Salvaged and restored: The story of the Kawanishi N1K-J Shiden 紫電 probably flown by Kaneyoshi Muto 武藤 金義

WW2, WW2 Pacific treasures

By Pierre Kosmidis

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On November 18, 1978, japanese scuba divers discovered approximately 200 meters from the shore in Jyoen Hisayoshi Bay, Japan, a nearly intact Kawanishi N1K-J Shiden 紫電 probably flown by ace pilot Kaneyoshi Muto, although no concrete evidence is available.

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After close examination and a detailed salvage operation, the aircraft wreck was lifted from the seabed and saw again the sun on July 14, 1979, 34 years after it was shot down and ditched at sea.

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This Kawanishi N1K-J Shiden 紫電,   is the only existing in Japan and is currently exhibited at the at Nanreku Misho Koen, Ehime Prefecture, Japan. 

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After the aircraft was damaged in battle, its pilot landed on July 24, 1945 in the waters of the Bungo Channel, but he was never found.

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kaneyoshi_mutohBy the time of the aircraft’s recovery from the seabed in the 1970s, he could be identified only as one of six pilots from the 343 squadron who disappeared that day. Photographs of the six—including Takashi Oshibuchi, commander of the 701 Hikōtai, and Kaneyoshi Muto—are displayed under the aircraft engine.

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On 24 July 1945, over the Bungo Channel, Muto and other pilots scrambled to attack a larger group of American fighters which turned out to be VF-49 Hellcats, part of Task Force 38 supporting the bombing of Kure.

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Greatly outnumbered, Muto was shot down and never seen again. Takashi Oshibuchi, the commander of the 701st Squadron, was also among the six veteran Japanese airmen who did not return from the violent action.

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Japanese military officials gave Muto credit for 35 aerial victories at the time of his death. Famous Japanese pilot Saburo Sakai wrote in 1957 that this figure included four B-29s—very difficult to shoot down.

The wrecked aircraft showed no bullet holes and provided no other clue as to what caused it to ditch. It was restored for display and placed in an exhibit at a nearby museum in Shikoku. No evidence is available to identify which 343rd Air Group pilot flew the fighter, so the museum honors all six of the Shiden pilots who lost their lives that day, including Muto and Oshibuchi.

After the war, Muto was credited with 28 victories by U.S. Air Force researchers studying battle records.