living thing, not even a mosquito.  He later visited the U.S. and met and embraced several of his former adversaries, including Harold “Lew” Jones, the tail-gunner who had wounded him.

Saburo Sakai and Lew Jones in 1982

One of Sakai’s Zero planes is on display at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.  (More info on the plane here.)

And the helmet he was wearing when wounded is on display at the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *