By Henry Sakaida

Everyone loves a good war story and the demise of “Photo Joe” is one of the best and would have made a great movie! It took place in April 1943 around Upper Assam, India. According to LtCols Howard T. Wright and Charles T. Streit, a rather pesky Japanese recon plane would fly over and taunt them in pretty good English!

The Japanese plane was identified as a Ki-46II Type 100 Army Reconnaissance Aircraft, codenamed “Dinah.” Postwar research shows that the 81st Sentai operated over the area at the time. This aircraft carried two crewmen.

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Ki-46II “Dinah” of the 81st Sentai

Howard Wright went to India and was assigned to the 51st Fighter Group. He recalls: “We gradually became aware of the existence of a special Japanese photographic reconnaissance airplane, a twin engine type, which always came in, much higher than our P-40s could fly.”

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Ki-46II “Dinah” of the 81st Sentai in Java 1942

Wright and “Photo Joe” would routinely trade barbs. “One day, when he announced his arrival, I asked him if he had eaten that day, and if so, had he had any ‘flied lice?’ That got to him, and he told me, angrily, that he spoke better English than any Jew (I happened to be a WASP, but no matter). So I asked him in which slum part, of which slum city, he had learned his pidgeon English, and he blurted out, before he could stop himself, that he was a graduate from Oregon University in Eugene, Oregon.”

“Actually, he did speak with an American accent, and good English at that. So naturally I called him a traitor, and compared him to Tokie Rose, which he took for a compliment. He said that America would have to institute schools for the teaching of the Japanese language when they took over our country, and he would, probably, give the honor of the first such language school to his Alma Mater, the University of Oregon.”

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1st Lt. Charles T. Streit, 26th Fighter Squadron, 51st Fighter Group

A plan was devised to get “Photo Joe.”  Since the P-40 couldn’t reach the cruising altitude of 26,000 feet where the enemy recon plane operated, they stripped the fighter down to only two machine guns. They took out the armor and put in a minimal amount of fuel. All the personnel were placing bets!

In the afternoon of 8 April 1943, Lt Charles Streit of the 26th Fighter Squadron hauled his P-40E1 to 27,000 feet, and shot up the Dinah in the first pass. Streit fired 5 rounds from the left gun when it jammed, and 49 rounds from the right gun. The plane came down a short distance of headquarters.

“When we got out to the wreck,” remembered Wright, “we found out that there were three Japanese in it, all dead. All had parachutes, too, which none had tried to use. All were badly burnt, and we never did find out just which one was our old acquaintance from the University of Oregon. The Japanese ship was unarmed, but it did have cameras.”

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“Photo Joe” after it was shot down

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P-40E Warhawk. The type of plane flown by the 51st Fighter Group

fighter groupThe 81st Sentai Association in Japan confirmed the loss of 2 recon pilots that day: Pilot, 1/Lt Shigehiko Shibahana and observer, 1/Lt Toyosaku Hori. These pilots did NOT speak English and none of these men had ever attended the University of Oregon. It is doubtful that Wright was chatting with someone in the Dinah because it was a serious breach of military security. Recon observers conveyed their messages in code, not voice for fear of interception. No doubt, he was conversing with a Japanese radioman on the ground.

Everyone loves a good war story.  True Adventure Comics and other publications had fun with Streit’s story.

(LtCol Charles Taylor Streit, passed away in January 2013)

The story of “Photo Joe” in a war time newspaper:

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Letter to author Henry Sakaida From the University of Oregonfighter group


For Books by Henry Sakaida Check Out:

Genda’s Blade: Japan’s Squadron of Aces: 343 Kokutai

Aces of the Rising Sun 1937–1945

B-29 Hunters of the JAAF

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