The Devil of Rabaul: Japanese Ace With 88 Kills Who Died in the Passenger Seat

Nishizawa flies in his signature Mitsubishi Zero A6M3, in 1943 (Wikipedia)
Nishizawa flies in his signature Mitsubishi Zero A6M3, in 1943 (Wikipedia)

Of course, his request was refused.

It would have been madness to throw away a man of his calibre so lightly, and a great blow to morale. By this point, even in his early twenties, the young man was already being referred to by his enemies as the Ace of Aces – losing him in a suicide mission would have been simply unthinkable. Yet in the style of all great myths, tragedy and irony went hand in hand. By denying his wish, Nishizawa’s superiors sealed the fate of their finest pilot.

He was assigned to a different mission in the end, and the following morning set out as a passenger on a transport aircraft, setting off from Mabalacat. The weather was fine, with clear skies and low winds – the region had always been known for its gentler climate.

In fact, the assignment with which they had been tasked should not have posed any difficulty to any of the men on board; they were transporting replacement planes from Clark Field, Nishizawa’s own Zero having been destroyed in a separate operation.

In the sky above the small island of Mindoro, the Ace of Aces met his fate. (Wikipedia)
In the sky above the small island of Mindoro, the Ace of Aces met his fate (Wikipedia)

High in the clear October skies over Mindoro Island, two planes appeared in the distance. They were far behind, but rapidly closing the distance. The US fighters, a pair of F6F Hellcats, were now in hot pursuit, though even they had no idea just who they were bearing down upon.

As the three planes flew above the town of Calapan, American pilot Lt. Harold P. Newell sent the lumbering transport plane before him down in flames.

At the age of 24, just days after he predicted his own end, the Devil of Rabaul was dead.

A crashed Nakajima Ki-49 transport aircraft – the same model that Nishizawa died inside (Wikipedia)

In his short career, the Japanese Ace of Aces had earned the respect of his enemies and his comrades alike. He had become a nationally recognised symbol of bravery, patriotism and fearlessness in the face of death. Hiroyoshi Nishizawa walks to this day a unique line between a man and a myth, with a story rivalled by few others in its mysterious and evocative nature.

Like all the great figures of legend, the legacy of the man now known as Bukai-in Kohan Giko Kyoshi lives on, even after death. In the ocean of the military, Nishizawa is remembered as an honored Buddhist person, the Devil of Rabaul and the Ace of Aces.

By Malcolm Higgins

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