Did WW2 pilots bomb a Japanese aircraft carrier, while flying captured Japanese planes?

I was watching the 1976 TV show “Black Sheep Squadron” (Season 1, Episode 6, “The Meatball Circus”. In it, the Marine pilots from the Black Sheep Squadron fly captured and rebuilt Japanese planes to drop bombs on a Japanese aircraft carrier.

I know not to take my history from TV series, but shows like that were often at least based on a real event.

So was there a case of US pilots using captured Japanese planes to get close enough to a Japanese ship to bomb it?

Not that I’ve heard of.

It is definitive that no Japanese carriers were sunk in said manner. Here’s a list of the 20 carriers which were sunk during the war.

Capturing enemy aircraft wasn’t that common in WWII, at least in the Pacific theater. It did happen in some famous cases such as the intact Zero found in Akutan in June, 1942 which were then carefully studied. Certainly outside of fiction, there were not sufficient quantities to form combat squadrons of planes.

I don’t know if any of the Japanese dive or torpedo bombers were ever captured until later on in the war such as when the Allies recaptured the Philippines. By that time, the US had such an overwhelming number of carriers and aircraft that using captured planes would not have been necessary.

I know Nazi Germany would occasionally use captured American aircraft for recon purposes and also to shadow American bomber formations to relay their positions to attacking fighters. This got to the point American bomber crews realized this and would open fire on unknown bombers that tailed them but wouldn’t reply to their radio calls.

Negatives are sometimes hard to prove but that one is a straight ‘no’. There was no use of captured Japanese a/c in operational roles by the Allies. And few of those captured and restored to flying status for tests were before 1944. The major exception to the latter statement is the Navy Type Zero Model 21 fighter which crashlanded on Akutan Isl in the Aleutians after one of the Japanese carrier raids on Dutch Harbor in June 1942, found by the Americans the following month and restored to flying condition in the following months. A composite flyable Zero Model 32 was constructed in 1943 using wrecks captured on Buna a/f in New Guinea at the end of 1942, followed by other fighters (almost exclusively) restored from a/c abandoned on New Guinea and Solomon Islands airfields from 1943. The first attack type restored to flying condition was a Type 97 Carrier Attack plane (‘Kate’) captured in the Marianas in 1944. A larger number and variety of a/c was captured at Clark field in the Philippines in early 1945.

Bob Hoover stole an FW-190 in his escape from Stalag Luft 1.

So that bit about James Garner and Donald Pleasance stealing a trainer in The Great Escape wasn’t cut from whole cloth? Who knew!

Yes, there is some connection between that movie episode and reality. But fairly tenuous as you’d expect. Hoover only left the prison camp after the German guards deserted at the end of April 1945 at the approach of the Soviets, when all the other prisoners could also leave. Hoover readily admitted that despite the story often being told by others as if it was a ‘great escape’ from the camp. Likewise it’s a matter of whose rendition of the story whether a German crew chief was willing at that point, end of the war imminent, to start the plane for Hoover or had to be threatened with a gun, by somebody else in some tellings.

Thanks for the confirmations. I wasn’t finding any stories that seemed like the starting kernel for that TV episode, but it’s rather hard to come up with a set of search terms that I was sure would get me a definitive yes or no.

I don’t have the Great Escape book ready to hand — and it may have been a different escape attempt — but I recall an incident where two escapees snuck onto an airbase and attempted to steal a plane, only to find that it didn’t have a starting crank. They were scouting for a crank when they were confronted by an NCO who demanded (in German, of course) just WTF they were up to, and one of them replied (in English) something like, “Well, we thought we’d just borrow one of these and go home for the weekend.” According to the story, the NCO nearly had a heart attack.

In theory, such a act would be a War Crime.

Not at all, unless they kept them painted in Japanese colors. There’s no prohibitions on using captured enemy stuff so long as you properly mark it as your own.

Hell, flying someone else’s flag and sailing up to the enemy and whipping the false flag down, and running the real one up just before opening fire seemed to have been a standard tactic in the Age of Sail, and they captured each other’s ships all the time.

I can’t imagine that captured Japanese planes marked with appropriate US markings would be a war crime.

I assumed they were not so marked. Indeed in the few images I was able to find of that show, the Japanese planes still had their meatballs, thus the title.

Yes, you can wear a false flag, up until the shooting starts. Of course, they can shoot you as a spy, but it’s not a war crime doing so.

In this particular script, the planes were kept in their original Japanese paint. The whole idea was to fly over several Japanese emplacements, without being IDed as Americans, in order to drop bombs on a Japanese aircraft carrier that US planes couldn’t reach, because of the need to detour around said emplacements.

And that would be a war crime.

Coincidentally, I’ve just received the complete first season of Baa Baa Black Sheep on DVD. :slight_smile:

There must have been great pains taken to test the captured aircraft in a safe area.

“Attention, everybody! You know how we’ve been spending the last couple years teaching you how to recognize a Mitsubishi Zero and then to do everything you can to shoot it down? Well, that’s mostly still true, but there’s one of them that you shouldn’t shoot at. It’s pretty important, actually.”

How did they transport and test captured aircraft; paint the wings bright orange, put it in a crate and ship it to Ohio?

When he got back to England, I assume he cut the engine and glided to a landing.

He landed in a field in The Netherlands. He said he just flew until he saw windmills.

Apparently he flew to The Netherlands, however the war was all but over most German camps let their prisoners wander as they pleased.

Painted in standard US Navy color and markings of the time, it was first test flown in San Diego in September 1942.

This. Most enemy planes were shot down, and crashed into the sea. Nothing left to fly. After all, if the plane could fly, the pilot would have flown it back to his own side.

And even if painted in Japanese colors, if a plane is not responding to radio signals from the Japanese carrier, and goes into a bombing pattern, the AA gunners will start firing on it.

Besides, Allied aircraft seemed to have no great problem getting close enough to Japanese carriers – they sunk nearly 2 dozen of them. The main problem was aiming accurately from a moving plane, at a ship twisting & turning unpredictably.