©1996 by Steve Lange
In retrospect, it seems blatantly obvious that the control of the air was a vitally important aspect of the Imperial Japanese Navy's operations in World War Two. However, this was not fully appreciated by either side until after the debacle at Pearl Harbor and the naval battles of Coral Sea and Midway. Before these battles, many top-ranking officers on both the Japanese and the American sides felt that the battleship--studded with anti-aircraft guns and protected by a steel armor belt at the waterline several feet thick--would be invulnerable to attack by aircraft.
It is also noteworthy that the aircraft carrier remained an unusually vulnerable type of ship in relation to its size. Without cruisers and possibly a battleship or two as escorts and a screen of destroyers, the aircraft carrier was a lightly protected, high priority target--an impossible combination in any war.
The Pacific War was a long war. Japanese aerial strategy and tactics in the war, particularly during its first year or so, are almost impossible to understand unless it is appreciated that Japan was counting on a short war, lasting a year or less until the "inevitable" armistice and recognition of Japan's "right" to a sphere of influence in the Far East on the part of the United States.
The Japanese military carefully and methodically followed military and technical developments in other countries from the Meiji Restoration in 1868 on. Therefore, it isn't especially surprising that the airplane was investigated as a potential weapon by the Japanese military at a very early stage in its development. In 1910, a Japanese national acquired a primitive airplane, a type similar to that designed and flown by the French aviator Henri Farman. This machine was flown in Japan and the design was put into limited production at the Tokugawa Balloon Factory in 1911, this being the first Japanese aircraft production of any type.
During World War One, Japan joined the conflict on the British side and also acquired examples of several wartime allied aircraft types, including some French Nieuport fighters and Salmson 2A-2 bombers.
During the 1920s, as a consequence of its military treaty with Great Britain, Japan received a naval aviation delegation from the Royal Navy. The Britsih delegates made recommendations for the establishment of a well-organized Imperial Japanese Navy Air Force and even helped to train some of its officers. The Imperial Japanese Navy Air Force was very conservative and, consequently, many of their operating practices and tactics in World War Two were those which they had adopted from the Royal Navy twenty years before. But while these had changed in Britain over that period, they did not change in Japan.
A typical example was the widespread use of floatplanes and flying boats. During the First World War and '20s, the Royal Navy made extensive use of such aircraft and found them to be very useful. If no water-based aircraft could then exceed 100 mph, then at that time, few multi-engined, land-based aircraft could exceed 100 mph either. But this situation radically changed over the next few years. The Short Sunderland not withstanding, the British had found that, with the escalation of aircraft speeds in the '30s, the floatplanes and flying boats became too slow to be worthwhile. If the maximum speeds of water-based aircraft had reached 200 mph, then those of the land-based types had soared to over 300 mph. Prototypes of the British Spitfire were flown with floats but it is significant that they were never operational. By contrast, the Japanese relied on a substantial number of floatplanes and flying boats, including two floatplane fighter types comparable to a Spitfire on floats--the Kawanishi N1K1 and the Nakajima A6M2-N. The British had changed with the times, but the IJN hadn't.
With the debut of the first Japanese aircraft carrier in the 1920s, the IJNAF was initially tied to the battleships as some sort of reconnaissance and attack element, but like the U.S. Navy, the IJN had real difficulty integrating them into their tactics. A person in either country who alleged--back then--that future fleets would instead be built around the aircraft carrier, with the battleships simply providing anti-aircraft cover and mobile artillery against land targets, would have been immediately dismissed as a crank in any country back then.
During the '20s, there was a second foreign aviation delegation which arrived in Japan. This one came from Germany and they trained the fledgling Imperial Japanese Army Air Force. Like the German Air Force in World War One, the IJAAF was closely tied to the Army and its movements, performing those operations which would later be called interdiction and close support in the United States. Like the IJNAF, the IJAAF reprised these tactics during the Second World War, but in 1940 the Luftwaffe was beginning to find its own role independent of the German Army and its immediate needs. For all practical purposes, the IJAAF never did so.
At this time(say, the late '20s), it is remarkable to note that at least two major elements of Japanese aviation as it stood in the Pacific War were not in place. There was no element capable of conducting long range operations inside enemy airspace nor was there any explicit arrangement for protecting air bases and air strips themselves from aerial attack. In addition, the IJAAF and the IJNAF had different--and even incompatible--sets of tactics and operating practices.
Up until the early 1930s, the two Japanese air services, the IJAAF and the IJNAF, were mainly equipped with obsolescent foreign aircraft types either imported or built in Japan under manufacturing licenses. At about this time, Japanese aircraft designers began to produce home-designed aircraft types that were better adapted to their own operational requirements--and they were by no means primitive given world standards at the time. Because of the distances involved and the general secretiveness of the Japanese government and society, this important change was not recognized in the West, and not fully appreciated by the Americans, even at the start of the Pacific War in 1941.
In fact, when the United States was on the verge of war against Japan in 1941, it was assumed that the air services of Japan would be, at most, a few hundred aircraft, mainly copies of older British, German, Italian and American designs. This was not simply an example of racist thinking. The widely respected Jane's All the World's Aircraft for 1941 showed current Japanese types as being a flea market of older, foreign designs with a few obsolescent indigenous designs on the side. There seemed no reason to suppose that the Japanese would make particularly good pilots. Consequently, it must have seemed to American airmen and aviators--whether they were in the USAAF or the U.S. Navy--as if the force facing them would be comparable to, say, the Polish Air Force in 1939. On the basis of numbers, equipment and pilot quality, American airmen and naval aviators expected that the result of combat would be a series of one-sided American massacres. And that expectation was more or less reasonable in terms of the picture which they had. But that picture was very wrong.
In 1937, Japan began a campaign to conquer China and, in fact, rather quickly overran its then-capital city of Nanking, the coastal provinces and many of its larger inland river valleys. When the war in China began, the IJNAF found itself with new tasks. With long-ranging Type 96 Land-Based Attack Bombers (Mitsubishi G3Ms, later code-named "Nells") the IJNAF bombed targets in the Nanking area from bases on Taiwan, then a Japanese possession. (Note: Just before these flights, the Nells were retrofitted with the autopilots imported from the US. They were not fitted to any operational American military aircraft at that time presumably because they were either too new or too expensive.) To support both Army and Navy operations in China, fighter aircraft of the Imperial Japanese Navy were also assigned to land bases on the Chinese mainland. The Nells followed a little later on. As the "senior service", the IJN was able to have a remarkable spread of duties assigned to it along with, hopefully, the "assets" (planes, factories, personnel, etc.) necessary to perform them. Since they had long-ranging twin-engined bombers and the best fighters, the IJNAF was assigned to bomb targets on land with its own land-based bombers and to protect all Japanese air bases--both those of the Army and its own--from enemy planes. In addition, the Imperial Navy had primary responsibility for the defense of the Home Islands. During the "China Incident" this imposing spread of duties--while it might have created some problems--seemed to be a source of strength for the IJNAF.
From the middle of the Pacific War, on the other hand, this extraordinary spread of duties impacted the IJNAF very severely. The central problem was that while the responsibilities had been assigned to it years before, the needed assets simply were not available.
It shouldn't be assumed that the IJAAF was doing very well, either. It had fewer responsibilities, but it also had fewer assets than the IJNAF. In addition, the IJAAF had been assigned--without Navy support of any type--to face the enemy air forces in China, India and Burma. By contrast, the IJNAF had responsibility for almost all of the rest of the war, including the defense of the Japanese Home Islands. A high level meeting to resolve these discrepancies and to make the most of the assets which each service really had would have been a reasonable response to the situation. But this never happened.
Even as the Japanese Empire staggered toward total collapse a couple of years later, the preponderance of duties and assets still went to the IJNAF. During the last few months of the Pacific War, the remaining units of the IJAAF outside of the Home Islands were mainly isolated and impotent, their planes parked near their runways or airstrips without any prospect for deliveries of aviation gasoline, spare parts or ammunition. By that time, the planes of the IJAAF in the Home Islands were also parked near their respective runways as well, being saved along with stocks of aviation gasoline for the anticipated Allied invasion of Kyushu.
During the first six months of the war, the brilliant--if very complicated--war plans of Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto, brought Japan and the IJNAF a succession of stunning victories. It was a heady time during which the Japanese fleet swept all before it. The establishment of a permanent Japanese hegemony in the Far East seemed to be an accomplished fact. After the war, a Japanese woman admitted, "we just couldn't imagine why the Americans were fighting us, here we were extending the divine rule of the Emperor to them[that is, the Americans and their asian allies] and they didn't seem to appreciate it...". In the context of the war which followed and a democratic society's notable distaste for hereditary monarchs, her statement seems bizarre today, but it was probably heartfelt at the time.
Then came Midway.
The Imperial Japanese Navy lost over 300 pilots and four of its largest aircraft carriers in a battle which lasted only two days. It was a catastrophe from which the IJNAF never entirely recovered. In addition, the prospect for a short war was gone. It was becoming clear that the Americans, roused to fury by the Pearl Harbor attack, would not seek any type of negotiations with the Japanese government, short of accepting an unconditional surrender. This had been apparent to the organizer of the Pearl Harbor attack, Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto, even before the attack had been launched. So there was no realistic prospect for a short war. Equally bad, Japan had no plans for a long war. A number of new or experimental aircraft types were made operational as the war progressed, but most of the operational types with which the IJNAF began the war in December, 1941, were still first line equipment when the war ended in August, 1945. In the USAAF, the U.S. Navy and the RAF, new types replaced older ones. By contrast, in the IJNAF the new aircraft types, at best, supplemented the older types.
During 1942, the Japanese Navy concentrated on production of existing types and introduced just three new aircraft types--the Nakajima J1N1-C recon plane("Irving"), the Type 2 Flying Boat("Emily") and the Aichi D4Y1-C carrier recon plane("Judy") were introduced.
At no point in the war had the Gross National Product--the net value of all goods and services produced in the Japanese Empire--ever exceeded 10% of the American GNP. America's fundamental ability to produce advanced war goods--especially combat airplanes--was always much greater than Japan's. Japan's wartime aircraft were produced using machine tools imported from the United States and often had flight instruments imported from this country, as well.
During the latter part of 1942 and early 1943, continuing battles for Guadalcanal and the other islands in and around the Solomons slowly ground up the IJNAF's supplies of aircraft, experienced pilots and mechanics. The Japanese slowly lost territory in the South West Pacific and elsewhere, but the losses of men and materiel were at least equally serious.
At an early stage in the Pacific War, the IJNAF had made a decision about the conduct of the war which was to have far reaching consequences. Training of new pilots was cut back. This put all of its aerial strength "up front" and enabled it to compete with the Americans and their allies on more even basis. The U.S. embargo on petroleum had been the most immediate cause of the war for the Japanese and they remained short of it for the rest of the war--even after the capture of Dutch oilfields in Indonesia. (The gasoline was not where it was needed. American submarine captains understood this situation and deliberately sought out oil tankers as high-priority targets.)
The Americans, by contrast, chose exactly the opposite strategy after the war was just a few months old. After a short period of trying to put their own stength "up front", they deliberately retained their best pilots as flight instructors for future waves of candidate pilots. They invested large quantities of gasoline in the training of new pilots. They built large numbers of training aircraft and retained increasing numbers of less capable combat planes in the continental U.S. for training purposes as more advanced types became available. To be sure, this meant that during the first year or so of the war, that the U.S. Navy and USAAF would have fewer men and fewer planes "up front".
On the other hand, once this much larger system began to deliver newly trained pilots and new aircraft to the theaters of war, the IJNAF would have no hope of fighting them off. From being sworn in, put through boot camp, put into primary flight training and then into advanced flight training, it took about one year for the U.S. Navy or USAAF to train a pilot and assign him to an operational unit. Significantly, a little over a year after the start of the Pacific War, the pilots of the Imperial Navy began to find themselves outnumbered. It seemed to the front line pilots as if the Americans had inexhaustible sources of warplanes and pilots. And this was somewhat before the Americans were able to introduce newer aircraft types.
Alleged American racial superiority was dangerous nonsense in the life and death situations of aerial combat, but there was an area in which the USA did have a human or manpower advantage. The USA, at that time, had a population of about 150 million, versus Japan's population of about 90 million. However, the age composition of the American population favored young men, so the actual pool of them was substantially larger than the comparable Japanese pool. Of course, the output of American pilots would have to be divided between the Pacific War (South Pacific Theater, South West Pacific Theater), the CBI Theater and the European Theater of Operations (the ETO).
Bad as this situation might have seemed to be from the Japanese side, it was actually worse.
To be sure, this didn't quite make them qualified aviation mechanics or pilots, but most young American men of that generation had driven or maintained an automobile and many of them had also handled guns. In pre-war Japan, individually owned automobiles were a rarity and so were private firearms. In training aviation mechanics and pilots, American instructors could take many things for granted.
In the pre-war years, the IJNAF had chosen to train a very small number of pilots to a very high degree. The modern air force which most closely follows this path is the Israeli Air Force. Note how seriously the Israelis were affected by the loss of about 100 aircraft and pilots in the Yom Kippur war of 1973. The Japanese were at least equally vulnerable to attrition prior to the Pacific War. How could the Japanese have compensated for the loss of 300 pilots at Midway by pre-war standards? If they had had no further losses at all, it would have taken them two or three years to train that many pilots at pre-war rates.
By the middle of 1943, the IJNAF was frantically attempting to overcome all of these disadvantages with tools wholly inadequate to the purpose. The training of pilots was pushed as high as it could be, but there were serious problems. Instructor pilots were still scarce and many potential flight instructors had died at the Battle of Midway, in the Solomon Islands or elsewhere. In the United States, comparable experienced pilots were alive and instructing other pilots. Shortening the amount of training was tried and, by the last year of the war, Japanese pilots were being pushed into combat missions with as little as 100 hours of flight time. (By contrast, American pilots at that stage of the war would have had more than 300 hours of flight time.) When these pilots entered combat they were terrified novices, easy marks for American pilots. Even rookie American pilots were better off than this. As for experienced Japanese pilots, those who were still alive were also gradually being killed off in combat. Nor did a Japanese student pilot have to die in combat--many of them died in flying accidents, particularly when they were pushed into the cockpits of fast, unforgiving fighters. Flying accidents and training fatalities were common enough in the continental United States, but anecdotes give the impression that they were much more common in Japan.
In mid-1943, the U.S. Marine Corps introduced a fearsome new fighter plane, the F4U "Corsair" and in August, carrier units began to use the new F6F "Hellcat", a fighter that had been built to maneuver against the Zero. With better planes, skilled mechanics, more experienced pilots and a good supply of replacement pilots, these units could approach combat against the IJNAF with a certain degree of self-assurance. Later model P-38s, while less maneuverable than the F4U or the F6F, used their superior speed and ceiling to blast Japanese aircraft out of the air.
The Imperial Japanese Navy, it should be noted, introduced some newer, more capable aircraft types during 1943, including the J2M Raiden(code-named "Jack") and the B6N Tenzan(code-named "Jill").
The Raiden was armed with four 20-mm. cannon firing oerlikon(explosive) shells and deliberately sacrificed maneuverability for armor, climb rate and speed. Designed mainly as a bomber interceptor, the Raiden--on the rare occasions when it was flown by a competent, experienced pilot--was a respectable opponent for most Allied fighters, which the Zero clearly was not by the last year of the Pacific War. Production of the Raiden had been planned for a rate of 660 fighters per month, but in about two years of production a total of 480 were rolled out, an average of about 20 planes per month! The Tenzan was a torpedo bomber which improved on the earlier and slower "Kate". Significantly, the Raiden did not replace the outmoded Zero (to compare the relative abundance of the two types, total wartime production of the Zero came to a little over 10,000 units) and the Jill did not entirely replace the Kate. A new dive bomber variant of the Judy was introduced in 1943.
The next major Naval engagement, coming two years after the Battle of Midway, was the Battle of the Philippine Sea. In June, 1944, a large American task force approached the Marianas Island group and covered amphibious landings on Guam, Tinian and Saipan. Iwo Jima was attacked by Naval aircraft, but not invaded at that time. These were potential bases for bomber missions against the Home Islands and the Japanese Navy had no choice but to respond with a carrier force of its own. Even though the newer Japanese aircraft types were well represented, the Judys, Jills and Zeros of the Japanese force were hacked out of the air in a one-sided engagement that was called the "Marianas Turkey Shoot" by the Americans.
After this catastrophe, the Japanese could only brace themselves for the aerial attacks which would be staged from these new bases. The cabinet headed by Hideki Tojo which had begun the war was removed because of this humiliating defeat. One of the Japanese cabinet ministers commented that "hell is upon us". His words proved to be prophetic.
In the wake of the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the IJNAF had a strategic picture which could best be described as grim. The IJNAF hadn't really recovered from the Battle of Midway in 1942 and for the second time in two years had lost over three hundred pilots and aircraft in a single engagement. The IJNAF would have to take on the defense of the Home Islands and the IJAAF couldn't be of much help. The total number of planes which the IJNAF had in the Home Islands for this purpose came to about 400. I don't know how large the comparable IJAAF force was nor just how closely it was tied to the IJNAF command.
Then there was a brief delay. It is hard to believe today, but there was only a single raid (in late November) by Mariana-based bombers (B-29s) during calendar 1944 and the determined series of attacks on Japanese targets would not begin in earnest until January, 1945. The Navy CBs assigned to build the bomber bases in the Marianas were somewhat slow in this task. This, combined with some difficult flying weather, which gave the IJNAF as much respite as it was to enjoy during the war.
As the B-29 raids began in earnest, they initially concentrated on airframe and aircraft engine plants in the Home Islands. The Japanese pilots concentrated on the unescorted bombers, and, while they were able to inflict some casualties, the Superfortresses were successful in destroying most of Japan's aviation industry. By May, 1945, delivery of new aircraft and spare parts from it had slowed to a trickle. Starting in March, the B-29s were escorted by P-51s staged from new bases on Iwo Jima and the Home Islands during that month were scourged by Corsairs and Hellcats operating from an American carrier task force off of the eastern coast of Kyushu for the first time.
The Imperial Japanese Army Air Force fought with the IJNAF up until about mid-Summer, but then their remaining aircraft in the Home Islands were mostly grounded and kept in reserve against the expected invasion of the Home Islands.
And from here, things got even worse. With American fighters overhead on an unpredictable basis, just taking off in a Japanese airplane was a courageous act during the last five months of the war. In mid-March, the B-29s began to bomb at night and from low altitudes, peppering Japan's cities with incendiary bombs. The resulting firestorms killing many thousands. The first such raid on March 18-19 killed 130,000 Japanese in Tokyo and made another one million homeless. Japan's cities were crowded and highly combustible. This raid was worse, in terms of immediate consequences anyway, than either of the two atomic attacks which concluded the war. The incendiary raids continued right up until the end of the war, although after the first few months, there was a shortage of large, built-up areas because most of these target areas had already been destroyed.
The Japanese were, by this time, attempting to disperse their war industries into small neighborhood machine shops, particularly those connected with military aircraft production. The incendiary raids have been portrayed as a response to this dispersal.
I don't think that the record is at all clear on this point. The incendiary raids can equally be taken as psychological warfare(that is, to force a surrender by breaking Japanese morale) or as a scourging of the civilian population(that is, to inflict death, injury and destruction on the Japanese people as punishment). Like many of the postwar generation, I am somewhat sceptical about collective punishment and its corollary, collective guilt. But after three years of savage warfare with no quarter asked and no quarter given on either side, the Americans of that generation had no such qualms. Nor is it clear to me whether the technology of the time would have supported the type of precision daylight attacks on industry with which the B-29 raids began.
The American propaganda of the time reported that a bombardier in a B-17 or B-29 with a Norden bombsight could land "a bomb in a pickle barrel from 30,000 feet". The U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey reported after the war that 50% of all bombs dropped from 25,000 feet from B-17s in the European theater landed within a one-kilometer(0.62 land miles) diameter circle around the aiming point. That is a bit larger than a pickle barrel. The remaining 50% could land almost anywhere, even miles away from the aiming point.
Also given that lack of accuracy, one can speculate about three possible ways of improving the situation--bomb from low altitudes in daylight, improve accuracy with guided bombs or drop a bomb so destructive that being a kilometer or more from your aiming point wouldn't matter. The first idea was only useful if you had aerial supremacy and if the ground-based anti-aircraft fire wasn't too thick. The second idea was tried during the war, but didn't yield substantial results until well after its end. The third approach worked at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
On the morning of April 1, 1945, American naval and ground forces began landings on the coast of Okinawa, about three hundred land miles south of Kyushu. Okinawa was needed for airbases to support the planned landings on the island of Kyushu. The Japanese land forces adopted tactics very reminiscent of those employed by the Viet Cong and the Viet Minh twenty-odd years later in Vietnam. They "dug-in" into caves, tunnels and machine nests on the southern end of the island and waited for the American marines and soldiers to come. This web of defensive positions was called the "Shuri Line" after a historical building that had been fortified there.
As the land forces were "tied down" by the Shuri Line, the naval forces supporting them were also tied down and the Japanese threw gradually increasing aerial attacks against them throughout early April. On April 12-15, these aerial attacks became very heavy and substantial numbers of ships were hit, some being sunk. Most of the ships sunk were destroyers and supply ships. With very little current aircraft production, the Japanese planes thrown against the American fleet were a mix of both obsolete and modern types. Pre-war types which hadn't been seen in combat for years reappeared in the skies over Okinawa, an example being the "Alf" (Type 95 Reconnaissance Seaplane). They had presumably been taken from storage or second-line duties for this operation. By contrast, one of the latest Japanese types which was used at Okinawa was the "baka bomb", a manned, flying bomb which was to be hauled to a target area under a Betty(Type 1 Land Attack Bomber or G4M2-J, Model 24-J). While large numbers of ships were damaged, including some carriers, most of those ships sunk were small and no carriers were sunk.
The topic of suicide attacks--those of the "kamikazes"--are familiar to most Americans today, so I won't repeat the usual truisms here.
By the end of June, the last Japanese emplacements on the island of Okinawa had been overrun and the air attacks had tapered off to an occasional raid. By the end of July, the Army Air Force fighters and bombers were beginning to attack targets on Kyushu in preparation for the next amphibious assault. The American plan was for a landing near Sasebo on November 1, 1945. The Japanese had deduced both the date and the location of the landings. They were holding a further aerial force of about 1,000 planes and had one million gallons of aviation gasoline to fuel them with. This was the final Japanese air force. It was composed of both IJAAF and IJNAF aircraft including many trainers and obsolete types. Given the shorter distances involved, this final force might have done somewhat better against the Americans and their allies at Kyushu than the Japanese air forces at Okinawa had done seven months before.
The Americans also had plans for an additional landing on the Kanto Plain, near Tokyo and this had been planned for March 1, 1946. There would have been no Japanese aircraft available to oppose this landing that I know of, nor any remaining stocks of aviation gasoline.
With the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the severity of the war situation was at last brought home to the Emperor and his cabinet. At the Emperor's personal insistence, the war was ended with a Japanese surrender effective August 15, 1945. While Allied(United Nations) policy had demanded unconditional surrender from an early stage, the Japanese were in fact able to negotiate a single set of conditions--the Emperor Hirohito would remain in titular authority during the occupation and he would not be prosecuted for war crimes.
As a fighting force, the Imperial Japanese Navy force ceased to exist with the surrender, although there were a few aerial skirmishes over Japan after this, but before the occupation forces arrived on Japanese soil two weeks later. A condition of the surrender was that all Japanese aircraft were to be grounded and disabled. This was typically done by removing the propeller and if you see a photo of a single-engined Japanese plane without a propeller or of a twin-engined plane with one propeller removed, it was probably taken shortly after the American occupation forces arrived in September, 1945.
With the end of the war, substantial numbers of Japanese aircraft were left over, most of them in the Japanese Home Islands. A few of these were flown or shipped back to the United States for inspection, but almost all of them were burned and thus converted into scrap aluminum within days of the arrival of American troops. The Americans had quite enough experience with Japanese military airplanes during the preceding four years.
In the years immediately following the war, small numbers of Japanese warplanes were salvaged and flown by a number of forces or air forces in what had formerly been Japanese-occupied territory. Some of the IJAAF's "Oscars" survived in service in Thailand until the 1950s(Thailand had been an ally of Japan during the war) and a few Oscars were flown--over the complaints of their pilots--by the French in Indochina against the guerrillas there. Some similar machines were also used by the Nationalists and the Communists in the Chinese civil war from 1946 to 1949. As can be seen above, these airplanes had spent months or years parked beside their runways before this and that alone meant that they were not safe to fly without extensive refurbishing. In addition, there were no aviation mechanics with experience on these types nor were there any maintenance and repair manuals which the mechanics could read. The men who were forced to fly these salvaged machines did not like or trust them and it is easy to see why.
But in the United States there were still some flyable Japanese warplanes for a couple of years after the Japanese surrender. In the Spring of 1946, a Ki. 84 "Frank" was restored, flown and clocked at a very respectable 427 mph at 20,000 feet. This work was performed by the Middletown Air Depot in Pennsylvania and I would like to know more about it.
Surviving Japanese aircraft in the U.S., of course, had no source for spare parts and by a couple of years after the war's end they had, I believe, all been grounded. Surviving Zeros, for instance, had developed serious fuel leaks even if they were otherwise sound.
Several dozen Japanese warplanes were put on display at airbases in this country or at American airbases in Japan. Over the years and decades that followed, they gradually deteriorated in the sun and the rain. Plexiglas turned white. Shiny aluminum was filmed and pocked with dusty white aluminum oxide. Rubber hardened and then broke up into black crumbs over the years.
Also, with the end of the war, myth-making began, often by those who had never fought the Japanese, particularly during the first six months of the war when the IJNAF had seemed to be nearly invincible. In these myths, Japanese aircraft were held to be fragile toys and their crews were stooges. If that had been true, then the men who had beaten them--the Allied and American pilots and aviators--would have acquired little distinction in doing so. Indeed, one of the prime reasons for an accurate appraisal of the IJNAF today is to remember that it was once a formidable force and that the men who beat them were extraordinary in courage, competence and endurance.
Today, the world has changed in ways that the men who fought in World War II on either side could hardly have imagined back then. Japan was occupied until 1953 and a consequence of the war and the occupation was that it could no longer hide from the rest of the world. Building on the energy and organization of the Japanese people, the Japanese nation has been an economic giant and arguably the second most powerful nation in the world. It has a constitution which forbids aggressive war or the stationing of its forces overseas.
While I have tried to avoid truisms, I'll repeat one here. The modern Japanese are a lousy source of information on this part of history. They are, in the main, absolutely paranoid about having attention drawn to the Japanese love affair with fascism and imperialism. They would like to pretend that the Second World War began several seconds before the atomic bomb detonated over Hiroshima and that they have no concept of how or why it came to be there. Such an approach--however heartfelt it might be on their part--just seems totally unbelievable to me.
Are there things which one could still study or investigate or study about the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Force today, in 1996? Well, I have appended a bibliography and there are many hours of enjoyable reading in English there. Beyond that, here are several questions which I am confident that none of these books will answer--
1. Just how did the reliability of Japanese aircraft compare with the reliability of similar American aircraft? (Even the figures from a single Japanese wartime airfield would improve on the knowledge which I have now.)
2. The Americans--particularly the U.S. Navy--test flew many Japanese aircraft types including several variants of the Mitsubishi Zero, the J2M Raiden and the H8K flying boat. What were the pilots' objectives in testing them and what were their conclusions like?
3. The Japanese captured a number of American aircraft during the first few months of the war, including at least one Brewster Buffalo, a Douglas A-20, a P-40D or E and three B-17s. A Japanese ace, Saburo Sakai, later flew one of the B-17s in Japan. Again, I have the same questions as I had about the American flight tests of Japanese aircraft--what were the objectives of the Japanese pilots and what were their findings?
4. The Japanese Navy and Army produced a wide variety of aircraft types--did no one during the war years suggest that they should instead pare the number of types in use down to a minimum? How much would this have improved their ability to "debug" existing aircraft types?
5. Both the IJNAF and the IJAAF had license built versions of the Daimler Benz DB-601A. These engines for Navy aircraft like the Yokosuka D4Y were produced by Aichi as the Atsuta Types 10 and 20. The engines for the Kawasaki Ki. 61, the Ha.40 and Ha.140, were produced by Kawasaki and these were again copies or derivatives of the DB-601A. Both firms encountered serious difficulties in debugging these designs--but did they ever share engineering data or attempt to solve these problems in some sort of joint effort?
6. Just what was the demographic and cultural advantage mentioned at the start of this article like? In other words, the demographic layout of the American population and the cultural values attached to automobiles, guns and aircraft worked to our advantage. But was it an advantage which the Japanese might have been able to overcome?
7. The Japanese acquired photos of a BMW-003 turbojet in Germany in 1944 and their representives had witnessed demonstrations of some of Germany's latest jet and rocket fighters at about that time. Just how much data did the Japanese acquire from the German aircraft industry in this area and how did they propose to use it? Hitachi built several copies of the BMW and a plane powered by two of them flew once in August, 1945. Mitsubishi built copies of the Me-163 rocket fighter as the J8M1.
8. Could Japan have reshuffled its air forces' responsibilities, trained more pilots, restricted its aircraft production to a few well-proven types and regeared itself for a long, defensive war? If so, could it have successfully defended itself against American forces for an extended length of time?
9. Could the Japanese have devised a strategy which would have stretched the war out long enough to exploit America's worst characteristic in military matters, a certain streak of impatience?
10. What are the lessons which modern military personnel and politicians could learn from the defeat of the IJNAF in World War II?
11. To what extent were the Pacific War and the American Occupation which followed it comparable to or affected by the American experience in the Civil War from 1861-1865 and the occupation of the Southern States until 1877?
Robert J. Sherrod. History of Marine Corps Aviation in World War II.
Saburo Sakai. Samurai. with Martin Caidin and Fred Saito. E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc. 1956.
Masatake Okumiya & Jiro Horikoshi. Zero! with Martin Caidin. E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc. 1956.
R.J. Francillon. Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War. Funk & Wagnalls. 1970.
David Brown. Kamikaze. W.H. Smith Publishers, Inc. NYC. 1990.
Rikihei Inoguchi et. al. The Divine Wind. Publisher-?. Published in the '50s.
Gregory Boyington. Baa Baa Black Sheep. Publisher-?. Published in the '50s.
Arthur Zich and the editors of Time-Life Books. The Rising Sun. Consultants--John Elting & John Maki. Time-Life Books, Inc. 1978.