Planes for the Pacific

by Lucien Zacharoff

Inexorably the ultimate reckoning in the Asiatic war is approaching. Increasingly the Allies and Japan are coming to grips in a manner that foreshadows the beginning of the end. The enemy, accordingly, is stepping up his air activity, even if it is often nothing more than suicide tactics.

Japan probably has husbanded much of her air strength for the defense of the homeland even as the Germans tried to do in coping with our invasion of the Continent. She may have avoided the Nazi shortage of aviation fuel. which had so fatefully grounded the Luftwaffe at the crisis.

This high-octane hoard may be sought out and bombed by the Allies as the sources of Germany's synthetic fuels were. Then again, profiting by the catastrophic European experience, the Japanese may succeed in preserving until needed their gasoline store.

So, at the moment it is too early to be writing off the air war in the Pacific. Rather it is part of wisdom to scrutinize what aircraft types the enemy disposes of in meeting the challenge of the US aero industries; Army Air Forces, and Naval aviation.

For a clearer perspective, let's first make a rapid resume of our own Army aircraft types on the scene of the showdown. Among the single-engined fighters we readily recall the P-40 employed in China, while the P-47 and P-51D have specialized in long-range escort missions. In the twin-engined fighter group on escort mission, the P-38 leaps to mind.

In the medium bomber category, the B-25 has distinguished itself on short tactical- bombardment missions and in anti-shipping operations. Strategic and tactical, the heavy four-engined B-24 has engaged in medium range bombing of hostile island possessions.

Because for weeks it has dominated our front pages as well as the skies of the Nipponese mainland which it has been bombing strategically on long-range flights, little need be said about the very heavy four-engined B-29, except perhaps that it is likely to complete the job while our designers and constructors are trying to rush to completion and combat even heavier types.

Before passing on to the consideration of the Japanese opposite numbers, it must be brought out that fighters such as P-47s and P-51s have been widely applied on tactical missions of destroying bridges, railroads, and other communications, of attacks on airdromes, emplacements, and so on. The P-61, alias Black Widow, has displayed versatility when it started branching out into night search and other specialized functions. It is most likely that the end of the war will witness a predominance of jet-propelled fighters on our side.

Turning to the enemy army specimens, we promptly realize that since 1942 they have been on the defensive; hence, strikingly noticeable is the preoccupation with tactical aircraft. With their current emphasis on interceptor-fighters, the Japanese are also showing a trend to heavier armament, increased engine output — 1,500 to 2,000 hp, protection of the pilot.

All too obvious is the negative objective — the defense of the homeland against our heavies. Next priority honors our shipping, as shown by their underscoring of dive bombers and torpedo bombers. The US Navy receives attention from specialized planes like Baka for suicide sweeps. The latter have also featured other types, both recent and obsolete.

Single-engined Japanese fighters include Frank, their latest contribution to the 400 mph class. With a 31-foot span, Tojo is one of the smallest fighters in the world; it boasts an extraordinarily high rate of climb. Powered by a liquid-cooled in-line engine, Tony is probably the first Japanese fighter to incorporate protection for its pilot; still much used, its diving speed is satisfactory. Still the most numerous of Japanese army fighters, Oscar 3 does not compare in specifications and performance with the other single-engined types. Nick is the enemy's first twin-engined fighter; very heavily armed, it has been handicapped by poor maneuverability.

Among twin-engined bombers, Helen is in widest use, with Sally and Lily swiftly turning obsolete. Peggy is the latest bomber of this type to reach the battlefields, and at this writing little has been learned concerning it.

Japanese aerial reconnaissance employs the twin-engined Dinah on a big scale; it's fast, and otherwise extremely serviceable, while the single-engined Ida and Sonia are distinctly obsolete, cursed with fixed landing gear, and are likely to be retired from operations in China.

So much for the Japanese army aircraft. Even before we started giving serious attention to the enemy homeland, it was the Japanese navy's planes that furnished main air resistance to our conquest of Pacific islands. In this department we encounter considerably more variety and some effectiveness.

Before describing them, we let pass in review our own Navy's famous combat aircraft. Three outstanding fighters include Corsair — single-engined, with a service ceiling exceeding 35,000 ft., maximum range over 1,500 mi, 2,000-hp P & W Double Wasp engine. Similarly powered, Hellcat also hits over 400 mph, is likewise jet-assisted at takeoff. It, too, totes two 1,000-lb bombs and six .50-calibre guns; it also fires rockets. Its various versions have served as search and intruder planes, as night fighters. The single-engined Wildcat's maximum speed is over 300 mph; service ceiling over 30,000 ft; its bombs are light, armament including six .50-calibre guns, and rockets.

Our Navy's dive bombers are Dauntless and Helldiver. The first-named has a crew of pilot and gunner, a Wright 1,200-hp engine, approximate top speed of 230 mph, service ceiling of more than 20,000 ft, maximum range over 1,000 mi, tactical radius over 200 mi, bomb load of 1,000 lbs, armament of two .30-calibre machine guns in rear cockpit and two .50-calibre machine guns in nose. Approximating its ceiling, range, and tactical radius, Helldiver has maximum speed of more than 250 mph; its armament incorporates two .30-calibre machine guns, two 20-mm cannon, an enclosed bomb bay with quick-acting split flaps, four .50-calibre fixed guns with screw-jack flaps, and eight rocket launchers.

Avenger is our great naval torpedo bomber, its power plant a 1,700-hp Wright Cyclone. Other data include: maximum speed, over 250 mph; service ceiling, over 20,000 ft; maximum range, over 1,000 mi; tactical radius, 265 mi; crew, three; bomb load, 2,000 lbs of bombs or one torpedo; armament, two .30- and one .50-calibre machine guns, rockets under wings, four rocket rails. As in all our aircraft, ample protection is provided for pilot and crew, in this instance consisting of armor plate, bullet-resistant glass, self-sealing tanks.

Remarkable is our bevy of twin- and four-engined naval patrol bombers. Here the honor roll includes names like Coronado, Mariner, Nomad, Catalina, Liberator, Privateer, Ventura, Mitchell. Their crews reaching eleven, with powerful gross weights, terrific ranges and ceilings, bomb loads and armaments, these flying boats have also served as transports and in other capacities. The amount of damage they have inflicted on the enemy and of service in our cause merits an article of its own, and we shall not do them the injustice of attempting an abbreviated account herewith.
[There seems to be an editing error here — Liberator, Privateer, Ventura, Mitchell are not flying boats. —JLM]

The Japanese navy's welcoming committee of single-engined fighters has on its roster the so-called George, their latest operational interceptor. Its 2,000-hp engine endows it with a maximum speed close to 400 mph. Land-based, it is armed with four 20-mm cannon in wings and two machine guns in engine cowling. Another recent interceptor is Jack, land-based, powered by a 1,800-hp plant, armed with four 20-mm cannon. Zeke 52 is still the most numerous of Japanese fighters. Emerging from a series of evolutionary modifications, Zeke has increased armament and a sort of pilot protection, a 1,200-hp engine, is land- and carrier-based. A twin-engined night fighter is called Irving.

Japanese dive bombers are Val, Judy and Jill. Val took part in the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, is still in service in small numbers. Judy is their only naval plane with a liquid-cooled engine, copied from the Nazi DB-601; land-based and carrier-borne, widely used, its machine guns number three — two forward-firing and one in rear cockpit. Essentially a torpedo-firing plane, Jill has doubled as a dive bomber; it was the type that bombed our carrier Franklin.

At the moment Jill heads the list of the foe's single-engined torpedo bombers. It superseded Kate which is still occasionally employed. The latest addition to this family is Grace, reputed to be very fast. Extremely active against our Pacific task forces has been the twin-engined torpedo bomber Frances; carrying its lethal load internally, it is mostly a straight bomber.

Twin-engined Japanese bombers are Betty, Frances, Lily. The first is their navy's most significant bomber, much improved since its debut in 1942. Today its armament consists of 20-mm cannon in turret and tail positions. It can carry torpedo, has larger engines, more speed, and armor protection than ever. Still used, mostly in China, is Lily, which is becoming obsolete.

An unsuccessful attempt at a four-engined bomber is Liz, latterly used as a transport. On the other hand, the four-engined Emily patrol is probably one of the best flying boats in the world, and is extensively employed for long-range reconnaissance patrol, and transport work. The four-engined Mavis patrol is now obsolete.

With one engine each, Myrt, Jake, Judy and Irving are reconnaissance planes. Myrt is swift, equipped with cameras and a solitary machine gun. Jane is a float-plane.

Briefly then, these are the opposite numbers that the Japanese industry and armed forces are counterposing to our aircraft. In some of the most significant categories it is ridiculous to speak of opposite numbers, as in the case of the B-29. Even if Japan had anything resembling the Superfortress, her corresponding craft would have no place to go, strategically speaking, for her bases are much too far from any objective suitable for such machines.

The nearest Japanese "answer" to a homeland-bombing aircraft has been the unmanned stratospheric silk-paper balloon released to float across the Pacific to set fires in our country. This, according to Radio Tokyo and Domei "News" Agency, is "a means which the Americans do not possess."

For this we give heartfelt thanks. For if we had to pin our hopes for survival or victory to this alleged weapon, we, too, would be losing the air war and the total war. Surely neither our enemies nor friends nor the most modest of Americans would consider it unwarranted boastfulness to say that our aircraft are the last word in scientific ingenuity and combat effectiveness.

Reflected in the Japanese air weapons are the lowest forms of cunning and treachery, gangsterism and despair, combined with almost incredible naivete, paucity of resources and resourcefulness, singular lack of original military and industrial thinking, catastrophically self-contradicting actions and propaganda.

The foregoing is not wishful thinking to one taking a most cursory glance at the record of the war since Pearl Harbor. That incident itself — tragic as it has been to us and the rest of the civilized world — is a case in point, a monument to the stupidity of Tokyo war lords, when we contemplate the price they are about to pay for their momentary gloating.

Yes, the Japanese aircraft have of late sported heavier armament, stepped-up speed, more powerful engines, leak-proof tanks. At low speeds and altitudes they have enjoyed certain advantages. They may resort to the German buzz-bomb and jet planes. Even so, as our strategists, tacticians and technicians make their sober-minded analyses, comparisons and evaluations, their consensus is that the enemy may somewhat approach us but never catch up with the march of our aeronautical technology.

Can they even begin to match the superior and incomparably faster thinking, initiative, ideals of free men fighting to preserve and enhance freedom? This kind of thinking is the only truly effective secret weapon of World War II, the only unimpeachable guarantee of certain victory.

This article was originally published in the September, 1945, issue of Air News with Air Tech magazine, vol 9, no 3, pp 41-43, 104.
The original article includes 20 photos of many of the various types mentioned.
Photos are credited to US Navy, Martin, Northrop, United Aircraft, Rudy Arnold, Consolidated Vultee, Lockheed, British Combine, North American, Douglas, Acme.