Like other nations in the race for air supremacy, the Japanese army and
naval air forces underwent a drive toward modernization in the middle to late
1930s. The Japanese produced some remarkable results - and got to show them off
in their war with China against various Italian, American, and Russian aircraft
in China (1937-41) and in Mongolia during the 1939 Russo-Japanese
Incident. Nate (Nakajima Ki.27) and Claude (Mistubishsi A5M) were highly
maneuverable as well as fast (for their day). Many of these aircraft were still
in action when Japan attacked the western powers in December 1941.
In general, the Japanese design paradigm was shaped by:
- A need to produce light aircraft to stretch range (important to an island
- A need stretch limited industrial capacity and material
- A philosophic preference for maneuverability over speed
This section includes:
The aircraft represented by these ADCs (available in one 150 Kb PDF
file) were active 1936-1941. Most were withdrawn from frontline service
after the initial Japanese assault (Dec-41to Apr-42).
- Nakajima Ki.27b (Nate) - Japanese Army Air Foprce's first monoplane
fighter, introduced into combat over northern China in 1937. Very maneuverable
and fast though lightly armed, the Ki.27 performed well against the Chinese
aircraft and against Russian biplane fighters. Still in use in 1941, Nates
were the fighters most encountered by the AVG in the beginning of the war
before being supplanted by Ki.43 Oscars.
- Mitsubishi Ki.30 (Ann) - JAAF light bomber similar in layout to the
US A-17 Nomad. Flew in China in 1940-41 and over the Philippines. Withdrawn
from service in early 1942.
- Nakajima Ki.51 (Sonia) army ground support bomber - Developed from
Ki.30, served through the war mostly in Asia.
- Mitsubishi A5M4 (Claude) carrier-borne fighter - A5Ms were the Japanese
Navy's first monoplane fighter, entering production a year behind the Ki.27.
The A5m was carrier-borne, and fought over China, SE Asia and Indonesia, and
the Philippines. In December, 1941, it was still the most numerous IJN carrier-borne
The Japanese were the most succcessful users of floatplane fighters, although
many Western navies had a few. In the Pacific, early in the war, floatplane
fighters were used offensively, operating in forward areas before airfields
could be seized. This worked quite well until mid-'42 when better US and British
equipment began to reach the area. Then, the tactical penalty of carrying around
a float no longer compensated for the (typically Japanese) extreme operational
flexibility this form offered. This set
of 4 ADCs (90 Kb) includes:
- Nakajima A6M2-N (Rufe) - the famed Zero mounted on a float. Used
in the Aleutians and the Solomons.
- Kawanishi N1K1 Kyufo (Rex) - By the time this aircraft reached
production, the Japanese had ceased the offensive actions it was designed
to support. But it's potential was noticed, and production was halted in favor
of a land-based (J) version - the Shiden.
- Mistubishi F1M2 (Pete) - recon biplane used throughout the war, sometimes
stood in as a fighter or fighter bomber.
- Aichi M6A Seiran - Attack seaplane designed to be stored aboard
submarines for surprise attacks.
Japanese Recon Seaplanes
The Japanese also extensively used recon seaplanes from both land bases, and
seaplane tenders and cruisers at sea - again, more aggressively and thoroughly
than in Western navies. However, by late 1942, the quality and quantity of US
air strength made operation of these aircraft increasingly perilous. This set
of 4 ADCs (102Kb) includes:
- Kawanishi E7K2 (Alf) - Pre-war light recon seaplane still found on
many IJN cruisers into 1943.
- Aichi E13A1 (Jake) - Light Recon seaplane used throughout the war
from cruisers, battleships, seaplane tenders, and shore bases. Replacement
- Yokosuka E14Y1 (Glen) - collapsible light recon seaplane flown form
submarines. One bombed the continental US.
- Aichi E16A1 (Paul) - Designed as a higher-speed, better armed replacement
for E13A1, the E16A1 was being phased into service during the last year of
the Pacific war.
The Japanese planners gave little thought to specialized night fighters
until midway through the war, when there was little enough time to develop
them.. In almost all cases, Japanese nightfighters were variants on existing
aircraft - medium fighters or recon aircraft - their goal was to take an
existing platform that could carry heavy armament at good speed. And their
opposition was tougher than the British or Germans faced - the Japanese tried
to should down the powerful B-29 bomber.
The Japanese were behind in radar development all through the war, and
furthest behind in the development of airborne intercept radar. While they
developed a decent airborne surface search radar, they did not develop a
production model AI during the war. The Japanese did pioneer the use of fixed,
This PDF file
(160 Kb) contains:
- Nakajima J1N1-S (Irving) - the first Japanese nightfighter first
encountered Solomons. It was developed from a long-range recon aircraft.
- Nakajima C6N1-S Saiun (Rex) - A few nightfighter versions
were devised from the C6N1 carrier-borne recon aircraft, taking advantage of
its high speed.
- Kawasaki Ki.45 KAIc Toryu (Nick) - IJAAF's first
nightfighter, variant of a heavy fighter.
- Mistubishi Ki.46 III KAI(Dinah) - Very fast recon aircraft with
weaponry added to create a nightfighter.
- Kawasaki Ki.102b (Randy) - Fast, heavy fighter developed from Ki.45
in a (high-altitude fighter), b (heavy ground attack used on Okinawa), and c
(nightfighter) variants. The nightfighter version was not quite in production
when the war ended, but I included it for interest.
The Japanese did not develop what USA or RAF would consider heavy bombers.
They did fly a number of twin-engin medium bombers. The Japanese Army and Navy
were very uncooperative (for historical and political reasons) and developed
completely separate sets of aircraft:
- Japanese Naval bombers (165 Kb):
- G3M Nell (2 ADCs) - First modern Japanese twin engine monoplane
medium bomber. Particularly noted for a surprising good range.
- G4M Betty (2 ADCs) - Follow on to the G3M, this was the main
Japanese Navy twin-engine bomber through out WW2.
- P1Y1 Frances - A late war light bomber also used as a night fighter.
- Japanese Army Bombers (159 Kb):
- Ki.21 II Sally - JAAF's mainstay medium bomber through WW2.
- Ki.48 Lilly (2 ADCs) - Twin engine light bomber that served through
- Ki.49 Helen - Improved medium bomber that did not handle as well as
Ki.21 (and so never fully replaced it).
- Ki.64 Peggy - Late war, improved medium bomber (but not available in
- Bonus - MXY7 Ohka
flying bomb! (24 Kb) (dropped from the G4M2e Betty)
WW2 brought forth a selection of flying boats from all nations. While they
faought over all oceans and seas affected by the war, they were particularly
active in the Pacific (patrol, ASW, SAR, recon). The Japanese Navy produced
some of the best flying boats in the world. This
set of ADCs (109
Kb) features the two major Japanese flying boats as well as some of those flown
by their opponents:
- Kawanishi H6K4 Mavis: 2nd longest ranged flying boat of the war.
Used 1941-1943, when it was replaced by...
- Kawanishi H8K2 Emily: Best flying boat of the war: longest ranged,
- Dornier Do24K-1: A Dutch-built licensed version of a Dornier
product. Used by the NEIAF in 1941-42. Also flown by the Kreigsmarine.
- Short Sunderland III: A large British flying boat, very tough. Used
in all three oceans. Effective against U-boats, once armed with ASV radar in
So, where is the PBY-5A Catalina? JD did one for Origins, 2000. So I did not
The Japanese did try to develop more powerful aircraft throughout the war.
Not having as robust or deep an industrial base as is opponents, stratregic
bombing was effective enough to delay aircraft development, especially on toward
the end of the war.
These three ADCs (along with the C6N1 ADC in the Japanese night fighters) represent
the last team of carrier-borne aircraft, and the most innovative Japanese design
of the period.
This PDF file (210 Kb) contains the following
- Mitsubishi A7M2 Reppu (Sam) - This carrier-borne fighter was
to replace the Zero, retaining the Zero's maneuverability while gaining the
speed, power, and hitting power to take on the US late-war designs.
- Aichi B7A2 Tenzan (Grace) - Designed to take the place of
both the B6N and D4Y attack and dive bombers. The B7A did make combat from
- Kyushu J7W1> Shinden - High-speed radical-design fighter.
This interesting looking aircraft showed promise. However, development was
delayed by US bombing so flight-testing was not begun until July, 1945 (four
months late), and production tool up had not even started when the war ended.
- Nakajima G8N1 Renzan (Rita) - This project was the development
of a four-engine heavy bomber.
- Nakajima Kikka - A Japanese jet attack bomber designed after
pictures and descriptions of the Me262, but little technical data. Flight
- Mitsubishi Ki.83 - Japanese Army twin-engine interceptor of a particularly
Missiles of the Pacific
Just as the Germans worked to develop standoff weapons, so did the US and Japan,
for much the same reasons. As US aircraft technologically improved and multiplied,
the Japanese looked to technology as a force multiplier. However, the Japanese
did not have the breadth and depth of resources and facilities that the Germans
or the US had and their progress was slow. Still, by 1944, they had produced
a couple promising designs.
Even more advanced is the US design here, a fire-and-forget munition deployed
during the final months of the war.
This set of three ADCs includes:
- ASM-2 Bat: A US-built glide bomb that was self-guided by an on-board
- Ki.147 Igo-A-1: a large radio-guided missile designed to be launched
from the Ki.67
- Ki.148 Igo-B-2: A smaller, more successful radio-guided missile that
was selected for production, but at a low prioirity. Smaller than the Igo-A.
Dan Foxman has produced the following additional Japanese aircraft available
in individual PDF files (no pictures):
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