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Posts posted by The_Blue_Baron

  1. Soviet Bombers in China
    by Anatolii Demin and Vladimir Kotel’nikov
    Aviatsiia i Kosmonavtika 3.1999
    translated by George M. Mellinger, Twin Cities Aero Historians

    {For Russian names I have used a simplified version of the Library of Congress system; for Japanese names, the rendition common in Western literature.  Chinese names and places have proven difficult.  I have been given by a friend a table for transliterating Pinyan phonetics into Cyrillic, and have tried to work it backwards to obtain Pinyan from the Russian. -GMM}

    On July 7, 1937 the Japanese army invaded China.  Her soldiers attacked a Chinese post on the Lugouqiao Bridge on the border between China and occupied Manchuria.  According to the laughable pretext, the Chinese were guilty of abducting a Japanese soldier who went missing during maneuvers, and thus began the long Sino-Japanese war.   The Japanese militarists had planned for this for some time, and had gathered their strength well in advance.

    Chinese aviation in those years was regarded as backward.  Their own aviation construction industry was just being born; and the national design bureau was only just beginning to find its legs with the help of foreign assistance.  In 1934 the Chinese imported 132 American aircraft and 14 aircraft motors for total sum of 3.7 million dollars (including spares).  The next year a further 81 aircraft and 80 motors were ordered for a sum of 2.5 million dollars.  In those years China was the largest customer for American aviation equipment, amounting to 20% of American aviation exports.  Bombardment aviation primarily was armed with American light attack bombers - the Northrop Gamma 2EC (24 aircraft imported from the USA in 1936 and a further 24 assembled from components at the Hanzhou aircraft factory) and the Curtiss A-12 Shrike.  Intended for direct battlefield support of the ground forces, they had a short radius of action and carried a small bombload. (the E2C up to 550 kg. and the A-12 a maximum of 200 kg), which allowed  bombs of only small  size.  For the same purpose of carrying light fragmentation bombs, also available were the reconnaissance aircraft Vought V-95 Corsair and Douglas O2MC (82 machines were purchased  in 1932-36, and later licensed production was organized at Hanzhou).

    According to information of the Guomindang government, at the beginning of the war with Japan there were about 600 combat aircraft, of which 305 were fighters and the remainder light bombers and reconnaissance aircraft.  Medium bombers (the Chinese classified them as “heavy”) were not more than 20 machines.  All belonged to the three squadrons of the 8th Air Group (in Chinese- “Dadui” that is “Large Detachment”).  The 10th Squadron (“Zhongdui” - “Medium Detachment”) flew the Italian three-motor Savoia S.72.  In the summer of 1935 a sample copy, equipped for VIP transport was demonstrated and later presented to Chang Kaishi; the Chinese ordered and themselves assembled 6 such machines.  In fact these were military transport aircraft equipped with bomb racks for night activity.  By the beginning of the Sino-Japanese war all the S.72s were in shabby condition and were suitable only for transport.

    The 19th Squadron was fitted out with Heinkel He-111A-0 twin motor bombers which had been rejected by the Luftwaffe (In 1935 six machines were purchased by the aviation command of Guangdong Province).  And finally, the  the 30th Squadron had the very best equipment, American Martin 139WCs (9 machines purchased in 1935, with the first 6 machines arriving in Shanghai in February 1937 for assembly and the training of crews).

    In mid-August 1937 the 8th Air Group was rounded out by the 13th Squadron, receiving in Nanchang 4 SM.81B Italian bombers assembled in the local aviation factory.

    At the beginning of the war the Japanese surpassed the Chinese in numbers and quantity, and also in the training of their flying and technical personnel.  In spite of their heroism, the Chinese suffered enormous losses.  During the first weeks of the war the Chinese lost almost all of their medium bombers.  In August-September five of the six Martins of the 30th Squadron were destroyed, bombed by Japanese forces near Shanghai.  The sixth and last was shot down on 22 October.  Most of the S.72s were destroyed in 1937 on the ground during air attacks.  On 25 August 1937, during an attack on Japanese ships in the area of Shizilin and Yuncaobin 2 He-111As of the 19th Squadron were shot down.  Later one Heinkel was transferred to the 13th Squadron for training, and one more was mistakenly shot down over Hankou on October 1 by a Chinese Hawk fighter.  In February 1938, during the course of two days, all the SM.81Bs were destroyed on the ground.

    Ultimately the Chinese were forced to withdraw all their remaining bombers to the rear, beyond the radius of action of the Japanese fighters which completely dominated the Chinese sky.  Already by the autumn of 1937 the command staff of the Japanese air forces considered the enemy’s aviation completely destroyed.

    Military assistance of the Soviet Union changed the situation.  On 21 August 1937 China and the USSR concluded an agreement of non-aggression and mutual assistance.  In March of the following year China was granted a credit of 50 million dollars for the purchase of weapons and military equipment.  In July 1938 and in June 1939 agreements were signed for new credits consisting of 50 million and 150 million dollars.

    We note as comparison, that soon after the beginning of the war the Guomindang resumed purchasing aircraft in a number of countries.  Thus in 1938 the USA provided the Chinese with 143 aircraft and 84 motors for a sum of 6.4 million dollars.

    But already by September 1937 the Soviet leadership began to implement “Operation Zet (Z)”, the dispatch to China of the newest combat aircraft.  In the middle of September in various units of the Soviet VVS there arrived secret circulars about the selection of the best prepared crews for fulfilling “special government assignments”.  Amongst the selected were crews of SB and TB-3 bombers.

    First they began to prepare the southern route.  They planned to send the aircraft in crates to Alma-Ata, assemble them there, and ferry them the rest of the way to China by air.  The itinerary, beginning in Alma-Ata, passed through Kuldzhu (Yingying), Shihe, Urumchi, Gucheng (Qitai), Hami, Anxi, Suzhou (Jiuquan), Liangzhou (Wuwei), and concluded in Lanzhou on the Huanghe River.

    The first commander of the ferry route was the already well-known NII-VVS test pilot Kombrig A. Zalevskii.  The base at Alma-Ata was commanded by Kombrig Alekseev.  At the series of Chinese aerodromes along the route there were also organized airbases with Soviet ground personnel, including meteorologists, radio operators, and maintenance technicians.  At Urumchi the chief of the base was Moiseev, and then A. V. Platonov, at Gucheng - A. V. Politiken, at Suzhou - Glazyrin, at Liangzhou - G. I. Baz’, and at Lanzhou - V. M. Akimov.

    The first bombers, ten SBs, were shipped from Moscow on 17 September.  They were followed by another 16 machines on the 24th, and on the 27th five more.  In all, 31 aircraft, which according to our shtat, at that time composed  the full complement of a bomber squadron.[1]

    Airmen were selected mainly from units of the 1st Army of Special Designation.  From there arrived 22 SB crews, five for the TB-3 and seven for the DB-3.  The last aircraft type, having just appeared as the “super-new” aircraft in Soviet bomber aviation, had not been gathered to hand over to the Chinese.  At first they were to be used as fast transports for servicing the ferry route itself.  Each DB-3 could carry 11 passengers or equivalent cargo.  Also alongside them on the route appeared transport TB-3s and the old civil ANT-9 used at the beginning to transport specialists and cargo.

    At the beginning of October two DB-3s arrived at Moscow from the 11th Air Brigade based at Voronezh, and two from the 23rd Air Brigade at Monino.  At Factory No39 their bombing gear was removed and replaced by supplementary fuel tanks.  In the second half of  the month the whole group flew off on the route Moscow-Engels-Tashkent-Alma-Ata.  As they approached Tashkent, there was sufficient fuel remaining in the tanks, and they decided to fly directly on to Alma-Ata.  But on the approach to that city, due to the suddenly arriving darkness,  they lost orientation and all four DB-3s landed at different airfields.  Kaduk, the commander of the group landed at one field, the crews of Lomakin and Ul’yanov at another, and the pilot Dorofeev, while landing in the foothills, 70 km from Alma-Ata, broke his undercarriage - this was the weak point of the DB-3 in all the early series.

    On 18 October one of the DB-3s completed the first flight to China.  The pilot was ordered to supply to the Suzhou detachment equipment and a barrel of ethyl liquid.  But the airplane did not fly all the way to the designated location.  During an intermediate landing at Hami the strut of the left landing gear leg was broken.  The next day a second DB-3 was sent out in pursuit.  It delivered to the intermediate field, mechanics, radio operators, various equipment, instruments and spare parts.  On 23 October, the second DB-3, due to loss of orientation, made a forced landing in a more or less suitable landing field about 70 km northeast of Angxingzhou.  The result was, they broke the landing gear, bent the propeller blades, and crumpled the motor cowlings.

    Without awaiting the completion of the supply route, bombers were dispatched  along it.  this was urgently demanded by the Ya. I. Alksnis, Chief of the Administration the VVS -RKKA (In modern terms - Commander of the VVS).  Almost every day he bombarded Alma-Ata with enciphered telegrams.   13 October: “In order not to waste time immediately send the first echelon of SBs in a quantity of 10 examples as specified....”  14 October: “The delay of the flight of the first echelon is incomprehensible and intolerable.”  And so on until the departure was accomplished.

    The first group of SBs (at first their commander was N. G. Kidalinskii, and then M. G. Machin), flew off to China in mid-October 1937.  The whole group was divided into the sections of I. Kozlov and P. Murav’yov, and a separate flight of N. Litvinov.  In all. 21 aircraft set out, awhile the remainder served as leaders for ferrying flights of fighters.  In place of the gunners, the aircraft carried mechanics, a full load of ammunition, and a bombload of 600 kg, though with the detonators carried separately. 

    On 20 October the first seven SBs landed safely in Urumchi, except for one which blew a tire on landing.  It had to be left behind.  On take-off from Urumchi, Zakharov’s aircraft was damaged, and the remaining five reached Suzhou.  On 24 October the first SBs arrived at Lanzhou, and by the 26th there were already nine machines.  There were daily reports to Moscow about the movement of aircraft along the route.  Operation “Zet” was given very great significance.

    The presence of Soviet military units in China was not paraded, and when possible was concealed.  In spite of the periodic border conflicts the USSR maintained normal diplomatic relations with Japan.  And the above-mentioned groups actually appeared as elite military units of the VVS-RKKS, the members of which underwent a careful selection and supplementary training.  Not forgotten were the political workers, for whom a fictional assignments were devised. to camouflage their actual duties.  Thus the air group commissar, A. G. Rytov became the “Head Navigator”.  Party meetings were held secretly from the Chinese, and upon the approach of any outsider they transformed into “technical discussions”.  All personnel had disguised assignments, even in Moscow, and there were orders not to discuss what happened  with the people and the aircraft.  About the pilot who allowed himself at a banquet, hosted by the Chinese governor, to propose a toast to Soviet-Chinese friendship, a denunciation was quickly sent to Moscow.  All these over legends were shields of gauze - You simply cannot pass off some peasant boy from Tambov or Voronezh as a Chinaman, and Japanese intelligence operated efficiently on Chinese territory.  The SB, I-15,and I-16 aircraft were well known to them, both from the military parades in Moscow and from the international air expositions in Milan and Paris.  None the less, they flew along the ferry route without any national markings.

    According to the status report of 30 October eight SBs still remained in Alma-Ata, two were in Urumchi (one of them damaged), nine in Lanzhou, two in Suzhou, two in Angxingzhou (one was a leader for I-16 fighters), and eight had only just flown off from Urumchi.  The total - all 31.

    On 22 October at Alma-Ata, six TB-3RN heavy bombers took off.  These machines had been used in the VVS-RKKA about a year.  Four of them came from the previously mentioned 23rd  Air Brigade, and two flew over from Rostov.  The Otryad was commanded by Captain Dontsov. In distinction from the SBs, a significant share of which were to fight with Soviet crews, the TB-3s were intended t be handed over to the Chinese.  the Soviet aviators participated only as ferrying crews and instructors.

    From Alma-Ata the aircraft took off with extra cargo, each ten FAB-100[2] bombs internally, and two FAB-500 or four FAB-250 beneath the wings.  Additionally, each carried two complements of ammunition for its guns.  As with the SBs, the bombs and detonators were transported separately.  On 27 October the TB-3s landed in Urumchi, and then flew without incident along the route as far as Lanzhou, where they arrived on 31 October.

    By 6 November 27 SB, 57 I-16, 6 TB-3, and  4 UTI-4 fighter-trainers had taken off from Alma-Ata for China.  After ten days 22 SB, 35 I-16, 4 UTI-4,and 6 TB-3  had turned up in Lanzhou.  In the entire Chinese territory there were already 58 SBs, which began the transfer of the second Soviet bomber aviation group (again of 31 aircraft) under the command of F. P. Polynin.  The aircraft traveled in relative safety as far as Urumchi where a sand storm arose.  for fifteen days they waited out the bad weather, with their aircraft tethered to stakes driven into the ground.  There were no further special misfortunes, although reports of minor flying accidents occurred periodically.

    The landing fields with a weak soil base along the route were poorly suited for the SB.  Navigator P. T. Sobin reminisces that th aerodromes along the route Alma-Ata-Liangzhou as a rule were built on the sites of old graveyards.  There were instances when the wheels broke into the tombs.  For protection against mudslides from the mountains the landing fields were surrounded by stone fences, but many stones generally lay on the runways.  The local population were mobilized for their daily removal, but all the same the stones remained.

    Far from all of our pilots had sufficient flying experience on the relatively new aircraft.  Nor were the series of intervening mountain airfields, located at heights of 1900 m. always taken into account.  Machines were often landing.  Reports from the route informed  “...flew into the earthen wall and wiped off his undercarriage”, “...became stuck in the mud and broke a strut”, “...landed wide of the mark and damaged the left leg”.  Also doing its bit was the low quality, dirty Chinese petrol, with which the motors could not produce full power.  And on one occasion at Urumchi, the Chinese erroneously began to fill the fuel tanks with water!

    In the middle of November it was requested that Moscow send another ten SBs to replace those smashed  along the route.  They were assembled at Alma-Ata and by 12 December they were dispatched along the route.

    By this time the southern route was beginning to work more or less well.  From 31 October, Komkor P. Pumpur was sent out from Moscow as its new commander, already wearing the still very rare Hero of the Soviet Union.  Supplementary TB-3s were required in the transport role because the DB-3s kept having accidents and crashes.  While returning from Lanzhou to Kuldzhu, Group Commander Kayuk made a mistake and crashed when he flew into a gorge.  Only two in the tail of the airplane survived, a passenger, colonel Zhuravlev, and the flight mechanic Talalikhin.  They reached Kuldzhu after a month wearing their flying boots and fur gloves!

    A second DB-3 was lost in an accident at Shihe when the motors seized because of bad fuel.  It was repaired only in March 1938.  By then Moscow had dispatched a fifth DB-3 with Major Chekalin’s crew.  This was a new aircraft built at Factory No 39 and specially converted to the passenger variant.  It was not equipped with armament, and in factory documents was carried as “Aircraft No 24”. Before his appearance, even the Soviet ambassador to China  I. T. Luganets-Orelskii, flying directly from Alma-Ata to Lanzhou, in full accordance with “diplomatic etiquette” had to squeeze into the cabin together with the radio operator-gunner.  In addition to the passenger version, there was one more rare example of the DB-3  on the route, a flying fuel tanker, also specially converted in Moscow.

    The northern route began to function with a great delay.  Although its organization began almost simultaneously with the southern route.  On 23 September 1937 Marshal K. E. Voroshilov ordered the organization of ferrying of bombers “along a  special route” from Irkutsk through Ulan Bator and Dalan-Dzadagad, and then to Lanzhou.  Thirty-one SBs were dispatched to Irkutsk along the Transsib Railway, where the local Aircraft Factory No 125 was charged with their assembly.  It is supposed that this entire group of aircraft was handed over to the Chinese and the ferrying was accomplished by the 64th  Air Brigade under the command of Major G. I. Tkhor.

    The operation was planned to have been completed by 15 November, but it could not be accomplished in this time.  To Moscow went the telegram “Assembly of the birds in Irkutsk has been delayed”.  The assembly assignment was give to the Moscow SB factory, not reducing the original plan.  On 20 October the Chief of the GUAP (Main Administration of Aircraft Industry) M. M. Kaganovich gave the factory director an order to speed up preparation of the machines.  And as soon as 26 October they began to test the first ten SBs.  Major Tkhor relocated his group to the factory aerodrome and began to train his crews.  He gave his pilots the assignment of conducting flights up to30-35 hours, in all weather conditions, and to develop the habit of navigating to unknown locations.  The director of the aircraft factory complained about the Major to Moscow, demanding that he  remove the aircraft which were taking up the limited space of the factory airstrip, but his complaints were ignored.

    Tkhor himself personally flew the entire route to Lanzhou and back in an R-5 communications aircraft.  But preceding his SB group, there flew along the route through Ulan Bator three TB-3s, delivering supplies of bombs and ammunition from the Transbaikal Military District.  This was because the first group of SBs to reach Lanzhou was able to accomplish only a single mission.  The Chinese had a reserve of foreign bombs, but without adaptors, our bombers were unable to use them (Later Chinese technicians were able successfully to manufacture such a device.).  On 19 November three TB-3s landed at Suzhou.  Along their journey they were supported by two R-5s, not so much for protection, as for assistance in the case of forced landing.

    Captain V. I. Klevtsov led the first otryad of 15 SBs from Irkutsk.  By 7 December nine bombers and 3 R-5s with cargo arrived in Suzhou. They flew further along the already explored route to Lanzhou.  There an encoded telegram awaited Tkhor: “Return Tkhor to his place of service - Loktionov”.  Evidently, the Major dearly wanted to fight, but he had to submit.  In 1938 he returned to China as main Air Forces advisor.

    Training of the Chinese pilots at Lanzhou had already begun in October 1937.  Almost none of them had previously flown a two-motor airplane, and in general the level of training of both the flying and maintenance personnel of the Chinese Air Force was very low.  First to begin retraining were the crews of the 1st and 2nd squadrons of the 1st Air Group.  They had found themselves “horseless” from the beginning of the Sino-Japanese war when the surviving Northrop 2E attack aircraft were taken to help replace the severe losses suffered by the 2nd Air Group.  soon they were joined by the airmen of the 11th squadron of the 2nd Air Group, and the 4th squadron.  Their instructors wee  the Soviet pilots, F. I. Dobysh, V. F. Nyukhtilin, N. Novodranov, and Saranchev.

    Not everything went smoothly during training.  On 31 October a Chinese pilot during a landing cleanly wiped off the landing gear of his SB.  Japanese reconnaissance, which observed the concentration of new aircraft at Lanzhou attempted to destroy them on the ground, not awaiting their appearance at the front.  On 4 December 11 Japanese bombers attacked the aerodrome.  They made on pass, each dropping three bombs.  Four I-16s and four SBs managed to get airborne, but the Japanese would not risk a repeated pass and declined battle.  The bombs were dropped wide and there were no losses.

    At the end of the year the personnel of the 19th squadron arrived for conversion, having lost the largest part of their Heinkels (On 2 October they had only 2 aircraft remaining).  Already by December 40-45 Chinese pilots had mastered flying the SB.

    In parallel at Lanzhou they prepared crews for the TB-3RN.  At the end of November one aircraft was written off by a Chinese pilot.  On 30 November the remaining five aircraft with mixed Soviet-Chinese crews flew to Nanchang.  There they were discovered by Japanese bombers.  On 13 December during an air attack they attempted to take off and fly to Jian (Jiyangxi Province) but were unsuccessful.  The Japanese destroyed two aircraft and seriously damaged two.  On 25 December three TB-3s, including two repaired returned to Lanzhou.

    Although clearly designated as heavy bombers, the Chinese never used the TB-3 as such.  Together with the surviving S.72s they transported people and cargo.  On 16 March 1938 a motor failed on a TB-3 flown by Guo Jiayang and Zhang Jiongyi. the pilots decided to turn back but crashed in the mountain gorge at Yingpan.  Of the 25 Soviet volunteers on board, only two survived.  The entire crew perished.  The fighter pilot D. A. Kudymov remembers that earlier he flew on this aircraft from Hankou to Lanzhou.  The commander took off without even checking to assure he had sufficient fuel.  The fuel ran out in the air.  With difficulty the aircraft crossed the mountain ridge and landed at the foot of the mountain amongst the boulders, not getting more than about a kilometer from the landing strip.  “We got out of the aircraft, wild with anger. The pilot of the TB laughed...”

    Still another TB-3 was stood on its nose in 1938 in Chengdu, the pilot missing his mark while landing and overflying the borders of the landing field and coming to rest in a bog.  A Soviet mechanic then recorded that “The navigator’s cabin was pushed up like a Rhinoceros’ horn.”  The cabin was repaired, and the propellers replaced, after which the aircraft was sent back to Lanzhou.  With such an example the career of the TB-3 in China seems entirely short and completely inglorious.

    Making up for it, the SB fought as well as anyone could have desired.  All the bombers arriving at Lanzhou were officially haded over to the Chinese authorities.  Here on the wings and fuselage were painted the white twelve-pointed star on a blue background (the emblem of the Guomindang government) and on the rudder white and blue zebra stripes - four dark blue and three white horizontal bands. (on a series of machines the stripes were more numerous).[3]  After 1945 with the beginning of the civil war between the communists and the Guomindang, the latter placed an additional white circle around the beams of the stars, and the communists made their “zebra” in red and white.  Frequently the flaking paint in photographs transform the rudder into a collection of dirty white fields of indistinct form.  Finally, on some  machines, the original finish of light gray paint was overpainted with patches of dark green paint.  On the fuselages o f their machines the Chinese marked with white paint a four digit number in large size covering the whole side of the fuselage. (An exception was our I-16 where the size of the numbers never exceeded 25-30 cm.)  the first two digits revealed the squadron number, and the last two the airplane number.  Sometimes the number was presented with a dash, for example No 3-6.

    Already by the middle of November the SBs began to redeploy deep into China.  By 30 November there were 13 SBs at Xian, and by 18 December 18 machines had already departed..  Amongst them flew two combat groups of Soviet aviators.  M. G. Machin’s group deployed to Nangking, and already by 2 December nine SBs following Machin conducted an attack on the Japanese airbase at Shanghai.  From Nangking the aircraft flew along the right bank of the Yangzi, and then turned northeast and flew out about 30-40 km over the sea.  This maneuver allowed them to approach their target from a direction unexpected by the enemy.  But on their first pass they failed to find the aerodrome and had to make a second approach.  One aircraft was damaged by anti-aircraft fire, and then the group was attacked by six Japanese fighters.  The dense defensive fire of the gunners and navigators did not permit them to approach the bombers and two fighters wee damaged.  A second attack by the Japanese was unsuccessful and another of their fighters was knocked down.  the damaged SB was able to fly as far as Hanzhou, where it landed.. According to the evaluation of our aviators, in all they destroyed 30-35 Japanese aircraft on the aerodrome.

    Soon afterward the same group conducted a strike on Japanese shipping on the Yangzi River.  Soviet sources usually claim the sinking of a cruiser (and memoirs even mention an aircraft carrier).  Whether a cruiser or aircraft carrier was there is doubtful.  In any case, there is no confirmation.  But that six Japanese ships were damaged is entirely possible..  According to the information of recent research by the Moscow Naval History Club (MKIF), Japanese sources do not confirm the irretrievable loss of any of their warships during the entire Sino-Japanese war.  In our reports there constantly figured sinkings of river boats.  Evidently these were landing-transport vessels of the barge or junk type.

    During the first days of December, M. G. Machin’s group lost its first aircraft destroyed during a raid on the Japanese aerodrome at Hankou.  They were attacking near the city and the commander saw how the SB, flying at an altitude of about 100 meters was shot down and exploded on hitting the ground.

    The Chinese forces soon abandoned Nangking.  Machin’s group rebased to Nanchang and their old aerodrome at Nangking became one of their main targets.  On 15 December they paid their respects to their old hearth spirits at almost full strength led by F. I. Dobysh, inviting with them nine SBs with Chinese or mixed crews. Twenty-seven SBs flew to the target in nine wedges dropping on the field from an altitude of 4300 m. high explosive and fragmentation-incendiary bombs in a fifty-fifty ratio.  Later, in his memoirs Machin described the result: “From the aerodrome arose gigantic tongues of flame and billowing clouds of dark smoke, punctuated by explosions.  A fiery train moved across the airfield.  The entire area around the aerodrome was also wrapped in smoke and flame.  There burned and exploded Japanese bombers, fuel depots, ammunition dumps.”  On the aerodrome at Nangking there burned 40 aircraft. While already on their return journey, flying along the Yangzi east of the city of Wuhu the group was intercepted by ten Japanese fighters.  They managed to shoot down one SB with a Chinese crew.  But during their first attack two fighters were shot down by the dense fire, and on their second attack two more.

    The second Soviet air group under the command of F. P. Polynin began operations a little bit later.  Included in it were a group of crews from the Transbaikal who believed at first that they would only be ferrying the bombers and then flying home again in the TB-3.  The first four SBs of this group flew to Suzhou on 18 December.  They flew further to Hankou where it was planned to base a group of 12 Soviet bombers with a fighter covering of approximately 60 fighters of assorted types.  At Hankou Polynin’s group had to land “in the water”, the landing field turned out to be covered with 15-20 cm of water as the Japanese had destroyed a dam.  While landing they were protected by Chinese Hawk fighters.

    Intensive combat activity began only in January 1938.  Daily reports went to Moscow about combat activity, losses and the maintenance of equipment.  In the archival folders are preserved carefully filed pages of reports with hurried notes in pencil.  Here are several notations from these archives:

    “23 January 1938. 6 SBs bombed the aerodrome at Wuhu, 5 SBs the aerodrome at Nangking,  No losses. Two SBs landed from failure of motors... The same day the very same targets were repeated.  Seemingly 8 aircraft destroyed at Wuhu (Later reported on the 26th that according to reconnaissance information, 3 burned and 5 damaged)...Two missions of each of 9 SBs to the railroad station at Shanching.  The fuel facilities were set afire.

    24 January 1938. 9 SBs bombed Japanese forces near Ninggofu. No losses... 9 SBs bombed the front lines at Wuhu-Shanching.  Bombs fell on a concentration of forces. 7 SBs have exhausted their motor resources.

    26 January 1938. 5 SBs (Machin’s squadron) attack infantry in the Ninggofu region, twice from Nanchang.  13 SB (Polynin from Hankou) bomb Nangking.

    About this last attack there is much more detailed information.  Japanese fighters and bombers began to concentrate at Nangking aerodrome in January 1938.  Chinese intelligence presumed that they were preparing a blow against Hankou, and decided to forestall it.

    Polynin and his group took off before dawn.  The uncamouflaged Japanese aircraft stood in a line along the border of the airfield..  In the air was a defensive patrol of A4N1 carrier fighters - old biplanes.  They could not harm the SBs which bombed in wedge formation.  They set fire to 48 aircraft (In a report it was mentioned: “On the aerodrome at Nangking 40-50 aircraft burned”).  Also destroyed or set afire were aircraft maintenance facilities, and fuel and ammunition dumps.  The Japanese, it is true, admitted much lower losses - several G3M2  bombers burned and several more damaged.  The antiaircraft guns opened fire only after the first bombs had begun to explode.  Then the SBs were chased by eight A5M fighters.

    The SBs suffered losses both from antiaircraft fire and fighters.  Bychkov’s aircraft was sent afire in the air.  The pilot and Udovichenko the navigator took to their parachutes over enemy territory, but Kostin the gunner was killed.  One more machine was wrecked in a forced landing.  Polynin’s own SB was hit and the cooling system of one motor damaged.  He made a forced landing in a bog having crossed the front lines.

    For the event of forced landings, the Soviet airmen had sewn onto their flight overalls (or carried in their pockets) silk rectangles on which were printed in black hieroglyphs with a red rectangular seal requiring that the local inhabitants give all possible support to the bearer of this original warrant.  Attentively studying the silken document, the peasants pulled Polynin’s aircraft from the bog and pulled it by hand to the bank of the Yangzi and with a tug towing a barge delivered the bomber back to Hankou.

    The next day, 27 January, nonetheless occurred the Japanese “return visit”, but evidently with far from the great strength which had been originally planned. Nine Japanese G3M2s bombed Hankou dropping 58 bombs (later the craters were counted).  There were no losses since the Chinese fighters did not shoot properly.  Not a single Japanese bomber was shot down.  Eight bombers visited Hankou dropping bombs from 2000 m.  But on an empty field - the Chinese notification service, as usual,  noted in time the approach of Japanese aircraft and all the SBs managed to take to the air and waited out the attack off to the side.  Antiaircraft shot down one enemy machine which fell not far from the airfield.  From the inability to properly defend their own aerodromes from the air the Chinese usually used the tactic of “dispersal” ( that is to disappear in time)  At the signal for an air raid, all aircraft would take to the air and fly off about 50-60 km from the aerodrome.  There, as a rule, beyond the hills, they would fly in a circle at low altitude for 15 to 20 minutes.  Then the leader would fly back to the aerodrome, and discovering that the attack was concluded, he would lead the group in for a landing.  The impatient ones were usually shot down.

    Active operations of Soviet and then Chinese pilots against the Japanese aerodromes eventually forced the enemy to pull back his main aviation forces further behind the front lines.  This itself reduced the effectiveness of the air attacks and also led to complication for fighters supporting the bombers, for which the chief of staff of the 2nd Joint Air Fleet, Captain-Lieutenant Genda suggested using “special refueling bases” located closer to the front line (later such bases were called by us “jumping off aerodromes”).  The Japanese themselves understood that they “still had much to learn about the art of long range flight, and that nothing would be discovered during peace.  However the Chinese extracted a dear price for our lessons.  We discovered, almost immediately and with shattering clarity that bombers could not vie with enemy fighters.  We lost many aviators before learning this lesson.”

    In distinction from the Japanese, during these first months the SBs went out without fighter cover, proving their name “fast” even with a full bomb load .  Both the army “Type 95” and the more modern carrier fighter “Type 96” (A5M4, called by the Americans “Claude”) were unable to overtake the SB and did not seem serious opponents for it.  Polynin later recalled “...Our SBs exceeding in speed the Japanese fighters, were not threatened by encounters with them.  Powerful armament gave us a very good chance of repulsing an attack, and if necessary on account of our speed, we could break off contact with the opponent.  We suffered greater losses from the poorly equipped and small Chinese aerodromes.  Suffering crashes during night landings at Guangzhou were an aircraft flown by a Chinese pilot in while A. G. Rytov was riding, and an I-16 flown by A. S. Blagoveshchenskii.  It happened that some pipes lay on landing field, which had been dug out of a ditch.  On  one occasion G. V. Titov’s group was unable to land on a reserve airfield because the Chinese had not leveled the the wheel tracks from the giant wheels of a TB-3.  After a dangerous landing with side winds, he spoke sharply to the airfield commandant: “We came to help China, and not to smash airplanes on your airfields. Therefore immediately take care of the ruts on the runway. Is that clear?”  After 10 to 15 minutes coolies with baskets began to run out, and soon there were about 300 people running, carrying baskets with earth, and singing their mournful song.

    Combat assignments of Soviet pilots took place attached to air groups with Chinese officers, but general direction was conducted by the Soviet military advisors at Chang Kaishi’s air force  headquarters.  Often they led the Soviet air groups through the heads of the Chinese officers.  The main advisor for aviation then was Colonel P. F. Zhigarev, later Marshal of Aviation and Commander of the Soviet VVS.  Then in 1938 he was replaced by G. I. Tkhor, and then by P. N. Anisimov.

    Experience led to the conclusion that the combat load of the SB had been underestimated.  On one of the bombers two containers were installed in the bomb bay, each configured to hold 12 fragmentation bombs AO-10 or 18 AO-8.  The experiment turned out successful and within a week such containers were installed on all the machines of Polynin’s group.

    These cassette-boxes were later used successfully in combat operations.  But in one instance they became the cause of death of a crew.  On the aircraft of pilot Rumyantsev two small bomblets stuck in the container and only fell loose after the bomb bay doors had been closed.  Only after the aircraft had landed and taxied to its  dispersal point did the navigator Pesotskii open the bomb bay doors. The bombs fell out onto the ground and one of them exploded.  Fragments sprayed the Soviet and Chinese mechanics who had gathered around the aircraft.  In all eight people wee killed, the navigator dying of his wounds.  Only the gunner of the aircraft survived, the blast throwing him out of his cabin to land between a ditch and wire fence.

    Beginning from the end of January 1938 the began to feel ever more strongly the limited motor resources of the M-100 motors.  They were overhauled and used further, they were operated beyond their established limits of 150 hours, but combat flights continued.  Bomber pilot A. I. Pushkin remembers that he himself spent much time along side the technicians, using a hand riveter (there were no pneumatic hammers).  Frequently they would make two aircraft out of three.

    The raid on the Japanese airbase at Taiwan received great attention in the news.  It occurred on 23 February, actually greeting the twentieth anniversary of the Red Army.  On the aerodrome near Taibei the Japanese were assembling the Fiat BR.20 bombers sent from Italy, which they had designated “Type 1”.  It was decided to destroy the new aircraft before they could reach the front.

    Two groups were prepared for the attack, 28 SBs from Hankou, and 12 SBs from Nanchang.  In the first group were only Soviet crews, while the second group was mixed.   For the sake of surprise, the course passed north of the island, and at the western tip made a sharp right turn and descended with the motors on reduced power to an altitude of 4000 m.  Only Polynin’s group from Hankou reached the target.  The Nanchang group made a mistake and had to turn back.

    The aerodrome appeared covered in a thick blanket of clouds, but the pilots pressed on and at the last a window opened in the cloud.  The Japanese aircraft stood in two rows, and to the side of the field were as yet unpacked containers.  There was no concealment.  The SB group dropped 280 bombs.  The antiaircraft opened fire belatedly and fighters were unable to take off.  Diving lower, the bombers dispersed and flew off to the sea.

    On the ground there burned about 40 assembled aircraft, hangers, and a three year supply of aviation fuel.  The commandant of the aerodrome committed harakiri.  The other side lost one SB from the Nanchang group.  A Chinese pilot after using up all his fuel made a forced landing in a lake which he mistook for the shallow waters of a rice paddy.  The entire crew drowned, including the Soviet navigator, M. A. Tarygin (who was also the air group commissar).

    A detailed description of this attack was soon published in the Soviet papers, seemingly through the eyes of a Chinese pilot.  Comparison of this text with the later published memoirs of Polynin lead to the conclusion that either he himself wrote the article, or  it was written in his words.

    Targets for the SBs were not only aerodromes, but also bridges, railroad stations and Japanese military positions.  In February 1938 a group of 13 SBs attacked one of the large stations of the Tianjin-Pukou railroad.  They bombed three trains.  A day later two flights delivered a blow against the Japanese crossing the Huanghe.  They dropped bombs on the rafts and boats, and with their machine gun fire dispersed the enemy infantry on the bank.  The crossing was disrupted. 

    At the end of March Polynin was given an assignment to destroy the important railroad bridge across the Huanghe.  To accomplish this he had to fly more than 1000 km.  He made the decision to make a refueling stop at Suzhou on the return journey.  Three nines of SBs flew to the target and even “over fulfilled the plan”.  In addition to bringing down the railroad bridge, they also broke up the neighboring pontoon bridge.  The antiaircraft failed to respond.  Fighters took off but could not catch the departing bombers.

    Strengthened by the Soviet assistance, the Chinese air force contributed in no small measure to the victory at Taiyechuang.  There, having achieved a significant numerical superiority, the Chinese surrounded a 62,000 man Japanese army.  Partisans destroyed the reserves of provisions and ammunition.  The Japanese commander threw in fresh forces to meet the surrounded forces trying to break out of their encirclement.  The Chinese aviation bombed and strafed the Japanese forces on both sides of the pocket.

    Initially the plan was to replace all the personnel in the Soviet air group in China during the period 25 May to 5 June1938.  During June the Polynin Group returned to Lanzhou fro overhaul of aircraft and regalement of motors.  there they were replaced by a new group under T. T. Khryukin, which had arrived along the southern route.  New units also arrived from the north..  On 3 June Tkhor led 13 SBs to Ulan-Bator and another 15 arrived there on 7 June.  Captain S. V. Slyusarev became the commander of the group formed from these pilots.  Then across Mongolia flew yet one more group led by G. V. Titov.  these aircraft initially were deployed to Wanxian since Hankou was under severe Japanese air attack.

    One of the main targets during this period became the river traffic along the Yangzi.  The Japanese noted a sharp increase in the activity of bomber aviation, from 14 June to 28 July counting 49 attacks on vessels, and troops along the banks.  The Japanese fighters were mainly occupied with escorting their bombers attacking Hankou. Wuchang, and Nanchang, and therefore only on isolated occasions did they manage in time to intercept the SBs flying along the river.  According to Soviet accounts, Slyusarev’s group alone by the fall had sunk more than 70 river vessels.

    By this time the Chinese pilots had already mastered our SB sufficiently that they began to complete combat sorties not as part of mixed groups but on their own.  On the night of 20 May 1938 in the SB they even completed a flight over Japan dropping on Kyushu and Osaka Prefecture about one million leaflets.  The 1st Bombardment Group of the Chinese Air Force participated in in the defensive battles along the banks of the Yangzi.  On 12 July three SBs belonging to the 1st Air Group’s 1st Squadron flew from Jian to bomb enemy ships.  On the return trip they were attacked by five Japanese fighters.  Gunner Zhao Shulin shot down one of them but his own aircraft was set afire.  The gunner and pilot baled out but the navigator perished together with the machine.  the very same day three bombers of the 2nd Squadron of the same group together with two Soviet crews were assigned to bomb ships near Angqing.  And again on the return journey they were intercepted by Japanese fighters.  One Chinese SB was shot down in flames, the navigator escaping by parachute.  The pilot and gunner also baled out but were killed.  In all, on this day five SBs were shot down, and nine crewmen perished.  On 19 July fighters attacked the aircraft of pilot Gao Weilian while he was approaching the landing strip.  The crew managed to bale out, but only the gunner was saved.  The two other parachutists came down into a lake and were drowned.

    The 4th Squadron completed attacks on Mengcheng, Yongcheng, Wangfu, and Guantaiji.  But the level of training of Chinese crews remained very low.  Training was rushed, flight were few, and technical and tactical understanding was very limited.  Raising combat morale was not facilitated by the social caste system and corporal punishment used by the Chinese army.  The Soviet aviation technician, A. K. Korchagin later remembered “the Chinese... flew much and carefreely... often without observing the rules of technical procedures, without the regulation work, without inspection and repair.”  And there was a price to pay for this.  During a night bombing training flight near Nanchang on 17 July the commander of the 1st Squadron Li Cizhen made a forced landing in a river near Jiujiang and drowned together with his crew.  On 21 August the new commander of the 1st Squadron, Lieutenant Tian Xiangchuo took off from Hankou for Chengdu, but along the way fell into the Nantuo River and perished with his crew.

    Soviet crews also suffered significant losses.  For the most part these were connected with the appearance of the new Japanese Ki-27 fighter (Type 97) with significantly greater speed and rate of climb.  Until the middle of 1938 our bombers flew in China at altitudes of -2000 to 4000 meters.  The Ki-27 forced them to increase the bombing altitude to7500-8500 m.  At first this was a surprise for the enemy., but for us it was also a massive inconvenience.  At that time the ordinary aircrew of our air force were not trained for high altitude flight.  They picked it up during the course of combat flights.  The Chinese technical units often did not have an oxygen station and obtained oxygen from the repair depots.  Not rarely it was of doubtful quality, mixed with a large number of various impurities.  The possibility of sabotage and diversion cannot be ruled out.  At altitude the tubes and masks sometimes frozen, and occasions when individual crew members lost consciousness were not rare.  S. V. Slyusarev remembers that  “... as a rule in spite of the norms, we opened the oxygen valves half way in order to extend the range of the aircraft at high altitude.”  Slyusarev himself, during an attack on a group of ships near the city of Hukou on 18 August 1938 opened the valves only one third, and when a fragment of an antiaircraft shell cut the oxygen tube, on the return trip he lost consciousness. It returned to him a bit only after an hour at an altitude of 6500-7000 m.  After exhausting his fuel, he made a forced landing in a suburb of Yang (Qiangxi province).  The crew survived but the airplane was destroyed.

    Due to the loss of their leader, the formation of the group fell apart, which was also a problem.  Direction of groups in the air was accomplished visually by the leader.  Although the aircraft radio was already established, they were not modern, the crews did not like to use them, and often to lighten the aircraft’s weight they were simply removed.  To the same point, the Japanese had a well organized radio intercept service, which frequently employed jamming and disinformation techniques.

    The lack of reliable means of direction of the group not infrequently led to a failure to complete the mission by us and by the Chinese.  On one occasion the commander of the bomber group T. T. Khryukin was punished for this.  The entire group of 12 SBs got lost in the clouds and made forced landing as at various locations.  Fortunately, aside from minor damage, all came though all right..  The very same situation happened to the Chinese on 23 September 1941 when the commander of the 1st Air Group, Gu Zhaoxiang led a combined formation of the 1st  and 2nd Air Groups to bomb positions near Lake Dungtinghu.  Because his aircraft became inoperable, the formation was disrupted, the combat mission was aborted, and many aircraft broke from the course and made forced landings.

    On 3 August 1938 three Soviet SBs (Slyusarev, Kotov, Anisimov), successfully bombed the aerodrome at Anqing, unexpectedly attacking from an altitude of 7200m.  A shell fragment hit the supercharger of Slyusarev’s aircraft.  It began to lose altitude.  Suddenly there fell upon the bomber at first two fighters, and then more than twenty (mostly Type 96, but also some of the older Type 95).  The flight closed up into a tight wedge and began to fight off the attackers.  Eventually five fighters were shot down and all the bombers returned safely home.  At the aerodrome the crews counted from 50 to 70 holes in each of the machines.  One gunner was wounded in the leg.

    One of the last operations in which Slyusarev’s group participated was the counter-offensive of the Chinese forces at Laoshang.  Now they flew with fighter cover, the SBs were supported by Chinese I-16s.  They bombed mainly infantry and artillery, and therefore they loaded up to 70% with fragmentation bombs.

    By October 1938 the motors had again used up their service hours and again the aircraft were ferried to Lanshou.  There an actual  repair base had been formed, which repaired the equipment of Chinese and Soviet units.  For the Chinese, only the 1st  and 4th  Air Squadrons remained combat capable, and they had few machines remaining.  The 2nd Squadron was withdrawn from the front to Nanyang and then to Liuzhou.

    The crews of Slyusarev’s group were used to ferry new SBs from Irkutsk.  By the spring of 1939 they had delivered to China about 60 aircraft.  Most of this group were handed over to the Chinese air force.  The last pilots returned to the Soviet Union in February 1939 in a truck caravan.  of the beginning strength of the group of 60 men, only16 returned to the motherland.  In all, about 200 volunteers perished in China.

    After this, the number of Soviet crews battling in the SB sharply diminished, though the last of them, evidently remained in China until May 1940.  In their stead, there was a significant expansion in the number of Chinese air units using these machines.  For conversion of crews and training of crews already familiar with the SB, at Taipingsi aerodrome in Chengdu (in all there were seven airfields at Chengdu),  a training center was organized (called the “Main Section” in Chinese sources), with Soviet pilot-instructors and engineering-technical staff.  by the middle of 1939 they had trained about 120 crews.

    By the beginning of the year the 1st Squadron handed over two SBs to the 5th (reconnaissance) Group of Liu Fuchuan and returned to Chengdu for retraining.  In April their crews again took part in battle.  In June the squadron, which then had seven SBs was transferred to Hubei Province, but along the route four aircraft were lost in accidents.  Among the successful missions it is possible to note the 25 June 1939 attack on enemy positions north of Yichang.  Thanks to successful reconnaissance conducted by the commander of the 1st Group, Yu Hexuan, the assignment was accomplished with a blow by eight SBs led by Squadron Commander Gu Zhaoxian.

    In February 1939 the retraining at Chengdu of the 2nd and 4th Squadrons concluded, and in July they were participating in the defense of Yibin, and soon afterward the 9th and 11th Squadrons finished.  The 9th Squadron flew to Nanchang in June and conducted attacks on targets along the lower course of the Yangzi.  On 3 July six SBs led by Squadron Commander Xu Yipeng departed to attack Japanese shipping.  Due to damage, two aircraft did not go all the way to the target, and the other four, at the moment of bomb release were attacked by enemy fighters.  The squadron commander’s aircraft was shot down first, with the loss of the entire crew.  The aircraft of Li Fuyu was damaged and made a forced landing with its gear lowered.  The crew were all wounded but survived.  The 11th Squadron flew from Nanchang.  On 28 June six SBs were dispatched to attack a steamer by the fortress of Madang.  Due to poor weather the fighter cover (I-16s with Chinese pilots) lost the bombers.  The formation of the latter group also drifted apart.  Only two aircraft reached the target and they were hemmed in by Japanese fighters.  The assignment was completed but one of the SBs was shot down, only the navigator baling out.

    In September 1939 the 19th Squadron of the 6th Group converted to the SB.  After a very short retraining this unit was thrown into the battle at Guinang.  In all, by September 1939,  292 SBs had been sent to China.

    In the summer of that same year the DB-3 long range bomber received its baptism of fire in the Chinese sky.  They had no occasion to fight in Spain, for they had not yet been sufficiently developed, and very few machines had left the factory.  It was decided to give the new equipment a test in China.

    The first group of twelve DB-3s was commanded by Captain G. A. Kulishenko.  It’s crews were mainly from the 3rd  Air Brigade based at Zaporozh’e.  Kulishenko himself had a lot of flight time on this aircraft, even as a lieutenant he took part in the military testing of the DB-3 with the 90th Squadron.  About a month the group prepared near Moscow, In June 1939 the aircraft flew off along the route Moscow-Orenburg-Alma-Ata.  In each machine flew four to six men (since they took with them the staff and ground crews), and cargo of supplies, instruments, and replacement parts.  Polynin, who had just become deputy to the route commander, led the group along the southern route flying in an SB.  All the landing fields as far as Anxi were a bit short for the DB-3s and their fuel reserves permitted them not to land.  Therefore Polynin prepared a second SB at Urumchi.  And while the bombers circled over the airfield, he landed and “changed horses on the run” and then flew on further.  As leader he led the DB-3s to Lanzhou, whole they flew on their own the rest of the way to Chengdu.

    After the first group there followed a second group, also of twelve DB-3s, under the command of N. A. Kozlov.  Wit it went experienced pilots of the Voronezh 11th Aviation Brigade.

    The base for these groups at Chengdu became Taipingsi aerodrome (training center).  The aircraft were camouflaged, concealed with nets, and dispersed; the fuel was drained and the scaffolding was dragged off into a swamp.

    The greatest success of Kulishenko’s group was attack on Hankou aerodrome on 3 October 1939, by then in the deep rear of the enemy.  The SB could not reach that far, and the Japanese did not expect anything similar.  On the open land the Japanese had located a naval aviation aerodrome designated “Base W”  It was also used by pilots of Army Aviation.  On this day the airbase prepared to festively receive new aircraft ferried from Japan.  Here were assembled representatives of the fleet command and the city authorities.

    Nine DB-3s flew to the target secretly, in a tight wedge, maintaining radio silence.  They attacked as the ceremony was in progress.  Aircraft stood in four rows, wing tip to wing tip.  From an altitude of 8700 m. the Soviets dumped on them a mix of high explosive, fragmentation-high explosive, and incendiary bombs.  According to the reports of the crews, most of the bombs exploded along the rows of aircraft, which were tossed in every direction from the force of the blasts, with many burning.  Antiaircraft was silent.  Only a single fighter took off from the enormous bonfire below.  In it flew the later famous Japanese ace Saburo Sakai, but he was unable to catch the departing and lightened DB-3s.  The Japanese identified the unknown bombers as SBs and were very surprised at their appearance.

    On the airfield there were found 64 aircraft destroyed and damaged, with 130 people killed and 300 wounded.  The fuel reserves burned of three hours.  Japanese sources confirm the loss of fifty machines, Killed were seven senior officers of Captain 1st Rank and higher, and twelve were wounded.  Amongst the latter was Rear Admiral Tsukahara, commander of the Japanese air flotilla.  A period of mourning was declared and the airfield commandant was shot.

    The attack was repeated on 14 October.  Twelve DB-3s flew to the target, again led by Kulishenko.  But just after dropping their bombs they were attacked by Japanese fighters.  Three bombers received damage.  Wounded, Kulishenko flew his bomber as far as the city Wangxian, where he landed in the Yangzi about 100-150 m. from the bank.  After the aircraft came to a halt, he lowered the landing gear and the aircraft began to sink.  Kulishenko died of his wounds and the aircraft was later pulled from the water and repaired..  On this occasion at Hankou 36 Japanese aircraft were destroyed by the bombing.  It is possible that the Japanese suffered even greater losses - about forty naval and army machines.  Later there was a third attack which raised Japanese losses (according to Soviet reports) to 136 aircraft.

    In return, the attempt to bomb Yuncheng aerodrome on 31 October was a complete failure.  This airbase was located all of twenty to thirty km behind the front lines, but at the limit of the radius of action for the DB-3s based at Chengdu.  According to Chinese intelligence, up to a hundred Japanese aircraft had concentrated at Yuncheng.  the target seemed very appetizing.  The Soviet aviation advisor P. N. Anisimov made the decision to deliver a blow with all available DB-3s,with out preparatory aerial reconnaissance.  He personally flew in Kozlov’s aircraft replacing the gunner.

    Due to poor weather the navigators of both groups lost orientation.  The crews had no information about reserve landing grounds along the route.  Nobody reached the Airfield at Yunheng.  They landed where the came down.  A clear summary of the losses cannot be found, but on the basis of requests for  replacement parts sent to Moscow, it is possible to come to the conclusion that they disabled about ten machines.

    Simultaneously with combat activities, Chinese crews were retrained.  From September 1939 the flight personnel of the 10th and 14th Squadrons of the 8th Air Group arrived at Chengdu. The group commander, Xu Huangsheng, together with some of his pilots had experience flying the SB, but had not flown much.  Most of the pilots had earlier flown the American Vultee V-11GB attack aircraft, but had no experience with two-motor aircraft.

    Conversion was complicated by the fact that the DB-3 did not have a complete second set of controls in the navigator’s compartment.  The second, removable, control stick was intended not for an instructor, but in order that the navigator could relieve the pilot for short periods during a long flight (or return the aircraft home if the pilot had been disabled, which sometimes happened.) nor was there a throttle for the motors, and the view forward was obstructed by the machine gun.  None the less, by the spring of 1940 they had trained about 45 pilots.

    At first the Chinese navigators and gunners began to fly operations in mixed crews, and then the Chinese began to operate independently.  From February 1940 the 10th Squadron began to operate with the DB-3.   In May 1940 the Soviet volunteers handed over the last eleven DB-3s to the 6th Squadron.

    The Chinese did not use exploit the long range bombers extensively.  For example, the 6th Squadron by the end of the year had completed in all 30 combat sorties. Among them, at the beginning of October aircraft dropped leaflets over occupied Beijing.  On 18 November the squadron again returned t Chengdu for supplementary training.  It was desired to reequip also with the DB-3 the 9th and 11th Squadrons which also had been sent to Chengdu, but later they were again brought up to strength with the SB.

    According to the recollections of our instructors, the Chinese crews were weakly prepared.  Systematic combat training practically did not exist, they flew little, and had not mastered high altitude flight.

    Many  losses, in which sufficiently trained crews perished,  are difficult to attribute completely to combat.  Thus on 4 October 1940 a DB-3 of the 6th Squadron with a Chinese crew which had taken off on alert, out of impatience returned too early to base at Taipingsi and was shot down over the aerodrome.  On 2 January 1941 Li Changxiong, the commander of the 14th Squadron and his entire crew perished in a flying mishap over Chengdu.  On 13 February 1941 the deputy commander of the 8th Air Group, Liang Guozhang was making a training flight when a motor failed.  Attempting a forced landing in the Jianyang district, the aircraft crashed and burned together with the crew.  On 18 June 1941 due to un-airworthiness a DB-3 fell into an accident while flying off on alert to Lanzhou, killing the pilot, Meng Zonggao, his navigator and radio operator.  On 1 October 1941 during a long distance training flight to the Jiayuguan region, the DB-3 of the commander of the 6th Squadron, Zhou Shiyun vanished with its entire crew.

    At the beginning of 1940 relations between the USSR and China worsened.  The basic reason appears to have been the discontinuation of supplies by the Chang Kaishi government  to the Communist 8th and New 4th Armies.  This was very displeasing to the Soviet leadership, and they sharply reduced military assistance.  Advisors remained, but our pilots no longer flew at the front.  Supply of aircraft, it is true, continued.

    Among the aircraft supplied, the SB continued to feature.  Delivery of aircraft from the USSR continued almost until the beginning of the Great patriotic War.  The last machines were handed over to the Chinese only in June 1941.  Among the aircraft delivered to China from the beginning of 1941 were SBs of he last series with M-103 motors and the upper, enclosed MV-3 turret.  The Chinese knew them as the SB-III (aircraft with the M-100 the Chinese call SB-2).[4]  The 1st Air Group received the first new machines in the middle of January at the city of Hami (Xinjiang Province).  As a result, the 2nd Squadron completely reequipped with the new equipment, while the 1st Squadron had a mix of new and old machines.  In the middle of March, again at Hami, 30 new SBs were handed over to the 6 Air Group, training at Jiayuguan.  But in May this group was disbanded and the equipment was distributed to replenish other groups.  In part, three SB-IIIs went to the 6th Squadron where there remained few combat worthy DB-3s.

    On the SB a new group was organized the 12th, consisting of the 45th , 46th, and 47th Squadrons.  It received a complement of crews comprised of graduates of the first class of the new aviation school in Chengdu.  The order for its formation was issued on 16 December 1940, but in fact the group assembled at Qiongla in January of the following year..  It received its equipment (14 old and 3 new SBs) only during the first tend days of March.  On 1 June, on the aerodrome at Zhaotung the Japanese destroyed four of these SBs.  This group never got into combat.  They remained in the rear until 1944 when they were transformed into an auxiliary unit, and in October of that same year were disbanded.

    The first half of 1941 were very hard days for Chinese aviation.  As a result of the shortage of fighters and the complete air supremacy of the Japanese, the bombers continually had to disperse to various regions of northwest China.  The 11th Squadron even covered part of its equipment in a dismantled state.  The majority of Chinese air units refrained from combat and busied themselves with training flights,

    Only the DB-3s continued to fight, making use of their long radius of action.  On 9 March six long range bombers bombed Yichang    The aircraft became separated in the haze and the DB-3 of Captain Gao Guancai was shot down by Japanese fighters.  Only the badly wounded pilot managed to bale out, and he came down in Japanese-occupied territory.  The local peasants at once concealed him and then carried him along the river to his own forces, but he died of his wounds on 18 March.

    On 14 March the Japanese attacked Chengdu.  All the aircraft were ordered to relocate to Lanzhou.  In May-June, the bombers had to withdraw even further to Jiayuguan.  By December, with the 6th Squadron there were only three serviceable DB-3s remaining.  Due to a lack of spare parts, even training flights ended.  the squadron disbanded in January 1942.  At about the same time the same thing happened to the 10th Squadron.

    At the end of September during the battle for Changsha, an order was received to redeploy the aircraft to the front.  The 2nd Air Group went to Hunan.  On 29 September eight SBs returning to base got lost and all the aircraft made forced landings in the fields.  The group had to fill up its strength from the 6th Air Group.  The 1st Air Group operated together with the 2nd.  On 23 September they bombed positions near Lake Dongtinghu.  In October the 11th Squadron was committed to the battle for Changsha.

    During the course of these battles the Japanese managed to acquire a a completely intact SB.  On 29 September the aircraft of the commander of the 2nd Squadron, Zhang Tiqing failed to return from a combat mission.  Eventually it became clear that he had become a traitor and deserted to the aerodrome at Hankou.

    Later the Chinese bombers flew little, completing episodic attacks on the Japanese during various key operations.  On 8 January 1942 the 2nd Group attacked Hunan and took part in battles with the overwhelmingly superior enemy.  Two SBs were shot down and three damaged bombers made forced landings.  On 22 and 24 January the same Group twice bombed the aerodrome at Annang.  Protecting he SB Group were the Flying Tigers - the American Volunteer Group.

    During the second half of 1942 the greatest part of the SBs were concentrated on the border with Burma and were used in operations against the local “opium kings”.  the aircraft searched out and bombed poppy plantations to the west of Sichuan Province.  the aircraft also supported the ground forces defending positions on the border of China and India.

    By the beginning of 1943 the only truly combat capable remaining on the SB was the 1st Group.  It had 19 SBs with the M-103 motor.  In May the Group completed its last sorties on the Hubei front.

    Already by the middle of 1941 the bombardment squadrons of the Chinese Air Force began to convert to American air equipment received under lend-lease.  In August the 9th Squadron converted to the Lockheed A-29.  By the middle of October the entire Group was transitioning to it.  A year later the 10th Squadron converted..  In August 1943 the 1st Group received an order to send their crews to India to take possession of American B-25 bombers.

    However, they continued to use the remaining Soviet aircraft for training as late as 1944.  The last DB-3s continued to serve in various places until September 1943.  The SB even survived the destruction of Japan and also took part in the civil war!  Several aircraft were included in the Northern-Western Combined Squadron of the Chang Kaishi forces, based at Tihua.  In November-December 1945 they supported the forces defending the city of Paotao.  They dropped bombs, and also supplies for the besieged.  The last Chinese SBs concluded their flying career at the beginning of 1946.

    According to Chinese information, during the eight years of the Sino-Japanese war the Chinese Air Force received 2351 foreign aircraft, including 566 bombers (322 Soviet: 292 - SB, 24 DB-3, 6 TB-3,and 244 Americans.)  All our aircraft contributed all that they could to the repulse of the Japanese militarists during the beginning period of that war.


    [1]At that time the eskadril’ya consisted of 3 otryady and an aircraft for the commander.  Each otryad had a commander and 3 zvena.  Each zveno had 3 aircraft.  Eskadril’i were grouped into brigady.  In 1938, with no change in unit strength, the eskadril’ya was redesignated the polk (regiment), and the otryad was redesignated eskadril’ya.  The zveno retained its name.  The term otryad continued in use for units corresponding to independent flights.

    [2]FAB = Fugasnaya Avia Bomba, high explosive aviation bomb.-GMM

    [3]Photographic evidence suggests that in fact six blue and six white stripes were the norm, and the combination of four blue and three white has seldom, if ever, been recorded in photographs. - GMM.

    [4]This mirrors the Western confusion, which insists on calling the type SB-2.  Russian sources call it the SB.  Occasionally, technical sources refer to the SB-2-M100, and the later bomber as the SB-2-M103.  There never was an SB-1.  On the other hand, the TB-3 and DB-3 did refer to sequential designs rather than the number of motors.  Westerners were misled by the lack of a consistent designation system, and the superficial similarity to Western systems.-GMM

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  2. Nakajima Ki-43-I Armament -- A Reassessment


         Popular works on World War Two history, such as Dr. Rene J. Francillon’s tome Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War, generally state that the Japanese Nakajima Type 1 Model 1 fighter (Ki 43-I), Hayabusa, was produced successively in three versions ko, otsu, and hei (Ki 43-IA, -IB, and –IC) armed, respectively with 2x7.7 mm machine guns; 1x7.7.mm machine gun and 1x12.7mm machine cannon; and 2x12.7 mm machine cannon. It is generally reported that the version with two 12.7 mm machine cannon (Ki 43-IC) was the major production version.

         This paper presents evidence that while the twin 7.7mm version and twin 12.7mm version were introduced prior to the mixed armament version, the latter was introduced very early in the production run (prior to the outbreak of the Pacific War), was undoubtedly the major version of this aircraft to see action, and examples of operational aircraft with the alternative armaments are both relatively rare and may well have been retrofits. However, due to the ready inter-changeability of the two weapons types and absent direct evidence, the exact number of production types and retrofits could not be determined.



          The Nakajima Company manufactured something over seven hundred Type 1 Model 1 fighters (Ki 43-I)  for the Japanese Army Air Force[1]. This type was the predominant equipment of two Hiko Sentai (Flying Regiments hereafter abbreviated FR or Regiment) operating from Indo-China in the Malayan campaign during December 1941[2]. During 1942 several additional Regiments formerly armed with the Type 97 fighter equipped with the type 1 fighter. At the end of 1942 it was the predominant JAAF fighter. It was active in New Guinea, China, Burma, and the Netherlands East Indies. Flying against the British Commonwealth forces in Malaya, the RAF and American Volunteer Group in Burma, and the RAF, Dutch and Americans in the East Indies it was often identified as the “Zero.” Later it was recognized as a separate type and given the Allied code name “Oscar.”

          Several publications on the Nakajima Ki 43-1 (or Oscar Mark 1) state that this aircraft came in three sub-types, which differed in their armament. These were the types ko, otsu, and hei, the Ki 43-IA (2x7.7mm), Ki. 43-IB (1x7.7mm and 1x12.7mm), and  Ki 43-IC (2x12.7mm). These same publications generally state that these models followed one another in serial fashion on the production line and that the twin 12.7mm version was the major production variant[3]. My reading of primary source documents made me suspicious that commonly held notions or the “received history” concerning this aircraft’s armament found in many publications were wrong.

         This paper presents research results which may substantially alter the common perception of the Ki 43-I’s armament. However, the aircraft was flown in all the versions described. Furthermore comment will be reserved on whether the designations (a,b,c or ko, otsu, and hei) attributed to the various armament combinations were actually used during the service life of the aircraft. The direct and circumstantial evidence presented here is thought to be definitive. To the extent deemed otherwise, it should at least stimulate additional research and a new assessment of the popular version of this issue.



         Both primary source documents and the general literature agree that the prototype and pre-production Ki. 43-1’s featured two armament combinations namely two 7.7mm machine guns or two 12.7mm “machine cannon “ (in Japanese army parlance). The number 10 and 13 pre-production aircraft (serial numbers 4310 and 4313) carried two 12.7mm guns. The other prototype and pre-production aircraft carried two 7.7 mm guns.[4]

          After the capture of the Japanese airfield at Lae, New Guinea, Allied technical intelligence teams were quick to begin examination of the treasure trove of aircraft and documents found there. Among the papers captured there was a maintenance manual on the Ki 43 which, though undated, obviously applied to the earliest aircraft in the series. It stated:

               “In this aircraft the type 89 fixed machine gun A, B, one each is installed in front of the pilot at the upper part of the fuselage. According to the situation the 12.7 mm aircraft machine cannon A, B, one each, can be installed in the position occupied by the MG.”[5]

         The notations A and B relate to the left and right ammunition feeds for the guns. The manual goes on to explain the relatively minor adjustments needed to install the machine cannon in lieu of the machine gun.



         The manual captured at Lae and referred to in the preceeding section establishes that early in its development the Ki 43-I came in two armament configurations (2x7.7mm and 2x12.7mm) and could easily be converted between the two configurations. An armorer’s manual from the middle of 1942 describes “armament for airplanes used at the present time.”[6] For the Type 1 fighter only one armament configuration is mentioned – one “type 89 fixed machine gun” and one “Ho 103” (that is, 1x7.7mm and 1x12.7mm). This suggests the question of how early the mixed armament was introduced. The answer seems to be from the time the very first unit was equipped with the aircraft.

         The first unit equipped with the Ki 43-I was the 64th FR which re-armed with the new aircraft from August to November 1941. Dr. Yasuho Izawa, a noted and respected aviation historian,  has detailed the history of the 64th during this period in a rather detailed article. Dr. Izawa reports the early Ki 43’s assigned to the 64th were equipped with one 7.7mm gun and one 12.7mm gun. He mentions no other armament configuration for Ki 43-Is of the 64ths from late 1941 to early 1943. This omission is significant [7].

          Dr. Izawa’s report of mixed armament and early use of the 12.7mm machine cannon is bolstered by circumstantial evidence in post-war Japanese monographs which, while not primary sources themselves, were obviously written by authors with direct knowledge or access to primary sources. The first is the following comment in obvious reference to the Ki 43 equipped units:

              “The stock-piles of the No.1 drop tanks and machine cannon ammunition were very small; therefore, it was feared that the long range fighters would not be able to accomplish their missions.” (emphasis added).[8]

         The second set of data are two charts detailing the JAAF fuel and ammunition stocks in Indo-China at the outbreak of the war. Machine cannon (M.A.) ammunition was stockpiled at Duong Dong and Kompong Trach. These were the bases of the 64th and 59th FR, the only two units equipped with Ki 43s. None of the other aircraft at those bases was equipped with machine cannon and there were no such stockpiles at any other bases. As would be expected the bases also stockpiled 91 octane aviation gasoline and machine gun ammunition suitable for the Ki 43[9].

          Finally, records of ammunition expenditures for the 59th and 64th from December 8, 1941 to February 15, 1942, show that both units were expending both calibers of ammunition. In the case of the 59th their relative expenditure of both types was consistent with data from other units and logistics plans to be discussed later and indicative of the mixed armament. In the case of the 64th a higher proportion of 12.7mm ammunition was expended [10].

          If the commonly accepted view described in the Introduction is correct, the “Ki 43-IC” with the twin 12.7mm armament was introduced sometime after the early phase of the war to which Dr. Izawa’s comments and the data given above refer. The evidence is, however, to the contrary. In late October 1942 the 50th and 64th FR, both equipped with Ki 43-I’s, flew escort and strafing missions against Allied airfields in eastern India from Burma. After these raids the wrecks of four Ki 43’s were discovered. The 64th FR reportedly lost one Ki 43 on October 25th and the other three losses were from the 50th FR on October 28th.

           An Allied intelligence report in mid-November 1942 stated that four “Army 01 S/e fighters” had been located on the ground as a result of enemy raids on the Dinjan area at the end of October. No other type of fighter had been found. The report went on to state that despite reports to the contrary “the armament of this type has been found to be still only one 12.7mm cannon and one 7.7mm machine gun firing through the airscrew...” Ammunition belting for the 12.7mm cannon was described as almost entirely explosive and from reports of hits on Allied armor its penetrative power seemed poor [11].

          One of the aircraft examined bore serial number 437 close to halfway through the Ki 43-I production run. Another Ki 43-I found in Assam after the October attacks bore serial number 618 (or roughly 2/3s through the production run).

          From the comment in the intelligence report: “…the armament of this type has been found to be still only 1x12.7mm cannon and 1x7.7mm machine gun…”(emphasis supplied) it can be inferred that the intelligence officer considered this to be the previously encountered and expected armament of the Ki 43-I and thus exhibits a continuing state of affairs. The mixed armament thus appears to be the standard armament of the Oscar Mk. 1 in southeast Asia as far as Allied intelligence is concerned.

                                                      ARMAMENT IN THE SOUTHEAST AREA

         In the Autumn of 1942 things were not going well for the Japanese in their Southeast Area – primarily the Solomons and New Guinea. It was decided to send JAAF units to the area to bolster Japanese Navy air units already there. Among these was the 12th Hiko Dan (Flying Brigade, hereafter Brigade or FB) consisting of the 1st and 11th FR equipped with Ki 43-I’s. Before leaving these units were brought up to above normal strength in both aircraft and pilots[12].

          The 11th FR transferred from Soerabaja to Truk by aircraft carrier in December 1942. Fifty seven Ki 43-I’s were flown from Truk to Rabaul on December 18th. As of December 31st the 11th had sixty one aircraft in the Southeast Area including three unserviceable aircraft on Truk. The 1st FR followed a month later with fifty nine Ki 43-I’s [13]. These units are of particular interest since they are not only examples of Ki 43’s in the Southeast Area but brought with them aircraft formerly with other units in other areas.

         In addition to the 120 Ki 43-I’s the 1st and 11th FRs brought with them, replacement aircraft accumulated at Truk by mid-March 1943 amounted to an additional  seventy Type 1 fighters [14].

    These 190 Ki 43-I’s represent over 25 percent of total production and with some thirty additional replacements previously forwarded from Truk constitute nearly thirty per cent of total production. Only relatively few of these aircraft were new.  The 1st and 11th had first received the Ki 43 in mid-1942. As already noted they had received hand-me-downs from other units prior to transfer. Of the seventy Ki 43’s on Truk in March 1943 only thirteen were new. Others had previously been used by combat units and some had come from the Akeno training center. A number were damaged and had to be repaired on Truk or returned to Japan. All in all the equipment of these units was a good representative sample of Ki 43-I aircraft.

         Without detailed records of the armament of each aircraft of the 1st and 11th FR we can still establish by strong circumstantial evidence that the mixed armament was in use. First, the Japanese 6th Air Division logistics plan for supplying ordnance to these units was based on about twice as many 7.7 rounds as 12.7 rounds. This proportion was exactly the same as for the Ki 61 but with one half the quantity. The Ki 61 was then armed with two 7.7mm guns and two 12.7mm guns or double the Ki 43-I’s armament. Second, all four Ki 43-I’s captured at Munda in mid-1943 were so equipped [15]. Finally, we have a record of the ammunition expenditure of the 1st and 11th FRs during their first months of operations. The 11th expended 28,111 rounds of machine gun ammunition and 18,895 rounds of cannon shells. Figures for the 1st are 4,023 and 3,067 respectively [16].  Actual expenditure of 12.7mm ammunition was about 40 per cent of the total for the two units. This compares to 30 per cent planned and compares closely to the 39 per cent for the 59th FR in early 1942.

         To return to the Ki 43-I’s captured at Munda. Their armament was described as “one fixed 7.7 mm machine gun, type 89 improvement B, mounted on the top right side of cowling and synchronized. One fixed 12.7 mm machine gun, B, mounted on the top left of the cowling.   Ammunition was described as standard ball and tracer for the 7.7mm with approximate capacity 500 rounds. A.P., H.E., and H.E. tracer for 12.7 mm with approximate capacity of 300 rounds. It was noted that it is possible to install two 12.7 mm without change in mounts [17].  

         These aircraft bore serial numbers 493, 685, 695, and 725. Their production dates range from June to mid-October 1942. These aircraft represent the 393d to 625th production aircraft out a little over 700 produced.

         A representative list of 11th FR aircraft is found in the status report for No. 2 Chutai aircraft of that Regiment as of December 31, 1942 [18]. Serial numbers range from No. 283 to 670 with 283 being an anomaly as no other serial numbers in the 200’s or 300’s are included. Other aircraft serial numbers were 414, 424, 450, 474, 579, 586, 634, 641, 649, 653, 658, 664, and 670. Number 646 had washed out in a force landing on  December 29th (N.B. this was one of the Lae wrecks).

         Ki. 43-I wrecks catalogued by Allied intelligence at Lae after its capture included: Nos. 239, 328, 397, 400, 426, 466, 520, 622, 646, 674, 805, and 810 [19]. Many of these aircraft were completely wrecked and stripped. Available evidence does nothing to suggest other than that these aircraft had the “standard” mixed armament of one 7.7mm and one 12.7 mm. One of the last comments on the Oscar Mark I appearing in a Southwest Pacific intelligence report stated: “The armament of Oscar always consists of two synchronized guns…Normally one 7.7mm Vickers type gun is mounted in the left blast tube and one 12.7mm Browning type is mounted in the right blast tube.”[19a]



         The twin 12.7mm version of the Ki. 43-I did get into field service. The Chinese captured one. This aircraft was captured on May 1, 1942 at Leizhou Bandao. In the Summer of 1942 both the 10th Independent Air Squadron and 24th FR operated the Ki 43 in China and the Flying Tigers had apparently first observed the type in operations over China early in July, however, neither unit was equipped with the type 1 fighter as early as May 1st and this particular aircraft belonged to a sprcial unit[20]. An Army Forces Pacific Area intelligence report specifically states that the captured aircraft was armed with two fifty caliber machine guns (.5 inch=12.7mm)[21]. The aircraft was repaired and tested by the Chinese who assigned it serial number “P-5017.”

        Given that two pre-production Ki 43-I’s were fitted with these weapons it does not seem surprising to confirm that  this variant was flown in the combat theater.  However in light of several published reports that this variant with two 12.7 mm guns (ostensibly the Ki 43-IC) was the major production type, it seems surprising to find so little evidence of its operational use.  Moreover the aircraft described in the preceding paragraph may have been “one of a kind” as it was not assigned to an operational unit.

         More surprising than the existence of one (possibly more) twin 12.7mm versions in an operational theater is evidence of late production versions equipped with twin 7.7mm guns. The wrecks of three Ki 43-I’s (s/ns 776, 804 and 808) were found at Cape Gloucester, New Britain in December 1943[22]. Two were equipped with two 7.7mm machine guns and the third was in a demolished condition and its armament could not be determined.

         It seems highly unlikely that late in its production life the Ki 43-I reverted back to its prototype armament configuration. A more likely explanation is that these aircraft were retrofitted in the field. As noted from earlier comments in this paper the conversion could be done rather simply without structural changes. Such an explanation begs the question, why?

         While some Ki. 43-I’s from the 1st and 11th FR may have been repatriated to Japan for use as trainers or as a source of parts, a number were left behind in the Southeast Area. At least one was used by the the 14th Field Air Repair Depot for liaison purposes[23]. Others probably went to the 13th FR that partially converted to the Ki 43 in addition to its Ki 45’s after suffering heavy losses at Wewak in August 1943. Some of the Ki 43-I’s may have been used as trainers. The two twin 7.7mm armed aircraft captured at Cape Gloucester were painted blue and no unit markings were reported. A similarly painted aircraft was later captured at Alexishafen, New Guinea. This unusual paint scheme may suggest that these aircraft were used for other than normal operational purposes. The 13th apparently received its first Ki 43-I’s in August and its first Ki 43-II’s in September [24].

         If, as seems likely from the evidence, Ki 43-I’s were used for liaison and training purposes from August 1943, it would not be surprising to find their 12.7mm guns salvaged as spares or for use on other operational aircraft. Speculation? Yes, but more plausible than the production line turning out these lightly armed aircraft when 12.7mm cannon were more available than earlier [25].



          One nagging question remains. If the twin 12.7mm version was actually tested during the Ki 43’s prototype phase, why did the production model receive a mixed armament rather than two 12.7mm guns?

    The explanation is suggested by information provided by Hiroshi Ichimura based on conversations with former 64th FR pilot Yoshita Yasuda. The early versions of the 12.7mm Ho-103 were simply not reliable and were subject to jamming.  On occasion a shell would detonate in the barrel damaging the engine. The 64th may have lost as many as three aircraft to this cause during the Malayan campaign. The fix for this problem before more reliable versions of the gun were available was to mount iron plates on the blast tubes. These plates were in fact found on captured aircraft. The mixed armament was a compromise. The power of the relatively unreliable 12.7mm machine cannon was combined with the great reliability of the less powerful type 99 machine gun. [26]

          The “received” version of the history of Ki 43-I as discussed in the Introduction is almost certainly wrong. If the Ki 43-I was originally placed in production with two 7.7mm machine guns, these early aircraft either did not go into action or were modified with one 12.7mm machine cannon prior to doing so. In early combat operations the 59th and 64th FR almost certainly operated aircraft with the mixed armament to the exclusion of the other versions. Not only does Dr. Izawa’s article state that this was the armament of the 64th FR Ki 43’s but ammunition expenditure data for the 59th FR confirms it for that unit. Three Japanese Monographs in addition to the one providing ammunition expenditure data provide general support for the mixed armament being used in early operations.

         Crash intelligence regarding aircraft of the 50th and 64th FR indicates this armament was still in use by these units in Burma in October 1942.

         The 1st and 11th FR took the Ki 43-I to the Southeast Area in late 1942 and early 1943. The evidence indicates that their aircraft (which represented a significant portion of the Ki 43-I fleet) were fitted with the mixed armament.

         Limited examples of other versions of the Ki 43-I were found. However, even if these aircraft were produced with two 7.7mm or two 12.7mm guns and not modified in the field, their serial numbers are out of sequence with the commonly accepted history of this aircraft. The production sequence: A(2x7.7) –B(1x7.7 and 1x12.7) – C(2x12.7) clearly did not occur.

         Based on the evidence marshaled in this study (which admittedly does not take into account all units equipped with this aircraft much less present direct evidence as to each aircraft) the main operational version of the Ki 43-I was equipped with one 7.7mm machine gun and one 12.7mm machine cannon. This version was in operation in Indo-China and Malaya early in the War; in Burma in October 1942; and, in the Southeast Area from late 1942 to mid-1943. A captured aircraft in China confirms the version with two 12.7mm machine cannon. While versions with two 7.7mm machine guns existed, they were likely retro-fitted aircraft relegated to non-combat roles.



    1. Production data for the Ki 43-I cited in this report will follow those given by Long (RESEARCH REPORT, Japanese Army Type 1 Fighter (Ki 43) Record of Production, 1995) kindly provided by Mr. James I. Long. These are consistent with, but more detailed, than material collected by the United States Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS Report, Pacific War, No. 17, pp.40-41) and figures published in Windrow and Francillon,“The Ki. 43 Hayabusa” in Aircraft in Profile, vol. 2 (p.264).


    1. The 59th and 64th FRs were equipped with this aircraft on December 8, 1941. The 59th at Konpong Trach, Indo-China, had an operational strength of 21 Type 1 fighters and three Type 97 fighters. The 64th at Duong Dong had 35 Type 1 fighters and six Type 97 fighters according to Japanese Monograph No. 55, Southwest Area Air Operations, Phase 1, (November 1941-February 1942), p.6. A relatively recent book (1992) Shores, Cull and Izawa, Bloody Shambles vol. 1, p.52, generally agrees with these figures but credits the 59th with 24 Type 1 fighters and does not mention any Type 97 fighters. The author of this paper suspects the monograph is correct, with all due respect to Messers. Shore, Cull and Izawa. Long (note 1) gives production to the end of November 1941 as 114 aircraft (Nos. 114-227) so fifty-six operational aircraft would equate to almost exactly one half of total production to that point. Since several aircraft had been lost in accidents (notably wing failures) this represented an even greater proportion of exisiting aircraft. The 64th began to receive the type in August 1941 when less than forty had been produced.


    1. See for example, “The Nakajima Hayabusa”, in Green, Famous Fighters of the Second World War pp.77-78 where it is stated  “…receiving the designation Type 1 Fighter, Model 1A (Ki. 43-1a)*** The Model 1A variant of the Hayabusa carried an armament of two 7.7mm machine guns…The Model 1A was rapidly supplanted on the assembly line at Ota by the Model 1B (Ki. 43-1b) in which a 12.7mm Ho 103 machine gun similar to the Colt-Browning, supplanted one of the 7.7mm weapons, while the Model 1C, the first large-scale production version of the Hayabusa, carried an armament of two 12.7mm guns.” This was repeated in Green, War Planes of the Second World War-Fighters, vol. 3 . Windrow and Francillon (note 1, op. cit.) are to the same effect and state “The first mass production version was the Ki.43-1c with two 12.7mm guns..”(p.256). The same thing is stated in Taylor, Combat Aircraft of the World, p.261. These were all published in the early to late 1960’s. No sources are cited but they may be following information contained in General View of Japanese Military Aircraft in the Pacific War , p.17 (first published in Japanese in 1953 and English in 1956). Similar information is found in more recent books. Sakaida in the 1997, Japanese Army Air Force Aces 1937-1945 , apparently adopts this view (pp.18 and 53) and specifically states that the 11th FR in New Guinea was equipped with the Ki 43-Ihei (p.53). For a current internet website which apparently adopts this convention see, Joe Baugher’s Hayabusa Files, http://www.danford.net/hayabusa.htm (visited August 15, 2001, originally posted 1995). One recent author who does not follow the convention is Bergerud, Fire in the Sky, p.221, where the Oscar is described as going from two 7.7mm guns to two 13mm guns with no mention of the mixed armament!
    1. “Type  1 Fighter” undated handbook containing a description of the construction, assembly, maintenance and method of operation. Captured at Lae, New Guinea, September 1943. Allied Translator and Interpreter Section (ATIS), Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA). Enemy Publication No.91, pp.33-35, 67.
    1. ibid., p.5
    1. “Armorers’ Manual: Reconnaissance Planes, Fighters, Light Bombers”, undated mimeographed booklet issue by 8th Air Training Unit. Item 4 (No. 15568), ATIS Bulletin 1561 (though undated, internal evidence establishes its date as mid-1942).
    1. Izawa, “64th Flying Sentai, pt.2”, Aero Album (Fall 1971), p.2, reissued as “Combat Diary of the 64th Sentai”, Air Classics (August 1972), p.38. The only aircraft serial number I have identified with these units is Ki 43 No. 206 (production date November 1941). The wreck of this aircraft was found near Kuala Lumpur, Malaya. Likely it is the aircraft of Lt. Tadao Takayama, a chutai leader in the 64th FR (see Shores, et al, note 2 at p.114).
    1. Japanese Monograph No. 31, Southern Area Air Operations Record, December 1941-August 1945 (Army) (unpublished), p.5
    1. Southwest Area Air Operations (note 1), chart 1, following p.104.
    1. Japanese Monograph No. 69, Java-Sumatra Area Air Operations Record, December 1941-March 1942 , p.102. The higher expenditure for the 64th could indicate they had some twin 12.7mm aircraft on strength but seems more likely to be an error of transposition. If we reverse the figures for machine gun and cannon ammunition we reach a ratio (36%) very close to that of the 59th (39%). This also compares closely with ammunition load of the aircraft, which was 500 rounds 7.7mm and 270 rounds 12.7mm (note 4) or a 35% ratio.  Moreover, Japanese Monograph No. 65, Southeast Area Air Operations, Phase III, July 1944-August 1945  , discussing ammunition shortages makes this statement: “In the early stage of the war the airplanes were equipped mainly with 7.7mm and 7.9mm machine guns and only the Hayabusa fighter planes were equipped with one 12.7mm gun.” p.46. Hiroshi Ichimura (relying on information from 64th FR pilot Yoshita Yasuda) directly states that the 64th FR’s aircraft mounted one 7.7mm and one 12.7mm gun. See footnote 26.
    1. Air Headquarters India, Weekly Intelligence Summary No.43, Nov. 11, 1942, p.4. According to Izawa,  the 64th had sent pilots to Japan during the rainy season (June-October) to re-equip  with new aircraft. The new aircraft arrived at Singapore during September and, despite losses en route, raised the Regiment’s operational strength from 15 to 30 aircraft (note 7, p.6). Wrecks recovered in Bengal in December 1942 include Ki 43’s No. 422 (April 1942) and 721 (October 1942).
    1. Examples of this include the 64th contributing eight pilots to the Southeast Area (note 7, p.6) and 24th FR markings that were found painted over on 12th FB aircraft captured at Munda (“Munda Ki. 43’s PIC “ posted by James F. Lansdale, at http://j-aircraft.com, visited April 11, 2001, citing captured Enemy Aircraft Report No. 17, with an illustration of a sketch of tail markings of Ki 43 No.493).
    1. Situation Report, 12th FB Headquarters, as of 31 December 1942; and notes found with operational reports for January 1943 (digest of translation), Fourteenth Air Force Language Officer.
    1. Letter from Technician Yamanaka to Commanding Officer Funayama (14th Field Air Repair Depot), dated March 12, 1943. Item 1 (No. 11974) ATIS Bulletin No. 1174. The Akitsu Maru delivered thirty replacement Ki 43s to Truk on 31 December 1942 (Training Flying Brigade Operations Order No. 8, item 2, (No. 13531) ATIS Bulletin No. 1329). These had apparently already been delivered to Rabaul in a “first transportation” referred to in Yamanaka’s letter as already having occurred. The remaining aircraft had been delivered by two aircraft carriers and by a second trip by Akitsu Maru on 23 February 1943.
    1. With regard to ammunition supply see Japanese Monograph No. 127, Southeast Area Operations Record, Part IV , appended sheet 5. Regarding the Munda Oscars see Headquarters, U.S. Army Air Forces, Directorate of  Intelligence, Technical Intelligence Report No. 169, 21 August 1943.
    1. List of Airfields Used and Ammunition and Fuel Expended (note 13).
    1. Note 15,  T.I.R. No.169, p.3.
    1. “Inspection Report of Fuselage, Engine, and Propellor”, No. 2 Chutai, 31 December 1942, ATIS Bulletin No. 311.
    1. Captured Enemy Aircraft Report, No.17

    19a. HQ AAF, SWPA Intelligence Summary No. 184.

    1. Prior to July 1942 the only Ki 43 equipped unit in China was the 10th Independent Air Squadron based at Hankou, Japanese Monograph No. 76, Air Operations in the China Area July 1937-August 1945 , p.110. Apparently this unit only received its Ki 43’s in May 1942 while temporarily in Japan.  Molesworth, Sharks Over China, p.35 reports a Ki 43 captured near Kweilin but dates the incident about August 1st.  A SWPA intelligence report (note 21, A.I.B. no.23) states such an aircraft was captured on May 1st. This aircraft was flown by W.O. Tadashi Kawazoe who was attached to the 1st Yasen Hoju Hikotai. Kawazoe became a prisoner of war (information from Hiroshi Ichimura).  Ford, The Flying Tigers, p.364 suggests Ki 43’s of the 10th were not encountered by the A.V.G. until July 1942. (It is interesting to note here that Ford also says that the 64th re-equipped with Ki 43-II’s after the Java campaign and flew against the A.V.G. with them. He also states that the two 12.7mm guns were exchanged for the mixed armament at Chiang Mai, Thailand because “they were so slow.”(p.282). What Ford suggests about the Mark II Oscar is not only not supported by Izawa but also impossible. Only four experimental Ki 43-II’s had been completed by April 1942). Most likely P-5017 is the single Ki. 43-1 captured intact in 1942 (Molesworth’s August 1st date appears to be an error but the possibility of a second captured Oscar exists). Photographic evidence shows it was Ki 43 No. 309 (information from James Lansdale). This yields a production date at the end of January 1942, later than the initial equipment of the 59th and 64th FRs but earlier than all but a few 1st and 11th FR examples. Finally, with regard to Ford’s stated rationale for the change from two 12.7mm guns to the mixed armament see the text-accompanying footnote 26.
    1. HQ USAFISPA, Air Information Bulletin No.23, 12 August 1943, reproducing information found in HQ AAF, SWPA Intelligence Summary No. 126.
    1. Captured Enemy Aircraft Reports, 30 December 1943, regarding Oscars Nos. 776. 804 and 808. Remarking on the twin 7.7mm armament, an intelligence report says: “…this combination is the exception rather than the rule.” HQ AAF, SWPA Intelligence Summary No. 176.
    1. Operations Orders and documents related to the 14th Field Air Repair Depot, item 2 (No. 12521), ATIS Bulletin No. 1194 (chart 5 shows flight records for August 1943  --  Type 1 fighter No. 793 engaged in test and liaison flights during the month). Ki 43 No. 750 was found damaged but potentially flyable after the War. It was reportedly in use long after 12th FB left the area (Wallis, “The Story of Nakajima Ki. 43-I No. 750 (Oscar)”, http://www.nzfpm-co.nz/articles/oscar.htm).
    1. Aircraft in Profile (note 1) p.258. The 11th FR returned to Japan in June 1943 and the 1st FR returned in August 1943. Their remaining aircraft would then have been available for the purposes indicated.
    1. Figures for production of the 12.7mm fixed machine cannon (if accurate) show a rapid acceleration from fiscal 1942 to fiscal 1943, Table 13, USSBS Reports, Pacific War, No. 45. The same table shows production of the 7.7mm fixed machine gun declined from fiscal 1942 to fiscal 1943.
    1. Hiroshi Ichimura messages of 11 and 12 December 2001, Warbirds Forum, http://forums.delphiforums.com/annals/messages/?msg+534. In addition to the unreliability of the early versions of the 12.7mm gun, it may also be that they were initially not available in sufficient quantity to equip all aircraft coming off the production lines. However, available data (see footnote 25) is not sufficiently detailed to support this conclusion.
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  3. In December 1944 a decrepit Japanese fishing boat docked at Tual in the Kai Islands south of the western end of Dutch New Guinea. The boat was part of a fleet of fishing vessels used in New Guinea by the Japanese military in 1943 and 1944 to provide coastal transportation after heavy losses had depleted Japan's regular transport craft. On board this particular fishing vessel was a group of Japanese Army Air Force (JAAF) personnel. They were emaciated, wracked with malaria and other tropical diseases, and some were wearing second hand uniforms that had replaced tattered rags worn not long before. Their leader, Major Takefumi Kuroda [Japanese names are rendered in western order in this article], was the senior surviving JAAF officer from a group of JAAF personnel ordered to retreat from Hollandia eight months earlier. Major Kuroda, the commander of a Hiko Sentai (Flying Regiment, FR) that no longer existed, had successfully escaped from the jungles of New Guinea. This is the story of his unit, the 248 th Hiko Sentai.


    January 2 nd , 1944 – nothing seemed to be going right for Major Shin-ichi Muraoka commander of the 248 th Hiko Sentai. An early morning fighter sweep to Madang on New Guinea's north coast along with other fighter units of the JAAF 6 th Hiko Shidan (Flying Division, FD) had not brought the expected encounter with American strike aircraft. Upon returning to his base at Wewak, Muraoka learned that a large American force had landed at Saidor and threatened to cut off forward elements of the Japanese 18 th Army. A strike mission was hastily organized. Given the distance from Wewak to Saidor, Muraoka ordered the 248 th 's Type 1, model 2 Hayabusa ( Ki 43, Allied code name, OSCAR) fighters be equipped with a single external fuel tank rather than the two used for maximum range missions.

    Thirty-four Type 1 and Type 3 (TONY) fighters joined nine Type 99 (LILY) light bombers for the mission. The small number of aircraft available for such an important mission was silent testimony to the hard fighting and heavy losses the Japanese had received at the hands of the much stronger U.S. Fifth Air Force in the preceding months.

    A weather front between Wewak and Saidor delayed and disorganized the Japanese formation. When they finally reached clear skies in the vicinity of Karkar Island, Muraoka could see that the nine light bombers were flying good formation below him at 2000 meters (6600 feet). The fighters were not in such good shape. Hardly half the original number was still together at about 15,000 feet trailing a little behind the bombers. Few of the Type 3 fighters were to be seen.

    In the distance to the southeast, Muraoka could see no warships or large transports. The delay in mounting the mission caused by the morning fighter sweep had allowed the main American task force to get away. The bombers would have only landing craft and shore installations as targets. There was no time to waste, however. Due to the delay caused by the storm the Japanese fighters were getting low on fuel.

    Suddenly Muraoka saw them -- P-40's. Dropping his external tank, he led his headquarters flight against the first element of approaching P-40's.

    1 st Lt. Duncan Myers, flying one of eleven P-40N's of the 7 th Fighter Squadron, passed over the nine bombers too high to immediately identify them as Japanese. Ground control had, however, alerted him to approaching Japanese planes so he searched for a possible fighter escort. As he turned right “three Japanese radial engine fighters popped up in front of me. I dropped my tank…I fired at a Zeke (sic), followed him through a circle to the left, and observed explosives hitting the cockpit area. He didn't smoke or burn, just plunged straight into the water…”

    The 248 th Sentai pilots saw their leader plummet to his death. The Japanese pilots jousted with the Americans for several minutes as the bombers approached the target area. The ranks of the Japanese began to thin as pilots turned back, no doubt concerned about dwindling fuel and the weather front between them and their base. As the bombers withdrew from the target area, the Americans found them unescorted.

    Lieutenant Myers and his wingman Major Seldon Wells each shot down a bomber. Myers watched his victim ditch close to the shoreline. The four crewmembers escaped and began swimming. Myers strafed them but only managed to kill one before his ammunition ran out.

    The fight ended with two Japanese fighters and two bombers lost. One P-40N also went down. The bombers caused only minor damage and casualties. In this combat several P-40 pilots engaged in turning combat with the more maneuverable Japanese fighters. If the Japanese fighter gained in the turn, the P-40 pilot would tighten his turn, spin out, and use the spin as an evasive maneuver. Lieutenant Myers used this technique to avoid the second Japanese fighter he engaged.


    Shin-ichi Muraoka had commanded the 248 th less than three months at the time of his death. He was an experienced officer who had commanded a squadron ( chutai ) in China from mid-1938 to early 1940. Later he served on the staff of a Flying Brigade. In 1942 he had briefly commanded the 244 th Sentai. The 248 th 's original commander and the officer that molded the unit into shape was a real veteran, Major Yasuo Makino. He organized the unit in August 1942 at Ozuki, Japan, with a small cadre supplied by the 4 th Sentai . It soon moved to Ashiya and Gannosu in northern Kyushu where it carried out training and air defense duties. Initially equipped with the obsolescent Type 97 (NATE) fighter, early in 1943 the unit converted to the first version of the Type 1 fighter. It began to receive the model 2 version ( Ki 43-II) in July 1943.

    The 248 th built up slowly at first. It had some veteran pilots and ground crew but many of its personnel came directly from training schools. Although preliminary flight training for JAAF pilots was being shortened in 1943, most of the 248 th 's pilots completed a full course of training. This plus additional training with the unit probably meant few pilots had to go into combat with less than 400 hours flying time. Pilot losses during training were light though a chutai commander (Capt. Nobuo Tokonaga) died in an accident caused by bad weather in February 1943.

    On October 11 th , 1943, orders came for the 248 th to transfer to New Guinea beginning October 20 th . Newly assigned Major Muraoka had little time to become acquainted with his new command. The 248 th received a number of new Ki 43-II fighters and final arrangements for movement by air and sea transportation were made.

    Pilots would fly their new Hayabusa fighters and would be accompanied by about thirty ground personnel flying in transports and bombers. The bulk of the ground staff, some 190 men, and equipment would go by ship. The air route from Japan would go by way of Taiwan, Manila, Davao, Menado, and Amboina to New Guinea. The 248 th reached Manila on the morning of October 23 rd and carried out maintenance and prepared for the final stages of its transfer. By October 31 st , thirty-two Type 1 fighters and their pilots had arrived at Wewak Central airfield. The fledgling 248 th and its new commander were in the combat zone.

    The first few days in New Guinea brought only training flights and false alarm scrambles. The only excitement was an accident, which heavily damaged a fighter and injured its pilot. With only a few ground staff on hand, personnel from local airfield battalions were detailed to help service the 248 th 's aircraft but they were less than half the number of the unit's men that had yet to arrive.


    The 248 th arrived at Wewak at a time when the air war over New Guinea was concentrated in a zone roughly running from Lae on the Huon Gulf to Wewak. Inland it stretched over the Markham and Ramu Valleys and extended eastward across the Vitiaz Straights to western New Britain. After the first week in November the U.S. Fifth Air Force no longer sent missions as far east as Rabaul. The Japanese Army Air Force was in the final process of withdrawing from Rabaul. Its residual presence there was primarily limited to maintenance units and a few reconnaissance and transport planes. Rabaul remained a focal point of aerial conflict for several months but its airspace was contested by the Japanese navy and Allied units operating from the Solomons.

    [“New Guinea – Combat Zone” (photo credits are U.S. Army unless noted)]

    During the first week of November 1943 the Japanese Army's 4 th Air Army (primarily the 6 th FD) in New Guinea numbered about one hundred fifty operational combat aircraft and was at a high point in numbers of available aircraft compared to recent or succeeding months. Most of these were based at the four airfields of the Wewak-But complex (called Wewak, Boram, But and Dagua by the Allies). Forward airfields at Alexishafen and Madang were in use as were rear area bases at Hollandia, Aitape and Wakde Island. Tuluvu (Cape Gloucester) on New Britain, Hyane (Momote) in the Admiralty Islands and a few other fields could support limited operations or emergency landings.

    The 248 th FR's strength during this period was 30-32 operational fighters. Another recently arrived unit was the 26 th FR (27 Type 99 Assault planes). These two new units made up over one-third the operational strength of the entire Division. Allied intelligence was fairly accurate in assessing Japanese air strength in New Guinea at this time. Overestimation of Japanese air strength was more typical.

    The Japanese order of battle (numbers are for operational aircraft in early November) included a long range reconnaissance regiment and two independent squadrons (7-10 Type 100 reconnaissance planes); three Type 1 fighter regiments (about 70 planes); one Type 3 fighter regiment (10-12 planes); an assault regiment and short range reconnaissance squadron (30 Type 99 assault planes and army reconnaissance planes); a twin-engine light bomber regiment (15 Type 99 light bombers); and, three heavy bomber regiments (6-8 Type 100 heavy bombers and 9 Type 97 heavy bombers). The relative strength of the Type 1 fighter contingent was due not only to the arrival of the 248 th but also the return of the 59 th FR to New Guinea after re-equipment at Manila.

    The U.S. Fifth Air Force primarily based at Port Moresby and Dobodura but with substantial fighter strength at forward airfields in the Markham-Ramu Valleys was much stronger as November began. Six bomber groups had 370 aircraft assigned (about 300 serviceable on a given day). The primary assigned types were B-24s (118) and B-25s (204). There were 348 fighters assigned to five fighter groups (about 280 serviceable). These included 139 P-38s of various models, 91 P-47Ds, 71 P-40Ns, and 47 P-39s (models N and Q). In rear areas were 221 unassigned bombers and 263 unassigned fighters. The Fifth Air Force was supplemented by a strong contingent of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) that was nearly as strong as the 6 th FD. Part of the effort of the RAAF force was, however, directed against central New Britain and even included night raids on Rabaul outside the combat area of the 6 th FD. The Allied order of battle also included reconnaissance aircraft not mentioned above and a large fleet of transport aircraft (far outstripping the Japanese) that greatly facilitated operations. Small numbers of seaplanes and flying boats were also active on each side.

    The Allies had greatly superior and more numerous radar stations than the Japanese. The Allied ground controlled interception system was far superior to the Japanese. At Allied forward bases in the Markham and Ramu valleys, however, this superior technology was sometimes limited in its effectiveness by the mountainous terrain.

    Most Allied fighter aircraft were significantly superior to the Type 1 fighter in many performance categories. They had much more powerful engines; stronger armament; and, better protection for pilot, fuel and essential parts. The Allied fighters were generally faster than the Type 1 fighter in level flight and dive. The Type 1 fighter could out perform most of the Allied fighters in low and medium speed maneuvers and in some maneuvers it was unmatched. It could also out climb some of the Allied fighters under certain conditions. The performance characteristics of the Type 1 fighter and the Allied fighters tended to be, to use a modern term for such things, asymmetrical. Whether the 248 th could use the strong points of its fighter and the skill of its pilots to advantage was to be seen.


    On November 6 th , the 248 th joined with the 13 th Sentai to escort Type 97 (SALLY) bombers in an attack on the American airbase at Nadzab in the Ramu Valley. The 59 th and 78 th Sentai were also involved. The bombing was successful and the bombers got away without being intercepted by American fighters. U.S. fighters were in the area but the Japanese were too high and far away for them to intercept. In addition to the bombing, flights of Hayabusas swept in to strafe the airstrips at Nadzab and Gusap. Four attacked at Nadzab and three at Gusap. The bombing and strafing at Nadzab destroyed two P-39's and damaged 23 others to some extent. At Gusap a C-47 was burned and two others damaged. The strafing Japanese fighters completed their attacks and got away several minutes before U.S. fighters arrived on the scene. Landing accidents caused when several 248 th fighters landed on Alexishafen's inadequately repaired runway marred this successful attack. The commander of the 3 rd chutai , 1 st Lt. Hideo Ota, was killed and 2 nd Lt. Yoshihari Mayekawa was injured.



    The American air bases in the Markham and Ramu Valleys were a deadly threat to the Japanese. They were well positioned to provide support to Australian and American ground forces but more importantly they were within easy fighter range of the main Japanese air bases in the Wewak area. The attack on November 6 th was the first of a series of attacks ordered by the 4 th Air Army to destroy American forward bases before they became too strong and overwhelmed the Japanese. All the Air Army's fighters were controlled by the 6 th Flying Division to accomplish this mission. The 248 th and the other Japanese fighter units would challenge the Americans over their own bases.

    The following day the mission was repeated. Nine Type 97 bombers targeted Nadzab bombing from 6000-6500 meters (19,700 to 21,000 feet). The Type 1 fighters of the 13 th Sentai provided close escort while Muraoka led the 248 th as top cover. The Japanese plan called for a rendezvous near Alexishafen at 2000 meters (6600 feet) followed by a climb to altitude approaching the target. This mission did not go at all well. Mechanical problems with some of the 248 th 's aircraft delayed the scheduled rendezvous. While flying over the sea on the approach, the Japanese were spotted by four P-40Ns from the 8 th Fighter Squadron, which were flying a fighter sweep. Veteran flight leader Capt. Clyde Bennett led these four P-40s down from six o'clock high and caught a reported twenty Japanese fighters by complete surprise. The Americans claimed three victories in a single pass. Three P-40s zoomed away and returned to base without a scratch. One pilot sparred briefly with the Hayabusas and returned with fragments from an explosive bullet in his fuel tank. Two Japanese fighters appear to have been lost in this encounter, both were from the 248 th .

    The Japanese tried to organize their formation as they gained altitude and crossed the Finnisterre Range to carry out the bombing attack. The Americans were well prepared and after the bombing attack three separate formations converged on the Japanese. Eight P-39Qs (40 th FS) and eight P-47Ds (36 th and 342 nd FS) hit the attackers, which were reported to consist of nine bombers and just ten or so fighters. The three American flights contacted the Japanese in rapid succession nearly simultaneously. While the Hayabusas were able to distract some of the fighters, many pressed their attacks on the bombers. Two bombers went down under these attacks. A Type 97 bomber ( Ki 21-II No. 6323) exploded in spectacular fashion. Its tail with a stylized yellow marking resembling a “4” and part of a wing landed on a hillside while most of the bomber ended up on another hillside on the opposite side of a valley. Three of the Hayabusas , which were lost, probably also fell near Nadzab and were swallowed up by the jungle without a trace. These were aircraft of the 13 th and 59 th S entai .


    [“Type 97 heavy bomber of the 14 th Sentai under attack”]

    The Japanese claimed a P-40 and five “F4Fs” shot down. Two P-39s were shot down and one P-40 and three P-47s damaged. The bombing damaged aircraft and installations on the ground but nothing like the sixty aircraft destroyed that the Japanese claimed. Five Japanese fighters were lost. The 248 th lost two pilots killed and two wounded. The bombers suffered heavily. In addition to two shot down outright, three landed at Madang with heavy damage and four ditched off the coast. The bombers that landed at Madang were bombed and destroyed by American bombers two days later. Shortly thereafter the 14 th Sentai, the bomber unit involved, was withdrawn from New Guinea.

    On the ninth the 248 th could mount only eighteen fighters while providing support for other fighter units attacking the American bases. Penetrating to the vicinity of Lae the 248 th lost three pilots one of whom, Sgt. Major Hiroshi Yoshida, bailed out and became a prisoner of war. Yoshida reported he was shot down by two P-40s that shot off part of his right wing. He was probably the victim of 2 nd Lt. Carl Weaver of the 35 th FS. Twenty-seven P-40s and P-39s of the 35 th , 36 th and 40 th Fighter Squadrons claimed six OSCARS with only one P-40 crash-landed and two P-39s damaged.

    [“Type 1 fighter, canopy open, under the gun”]

    The 248 th suffered a further loss when one of its aircraft was shot down by P-38s of the 475 th Fighter Group escorting B-25 bombers over Alexishafen. The American ace Capt. Dan iel Roberts was lost on this day when his P-38 Lightning collided with that of his wingman trying to follow a Hayabusa, possibly a fighter from the 248 th , which was taking evasive action at low level near Alexishafen. Three P-38s were lost, all from the 433 rd FS. The P-38s of the 432 nd and 433 rd Fighter Squadrons claimed fourteen victories. In both combats the 59 th and 248 th Sentai lost eight pilots. A Type 3 fighter was also lost though the Americans claimed no TONYS. The Japanese fighters also damaged seven B-25s.

    After these losses, Japanese offensive operations were suspended to allow for maintenance and training. When offensive operations resumed on the 15 th the 248 th again sent out eighteen fighters and lost four pilots killed or missing and another wounded. On this mission twenty-four P-40s of the 8 th and 35 th Fighter Squadrons caught the Japanese formation by surprise with the morning sun at their backs. In all, one Type 99 light bomber and six Hayabusas were shot down with others damaged. Two P-40s were lost, one from a collision with a Japanese fighter during a head-on pass and another was written off due to battle damage after crash landing at base. The American fighters accidentally attacked a B-25, which later crash-landed at base in a badly damaged condition with casualties among the crew.

    On the 16 th of November twenty-seven P-38s of the 475 th Fighter Group flew a sweep over Wewak. Capt. Nobuyoshi Tozuka led twelve Hayabusas of the 248 th to intercept along with about a dozen fighters from the 13 th and 59 th Sentai . Five Japanese fighters were lost including one from the 248 th . Cpl. Takeshi Aihara bailed out when his fighter burst into flames. The 248 th may have encountered six P-38s of the 431 st FS, which was covering another P-38 squadron when “at about 11,000 feet we were jumped by 10/15 Oscars coming down at us out of the overcast. Our position and the excess speed of the E/A [enemy aircraft] diving from the clouds put us in a very bad tactical position. They rode right up our six plane string opening fire at 500 yards and holding until their speed carried them past us.” The six P-38s split up under the attack and the Japanese fighters chased two as far as the Sepik River. The Americans rated the Japanese pilots as “able, determined, eager and aggressive.” One of these P-38s failed to return and another damaged P-38 was destroyed in a crash landing. For the day three P-38s were lost. It is unclear how many should be credited to the 248 th .

    After this and a number of other combats Capt. Tozuka recorded some of his impressions: “The P-38 climbs straight upward, but is easier to fight against than the P-40. The P-38 does not possess maneuverability. Enemy fighter planes are usually found to be superior to ours; seldom are ours superior to theirs. Surprise attacks by the enemy must always be expected, and efforts made to forestall them. The enemy (including the P-38) opens fire at a range of 1,000 meters. The enemy usually flies in formation; most of the time in a wing formation. However, they have a formation similar to that of the Japanese Army. As it is difficult to destroy enemy planes at a range greater than 50 or 100 meters, they should be attacked at close range.” Despite recognition that their aircraft was inferior in performance to those of the Americans, many of the 248 th 's pilots felt that if they could avoid surprise attacks they would not be shot down.

    A few days after the interception mission on the 16 th came word that an American submarine had sunk the ship carrying the 248 th 's ground echelon. Of 191 men of the 248 th on board ship only five were rescued.

    Over the next few days the 248 th flew convoy cover, had false alarm scrambles and flew an escort mission to Finschhafen. The escort mission on the 19 th brought an inconclusive encounter with Allied fighters (one P-38 was damaged). The other missions saw no action at all. Escort missions to support ground troops in the Sattelburg area were flown daily from the 22 nd to 24 th . These missions no doubt heartened the Japanese ground troops but they did little damage to the Australians. The mission on the 23 rd was intercepted by twelve P-39s. The 59 th FR lost one Hayabusa in this combat and one P-39 went down. All the 248 th 's fighters returned to base.

    The 248 th scrambled fighters twice on the 25 th of November but did not engage in combat. On the same day 1 st Lt. Hitoshi Asano was wounded in a bombing attack at Alexishafen. Asano returned to Japan. The 248 th lost a real stalwart; Asano was a twenty-two-victory ace against the Russians in Nomonhan in 1939. Though he flew several sorties with the 248 th and twice engaged in combat, he claimed no victories in New Guinea. Asano suffered from an old wound in his hand that caused it to go numb at high altitude. His return to Japan to serve at the Akeno Flying School may have saved his life.

    The pilots of the 248 th suffered no additional combat losses until the 26 th . That day Major Muraoka led about twenty fighters of the “Composite Fighter Unit” including fourteen from the 248 th to escort ten light bombers of the 208 th Sentai attacking Australian artillery positions along the Song River near Finschhafen. After the bombing twenty fighters (P-39s, P-40s and Australian Boomerangs) intercepted the withdrawing Japanese formation. The Americans claimed nine ZEKES and OSCARS. Four Hayabusas were lost including two from the 248 th . One P-39 and two Boomerangs went down. No Japanese bombers were lost or damaged. This bombing attack was more successful than earlier attacks and inflicted some casualties and damage among the Australians.

    This combat tends to confirm intelligence reports that state that the Hayabusa's machine cannon, though having poor penetrative powers, had significant explosive effect. A Type 1 fighter that he identified as a ZEKE hit 1 st Lt. Roy Klanrud a P-40 pilot of the 35 th FS. According to Klanrud: “I knew I was badly shot up…I expected another attack which would have been fatal because my elevator and coolant was shot up by a 20mm cannon. Three bullets hit my armor plate and glanced off, clearing out the glass of the canopy on the left side.” More than one American fighter pilot hit by 12.7mm explosive rounds thought he had been hit by the larger 20mm round fired by the Japanese Navy's Zero fighter. A partial explanation for this phenomenon is suggested by findings of Britain's Ordnance Board that tested Japanese army 12.7mm ammunition. A 1944 report said: “The fuse of the H.E./I. [high explosive/incendiary] shell is probably too sensitive for optimum performance.” In tests in India the same type ammunition failed to ignite fuel in a partially filled petrol tin, it was thought because “the blast effect was such that any possibility of petrol or petrol vapour being set on fire was nullified because of this.” Another report concluded the super-sensitive fuse was likely to explode against an aircraft's wing or fuselage skin before penetrating to a fuel tank. Japanese armor piercing ammunition was found to be effective against certain types of Allied armor at least at close ranges on the order of 100 yards.

    The month ended with a series of scrambles most of which did not result in contact with the enemy. A bombing raid on the 28 th destroyed or damaged four of the unit's fighters on the ground leaving just eight operational at the end of the month.

    In a month of combat the 248 th lost thirteen pilots killed or missing, more than one third of its strength. Its operational strength had been reduced to that of a chutai or less. The bulk of its maintenance staff had been lost at sea. It had some seventy borrowed personnel to supplement its meager ground staff. In most other air forces this unit would have been pulled out of combat. This, however, was stark reality for the Japanese fighter force in New Guinea. The 248 th would have to keep going.



    The rough handling the 248 th received during November leavened it into a hardened combat unit. During December the 248 th would fly nearly 500 sorties from Wewak-Central and claim fourteen victories for the loss of three pilots killed or missing. Detachments were sent to Hollandia during December for training and convoy escort operations. A few additional sorties were flown from that base but no combat resulted.

    On the first of December forty-six B-24s and their fighter escort of thirty-two P-47Ds came to attack Wewak. The Japanese had nearly twenty Type 3 fighters and about thirty Type 1 fighters operational and most of these scrambled. The American sighted about forty Japanese fighters in two formations. They identified the Type 1 fighters mainly as ZEKES and HAMPS.

    The American fighters apparently kept the Japanese fighters away from the leading American bombers. Only one B-24 of the 43 rd Bomb group was hit by a fighter. The twenty-two B-24s of the 90 th Bomb Group in the trailing formation came under heavy attacks from low on the front quarter. These attacks were driven home to close range by pilots that were described as skilled and aggressive in many American combat reports. In one instance recorded by the bomber crews the leader of one group of Japanese fighters flew right through the bomber formation. This could well have been 1 st Lt. Tozuka of the 248 th .

    Three of the big B-24s went down under these attacks. One of these bombers may also have been hit by anti-aircraft fire. Two of these bombers fell victim to attacks by fighters reported as ZEKES, HAMPS and OSCARS. One bomber reportedly fell to a TONY.

    After successfully screening the bomber spearhead the P-47s seem to have been diverted by the Type 3 fighters allowing the Type 1 fighters including the 248 th a relatively free hand with the bombers. The Japanese pilots claimed five bombers and two fighters destroyed. Anti-aircraft gunners claimed two additional aircraft. U.S. fighters claimed five victories (one ZEKE and four TONYS) without loss. The B-24s claimed six victories against their assailants.

    In this interception 1 st Lt. Nobuyoshi Tozuka, 2 nd chutai leader, led eight Hayabusas of the 248 th to an outstanding success. The 248 th claimed four B-24s. Two were credited to Tozuka who was promoted to Captain soon after. The 248 th suffered no losses in air combat.

    The 248 th was not so lucky on the ground. The bombing destroyed its barracks along with those of the 68 th FR and 81 st FCs. Worse yet it lost one pilot killed and four fighters destroyed during the bombing.

    After this raid the 248 th air echelon temporarily transferred to Hollandia to engage in several days of training. This was accomplished despite some uncooperative weather. Training included buntai versus shotai (2x4) air combat training, shotai versus shotai , and c hutai training (4x8), as well as night flying exercises. While at Hollandia the Regiment also provided a stand-by section as convoy cover for a couple days. By December 10 th they were back at Wewak.

    On December 12 th the 59 th Sentai flew as part of the 248 th 's formation. The Hayabusas provided close escort for nine Type 100 heavy bombers in an attack on Gusap. Type 3 fighters were to provide top cover. Apparently the planned escort was twenty-four Type 1 fighters and twenty Type 3 fighters. Things did not go according to plan and the top cover became separated and some of the Type 1 fighters also failed to complete the mission.

    Photograph(4).jpg[ “P-40s taking of from Gusap”]

    The bombers effectively hit Gusap from 4,000 meters altitude and then eight P-40Ns of the 7 th Fighter Squadron followed by four P-47Ds from the 9 th Squadron intercepted. Eight P-39s of the 40 th Fighter Squadron saw the action but failed to get close enough to engage. The Warhawks and Thunderbolts reported encountering 15 OSCARS and nine bombers. The P-40s claimed two BETTY bombers and one OSCAR definitely destroyed. One bomber (Type 100 heavy bomber no. 3295 of 7 th FR) went down and others returned shot up with dead and wounded crewmen on board. The P-39s saw an unidentified aircraft falling in flames. This was No. 3295. It was the only aircraft they observed falling. In all five P-40s were damaged by the fighters or bombers' gunners and two crash-landed. One Warhawk shot up by fighters and another hit by a bomber, limped back to base but were write-offs. The P-47s got in at the end of the action and claimed an OSCAR. No Japanese fighters were lost. The reports of some of American fighter pilots state: “The enemy pilots appeared experienced and willing to fight.”


    [ “Type 100 heavy bomber under attack”]

    The 248 th was in the thick of this flight. Without top cover the Hayabusa formation may have loosened its coverage and tried to fill both the top cover and close escort role. American fighters hit the bombers before the 248 th could intervene. Eventually the 248 th and bomber gunners drove them away. 1 st Lt. Joseph O'Conner had his P-40N riddled by an OSCAR. He safely returned to base but his fighter was a complete loss. The 248 th claimed two P-40's as victories though one was recorded as uncertain. It seems highly likely that O'Conner was the certain victory claimed by the 248 th .

    On December 15 th eleven Type 100 heavy bombers of the 9 th FB escorted by twenty-two Type 1 fighters of the 59 th and 248 th plus the same number of Type 3 fighters attempted to strike the American invasion fleet at Arawe, New Britain . Due to murky weather they struck a target of opportunity, boats in Langemak Bay , instead. In a brief combat with a flight of P-38s neither side suffered loss.

    In the early afternoon of December 16 th the Japanese Army made its second attempt to bomb Arawe. This time the operations orders called for seven Type 100 heavy bombers to be escorted by the same fighters units as on the previous day. Capt. Shigeo Fukuda of the 7 th FR led the bombers. Sixteen Type 1 fighters flew close cover and eighteen Type 3 fighters flew top cover. Only six of the bombers got to New Britain where they were intercepted by a total of twenty-five P-38Hs of the 431 st and 432 nd FS. Combat started east of Umboi Island at about 13,000 feet and ranged south to and over New Britain in the vicinity of Borgen Bay . All the bombers failed to return of which one made a forced landing at the Cape Gloucester (Tuluvu) airfield.

    Maj. Shinichi Muraoka the 248 th 's Regimental commander led his nine fighters as the close escort on the right flank of the bombers. In combat with P-38s the 248 th claimed three destroyed for three pilots missing in action. 1 st Lt. Hisomatsu Ejiri and 1 st Lt. Shoji Fueki of the 2 nd chutai were never found but Sgt. Maj. Yasuo Saito of the 3 rd chutai landed his Hayabusa (No. 5951) at the Navy's Gavuvu airfield and was able to fly it back to Wewak two days later. A total of five Japanese fighters were initially listed as lost.

    The Americans claimed seven bombers that they identified as Bettys. They only claimed two fighters – a TONY and a ZEKE – destroyed. Ace Capt. Thomas B. McGuire of the 431 st FS claimed a ZEKE damaged and two pilots of the 432 nd claimed two Zeros damaged near Cape Gloucester . If, as seems quite possible Sgt. Maj. Saito was one of the damage claims near Cape Gloucester , then it appears that the other two damage claims were in fact victories. Possibly McGuire and one of the two 432 nd pilots actually scored a victory rather than a damaged although over an OSCAR rather than a ZEKE or Zero.

    The following day the Japanese fighters flew a fighter sweep to the Arawe area. The 248 th did not engage in combat.

    On the 18 th of December four Hayabusas of the 248 th joined with the 59 th Sentai and flew a fighter sweep to Arawe, New Britain , along with Type 3 fighters. The U.S. Army Air Force reference history described the combat: “[E]nemy pilots displayed considerable skill and aggressiveness. This was especially true on 18 December when 16 P-38s, 433 rd Fighter Sq., jumped 10 to 15 ZEKES (sic), OSCARS, and TONYS at midday . The P-38s dove through the enemy fighters and were in turn jumped by about 15 fighters, which had been hiding in cumulous clouds. Definitely on the defensive and outmaneuvered, the P-38s destroyed only three of the enemy while losing two P-38s…” The 248 th claimed one P-38 without loss. The Japanese lost a single Type 3 fighter.

    A lapse in attacks on New Britain followed this mission. The Japanese bombers were recovering their operational strength and the fighters had other duties. The Japanese fighters, including the 248 th , were assigned to escort a convoy approaching Wewak. Orders specified that the 248 th was to provide a flight to initiate convoy cover on December 21 st . The flight was to fly on a course of 325 degrees to a distance of 200 km (about 125 miles) and provide cover from 0600 to 0700. One section was to fly at 3000m or below and another section at 1000m, (3,300 feet) or below. The 248 th was also to provide cover from 1150 to 1300 hours when the convoy would be about 125 km distant. On the 22 nd the convoy would be in port and a flight from the 248 th would again fly the dawn patrol from 0550 to 0730. The 248 th also was assigned the longest mission of the day. It was to provide cover from 1000 to 1300 hours with its entire strength (part of that period also being overlapped by the patrol assignments of other units).

    Thirty-six B-25s and four squadrons of P-38s raided Wewak on the 22 nd between the 248 th 's two shifts. Four fighters of the 248 th joined with some thirty other Japanese fighters to oppose this attack. The 248 th claimed a B-25 and a P-38. As a result of combat two P-38s and a B-25 were shot down or failed to return. Four other B-25s and one P-38 were damaged and crash-landed in friendly territory. Four Japanese fighter pilots were killed or wounded in this attack.


    [“Type 1 fighter and B-25 in low level combat near Madang”]

    On December 26 th the American invasion forces landed at Cape Gloucester . The 6 th Flying Division could mount only a paltry effort. After several aircraft turned back five Type 100 heavy bombers escorted by ten Type 3 fighters and eighteen Type 1 fighters from the 59 th and 248 th attacked. This raid was poorly executed. The bombers failed to rendezvous on time and part of the escort never joined the main force. As on the 16 th all the Japanese bombers were lost. Major Muraoka was dismayed by the botched escort mission and later wrote lessons learned from this battle which included a description of the combat:

    “When we met some P-47s on the way, we were immediately surrounded and separated from the bomber formation…They attacked us from above with three or four times our number, however…we suffered no losses…All in all, we were not losers (even the fighter which failed to drop one of its fuel tanks survived). I am of the firm opinion that even P-47s can be shot down if advantage is taken of their mistakes. Four enemy P-47s really only amount to one or two planes.”

    “Due to the excellent handling by our pilots we escaped damage during combat. We had only to prevent the enemy making surprise passes. Against these surprise passes the protective armor and top covering are urgently necessary.”

    Major Muraoka went on to comment on the efficient American radar and communications, needed improvements in Japanese tactics, and the need for a young and vigorous Brigade commander to lead fighter combat.

    In this its last battle of 1943 the 248 th encountered sixteen P-47Ds of the 36 th Fighter Squadron and with eight Hayabusas shot down two without loss. In other combat five bombers and two Type 3 fighters failed to return.

    On the following two days all the Japanese fighters were detailed to protect a convoy entering Wewak harbor. The 248 th flew a total of seventeen sorties on these days without encountering any enemy opposition.


    A week after successfully confronting high performance P-47s Major Muraoka was gone, the victim of a lower-powered, but perhaps underrated, P-40. With no other senior officer available to take command, the Army ordered in a new commanding officer from the homeland. He was Major Takefumi Kuroda, a fine officer then commanding the 4 th Sentai . He arrived three weeks after Muraoka's death to become the 248 th 's third and last commanding officer.

    The 248 th had received four replacement fighters at the end of December 1943 but Major Kuroda found that he commanded a sentai with the operational strength of a chutai . Kuroda led his weakened unit in defense of their base at Wewak. At this time Japanese ground forces withdrew toward Madang. There were occasional ground support missions and even some attacks on American air bases but more and more the 4 th Air Army found itself on the defensive.

    On January 15 th before Kuroda's arrival, Capt. Shigeo Kojima led eight Hayabusas of the 248 th in a successful attack on airfields in the Ramu Valley . Flying with twelve Type 3 fighters, the 248 th strafed and damaged several aircraft at Gusap and then covered the Type 3 fighters in their attack on Nadzab. Eleven Hayabusas of the 59 th operating independently were in the same area. Two Hayabusas of the 59 th led by Capt. Shigeo Nango surprised four patrolling P-40s, badly shooting up all four. One was shot down with the pilot killed and two were destroyed in crash landings. For the day the Japanese claimed four P-40s and two C-47s (by W.O. Takashi Noguchi, 68 th FR) as air victories. Thirty-four planes were claimed as “damaged or set afire” in the official communiqué. The thirteen (seven medium and six small size aircraft) claimed destroyed at Gusap (Japanese name Marawasa) were credited to the 248 th . Damage at Gusap included an A-20 and two P-47s totally destroyed. One of Kojima's fighters was damaged but all the Japanese pilots returned to base.

    The following day Major Kiyoshi Kimura of the 68 th Sentai led the Japanese fighter force. The 248 th under Capt. Tozuka flew as part of the 59 th 's formation led by Capt. Shigeo Nango, one of the most successful Japanese fighter pilots in New Guinea . The Japanese flew to the Madang area to challenge American strike aircraft. The mission proved disastrous. No pilots were lost from Nango's formation but the other Japanese units suffered heavily. The 68 th and newly arrived 63 rd Sentai suffered the loss of seven pilots including Major Kimura and W.O. Noguchi. It seems in total ten Japanese fighters were shot down. Most of these fell victim to fifteen P-40Ns of the 35 th FS, which claimed nineteen victories. Some may have fallen when a few of the Japanese fighters attacked two formations of B-25s that claimed to have destroyed three ZEKES (including fighters reportedly seen to crash into the sea from low level). Finally the Japanese fighters engaged in a 25-minute combat with sixteen P-38s. For the day the Japanese claimed seven bombers, three P-38s and three P-40s. Only one B-25 was lost and a few others damaged. Three P-40s and three P-38s were damaged.

    On the 18 th four squadrons of P-38s and two squadrons of P-47s challenged the Japanese fighters over Wewak. Fifty-six Japanese fighters intercepted. Twenty-one Type 3 fighters of the 68th and 78 th were joined by thirty-five Type 1 fighters of the 59 th , 63 rd and 248 th . The 248 th scrambled ten fighters under Capt. Shigeo Kojima that day. Wild dogfights took place. One P-38 pilot wrote: “The enemy pilots apparently were experienced as they would lead our planes to tree-top level and turn sharply…The enemy consistently dived to the deck and disappeared throughout the entire combat. We could not pursue because of our lesser maneuverability and the extremely low altitude.” Another P-38 pilot rated the Japanese as “experienced, determined and aggressive.” In this combat the Americans claimed fourteen confirmed victories and the Japanese claimed thirteen. The U.S. actually lost three and the Japanese four. The 248 th suffered only one loss but it was heavy blow. Their air leader, Capt. Kojima, was shot down and killed in this action.

    The 23 rd brought another vicious air battle over Wewak. Four squadrons of P-38s, two squadrons of P-40s and two squadrons of P-47s escorted thirty-five B-24s. Fifty-one Japanese fighters opposed them including eight from the 248 th . The Japanese claimed eight P-38s, three P-40s and a B-24 while losing six aircraft. The 248 th claimed 2 P-38s, a P-40 and a B-24. The B-24 and one P-38 were credited to 1 st Lt. Keiji Koga. The 248 th lost two pilots including Capt. Tozuka and Sgt. Major Aikiharu Saito. Capt. Nango of the 59 th was killed in this action. Four P-38s and one P-40 were actually lost and though several B-24s sustained hits none was shot down.

    As of January 31 st the 248 th had thirteen fighters of which nine were serviceable and four undergoing maintenance. Its fifteen available pilots included five officers and ten warrant officers or NCOs. At this time only 51% of the 6 th FD's pilots were operationally available. Fifteen per cent were medically excused, 18 ½ % were not yet qualified, and 16 ½ % were unavailable for other reasons (most likely on detached service or engaged in ferrying replacement aircraft). The 248 th changed bases during January and was based at Wewak-East (Boram to the Allies) at the end of the month.

    During six months of combat the 248 th received about thirty-five replacement fighters. In February seventeen replacement pilots were received to take the place of casualties, seriously ill pilots and transferees. Five came from the 59 th Sentai, which left New Guinea , and the remainder came from training school in Japan . These replacements were needed. In addition to heavy losses in their first month of combat the 248 th lost an additional ten pilots killed from December 1943 to February 1944. January was a particularly bad month for in addition to Major Muraoka two of the five pilots killed were chutai commanders.

    The Hayabusas of the 248 th bore very distinctive tail markings. Seven narrow “boomerang” or fat “V” shaped devices were arranged on the tail in three slanting rows of one, two and four. The two tips of each “boomerang” symbolized the number two thus the arrangement stood for 2-4-8 . Originally the colors of these markings had been white, blue, yellow and red for Headquarters flight, 1 st , 2 nd , and 3 rd c hutai , respectively. However, when Major Kuroda arrived the Headquarters flight and 1 st chutai exchanged colors. This was reportedly because Major Kuroda preferred blue but it may also have been his way of making it clear that a new commander had arrived and was in charge.


    [“Rendition of 248 th colors” (With permission of Grub Street, see photo credits)]

    [ “Another rendition of 248 th colors” (with permission D.L. James )]

    Most of the 248 th 's Hayabusas were late production models with serial numbers of 5900 or above. These aircraft incorporated improved fuel tank protection and two 12mm armor plates protecting the head and back of the pilot. The fuel tank protection, nearly as reliable as that on American fighters, was a great improvement over an earlier version, which was virtually worthless. The armor plate could withstand U.S. 50 caliber (12.7mm) fire even at close range. A few of the Hayabusas brought to New Guinea by the 248 th were older versions ( Ki 43 No. 5374 produced in April 1943 is the oldest for which we have a record) which lacked effective armor and had old style fuel tanks but it seems very few if any of these was still in service in 1944. Finally, though the Type 1 fighter model 2 that equipped the 248 th mounted only two 12.7mm “machine cannon”, these guns were far more reliable than the early 12.7mm machine gun which had made up part of the armament of the original model of the Hayabusa . This weapon did not have the range or trajectory of its American counter-part but most Japanese pilots were pleased with these weapons and especially liked the effect of the explosive round, which was reportedly nearly as great as the 20mm round of a Hispano cannon.

    February 3 rd brought another interception over Wewak. 1 st Lt. Koga led eight Hayabusas of the 248 th and joined with Japanese fighters from other units to challenge the attackers. Originally reported at ten B-24s, the thirty-one Japanese fighters found themselves confronting over a hundred American fighters and bombers. During the first phase of the raid little damage was done by either side. About an hour after taking off Koga was flying at 1,500 feet over But with two flight companions when low level B-25s struck. Eight P-40s of the escort jumped the Japanese flight and Koga's fighter was hit. Koga dove and attempted to evade but 1 st Lt. Roger Farrell of the 7 th FS got hits in Koga's right wing fuel tank. Koga's flaming fighter crashed into the sea a mile or so from shore.

    Japanese fighters had orders to land at But airfield west of Wewak. They were immediately attacked on the ground by low flying B-25s. The 248 th lost seven fighters on the ground. About fifty Japanese aircraft were destroyed or damaged to some degree. After this stinging loss the Japanese retaliated by sending a few fighters to attack the American airfields. 1 st Lt. Hachiro Murakami of the 248 th single-handedly attacked Nadzab setting two fires but could not confirm his success in the dim twilight.


    [“But-East/Dagua under attack: 1. Type 1 fighters if 63 rd and 248 th Sentai; 2. Type 3 fighter of 68 th Sentai; burning Type 100 heavy bomber”]

    The 4 th Air Army interceptions over Wewak became less frequent. Cover always had to be provided for convoys but during raids when a late warning was received or the situation was otherwise particularly disadvantageous fighters were sometimes scrambled and sent to a rear area base rather than attempt an interception. Thus American attacks on Wewak airfields, which came almost on a daily basis, were not always intercepted. Base airfields for the Japanese fighter units were gradually shifted westward from Wewak, primarily to Hollandia, though Wewak and other forward airfields continued to be frequently employed.

    In mid-February an important convoy was headed to Wewak. The fighter units were ordered to fly the unusual duty of anti-submarine patrol for the convoy before reverting to their normal air escort duties as the convoy came closer to Wewak.


    [ Wewak-East/Boram under attack”]

    On February 15 th nineteen Japanese fighters scrambled to meet thirty-two P-40s and P-47s of the 8 th and 40 th Fighter Squadrons over Wewak. Corporal Yukiharu Ando of the 248 th flew on this mission. He had first seen combat during the early actions in November 1943 and had been particularly active during recent operations. Three Japanese pilots were lost this date but Ando's death was the most spectacular (Japanese records indicate he was “lost at sea” the only such reference to a pilot lost in this action).

    The P-40s sighted twelve of the Japanese fighters and attacked first. 1 st Lt. Robert Aschenbrenner fired on Ando who dove down to wave top level to avoid his attack. Lieutenants Glasscock, Polhamus, and Reynolds then successively attacked Ando. Ando's Hayabusa hit the sea and sent up a spray of foam. He was claimed destroyed by 1 st Lt. James Reynolds. However, Ando's airplane actually bounced off the surface of the sea! Ando's surprise at having survived his crash was interrupted by further attacks. Major Robert McHale, the P-40 Squadron leader, fired on Ando but missed. Finally, 1 st Lt. Harold Sawyer got in a fatal burst that sent Ando into the sea for the second and last time.

    After this raid the Japanese fighter units withdrew all their flyable aircraft to rear bases to carry out maintenance and recover their operational strength. The 248 th went to Aitape (called Tadji by the Allies) and the other units went to Hollandia or Wakde.



    The 59 th FR left New Guinea during February and the 248 th FR became the senior Type 1 fighter unit in the area. The 63 rd FR had arrived during January 1944. At the end of February two additional Type 1 fighter units, the 33 rd and 77 th FRs, arrived as reinforcements.


    [“Four-view of a Type 1 fighter of the 59 th ”]


    The 248 th was not in action again until February 29 th when it put up two of the thirty-three 6 th FD fighters providing cover for a convoy to Hollandia during the day. The only aerial encounter resulted from two Lightnings flying a photographic mission to Aitape. Seven Japanese fighters intercepted and claimed one P-38. F-5 no. 41-30252 failed to return.

    March started out with a busy day for the 248 th . The Regiment had a detachment at Wewak and put up three Type 1 fighters for a dawn patrol from 0600 to 0800 on the first. Twice during the day the 248 th scrambled its fighters (two on one occasion, three on another) along with those of other units but failed to encounter enemy planes. On the following day the 248 th sent three of the twenty-one Japanese fighters that flew a sweep over the Admiralty Islands . Here they encountered U.S. aircraft and engaged in combat primarily with P-47Ds of the 341 st FS. The American pilots claimed several ZEKES and HAMPS but no Type 1 fighters were lost. The Japanese claimed a bomber and two P-47s but none went down. On the fourth two fighters of the 248 th were part of a Japanese formation en route to attack a U.S. airfield in the Ramu Valley when a large formation of P-47s was encountered and an inconclusive combat followed.

    During one of the many American hit and run raids, on March 5 th , Sgt. Major Shironushi Kumagaya scored the 33 rd FR's first victory in New Guinea when he shot down the Thunderbolt flown by the American ace Col. Neel Kearby partially avenging the destruction of three Type 99 light bombers by the Thunderbolts. On this date the 248 th had fourteen fighters of which seven were serviceable. It had sixteen healthy pilots to fly these including nine officers and seven NCOs. Two days later all its aircraft were temporarily out of action.

    On the 19 th one of the marauding Thunderbolt sweeps caught a Hayabusa of the 248 th over Wewak. 1 st Lt.

    Robert Sutcliffe of the 342 nd FS shot it down. Details of this combat from the Japanese side are sparse but it does tend to confirm the belief held by some Japanese pilots that if they could avoid being taken by surprise they would not be shot down. The Thunderbolt squadron arrived over Wewak at 20,000 feet and Sutcliffe sighted about 16 Japanese fighters and a bomber at about 7,000 feet. Unable to contact his squadron leader by radio he led his flight of four P-47s down on an isolated Japanese flight of four OSCARS at about 3,000 feet. He flamed an OSCAR on his first pass closing to 20 yards range. Apparently this “first Oscar did not see [Sutcliffe] coming.” With a speed of over 400 m.p.h. Sutcliffe and his wingman zoomed up for a second pass covered by the second element of two P-47s. On this pass “the three ships executed a well-planned maneuver… The leader pulled into a tight loop, and the wingmen began chandelles to the right and left, respectively. I saw what was coming and did not attempt to follow. Had I followed any one of the three, both of the other two would have been in excellent position to catch me in a cross-fire. This maneuver is a very tempting trap.” Neither the Japanese nor the Americans suffered any other losses on this day and Sutcliffe returned to base with his fourth confirmed victory. I have been unable to confirm the name of the Japanese pilot lost in this attack.

    The Japanese repeatedly suffered heavy losses on the ground. With limited fighter strength available fighters were consolidated under the 14 th Flying Brigade. The 14 th FB paired Flying Regiments to fly as joint units. Effective March 9 th the 63 rd Sentai and 248 th teamed together to fly as a single force (2 nd Attack Force) in order to field a c hutai- strength formation. The 63 rd and 248 th had been based together on Hollandia No. 3 Airfield (called Cyclops by the Allies) since late February. Major Magoji Hara of the 63 rd was appointed commander and usually flew as leader of the joint formation. With seldom more than a shotai available to fly in combat Major Kuroda only rarely led the 248 th.


    [ “Hollandia area”]

    On March 26 th the 63 rd had just eight operational Ki 43s and the 248 th had only four. On that date the entire strength of the 4 th Air Army in New Guinea was 127 operational aircraft of which 54 were fighters. During the same week American aerial photographs showed 274 aircraft on Hollandia's airfields of which 132 were fighters. This suggests a serviceability rate of only about 40 per cent for the Japanese fighter units.

    On March 27 th the 4 th Air Army's chief of ordnance gave a speech to an assembly of ordnance officers at Hollandia. This speech pointed out the dismal record of the 4 th Air Army in the loss of ordnance and supplies from air attacks, particularly the loss of aircraft (with typical Japanese tact and politeness these losses were referred to as “regrettable”). In seven months from August 1943 through February 1944 the 4 th Air Army had lost 710 aircraft but only 225 (30%) had been lost on combat operations. Four hundred eighty-five had been lost on the ground or in accidents, most (373) through air attacks. Severe air attacks on Hollandia were predicted. Dispersion and camouflage were essential if continued disastrous losses were to be avoided.

    [“Hollandia before the attack”]

    By the end of March the 4 th Air Army had all but abandoned Wewak. Most of its strength was concentrated at Hollandia. Despite orders from 4 th Air Army Headquarters, aircraft were poorly dispersed. Lack of tractors and camouflaged revetments made it difficult for the Japanese to protect their aircraft and also have them available for operations. Hollandia also lacked an operational radar system. On March 30 th , 1944 , the Americans struck their first heavy blow at Hollandia with seventy B-24s and fifty-five P-38s. Another attack followed on the 31 st . Taken by surprise the Japanese fighters offered little resistance on the 30 th and not much more on the 31 st . On that day eight fighters from the 248 th scrambled with thirty-nine others but only one P-38 was shot down. Over one hundred Japanese aircraft were destroyed on the ground during these two days. On April 3 rd Hollandia suffered another damaging attack. Sixty-five B-24s were joined by seventy-two B-25s and ninety-seven A-20s in this attack. Two escorting P-38s were shot down. The 248 th put up eight of the 47 interceptors. Several Japanese fighters went down in each of these attacks but the 248 th avoided losses.

    The fighters of the 6 th FD were in the process of being overwhelmed but they were sent to seek out combat. On April 7 th nine Type 1 fighters left Hollandia to seek combat over Tanahmerah airfield. They found no targets in the air or on the ground. All nine returned safely by 1530.


    [ “Hollandia topography. A U.S. C-47 taxies behind remains of a 63 rd Sentai Type 1 fighter”]

    Despite heavy air combat, repeated bombings and tropical diseases the pilots of the 248 th and other Japanese fighter units continued to fly and fight. On April 11 th , the Japanese fighters staged a “last hurrah”. Sixteen Type 1 and eight Type 3 fighters sortied to the Wewak area from Hollandia. There they encountered nearly a hundred attacking American aircraft – A-20s, B-25s, B-24s, P-38s and P-47s. It was the last great victory of the JAAF in New Guinea . They claimed twelve P-47s definitely destroyed and an additional five P-47s and a B-25 uncertain. The reality was rather less impressive but still six Type 3 fighters of the 68 th FR and four Hayabusas of the 77 th Sentai took on sixteen P-47s of the 311 th FS (the Americans reported seven OSCARS) and shot down three without loss. Several other American aircraft were damaged. A squadron of P-38s jumped a single Type 3 fighter. Five of the P-38s engaged in a lengthy low altitude dogfight before finally downing the lone fighter (Cpl. Nakagawa of 78 th FR). It was the only Japanese pilot loss. Three Type 3 fighters of the 68 th were seriously damaged during the day's combat. The pilot of one eventually abandoned his aircraft and parachuted to safety. The three 248 th pilots involved returned unable to report any success and with one aircraft damaged by bullet hits.

    On the following day American fighters claimed their last victories over Hollandia. The 80 th Fighter Squadron and ranking ace Capt. Richard Bong flew a sweep over Hollandia and claimed nine victories including seven OSCARS of which three were credited to Bong who as a result became the recognized all-time leading American ace. The 77 th Hiko Sentai lost two Type 1 fighters including its Regimental commander and the 68 th Hiko Sentai lost one Type 3 fighter. The 248 th had only one fighter up and it did not engage in combat.

    The 248 th operated in the Allied Southwest Pacific Area for six months during a period when Bong , America 's top ace, was in action and during most of that time Thomas McGuire, who was to become America 's second leading fighter ace, was also active. In analyzing the record of these two flyers and the activities of the 248 th , it appears that with one possible exception (on December 16 th ) no pilot of the 248 th fell to these brilliant aces despite the fact that they often operated in the same area on the same day.

    As of the 15 th of April the 248 th had four fighters serviceable and two others under going maintenance. The 248 th 's last air combat loss came three days later when two Hayabusas scrambled upon the report of approaching enemy aircraft. Capt. Kenji Ikakura, 2 nd c hutai commander, was reported as having fallen in combat though the Allied unit has not been identified nor do Allied intelligence summaries record any action seemingly associated with this loss. It is possible that Ikakura fell victim to New Guinea's unpredictable weather which just a few days before had claimed many American aircraft.

    The end was fast approaching in the form of a massive Allied invasion fleet on its way to Hollandia. On April 20 th the 6 th Flying Division at Hollandia numbered just 32 operational aircraft. Twenty-three were fighters including six Hayabusas of the 248 th . Also in New Guinea , mainly at Hollandia, were 150 fighter pilots of whom about fifty were sick or wounded.

    In nearly six months of combat under brutal conditions the 248 th Sentai lost twenty-four pilots killed and, according to one source, claimed 97 enemy planes “shot down and damaged” (this figure probably includes all air victories, certain and uncertain, as well as claims for aircraft destroyed or damaged on the ground). The 248 th had no aces to rival Bong or McGuire nor do any 248 th pilots show up on published lists of Japanese aces. Within the unit Warrant Officer Hajime Nishihara was considered the top ace and credited with ten victories. His rival and fellow ace was Warrant Officer Shotaro Ogawa, one of the few pilots to survive a full tour with the 248 th in New Guinea .

    With the invasion fleet offshore some JAAF personnel were mobilized as ground troops. When the invasion came on the 22 nd the 4 th Air Army Headquarters on Halmahera Island ordered some 400 aviation personnel of the 6 th FD including about 100 fighter pilots to evacuate Hollandia and travel overland to Sarmi from where it was hoped they could be rescued. In this party were Major Kuroda and the surviving pilots and some ground staff of the 248 th . At midnight on April 23 rd these men trudged off into the New Guinea jungle.


    [(“Ki 43 0f the 248 th partially stripped of camouflage – Hollandia (Australian War Memorial)”]


    The 6 th FD contingent walking through New Guinea 's mountainous jungles reached Japoi on April 30 th . This was barely 25 kilometers west of Lake Sentani (a principal feature in the Hollandia district). The contingent then had provisions for about ten days. Their trek to Sarmi would take three more weeks. Many of these men had left Hollandia in less than the best of health and many died during this part of their journey. The 6 th FD divisional orders for May 6 th , rather than directing air operations, pointed out difficult river crossings, specified the order of march, rear guard, and made reference to the scarcity of rations and the need for the march echelons to gather sago as rations.


    [“Spoils of war. A refurbished Ki 43 at Hollandia”]

    The 4 th Air Army Headquarters was shocked to discover that Sarmi had been neutralized as an airfield – no transport planes could land there. Motorized landing craft could not operate from Sarmi due to the activities of American aircraft and PT boats. In desperation the 4 th Air Army requested that a submarine be provided to transport its valuable flight crews from Sarmi. None could be provided. A handful of fighter pilots isolated at Wewak were rescued from there by transport plane early in May before the airfields were finally put out of action. None of those lucky pilots was from the 248 th .

    Before these men marching from Hollandia could reach Sarmi the Americans landed on the New Guinea coast near Wakde Island and threatened to occupy Sarmi. The Japanese survivors arrived in the vicinity of Sarmi on May 25 th . Far from being the termination of their hardships they now found they had to continue their journey on foot along the coast of New Guinea . The contingent was dwindling fast. Disease, lack of food, and the hard traveling took its toll. By the end of August twelve of the 248 th 's group of less then twenty pilots had died.

    Weeks of travel brought them to the eastern end of Geelvink Bay . Here, after much delay, Kuroda and a group of fighter pilots were able to find a motorized landing craft (MLC) and start a journey along the coast of Geelvink Bay. In company with a second MLC they set off in late August. Due to allied air and PT boat patrols they frequently had to take cover by day and by night as well. Progress was painfully slow. Breakdowns and uncharted waters added to the delays.

    Outside of Kuroda's party little was left of the 248 th . As of April 25 th three Ki 43s of the 248 th were at Menado in the Celebes . Only one was serviceable. Remnants of the 6 th FD not destroyed at Hollandia assembled at various bases in the Dutch East Indies . As of the end of May a report on ground crewmen of the 248 th gave their “present number” as “none”. In June it was decided to transfer personnel from the 248 th to the 13 th FR. We know that pilots Capt. Yutaka Katsuki and 1 st Lt. Hachiro Murakami were transferred. They may have been the only ones.

    By September 23 rd the surviving pilots in New Guinea had reached a point only 10 km from the Japanese base at Windensi. They started the final leg of their journey only to run aground. US Navy PT boats found the two MLCs and subjected them to heavy fire. Only a few Japanese managed to swim ashore, among them were Kuroda and a few men from the 248 th and 63 rd Sentai. The few remaining survivors of the JAAF contingent reached the Japanese outpost at Yidore on September 30 th . But they were still far from deliverance from the hell of New Guinea . A few pilots died near the end of their journey. In six months after the Hollandia invasion some ninety fighter pilots died.

    The trek went on. Eventually they reached the major Japanese base at Babo. Later still they arrived at Kokas. From here they boarded the fishing boat that took them to Tual. From Tual their survival was notified to Japan by radio. Eventually a transport plane was sent to retrieve Kuroda and a few other surviving pilots (two others, including Ogawa, from the 248 th ) back to Japan . Kuroda convalesced from malaria until July 1945. In the last month of the war he returned to active service and was appointed commander of the 18 th Hiko Sentai.

    The 248 th 's last commanding officer survived the war and died in peaceful times – in 1987.

    Copyright: Richard L. Dunn, 2002, 2004

    Acknowledgements: Thanks to the many folks who visit the j-aircraft site and provide helpful comments. In this case particular thanks go to Osamu Tagaya and Lex McAuley. Thanks to Grub Street London for permission to use imagery from “Japanese Army Air Force Fighter Units and Their Aces” by I. Hata, Y. Izawa and C. Shores. Thanks to David Llewellyn James for permission to use the rendition posted at “angelfire.com/fm/compass/Oscar.htm.” My appreciation goes to the Australian War Memorial for images on their on-line database. Finally, I wish to express my thanks for the tremendous effort that Allied intelligence agencies devoted to capturing and translating Japanese operational records during World War II. Without a substantial volume of translated original source material an article like this could never have been written.


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  4. The first phase China air war ran from the mid 1930's through Dec 7th, 1941.


    Of note, there was a Volunteer Group, the Flying Tigers had yet to formed led by Clair Chennault,


    Notable pilots also included Tommy Walker (a famous barnstormer) of the 5th Pursuit Squadron that kept 6-10 Curtis Hawk III bi-plane fighters on alert to protect Chinese cities.


    Here are the planes I've identified in use 1935-1941:

    Curtis Hawk II

    Curtis Hawk III

    Northrup 2E Light Bomber

    Italian BR20 (some had been sold to Japan)

    Mitsubishi Type 96 Nell Bomber (Kanoya Air Corps)

    Russian I-15C Rata

    Type 89 carrier based attack bomber

    Mitsubishi Type 96 Claude



    Early P-36 Hawk 75M exports with fixed landing gear (this includes 1 prototype provided to the Chinese with 2 underwing 20mm cannon, famously flown by Georg Weigel at night to knock down 2 - 4 Nell bombers by search light as they bombed Chungking).

    Gloster Gladiator

    Vultee V11GB export attack bomber (and V12C and V12D)  The V11GB proved a great success against the Japanese until all were lost.

    Martin 139 bomber (export version of the B-10)

    Bellanca 28-90B Flash

    Spartan Executive - designed to carry up to 300 pounds of bombs

    Boeing XP-925A (export version of P12 biplane)

    Boeing 218 (export version of the P26)

    Grumman SF-2

    Curtis Wright CW-21 Demon fighter (to tackle the Zero)

    Douglas C-3 Air Lifter

    Hawk 75 - considered superior to the Claude! At high speeds could also out maneuver the Spitfire Mark 1 as tested by British pilots, and remained easy to roll at speeds of 400 mph.

    A6M - first versions

    SB-3 Bomber

    I-16 fighter


    I-153 first used at the battle of Khalkhin Gol on the Mongolian Manchurian border.


    Am sure I missed a few.  More to the point, what an excellent mix of both bi-planes and mono wing aircraft.


    I hope this is a great idea for a future product release by 1C.











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  5. You would need the Claude included and the KI-27.  Both were there initially in small numbers.


    The KI-43B was redominant until the arrival of the KI-43II.  Initially there were KI-43As upgraded to one 12.7mm in the field.


    The KI-21, and KI-48 were predominant, as well as the occasional KI-67 bomber raids.


    More importantly the IJAF used a 12.7 explosive cartridge - never modeled in IL2 1946.


    It might be worth noting briefly that the Akutan Zero tested at San Diego was not the only captured Zero tested by the U.S. A Zero 21 captured and rebuilt in China was also briefly tested (Holloway). The maximum speed obtained in those tests was only 289 m.p.h. at 15,000 feet. However, this performance is remarkable as the aircraft was operated at 2050 r.p.m. (it was found capable of only 2075 r.p.m.) vice the Zero's rated 2500 r.p.m. and maximum take-off rating of 2550 r.p.m. (even so the Zero out climbed a P-40K!). Needless to say test figures obtained at such low revolutions bear no relationship to the aircraft's true performance.

    The San Diego tests on the Akutan Zero were conducted from September 26 to October 15, 1942. Intelligence Summary No. 85 gives no indication of tests conditions and provides only one set of data on the Zero's speed. No doubt the information was disseminated because it was deemed both the best available and reasonably reliable. Intelligence Brief #3, the original source, was apparently not widely disseminated because it contained technical information of little interest to combat crews and also because it showed multiple tests had revealed differing results including figures superior to the results the authorities apparently decided were most acceptable.


    The most important thing to note about the results published in Intelligence Summary No. 85, at least for this study, is that they likely understated the Zero's performance. Intelligence Brief #3 (from which the Summary No. 85 data was taken) states: "It is probable that the airplane in original condition was somewhat faster than is indicated here, due to lack of flush fit at wheel well fairings and cabin enclosure in the overhauled plane, and the addition of non-specular paint." These defects may relate to the 98 percent condition of the airplane mentioned by Admiral Saunders in Reardon's book. However, the test report also reveals a more profound defect in the tests. The Zero was tested at a maximum boost of 35 inches of mercury. The aircraft was operated at 38 inches of mercury for only brief periods because the engine ran rough and there was fear of losing the test aircraft. Thus the aircraft was not tested at its overboost rating (N.B. "overboost" is something of a misnomer, the 38 in. Hg boost was obtained by operating a boost shift lever that allowed and regulated this level of boost). Possibly also significant was the fact that the automatic mixture control was inoperative and the carburetor had to be adjusted manually during the tests. (Additional note: the U.S. notations 35 and 38 in. Hg actually reflect Japanese ratings of +150mm/35.4 in. Hg and +250mm/37.8 in. Hg).

    Prior to the release of Intelligence Brief #3 the Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics sent a memorandum dated Oct. 19, 1942 to the War Department giving preliminary Zero performance data. This report gave maximum speeds for the Zero 7-10 m.p.h. faster than the data that was later widely disseminated. Maximum speed at 16,000 was given as 335 m.p.h. Intelligence Brief #3 stated that the earlier data was revised due to tests with improved instruments, reduction to standard conditions and corrections for compressibility.

    It is interesting to note that despite the wide dissemination given to Intelligence Summary No. 85, later Technical Air Intelligence Center summaries often attributed to the Zero 21 [ZEKE Mk. 1] a slightly higher maximum speed (328 m.p.h.) and indicated this figure came from flight tests. Whether this figure was derived from later flights tests or was based on additional adjustments to the San Diego test figures is unclear. The Akutan Zero was subsequently flown in an aircraft identification training film (starring Ronald Reagan) and did under go National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics testing (a preliminary study of stability and flying qualities took place with NACA instruments installed). Whether additional tests that might modify earlier performance findings took place has not been determined by this author.

    In addition to quantitative data the San Diego tests also involved comparative trials with American fighters. These comparisons allow us some ability to gauge the results obtained in San Diego against reports of actual performance in combat. The two most telling data points for this purpose are the Brief's statement that the Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat was faster than the Zero at low level and the report that the Bell P-39D Airacobra could catch and pull away from the Zero at 20,000 feet and had a decided superiority in speed at lower altitudes ("At 10,000 feet, from a cruising speed of 220 mph indicated, the P-39 still accelerated rapidly away from the Zero").

    It was demonstrated above that the 316 m.p.h. figure clearly is not an accurate representation of the Zero's maximum speed as that term is commonly used in western literature. This section has demonstrated that brief U.S. flight tests in China resulted in a set of completely bogus data and that much more extensive tests of the Akutan Zero in San Diego have deficiencies that render them less than fully accurate and understate the Zero's performance.

    The conclusions in the paragraph above do not aid in deciding which of the higher figures (332-345 m.p.h.) is more likely correct. Both to attempt that and to verify whether the San Diego tests understated the Zero's performance, we undertake an examination of combat data.



    This part of the study will review comparative performance data gathered in the field during combat in 1942. The author is fully aware that data derived from operational reports cannot be controlled in the same way that careful engineering tests can be. On the other hand engineering tests conducted without key information regarding the item under test may be grossly misleading (the China Zero for example). Despite the possible existence of individual anomalies, operational data may be considered highly pertinent when a large body of relatively consistent data can be assembled.

    The Bell P-39 and Grumman F4F-4 are key points of comparison and merit brief comment. The maximum speed of the P-39D is generally cited as 360 m.p.h. at 15,000 feet (Dial, p. 272). That for the F4F-4 is given as 318 m.p.h. at 19,400 feet (Taylor, p. 501) or as more pertinent here 274 m.p.h. at sea level (Baugher). The F4F-4 engaged the Zero in both carrier battles and in numerous combats over Guadalcanal operating from land bases. The P-39D (and its P-400 export version) operated against the Zero both over Guadalcanal and over New Guinea. It should be kept in mind that during the period under review Zeros flying from land bases over Guadalcanal almost always entered combat with their external fuel tanks attached. Zeros in combat over New Guinea generally flew without such tanks or dropped them before combat. Without the tank the Zero would have been somewhat faster than flying with the tank attached.

    A report summarizing the combat performance of the P-400 and F4F-4 against the Zero over Guadalcanal in late September 1942 stated: "At all altitudes under 10,000 feet the P-400's can pull away from the Zero (P-400 speed about 360 m.p.h. F4F-4 about 40 m.p.h. slower). Zeros are faster than the F4F-4's at all altitudes and more maneuverable_" (Performance).

    In a report based on questioning forty fighter pilots of VMF-121, 212 and 251 and VF-71 concerning combats in October 1942 the discussion of comparative performance was brief: "A Zero is faster, more maneuverable, and has a higher rate of climb than our F4F-4s" (Observations).

    In an after action interview given in November 1942 Major John Smith, commander of VMF-223 at Guadalcanal, said little about the Zero's performance until asked a direct question and then replied: "They had much more performance than we had. I think they did because we just couldn't stay with them at all, and dog fight at any altitude."

    The F4F-4s of VF-5 commanded by Lt. Commander LeRoy Simpler flew against Zeros from a carrier in August 1942 and were land based on Guadalcanal during September and October 1942. Upon returning to the U.S. Simpler was apprised of the test report that said an F4F-4 was equal in speed to a Zero at low level. His comment was that the report was "flat wrong."

    The reports above are all measured pronouncements by command authorities after careful study or related by experienced combat leaders. In none of the comments in the reports cited above is there any hint that the F4F-4 could equal the Zero in speed even at low level. In fact the contrary is expressly noted. This is despite the fact that the Zeros were handicapped by an external fuel tank. The P-400's speed advantage below 10,000 feet was also enhanced for the same reason.


    Airacobras clashed with the Zero on April 30, 1942 in a low level action near Lae, New Guinea. From May to August 1942 combats between Airacobras and Zeros took place on a regular basis over New Guinea. After the first few combats Lt. Col. Boyd D. Wagner wrote a report on the early actions. After commenting that the Zero outperformed the P-39 markedly in maneuverability and climb, Wagner commented on the relative speeds of the aircraft at low altitudes. According to Wagner: "_the Zero was able to keep up with the P-39 to an indicated 290 mph. At 325 indicated just above the water, the P-39 pulled slowly out of range." Wagner also commented that the P-39's performance above 18,000 feet was very poor.

    In later actions combat reports sometimes offer helpful insights into the relative performance of the two aircraft. Lt. Paul G. Brown chased a Zero at 12,000 feet. "He nearly stayed away from me at 350 mph" (Brown). In a low level action: "I indicated 320 mph straight and level at 1,000 feet. Zero kept me in range" (Royal). In another action on the same day Zeros encountered P-39s and P-400s at 21,000 feet. "Zeros stayed with the Airacobras. I dived 12,000 feet indicating 450 miles per hour and Zero stayed with me and followed me to ground level firing. Lt. Martin pulled him off me" (Price). "4 Zeros were over Kokoda and attacked us on the way home. We were barely able to out speed them at 10,000 feet. We were indicating about 350 mph in a very slight dive. Their probable speed 340 mph" (Egenes).

    From the Japanese side also comes confirmation that the Zero could hold its own with a P-39 in low-level speed. Sakai relates that on July 22, 1942 he chased a P-39 low over the sea and the P-39 was unable to pull away from him (Sakai, p. 137). The Airacobra was eventually forced to turn in order to take up a course to its base. In the ensuing dogfight Sakai shot the aircraft down. It was probably a P-400 of the 35th Fighter Group.

    This compilation of reports indicates the Zero was either equal to or close to the P-39 in speed at the altitudes of the various encounters. The P-39 was in turn up to 40 m.p.h. faster than the F4F-4 according to reports from the South Pacific Theater. There the Zero was found to be consistently faster than the F4F-4. There is a disconnect between the San Diego test results and multiple reports from the combat zone.

    Lest there be any doubt, crash intelligence reports show that the Zero 21s in use in the Southwest Pacific were close contemporaries of the Akutan Zero (No. 4593, completed 19 Feb. 1942). Many crash reports identify production dates for Zero 21s lost in the SWPA as February 1942 or earlier.With the exception of a single appearance by A6M3s (30 August 1942) all the Zeros in combat over Guadalcanal during the period under review were also Zero 21s.


    The field data reviewed by this study indicate that Zeros operated by the Japanese performed relatively better against the Wildcat and Airacobra than did the Zero tested at San Diego. If the comparative performance of the San Diego Zero understated the performance of a typical Japanese operated Zero, this strongly indicates the quantitative performance was also understated. This tends to verify the conclusions reached in the section reviewing U.S. test results. The reasons for this seem obvious. The San Diego Zero was in less than perfect aerodynamic condition and was not operated at its optimum engine capacity or with automatic mixture control engaged. The figures cited in Summary No. 85 and repeated by Mikesh and Reardon are inaccurate and too low to represent the true performance of the Zero in Japanese operations.

    The author has been unable to establish the basis for the performance figures higher than the San Diego test results (332-336 m.p.h.) but lower than Sakai's (sources 5-7 in the section Conflicting Data). They are close to the first test results obtained at San Diego (335 m.p.h.) but those results were not deemed reliable. Absent the basis for these figures nor knowing the conditions that yielded them they are difficult to assess.

    Sakai distinguished between normal full power speed (316 m.p.h.) and over boost (345 m.p.h.). His normal full speed is exactly the same as the Zero's maximum speed given in the captured Japanese manual. The San Diego test report, while revealing that the San Diego Zero was not tested at over boost, does confirm Sakai's assertion that such a rating was available. Sakai has credibility that is primarily based on his personal familiarity with the Zero 21 aircraft. These additional factors only bolster his credibility.

    The evidence assembled in this report strongly indicates that Sakai's version of the Zero's maximum speed (345 m.p.h.) is highly credible and probably the correct one. Additional support for this conclusion is found in an intelligence document issued in 1944: "Performance data given for the ZEKE Mk. 1 [Allied code name for the Zero 21] was obtained in actual flight tests. Although emergency speed obtained in tests was 328 m.p.h., calculations indicate a maximum speed of about 345 m.p.h. as possible for a short period of time" (Intelligence Summary No. 44-11).


    A Vision So Noble


    Wartime reports:

    "Performance and Characteristics Trials, Japanese Fighter" Technical Aviation Brief #3, Aviation Intelligence Branch, Navy Department (4 Nov. 42) (extract)

    "Flight Characteristics of the Japanese Zero Fighter Zeke" Informational Intelligence Summary No. 85, Intelligence Service, U.S.A.A.F., Dec. 42 (rev. Mar. 43)

    Memorandum of Oct. 19, 1942, Bureau of Aeronautics, Navy Department to War Department, "Preliminary Zero Data, 10 Oct. 42 (revised)"

    Captured Document (Zero Flight Manual), Joint Intelligence Center-Pacific Ocean Area Item No. 5981, Kwajalein, received 19 Feb. 1944

    "Zero Test - Mitsubishi Type O Evaluation, Feb. 1943" HQ, 23rd Fighter Group, 6 Feb. 1943 ("Holloway")

    "Observations of Marine Fighter Pilots at Guadalcanal October 16 to October 31, 1942" (Bauer), United States Pacific Fleet, South Pacific Force, Naval Air Combat Intelligence (extract) ("Observations")

    "Performance of P-400 and F4F-4 in Guadalcanal Area" (Commander, Aircraft, South Pacific Force, 28 Sep 42) ("Performance")

    Interview, Major John Smith (Navy BuAero Nov 42)

    Interview, Lt. Cdr. LeRoy Simpler (Navy BuAero Feb 43)

    "Report on first action against Japanese by P-39 type airplane" (B.D. Wagner May 42)

    Combat Reports (RAAF Form A.108A) for Lt. P.G. Brown, 36 FS (27 May 42); Lt. F. Royal, 39 FS (4 Jul 42); Lt. J.C. Price, 39 FS (4 Jul 42); and, Capt. E. L. Egenes, 40 FS (6 Jul 42) (cited by pilot's last name)

    Informational Intelligence Summary No. 44-11, Mar 1944, Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Intelligence)

    Books and other sources (generally cited by author's name):

    Baugher "Grumman F4F Wildcat" online

    Caiden, Zero Fighter, Ballentine (NY 1969), Ibooks 2014

    Dial, "The Bell P-39 Airacobra" Aircraft In Profile vol. 7, Doubleday (NY 1970)

    Francillion, "The Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero-Sen" Aircraft in Profile vol. 6, Doubleday (NY 1969)

    General View of Japanese Military Aircraft in the Pacific War, compiled by the staff of "Airview" Kanto-sha (Tokyo 1956)

    Green, Warplanes of the Second World War, Fighters vol. 3, Doubleday (NY 1961)

    Mikesh, Zero, Motorbooks International (Osceola, WI 1994)

    Reardon, Cracking the Zero Mystery, Stackpole (Harrisburg PA 1990)

    Sakai et al, Samurai, Ballentine (NY 1958), Naval Institute Press (2010)

    Taylor, Combat Aircraft of the World, Putnam (NY 1969)

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  7. A few items needing correction from the original IL2 1946 series.


    The KI-43 in general has suffered immensely from tropes regarding the Zero, that is was IJAF Zero in all respects.


    The KI-43A had a crude self sealing gas tank.  Not as good as Allied planes.


    The first production batch of KI-43A's were prone to wing failure in violent maneuver's until wing strengthening took place in the field, and on the line.


    The 12.7mm was classified by the IJAF as a 'machine cannon' due to the explosive cartridge that was fired from it.  Many Allied pilots mistook the 12.7 explosive round for 

    IJN explosive round 20mm.  It was this round in the 12.7 that resulted in so many kills in the Burma theater.


    The Japanese copied/modified an Italian 12.7 explosive round for use by the IJAF.


    The KI-43II had an 8mm armor plate after X number had been built, on top of improved protected fuel tanks.


    The cowling was incorrect for the KI-43III.


    The IJAF pilots felt they had a chance in Burma with the KI-43II.   The flight model in IL2 1946 did not correlate.


    Historically, I would be happy with just the correct modeling of the Japanese 12.7 machine cannon.


    The KI-48 was an amazing light bomber, that could loop with an experience pilot.  It would be something to have available for flight and career use.  It is old school too with the rear open defensive mg that would be fun to use.


    There is a Ki-48 on display at the Museum of the Great Patriotic War, Moscow. The China Aviation Museum in Datangshan has a Kawasaki Ki-48 in Chinese Liberation Army Air Force colours. Some of the parts of the airplane are reproduced.  The Indonesian Air Force Museum is also known to have a Ki-48 in its collection.


    The IJN Zero:


    Prior to Sakai's death Microsoft hired him to model correctly the A6M2 in Combat Flight Simulator 2 (late 90s).  Flying the Zero in CFS2 vs. IL2 1946 the gap was significant.  In IL2 1942 you had to drop flaps to get the great turn ability.  I defer to experts here.


    Sakai often said the top speed for the A6M2 was closer to 340-350 MPH.




    The USAAF clearly stated this plane out classed the P40 in the Burma theater.  Going back to IL-1942 the P-40 was completely superior in all respects.


    Going back to the 12.7 mm mg used by the Japanese, please include the explosive round it carried.



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