Kawasaki Ki-100 “Tony”

 

An overall assessment of the effectiveness of the Ki-100 rated it highly in agility, and a well-handled Ki-100 was able to outmanoeuvre any American fighter, including the formidable P-51D Mustangs and the P-47N Thunderbolts which were escorting the B-29 raids over Japan by that time, and was comparable in speed, especially at medium altitudes.

In the hands of an experienced pilot, the Ki-100 was a deadly opponent…

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kawasaki_Ki-100

 

 

Strengths:

Guns – The non-converging Ho-5s in the cowl are very accurate up to maximum range and combined with the 12.7mm guns in the wings give the Tony II a good anti-air capability.

Weaknesses:

Performance – By the time it reached front-line service, it was totally outclassed by Allied fighters at all altitudes.

 

Seeking to upgrade the output of the 1,100 hp Ha-40 engine, Kawasaki started working on a 1,500 hp replacement, the Ha-140. This new engine was intended to be used in an upgraded version of the Ki-61 with larger wings for improved maneuvering. However, the engine encountered terrible teething problems, including a weak crankshaft and the wings were subject to failure during high-performance altitude testing.

With improvements to the wing and an increase in fuselage length, the Ki-61-II-KAI was ready for production, but the engines were still having problems. However, the Ministry of Munitions was confident that the engine problems would be solved and ordered Kawasaki to start building airframes.

By June 1944 the problem of home defense was becoming acute and while good engine-less airframes were sitting unused at the factory, operational Sentais were being forced to use older, less capable planes. Finally, in November 1944 the Munitions Ministry instructed Kawasaki to search for a suitable replacement for the ill-fated Ha-140.

Being designed around an inline engine, the Ki-61-II airframe was only 2’9″ in diameter where the engine was mounted. All other engines of similar size were already spoken for and the only engine of even similar diameter and power output was the 4 foot diameter Ha-112-II radial engine then being used for bombers. After studying the FW-190A engine mount, which also married a large engine to a small airframe, work began on three Ki-61-II-KAI airframes. The result was called the Ki-100 and first took flight on February 1, 1945.

Due to the lighter weight of the engine, the plane came in at about 800 lbs. less than the Ha-140 powered Ki-61. The power output was the same and performance was identical in all respects except top speed, which was reduced somewhat due to the additional drag of the radial engine. Eventually 271 Ki-61-II airframes would be converted to Ki-100s with the remainder Ki-100s being purpose-built.

The appearance of the new Tony came as a complete and unpleasant surprise to Allied aircrews and Japanese pilots hailed it as the best and most reliable fighter they had. Its easy handling characteristics were particularly welcome to the Army as younger pilots often had less than 100 hours total flight time before being assigned to combat units.

 

 

Sources:
Francillon, Rene J.; Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War; Naval Institute Press, Anapolis, MD; 1979.
Green, William; War Planes of the Second World War Fighters Volume Three; MacDonald & Co, Ltd., London; 1961.

TONY KI-100-IA

The Kawasaki Ki-100 was a fighter aircraft used by the Imperial Japanese Army in World War II. The Japanese Army designation was “Type 5 Fighter” (五式戦闘機: Go-shiki sentouki or abbreviated as Goshikisen). No new Allied code name was assigned to this type; 275 Ki-100 airframes were built as Ki-61’s before being modified to accept a radial engine in place of the original inline engine.

 

Strengths:


Guns – The non-converging Ho-5s in the cowl are very accurate up to maximum range and combined with the 12.7mm guns in the wings give the Tony II a good anti-air capability.

Weaknesses:


Performance – By the time it reached front-line service, it was totally outclassed by Allied fighters at all altitudes.

 

 

 

Army units to be equipped with this model included the following Sentai: 5th, 17th, 18th, 20th, 59th, 111th, 112th, 200th and 244th and the 81st Independent Fighter Company. Along with the previously named Army air units, pilots were trained through the Akeno and Hitachi (Mito) Army Flying Schools. Many of the Akeno and Hitachi instructors, who were often seconded from operational units, flew combat missions (this deployment was a notable spreading out of the very few fighters that were operational, but many of these wings were only partially re-equipped).[11]

The Ki-100 made its combat debut on the night of 9 March 1945[7] and suffered its first loss on 7 April 1945, when a Ki-100 flown by Master Sergeant Yasuo Hiema of the 18th Sentai was shot down by a B-29 after “attacking the formation again and again”.[7][N 1] Allied aircrews soon realised that they were facing a formidable new fighter[12] Although far fewer Ki-100s were available than the Ki-84s, it was considered one of the most important fighters in the inventory. However, during interception of the high-flying B-29s (the B-29 raids soon became low-level missions) the new Japanese fighters struggled as the Ha-112-II engine’s performance decreased at high altitudes. The most effective way to attack the Superfortress was by making very dangerous head-on attacks, with the fighter hanging its approach path as it neared the bomber. A failure while attempting this was deadly, because of the concentration of defensive fire from the bombers. In this type of combat, the Navy’s Mitsubishi J2M Raiden was superior.[13]


 

 

 

Sources:
 Stepaniets, A.; ‘Yak’ Fighters of WWII Period; Mashinostroenie Publishing, Moscow; 1992.
Stapfer, Hans-Heiri; Yak Fighters In Action; Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, TX; 1986.
Gordon, Yefim and Khazanov, Dmitri; Soviet Combat Aircraft of the Second World War Volume One: Single-Engine Fighters; Midland Publishing Limited, Leicester, England; 1998.

Mitsubishi A6M5a Type Zero Carrier Fighter Model 52a Rei-sen Zero

 A6M5_Zero01

“The Zero excited me as nothing else had ever done. Even on the ground it had the cleanest lines I had ever seen in an aeroplane. It was a dream to fly.”

— Sub-Lieutenant Saburō Sakai

(坂井 三郎 )

was a Japanese naval aviator and flying ace (撃墜王) of the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II.

 

 

Strengths:


Maneuverability – Though heavier than the A6M2, the Model 52a can still out-turn its contemporaries.
Ordnance – The A6M5 is one of only two Japanese fighters able to carry rockets, its versions being heavier and more damaging than the A6M7’s.

Weaknesses:


Speed – The A6M5’s top speed of 351 mph at altitude leaves lagging behind all of its contemporaries.

 

In June 1941 the latest version of the Zero, the A6M3 Model 32, entered flight testing. Powered by the 1,130 hp Sakae 21 engine with a two-stage supercharger, the folding wingtips were removed allowing the “clipped” Zero to attain a speed of 341 mph at 20,500 feet.

First encountered over the New Guinea in September 1942, Allied flyers thought they had encountered an entirely new type and it was given the code-name ‘Hap’. However, fears that this would offend General ‘Hap’ Arnold caused it to be changed to ‘Hamp’. It was soon learned though that the new plane was merely a revised Zero and it became officially known as the “Zeke 32”.

Unfortunately the new engine had required that the firewall be moved 8 inches to the rear, thus reducing the fuel capacity by 21 gallons. With the more powerful engine using more fuel than had been anticipated, several planes were lost when they ran out of fuel returning from missions over the Solomons. Complaints by these front-line units about the reduced range prompted Mitsubishi to install an 11.9 gallon fuel tank in each wing outboard of the cannon. To compensate for the greater weight of the full tanks, the folding wingtips were restored and the A6M3 Model 22 was born.

Originally retaining the same armament as the first A6M1, late in the production run of the Model 22 the wing cannon were upgraded to the Type 99-2 cannon, which had a higher muzzle velocity and was fed by a 100 round drum. The result was dubbed the A6M3a Model 22a and these started to appear during late 1942 to mid 1943.

By now, the Zero was due for replacement, but all existing projects were bogged down with problems and failures of various kinds, so the Navy asked Mitsubishi to upgrade the Zero yet again. The wing was redesigned to return to the shortened length of the Model 32, but with rounded tips and the new wing tanks. Although a more powerful engine was not available, top speed was boosted to 358 mph at 22,000 feet by installing “ejector” type exhaust stubs to provide a “ram” effect.

The prototype of the A6M5 Model 52 was completed in late 1943 and deliveries commenced in March 1944. The Model 52a, which soon replaced the Model 52 on the production line, featured upgraded cannon armament in the form of the belt fed version of the Type 99-2 cannon with 125 rpg. Additionally, strengthened wings allowed the plane’s safe diving speed to be increased by over 50 mph, bringing it much closer to Western standards. Still the Zero was decidedly inferior to Allied fighters and its continued use reflected the desperation of the Japanese Navy to get even a tiny bit closer to the performance of the planes they were facing.

 

Sources:
Francillon, Rene J.; Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War; Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD; 1979.
Green, William; Famous Fighters of the Second World War; Hanover House, Garden City, NY; 1960.
Nohara, Shigeru; A6M Zero In Action; Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, TX; 1983.
 

Ki-84-Ic Type 4 Fighter Hayate (Gale) “Frank”

 Ki_841c_Frank01

As well as being formidable fighters, K-84 fighter-bomber models also entered service. On April 15, 1945, 11 Hayates attacked US airfields on Okinawa, destroying many aircraft on the ground.

The final American pilot to score five aerial victories was Capt. Abner M. Aust, Jr, of the 506th Fighter Group making him the last American ace of World War II. His kills included two Zeros and three Ki-84 Hayate (Gale) fighters.

 

 

Strengths:


Firepower – The combination of two 30mm and two 20mm cannon with good ammo loads gives the Frank-Ic a firepower as good as any other single-engine fighter.
Speed – Though somewhat slower than Frank-Ia, the -Ic is still one of the faster prop planes in the game.

Weaknesses:


Bomb Load – With a capacity of only two 551 lb bombs, the Frank-Ic has to rely on its guns to make it a capable ground-attack fighter.

 

Ki-43s were only just starting to see action when the Koku Hombu ordered Nakajima to develop a replacement. The specifications called for a top speed of at least 640 kph (398 mph) and range long enough to allow it to operate at combat settings for 1 1/2 hours 400 km from base. Provisions for pilot armor and self-sealing fuel tanks were required and the armament was to consist of a pair of 12.7mm Ho-103 machine guns in the cowl and a pair of 20mm Ho-5 cannon in the wings.

Design work began in early 1942 and in April 1943 the first prototype, powered by the 18-cylinder Ha-45 radial engine, took to the air. Testing proceeded smoothly and by June the first machines were handed over to the JAAF for Service Trials. Pilots by now were recognizing the value of speed and durability and although the top speed was a bit lower than required, at 624 kph (388 mph) it was the best plane the Army had available for immediate production.

Eighty-three pre-production machines were built between August 1943 and March 1944, with minor changes to the structure being made throughout the process. Upon completion of Service Trials, the Ministry of Munitions ordered the plane into production as the Ki-84-Ia. A second batch of pre-production machines was then started with the final changes to the airframe structure, which included a rack under each wing capable of carrying a 300 liter drop tank or a 250 kg. bomb. The experimental Chutai, which had operated the Ki-84 during Service Trials, was disbanded with most members being used to form the 22nd Sentai, which was equipped with Hayates and shipped to China to face off against Chenault’s 14th Air Force.

Five weeks after being sent to China, the 22nd Sentai was transferred to the Philippines where they joined five other Hayate Sentais in head-to-head combat with the best Allied fighters of the time. Quickly dubbed the “Frank” by the Allies, it was found to be slower than the P-51s and P-47s it faced, but could climb and turn much quicker than either American fighter and was therefore considered a formidable opponent. However, the engine was difficult to maintain and the hydraulic system suffered from sudden failures. This combined with a weak main gear that often collapsed on landing, caused by poor manufacturing standards rendered many aircraft unserviceable without even having seen action.

Shortly after the introduction of the Ki-84-Ia to combat, the company introduced another two variants to the production line, which would be assembled in parallel with the Ia. The Ib model had the two cowl mounted 12.7mm machine guns replaced by pair of 20mm Ho-5 cannon, while the 1c model replaced the wing mounted Ho-5s with 30mm Ho-155s instead. The Ic model was intended to be used as a heavy bomber interceptor, with its 30mm cannon capable of bringing down a B-29 with only a few hits.

 

Sources:
Francillon, Rene J.; Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War; Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD; 1979.
Green, William; War Planes of the Second World War Fighters Volume Three; MacDonald & Co, Ltd., London; 1961.
 

Kawanishi N1K2-Ja Intercepter Shiden-Kai (Modified Violet Lightning) “George”

N1K2-Left-Side

“343rd Kokutai at Matsuyama in December of 1944. This group contained the best of Japan’s remaining fighter pilots which were personally selected for participation. Consisting of three squadrons the 301st 407th and 701st hikotai this fighter unit was Japan’s most proficient during the latter months of the war. The effectiveness of this unit was not solely attributable to the skill of its pilots but also resulted from the aircraft which it flew. All three squadrons were equipped with the Kawanishi N1K2-J Shiden-kai (“violet lightning”) model 21 fighter.”

 From Lance of the Samurai     

 

Strengths:

Maneuverability  – With its automatic flaps the George is the most maneuverable late-war plane.

Ground Attack  – With four 551 lb. bombs and four 20mm cannon, the George can take smaller tank columns.

Firepower  – The four 20mm cannons are of advanced type and give the George firepower equal to all but the 30mm armed planes.

Weaknesses:

Speed  – As with most late-war Japanese fighters, the speed was considerably less than that of the Allied fighters it faced.

 

Japanese Naval offensive strategy in 1940 envisaged the need for fighter support in areas that had no airfields and which were not well suited to carrier operations. To fill this need, a series of floatplane fighters was ordered from the various manufacturers. While Nakajima was tasked with converting the A6M2 Zero into a floatplane fighter, Kawanishi was to design and build one from the ground up.

To help offset the effects of engine torque on take off the initial prototype used a pair of two-bladed, contra-rotating props. However, troubles with the gearbox system resulted in the replacement of this complicated system with a standard Kasei radial driving a three-bladed prop on the second prototype. The resulting torque effects made takeoffs dicey for all but the most experienced pilots, but despite this problem the Navy accepted the plane for service trials in August 1942. Service trials were successful and the Navy ordered the N1K1 Kyofu floatplane fighter into production, the first machines being delivered in Spring 1943.

Meanwhile Kawanishi engineers felt that their design would also serve as the basis for a successful land-based fighter. Lacking a contract and official approval, the company decided to fund development themselves. Although they initially planned to make no changes other than to replace the floats with retractable landing gear, it eventually was decided to replace the 14-cylinder Kasei radial with the new 2,000 hp 18-cylinder Nakajima Homare engine driving a four-bladed prop almost 11 feet in diameter. Because of the mid-fuselage wing mounting and large diameter propeller, the plane had to use extremely long landing gear, which had to be contracted using a complicated double-folding mechanism in order to fit into the wheel-wells.

On December 27, 1942 the first flight of the Model X-1 Experimental Land-based Fighter took flight at Itami Airport. Armed with a pair of 7.7mm machine guns in the cowl and a single 20mm Type 99-2 cannon in a gondola under each wing, the prototype was plagued from the start by engine and landing gear problems. However, once in the air the plane displayed excellent handling characteristics and, with the automatically deployable combat flaps, was almost as maneuverable as the Zero. Despite the fact that it was a private venture and the top speed was not up to expectations, it was still the fastest fighter then available, so the Navy ordered it into production as the N1K1-J Shiden Interceptor Fighter.

Seventy N1K1s had been built by the end of 1943, these having an additional 20mm cannon mounted in each wing, just outboard of the under-wing gondolas. Despite the continued engine and landing gear problems, the Navy authorized quantity production to begin. Just prior to the American landings in the Philippines the 201st Kokutai transferred to Cebu where many Shidens were destroyed on the ground and many others destroyed by engine and landing gear failures. However, the ones that did get into the air proved the plane to be an exceptional fighter, more than capable of meeting the American planes on equal terms. The Allies gave it the code-name “George”.

Development of the Shiden continued during production and in addition to an upgraded Homare 21 engine the armament was continually upgraded. The -Ja model had the machine guns in the cowl removed and all four cannon mounted inside the wing. The -Jb model added a pair of bomb racks under the wing stressed for 250 kg each and the -Jc upped the total to four bomb racks along with the four internal wing-cannon. However, Kawanishi viewed these as only stop-gap measures while they worked on an advanced version of the fighter.

The primary reason for designing the N1K2-J Shiden Kai was to eliminate the need for the long, complicated landing gear legs. To accomplish this the wing was moved from the center-fuselage position to underneath the fuselage. This required a complete redesign of the fuselage and tail section, as well as new landing gear legs. The first N1K2-J prototype was first flown on December 31, 1943.

By April 1944 the prototype was handed over to the Navy for Service Trials. Although it had been mostly redesigned, the N1K2-J retained all of the excellent handling characteristics of the previous version and the Navy authorized quantity production before Service Trails had been completed. Along with the final seven prototypes, the first production machine rolled off the line in June 1944. Initially produced without bomb racks, the N1K2-Ja with four bomb racks soon assumed prominence on the production line.

In combat the N1K2-Ja proved to be as good as anything the Allies could put into the sky. In the hands of an experienced pilot the Shiden Kai could deal with the American planes handily, as evidenced by Warrant Office Kinsuke Muto of the 343rd Kokutai in February 1945. In a lone encounter with twelve F6F Hellcats, he shot down four before the others broke off combat to run for safety. Unfortunately for the Japanese the B-29 raids destroyed many of the plane’s manufacturing facilities and only a little over 300 N1K2-J fighters were produced before the war ended.

 

Sources:

Francillon, Rene J.; Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War; Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD; 1979.

Green, William; War Planes of the Second World War Fighters Volume Three; MacDonald & Co, Ltd., London; 1961
http://www.aviastar.org/air/japan/kawanishi n1k-j.php
 

Nakajima Ki-44-IIc-37 Type 2 Single Seat Fighter Shoki (“Tojo”)

 Ki_44_37_Tojo01

In contrast to its predecessor, the nimble Ki-43, the Ki-44 was designed for speed and climbing ability, and was used to intercept high-flying B-29 bombers. With its poor visibility on the ground, weak armament, and high landing speed, it was generally disliked by pilots; its oversized engine and diminutive tail made it -in some eyes- one of the more unattractive craft of its class.  Some of these aircraft were used against USAAF bombers by a special Shinten Seiku Tai (air superiority unit). Pilots from such units attempted to shoot down B-29s and, once their ammunition was expended, to ram them – effectively a suicide attack. While the concept appeared straightforward, ramming a B-29 at high altitudes was difficult to achieve in practice.

http://www.456fis.org/Ki-44_TOJO.htm, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nakajima_Ki-44  

 

 

Strengths:

Firepower – Equipped with a pair of 37mm cannon in the wings, the Ki-44-IIc-37 can inflict serious damage on enemy bombers and tanks.
Climb Rate – The Ki-44 is able to reach an altitude of 5000m in less than 5 minutes making it the fastest climbing plane in the Japanese inventory.

Weaknesses:

Maneuverability – With wing loading higher than contemporary US Navy fighters, the Ki-44 pilot is best advised to use energy fighting tactics except when dealing with the heavier and faster late-war designs.

 

Faced with an increase in B-29 raids from China and the Marianas, the Japanese Army issued specifications for a high-speed, high-altitude fighter capable of intercepting the American bombers. Unlike other design specifications issued by the Japanese armed forces, this one emphasized speed and climb rate over all other considerations.

Nakajima decided to base the new design around their own Ha-41 engine, a large fourteen-cylinder engine used primarily on bombers. The new design featured a streamlined cowl and a broad fuselage side and large tail fin to provide for a more stable gun platform.

Performance trials of the new design proved disappointing. The plane failed to meet the required speed and time to altitude trials and along with difficulties in the Ki-43 project, Nakajima was in trouble. Back in the factory numerous changes were made to the cowl in an effort to improve streamlining and coax some more speed out of the design. After installing a new firewall for improved cooling, five cooling vents on the side of the cowl were able to be covered over and with the reduced drag, the Ki-44 was able to exceed the performance requirements specified by the Army.

By September 1942 all trials and tests had been completed satisfactorily and the Army accepted the plane into service. The initial version, which had been in production since January and known as the Ki-44-Ia, was fitted with a pair of 7.7mm machine guns in the cowl and a 12.7mm machine gun in each wing. The next variant, the Ki-44-Ib, had the 7.7mm guns replaced by 12.7mm models for a total of four 12.7mm guns.

Despite being the fastest fighter in either Army or Navy service, the plane was incapable of catching up with the Army’s Ki-46 reconnaissance plane. Nakajima responded by installing a more powerful engine, the Ha-109, which had the same dimensions as the Ha-41 and thus required no changes to the airframe. Production of this version, known as the Ki-44-IIa, commenced in August 1942 with armament similar to the -Ia variant. Few -IIa’s were built with production shifting almost immediately to the Ki-44-IIb, which was armed with only a pair of 12.7mm machine guns in the cowl and no guns in wings.

The Ki-44-IIc was introduced with four 12.7mm Ho-103 guns. Even with this armament, it was not enough against the heavily armored B-29s. 20mm cannons were requested by the pilots, but in the end were not used in the -II series.

A small number of -IIb variants used the unique Ho-301 40mm cannon in the wings. This gun was unique in that it used caseless ammunition, the propellant charge being contained in the projectile itself. However, the muzzle velocity was so low that the weapon only had an effective range of 150 meters, making it virtually useless against the heavily defended American bombers.

A small number of -IIc’s were converted to use the 37mm Ho-203 cannon in the wings. This high velocity weapon had a range of 1,000 meters and fired a high explosive projectile weighing almost half a kilogram. Each cannon was fed by a belt containing only 25 rounds, but it could fire only about 2 rounds per second, so pilots had to be sure of their aim.

 

Sources:
Francillon, Rene J.; Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War; Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1979.
 

Nakajima Ki-84-Ia Type 4 Fighter Hayate (Gale) “Frank”

Ki_841a_Frank01

As well as being formidable fighters, K-84 fighter-bomber models also entered service. On April 15, 1945, 11 Hayates attacked US airfields on Okinawa, destroying many aircraft on the ground.

The final American pilot to score five aerial victories was Capt. Abner M. Aust, Jr, of the 506th Fighter Group making him the last American ace of World War II. His kills included two Zeros and three Ki-84 Hayate (Gale) fighters.

 

 

Strengths:

Speed  – Though not quite as fast as the Allied planes of its time, the Frank-Ia is the fastest Japanese fighter in the game.

Weaknesses:

Ground Attack  – With a capacity of only two 550 lb. bombs, the Frank-Ia is a  less capable fighter-bomber than contemporary planes.

 

Ki-43s were only just starting to see action when the Koku Hombu ordered Nakajima to develop a replacement. The specifications called for a top speed of at least 640 kph (398 mph) and range long enough to allow it to operate at combat settings for 1 1/2 hours 400 km from base. Provision for pilot armor and self-sealing fuel tanks was required and the armament was to consist of a pair of 12.7mm Ho-103 machine guns in the cowl and a pair of 20mm Ho-5 cannon in the wings.

Design work began in early 1942 and in April 1943 the first prototype, powered by the 18-cylinder Ha-45 radial engine, took to the air. Testing proceeded smoothly and by June the first machines were handed over to the JAAF for Service Trials. Pilots by now were recognizing the value of speed and durability and although the top speed was a bit lower than required, at 624 kph (388 mph) it was the best plane the Army had available for immediate production.

Eighty-three pre-production machines were built between August 1943 and March 1944, with minor changes to the structure being made throughout the process. Upon completion of Service Trials the Ministry of Munitions ordered the plane into production as the Ki-84-Ia. A second batch of pre-production machines was then started with the final changes to the airframe structure, which included a rack under each wing capable of carrying a 300 liter drop tank or a 250 kg. bomb. The experimental Chutai, which had operated the Ki-84 during Service Trials, was disbanded with most members being used to form the 22nd Sentai, which was equipped with Hayates and shipped to China to face off against Chenault’s 14th Air Force.

Five weeks after being sent to China, the 22nd Sentai was transferred to the Philippines where they joined five other Hayate Sentais in head-to-head combat with the best Allied fighters of the time. Quickly dubbed the “Frank” by the Allies, it was found to be slower than the P-51s and P-47s it faced, but could climb and turn much quicker than either American fighter and was therefore considered a formidable opponent. However, the engine was difficult to maintain and the hydraulic system suffered from sudden failures. This combined with a weak main gear that often collapsed on landing, caused by poor manufacturing standards, to render many aircraft unserviceable without even having seen action.

 

Sources:
Francillon, Rene J.; Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War; Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD; 1979.
Green, William; War Planes of the Second World War Fighters Volume Three; MacDonald & Co, Ltd., London; 1961.
 

Nakajima Ki-44-IIc-37 Type 2 Single Seat Fighter Shoki (“Tojo”)

 Ki-44-IIc-37-Business-End

In contrast to its predecessor, the nimble Ki-43, the Ki-44 was designed for speed and climbing ability, and was used to intercept high-flying B-29 bombers. With its poor visibility on the ground, weak armament, and high landing speed, it was generally disliked by pilots; its oversized engine and diminutive tail made it -in some eyes- one of the more unattractive craft of its class.  Some of these aircraft were used against USAAF bombers by a special Shinten Seiku Tai (air superiority unit). Pilots from such units attempted to shoot down B-29s and, once their ammunition was expended, to ram them – effectively a suicide attack. While the concept appeared straightforward, ramming a B-29 at high altitudes was difficult to achieve in practice.

http://www.456fis.org/Ki-44_TOJO.htm, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nakajima_Ki-44  

 

Strengths:


Firepower – Equipped with a pair of 37mm cannon in the wings, the Ki-44-IIc-37 can inflict serious damage on enemy bombers and tanks.
Climb Rate – The Ki-44 is able to reach an altitude of 5000m in less than 5 minutes making it the fastest climbing plane in the Japanese inventory.

Weaknesses:


Maneuverability – With wing loading higher than contemporary US Navy fighters, the Ki-44 pilot is best advised to use energy fighting tactics except when dealing with the heavier and faster late-war designs
.

 

Faced with an increase in B-29 raids from China and the Marianas, the Japanese Army issued specifications for a high-speed, high-altitude fighter capable of intercepting the American bombers. Unlike other design specifications issued by the Japanese armed forces, this one emphasized speed and climb rate over all other considerations.

Nakajima decided to base the new design around their own Ha-41 engine, a large fourteen-cylinder engine used primarily on bombers. The new design featured a streamlined cowl and a broad fuselage side and large tail fin to provide for a more stable gun platform.

Performance trials of the new design proved disappointing. The plane failed to meet the required speed and time to altitude trials and along with difficulties in the Ki-43 project, Nakajima was in trouble. Back in the factory numerous changes were made to the cowl in an effort to improve streamlining and coax some more speed out of the design. After installing a new firewall for improved cooling, five cooling vents on the side of the cowl were able to be covered over and with the reduced drag, the Ki-44 was able to exceed the performance requirements specified by the Army.

By September 1942 all trials and tests had been completed satisfactorily and the Army accepted the plane into service. The initial version, which had been in production since January and known as the Ki-44-Ia, was fitted with a pair of 7.7mm machine guns in the cowl and a 12.7mm machine gun in each wing. The next variant, the Ki-44-Ib, had the 7.7mm guns replaced by 12.7mm models for a total of four 12.7mm guns.

Despite being the fastest fighter in either Army or Navy service, the plane was incapable of catching up with the Army’s Ki-46 reconnaissance plane. Nakajima responded by installing a more powerful engine, the Ha-109, which had the same dimensions as the Ha-41 and thus required no changes to the airframe. Production of this version, known as the Ki-44-IIa, commenced in August 1942 with armament similar to the -Ia variant. Few -IIa’s were built with production shifting almost immediately to the Ki-44-IIb, which was armed with only a pair of 12.7mm machine guns in the cowl and no guns in wings.

The Ki-44-IIc was introduced with four 12.7mm Ho-103 guns. Even with this armament, it was not enough against the heavily armored B-29s. 20mm cannons were requested by the pilots, but in the end were not used in the -II series.

A small number of -IIb variants used the unique Ho-301 40mm cannon in the wings. This gun was unique in that it used caseless ammunition, the propellant charge being contained in the projectile itself. However, the muzzle velocity was so low that the weapon only had an effective range of 150 meters, making it virtually useless against the heavily defended American bombers.

A small number of -IIc’s were converted to use the 37mm Ho-203 cannon in the wings. This high velocity weapon had a range of 1,000 meters and fired a high explosive projectile weighing almost half a kilogram. Each cannon was fed by a belt containing only 25 rounds, but it could fire only about 2 rounds per second, so pilots had to be sure of their aim.

 

Sources:
Francillon, Rene J.; Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War; Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1979.
 

Mitsubishi J2M3 Intercepter Raiden (Thunderbolt) Model 21 “Jack”

J2M3_Jack01

“Lt. Sadaaki Akamatsu was the Japanese version of the infamous “Pappy Boyington.” He entered the Pacific war in China, and amassed more than 8,000 flight hours during his carrer. “The time before WW II, fighter planes did not have the great speeds. It was the pilots ability that counted, and it became known as the one-to-one dogfight era. The combat of this era wasn’t fast but slow and determined. One by one, we announced our identities and fought to the end. We didn’t fight in mass formations.”

Akamatsu was widely known as the “Master of the Raiden.” With the Allied code name of “Jack,” this stubby interceptor was designed to attack B-29’s. It carried two 20mm cannon in each wing, and could attain a speed of more than 380mph. It’s only drawback was it’s lack of maneuverability. ”

http://thearmorypacgenforum.yuku.com/topic/1231/Rising-Suns-Fighter-Foes#.V6_3aZMrKqA     

 

Strengths:

Firepower  – Its four 20mm cannons give it firepower equal to all but the 30mm equipped planes.

Weaknesses:

Speed  – A top speed of only 371 mph at altitude leaves the Jack outclassed by contemporary fighters, which were well over 400 mph by the time it saw service.

 

Showing remarkable foresight, the JNAF decided to build a land-based interceptor, with Mitsubishi’s Jiro Horikoshi being consulted about the project as early October 1938. However, the needs of the A6M project kept the interceptor idea on hold until September 1939 when the specifications were first drawn up.

The specification called for strict takeoff performance characteristics, with the plane having to take off in overload condition in under 300m. With an endurance of 45 minutes, it was supposed to be able to attain a speed of 600 kph at 6,000m (373 mph at 19,685 ft) and had to climb to that altitude in less than 5 1/2 minutes. For the first time the Navy included a requirement for protective pilot armor and, remarkably, the specification included no maneuverability requirement at all.

Intended to use the same Mitsubishi Kasei engine as they had used in the Zero, the Raiden was designed for maximum streamlining and drag reduction. The engine was mounted further back from the front of the cowl than normal, allowing the cowl to be tapered to keep drag to a minimum. A long shaft connected the engine to the propeller gear and an engine driven fan was installed in front of the engine to maximize airflow for cooling. The wing had a low aspect ratio and was designed with a laminar flow cross-section, while the cockpit canopy was low and wide with curved glass, all intended for drag reduction.

The low-priority of the project combined with cooling and laminar flow problems so that the first J2M1 prototype wasnít flown until March 20, 1942. Numerous problems plagued development including the inability to raise the landing gear at speeds greater than 100 mph! However, the airframe was stable and had good controllability at all speeds from stall to 325 mph, with the ailerons getting a little heavy over that speed, so the decision was made to go ahead with Service Trials.

As expected, pilots complained about the curved canopy glass that distorted their view during landings and the propeller pitch change mechanism was unreliable. The speed and climb rate fell far short of specifications and so Mitsubishi was ordered to try and improve on these characteristics.

The first change was to replace the Kasei 13 with a more powerful Kasei 23a modified to accept a water-methanol injection system. The complicated and unreliable extension shaft was deleted and the cowl length was reduced to improve over-the-nose visibility. The curved glass problem was fixed by adopting a new canopy and windscreen that utilized optically flat armored glass at a slight cost in increased drag. To further improve speed, the collector exhaust was replaced with individual “ejector” stacks designed to produce a small “jet” effect.

The J2M2 was accepted for service in October 1942, but again A6M priorities coupled with problems to delay production. The engine smoked excessively at maximum power and at certain power settings sympathetic vibrations set in that in some cases shook the plane apart in mid-air. This was fixed by reducing the rigidity of the engine mounts while increasing the rigidity of the propeller blades.

The second J2M2 was destroyed and the pilot killed shortly after take off on June 16, 1943. Mitsubishi engineers were unable to determine the cause of the crash until the tenth J2M2 had a similar mid-air incident. Fortunately the pilot immediately put the landing gear down and was able to make a safe landing. It was found that the tail-wheel shock strut was pressing against the elevator controls when retracted, causing the plane to nose over and the problem was rectified immediately.

By March 1944 only a little over 150 Raidens had been produced, the whole program being delayed by teething problems and the priorities of other projects. Along with the introduction of the J2M2 to squadron service, the first J2M3 was produced. While it retained the same engine as the previous model, it had a stronger wing. The new wing allowed the armament to be improved by removing the 7.7mm machine guns in the cowl and augmenting the two 20mm Type-I cannon in the wings with a pair of improved, faster-firing 20mm Type II cannon.

However, performance still fell well below specifications and the Navy decided to phase out the Raiden and to concentrate their efforts on the Kawanishi Shiden to fill the interceptor role. A small number of Raidens served in the Philippines campaign where they earned the code-name “Jack”, but most were used in the home defense role where their heavy armament and pilot protection made them better suited to the bomber interception than to duty under tactical conditions.

 

Sources:
Francillon, Rene J.; Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War; Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD; 1979.
Green, William; War Planes of the Second World War Fighters Volume Three; MacDonald & Co, Ltd., London; 1961
 

Nakajima Ki-43-IIa Type 1 Fighter Hayabusa (Peregrine Falcon) “Oscar”

“We were encountering a serious problem by this time. Recent Spitfires seem to have adopted even more powerful engines and and their climb and speed had improved considerably. Chasing and shooting down these enemy fighters with our Hayabusa MkIIs became increasingly difficult. Even if we succeeded in luring them into a close-in dogfight, the skill of the RAF pilots was not bad at all. In clear contrast to the USAAF pilots, the RAF pilots were seasoned veterans. They often seemed to intentionally try to dogfight us rather than using hit-and-run tactics.
So we made our best efforts to improve the rate of climb and maneuverability of our mounts; stripping down our planes was the primary method. We removed our back armor, head armor (this was also to improve rear vision), and reduced the number of oxygen bottles.”

— Sgt. Masahiro Ikeda, 64th Sentai commenting on the state of battle in Burma , 1944

 

Strengths:


Maneuverability – Though not in the class of the A6M2 or I-16, the Oscar can turn inside of any contemporary plane.

Weaknesses:


Durability – As with most Japanese fighters, the Oscar is easily downed by enemy gunfire.
Firepower – A mere two 12.7mm machine guns leaves the Oscar incapable of doing much damage to enemy planes.

 

By 1937, the Japanese Army had abandoned the use of competitive contracts to obtain aircraft designs and Nakajima was ordered to build a new fighter to replace the Ki-27 then in service. The specifications called for a fighter capable of reaching a top speed of 500 kph (311 mph), a climb rate of 5 minutes to 5,000m (16,405 ft), a range of 800 km, an armament of two 7.7mm machine guns and maneuverability at least as good as the Ki-27.

Within a year the team of designers, led by Hideo Itokawa, had completed the first prototype, which was rolled out of the factory on December 12, 1938. Over the next several months the company tested the new prototype, which was joined by two others, and a short time later the three prototypes were shipped to the JAAF for Service Trials. The plane met all the requirements except that pilots, still thinking that future combats would be classic turn fights, were unhappy with its maneuverability.
The JAAF decided to test another ten planes and Nakajima was ordered to build them in November 1939. The eighth of these prototypes was fitted with an experimental Nakajima Ha-105 radial engine and a pair of 12.7mm machine guns in place of the 7.7s. But the next prototype was to see the introduction of butterfly type flaps that could be deployed in combat to improve lift and turn rate. This arrangement proved popular with pilots and following extensive tests, the Koku Hombu ordered the Ki-43 put into production.
The Ki-43-Ia model was powered by a 950 hp Nakajima Ha-25 radial engine and was armed with a pair of 7.7mm Type 89 machine guns in the cowl. This model was delivered to the 59th and 64th Sentais, which were moved to China shortly before Pearl Harbor. Alternative versions were also coming off the assembly line, the -Ib with a single 7.7mm and a 12.7mm machine gun, and the -Ic with two 12.7mm Ho-103s.
Although it lacked self-sealing fuel tanks or pilot armor and the armament was weak, particularly on the -Ia, the Ki-43 was a shocking success in the early part of the war. When it was seen in the Southwest Pacific it was code-named “Oscar” and when seen in China it was thought to be a different plane and given the code-name “Jim”. But the “Oscar” designation was retained when it was learned that the two planes were the same.
Five Ki-43-Is were fitted with the 1,150 hp Ha-115 radial engine in February 1942 and after dealing with a few minor engine teething problems, the upgrade was deemed successful and production of the Ki-43-IIa was ordered in November. To help improve low altitude speed, the wingspan was reduced by about 2 feet. Additionally, the wing was strengthened to allow a 250 kg. bomb to be carried under each wing outboard of the landing gear legs. Just as important, a rudimentary form of self-sealing fuel tank was installed as well as 13mm armor plate for the pilot.
But by this time, JAAF pilots were facing faster and more heavily armed American and Australian planes and the type was outclassed. However, more Ki-43s served in the JAAF than any other plane and it continued to be improved and produced throughout the war. After the war, salvaged Hayabusas were used by the Indonesian Peopleís Security Force against the Dutch and by the French against Communist inurgents in Indo-China.

 

Sources:
Francillon, Rene J.; Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War; Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD; 1979.
Green, William; War Planes of the Second World War Fighters Volume Three; MacDonald & Co, Ltd., London; 1961

Kawanishi N1K2-Ja Intercepter Shiden-Kai (Modified Violet Lightning), “George”

“The Kawanishi N1K-J Shiden (Violet Lightning) was one of the best fighters to see service with the Imperial Japanese Navy, and in skilled hands was more than capable of holding its own against the American fighters that were increasingly dominating the Pacific skies.”

— http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_kawanishi_N1K-J.html

 

Strengths:

Maneuverability – With its automatic flaps the George is the most maneuverable late-war plane.

Ground Attack – With four 551 lb. bombs and four 20mm cannon, the George can take smaller tank columns.

Firepower – The four 20mm cannons are of advanced type and give the George firepower equal to all but the 30mm armed planes.

 

Weaknesses:

Speed – As with most late-war Japanese fighters, the speed was considerably less than that of the Allied fighters it faced.

 

Japanese Naval offensive strategy in 1940 envisaged the need for fighter support in areas that had no airfields and which were not well suited to carrier operations. To fill this need, a series of floatplane fighters was ordered from the various manufacturers. While Nakajima was tasked with converting the A6M2 Zero into a floatplane fighter, Kawanishi was to design and build one from the ground up.

To help offset the effects of engine torque on take off. the initial prototype used a pair of two-bladed, contra-rotating props. However, troubles with the gearbox system resulted in the replacement of this complicated system with a standard Kasei radial driving a three-bladed prop on the second prototype. The resulting torque effects made takeoffs dicey for all but the most experienced pilots, but despite this problem the Navy accepted the plane for service trials in August 1942. Service trials were successful and the Navy ordered the N1K1 Kyofu floatplane fighter into production, the first machines being delivered in Spring 1943.

Meanwhile Kawanishi engineers felt that their design would also serve as the basis for a successful land-based fighter. Lacking a contract and official approval, the company decided to fund development themselves. Although they initially planned to make no changes other than to replace the floats with retractable landing gear, it eventually was decided to replace the 14-cylinder Kasei radial with the new 2,000 hp 18-cylinder Nakajima Homare engine driving a four-bladed prop almost 11 feet in diameter. Because of the mid-fuselage wing mounting and large diameter propeller, the plane had to use extremely long landing gear, which had to be contracted using a complicated double-folding mechanism in order to fit into the wheel-wells.

On December 27, 1942 the first flight of the Model X-1 Experimental Land-based Fighter took flight at Itami Airport. Armed with a pair of 7.7mm machine guns in the cowl and a single 20mm Type 99-2 cannon in a gondola under each wing, the prototype was plagued from the start by engine and landing gear problems. However, once in the air, the plane displayed excellent handling characteristics and, with the automatically deployable combat flaps, was almost as maneuverable as the Zero. Despite the fact that it was a private venture and the top speed was not up to expectations, it was still the fastest fighter then available, so the Navy ordered it into production as the N1K1-J Shiden Interceptor Fighter.

Seventy N1K1s had been built by the end of 1943, these having an additional 20mm cannon mounted in each wing, just outboard of the under-wing gondolas. Despite the continued engine and landing gear problems, the Navy authorized quantity production to begin. Just prior to the American landings in the Philippines, the 201st Kokutai transferred to Cebu where many Shidens were destroyed on the ground and many others destroyed by engine and landing gear failures. However, the ones that did get into the air proved the plane to be an exceptional fighter, more than capable of meeting the American planes on equal terms. The Allies gave it the code-name “George”.

Development of the Shiden continued during production and in addition to an upgraded Homare 21 engine the armament was continually upgraded. The -Ja model had the machine guns in the cowl removed and all four cannon mounted inside the wing. The -Jb model added a pair of bomb racks under the wing stressed for 250 kg each and the -Jc upped the total to four bomb racks along with the four internal wing-cannon. However, Kawanishi viewed these as only stop-gap measures while they worked on an advanced version of the fighter.

The primary reason for designing the N1K2-J Shiden Kai was to eliminate the need for the long, complicated landing gear legs. To accomplish this, the wing was moved from the center-fuselage position to underneath the fuselage. This required a complete redesign of the fuselage and tail section, as well as new landing gear legs. The first N1K2-J prototype was flown on December 31, 1943.

By April 1944 the prototype was handed over to the Navy for Service Trials. Although it had been mostly redesigned, the N1K2-J retained all of the excellent handling characteristics of the previous version and the Navy authorized quantity production before Service Trials had been completed. Along with the final seven prototypes, the first production machine rolled off the line in June 1944. Initially produced without bomb racks, the N1K2-Ja with four bomb racks soon assumed prominence on the production line.

In combat the N1K2-Ja proved to be as good as anything the Allies could put into the sky. In the hands of an experienced pilot, the Shiden Kai could deal with the American planes handily, as evidenced by Warrant Office Kinsuke Muto of the 343rd Kokutai in February 1945. In a lone encounter with twelve F6F Hellcats, he shot down four before the others broke off combat to run for safety. Unfortunately for the Japanese, the B-29 raids destroyed many of the plane’s manufacturing facilities.  Only a little over 300 N1K2-J fighters were produced before the war ended.

Sources:
Francillon, Rene J.; Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War; Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD; 1979.
Davis, Larry; P-38 Lightning In Action, Aircraft No. 109; Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, Texas; 1990.

Kawasaki Ki-61-Id Type 3 Fighter Hien (Swallow) “Tony”

“On 3 December 1944, First Lieutenant Toru Shinomiya – along with Sergeant Masao Itagaki and Sergeant Matsumi Nakano – intercepted a B-29 raid; Shinomaya rammed one B-29, but was able to land his damaged Ki-61, which had lost most of the port outer wing, back at base. After attacking another B-29 Itagaki had to parachute from his damaged fighter, while Nakano rammed and damaged Long Distance of the 498th BG and crash-landed his stripped-down Ki-61 in a field.

— https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kawasaki_Ki-61

 

Strengths:

Firepower – With two 20mm cannons and two 12.7mm machine guns, the Tony has a solid air-to-air capability.

 

Weaknesses:

Speed – Its top speed of only 302 mph at sea level and 366 mph at altitude means that the Tony has to rely on outmaneuvering planes of its era.

 

The Kawasaki company had long been a proponent of the use of liquid-cooled engines for fighters and was sorely disappointed when their Ki-28 design lost out to Nakajimaís Ki-27. Looking for a better alternative to the BMW V-1 they had been using, they entered negotiations with Daimler-Benz to build the DB-601A under license. Negotiations were completed in April 1940 and they received both blueprints and working examples to use for production templates.

The Ha-40, as the copy was known, had an output of 1,100 hp and was proposed to be used in two different fighter designs – the Ki-60 heavy interceptor and the Ki-61 light, multi-role fighter. With the success stories coming out of Europe of inline engine fighters, the Koku Hombu approved the latter of the two designs.

The Ki-61 showed its European influence, using a wing of high-aspect ratio and large area to provide maximum maneuverability and fuel economy. Particular attention was paid to streamlining and drag reduction as well as keeping weight down to a minimum. Armed with a pair of 12.7mm machine guns in the cowl and a pair of 7.7mm machine guns in the wings, the first prototype was flown in December 1941.

Pre-production testing revealed a top speed of 367 mph at 19,685 feet and while pilots were wary of the high wing loading of almost 30 lbs./sq.ft., they were highly impressed with the plane’s high diving speed, its armor protection and its armament. In competitive trials against an imported Bf-109E, a Ki-43-II, a Ki-44-I, and a captured P-40E, the Ki-61 was judged to be the best overall weapon of the group.

After successful service trials production was ordered late in 1942 and the first deliveries were made in February 1943. Two models were produced, the 1A with the original armament and the 1B with the 7.7mm machine guns in the wings being replaced with 12.7mm models. Combat operations began two months later with 68th and 78th Sentais in New Guinea. The plane immediately proved to be much more suited to combat against the faster American and Australian planes than the Ki-43s then in service.

To improve offensive armament, 388 Ki-61-Ibs were modified to accept a 20mm Mauser MG-151 in each wing. This necessitated mounting the guns on their sides with bulges in the wings to cover the breeches. However, this was only a temporary solution until the 20mm Ho-5 cannon was available for production. The Ki-61-I-KAIc was thus produced with a pair of these guns replacing the machine guns in the cowl.

Production of the Ki-61-I-KAIc began in January 1944 and over half of all Ki-61s produced were of this type. These saw action in the New Guinea and Rabaul area but was most active in the Philippines and over Formosa before being relegated to home defense.

The Ki-61-I-KAId featured here was a specialized anti-bomber version of the KAIc, produced in small numbers late in 1944. It reversed the armament of the KAIc, with 12.7mm machine guns in the fuselage and 30mm Ho-105 cannon in the wings.

Sources:
Francillon, Rene J.; Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War; Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD; 1979.
Green, William; Famous Fighters of the Second World War; Hanover House, Garden City, NY; 1960.
Nohara, Shigeru; A6M Zero In Action; Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, TX; 1983.
Kawasaki Ki-61 Hien (Swallow) ‘Tony’ :  https://http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_kawasaki_ki-61.html.

 

Mitsubishi A6M2b Type Zero Carrier Fighter Model 21 Rei-sen “Zero”

“The Zero excited me as nothing else had ever done. Even on the ground it had the cleanest lines I had ever seen in an aeroplane. it was a dream to fly.”

— Sub-Lieutenant Saburō Sakai

(坂井 三郎 )

was a Japanese naval aviator and flying ace (撃墜王) of the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II.

 

Strengths:

Maneuverability – Nothing can outturn a Zero, horizontally, vertically or any combination.

Range – With judicious use of the throttle, the Zero can fly to any target on any map in the game.

 

Weaknesses:

Durability – The complete lack of pilot and fuel protection makes that the Zero the easiest plane in the game to bring down.

 

With the A5M Claude just starting to enter service the Japanese Navy decided to task the nation’s aircraft manufacturers with designing and building a superior replacement. Looking for a “state of the art” airplane that would exceed the performance of anything it was likely to meet, the Navy established stringent performance criteria. The new design had to be capable of a top speed of 310 mph and had to climb to 10,000 feet in 3 1/2 minutes. Armed with two cannons and two machine guns and having a range exceeding that of any current fighter, it had to be equal to or better than the Claude in maneuverability and handling. Nakajima immediately withdrew from the competition, stating that it was impossible to design such a plane. But Mitsubishi’s Jiro Hirokoshi felt that it could be done and set about the task of designing the plane.The team selected the company’s own 780 hp Zuisei 13 fourteen-cylinder radial engine, partly because it was a Mitsubishi product, but mostly because of its small diameter and light weight. Special attention was paid to weight reduction with the plane utilizing the new Extra-Super Duralumin alloy developed for aircraft use by the Sumitoma Metal Industry Company. To simplify production and maintenance, the single spar wing and center fuselage section were built as a single piece and the front and rear portions of the fuselage were removable.

The first prototype was flown on April 1, 1939 and proved an immediate success with only a few minor problems, including a tenancy to vibrate excessively. After further testing and experimentation the two-blade prop was replaced with a constant-speed, three-blade propeller, which eliminated almost all of the vibration in the plane. The Navy accepted the first prototype for testing on September 14, 1939 as the A6M1 Type 0 Carrier Fighter, which in Japanese is Rei Shiki Sento Ki and was shortened to Rei-sen, literally “Zero Fighter”. This prototype would end up making 119 flights with a total flight time of 43 hours 26 minutes!

Meanwhile, the Navy had accepted Nakajima’s new 925 hp Sakae 12 engine into service. With its similar dimensions and weight to the Zuisei, the Navy ordered Mitsubishi to install the new engine on the third prototype, which was given the designation A6M2 to distinguish it from the Zuisei powered model. Flight tests of the A6M2 began on January 18, 1940, the additional power of the engine allowing the plane to far exceed the rigid performance specifications laid out by the Navy and so fifteen machines were ordered for use in Service Trials in China.

The 12th Kokutai stationed in Hankow received the new A6M2s and immediately used them on their first combat mission on August 19, 1940. However, they saw no action until their fourth mission when they encountered a formation of Chinese I-15s and I-16s. They turned and dove into the Chinese formation, shooting down all 27 enemy planes without suffering a single loss. Over the next few months 153 Rei-sen sorties resulted in the destruction of 59 Chinese planes in the air and 101 on the ground, without a single loss. Soon the Chinese Air Force declined to engage Rei-sen escorted bomber formations and the Japanese were allowed to roam at will over the country.

Claire Chenault, then serving as the air commander for the Nationalist Chinese, reported on the ability of this plane, but American commanders ignored the implications and thus the first appearance of the plane to Western forces came as a shock and a surprise. When it did show up, Allied intelligence gave it the code-name ‘Zeke’, but by then everyone knew its Japanese code-name and it was commonly called the ‘Zero’ by Allied troops.

Production of the A6M2 Model 11 had just begun when the wing spar on the second A6M1 failed, causing a fatal crash. As a result the wing spar was redesigned for greater strength and the new wing was incorporated into the production line starting with the 22nd plane. Carrier Trials Testing revealed a problem with the wingspan being too long to safely fit on the elevators, so starting with the 64th production machine the Model 21 was introduced with the outer 20 inches of wingtip able to be manually folded upwards, which allowed sufficient clearance for elevator operations.

By the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, the Navy had 126 Model 21s assigned to carrier duties and another 213 assigned to land-based squadrons. Over the next several months a myth of invincibility surrounded the Zero that masked its shortcomings. However, this was soon to change.

On June 3, 1942 Flight Petty Officer Tadayoshi Koga took off in his brand-new A6M2 Model 21 for a raid on Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians. On the return flight he noticed he had lost too much fuel and decided to land on the small island that had been designated for emergency landings. Unfortunately the ground was soft and his plane flipped over onto its back, breaking his neck and killing him instantly. Several months later an American naval scouting party found the nearly intact plane, recovered it and shipped it back to the US for testing. This testing revealed its limitations and allowed US designers to tailor their designs to counter the Zero and the other light, highly maneuverable fighters the Japanese were fielding at the time.

Sources:
Francillon, Rene J.; Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War; Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD; 1979.
Green, William; Famous Fighters of the Second World War; Hanover House, Garden City, NY; 1960.
Nohara, Shigeru; A6M Zero In Action; Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, TX; 1983.