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The Japanese air ace who died over the Territory

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Japanese air ace Captain Shunji Sasaki lies buried far away from his home land at Shady Camp in the Northern Territory. His final grave is close to where his twin-engine aircraft was brought down in July 1943 and remains to this day. 

The Japanese Dinah aircraft was designed to make reconnaissance of potential targets. Early in the morning on 18 July Sasaki, and with his observer Lieutenant Akira Eguchi departed from Lautem in East in a Dinah Ki-46 II, machine number 2414, Their aim was to carry out reconnaissance for bombing raids of the Fenton, Adelaide River and Coomalie areas being used by the Allies. 

At 0922 the plots of two aircraft were tracked over Peron Island by Allied radar. It was thought that two intruders were involved but this was then confirmed as one and some of the intercepting Spitfires returned to base. 

The Dinah was spotted by Squadron Leader Ken James at 1005 hours and after having trouble jettisoning his drop tank, James was able to close in on the Dinah at 26,000 feet

"…to about 250 yards, and fired a two second burst from line astern and at the same height. I observed strikes immediately [a]round the port engine and small pieces flew off the aircraft…smoke issued from the port engine, and then from the starboard…the aircraft began to lose height…When [it] was about 5,000 feet from the ground it blew up…after circling the area …I returned to base and landed at 1045 hours." 

Killed in the crash were the 70th DCS Commanding Officer, Captain Shunji Sasaki, and his observer, Lieutenant Akira Eguchi. One source says that "both officers were killed, apparently attempting to bail out of the aircraft too low”.

Captain Sasaki was the Commanding Officer of the 70th Dokuritsu Hiko Chutai. He was an "excellent air officer," his biographer later wrote, "…and flew many times over Australia by Dinah. It was natural that he was awarded a special citation after his death and this reached the Emperor's ear” [a phrase meaning the highest honor].

Sasaki's accomplishments were further extolled in a radio broadcast from Tokyo on 19 September that year:

"The Emperor has been informed of the citation granted to…the Sasaki Air Squadron by the Commander in Chief of the Army Air Force in the Southern regions, for meritorious service rendered in the Southern campaign and Australia region. 

The citation says that the Sasaki Air Squadron has thus far carried out 70 raids on the Australian mainland. That Squadron participated actively in the big offensive against North Australia in the last 10 days of June of this year…

The Sasaki unit contributed much to the close cooperation between the Army and Navy air combined attacks in the Australian region, and the success of the raid of June 20th by the Army Air Force was due largely to careful and accurate information obtained by that unit. 

Following Rangoon, the unit performed miracles in Burma, India, Java, and Australia battles. Sasaki perished in an air reconnaissance mission to Port Darwin on July 18th."

The wreckage of the aircraft was located by three officers of 457 Squadron. Both crew members were buried on site by RAAF personnel overseen by Intelligence Officer Flying Officer Claude Pender. 

In 1989 the wreckage of the aircraft, still in situ, was visited and examined by NT aviation historians Bob Alford and Owen Veal. A plaque was placed on the site in later years by a visiting Japanese group, commemorating the two airmen and others and it can still be seen there today, along with some of the wreckage.

​Captain Shunji Sasaki. (Courtesy Oz at War)