Japanese Air Power

In view of the significance of accurate appraisal of Japanese air aviation activity in the Pacific. this power is particularly timely

By Lucien Zacharoff,
Associate Editor, Aircraft Publications

A new crisis is approaching in world affairs. This time Japan is strutting to the fore in the international arena. How long will she hold the stage? That will be determined in a large measure by the strength and quality of her air force and manpower, her strategy of air combat, her industrial background and potential. These all-important factors are surveyed herewith, with a view to ascertaining how and if Tokyo's air power can influence the balance of power in a possible Battle of the Pacific.

Japanese military aviation is administered by the Military Flying Section of the War Department. The Section concerns itself with instruction, training and other matters pertaining to the air force. Also at Tokyo are the headquarters of the Military Air Forces and the Military Aerial Supply Depot which has branches in Korea, Formosa and other outposts of the empire. The Military Flying School teaches flying and engineering, reconnaissance, fighting, bombing and pilotage.

It sounds incredible that Japan's seven army and navy air-training schools are graduating a total of much fewer than 1,000 pilots a year! The quality of their education may be appraised by the fact, admitted by Tokyo censors, that even in peacetime, the Japanese military and commercial fliers have the highest accident rate in the world.

The research establishment, which is servicing both civil and military aviation, is the Tokyo Toikoku Daigaku Doku Kenkyujo, which may be approximately translated as the Institute of Aeronautical Research. Attached to the Imperial University of Tokyo, it is situated at Komaba, near the capital. Presided over by Dr K Wada, it delves into the problems of aerodynamics, aeronautical psychology, aircraft, aero engines, chemistry, instruments, materials, metallurgy and general affairs. It is equipped with a wind tunnel, library, drawing and workshops.

In recent years there has been no substantial change in the composition of Japan's air regiments, which are variously reported to number from 14 to 18 and which are garrisoned through the several prefectures. The Balloon Regiment is situated in the Chiba Prefecture, while Independent Air Squadrons are regularly stationed in Manchuria.

Leading military airdromes are found at Ainei, Akenohara, Hamamatsu, Heijo, Heitogai, Kagamigahara, Kagi, Kumagaya, Osaka, Tachiarai, Tachikawa, Tokorazawa, Shimoshizu, Uyeda and Yokkaichi.

Tokyo is the home of the Headquarters of the Naval Air Service, with Naval Air Stations distributed throughout the islands and outlying possessions. The Aircraft Battle Force is divided into three fleets, each under an Air Commander who ordinarily has the rank of Rear Admiral.

The Imperial Navy incorporates Aircraft Carriers Hosho, Akagi, Kaga, Rujyo, Soryu, Hiryu, which furnish bases to a total of less than 250 airplanes. The Navy Seaplane Transporters are the Kamoi, Notoro and Chitose; these have catapults for launching. Perhaps 14 battleships have been fitted to carry from two to four aircraft each. One or more seaplanes may be found aboard each of the 43 cruisers, scouting being their function.

It may be seen from the foregoing description of the structure and administration of the aerial combat forces that there is no independent air force in Japan and that aviation is divided between the army and the navy.

These two air arms between them can muster a maximum first-line strength of less than 5,000 machines, according to informed students, though other, equally dependable commentators believe that, all told, Japan has no more than 3,000 workable military aircraft of all types, from trainers to front-line fighters. Even figures of the experts who advise that we do not underestimate Japanese air strength, do not sound too alarming. Among these the best-posted is probably Charles Healy Day, veteran airplane designer, one-time round-the-world flier and for the past six years technical counselor to the Chinese Government on aircraft production; now back in the United States, he informs us that the Japanese have 900 first-line planes in China and 4,500 such warplanes altogether.

The pilots available to man those planes probably number 5,000. Before analyzing the reasons for this paucity of flying equipment and personnel, a look at the prevailing military aircraft types is in order. Greater secrecy enshrouds these in Japan than in any other country; truly Oriental perseverance is required of an American or European reporter in gathering such data; after his exertions are over, the details are still incomplete, though it is known that, by and large, Japanese combat planes are under-gunned.

American aviation circles don't have to take a second look at the leading Japanese military aircraft types to decide that most of them are obsolete or obsolescent. That Japan more or less has had her way in the air over China is principally due to the fact that no flying equipment worthy of the name has been available to the Chinese who, nevertheless, have been putting up heroic and at times effective defense, even against air raids. How altered the aerial status over the Asiatic mainland would be if there were anything like a quantitative parity in aircraft may be judged from a recent observation of Ray Scott, war correspondent who went to China four times since Japan's undeclared war began:

"The Chinese would have carried the war to Japan long ago if they had possessed the planes and the bases. They still will do it if the U. S. supplies planes and ammunition. I have watched Japanese and Chinese aviators, and in the air the Chinese arc better because they are individualists and more resourceful. The Japanese are imitators."

Japanese imitativeness is not confined to tactical operations but notoriously extends to copying other countries' blueprints of aircraft and aero engines, this circumstance accounting for the obsolescence of their flying machines. For the best and latest designs are guarded secrets and anything released for export to Japan, even by her best friend, the Third Reich, is at least three years old. Hence, Japanese aeronautical engineering lags by at least that much behind the rest of the powers.

When the Japanese finally receive an opportunity to duplicate warplanes from Europe or America, they usually fail to build up to the standards set by the original. An illustration of this is their Type 98 bomber which is patterned, under license, after Italy's Fiat BR-20M but, with all its huffing and puffing, does not attain its prototype's 256 mph at 13.448 ft.

As late as 1939, while fighting on the Manchurian-Outer Mongolian frontier, the Japanese employed Italian warplanes, very likely because they were considered at least equal to their own aircraft. But scarcely more than a year later, the poor quality of the Italian planes was being tellingly brought out in engagements with the British RAF.

Generally speaking, there is much aeronautical affinity between Japan and Italy. Both, among the larger nations, bring up the rear in respect to the size of their air establishments. Italy's manufacturing capacity, however, is greater than Japan's; and while the American, British, German and Soviet planes may be superior to the Italian, the latter's quality is strikingly higher than the Japanese.

The peculiar shortcomings of Japanese aviation stem from the inescapable necessity for air power to base itself on heavy industry of enormous capacity, what with immense replacements and reinforcements demanded by modern air services in combat. Economic and military experts unanimously inform us that Japan's current output of military aircraft of all types, including trainers, is about 250 a month, shared about equally by the army and navy.

Meagerness of production is conditioned by the fact that Japan always has been among economically weak countries. Deficient in raw materials and supplies, her aviation industries' range has been painfully circumscribed. Among the barriers to realizing her ambition to keep in step with other powers is the absence or dire shortage of such strategically vital materials as iron ore, manganese ore, non-ferrous metals, petroleum, rubber, cotton, wool. A very negligible percentage of her needs in petroleum, tin, aluminum and lead is satisfied domestically. Iron and steel industries cannot meet the wartime demands. At least 20 percent of wartime iron will have to be imported, it is admitted, but no one has yet suggested from what source. Japan cannot produce at home even one third of the steel made annually in either Germany or the Soviet Union.

And so Japan, over a period of years. has grown accustomed to depend for her industrial supplies on the very nations that are her likeliest adversaries in a possible armed clash — America and England — a fatal dependence. There was a time when Japan could also look for assistance to Germany in the event of war in the Pacific. But German aircraft could be sent to Japan only by shipment on the Trans-Siberian Railway or flown over Soviet territory; neither of these channels is now open due to the Nazi-Soviet war.

How dependent Japan's aeronautical industries are on the US, for instance, may be gauged by recalling that on the eve of Japanese attack on China five years ago, Tokyo added some $15,000,000 (American) worth of machine tools, imported and locally made. In 1940 the Japanese supply of new machine tools, imported and domestic, was worth about $70,000,000 (American) or less than 10 percent of the American supply.

Now Japan's acquisition of vital machine tools is being severely restricted by comparison with 1940 because the US is hoarding for its own domestic needs, even failing to fill the orders of the nations that she is assisting in the war. This situation cannot be counterbalanced in Japan by domestic production.

Japan's technical inferiority is thus determined by the inadequacy of machine tools. a factor which was frankly admitted by the Military President of the recently formed Japanese Planning Corps.

Even if Japan should miraculously come into possession of a great air force. it would lack the necessary ground support of tanks, field artillery, anti-aircraft guns, all of which are largely imported since the military engineering industries are as weak as the aeronautical. Conversely, the land forces lack support from the air, so indispensable in contemporary warfare. If more evidence is required of the Japanese engineering backwardness, it may be of interest to note that while the leading designers in other parts of the world are introducing in their national air forces 2000-hp engines, the Japanese are still to produce their first 1000-hp motor.

Aero industries of Japan, in sharp contrast with the methods elsewhere. make extensive use of small shops and factories, each employing a small number of workers. No wonder the annual maximum output of 3,000 planes does not suffice to maintain the air arms even in peacetime.

Lack of industrial experience and mechanical background and the resultant unavailability of the finished aircraft are responsible for the small numbers of trained flying and ground personnel, previously noted. Training of pilots has been geared to the supply of aircraft, so that even if Japan were suddenly endowed with a large air force, she would not have the crews to man it.

Strikingly small, this air contingent has had little actual fighting experience against a major opponent. With the sole exception of the Manchurian-Mongolian border war, in which Japanese airmen were pitted against those of the Soviet Union and had come off a poor second, they had little opportunity to encounter first-rate enemy fighters. To be sure, they have somewhat perfected their bombing and reconnaissance flight during the Chinese operations, in which no substantial air opposition was offered to raids on comparatively undefended objectives. The Japanese fliers are utterly inexperienced in the mass tactics of air war as it is being fought in Western and Eastern Europe.

Despite technological defects, Japanese air strategy is decidedly offensive, an emulation of the German doctrine of totalitarian warfare. Anyone familiar with aircraft losses of the past two years on Europe's Western and Eastern fronts, and even with equipment casualties in Africa, knows what a catastrophe Japan would be courting with her present manufacturing and manpower facilities if she grapples with any first-rate industrial power, let alone a coalition of powers. Numerically meager, obsolescent and qualitatively inferior, the Japanese air weapons would be matched in the Battle of the Pacific against a much stronger combination of adversaries than her formidable Axis partner, Germany, ever had to face in Europe.

Consider what would be perhaps the weakest partner in an anti-Japanese bloc in the Pacific — the Netherlands Indies. There the Dutch strength has been unofficially estimated at 300 to 900 warplanes, mostly Fokkers from the mother country and Dorniers earlier acquired from Germany. The proportion of American planes in the Indies air force is growing and Washington has issued licenses for a large volume of additional flying equipment. Instructors released from the US armed services are training the natives. Numerous airdromes and emergency landing fields have been constructed in the interim of more than a year since the collapse of Holland.

Of course, in the event of attack upon them, the Netherlands Indies could not repulse Japan by themselves. They are counting on prompt assistance from both the British and the Americans. How important the possibilities of air war in the Pacific are considered by the British may be judged by the fact that the Commander of all their forces in the Far East is an Air Marshal. Some months ago a British spokesman claimed that his country already had mastery of the air over the South China Sea, the great strategic area where the most important engagements are expected to unfold.

At this writing the Dutch-British air power in the Pacific may be 2,000 modern aircraft, more by a third than the modern planes of the Japanese Navy. The British can strike hard from their air bases at Hong Kong, North Borneo, Australia. Based at Vladivostok and surrounding territories, the Soviet air contingents are quantitatively, qualitatively and geographically so powerful that Japanese Admiral Nakamura was moved to declare some years ago:

"Many of our great commercial and naval harbors would be open to attack, and the enemy, being well informed as to our resources, would know in what direction to concentrate his efforts. On the Pacific coast, the capital of Tokyo, the huge entrepot of Yokohama, and the naval arsenal of Hokohukka would lie open to the visitations of hostile flying machines. Osaka, the heart of our national industry, would not be beyond an enemy's reach, and the swarming industrial hives of Kyushu would present him with innumerable targets."

The margin of strength between the USSR and Japan has since then widened. All of Japan's great harbors are today exposed to the attack of the experienced Soviet airmen who have tremendous equipment and manpower reserves to sustain them; nor would the Red operations be confined to air activities.

Obviously, overwhelming concentrations of air power are closing in on Japan which certainly has not been strengthened by more than four years of self-depleting aggression on the mainland, a foreboding drain on the home resources.

Isolated from the Axis fellow-aggressors, who have their hands full with their own adventures, weak in aircraft numbers and quality, and leaning on an equally weak industry, her air force of low offensive strength and highly questionable as a factor in defending her own cities, Japan if engaged in a great air war would crumble like a house of cards, dragging after itself the myth of her military prowess and the carefully cultivated daydream of Pacific hegemony and complete world domination.

Specifications for Japanese Airplanes

Advanced aspirants for enrollment in the Japanese Imperial Army Air Corps use the Tatikawa 95-1 Trainer, a two-seater with a Type 95 engine of 350 hp. Its specifications are: upper span 32' 9.5", lower span 29' 6", length 26' 3", height 11' 6", wing area 260.4 sq ft, wing loading 11.73 lb/sq ft, power loading 8.2 lb/hp, weight empty 2,178 lb, useful load 1,056 lb, gross weight 3,234 lb.

Construction of Tatikawa 95-1: welded steel tube fuselage with metal sheet covering in front and fabric covering in the rear, tandem open cockpits, dual controls; single-bay biplane, unequal span, fabric-covered two-spar wood structures, upper center section carried above fuselage upon N struts, interplane bracing by pair of N struts and wires, ailerons on upper wing only; tail group, fin and stabilizer are fabric-covered dural structures; divided type landing gear, tail wheel. Standard equipment: oleo and spring shock absorbers, wheel brakes, low-pressure tires, Townend engine cowl. Performance: maximum speed 143 mph, cruising speed 111.8 mph, service ceiling 21,320 ft, rate of climb 984 ft/min, range 416 mi. Instruments: standard engine and flight equipment.

A basic military trainer is the two-place Tatikawa 95-3. Its construction, standard equipment and instruments are similar to those of 95-1. Specifications — span 32' 9.5", length 26' 3", height 9' 10", wing area 282.1 sq ft, weight empty 1,364 lb, useful load 616 lb, gross weight 1,980 lb, wing loading 7.17 lb/sq ft. Performance: maximum speed 105.5 mph, service ceiling 17,385 ft, rate of climb 579 ft/min.

The Kawanishi Type 94 seaplane carries a crew of two or three, and has a span of 42' 8", length of 31' 8", height of 14 ' 4". Its landing gear has twin metal floats and it is powered by an Aichi (Lorraine) engine of 300 hp at 1,800 rpm.

The KF 1 six-place reconnaissance flying boat designated Navy Type 90-2 is similar to Short Bros design, being built under a license from the British firm. With a maximum speed of 133.5 mph, it is powered by three Rolls-Royce Buzzards of 825 hp each at 2,000 rpm Its span is 101' 8", length 72' 2", empty weight 33,000 lb. Further data are unavailable.

A representative day bomber supplied in large quantities to the Japanese Army Air Corps is the two-place all-metal Type 93, produced by Kawasaki and mounting two Kawasaki (BMW) engines of 600/700 hp each. Specifications: span 42' 8"; length 32' 9.5"; height 9' 10"; gross weight 6.820 lb. Performance: maximum speed 161.5 mph; service ceiling 22,960 ft; rate of climb 820 ft/min.

Used in great numbers as a fighter and for reconnaissance, the two-seat Karigane is a modification of a commercial ship. Powered by a Mitsubishi A14 of 800 hp and incorporating a full complement of engine, flight and navigation instruments, this fighter has a maximum speed of 310 mph, cruising speed of 200 mph, cruising range of 1,490 mi. Its standard equipment embraces a Hamilton Standard constant-speed propeller, NACA engine cowls, navigation lights, oleo shock absorbers, radio.

Karigane's specifications: Span 39' 4.75"; length 27' 11"; height 11' 6"; wing area 258 sq ft, power loading 6.3 lb/hp, wing loading 19.6 lb/sq ft; gross weight 5,060 lb; fuel 820 liter. It has a flush-riveted, metal monocoque fuselage.

With a crew of three or five, a Mitsubishi long-range bomber called Soyokaze cruises at 161.5 mph and has a cruising endurance of 10 hrs. It mounts two Mitsubishi Kinsei engines of 900 hp. Specifications: Span 82'; length 52' 6"; height 12' 1.5"; gross weight 11,000 lb.

Another long-range bomber is Nakajima Type 19 whose commercial prototype carries a crew of two and five passengers. Specifications — Span 72' 2"; length 50' 9"; height 11' 11"; wing area 675 sq ft; weight empty 10,450 lb.

Type 19 bomber's two engines are of the Mitsubishi Type IV, 870 hp each. Standard equipment: three-blade constant-speed propellers, oleo-pneumatic shock absorber, hydraulic brakes, two-way radio. Performance: maximum speed 217 mph, cruising speed 186 mph, cruising range 2,484 mi.

Nakajima Type 94 is a reconnaissance two-seater with a Nakajima III engine of 550 hp at 1,950 rpm, maximum speed of 186 mph, service ceiling of 26,240 ft and 1,082 ft/min rate of climb. The specifications of this single-bay biplane with curved trailing edge: span 36' 7"; length 24' 5"; height 9' 2"; wing area 322.5 sq ft; power loading 10.4 lb/hp, wing loading 16.45 lb/sq ft, gross weight 5,720 lb.

Nakajima Type 97 is a one-place fighter with a radial air-cooled engine of unknown make and output. It is a low-wing cantilever monoplane. The wing and fuselage are of metal construction, as well as the tail group. Landing gear features individual cantilever legs. One of the few Japanese fighters on which armament details are known, Nakajima AN 1 single-seater has two fixed machine guns firing through the propeller disc. Other standard equipment includes adjustable-pitch propeller, NACA engine cowl, wheel brakes, oleo and spring shock absorbers, radio. Specifications: span 35' 5", length 24' 5", height 11', wing area 199.5 sq ft, empty weight 2,650 lb, gross weight 3,270 lb, fuel 58 gal, oil 6.6 gal. Construction: dural monocoque fuselage, enclosed cockpit; low-wing with plywood-covered leading edge, fabric- covering structure consisting of two steel spars and wood ribs, streamline wire bracing above and below; tail group, fabric covering structures having dural or steel tube spars and wood ribs, elevators and rudder are balanced; individual leg cantilever type landing gear. Performance: maximum speed 261 mph at 14,100 ft, rate of climb 2,670 ft/min. Engine: Nakajima III, 550 hp at 1,950 rpm at 13,120 ft (maximum 700 hp at 2,100 rpm.).

Listed as "commercial or military" aircraft and therefore of significance in this study is the low-wing monoplane Koken, manufactured by Tokyo Gasu Denki KK. Specifications — span 88' 6", length 49' 2", height 11' 9", wing area 936 sq ft, power loading 26.3 lb/hp, wing loading 22.3 lb/sq ft, empty weight 7,840 lb, gross weight 20,950 lb, fuel 1,850 gal. Construction: all-metal monocoque fuselage, Alclad skin; wing, all-metal single steel spar; all-metal tail group; retractable landing gear, tail wheel. Standard equipment: variable-pitch metal propeller. Performance: maximum speed 133.5 mph, cruising range 9,315 mi. Engine: Kawasaki 800 hp.

Not a fighting craft but incorporated in the Japanese Air Corps is the Tatikawa two-place light ambulance, with a Cirrus Hermes IV engine, 130 hp, at 2,100 rpm. Specifications: span 32' 9.5", length 25' 10", height 7' 9.5", wing area 236.7 sq ft, power loading 17.65 lb/hp, wing loading 9.66 lb/sq ft, empty weight 1,328 lb, gross weight 2,294 lb. Construction: welded steel tube fuselage, enclosed two-place cabin.

This article was originally published in the September, 1940, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 40, no 9, pp 48-49, 146, 148, 150.
The original article includes 8 photos.
Photos credited to Japanese American News Photos.