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 other 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 throughout 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 industrialized enemy that had an modern air force. The British, locked into a life and death struggle 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 largely obsolete at the outbreak of the Pacific War (December 1941). The Japanese given their early successes, made no effort to substantially expand pilot training, not only for the increasing needs of the Pacific War or to replace the inevitable losses. This strategic lapse caught up with the Japanese at Midway (June 1942). On one single day Japan lost a substantial number of its superbly trained and experienced aviators. By the end of the year, 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.
We see some images of children training for air operations. We have been unable, however, to find any Japanese program to select and train children. This is not as outlandish as it may sound. The Germans had a child training program as a activity choice in the Hitler Youth. The boys trained in gliders which meant that many were accomplished pilots by the time that they had finished the HJ Fliger program. The HJ Organization created arrangements so that the boy completing the HJ program would automatically transition into the Luftwaffe. There were other
similar HJ programs for other specialized services. But there was nothing like this in Japan. There was no mass youth organization. The most important youth organization was the relatively small Boy Scout program which was reemphasized as war approached because of its perceived Western taint. There was military training in the school, but we know of no specialized flight training in the schools. That does not mean it did not happen, but we have been unable to find any information about it. We have found one photograph showing boys practicing on basic flight mechanics, but we have no explanatory information. As far as we can tell, selections for pilot training occurred after young men were inducted into the military. Both officers and enlisted men were selected. And unlike the American air services, pilots were nor automatically assigned officer status. Some of Japan's most illustrious aces remained enlisted men throughout the War.
Japan like the United States did not have an independent air force, The Japanese air service was part of the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA). The first documented Japanese flight was Captain Yoshitoshi Tokugawa's foray in a Maurice Farman at the Yoyogi Maneuver Grounds in Tokyo (1910). After some attempt at inter-service cooperation, the Army and Navy went their separate ways. The first flying school was opened (1912). A smattering of aircraft acquired by the Army participated in the Tsingtao Operation in China at the onset of the War. They also participated as part of the Siberia Expedition during the Russian Civil Wat (1918-21). They were primarily uses for reconnaissance, but dropped a few small bombs. Japan established its first fighter squadrons when a French Mission was sent to advise the IJA on air warfare (1919). The Japanese began purchasing French aircraft, but beginning to build its own aircraft industry. The IJA by the mid-1920s had established the Army Air Corps making it an important branch. (on par with the other branches like infantry and artillery). The IJA was using Japanese-designed and -manufactured aircraft (early-1930s). The Imperial Japanese Army Air Academy was the principal officers' training school for the IJA was opened at Sayama, northwest of Tokyo. An airfield was built for training purposes (1937). Japanese aviators gained considerable experience in China before the War, but there was relatively little air opposition until the American Aviation Group (Flying Tigers) arrived (December 1941). We do not yet have much information on the Japanese training program, but it appears to have focused primarily on tactical skills. Little attention was given to logistics and airfield construction which would prove vital in the Pacific War. (The slow pace of airfield construction for example gave the Americans time to react before they completed the airfield on Guadalcanal.) After the war began, actual flight training had to be curtailed because of fuel shortages
The Japanese Navy before the War had perhaps the best pilot training programs in the world, at least in terms of turning out skilled airmen, but not large numbers of airmen. The Yokaren Naval Preparatory Flight Training Program was begun in 1930. It was a highly selective, rigorous, intensive training program. Here we see a training session beginning with gliders (figure 1). Japanese naval aviation training was the most exhaustive and intensive aviation training program of any country. And the results were extraordinary. Japanese naval pilots, in sharp contrast to the assessment of military experts were probably the most talented and skilled group of pilots on the planet.
As a result of the intensive training program, Japan thus entered the Pacific War with the finest, most superbly trained naval aviators in the world. It was a force perfectly suited for scoring a knockout blow against an enemy force which it demonstrated with stunning efficiency at Pearl Harbor (December 1941).
And in the first year of the Pacific War they demonstrated that skill with startling achievements. And Pearl Harbor was only the beginning. They not only dominated the Pacific, but in a foray into the Indian Ocean, forced the British Royal Navy to withdraw West.
The Japanese corps of naval aviators was a relatively small force, but one ideally suited for winning a short war. And the Japanese carrier pilots demonstrated their skill by their performance in the early months of the War, And they flew the sleek Mitsubishi A6M Zero, the most effective fighter in the Pacific for the first 2 years of the Pacific War with devastating consequences. The catastrophe at Midway (June 1942) had nothing to do with the skill of the pilots, but with the failure of naval leadership. After the three Japanese carriers were sunk or disabled, a handful of pilots from Hiryū scored repeated hits on the heavily defended Yorktown. One shudders to think what Admiral Nagumo would have achieved had he succeeded in launching a full-scale attack on the American carriers with all four of his carriers. The Japanese pilot training program, however, had a serious weakness. It was geared to producing a relatively small number of superb aviators to man the air units of the Imperial Fleet at a time that the United States was significantly limiting military spending. The Japanese pilot training was more than adequate for a peace time Navy. The question for Admiral Yamamoto was, could Japan force the United States to make peace before his corps of superb naval aviators suffered the inevitable attrition of a long drawn out war. Yet the nature of Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor virtually assured that there would be no negotiated peace. And in fact as the Pacific War was fought out, the corps of well-trained naval aviators proved totally inadequate for the Pacific War launched against a country with the capabilities and resources of the United States. America not only did not sue for peace, but instead mobilized and brought the force of its massive resources to bear on Japan--especially the IJN. The United States very rapidly expanded the U.S. Navy and in particular naval aviation, much more rapidly than the Japanese has thought possible. The United States immediately established an effective pilot training program aimed at training a very large number of well trained, competent but not superb aviators. The Japanese carrier aviators were a very small force and totally unsuited for a protracted war of attrition against the United States with its huge industrial capacity and virtually unlimited resources. The existing Japanese training program was so intensive that it could not be expanded to train large numbers of merely competent naval aviators. Nor did Japanese commanders move to create am effective larger scale program. Japan did nor bring its experienced pilots back to help train new recruits. They stayed on station until shot down, losing their irreplaceable combat experience. The aerial fighting in the Solomons during the Guadalcanal campaign showed the quality of Japanese naval aviation training. Many pilots had survived Midway. The naval aviators were assigned to land bases at Rabaul and other island sites. But few of the survivors would survive the Solomons. And as they gradually were lost, especially after Midway, Japan was left with poorly trained naval aviation recruits who could hardly land on their carriers. The Japanese increased the number of entrants to the Yokaren program dramatically in the last 2 years of the War, but now they were rushed the young recruits through with minimal training and flight time. Not only did they fail to create an effective training program, but fuel shortages because of American submarine attacks on the Maru fleet sharply limited training time in the air. Access to oil and the other resources of the Southern Resource Zone (SRZ) was the primary reason that Japan had launched the Pacific War. And while they succeeded in conquering the SRZ after Pearl Harbor they soon found it impossible to get those resources back to support the war industries on the Home Island. Nor could they get needed food supplies back to Japan. This severely crimped Japan's war industries even before the Strategic Bombing Campaign began. As a result, when the Imperial Navy's new / carriers finally emerged to give battle in the Philippines Sea (June 1944), its highly committed, but poorly trained aviators were slaughtered in what became known as the Marianas Turkey Shoot (June 1944). This is when the Japanese began to shift to Kamikaze attacks, using young men who knew little more than how to take off and steer. Numerous Yokaren-trained pilots and crew members carried out the kamikaze attacks on American invasion forces (1944-45). Many more recruits were still in training preparing to crash into the expected American fleet assembling to invade the Home Islands when Japan surrendered. About 80 percent of the graduates of the Yokaren died in the Pacific War.
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