Japan's warplanes have turned out better than the public thought they would, and somewhat better than Allied airmen expected. Most of the enemy's aircraft types have been made public now, in a bits-and-pieces manner that leads one to suppose our intelligence services only recently got the information together.
Though Japan still has the upper hand in the air in nearly all war areas, her superiority is plainly in numbers rather than in performance. There appears to be no record of an English or American or Dutch defeat, against any odds.
Japanese planes look good, but evidence increases that they are all copies, meticulously and skillfully lifted from American, British and German designs. Like copies in other arts and crafts they do not breathe the breath of life.
There is no further evidence that Nippon has any Messerschmitts, either 109s or 110s, or any four-engined Focke-Wulfs, as earlier reported. If they do have any, they are very few.
If the enemy had any outstanding performers, they would soon be heard from, as the Spitfires and the P-40 Tomahawks have made their mark. Until this happens, one must assume their models are all mediocre. They have no engines of their. own apparently. Air cooling dominates their power plants, all exactly copied after our own, particularly Pratt & Whitney, which was built under license. Licensing of this engine did no harm, since they would have copied it anyway. They also build Rolls-Royce and Fiat engines.
A full line of types make up the Japanese air force: heavy, medium and dive bombers; a couple of good fighters (land and ship based); torpedo planes, and several kinds of trainers and transports. Thus far the Japanese have done their best work in dive bombing. There has been no official confirmation of any successes at level bombing. Japan has from 15 to 20 aircraft factories scattered throughout the country and the location of most of them is known to the British and Americans as a matter of course. Not much is known about their methods of manufacture.
Aviation's early estimate that the Japanese had about 6,000 airplanes, total in the Army and Navy, and a production rate of between 300 and 500 per month, still seems to hold good. It is believed that their production rate when they started the war will not be increased, due to scarcity of materials, limited plant capacity and lack of manpower to spare. The rate might even decline. Neither one of Japan's allies can spare any planes, even if they could be delivered.
So far, predictions of air war in the East from air carriers have not panned out. There are no reports of United States carriers being in action, and only two or three times have Jap carriers been in evidence once at least in the battle of Macassar Strait. Carriers are thin-skinned, and neither side seems willing to risk such a large investment in ships, men and planes. It is assumed that American carriers, of which we have eleven, berthing about 80 planes each, will go into action when the Navy has built up enough superiority in destroyers to protect them.
We are fighting a war, not in two oceans but in several, with a one-ocean navy. It was the grand strategy of the Axis to make us do just that, and it may work a hardship on us till we can get nearer our goal of 4,000 ships of all kinds, including 32 battleships, 18 carriers, 91 cruisers and 364 destroyers.
Meanwhile we are pushing our four-engined bomber program, ten to one over recent plans. Allied strategists have great faith that these bombers will play a major role in the defeat of the Axis both in the East and in the West. The Japanese are spreading themselves all over a thousand islands in the Southwest Pacific, and their supply lines will be in a bad way as soon as long-range bombers and ships can be brought to bear on them in sufficient numbers.
The battleship controversy still rages, with some pro-air power men demanding that construction on new ships, not more than a year along, be stopped. It is now public information that no battleships are included in the recent authorization of 150,000 additional tons of Navy shipping. But what the Navy, and Congressional Naval Affairs Committeemen are actually thinking about this large problem the Mikado and Adolf Shicklegruber would like to know.
Glamour sometimes gets people into trouble; aviation has it, and should beware, in the opinion of many persons who take an over-all view of the war. One of these persons is William L Batt, head of the Materials Division of WPB. Mr Batt says that we had better not give all of our attention to headlines about three or four airplanes being shot down here and there; we should watch also the tremendous land power of the Japanese and the Germans, which is probably as strong as ever and may get stronger as it moves toward vital spots in the United Nations setup. Almost anyone will agree with what Mr. Batt says.
At the same time some Congressmen, who have access to all the information there is, are saying that those responsible for our safety have been remiss in not pushing our air forces harder than they have, Particularly, we should have concentrated more than we did on torpedo and dive bombers, they say. But Congressmen, with all their information, get confused, just as the rest of us do. Senator Harry S Truman, who had a truck-load of dope, wrote a report, as you may know, charging the Army and Navy and the aircraft industry with failure to develop superior airplanes, and with giving away what good ones we did have. Then Rep Dow Harter wrote another report, showing that Mr Truman was wrong. Mr Truman's report fell pretty flat in the first place, considering all the advance billing it had.
On the Atlantic side of the war, we find less air action and even more uncertainty than in the East. Why the British did not carry out their threat to shake Europe with bombs during the long winter nights, we still don't know. Presumably their production of long- range bombers is continuing, and even increasing. So, even though deliveries of American planes to Britain may have all but stopped, they could sweep Europe if they wanted to. Is it possible that bombing towns and ground works is not worth the cost? Are they saving their planes for the day when the mad Hitler, wounded by the Russians, charges them again?
Likewise on the Russian front there is little air activity. But the reasons are different. Air war on the blizzardy tundras simply froze up. By grapevine comes word that the Nazis, with vegetable oil for lubrication and synthetic gasoline, have one awful time. And the Russians, even though they have good oil and gas, don't do much better.
So the Russians and the Germans and the British would seem to be saving up airplanes at a total rate of maybe six or eight thousand a month. If so, they should be able to put on a lively scrap, come spring. And, if the Russians can take enough ground to get within reasonable bombing distance of Germany, Hitler will be getting it from both front and rear. Italy is so low in the aircraft production picture that she is rated hardly more than a nuisance by Hitler as well as Churchill.
Here at home, Congress is supporting the President's program with appropriations big enough to buy some of the belligerents and have change left. These vast funds make breathless reading, but, as we have said before, they don't mean a thing. The credit of the United States hasn't turned a hair, yet, and all that counts is production capacity.
The biggest technological show in the world's history is going on right now in Detroit, headed by a pleasant-looking, middle-aged man named Ernest Kanzler, who used to be a Ford production vice-president. Mr Kanzler is stopping the wheels of the mighty automobile industry long enough to re-tool the machines, so that airplane parts, airplanes, guns and tanks will come out of the spout, instead of cars. He reports only to Donald Nelson, chairman of the WPB, who reports only to the President.
Behind a screen of secrecy Mr Kanzler is passing the miracle of the 20th century. Or rather, Kanzler, being only human, is the symbol of a group of men who are doing it. They represent all the technical knowledge accumulated since time began, which is available to anybody; but they have, in addition, the American genius of doing things in a big way.
The facilities of the auto industry, and of the airplane industry, may be completely scrambled before this job is done. They are well mixed already. The interests of all persons and companies are being dropped. That grand old institution, competition, is out the window. This is the world's first war of machinery; no such merger of manufacturing ever happened before. It will be worth living a few more years, even if you' re all tuckered out, to see who makes what, out of what, and for what price and for whom after the war.
Production of airplanes seems to be well in hand, and you can say as much for operations. The airlines finally got an umpire to stand by and see that they are not pulled apart in a dog fight over their possessions. The War Department is the great white father, and Brig Gen Donald Connolly is his angel. If you were clairvoyant you could count a dozen moguls in Washington who would love to add the airlines planes, shops, mechanics and pilots to their war effort. But the Administration decided to keep the system intact. This was mostly due to the fact that the air system itself demonstrated, with tact and skill, that it could perform more valuable services as an entity than it could in parts.
Therefore, Gen Connolly was appointed Military Director of Civil Aviation. His job is to administer traffic priorities on the lines, for the prosecution of the war, and to give the lines special missions to perform, under their own managements and the hands of their own pilots and servicemen. Chances appear to be ten to one that the system will come out of the war in one piece.
In the Services, two big expansion moves have been made. The Army Air Forces have again set their sights up to some point far beyond the 84 combat groups which was their objective. The new objective is 2,000,000 men. It may be that this figure is being doubled. And the Navy is expanding its pilot training program by 30,000 cadets who will be put through four ground schools in as many American colleges. Both Army and Navy have ditched their requirements of two years of college. If the seat of your pants is sensitive to the lift of airfoil, you don't need a fraternity pin.
This article was originally published in the March, 1942, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 42, no 3, pp 52-53, 110, 125.
The original article includes photos of an SBD flying over a carrier, a flight of Nakajima 97s, seen from 5 o'clock, and of a subassembly line for B-25 components. SBD photo credited to International; the other photos are not credited.