(Japan 1941 - 1945)
December 7th 1941 Japanese aircraft from six aircraft carriers bombed American installations and ships in Pearl Harbour, Hawaii. Whether this attack was a complete surprise without declaration of war or the result of a complete American disregard of intelligence reports - or worse - should not be discussed here. Without question is the fact that Japanese radio transmissions were monitored and translated long before this date.
Japanese forces forcefully and swiftly spread through southeast Asia and the Pacific with even the intention to invade Australia. One particular fortified stronghold being Rabaul, New Britain. The loss of four aircraft carriers in the battle of Midway was a severe blow to Japans expansion intentions, so a new airfield on Guadalcanal in the Solomons island chain could be very useful as staging point to Australia. In Allied eyes this had to be prevented by all means. After the invasion in continuous battles both sides lost ships, aircraft and men, but more so the Japanese who eventually had to retreat. Especially the loss of experienced pilots was to cost Japan dearly as about two hundred had already been lost in the battle of Midway. The demand for pilots grossly exeeded the output of training schools so replacements had to be taken from training prematurely. When these fell, the replacements were trained even less, and so on. For Japan the long way backwards began.
For the US Guadalcanal was the starting point to recapture the whole Solomons archipelago, with the aim to move in a great arc to the Philippines. The US Army would join the Navy/Marines force there by battling through north New Guinea and adjacent islands westwards. Following the capture of the Philippines the combined forces would then move on towards Japan. These independent maneuvers, separated by thousands of miles had their origin in a disagreement between General MacArthur und Admiral Nimitz, but in effect proved priceless because never did the Japanese know what the the next target would be. There was no need to recapture the nearest island next. It could be left to its own if it couldn' be supplied by aircraft or ships. Therefore control of air and sea was mandatory, the Allies providing enough aircraft, ships and submarines to prevent any large scale Japanese reinforcement, long range bombers harrassing Japanese bases. Especially in the central pacific US carrier forces roamed at will, leaving Japanese forces to guess what the next target would be. Taken by surprise each time they couldn't mass the necessary defenses. Furthermore an attack by carrier aircraft wasn't necessarily followed by an invasion. This could take place hundreds of miles away. Following a shelling from ship guns carrier aircraft "softened" the invasion area and covered the advance of the ground troops. Little "escort carriers" (converted tankers or custom built) served in every role from transport to air cover for the landing fleet. Rabaul, still heavily defended, but completely isolated could be left to it's own. In south Pacific tropical heat and moisture were as hard to bear as the enemy who fought with usual feriocity, but the Army pressed on. In autumn 1944 a huge invasion fleet assembled off the island of Leyte in the Philippines. Vastly outnumbered the Japanese Naval air arm resorted to a novel way of warfare. "Kamikaze" attacks (see below). But in the long term in vain. The Philippines were recaptured and the next goal was Okinawa. But before a tiny island namend Iwo Jima had to be taken to serve as emergency airfield for the B-29 bombers based at the Marianas islands. It was to be a bloody battle. Equally so the Okinawa campaign, where the Japanese, hidden in caves, fought to the last man, again causing a great death toll on the American side. On sea Kamikazes though shot down in great numbers were a constant threat, also inflicting an alarming loss of lives and material. So there were no illusions what to expect in an invasion of Japan itself. On August 6th 1945 the first atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima followed by Nagasaki on Aug. 9th. This finally convinced the stubborn Japanese military staff that the superior Allied forces could not be defeated the Samurai way (to set matters right: There were indeed some high ranking people seeking for peace earlier, but unfortunately they asked the Soviet Union for mediation). The communist plans were quite contrary as shown by declaration of war in the last days of WW II. Unconditional surrender of Japan was declared August 15th 1945.
There have been many friendly people questioning the necessity of dropping A-bombs. In some way they are right. To bomb Japan to unconditional surrender A-bombs weren't necessary. With almost complete American air superiority it was just a matter of time till the last Japanese city would have been burned to the ground (Who mourns the death of Hiroshima and Nagasaki should not forget the many thousands incinerated in the bombing of Tokyo in May 10th 1945). - And, not to forget, there were a lot of American lives to spare too. Horrible as it was, paradoxically the A-bombs saved lives. This is not to say future use is justified!
When building a model - be it either a Japanese or an Allied aircraft - it's mandatory to distinguish between land and carrier based aircraft and furthermore between Army and Navy aircraft.
In both countries Army and Navy were stricly separate units, each branch jealously guarding its own interests. Therefore never did an Army pilot officially fly a Navy plane or vice versa. So watch the uniforms and flight gear. Excluding Guadalcanal US Army and Navy airplanes were far apart, no chance for a US Navy airplane to land at an Army base (a B-24 on an aircraft carrier would be a novel feat anyway). In principle this goes for Japanese aircraft too, Army aircraft flying in the vicinity of New Guinea, island bases in the middle Pacific being solely used by Naval forces.
While Japanese Army aircraft ("Ki-xxx") were fairly colourful, showing squadron and individual markings, Navy types (letter/ numeral/letter) were painted stricly to official regulations. Coloured bands indicated either a command level and/or position in the formation, the tail marking denoting the unit. Later on bands were discarded leaving just numbers on the tail. No personal markings.
Concerning the overall appearance of Japanese aircraft see below.
US aircraft carriers were exchanged regularly, seeing combat for about half a year, but returning to a forward base for replenishment and minor repairs every two months (the embarked air group probably even less). Furthermore on aircraft corrosion prevention was mandatory. So forget about chipped paint and exessive "ageing" of carrier based aircraft. Carrier aircraft can easily be distinguised by their geometric tail markings (though not carried throughout). When in late 1944 F4U-1D Corsairs returned to the carriers they sported overall "glossy sea blue" paint and were as pristine as their companion Hellcats and Avengers.
Webpages to this text:
|US government note to Japan:||http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1941PEARL.html|
|Pearl Harbour attack:||http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq66-1.htm|
|Japanese carriers off Pearl Harbour:||Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, Hiryu, Shokaku, Zuikaku|
|Battles for Guadalcanal:||http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/brochures/72-8/72-8.htm|
|Colours of USN aircraft (German Text):||page weO, Originalfarben|
|Markings of USN aircraft till 1944 (German text):||page Markings II|
|Markings of USN aircraft 1945 (German text):||page Markings III|
Legend holds it that wartime Japanese aircraft were painted with inferior paint so chipping was common. Therefore thousands of models have been decorated with a multitude of silver specks, an immaculate finish in common opinion being unrealistic and therefore a serious omission.
While the exact shades of colour are still questioned there is no doubt that Japanese paint was of equal quality to western standards as shown by relics found long after the war. Bad Japanese paint is a modellers myth!
At first it is necessary to distinguish between the different branches of the Imperial Japanese air arm. Like in the US Army and Navy:
Ki-43 II 25 Hiko Sentai
A6M5c 201 wing
Drawing: Srecko Bradic
Drawing: Srecko Bradic
Serving in very different theaters (see above). The IJ Army was driven back along the coast of New Guniea towards southern Indonesia, the IJ Navy from the Salomon islands (especially Guadalcanal) northwest/west (Marianas, Truk) to the Philippines. Both then tried in vain to stop the American invasion of the Philippines and later Okinawa.
Navy: As photos confirm Imperial Navy airplanes were invariously coated with paint as a protective measure against salt water corrosion. At first clear laquer over the silver Alclad metal (aquiring a brownish tint after some time), then in a greenish light gray. Later on with dark green upper sides, in both cases with motor cowling in black. This protective paint was applied invariably over a red-brown primer. Applied by the manufacturer in the homeland. Slight variations in colour were common (Nakajima manufactured A6M's being a little bit darker, the demarcation line sweeping upwards to the horizontal tail). Only toward the end of the war did unpainted undersides appear, but not to a great scale. Hand painted aircraft were seen only for a short time, beginning in autumn 1942, when due to the loss of carriers the now land based aircraft needed some camouflage. This green paint was applied over the existing greenish gray paint (three layers of paint!), left over gray spots were either intentional or the result of an inskilled labourer (i.e. A6M3 shown above).
Army fighters were delivered unpainted till late 1944 whereas bombers showed variations in colour. Mottling shades of green or brown over bare metal applied in the field served for camouflage, blending the plane with the spots of light and shadow on the ground. A close look at photos reveals that what appears to be chipped paint in most cases was intentionally applied incomplete paint. Depending on the decision of the superiors, supply and available tools, application was by anything ranging from airbrush to palm leaves (to duplicate their pattern on the ground). Close examination of wartime photos shows a preference of leaving bare spots on the rear fuselage only whereas wings and empennage were completely covered (not to be confused with spot camouflage showing a irregular pattern of green streaks with noticeable gaps between). If paint chipping occured indeed it wasn't for bad paint, but for the lack of primer, the camouflage being applied direcly over bare metal.
The most striking argument against bad chipping paint: Why are there so many immaculate "hinomarus" (paint chipping stopping exactly there)? Another point neclected in the opinion bad Japanese paint peeled off easily is T I M E. - If one concedes that the paint wasn't simply blown off, the service life of a wartime airplane has to be taken in consideration. Especially in the later years, when Japanese aircraft were shot down by the hundreds. Excluding an expertedly flown A6M the lifetime of a Zero in late 1944 in the average measured in weeks. Sometimes days.
There wasn't enough time for the paint to chip.
As well as the photo above this photo isn't a contradiction!
If examined closely (sorry no better quality available), you'll notice; Paint "chipping" on the fuselage begins well behind the motor in a near straight line and ends at the vertical tail. There isn't any paint chipping on the vertical tail, the horizontal stabiliser and the wing. If inferior paint was used why only on these parts? And, again, why did the chipping stop exactly around the fuselage "hinomaru"? - All this doesn't make sense. - In my opinion the paint was applied to the fuselage by hand, intentionally leaving bare spots to disrupt its shape.
In the A6M3 photo at the top you see "bare metal" behind the motor cowling and the inner left wing merging into streaks and mottled paint. Canopy frames are entirely light coloured. Alledgedly this aircraft was flown by the ace of aces, Nishizawa, in late 1942/early 1943. - Again the question arises why the bad paint selected a fairly secure area behind the cowling and/or got better along the fuselage. - In truth the light coloured areas aren't bare metal. Early A6M3 Zeros were delivered in the usual standard light gray-green. Being land based by then these aircraft needed camouflaged for better concealment. Paint was therefore applied by hand over the existing finish. This also explains why the canopy frame is still light coloured (gray-green).
Japanese colours in general:
|Quality of paint:||http://www.j-aircraft.com/research/weathering_question.htm|
|Early A6M2 colours:||
Were they just stupid fanatics or did they die because they were ordered to do so?
- Common errors see page K -
What was the reason for more than two thousand young men to sacrify their lives?
To understand this ultimate bravery one has to go back to Japanese military tradition, Japanese understanding of honour, political circumstances of the time and last not least religion.
The first two are closely asociated with the caste of the Samurai warriors. These were hired by regional sovereigns ("Damiyos") and obliged to lifetime loyality. Weaponry was decidedly of the middle ages at first and each Samurai took great pains in improving his skills and developing mental strenght. Not unlike the life of a monk this almost ritual behavior earned great respect especially because for a Samurai there was just one option: Victory or death. This was due to the way of fighting. Nobody wanted to employ a loser. His shame would fall on the employee and his family as well. Had a Samurai survived a duel, he would have starved. Therefore none of the Samurais was interested in pure survival. Either he could kill his opponent with one of the strokes of his repertoire or he would die. Either by his opponent or by his own hand. Losing a fight and survive meant disgrace for him and his family, so he had to commit "seppuku" (vulgar "harakiri"), which was considered a honorable death. Likewise it was his foremost duty to protect the honour of his employer. His shame was the shame of the Samurai too (with the according measures to be taken).
|Recommended pages for "Samurai":||http://mcel.pacificu.edu/as/students/bushido/bsamurai.html|
Not suprisingly the tradition of the Samurai caste ("Bushido") lived on. Honor and obedience being the primary factors of military and to some extent also of civilian life. When the Americans in mid 1941 ultimatively asked Japan to retreat from Indonesia they were either totally unaware of Japanese feelings or they did it intentionally, knowing Japanese honour would never permit to give in being adressed this way. War was imminent.
An exaggerated glorification of war and oriental mankind manifested itself during the time after the first world war. To die for the fatherland was esteemed the highest honor and children were indoctrinated accordingly. Woe to all those of different opinion. Eyes and ears of the secret service ("Kempetai") were present everywhere.
To disobey orders was out of question. A disgrace. So a Japanese soldier followed an order even when it spelled certain death.
The last point may not be the most important, but it helps a great deal to understand why even modern Japanese warriors accepted death so easily. Both in Shinto and Buddhism believe life can appear many forms. Death doesn't spell nihilation. You just enter another world. For a Japanese warrior it was "Yasukuni" where he met all famous warriors gone before him - a great honor - and lived a life where all his wishes were granted. Death was just one step from one world into another, better one. To depart in the morning for the last flight and meet each other at midday was a certainity for not too few.
The imperial daydreams of the politicans - better: the reigning military caste - were the other side of the coin, fired by some spectacular victories in the first time. But the loss of four aircraft carriers and most of their well trained pilots in 1942 stopped the Japanese advance. The attrition asociated with the Guadalcanal campain was the turning point, the "Marianas Turkey Shoot" in June 1944 a clear sign of imminent defeat. Too many pilots had been lost. Few were left who could fight the Allies on equal terms, and there were too many enemy planes. The Rabaul stronghold had been neutralised, many of the other island bases lost. Defeat had followed defeat with tremendous loss of life. Desperate measures had to be taken to prevent the unthinkable, the invasion of the homeland by a foreign force and disposal of the emperor. But for the first time the next target of the Allies was clear: The Philippines. A huge assembly of ships could be expected, especially aircraft carriers, the most lucrative targets. All concentrated on the doorstep! For the defense against the "big blue blanket" there were a mere 27 aircraft (30 to other sources, but this doesn't make a great difference). Like the legendary heavenly typhoons ("Kamikaze") saved Japan in the 13th century from a Mongol invasion help of the gods - a new "Kamikaze" - was desparately needed. Victory was out of question, but somehow the US had to be stopped to get a good position for honorable peace negotiations.
The invention of a human guided bomb can be attributed to a certain Ensign Ohta. He thought of a winged bomb powered by a rocket motor, containing a 1000 kg detonation charge in its nose. Transportation to the target area was to be by an accordingly modified "mother airplane" (mostly a Mitsubishi G4M "Betty"). When asked whom he expected to be foolish enough to steer it, he replied: "Me". Somehow the idea stuck though, the Yokosuka company some month later coming out with a rocket powered missile called MXY7 "Ohka", first flight in September 1944. The idea of self sacrification had spread meanwhile although it was clear to everyone that such a mission could not be ordered. It needed volunteers.
In October 1944 Admiral Onishi, well aware of the attack possibilities, but also informed of the meager force the Navy air arm in the Philippines could offer (27 aircraft), a more graceful death had to be found. A special attack force ("tokko-tai") had to be created. This idea was presented October 21th 1944 by Commander Tamai to the pilots of the 201 fighter wing. A certain 1th lieutenant Yukio Seki being asked if he would lead such a mission. Whether Seki agreed at once or after some time remains unclear, but in the result not only he but his squadron mates agreed as well. This is understood easier when taking in consideration the life expectation of a Navy pilot in autumn 1944. They all knew they were living on borrowed time. Against overwhelming odds sooner or later they would die anyway. Like so many they had known. Why not give some sense and grace to the inevitable death?
A6M2 with Lt. Seki and companions in A6M5
On October 25th the first mission was started. From Davao airfield the units "Asahi" and "Kikusui" consisting of 6 Kamikaze planes and 4 escorts headed for the American escort carrier unit "Taffy 1" off the coast of Leyte. The carrier "Santee" (CVE-29) was hit first, "Sangamon" (CVE-26) and "Petrof Bay" (CVE-80) defended themself successfully, "Suwanee" (CVE-27) was hit midships, but as well as "Santee" remained afloat. The Mabalacat based planes (unit "Shikishima") went with 5 Kamikaze planes and 4 escorts for "Taffy 3". "White Plains" (CVE-66) and "Fanshaw Bay" (CVE-CVE-70) suffered only minor damage while "St Lo" (CVE-63) was less lucky. An already smoking A6M Zero (standard plane of the Imperial Navy air arm) at first released its bomb and then crashed amidships. Legend has it this plane was piloted by Lt. Seki. Be it true or not, the developing fires in the hangar bay couldn't be brought under control, St. Lo exploded in a spectacular fireball.
US Navy/National archives
More photos: http://www.bosamar.com/kami.html
When the accompanying escort planes (one of them piloted by the ace of the aces Nishizawa) saw the rising smoke columns destruction of several aircraft carriers seemed certain. Now for the first time they held measures to stop the tide of war, maybe achieve a tolerable peace agreement. The price was comparatively low. Just one pilot for a whole aircraft carrier which planes had harassed them so much in the past. Japan could be saved by mustering all remaining strenght.
For the next missions there was no lack of volunteers. So many were they that selection was necessary. Not accepted were married men or first/only sons. There is the sad sory of a certain Lt. Fuji who was married and had three children. To fulfill his eager desire to participate in a Kamikaze mission, his wife drowned the children and herself. Fuji was accepted then and started on his last mission May 28th 1945, alledgedly sinking the destroyer "Drexler." By the way: In Japanese parlance there were no Kamikaze missions or single pilots called so. "Kamikaze" was understood as the whole effort, the mission itself was called "Tokko-tai" or "Shim pu".
Although "Kamikaze" commonly is asociated with
deliberately crashed airplanes it is only one part of the story. There were human
guided torpedoes ("Kaiten") and boats loaded with explosives too. Just
two examples: The "USS
Underhill" (DE-682) was sunk on July 24th 1945 by a "Kaiten" and LCS-7 by a suicide boat
on 16th February 1945. Both in the
The attitude of the Imperial Army is difficult to describe. Self sacrification wasn't unknown to Army pilots. When well armed high flying American B-29 bombers appeared over Japan the most efficient way to down them was by ramming. The pilot bailing out in the last moment. Some didn't. Intentionally, to guarantee maximum damage. On the other side these equally dedicated pilots didn't easily volunteer for "tokko-tai"-missions. A one percent chance to survive seems to be not much, but to them it mattered. On the official side there also was some reluctance, but as early as December 1944 some "tokko-tai"-missions were flown by order of local superiors. After the fall of the Philippines and the invasion of Okinawa in June 1945 it was clear to everyone the next step would be the invasion of Japan itself. The utmost was necessary and therefore full participation of the Army air arm too. As the number of volunteers still wasn't as high as necessary, leaflets were given out in which the unlucky recipient had to mark his desire to fly such a mission by a cross and sign this paper. When taking in consideration the influence of the "Kempetai", the danger of being blamed for defaetism (shame on the family!) showing any reluctance had to be thought of twice. Another way one could find himself unvoluntarily on the way was the typical Japanese group spirit, to be in agreement. Last but not least being participant by plain order was also possible in the Army. Not by the Emperor himself! God like he spoke ancient Japanese and interference into daily business was out of question.
The other source of volunteers (in this case real ones) were graduates of middle or high school, indoctrinated since childhodood as they were. If they could contribute to avoid the imminent defeat they were willing to spend their lives. These teenagers got rudimentary flight training before being sent in the general direction of Okinawa. All they had to know was how to get an airplane off the ground and keep it in the air long enough to find a target. It didn't matter if they failed to hit. They too kept the American defense busy and gave a more skilled pilot a chance.
In general the mission itself was flown in different ways. In large formation, in groups or even single aircraft. Well known was the fact that in general 9/10 of the attackers fell either to the fighter patrol or additional radar directed planes. Of those few left again 9/10 were shot down by gunfire from the carriers or surrounding cruisers and destroyers. Therefore the aim was to saturate the defenses with so many aircraft, that some could get through. Another tactic was a low level approach. It offered the best chances to escape the defending fighters, but minimised detection of the target. In a combination of tactics the risk of early detection had to be accepted. When getting through the outer defences dropping to wave top level reduced the chance of getting hit by gunfire. To get the most forceful impact the plane was pulled up short of the target and then dived, preferably into a spot near the island of the carrier. A dive from great height brought more destruction, but needed a good pilot and strong arms because the controls of an A6M Zero stiffened considerably in higher speeds. If not taken in account the poor devil of a pilot (or in this case inhabitant) plummeted vertically into the sea unable to change direction.
When in October 1944 the Americans first saw airplanes that didn't pull out of their dives but continued to crash they were flabbergasted. They couldn't believe what they saw. As attacks continued and losses mounted it was clear to each sailor that not only the seemingly invincible US Navy had problems, but that his very life was on stake. Fear spread among the ships and war neuroses mounted to unheard of levels. The Navy was seriously concerned for losses in such numbers were not only unacceptable, even more had to be expected in the next step, the invasion of Japan. The atomic bomb was the logical consequence.
photo: USN/National archives
|Photos of damaged Saratoga:||http://www.navsource.org/archives/02/saratoga/saratoga2.htm|
In total about two thousand plus airplanes participated in Kamikaze attacks. Though nearly every fleet carrier was hit at least once, some even more than one time, only about 36 American ships were sunk - the only aircraft carriers besides the already mentioned "St. Lo" - being "Bismarck Sea" (CVE-95) and "Ommaney Bay" (CVE-79 ) - and a further 368 damaged.
Of these ships most were (radar picket) destroyers and landing craft (legendary the survival of the destroyer "USS Laffey" which survived five consecutive hits). In other words: With great loss of life strategically nothing was achieved. The Allied onslaught continued nearly unhindered. Almost certainly Japan held hope to gain the time needed for the sought after peace negotiations. As the Allies insisted on the term "unconditional surrender" (which, the Japanese feared could also mean demise of the Emperor) the proceedings were slow. The Allies went on as planned, the atomic bomb leading to a violent, but for all involved much needed peace.
Reflecting to the flying bomb "Ohka". - It was a complete failure. On the first mission all Ohka carrying Betty transport aircraft were shot down. In another attempt in 1945 the destroyer "Abele" was sunk, but no widespread use occured. The "Thunder Gods" were diverted to ordinary Kamikaze missions. Ohta applied also, but was rejected as unsuited. As he felt himself responsible for the death of so many young men he took on another name after the war and only when he felt death was near did he tell his story to his son.
Despite this kind of mission there were survivors. Some who couldn't find a target and landed elsewhere because they didn't want to die useless and some who survived the crash of their shot up aircraft. In Japanese records they were filed as dead and therefore they had to accept a new identity after the war. Only from these men we know what the last word of a Kamikaze pilot usually was. Not "Banzai" but "mother!"
|List of all US Navy war losses:||http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq82-1.htm|
|Japanese wartime aircraft in general:||http://www.J-aircraft.com|