World War II: Pacific Theater--Air Campaign

Figure 1.--.

The air war in Asia and the Pacific was determined in large measure by the aviation industries of the combatant countries, especially the United States and Japan. China had no significany aviation industry of its own and relied heavily on imports from otherr countries. Foreig pilots also played an important role. Britain had an important aviation industy, but producion was primarily commited to the European theater. The defense of Singaporte (1941-42), for example, was attempted with almost no air support. The Soviets had a major aviation indudyry, but played only a minor role in the theater, except in the final weeks of the War. Ananalysis of the aviation industries of the the United States and Japan lead one to womder why Japan would have ever laynched the Pacific War against the United States. Japan had an advanced aviation industry capable of developing modern aircraft such at the Mitsibishi Zero. They received some technical assistance from their Axis partner, NAZI Germany. The Japanese aviation industry, however, was small in comparison to that of the United States. The Inited States had one of the nost advanced aviation industries in the world and the scientific infrastructure to significantly expand that industry. It also had the world's larges industrial capacity to manufacture aircraft. The Japanese decesion for war was based on the calculation that Japan's superority in carriers would allow it to seize a vast Pacific empire and win a short war before American's industrial capability could be mobilized. The resources of that new enpire could then be used to sipport a military force that America would not have the will to challenge. This proved to be a gravely mistaken calculation.

Japanese Aviation Industry

Americans in the 1930s thought of Japan as a rather bavkward industrial power. Most Americans bought chrap Japanese toys and china in dime stores. There was no realization, even in upper echelons of the military that Japan had an advanced aviation industry that could produce high performance military aircraft. Even when Clare Chanaulte's Flying Tigers submitted reports of modern Japanese aircraft they were encountering, these assessments were largely discounted in part because of the low esteme Americans had for Japanese manufacturing. In fact Japan had one of the most advanced aviation industries in the world, heavily financed by the Japanese military. Because of this the Japanese entered World war II with one of the best fightersof the War--especially the Mitsubihi A6M Zero fighter. The Army later received the Nakajima Ki-43 Oskar, another excellent fighter with inovative fatures like butter-fly wings. The Japanese also have effective torpedo planes, dive bombers, and various types of other bombers. The Zero was superior in many characteristics to any fighter in the American arsenal when the Japanese launched the War. The Japanese fighters were light, fast and highly manunervable. It also had a range of 1,150 miles, an important capability on the vast Pacific theater of operations. They had some weakenesses, however, such as light armoring to potect the pilot and the absence of self-sealing fuel tanks. (Given the great effort the Japanese put into pilot training, the failure to protect them was short sighted and proved a great mistake.) The Japanese planes were developed with minimal foreign assistance. The Zero demonstrated the potent capabilities of Japanese aviation industry. The fact that at the time the Japanese surrendered (1945) that it was still their first-line fighter demonstrates the limitations of that industry.

American Aviation

American planners were surprised that Japan would dare attack because of the massive industrial potential of the United States. No where was the American polential prove to be so important than in the air war. Japan introduced the Zero in China (1940). Five years later it was still their main-line fighter. The U.S. Navy at the time of Pearl Harbor was using the Gruman F45 Wildcat. It was slower and less maneuverable than the Zero. It had a limited range of only 770 miles. Its only real asset was it was heavier armored and more durable than the Zero. The inadequate performance and the greater numbers of he Zero enable the Japanese to dominate the skies of the South Pacific during 1942. American aviators developed tactivs to oppose the Zeros, but they wre only partially successful. Even before Pear Harbor, Grunan wa working on a new fighter--the 56L Hellcat (June 1941). After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Navy and Gruman rushed development of the Hellcat. The first protype was flown (June 1942). `It was to be the primary American carrier plane of the Pacific campaign. The Hellcay by the end of the War was being replaced by the even more capable Corsair. The U.S. AirForces also deployed the Lockeed ?? and the North American P51 Mustang. The Air Force also deployed a range of bombers. It was the B-15 Mitchells that first struck Tokyo. The B-19 Flying Fotresses and the B-24 Liberators played important foles, but the B-20 Super Forts that would eventually win the War. These planes had capabilities far beyond those of the comparable Japanese planes and they were produced in numbers that dwarfed Japanese production.

Chinese Aviation (1932-36)

China had no aviation industry to speak of, even afyer the major advances made in aviation during World war I. Chiang after seizing control of the Kuomintang did organize an air force by importing foreign-built aircraft. His primary concern during the 1920s was first the war lords and then the Communists, neither of which had important air forces of their own. Chiang and his German military commader, Gen. von Falkenhausen, were chiefly interested in light reconnaissance-bombers that could be used to spot and attack Communist ground forces. Such tactics had proven useful against Communist forces in the Baltics following World war I. The Nationalists purchased aircraft in both the United States and Germany in the years preceeding the Japanese invasion (1932-36). Chiang in America bought 72 Douglas O-2MC-2 and -10 attack bombers and 20 Vought V-92C Corsairs He also bought from NAZI Germany 24 Heinkel He 66Ch biplane dive bombers. These aircrasft were useful in the counter-insurgency campaign against the Communisdts because they were esentially aerial artillery to support infantry and to assist with protecting railroad supply lines. They could conduct punitive raids on villages suspected of aiding the Communists. They were useful against the Communists who did not have their own air force. They were, however, relatively slow aircraft that needed fighter cover in any conflict against a modern airforce.


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Created: 8:25 PM 12/16/2006
Last updated: 8:25 PM 12/16/2006