By Henry Sakaida

“I flew the most famous Zero fighter during the war, but no one knows me!” chuckled former Zero pilot Takeo Tanimizu. Photographs of Tanimizu’s A6M5 Model 52 Zero No.03-09 can be seen in many aircraft publications, and its likeness has been reproduced on model airplane kits, magazine profiles, and as aviation prints.

takeo tanimizu

Warrant Officer Takeo Tanimizu, 203 Air Group, June 1945. His A6M5 Model 52 Zero fighter is famous for the colorful victory markings. It shows 5 definite kills, one probable or damaged, and 1 definite B-29 with another damaged.

takeo tanimizu

takeo tanimizu henry sakaida

November 1982, Hamamatsu Air Base, Japan. Mr. & Mrs. Tanimizu took my wife and I to an air show. He snapped this photo of me holding a model airplane kit depicting his fighter.

takeo tanimizu

Tanimizu belonged to the 203 Naval Air Group. His Zero is famous because of its unique victory markings painted on the fuselage. Such markings were rarely painted on their fighters because individual credits were not awarded to the pilot claiming a kill. He painted the markings to boost the morale and confidence of many young inexperienced pilots in his squadron.

takeo tanimizu henry sakaida

303 Squadron, 203 Air Group in June 1945. Tanimizu is in the 2nd row, 5th from the left.

In 1982 when I visited Mr. Tanimizu at his home in Osaka, I put the question to him: “Whatever happened to your Zero?” He simply shrugged and said, “Probably someone flew it and lost in combat.”

In 1988, Mr. Tanimizu sent me a small Japanese book titled OCCUPATION OF TOKYO 1945. Inside was a photograph of wrecked aircraft in a hangar in Nagasaki. A reader with a very sharp eye contacted Mr. Tanimizu; there appeared to be a broken up Zero with the tail number 03, and what appeared to be kill markings on the fuselage. Could it be his Zero?!!! No way!

takeo tanimizu

A booklet rather than a book, it measures 4×6 inches.

takeo tanimizu

Can you find the wreckage of Zero 03-09??! You will strain your eyes looking for it!

Mr. Tanimizu presented me with the challenge. He had to know if that was his Zero. Amongst the Japanese pilot veterans, I had this undeserved reputation of being a super sleuth; how I regretted it! Anticipating failure, I wrote back: “This book has many photographs, taken by nameless photographers.I’m afraid this is an impossible task, but I will try…”

To make a short story long, I located the photographer who snapped the photo! It took me a couple of years.  He was a Marine Corp photographer named Norman Hatch. He was amused with my story and stated that it was taken in November 1945; he gladly supplied me with the original negative! When I enlarged the photo, I was flabbergasted! It was indeed Mr. Tanimizu’s mount! He was ecstatic!  Whew! I had saved my face and my overblown ego! I vowed “never again!”

takeo tanimizu

Zero fighter 03-09 is right in the center of this photo. You can see the victory markings! Only the 03 is left on the tail. All of the wreckages were recycled.

Mr. Tanimizu fought at Rabaul, Taiwan, and the home defense and claimed 32 victories. When the war ended, he could not accept defeat, and joined a group of diehards to continue fighting. However, the nation was tired of the war and the rebels received no support. Tanimizu finally accepted defeat and moved to rebuild his life. He passed away on March 12, 2008 in an Osaka nursing home at age 88.

For Related Articles See:

For Books by Henry Sakaida Check Out:

Heroes of the Soviet Union 1941–45

Heroines of the Soviet Union 1941–45

I-400: Japan’s Secret Aircraft Carrying Strike Submarine, Objective Panama Canal

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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