* war and social upheaval: World War II national air forces Japan








World War II National Air Forces: Japan


Figure 1.--Japanese boys like American boys were fascinated by air planes, but far fewer boys had access to planes or even car engines. (Piston-poweed air crft engunes were simply advanced versions of piston-powered car engines.) These secondary school boys about 1932 are showing their model planes to General Nagaoka (the elderly gentleman with the huge mustache). Nagaoka Gaishi was an estemed army general of the Meiji and Taisho eras. He fought in the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) and was Vice Chief of the General Staff in Tokyo during during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05). He was elected a member of the House of Representatives (1924). Racial myths abounded on both sides during the War, including the myth that the Japanese had poor eye-sight and made poor pilots. The United States did, however, had advantages concerning pilots. The American population was substahtially larger than that of Japan, especially the age cohorts from which pilots were drawn. In addition a much larger portion of young Americans were familiar with and able to maintain mechanical equipment.

The Meiji Restoration (1868) was largely the result of the realization that Japan would have to modernize to resist Western imperialism. As a result, one of the primary goal of the new Japanese imperial government was to build a powerful military along European lines with modern arms. Thus in the early-20th century when Western countries began assessing the military potential of the airplane, the Japanese military followed these developments. Japan at the time did not have the capability of designing and building their own aircraft. The first Japanese-owned plane was purchased by a private individual (1910). It was similar to a plane designed and flown by the French aviator Henri Farman. The Tokugawa Balloon Factory began to build the plane on a limited basis (1911). Japan had a naval treaty with Britain abnd joined the Allied side when World War I broke out. As a result, the Japanese military acquired several advanced Allied aircraft types, including some French Nieuport fighters and Salmson 2A-2 bombers. After World War I, Japan actively followed air craft developments and acquired mostly European techhnology. They hosted military aviation delegations and sent their own military delegations abroad. Slowly Japan was able to develop their own aviation design capability. Both the Army and Navy had active programs, but there was no independent air force established. The Japanese dominated the skies over China, until the United States began supplying modern aircraft and trained pilots to China--the Flying Tigers. The Allies significantly underestimated the effectiveness of Japanese aircraft. Before the Japanese struck, it was widely thought in the West that Japan was not capable of making high-performance modern aircraft and that Japanese pilots were not particularly skilled. The Mitsubishi Zero shocked the Americans and British. The result was the virtual destruction of the U.S. Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor and the loss of wide areas of Southeast Asia and the Paciic in 1942. The Japanese, however, badly miscalculated their ability to compete with American industrial strength. Japanese aircraft designers were competent, but their industry had a limited capacity. The U.S. Navy ad Army Air Corps fought the first year of the Pacific War with inferior aircraft. Within less than a year of Pealr Harbor, American air units were receiving new aircraft that out performed the Zero and other Japanese aircraft. New types continually rolled off American assembly lines while the Japanese continued to use the same aircraft types with which they began the War. The Japanese in the final year of the War were reduced to using suiside tactics--the Kamakazze. And their aircraft could not capable of reaching sufficent alditudes to engage the American B-29s that reduced Japanese cities to ashes.

Meiji Restoration (1868)

The Meiji Restoration (1868) was largely the result of the realization that Japan would have to modernize to resist Western imperialism. As a result, one of the primary goal of the new Japanese imperial government was to build a powerful military along European lines with modern arms. The new leadership picked and chose as to what Western rforms they wished to adopt. Three of thf the mist important were militry, industry, and education. No where else in Asia was this happening. The Chinese imperial leadership in particular resited these changes as destabilizing. Korea remained the Hermit Kingdom.

Early Steps (1909-14)

The Wright Brothers in America conducted the first havier than air flight along the North Carolina coast (1903). The first air planes were flimsy affairs with very limited capabilities, including speed, range, and height. World militaries were interested, but given the linitations relatively little attention was given to aircraft before the War. Considerable improvemets were made in aviation during the early-20th century. Thus in the early-20th century when Western countries began assessing the military potential of the airplane. But no actual weapons were developed for aircraft before the War. The basic idea was to use the flimsy pre-War air craft as reconisance. The Japanese military and civilian industry followed these developments. Japan at the time did not have the capability of designing and building their own aircraft. Yoyogi Park in downtown Tokyo was before World War I a Imperial Japanese Army training ground -- Yoyogi Plain. It was used by the unit assigned to defend nearby Edo Castle. Yoyogi Plain was converted to a military training ground (1909.) The JapaneseArmy chose Capt. Kumazo Hino (1878�1946) to Germany and Capt. Yoshitoshi Tokugawa (1884�1963) to France to obtain information on military aviation (1910). They became Japan's first two pilot. Both were young enginners with no previous knowledge of aviation. When they returned to Japan they used Yoyogi Plain as a testing ground. , between December 13 and 19, 1910, that the pair of newly qualified pilots demonstrated two of the three state-of-the-art aircraft that they had purchased for the Japanese Army. Hino acuired a Grade Libelle (Dragonfly) monoplane. Tokugawa acquired a Henri Farman biplane and a Bl�riot. The first Japanese civilian-owned plane was purchased by a private individual (1910). It was similar to a plane designed and flown by the French aviator Henri Farman. The Tokugawa Balloon Factory began to build the plane on a limited basis (1911). We note boys from the Tokyo Military School Academy attending an air show by a Western flyer (1911). As in the West, there was no armament on these planes and no real idea about how to use military avition oter than reconnisance.

World War I (1914-18)

Japan had a naval treaty with Britain abnd joined the Allied side when World War I broke out. As a result, the Japanese military acquired several advanced Allied aircraft types, including some French Nieuport fighters and Salmson 2A-2 bombers. The seeeds of World War II in Asia were laid during World War I when Japan Issued the Twent-one Demands (1915). And in the post-War settlement, Japan acquired the former German Treaty Port of ??? as well as strategically located Pacific Islands.

Inter-War Years

After World War I, Japan actively followed air craft developments and acquired mostly European techhnology. Both the Army and Navy had active programs, but there was no independent air force established. The Japanese hosted military aviation delegations and through their miliitary attaches at diplomatic posts attempted to acquire foreign technology. The Japanese were able to develop their own aviation design capability.

Japanese naval aviation

Britain after World War I was uncertain about the United States. Some in Admiralty contemplated a war with America. It soon became obvious to British officials that Britain no longer had the industrial strength to outbuild all rivals, especially the United States. They thus decided to cooperate with America and negotiate an arms limitation agreement--the Washingtom Naval Agreements. America's price for cooperation was that Britain allow the naval treary with Japan to lapse. American policy in the Far East was to purse an Open Door policy toward China and resist Japanese implementation of the Twenty-One Demands. While the British declined to renew the Naval treaty with Japan, they attempted to maintain cordial relations. One result of this was a British naval aviation delegation which visited Japan. The British visitors made a series of recommendations about a future naval airforce. These recomendations made in the 1920s had a profound impact on the fleet air arm. The British even helped train officers for the fleet air arm. And because of the conservative nature of the Imperial Navy, British practices discarded in the 1930s were still maintained by the Japanese during the 1940s Pacific War. After World War I while air bases and civilian airports were being built in America and Europe, air infrastructure ws limited throughout the rest of the world. This was a problem for the British with their widely spread empire. So the Royal Navy's initial answer was floatplanes. As infrastructure was built, these planes were largely abandoned by the Royal Navy because the floats limited plane performance. The Japanese continued a major contribution to floatplanes which played an important, but ineffective, part of Japanese air operations during the Pacific War.

Japanese army aviation

The British were not the only European power contributing to the development of Japanese military aviation. The German Weimar Republic sponsored contacts with the Japanese in several areas, including aviation. This was part of Weimar diplomacy to break out of British-French encirclement. And the German military saw this and other foreign initiatives (such as with the Soviets) as a wade of evading the restrictive provisions of the Versailles Treaty. Germans helped train the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force (IJAAF). The Germans were army officers left their imprint, an air force primarily geared to supporting Army ground operations--what we came to call Blitzkrieg or now call close combat support. Tge Japanese never perfected this to the degree of the Luftwaffe.

Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45)

Japan seized the Chinese province of Manchuria (1931), commonly seen as the first aggressive action leading to World War II. The Chinese did not resist the seizure, but it resulted in intense anti-Japanese feeling throughout China. This lead to attacks on Japanese civilians working on China. Japan used its airforce to bomb Chinese cities like Shanghai as reprisal actions. This resulted in extensive civilan casualties. The weak Chinese airforce was unable to protect the cities. Japan invaded China proper (1937) launching the Second Sino-Japanese War. The Japanese insisted on calling it the China Incident. They encountered unexpectedly strong Chinese resistance ground resistance, especially around Shanhhai. Our information is limited at this time, but we have read very little about Japanese close air support oprations. Much of the literature deals with terror bombing of undefended Chimese cities. The Chinese were eventually forced to withdraw to the interior where the over-streached Imperial Army found it difficult to pursue in force. They used their air force, however, to bomb largely unprotected Chinese cities. The Japanese dominated the skies over China, until the United States began supplying modern aircraft and trained pilots to China--the American Vounteer Group (AVG). The AVG was better known as the Flying Tigers (1942). The AVG was deployed to China and Burma just before the Japanese attack on Peal Harbor brining America into the War. The AVG while small and flying largely obsolete P-40s, for the first time inflicted substantial casualties on Japanese aviation. And soon modern American airctaft began reaching China in substantial numbers. Although the Japanese closed the Burma Road, supplies were flow in over the Hump IHimilayasa) from India. This was sufficent to pprotect Chunking (the Nationalist capigalO) and attack Japanese targets in occupied China. The kinitial American objective was t begin a strategic bombing offensive agaionst the Home Islands from China. Initail efforts were disappointing and the Japanese Ichi-Go offensive seized most od the airields the United States planned to use,. American plans changed dramatically with the fall of the nmarianas (June-July 1944). The Marianas provided the airfields it needed for the stratehic air campaign. They were not only more secure than fields in China, but much wassier to supply.

Japanese Aircraft Types

The Mitsubishi Zero was the most famed Japanese aircraft of the Pacific War. It was a fighter armed with two 20 mm cannon and two 7.7 mm machine guns. The Zerpo ruled the skies over the Pacific for the first year of the War. Its greatest asset was its maueverability, gaimed primarily from its light weight. Unlike American aircraft which were armored, the Zero had little defenive armor. Thus when hit, the Zero usually when down in flames. The problem at the omsetof the War was hitting it with the lumbering fighters the U.S. Nvy, Mzrines, and Army Air Force had. Air superiority was one of the keys to the astonishing Japanese victories early in the War. The problem for the Japanese ws that their victories did not allow them to affect the war-making capabilities of the United States. They could not even affect the war-making capability of Australia which was located in the Pacific theater. Thus the Japanese did succeed in seizing much of the coveted Southern Resoure Zone (SRZ), it did not impair the war making capacity of the enemies created. And the Americans were able to stabilize the situation, in part by developing combat tactics for its aircraft like the Thatch Weave (1942). And then the following year advanced new aircraft reached the American forces with superior capabilitis thn the Zero (1943). The Japanese also had bombers,the Betty ws the best known. But Japanese industry could not produce many of them. And the huge expanse of the Pacific meant that they could not reach the United States and attack its indutrial infrastructure. There were a few raids on Australia's northern cities, but not on the larger cities where ustrali's population as centered. The bombers were used in China, but because of technological caabilities and th Japanese mindset were pimarily used as terror weapon and had little impact on the War. Once the United states entered the War, beginning with the Flying Tigers, the Nationalists were provided an air defense system which sunstantially reduced Japanese bombing. The Japanese had developed at least two newer types of fighters during the Pacific War. They were being used mostly in defense of the Home Islands from B-29 attacks and that was because they had a higher flight ceiling then the Zero but that all ended up as a moot point when Gen. Curtiss LeMay took over he switched from high (30,000 feet) day time raids to night time raids at about 10,000 feet' and switched to mostly massive incendiary attacks on Japanese cities much like the British air offensive against Germany. It was area bombing on a mssive scale.

Air Crew Training

Not only were the Japanese unable to compete in industrial terms with the United States, but the Japanese pilot training program proved an abject failure. Both the Army and Navy had aviation training programs. At this time we know mostly about the naval program. The Japanese pilot and ither air crew training program was excellent, at least for the war in China. They trained excellent pilots and their skill was on display both at Pearl Harbor and througout the Pacific for the first months of the war. What the Japanese did not plan for was losses once they went to war against an industrilized enemy that had an modern airforce. The British, locked into a life and death sruggle with the Germans in Europe, did not have the industrial power to spare much of its aircraft to the Pacific. The Americans did, although its aircraft were still lrgely obsolete at the outbreak of the Pacific War(Sevember 1941). The Japanese given their early successes, mafe no effort to substantially expAnd pilot training, not only for the incrasing needs of the Pacific War or to replace the inevitanle losses. This strategic lapse caught up with the Japanese at Midway (June 1942). On one single day Japan lost a substantil numbr of its superbly trained and eperiebced aviators. By the end of theyear, many of the survivors of Midway had been lost in air combat in the South Pacific. As a result, when advanced American aircraft began to reach the Pacific (1943), the Japanese were left with not only increasingly inadequate aircraft, but with minimally trained aviators.

Mechanics

One topic rarely addressed issue in World War II is mechanics. This is somewhat surprosing given the fact that the war was the first highly mechanized war in which horses and draft animals played only a minor role. The various weaponssystem, especially planes and tanks are the subject of exhustive treatment. The mechanics which kept these mechnical devices running are largely ignored. And here the United States had a huge advntage. The United States was the only country in which the average worker had the earnings power to purchase a car and karger numbers of farmers had tractors abd trucks. Thus huge numbers of Amricans of military age hd a familiarity with mechanics. In Europe and Japan, very few teenagers even knew how to drive, let alone have mechanical skills. In addition a lot of American high schools had vocational programs including mechanics. Relatively few teenagers in Europe and Japan even went to secondary school, and mechanical programs at those schools were virtully unknown. Thus the Japanese had to train drivers and mechanics from the ground up. It is worthless to have advanced weapon systems if you do not have the mechanics to keep them running. And the Japanese experiebce a wide range of problems keeping their planes flying in the first two years of the War in which there was contested air battles. We do not at this time have any information on how good the Japanese mechanics were. We do not have data as to how effectively Japanese mechanics kept their planes flying. One factor here is that after 1942, with the arrival of advanced American aircraft types, Japanese aircraft played only a limited role in the War. Japanse soldies recieved little or no aur support. After the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot (June 1944), the Japanese began shifting to Kamikazee tactics. And mchnics become less important when you essentialy hide aircraft which are then prepaed for only a sinle on-way combat mission. the IJA on the ground was not highly mechannized. They had tanks and trucks, but not very many. When the Japanese soldier moved, he usually did so on foot. This the demand for mechanics became far less thn that needed by the Americans or any other World war II airforce..

Pacific War (1941-45)

The Japanese military invaded China (1937) and despite military victories were frustrated that they were unable to force the Chinese to surrender. One option was to negotiate a peace. They rejected this option and after the outbreak of war in Europe studied how to benefit which is what they did in World War I. The militarists debated a northern strike against the Soviet Union or a southern strike against America and Britain. After the Germans seemingly abandoned them with the NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, the Strike South Faction became asendant. The primary Japanese objective became the British and Dutch resource rich colonies--the southern Resource Zone (SRC). Because the American-held Philippine Islands sat astride the sea lanes between the SRZ and the Home Island, the strike south option entailed war with the United States. As incredible as it may seem today, the Japanese answer to becoming embroiled to a seemingly endless war in China was to attack Britain and America. The primary military obstacle at the time was the United States which was not tied down by the War in Europe. An America's primary military strike force was the Pacific Fleet which President Roosevelt have moved forward to Pearl Harbor to dissuade the Japanese from war. Both America and Japan believed the coming war would be primarily a naval war. The growing capabilities of aircraft and the distances involved in the Pacific, however, meant that aircraft would play a much greater role than initially anticipated by either side. The Pacific War was notably begun and ended by aircraft. The limited range of aircraft during the 1920s and 30s affected military assessments. The Allies erred by significantly underestimating the capabilities of newly developed Japanese aircraft. Before the Japanese struck, it was widely thought in the West that Japan was not capable of making high-performance modern aircraft and that Japanese pilots were not particularly skilled. The Mitsubishi Zero shocked the Americans and British. The result was the virtual destruction of the U.S. Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor and the loss of wide areas of Southeast Asia and the Pacific in 1942. The Japanese also badly miscalculated their ability to compete with American industrial strength, partly because they believed that the Americans, like Tsarist Russia in 1905, would sue for peace after Japan scored early victories and seized the SRZ. Japanese aircraft designers were competent, but their industry and associated research groups had a limited capacity. The U.S. Navy and Army Air Corps fought the first year of the Pacific War with inferior aircraft. The Japanese failure to fully capitalize on their initial advantage doomed their war effort. Not only was the U.S. Pacific Fleet not destroyed, but the Japanese were in no way able to impair American war industries. American air units were able to develop tactics which offset the Zero's superior performance. And after the first year of the War, American air units were receiving new aircraft that out performed the Zero and other Japanese aircraft. New types continually rolled off American assembly lines while the Japanese continued to use the same aircraft types with which they began the War. Not only were the Japanese unable to compete in industruat terms with the United States, but vthe Japanese pilot training program was an adject failure. Uncharastically for the Pacific War, the greatest naval battle of all time, the Battle of Leyte Gulf, was fought primarily by surface units with carriers playing only a minor role. But this was only because American naval aviation had so severely damaged the Imperial Navy's fleet arm. The Japanese in the final year of the War were reduced to using suicide tactics--the Kamikaze . And their aircraft were not capable of reaching sufficient altitudes to engage the American B-29s that reduced Japanese cities to cinders even before the two atomic bombs were dropped. Significantly, both B-29s carrying the atomic bombs flew without escorts and were not engaged by Japanese air defenses.







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Created: 10:43 PM 8/19/2010
Last updated: 9:00 PM 4/23/2016