Much more than the enemy in Europe the Jap is a stranger to Occidentals in every sense of the word probably almost as much so to his own Allies in Germany as to American, British and Russian soldiers and sailors. Nazi ideology is something new, but the German as such is no stranger. We have met him on the battleground before, but, even more important, he may have lived in the next apartment or the house next door in any of the Allied countries. On the other hand, Japan’s way of life is something no white man can comprehend unless he has spent years in the East. Comparatively few have done that.
The dynasty over which Emperor Hirohito rules today dates back to 660 BCE. He throws his weight around under the title "Imperial Son of Heaven of Great Japan" and to the Japanese soldier this is not just a bunch of words strung together to bring victory out of one particular war.
Jap officers, questioned several years ago by a correspondent living among them, claimed that to the Japanese serviceman his flag is not only the image of his country in arms, but the "incarnation of imperial divinity of the supreme chief of the race." According to this source, endurance of the troops is due less to training than to the fact that their flag is always prominently displayed before them. Everything, therefore, is done under the eyes of the Emperor, as symbolized by the flag; reaches life and death proportions in battle. Hence the desire, apparently, for hanging on to "face." Also, Japan has an economy and psychology which produces soldiers who are physically hardy and willing, accustomed to hardships eking out a civilian existence which were probably greater than those in military life. More than that, military service is accepted as honorable and inevitable.
Cornerstone for the present Japanese Army was laid 72 years ago when a conscription-training system went into operation. Any male between the ages of seventeen and forty is considered eligible for military service, but in normal peacetime a man is usually twenty before he’s called to appear before the conscription board. Fifteen thousand officers and 242,000 men made up the peacetime strength of the Army; in 1942 its strength was estimated at over 3,000,000. The Army Air Force alone was judged, at that time, to boast about 2,000 aircraft.
In Japan as in the United States, the Air Force is an integral part of each branch of the service. Nipponese aviation actually began in 1909 when two Army officers were sent to France to study aeronautics. When they returned to the Far East a few years later, they taught others and formed a small observation squadron. Early in 1918 a military mission was dispatched to the front to study aviation aspects of World War I. This began the series of international contributions to Japanese aerial power. British fliers, advisers and aircraft organized the Naval Air Arm for Japan; French pilots and technicians got their Army Air Force started for them. Army aviation went under the control of the Ministry of War; the Admiralty gave orders to the Naval Air Service.
A Chief of Military Aviation heads the Army Air Service which consists of a number of air divisions, each assigned a specific geographic area of operation. Each air division is a combination of four or more air brigades. Several air regiments make up an air brigade and the regiments are based on the tactical unit of the Army Air Services the chutai or squadron. Each chutai is made up of three shotai or flights.
Personnel for the AAS receive training for duty under the Inspector General of Military Aviation who now supervises at least twelve different training activities: elementary technical and flying training for boys, pilot training, tactics, reconnaissance, bombardment, ground cooperation, parachute training, armament, gunnery, communications, navigation, and research.
Originally, naval aviation was put under the supervision of a directorate divided into three sections: general affairs, training and research. This directorate is now under control of a vice-admiral, is responsible to the Minister of Marine. The Naval Air Service is made up of expeditionary forces which are separated into shore based forces and shipborne forces. Each shore based force consists of one or more air flotillas which control both the flying units and the air stations from which they operate. An air flotilla is broken down into administrative and air attack sections, with each section divided into several kokutai or air groups.
Shipborne units are made up of three air divisions, each of which operates from a different type base: aircraft carriers, seaplane tenders and a miscellaneous group of surface vessels consisting of battleships, cruisers, submarines and other naval types. Either the Commander-in-Chief of the naval station from which each unit operates or the Admiral commanding the fleet to which it is assigned, is in charge of the units. Operational control of Naval Service Aviation depends on the theater of operation and the task to be accomplished, is extremely flexible.
Army training has developed excellent formation flying in horizontal bombing attacks and Jap planes stick close together through heavy flak or fighter opposition. If a plane is destroyed, another takes its position immediately. Thus, formations are not easy to break up. Both Army and Navy fighter pilots are experts at circle combat and the use of deceptive tactics to simulate loss of control. In general, however, the Navy appears better trained and equipped, has borne the brunt of South Pacific action, with the Army in a support role.
For the most part, Jap pilots are enlisted personnel. Only about one-fourth of the men who guide planes across the Pacific and into China wear the insignia of commissioned officers. Ranks in both the Japanese AAF and the Naval Air Service approximate those of the British RAF and Fleet Air Arm and because no American equivalent exists for Jap air ranks, identification of insignia shown here has been compared to British air insignia.
Japanese air power started the battle in the Pacific. Combined with efficient planes, trained airmen, sneak methods, Japan acquired control of the air. Her planes, guns and equipment have improved and continue to improve but advancements on Allied aircraft have gone along at a much greater pace. Moreover, from all accounts of the situation in the Pacific, since Midway she has in many instances sent a "second-string" team into combat. American pilots and crews, however, are all first-line airmen. They have already wrested control of the air from the aggressor and will soon be extending that control into Tokyo itself.
This article was originally published in the August, 1944, issue of Air News magazine, vol 7, no 2, pp 24-25, 66.
In addition to the page of drawings of insignia above, the original article includes 2 photos.
Drawings credited to Air News; photos credited to International.