Saburo Sakai, WWII Japanese Ace – know who you’re up against

About a little known fact from the military career of Saburo Sakai

Pacific Paratrooper

 As the Intermission stories come to a close, until we reach the break of 1944-1945, we take a look at one of the pilots the Allied Air Forces were up against…..

Saburō Sakai in the cockpit of a Mitsubishi A5M Type 95 fighter at the Hankow Airfield in China in 1939

Saburō Sakai in the cockpit of a Mitsubishi A5M Type 95 fighter at the Hankow Airfield in China in 1939

During WWII, Sub-Lieutenant Saburō Sakai served as a naval aviator with the Imperial Japanese Navy. He claimed 64 victories, one of which was made after he had been blinded in an eye and had half of his body paralyzed.

 Born in 1916, Sakai was a direct descendant of samurais. He was the third of four sons, which is exactly what Saburō means – third son. In 1933, he joined the Japanese Navy and began quickly climbing his way up the ranks.

In 1937, however, he decided to become a pilot. He did so well that he graduated first in his…

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3 thoughts on “Saburo Sakai, WWII Japanese Ace – know who you’re up against

  1. Found on a forum
    Several years ago, a former Dutch military nurse — now a retired woman in her 70’s — contacted the Japanese Red Cross (or some similar charitable organization), attempting to locate a Japanese fighter pilot who spared her life somewhere over Java (New Guinea?) one day in 1942. According to her account of the event, she was flying in a Dutch military DC-3 (C-47) air ambulance at low altitude over dense jungle. On board were wounded soldiers and several children who were being evacuated from a combat area. Suddenly, a Japanese “Zero” fighter appeared alongside the plane. The nurse could see the Japanese pilot’s facial features clearly. She and some of the children stood by the tiny cabin and cockpit windows of the DC-3 and began frantically trying to wave him off. It is not hard to imagination the panic they must have experienced while pantomiming as if their lives depended on it

    After a few eternal moments of what must have been sheer terror for the desperately pantomiming passengers, the “Zero” gave a quick, acknowledging wing wobble before peeling off and disappearing from sight. The cockpit and cabin of the DC-3 were filled with cheers and sobs of relief.

    For fifty-odd years, the Dutch nurse had wanted to meet with the Japanese pilot who spared her life, as well as the lives of the wounded soldiers and children that day. With a stroke of sheer luck, the Japanese Red Cross was able to locate the pilot of the Zero plane, and it was none other than Saburo Sakai, who had been flying a sortie combat air patrol on the day in question. When asked if he remembered the incident, Sakai replied that he did, and that he had thought about downing the plane for a brief moment, as higher command had instructed fighter patrols to down any and all enemy aircraft encountered, When he saw the waving hands and horror-stricken faces in the windows of the DC-3, however, he was moved to mercy

    Here’s how Saburo tells it in one of his last interviews:

    “It was me. That was in the Dutch East Indies. This was during the bombing of Java. The order was to shoot down any aircraft over Java. I was over Java and had just shot down an enemy aircraft when I saw a big black aircraft coming towards me. I saw that it was a civilian aircraft – a DC-4. As I flew closer I saw that it was full of passengers. Some were even having to stand. I thought that these might be important people fleeing, so I signaled to the pilot to follow me. The pilot of the aircraft was courageous enough not to follow me so I came down and got much closer. Through one of the round windows I saw a blonde woman, a mother with a child about three years old. So I thought I shouldn’t kill them. As a child I went to a middle school for two years, a school I was later expelled from. While I was there I was taught by an American, Mr. Martin, and his wife came to the class to teach us while her husband or the other teachers were away. She was good to me. And that woman in the airplane looked like Mrs. Martin. So I thought that I shouldn’t kill them. So I flew ahead of the pilot and signaled him to go ahead. Then the people in the plane saluted. The pilot saluted me and the passengers. I didn’t know where it went: either to the United States or Australia. I couldn’t find out. But a few years ago I came to find out where that plane went – back to Holland. Newspapermen from Holland came to visit me to find out if it was true. Well, anyway, I didn’t respect my orders that day but I still think I did the right thing. I was ordered to shoot down any aircraft, but I couldn’t live with myself doing that. I believed that we should fight a war against soldiers; not civilians.”


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