Influence of the Akutan Zero in Allied tactics

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by Jenisch, Dec 14, 2011.

  1. Jenisch

    Jenisch Active Member

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    #1 Jenisch, Dec 14, 2011
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2011
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akutan_Zero:

    Some historians dispute the degree to which the Akutan Zero influenced the outcome of the air war in the Pacific. For example, the Thach Weave, a tactic created by John Thach and used with great success by American airmen against the Zero, was devised by Thach prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, based on intelligence reports on the Zero's performance in China.[36]

    The capture and flight tests of Koga's Zero is usually described as a tremendous coup for the Allies as it revealed the secrets of that mysterious aircraft and led directly to its downfall. According to this viewpoint, only then did Allied pilots learn how to deal with their nimble opponents. The Japanese could not agree more... Yet those naval pilots who fought the Zero at Coral Sea, Midway, and Guadalcanal without the benefit of test reports would beg to differ with the contention that it took dissection of Koga's Zero to create tactics that beat the fabled airplane. To them the Zero did not long remain a mystery plane. Word quickly circulated among the combat pilots as to its particular attributes. Indeed on 6 October while testing the Zero, [Akutan Zero test pilot Frederick M.] Trapnell made a highly revealing statement: 'The general impression of the airplane is exactly as originally created by intelligence—including the performance'


    I'm inclined to agree with this.
     
  2. bobbysocks

    bobbysocks Well-Known Member

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    its always a plus if you can test fly your enemies planes. you get to know their strengths and weakness'. IIRC this is where they found that the controls were very heavy in a dive after X mph.
     
  3. renrich

    renrich Active Member

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    Testing that Zero generally confirmed what was already known about it's performance. However, the details were certainly useful.
     
  4. Jenisch

    Jenisch Active Member

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    I agree.
     
  5. vanir

    vanir Banned

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    #5 vanir, Dec 15, 2011
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2011
    Plus the fact from what I recall those Intelligence reports were as often discounted than they were heeded. Thach might've been a smart cookie because he's the one in the seat, but it's really not the same thing as the DoD/USNHQ issuing general pilot familiarisation with Zero fighting techniques. It's much more like getting orders to go up, but before you jump in the cockpit some of you get together and say, right boys, bugger the brass, what we're going to do is this...

    So in terms of having things nicely printed in classified debriefings I'm sure the comparative testing of a captured model helped standardise the Thach Weave among other tactics among pilots.
    Chenault's personal tactics (Oscars and Nates are still highly manoeuvrable and dangerous), was to either boom and zoom or dive and extend, using superior dive speed of the Warhawk, the brilliance in this is the Warhawk has a lot more power under 5000ft (more with ram air) than any of the Japanese fighters (evens out at 8-12,000 but, so get them low if you can't boom and zoom).

    Still another popular tactic devised, or should I say discovered at Guadal was shooting down flight leaders threw the entire enemy squadron into such disarray that they no longer functioned as a coherent unit, but broke into highly stressed individuals. I'm guessing the US pilots picked this up during the large suicidal charges against Henderson, stopped in their tracks by little more than pack howitzers, MGs, hand to hand and guts. One thing noted was that once the command group which often led the charge was killed, all the other junior officers simply continued to lead their men to the slaughter showing no tactical initiative whatsoever, and it really turned into a slaughter.

    At length documentaries have examined the Japanese military culture (including Japanese vet interviews) correlating the contention that indeed, military training for the Japanese was so brutal and dehumanising, yet the command structure at the mid level so unbelievably insubordinate, and the battleplans at the very top so ridiculously complicated, that you wind up with very few people among thousands which are capable of displaying any tactical initiative whatsoever, and those few are incapable of following through on the overcomplicated battleplans under fire anyway, they consistently disobeyed orders, the Colonel who led the charge that cost something like 8000 against Henderson was ordered not to frontally attack, but he thought the order cowardly. At Midway the assault force was ordered to cover the carriers and it retreated, at Leyte with Taffy Group (the destroyers and destroyer-escorts that took on the Japanese battleline and forced a retreat), again disobeying direct orders which at the very least would've made far more bloody and brutal conclusions. The Japanese mid level commanders fought the whole Pacific war like you could just concede the field of battle and return to fight it out again in a month after a rest and refit and a cup of tea, like the colonial powers in WW1. Just like them it's as if armed with modern weapons, without any idea of how to conduct modern warfare.
    And this military culture was most extreme within the IJN AF (the élite of the élite, so also with the highest training attrition, lowest recruitment, and greatest doctrinal dehumanisation).

    The tactic of taking down the flight leaders to break up Japanese squadrons and then using teamwork like the Thach Weave or any other kind of real teamwork immediately gives advantage because you're doing something the Japanese could no longer do, given their training conditions, which is function as a coherent flight unit and use teamwork at all times. They didn't do that once you shot the leader down. This was used at Wake and the series Dogfights claims that it became doctrinal US fighter tactics by the late war, something widely noted.

    Now...I don't think the flight evaluation of any Zeros really helped all that much in terms of discovering things like they've no armouring, pilots already knew if you hit near the wing roots they flamed every time and often with a rather large explosion and breakup midair. Anyway by 44 any new Zeros delivered had the same armouring the JAAF had been using for two years.
    But it did result directly in the improvement of tracer type rounds for USN fighters specifically designed to flame Japanese aircraft fuel tanks. By that stage they'd figured out pretty much any Japanese aircraft flames very easily if hit right. Now they flamed even if you hit them wrong.

    But I would certainly suggest that such official flight testing standardised effective tactics against aircraft like the Zero doctrinally, which it wasn't before. It was just pilot initiative. US military training might be dehumanising for infantry coherency, but fighter jocks are a very different case. Not so for the Japanese. This was one of the biggest single factors that worked against the Zero in practise.
     
  6. FLYBOYJ

    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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    The Akutan Zero did not fly in US hands until September 1942. By that time many a Zero had already fallen to the Thatch Weave. I think the capture of this aircraft just reinforced intellegence and maybe provided additional information to be placed in combat training manuals.
     
  7. Shortround6

    Shortround6 Well-Known Member

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    Sort of going from a "we think so and so" to a "we know so and so" about the capabilities of the Zero.
     
  8. Jenisch

    Jenisch Active Member

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    #8 Jenisch, Dec 15, 2011
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2011
    Not so in my view. It's often claimed that US pilots tried to dogfigth the Zero initially. I'm skeptical about this. And my source agree with me.

    The Americans already had informations about the A5M Claude. They knew it was more light and agile than their planes. Therefore, they knew it would be suicidal try dogfight it. So, energy tactics are a logical thing. And the other logical thing would be try those tactics against his sucessor, which apparently was done succesfully.

    I think the Zero obtained a fearsome reputation due to the circunstantes it operated initially i.e with the Japanese in the offensive, launching bombing raids with little warning to the defenders, many obsolete Allied aircraft and Japanese numerical superioririty (also "multiplied" by the Zero's range).
     
  9. FLYBOYJ

    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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    VMF 221 tried to dogfight with the Zero and got slaughtered

    http://www.warbirdforum.com/vmf221.htm
     
  10. Jenisch

    Jenisch Active Member

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    #10 Jenisch, Dec 15, 2011
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2011
    The performance of the Zero and the Buffalo were quiet similar as far as energy tactics were used. I didn't read anything about the pilots trying Chandelles or anything often told.

    The Japanese themselfs also used energy tactics. That's how they slaughtered so many Polikarpovs with the Zero in China - which were comparable to it in a dogfigth. The problem for the Japanese was that when the Allies started to explore the more sturdy construction of their aircraft, coordenated tactics with radio, as well as an efficient early warning system, the Japanese could not respond adequately.
     
  11. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    VMF-221 was also using obsolete Division formation tactics which meant they were committed piecemeal, in groups of 4-6 aircraft, to the fight rather than operating as a cohesive unit. It should also be noted that many VMF-221 pilots were also very inexperienced, many having only recently arrived on Midway from training units.
     
  12. FLYBOYJ

    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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    On that site you're reading what survivors wrote. Aside, I can tell you that a Chandelle is just about useless in combat.
    Very true as all and in those obsolete tactics was still a doctrine of fighting on the horizontal with little emphasis on the vertical, except for using a dive for escape.
     
  13. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    #13 buffnut453, Dec 15, 2011
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2011
    Yep. It's not just about aircraft performance. Pilot proficiency and tactics have a huge impact. The difference between the Divisional formation tactics and the Thach Weave is about as significant as the RAF's move from "Fighting Area Tactics" and rigid vic formations to the battle pair/finger-four formations that occurred progressively during 1940-41.
     
  14. Vincenzo

    Vincenzo Active Member

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    Zero it's superior to buffalo, energy tatics is not only dive.

    afaik zero pilots used energy tatics this came from chinese experience
     
  15. Jenisch

    Jenisch Active Member

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    Perfect. But you need to considerate the other things I wrote before.

    I used this for force of expression.
     
  16. Jenisch

    Jenisch Active Member

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    #16 Jenisch, Dec 15, 2011
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2011
    The Buffalo was not much different from the Wildcat. The Commonwealth machines that were were worse.
     
  17. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    Actually I don't think the Commonwealth machines were any worse than the F2A-3s used by VMF-221.
     
  18. Jenisch

    Jenisch Active Member

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    #18 Jenisch, Dec 15, 2011
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2011
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brewster_F2A_Buffalo:

    The Brewster Model B-339E, as modified and supplied to Great Britain was distinctly inferior in performance to the F2A-2 (Model B-339) from the original order. It had a less powerful (1,000 hp/746 kW) engine compared to the F2A-2's 1,200 hp (895 kW) Cyclone, yet was substantially heavier due to all of the additional modifications (some 900 lb/400 kg). The semi-retractable tail wheel had been exchanged for a larger fixed model, which was also less aerodynamic. Top speed was reduced from 323 mph (520 km/h) to 313 mph (504 km/h) at combat altitudes,.[6]

    In its original form, the B-339 had a theoretical maximum speed of 323 mph (520 km/h) at a rather unrealistic 21,000 ft (6,400 m), but fuel starvation problems and poor supercharger performance at higher altitudes meant that this figure was never achieved in combat; the B-339E was no different in this regard. Its maneuverability was severely impaired (the aircraft was unable to perform loops), and initial rate of climb was reduced to 2,300 ft/min. The Wright Cyclone 1890-G-105 engine designated for use in the Brewster Mk I was in short supply; many aircraft were fitted with secondhand Wright engines sourced from Douglas DC-3 airliners and rebuilt to G105 or G102A specifications by Wright.

    In service, some effort was made by at least one Brewster squadron to improve the type's sluggish performance; a few aircraft were lightened by some 1,000 lb (450 kg) by removing armor plate, armored windshields, radios, gun camera, and all other unnecessary equipment, and by replacing all .50 in (12.7 mm) machine guns with two .303 in (7.7 mm) nose-mounted guns. The fuselage tanks were filled with a minimum of fuel, and run on high-octane aviation petrol where available. At Alor Star airfield in Malaya, the Japanese captured over 1,000 barrels (160 m3) of high-octane aviation petrol from British forces, which they promptly used in their own fighter aircraft.[21]

    Many of the pilots assigned the Buffalo lacked adequate training and experience in the type. A total of 20 of the original 169 Buffalos were lost in training accidents during 1941. By December 1941, approximately 150 Buffalo B-339E aircraft made up the bulk of the British fighter defenses of Burma, Malaya and Singapore. The two RAAF, two RAF, and one RNZAF squadrons, during December 1941-January 1942, were beset with numerous problems,[22] including: poorly-built and ill-equipped aircraft.[6] Aviation historian Dan Ford characterized it as: "The performance... was pathetic." Inadequate spare parts and support staff, airfields that were difficult to defend against air attack, lack of a clear and coherent command structure, a Japanese spy in the Army air liaison staff, antagonism between RAF and RAAF squadrons and personnel, and inexperienced pilots lacking appropriate training would lead to disaster. Although the Mk I had .50-inch guns, many aircraft were equipped with .30 Browning mounts and electric firing solenoids, which tended to fail in service.[17]

    When the Japanese invaded northern Malaya on 8 December 1941, the B-339E initially performed adequately. Against the Nakajima Ki-27 "Nate", the overloaded Brewsters could at least hold their own if given time to get to altitude, and at first achieved a respectable number of kills. However, the appearance of ever greater numbers of Japanese fighters, including markedly superior types such as the Nakajima Ki-43 "Oscar" soon overwhelmed the Buffalo pilots, both in the air and on the ground. Another significant factor was the Brewster engine's tendency to overheat in the tropical climate, which caused oil to spray over the windscreen, usually forcing an aborted mission and greatly complicating attempts to intercept and destroy enemy aircraft. In the end, more than 60 Brewster Mk I (B-339E) aircraft were shot down in combat, 40 destroyed on the ground, and approximately 20 more destroyed in accidents. Only about 20 Buffalos survived to reach India or the Dutch East Indies.[23]
     
  19. buffnut453

    buffnut453 Well-Known Member

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    Jenisch,

    You'll note I compared the B339E to the F2A-3 not to the -2. I agree the -2 was the best of the breed in terms of performance but it lacked any armour plating or self-sealing fuel tanks. The -3 was the worst of the breed based on flawed USN concepts for an extremely long-range patrol fighter. The extra fuel and oil, coupled with additional weight of armour and self-sealing tanks seriously hurt its manoeuverability.

    Also, don't believe everything you read in Wikipedia. The main opponent of the Commonwealth Brewsters during the Malayan Campaign were Ki-43s. The Ki-27s were used in Burma or to provide local air defence of airfields occupied by the Japanese as they advanced.
     
  20. Vincenzo

    Vincenzo Active Member

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    the finns got the oldest and lighter buffalo and imho this is the reason of theyr relative good results. the F2A-3 and the british buffalo are heaviest and go down the performances and they are not equal to F4F-3 of USN

    ki-27 was a common fighter of army in malayan, some posted numbers somewhere in this forum and if i remember right was most common
     
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