War In The Air

By James R Young

A noted war correspondent with 13 years' service in Japan, Mr Young gives a dramatic summary of America's position in the Battle of the Pacific. Pictures tell story of air war on all fronts.

All over the world the airplane was changing the course of civilization. Air power has proved itself the dominating factor in every major phase of modern warfare, on land as well as on sea.

In the American-Japanese battle of the Pacific, young pilots of the American squadrons protecting the Burma Road, under Col Claire L Chennault, 51, have brought down scores of Jap planes.

I repeat my statement in the December issue of Flying, that Japan cannot withstand the highly developed and speedy striking ability of America's might. Japan will quickly crumble, with the same fast reverses as Adolph Hitler's overwhelming numbers and highly mechanized units suffered at the gates of Moscow and in the dramatic recapture of Rostov.

Japan faces:

  1. America, the imponderable in air and sea power.
  2. China, the imponderable in manpower and geographical area.
  3. Russia, the imponderable bear which runs from Europe to Asia. And
  4. the Pacific, an imponderable of 64,000,000 square miles.

Facts face Japan, but her arrogant, stupid, fanatic militarists will not admit that Nippon is doomed. I stated in a cable from Tokyo to the New York office of the International News Service, exactly four and a half years ago when Japan opened her China campaign, that "FOREIGN MILITARY EXPERTS FORESEE AVIATION ANGLE WILL DETERMINE CONFLICT'S DURATION."

Time and events are substantiating that forecast, although with bitter irony, since the present Japanese air thrusts were made possible because we enabled them to get materials and gasoline in such increasing quantities that they could attack us at Pearl Harbor and Manila.

The stuffed shirts among State Department career men refused to believe the foreign correspondents who warned them of Japan's often-announced ambitions.

A day of reckoning will deal with those who cheapened and sabotaged American foreign policy.

Consider the wonderful showing of an underequipped and understaffed American front-line air staff in Asia. In four air battles on the Burma Road, the American volunteer flyers lost four planes and two pilots against 60 Japs brought down. Not in the five long, hard, unsuccessful years of the Chinese struggle — aided, of course, by a bunch of half-hearted cream puff diplomatic State Department appeasers — have the Japs undergone such punishment. All in a week!

On last Christmas day the Yanks brought down 16 Jap bombers and 12 fighters, for a total of 92 Nippo airmen. The week's grand total was 149 Japs lost. These vital and encouraging statistics are a barometer of what will happen to vulnerable Japan and to Japan's over-extended supply lines when American, British, Dutch and Russian battleships of the air leave their metal calling cards on the congested industrial areas of Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka and western Japan.

The Japs were using their very best men, who have been in the air a good four years, against green young Americans. Some of the latter, from the Dakotas to Texas, were in their first combats.

Imagine the depressingly unfavorable psychological effect these results are having on Japan's recently reorganized air force under the notorious and arrogant Gen Kenji Doihara, the Hermann Goering of Nippon. We demonstrated in just one week that, once we reach parity in the air, Japan will no longer have a long field to range. Japan's recent flights to North Australian islands will be hampered. Her flights to inland China will be shortened. The Yanks and the Dutch will be on the offensive, bombing Jap airfields in Thailand, occupied areas of China, the Jap island of Formosa, and Indochina, which are the springboards for Jap attacks on our defenses.

We will destroy Japan's concentrated industrial centers; one an area which furnishes 80 per cent of Japan's electric power; another a district which normally produces 60 per cent of all her war steel and armaments, as well as the highly centralized aircraft industry at Nagoya.

Japan's air power and material strength are no match for our modern bombers and 400 mph fighters. Japan cannot match our $10,000,000,000 Navy program, or the President's call for 60,000 planes in 1942. Every time Japan loses a capital ship, sub, cruiser, torpedo boat or airplane, she cannot make immediate replacements. Japan has gone in for an all-out war which, as Walter Winchell says, "will leave the Mikado not a ruler but the name for a pencil."

Here's a quick re-hash of the marvelous American showing:

  1. American sailors, victims of a Jap air attack on a small Philippine passenger freighter, said the Japs showed poor marksmanship and used considerable ammunition to sink the small vessel.
  2. Japan's whole air strength, consisting of 40 to 50 squadrons, is working far from home.
  3. The Japs are using German bombs.
  4. Many of their aircraft are antiquated. Observers from the British Repulse and Prince of Wales reported that the old fabric-covered planes burst into flames as soon as hit.
  5. From examination of planes brought down, experts concur that the Japs are using inferior replicas of what were once second grade aircraft, designed four to six years ago.
  6. In the speedier equipment younger American-educated Japs are being used. These are the "surprise boys" picked up in Pearl Harbor with Honolulu and Oregon State school ring insignia. Since most native-born Japs are lacking in long-range daring or experience American-born (and healthier) Japs were used.

The Japs cannot maintain early temporary victories. Neither can the Nazis. We have records now that Curtiss Kittyhawk fighters, in the hands of Australian pilots, brought down five Nazi Messerschmitt Me-109s and damaged seven others. Several of the Messerschmitts, being drilled by the Aussies with their new Curtiss equipment, deserted their bombers and retreated to home base. The Junkers were left to fare for themselves after unloading their bomb racks, to gain time for a quicker withdrawal from the fire-power of the new and improved type of Tomahawk. The Nazis lost between 5,000 and 6,000 planes in Russia and Libya!

Every 24 hours our air strength is growing. Each turn of the clock weakens Japan's air position.

Anti-Japanese forces now operate from Australia, the Netherlands East Indies, China, Burma, the Philippines and Malaya.

As bases are implemented by long range encirclement of the A-B-C-D powers under a coordinated command, we will protect our rear alignment as we carry the war in the terms of an offensive rather than a defensive.

In every encounter so far reported, American and Dutch pilots have brought unprecedented defeat to the Japs. At Corregidor, Jap four-engined jobs and twin-engined ships, coming in alternating waves from their bases, suffered great losses — 15 in two days to be exact, while heavy toll of the enemy was taken in a terrific artillery battle on the surface.

Nowhere in Japanese aviation records of a 10-year war, starting in Manchuria in 1931, have they had such opposition as is now arrayed against them. Doggedly our youngsters, flying against seasoned Jap fighting men in both their services, are demonstrating that individuality, the ability to think alone, a superior machine — and eventually numerically favored — can and will blast the Japs out of the skies.

We know now the equipment the Japs are using: Hamilton-type propellers; Pratt & Whitney engine copies; auxiliary gasoline tanks which keep them in flight six hours and can be dropped in combat; two 20-mm cannon; two machine guns; and specially developed 15-inch armor piercing bombs, weighing 1,500 pounds or more.

Japan staged sneak raids on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines. She won Hong Kong because of a water shortage. But when the Japanese turn toward home, they will have a return flight, coupled with a psychological effect, that will signal the Americans are in full action.

When the news of American action breaks from the Far East, it's going to be big news.

We know this of Japan:

  1. Britons who were the last to leave Nagasaki, a port in western Japan, reported that their last departing impression was of symptoms of extreme nervousness felt by the Japanese about air raids. Air raid shelters in the cities are apparently totally inadequate in number. Wealthy classes had begun to evacuate their homes to the country. Small concrete tanks which hold but a few buckets of water had been built in the tinder-box cities to be used if water supplies are cut. In quantity they will be useless. Food is short and rice is strictly rationed, the British evacuees, who were long-time residents of Japan, reported.
  2. The Japs know that when we hit, that will be the punch that will count. Every load we send them, from air or from the surface or undersea, will help ruin Japan. As Adm Thomas C Hart explained the situation: "Like a big game hunter with an elephant gun who sits hour after hour, day after day, waiting his prey. Sometimes it takes a long time to get results."
  3. The Nippos are fighting the same type of warfare as of 40 years ago and using, in land campaigns, German shells and old Japanese rifles (.25 caliber) and swords. They are great tacticians in the air or on the ground — as long as the method which they memorized holds.
  4. Japan fights according to five years of practice in China and according to the textbooks on strategy and tactics. Japan should have a good chance, but if a rival commander introduces something new, or, as American pilots have shown in the air already in a few weeks, by using individual initiative, no Jap commander can adjust himself nor rally his forces from the confusion into which they would be thrown. The Japs as fighting men have proved their fanaticism and courage in successive victories in China and in Malaya and the Philippines. But, their courage in a large defeat is yet to be shown. That they would attack Changsha by air and land three times in two years and still lose, is one of the fanaticisms of the Japanese military mind.
  5. The Japs have demonstrated their fighting ability against more poorly-trained and slower-thinking people. They used fifth columnists and treachery to gain approaches to vital positions affecting the democracies in the Far East, but they are now against nations that can out-think them. This is especially true of the Dutch who know the Asiatics. Those who know the Japanese do not believe they could stand up in any vital test except in defense of their homeland.

The heroism of Capt Colin P Kelly, Jr, who, before his death sank the 29,000-ton Japanese battleship Huruna; and the 12 other Americans who have been awarded Distinguished Service Crosses, provides thrilling reading:

Lieut. Boyd Wagner of Johnstown, PA., is credited with shooting down three Japs and destroying 17 planes on the ground. As Wagner rolled out of one dogfight into another be bagged a Nippo while flying upside down. Then he rolled over to clip another Nip, then dashed into another whole squadron of Jap flyers. Knowing the Japs as I do, they think such feats occur only in motion pictures. They learn no such tactics from their rule books.

With inferior equipment, Lieut Samuel H Marett of Atlanta, GA, flew into action at Vigan, 200 miles from Manila, set two Jap transports afire and strafed the invaders. In a third and final dive, while destroying another transport of yellow Aryans, he was caught in a wall of fire from the invaders and was killed.

The posthumous awards are a long and creditable recitation of what the Japs may expect when they come up against Americans on the alert, or already in action. Courageous leadership and quick thinking is an encouragement to everyone on the front line.

The Burma Road gang's exact strength and the amount of equipment remain a secret. I anticipate they will be the American Commandos who, from secret bases in China, will invade Japan probably before aircraft carriers approach the shores of Nippon.

Now that we know the nature of the attacking force, I do not believe the Japanese can maintain renewed air attacks without suffering losses so great as to cause them to stop sporadic attacks all over the map.

Americans in the Philippines have reported that "while the suddenness of the Japanese assault has given the raiders an initial advantage, the Japanese got the worst of it in individual aerial dogfights … we certainly do not think they are supermen."

The Japs have found that even the Filipinos can fly. They are learning that the Dutch do not argue and that they know how to use Axis methods of fighting and do not mind the nature of the odds — especially if the enemy is from Japan. Dutch flyers are more than a match for any Japanese. The Dutch believe in working around the clock, stabbing and socking blows at the invader twice as fast as the Japanese can evolve their plans.

The Japanese took Point Victoria, a strategic RAF base which was an outpost of Singapore's protection. They seized Penang, the only direct air route between Malaya and India — a situation which not only has imperiled Singapore, but the capture of those two very important points — which should not have occurred — put the invader 180 miles from Dutch Sumatra. In addition, Japan captured 15 British airdromes in Malaya in one month.

"Little Holland" in the East Indies is doing a magnificent job. She would have done better had the Dutch been able to buy more equipment from the United States, as was stressed in Maj Gen Van Oven's article in the December issue of Flying.

The Dutch air force may have as many as 1,000 planes. Most are of American origin — Glenn Martin bombers with 1,800- mile range; Curtiss Falcons for reconnaissance; Curtiss CW-21 interceptors, Curtiss Hawk (P-36) pursuits; Consolidated Catalina flying boats for bombing and reconnaissance, Douglas bombers, Brewster Buffalo pursuits, Ryan land and seaplane trainers and Lockheed Lodestar transports. Their squadrons are scattered over a large number of bases.

The flying Dutchmen did a masterful job in bringing from Holland — around the Cape of Good Hope through 12,000 miles of treacherous sailing conditions — the entire submarine fleet of their navy. They are doing as well in the air.

The Dutch navy in the Pacific is small, but it is fast. It comprises an estimated handful of cruisers, two hands of destroyers, 40 torpedo boats and two score subs, powerful bombers, long-range naval patrol planes and perhaps 500 fighters.

When the Dutch proclaimed martial law they immediately decreed all-out mobilization. They do not argue. They act, then discuss. As pilots and navigators they are the best in the Far East.

The Netherlands archipelago is 3,000 miles long. The Dutch recognize the difficult task of keeping Jap subs and small boats from hiding along their coasts. The shrewd and capable leaders of the East Indies never once trusted Jap diplomats, newspaper correspondents, fishermen or traders. As soon as war broke, Japanese were interned; Jap settlements in Borneo were raided; motor launches were seized and promptly broke any sign of resistance or sabotage.

The Dutch have been on the alert since May, 1940. They were geared to meet any situation. Hidden aviation gas and oil, and 50 secret landing fields dot the five main islands. In the air or undersea, Dutch navigators can match anyone. In the air they are superior in speed and accuracy to anything the Japs have ever observed.

The Japanese know that, next to Singapore, their toughest job is to crack the East Indies. Yet, with a half billion dollars in cash available, the Dutch pled for months for more planes from the United States. Most of our equipment, they complained, was going to Russia and England. They had pilots. They wanted bombers — and more bombers. Fighters, as General Van Oyen will tell you, are useful for local defense. But to patrol a jagged, irregular coastline of hundreds of isles equal to the distance between New York and San Francisco, long distance bombers are badly needed.

I admire the Dutch for preparing for what they believed — rightly — would be an attack from Japan. Java has become, in many months of careful planning, a fortification of its own. The natives joined with the Dutch in preparing for the Japs. And the white men of the NEI [Netherlands East Indies] will be the last to declare Batavia, Bandoeng and Surabaya open cities. They did not argue over building defenses or, through lack of equipment, invite an invader's attack. They were not caught in the position of "open" Manila, with its high adviser who withheld — by a legal technicality — the transfer of funds which could have made the Philippines fast against air raids.

The Dutch bought ahead, all they could purchase, for defense purposes.

The natives of the Netherlands East Indies and Philippines are fighting a foe superior in numbers and equipment, but they have a common understanding in repulsing the arrogant, vicious and brutal yellow invader. The Dutch natives are in a preferred defensive position: their wise leaders prepared for war in time of peace. They will hold to the last.

If the Battle of the Pacific is to mark the turn of a threatening offensive by overwhelming Japanese force, it must be done with air power. Japan has not shown unexpected or exceptional military skill in her Philippines stabs, but she is using an estimated 100,000 men, aided by countless barges, aircraft carriers and all types of navy vessels against a numerically inferior group of valiant American and Filipino defenders.

In the few details received of American air action in the Far East, it is evident that our men have displayed a superiority in handling their equipment and in out-flying the enemy, although the Japs have had a vastly greater number of planes in the air. But in sustained long range attacks the Japanese will lose in shipping and in the air. We can cut her reinforcements, annihilate their expeditionary force, keep their fleet scattered throughout the Pacific and push them into a defensive position. As all who know the Orient will agree, we must bomb Formosa thoroughly. Thailand must be bombed day and night. The 200 American pilots on the Burma Road must carry their attacks to Japanese-occupied Hankow and Nanking. Russia must commence the bombing of Tokyo, Osaka and western Japan. Without hesitancy, we must sweep the Pacific, from the Jap subs on our west coast to Japanese minelayers in their home waters. Alaska must send our bombing planes to Japan.

The Japanese can maintain an offensive, as did the Nazis in Russia, only while over-extended transportation lines remain unattacked. Once these are intercepted and their reinforcements are unable to replace destroyed units, the Japs will find themselves drowning in the Pacific just as they have, after five years in China, bogged in the mire of their own making.

America's seven-day-a-week production lines surpass anything ever dreamt of in Japan. Sixty-seven US cities and towns in nearly two-score states are producing engines, tanks, trucks, machine guns, aircraft cannon, high speed torpedo boat and submarine engines in such quantities as are unknown in Japan.

Tokyo's leaders obviously have underestimated America's strength in material production and manpower. We must demonstrate to them, by more than blow-for-blow reaction, our superiority in the air.

While immediate major fleet action seems unlikely, I am confident, from what I have seen of the US Navy in the Pacific, that we can handle any Japanese force, over any distance. Against us, the Japanese do not have the plant capacity, the organization or the materials to maintain a long conflict. Her ambitions outdistance her productive capacity.

Japan can be made a menace to herself. She had already failed in China when she rallied everything for a final — and fatal — blow, to her own supremacy in the western Pacific. To have attacked the United States is an admission by Japan of defeatism brought on through desperation. Japan has suffered progressively in her long war with China — which will be accentuated in her war on the democracies — through agricultural deterioration, lower standards of living, industrial disintegration, financial exhaustion and, so long as the war continues, Japan's position in these four categories will decrease proportionately — and, I emphasize, rapidly — all to our advantage.

I question the assertion that Nazi flyers are serving in the Japanese air force. I do know, however, that Nazi pilots and assembly crews have been working inside Japan. Germans have been training Jap parachute troops, the first of which were used in China in the autumn of 1941 and again in the Philippines, Malaya and the Dutch East Indies in December and January.

The Japs are using, we have learned, adaptations of American Lockheed "14s", Martins, Douglases, Italian types, Junkers, Heinkel He-112s, Dornier flying boats (which they acquired three years ago) and North American NA-16's and Severskys.

In the United States for 1942 we have ever-increasing appropriations allotted for additional planes in all categories. The total expenditure will give the United States the world's greatest air power.

We will eventually be turning out one plane every four minutes.

US production of 100-octane gas for aircraft has increased to 45,000 barrels daily. Before the end of the first six months in 1942, production will reach 120,000 barrels daily. The Japs cannot manufacture better than 80-octane fuel and their production is limited.

Machine tools, so important in aircraft building, reached an all-time record in the United States with the production of 200,000 units — which is 100 per cent more than for 1940 and eight times normal yearly production over the past 10 years. Our machine tools are three times more efficient than those of a year ago.

The Japanese, I remind my readers, would almost have dropped the war if they had had such figures available. But fanatics cannot face facts.

Employment in American aircraft industry is 390,000. Weekly payrolls are nearly $15,000,000. Japan's total employment in aircraft production is about 10,000, including thousands of women and inexperienced children who have been pressed into factories due to the acute labor shortage.

American and Canadian aluminum production will reach a volume of a billion pounds for 1942, Japan must import her aluminum supplies, and always as in the past, in limited quantities.

"If steel is the foundation of modern war, it would be rather dangerous for a power like Japan, whose steel production is only about 7,000,000 tons a year, to provoke quite gratuitously a struggle with the United State whose steel production is now about 90,000,000 tons a year," Winston Churchill remarked recently.

"It would seem a hazardous venture for the Japanese people to plunge quite needlessly into a world struggle in which they find themselves opposed in the Pacific by states whose population comprise nearly three quarters of the human race," Churchill said.

"The guilty men who have let hell loose upon the world are hoping to escape with their fleeting triumph and ill-gotten plunder from the closing net of doom."

Within one week of the Philippines attack, the Japs lost 26 planes in a single engagement. Their attacks that day were rather amateurish. Previous accuracy of their bombing might be attributed to experts taking the lead, as in German tactics, to be followed by younger and more recently trained men. Hundreds of bombs were dropped in Manila bay, but the percentage of hits was small.

An American colonel in Luzon described the Japs as being third- or even fourth-rate fighters. For seven hours our men engaged the invaders as the Japs made a wonderful display but mostly lots of noise and a tremendous waste of ammunition. "They're no damned good on the ground" the colonel told reporters in a tone of contempt.

Our boys in the air will find this is true of Japanese flyers.

Here is an interesting summary of Jap planes brought down in several recent engagements:

They are using old stationary landing gear.
Engines are low-powered.
Everything is copied, but not as good as the original.
This bears out my previous statement that they have "everything from everywhere."

Honolulu confirms previous assertions that Japanese are good bombers when they are not disturbed, but under fire they get rattled and provide targets "as easy as ducks in shooting galleries." In the opening attack at Pearl Harbor 41 of them were downed.

Japan long has been known for double dealing, treachery and ignoring international codes. She used gas attacks on Changsha. Jap pilots haven't any qualms about shooting a pilot who has been forced to bail out. Lieut Walter Cross of Pennsylvania learned this when he tangled with two Jap planes and came out on the short end of the deal. When his parachute landed him in a river, the Japs proceeded to machine gun him. Only rotten aim saved Cross.

In their first baptism of fire, the young Americans made a fine impression on the war correspondents, including O D Gallagher, a fellow International News Service reporter who cabled from Rangoon, Burma:

"THIS WAS THE FIRST TIME I HAD SEEN AMERICANS AT WAR BOY! THEY'RE THE TOP OF THEIR CLASS."

But, he added, "it is my unpleasant duty again to report superb flying by the enemy."

However, Gallagher, who is a veteran from the sinking of the Repulse, added:

"BE THAT AS IT MAY, THE ANGLO-AMERICAN AIR COOPERATION MUST HAVE BEEN AS PERFECT AS ANYTHING HUMAN CAN BE BECAUSE ALTHOUGH FIGHTING AGAINST SUPERIOR NUMBERS THE BRITISH AND AMERICANS SHOT DOWN CONSIDERABLY MORE AIRCRAFT THAN THEY LOST THEMSELVES."

One American in that engagement said his parachute, after the Japs had fired on him when he tumbled out, looked like a watering can spout.

Many Jap pilots, it was found, are from high classes of society. They were educated or trained abroad and, on returning home, found business was bad for them so they entered the navy, which was about their only outlet. Most of them speak English or German.

Germany meanwhile, with her reverses in Russia and Libya, cannot lay claims to being ahead of the United States. Great changes have been effected since December 6, when the Russians started the Germans homeward. The Nazis may have more pilots than the United States, but they do not have the ability to sustain a pilot training program as intense as the Americans, nor do they have the facilities for production of planes.

Japan is given credit for producing about 1,000 pilots a year, but most are of inferior quality and, if Americans are not natural born flyers, then the Japs are ground hogs.

America knows that the air arm of the Army and Navy will win the war and we have set ourselves to the mastery of the world in the air. The extent to which our airplanes will be a deciding factor in determining the outcome will be in direct proportion to the number which our industry is able to produce, according to Col John H Jouett, president of the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce of America.

The American air pilot program, and the expansion of the aviation industry in this country, has no counterpart in the world. It is superior to anything any enemy possesses and, while full details cannot be revealed, I know, as one who knows Japan, that all the Japs cannot match one lone American factory.

This article was originally published in the March, 1942, issue of Flying and Popular Aviation magazine, vol 30, no 2, pp 14-23, 60, 62, 71, 73-74.
The PDF of this article is heavily illustrated with photos showing the war in the Far East, Russia, the Middle East, Europe, and the Home Front. All told, there are some 50 photos.
An illustrated version [ HTML ] in HTML of this article is also available. Photos are not credited, but obviously come from multiple sources.
A-B-C-D powers are American, British, Chinese, Dutch.