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Japanese Navy Aircraft

The focus of Japan's aircraft industry was diverted from one project to another at the whim of Army or Navy. Production of a few aircraft with proven and accepted designs would have strengthened the air power of both services. The Army had favored the expansion of its bomber force until the mid-1930s when it switched to fighters. The Army's prime interest in fighter types was due to its success in the Nomonghan conflict. It should be noted that the Army's bomber force was quite remarkable in the Pacific war. The transport aircraft is another matter that the Japanese Army and Navy had shown little interest.

Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft received a designation code very similar to those used by the US Navy. The first Capital letter indicated the mission of the aircraft, and the second Capital letter indicates the company responsible for the original design of the aircraft. A third, lower case letter such as the "c" in A6M5c was used to designate a minor change in the aircraft, such as armament or weaponry. The first number indicates how many different model aircraft of this mission were made. For example, the A6M2 was the sixth in the Carrier Fighter series. The second number indicates the model of the aircraft, which changes with each major change, such as engine or airframe.

A Carrier fighterA Aichi
B Carrier attack bomberB Boeing
C Reconnaissance PlaneC Consolidated
D Carrier BomberD Douglas
E Reconnaissance Seaplane
F Observation Seaplane
G Attack BomberG Hitachi
H Flying BoatH Hiro
He Heinkel
J Land Based FighterJ Nihon Kogata
K TrainerK Kawanishi
L Transport
M Special FloatplaneM Mitsubishi
MX Special Purpose Aircraft
N Fighter SeaplaneN Nakajima
P BomberP Nihon
Q Patrol Plane
R Land Based Reconnaissance
S Night FighterS Sasebo
Si Showa
V Vought-Sikorsky
W Watanabe
Y Yokosuka
Z Mizuno

Both the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy had outstanding aircraft. The Army's primary fighter of the early war was the Nakajima K.43 Hayabusa (Peregrine Falcon), a light, little aircraft, with a slim, tapered fuselage and a bubble canopy. The Navy's fighter came to symbolize the Japanese air effort, even for the Japanese, themselves. The Mitsubishi Type "0" Carrier Fighter (its official designation) was as much a trend-setting design as was Britain's Spitfire or the American Corsair. As author Norman Franks wrote, the Allied crews found that "the Japanese airmen were.. .far superior to the crude stereotypes so disparaged by the popular press and cartoonists. And in a Zero they were highly dangerous." The hallmark of Japanese fighters had always been superb maneuverability. Early biplanes-which had been developed from British and French designs-set the pace. By the mid-1930s, the Army and Navy had two world-class fighters, the Nakajima Ki.27 and the Mitsubishi A5M series, respectively, both low-wing, fixed-gear aircraft. The Ki.27 did have a modern enclosed cockpit, while the A5M's cockpit was open (except for one variant that experimented with a canopy which was soon discarded in service.) A major and fatal disadvantage of most Japanese fighters was their light armament- usually a pair of .30-caliber machine guns - and lack of armor, as well as their great flammability.

Besides the two main fighters, the Army's Oscar and the Navy's Zeke and its floatplane derivative, the Rufe, the Japanese flew a wide assortment of aircraft, including land-based bombers, such as the Mitsubishi G4M (codenamed Betty) and Ki.21 (Sally). Carrier-based bombers included the Aichi D3A divebomber (the Val) which saw considerable service during the first three years of the war, and its stablemate, the torpedo bomber from Nakajima, the B5N (Kate), one of the most capable torpedo-carriers of the first half of the war.

Although early wartime propaganda ridiculed Japanese aircraft and their pilots, returning Allied aviators told different stories, although the details of their experiences were kept classified. Each side's culture provided the basis for their aircraft design philosophies. Eventually, the Japanese were overwhelmed by American technology and numerical superiority. However, for the important first 18 months of the Pacific war, they had the best. But, as was also the case in the European theaters, a series of misfortunes, coincidences, a lack of understanding by leaders, as well as the drain of prolonged combat, finally allowed the Americans and their Allies to overcome the enemy's initial edge.

Much has been made of the low performance of American fighters in the earlydays of the Pacific war, but -- ironically -- these aircraft (such as the Curtiss P-40 orGrumman F4F) -- generally were rugged, armored aircraft with self-sealing fuel systems,and thus were highly survivable despite otherwise having unspectacular performance. Armed with four or six .50 caliber machine guns, they had tremendous killing power against more lightly armed and essentially unprotected Japanese fighters and bombers.

Japanese fighter and bomber design over the length of the war began more and more to resemble that of the West. By war's end, Japanese firms were producing rugged fighters and bombers featuring increasing amounts of armor, with protected and self-sealing fuel cells, and the like. One can contrast, for example, the Mitsubishi A6M-2 Type 0 ("Zero" or "Zeke") fighter and the Mitsubishi G4M "Betty" bomber of 1942 with the Nakajima Ki-84 Hayate ("Frank") fighter and the Mitsubishi Ki-67 Hiryu ("Peggy") bomber of 1945.

Betty - A twin-engined, all-metal construction aircraft with fabric-covered control surfaces built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Company. It was used in various versions as a land-based bomber (G4M), heavy escort fighter (G6M1), bomber crew trainer (G6M1-K), and transport (G6M1-L2).

Jack - A single-engine, low-wing, land-based interceptor fighter which featured all-metal construction with fabric-covered control surfaces. It was designed by Mitsubishi as the J2M Raiden (Thunderbolt).

Judy - A single-engine, carrier-capable monoplane which featured all metal construction with fabric-covered control surfaces. Designed by Naval engineers at Yokosuka, the D4Y Suisei (Comet), as it was designated by the Japanese, had various versions built at the Naval Air Arsenals in Yokosuka and Hiro, as well as by the Aichi Aircraft Company. Extremely versatile, this aircraft was used as a dive-bomber, reconnaissance plane, land-based night fighter, and kamikaze aircraft.

Kate - A single-engine, low-wing, carrier- based torpedo- bomber which featured all-metal construction with fabric covered control surfaces. The Allies designated the B5N produced by Nakajima as the Kate, and the B5M1 produced by Mitsubishi as the Kate 61 (formerly the Mabel).

Nate - A single-engine, low-wing, fixed-gear, cantilever monoplane which featured all-metal construction with fabric-covered control surfaces. Designed and built by Nakajima as the Ki-27 for use as a fighter, by the end of the war this plane was being used primarily as a trainer or as a kamikaze attack aircraft.

Rufe - The Japanese seeing the need for a water-based fighter in the expanses of the Pacific, modified the A6M2 Zero, and came up with what was arguably the most successful water-based fighter of the war, the A6M2-N, which was allocated the Allied codename "Rufe." Manufactured by Mitsubishi's competitor, Nakajima, float-Zeros served in such disparate climates as the Aleutians and the Solomons. Although the floats bled off at least 40 mph from the land-based version's top speed, they seemed to have had only a minor effect on its original maneuverability; the Rufe aquired the same respect as its sire.

Tojo - A single-engine, low-wing, land-based, interceptor fighter which featured all-metal construction with fabric-covered control surfaces. The aircraft, designated the Ki-44 Shoki (Devil-Queller) by the Japanese, was designed and built by the Nakajima Airplane Company. (It should also be noted that the Allied code name of Tojo which was used for this aircraft was one of several exceptions to the normal naming pattern).

Tony - A liquid-cooled, single-engine, low-wing, land-based fighter which featured allmetal construction with fabric-covered control surfaces. Designated as the Ki-61 Hien (Swallow) by the Japanese, it was designed and built by the Kawasaki Aircraft Engineering Company.

Val - A single-engine, low-wing, fixed-gear, carrier-based dive-bomber which featured allmetal construction with fabric-covered control surfaces. The aircraft, designated the D3A by the Japanese, was designed by the Aichi Aircraft Company and built by Aichi and the Showa Airplane Company.

Zeke - A single-engine, low-wing, carrier-capable fighter which featured all-metal construction with fabric covered control surfaces. The A6M Reisen (Zero Fighter), as it was known to the Japanese, was designed by Mitsubishi, and built by both Mitsubishi and the Nakajima Airplane Company.

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