Hiroyoshi Nishizawa 




Warrant Officer Hiroyoshi Nishizawa, Japanís leading ace,

It is possible that Nishizawa was the most successful Japanese fighter ace of the war; he personally claimed to have had 87 aerial victories at the time of his death. Some uncertainty is due to the Japanese habit of recording victories for pilots' units, rather than the individual, after 1941, as well as the often wildly-exaggerated claims of aerial kills that were frequently accepted. Some sources credit Nishizawa with over 100 victories. Born on the 27th of January 1920, the son of a sake brewer. In June 1936, a poster caught his eye, an appeal for volunteers to join the Yokaren (flight reserve enlistee training program). Hiroyoshi applied and qualified as a student pilot in Class Otsu No. 7 of the Japanese Navy Air Force (JNAF). He completed his flight training course in March 1939, graduating 16th out of a class of 71. In October 1941 he was transferred to the Chitose Kokutai, with the rank of petty officer 1st class. After the outbreak of war with the Allies Nishizawa's squadron (chutai) from the Chitose Air Group then flying the obsolete Mitsubishi A5M, moved to Vunahanav airfield on the newly taken island of New Britain The squadron received its first Mitsubishi Zeros (A6M2, Model 21) the same week. On the 3rd of February, Nishizawa, still flying an obsolete A5M, claimed his first aerial kill of the war, a PBY Catalina; historians have confirmed, however, that the plane was only damaged and managed to return to base. On the  10th of February, Nishizawa's squadron was transferred to the newly formed 4th Air Group. As new Zeros became available, Nishizawa was assigned an A6M2 bearing the tail code F-108. On the 1st of April, Nishizawa's squadron was transferred to Lae New Guinea  and assigned to the Taina Air Group. There he flew with aces Saburo Sakai and Toshio Ota in a chutai (squadron) led by Junichi Saai. Sakai described his friend Nishizawa as about 5-foot-8, 140 lb (64 kg) in weight, pale and gaunt, suffering constantly from malaria and tropical skin diseases. Accomplished at judo, his squadron mates, who nicknamed him the "Devil," considered him a reserved, taciturn loner. Of his performance in the air, Sakai, himself one of Japan's leading aerial aces, wrote, "Never have I seen a man with a fighter plane do what Nishizawa would do with his Zero. His aerobatics were all at once breathtaking, brilliant, totally unpredictable, impossible, and heart-stirring to witness." They often clashed with USA and RAAF fighters operating from Port Morseby. Nishizawa's first confirmable solo kill, of a USAAF Air Cobra , was on the  11th of April. He claimed six more kills in a 72-hour period from 1Ė3 May, making him a confirmed fighter ace. Nishizawa was a member of the famed "Cleanup Trio" with Saburo Sakai and Toshio Ota.



In mid-November 1942, the 21st was recalled to Toyohashi air base in Japan to replace its losses, with the ten surviving pilots all being made instructors, including Nishizawa. Nishizawa is believed to have had around forty full or partial aerial victories by this time (some sources claim 54).  Nishizawa publicly chafed at the months of inaction in Japan. He and the 251st returned to Rabaul in May 1943. In June 1943, Nishizawa's achievements were honored by a gift from the commander of the 11th Air Fleet, Vice Admiral Jin'ichi Kusaka. Nishizawa received a military sword inscribed Buko Batsugun ("For Conspicuous Military Valor"). He was then transferred to the 253rd Air Group on New Britain in September. In November, he was promoted to warrant officer and re-assigned to training duties in Japan with the Oita Air Group. In February 1944, he joined the 203rd Air Group operating from the Kurile Islands, away from heavy action. In October, however, the 203rd was transferred to Luzon. Nishizawa and four others were detached to a smaller airfield on Cebu. On the 25th of October, he led the fighter escort consisting of four A6M5s, flown by Nishizawa, Misao Sugawa, Shingo Honda and Ryoji Baba for the first major kamikaze attack of the war. Target for this attack was V. Adm. Clifton Sprague's "Taffy 3" task force, defending the landings in the Battle of Leyte Gulf.  The kamikaze "volunteers", led by Lieutenant Yukio Seki, piloted five bomb-armed A6M2 Model 21 Zeros, each carrying a 250 kg (550 lb) bomb. They crash-dived their planes deliberately into U.S. warships in the first official kamikaze attack of the Tokkōtai suicide squadron "Shikishima". They were the first kamikazes to sink an enemy ship. The attack was very successful, as four of the five kamikazes struck their targets, and inflicted heavy damage. An A6M2 likely flown by Lt. Yukio Seki  crashed onto the flight deck of the escort carrier USS St. Lo at 10:53. The Zero's 250 kg (550 lb) bomb exploded on the portside hangar deck, resulting in a fire and secondary explosions which soon detonated torpedoes and the bomb magazine of St. Lo. The escort carrier sank half an hour later, 126 men were lost in action. Lieutenant Yukio Seki is recorded as saying before the mission: "Japan's future is bleak if it is forced to kill one of its best pilots. I am not going on this mission for the Emperor or for the Empire... I am going because I was ordered to! While flying fighter escort to this mission, Nishizawa records his 86th and 87th victories (both F6F Hellcats), the final aerial victories of his career. 

Hiroyoshi Nishizawa in his Mitsubishi Zero A6M3 Model 22










Kamikaze pilot in a Mitsubishi Zero


















USS Wasp


U.S. Navy grumman F4F-4 Wildcat fighters of fighter squadron VF-71 launching the aircraft carrier USS Wasp

The following day, his own Zero having been destroyed, Nishizawa and other pilots of the 201st Kokutai boarded a  transport plane and left Mabalacat on Cebu in the morning, to ferry replacement Zeros from Clark Field on Luzon. Over Calapan on Mindoro Island, the Ki-49 transport was attacked by two F6F Hellcats of VF-14 squadron from the fleet carrier USS Wasp and was shot down in flames. Nishizawa died as a helpless passenger, probably the victim of Lt. j.g. Harold P. Newell, who was credited with a "Helen" northeast of Mindoro that morning. 



Warrant Officer Hiroyoshi Nishizawa, Japanís leading ace, had been killed at the age of 24.