Posted on March 13th, 2017 by:

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By Cpl. Ralph Boyce

YANK Staff Correspondent

SOMEWHERE IN AUSTRALIA—If the Nips ever capture M/Sgt. Tom Butler of Phoebus, Va., or any of his buddies, the guys will probably end up with good ratings in the Japanese Imperial Air Forces. They know as much as a top-flight Japanese mechanic about the Zero fighter plane. They ought to; they’ve built one.

Members of a material section of the Fifth Air Force, these 15 enlisted men rebuilt an entire Mark II type of Zero fighter from the remains of Japanese planes captured after American flyers bombed and strafed the Buna airstrip in New Guinea. The Mark II, known to our flyers as a “Hap,” is the new model of Zero. The older kind, Mark I, is called a “Zeke”. Navy mechanics in the States reconstructed a Zeke shot down in the Aleutians, but this is the first time an airworthy Hap has been in American hands.

With a higher ceiling than the Zeke, the Hap is also better equipped for diving, being capable of almost vertical attacks. The Hap’s armament includes 20-mm cannon and a 13-mm gun with a new high –explosive bullet. The most obvious change between the two models is in the wingtips; those of the Hap are square, while the Zeke’s are rounded.

Made entirely with Japanese parts, the reconstructed plane is actually five different ships. The battered Haps were completely dismantled at the Buna airstrip, and the parts loaded on jeeps and taken to the beach. Then the salvage crew transferred the material to barges bound for Australia. One of the ships, carrying the Japanese engines, sank en route, but the vital parts were rescued.

captured japanese zero

Men of the Fifth Air Force in Australia and a Japanese Zero they reconstructed out of salvaged parts

Back on the mainland, the parts were sorted and repaired. The salvage men found that Yank souvenir hunters had “borrowed” some of the vital parts at the airstrip. “Guys don’t seem to realize that the part they grab may be just the one we need to complete the job.” Butler says. In some cases the sheet-metal men had to remake vital parts from the original material.

Parts of every engine recovered were used. Six months after the operations began the plane was flying again, as good a Zero as every came out of the Mitsubishi factory. But this time an American pilot is at the controls. When he flies around his own base, the Hap carries Japanese insignia, but on trips to other fields, the plane will wear the U.S. markings to avoid trouble with our own ack-ack.

Working with Butler on the actual salvage job at Buna airstrip were S/Sgts. Robert (Hank) Henriksen of Austin, Minn.; Everett (Stud) Maynard of Peoria, Ill.; Orin L. Buum of White River, S. Dak., and Earl O. Kavinen of the State of Washington; and Cpls. Richard Hall of Northfield, Minn., and Isadore Novick of Philadelphia, Pa.

Other enlisted men who saw the project through were T/Sgts. John D. Mollet of Ogden, Utah; Joseph J. Gutterman of Belleville, Ill., and Moring P. Clark of Plant City, Fla., S/Sgts. Dick Goodrich of Caspar, Wyo.; Lyle E. Alfred of Talmadge, Utah, and Edward L. Beaudry of North Reading, Mass.; and Pvts. Miles H. Robbins of Scranton, Pa., and Robert T. Hill of Pasadena, Calif. 1st Lt. Clyde D. Gessel of Providence, Utah, was the officer in charge of the work.

If it’s any consolation to other grease monkeys, they all agree that a Japanese plane is harder to work on than a U.S. plane.

For Further Reading Check Out:

Imperial Japanese Navy Aces 1937-45 (Osprey Aircraft of the Aces 22)

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