By Pierre Kosmidis
Rod Pearce has dedicated his time and efforts finding underwater aircraft wrecks and seeking closure to the families of hundreds -if not thousands- of Missing in Action (MIA) airmen from all nations that fought during World War Two.
Rod has been diving in Papua New Guinea for 40 years and is credited with discovering most of its best underwater wrecks, including B-17F “Black Jack” 41-24521 and co-finding s’Jacob, along with many other WW2 shipwrecks and aircraft.
“I have been working with the American nonprofit organization called “Pacific Wrecks” (see pacificwrecks.com) for the past ten years or so “Rod says and adds:
“While Justin Taylan -founder and director of Pacific Wrecks- and the rest of his team has mainly been focused on our overland-work, and for the last two years has had a US government contract to investigate MIAs in Papua New Guinea, my interest and focus has always been the underwater side.
Together I’d say we make a pretty good team for doing what we do”.
The A6M series of the Japanese Zero was designated as Type “0” Carrier Fighter and the meaning of A6M5 is “A” Carrier Based Fighter “6” the sixth model built for the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) and “M” is for Mitsubishi, the manufacture of the aircraft. And the “5” is the fifth in the series of aircraft.
Model 52 is read as “five – two” not 52 and is the fifth airframe modification and 2nd engine. Eg. (Sakae 12 engine powered the mds.11 & 21, Sakae 21 engine powered the mds. 22, 32 & 52)
The word Zero comes from the Type “O” but was designated by the Americans as ZEKE as a reconnection code for the aircraft, however today it is better known as the “ZERO”. Also manufactured by Nakajima Hikoki K.K. under license.
From Pearl Harbor to the last days of WWII the various models of the Japanese Reisen A6M series saw action throughout the Pacific theater, especially in the skies over Rabaul.
Approximately 150 – 200 A6M5 Md. 52’s were sent to Papua New Guinea from late 1943 to keep pace with the allies ever increasing modernization of aircraft. As very little shipping was getting into Rabaul after late 1943 aircraft were flown in by way of Chuck in Micronesia, a distance of 600 nm, however some aircraft were shipped into the garrision.
Here is what Rod Pearce has to say about this specific aircraft wreck:
“The Mongo Zero as it has become known was first dived by Hillary Wong perhaps back in the 1970/80’s it sat undisturbed for many years visited by a very few divers until I happened to anchor at Mongo overnight back in 2004.
Locals at Mongo knew of it but not of its exact location, my vessel Barbarian is equipped with Side Scan Sonar by Deep Vision of Sweden and it was only a matter of a hour or so to find it.
It lies upside down in 23 metes of water on a rather steep coral slope very close to the shore line, covered in coral and sand.
On scraping away the sand the Japanese National Insignia was still clearly visible, also the data stencil was painted on the port side of the rear fuselage just forward of the horizontal tailplane and within this stencil was the construction number 4213.
The first production number of the Md.52 was 3904, this shows us it was the “309th” Md 52 to be produced by Mitsubishi. On the side of the aircraft the bordering 75mm of white paint surrounding the “Red Ball” has been painted over by black paint just leaving the ‘emblem of the raising sun and sometimes this bordering was painted out.
The aircraft number is 154 found painted on the lower engine cowling lip in light brown paint or a off gold or ocher color. It is not known from what Kokutai it belonged although research is going on regarding this.
Units that flew the 52 Md. Were the 201st , 202nd & 204th Kokutai with tail markings W1, ?, & T2. So the tail markings would read W1-154, T2-154 etc. The “1” indicated that the aircraft was a fighter aircraft and the 54 is the aircraft number.
There is no visible battle damage so perhaps it just ran out of fuel and ditched, there is no story that goes with the aircraft passed down by the locals of Mongo. It was painted sky grey paint scheme with a blue black engine cowl.
The aircraft is 35 miles South of Rabaul on New Britain’s south coast and is accessible by road or by boat from Rabaul.