Japanese aviation if aircrew survival was a priority

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Admiral Beez

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Oct 21, 2019
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Many IJN and IJAF combat aircraft had little protection of the aircrew and the IJN seemingly had no SAR plan for recovering pilots. How would Japan's aircraft and doctrine have to change if keeping their difficult to replace aircrews alive was a priority?

Things the RAF had for example, armoured glass and cockpit, seal sealing fuel tanks, parachutes. There's also rescue beacons, like https://picclick.co.uk/Wwii-Raf-Spitfire-Pilots-Maewest-Emergency-Sea-266182948931.html, plus inflatable rafts and rescue flares. Rescue buoys https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rescue_buoy_(Luftwaffe) likely won't work in the open expanse of the Pacific, but perhaps closer to known air routes? And then there's the means to search for and collect the aircrews - those at sea can rely on Japan's flying boats.
 
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Here is study by Takehiko Shibata of the National Institute for Defense Studies in 2007 about -

"Safety Measures for Flight Crews of the Japanese Naval Air Force: The Evolution of Survival Equipment and Other Developments"

(Excerpts)

There was no classification as the life-saving equipments among the items that Japanese Navy aircraft were equipped with. Therefore, I list the equipments classified as the security equipments and the seat equipments that did not directly contribute to the performance of the aircraft itself and was provided to ensure the safety of the crew. The outline is explained as referring to the in-flight equipment and personal equipment.

(1) Safety belt "Anzentai"
(details )..................................

(2) Parachute "Rakka-san"
(details )..................................

(3) Life jacket "Kyuumeishin or Kapok"
(details )..................................

(4) Floating device of airframe "Fuhen Souchi"
(details )..................................

(5) Life preserver "Kyuumeigu"
as life rafts and life buoys,
(details )..................................

2 Accident Examples, Lessons Learned and Countermeasures
(details )..................................

Source for the full contexts : 戦史研究年報 第10号
 
Aircraft modifications are the obvious changes, but for tge IJN that would come at the cost of range, something they particularly prized.

The RAF built up an elaborate Air Sea Rescue service from 1941 using Supermarine Walrus plus cast off aircraft incl Lysanders, Defiants, Spitfires , Hurricanes, Hudsons, Warwicks & Sea Otters. 10 squadrons in total eventually spread around the world. The larger Hudson's and Warwicks carried airborne lifeboats

Alongside those were High Speed Launches of the Royal Air Force Marine Branch in existence from 1918.

The USAAF mirrored the RAF with the creation of Emergency Rescue Squadrons using a variety of aircraft including OA-10 Catalina and B-17s with airborne lifeboats across all theatres.

Both nations deployed both surface ships and submarines, especially in support of carrier operations, in a "lifeguard" role.

The RAF extended the concept to Air Jungle Rescue using the Beaufighters of 22 squadron over Burma in 1945.

All these options were open to the Japanese had they chosen to make the effort.

Of course aircraft and ships used in these roles were not immune from interception and damage or destruction. Like British convoy rescue ships, they did not have the benefit of the protection of hospital ships. And in the Pacific the question of operating distances from island bases arises, and how much protection could have been provided to ships and aircraft involved. Would they merely have been providing more targets for the Allies in places like the Solomons, New Guinea of the Philippines.
 
Ironically, Pappy Boyington was rescued by a Japanese submarine after he got shot down in 1944. Even more bizarre, he was one of the very few aviators who was relocated to Japan and therefore didn't suffer through the same treatment that most Allied fliers got when imprisoned in a war zone. I can't explain how the Japanese sub managed to find him and his book didn't explain it either.
 
Here is study by Takehiko Shibata of the National Institute for Defense Studies in 2007 about -

"Safety Measures for Flight Crews of the Japanese Naval Air Force: The Evolution of Survival Equipment and Other Developments"

(Excerpts)

There was no classification as the life-saving equipments among the items that Japanese Navy aircraft were equipped with. Therefore, I list the equipments classified as the security equipments and the seat equipments that did not directly contribute to the performance of the aircraft itself and was provided to ensure the safety of the crew. The outline is explained as referring to the in-flight equipment and personal equipment.

(1) Safety belt "Anzentai"
(details )..................................

(2) Parachute "Rakka-san"
(details )..................................

(3) Life jacket "Kyuumeishin or Kapok"
(details )..................................

(4) Floating device of airframe "Fuhen Souchi"
(details )..................................

(5) Life preserver "Kyuumeigu"
as life rafts and life buoys,
(details )..................................

2 Accident Examples, Lessons Learned and Countermeasures
(details )..................................

Source for the full contexts : 戦史研究年報 第10号
Did the A6M come thus equipped or is this more apt for larger aircraft?
 
I have pics of some of the IJNAF rescue devices described in Shinpachi's post.

(3) Life jacket "Kyuumeishin or Kapok"

LIFE VEST: Usually canvas material with pockets filled with Kapok. Uncomfortable to wear in the tropics but you almost never see a IJNAF pilot not wearing one.

jap_float_vest_28a6_3.jpg


A6M3 Zer0-sen 251 ku AI-105 pilot Lakunai Rabaul NEWB 1043-W_1.jpg


21 year old ONO Takeyoshi (shown above) flew his initial combat tour in the Zero with Tainan Ku before that unit was re-designated No 251 ku at end of 1942. Photo taken at Lakunai strip, Rabaul in 1943. Note the A6M3 Zero Model 22s of 251 ku with cross-hatch camouflage in the background. Info from here

Admiral Beez said
Did the A6M come thus equipped or is this more apt for larger aircraft?

(4) Floating device of airframe "Fuhen Souchi"

The A6M Zero had canvas flotation bags in wings and aft fuselage which were inflated by air pressure according to the diagram below:

A6M3_Zer0-sen_M32_flotation-equip_diagram-layout-ART-2.JPG


MOKY for JEC
 
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I have pics of some of the IJNAF rescue devices described in Shinpachi's post.

(3) Life jacket "Kyuumeishin or Kapok"

LIFE VEST: Usually canvas material with pockets filled with Kapok. Uncomfortable to wear in the tropics but you almost never see a IJNAF pilot not wearing one.

View attachment 713067

View attachment 713069



(4) Floating device of airframe "Fuhen Souchi"

The A6M Zero had canvas flotation bags in wings and aft fuselage which were inflated by air pressure according to the diagram below:

View attachment 713066

MOKY for JEC
Just how likely were those bags to survive gunfire, or a ocean landing.
Or maybe the thought was maybe enough of the bags would be intact to keep the aircraft afloat long enough for the pilot to get out.
But to what purpose, with no rescue service.
I've read several of the South Pacific air war volumes, there are several instances of downed Japanese pilots being picked up by Mavis's and submarines.
 
Ironically, Pappy Boyington was rescued by a Japanese submarine after he got shot down in 1944. Even more bizarre, he was one of the very few aviators who was relocated to Japan and therefore didn't suffer through the same treatment that most Allied fliers got when imprisoned in a war zone. I can't explain how the Japanese sub managed to find him and his book didn't explain it either.
On 3 Jan 1944 Boyington was shot down during a sweep over Rabaul and ended up in the water about 5 miles out to sea.

At the same time the submarine I-181 was returning to Rabaul, the main IJN base in the SW Pacific, after a supply run to New Guinea when it came across Boyington, who by then had been in the water for about 8 hours. It picked him up, took him to Rabaul where he was allowed no medical treatment for 10 days. After 6 weeks, as the IJN withdrew from Rabaul, he was flown to Truk, arriving during Operation Hailstone (the US carrier strikes in Feb 1944). From there he went to Japan.
 
Boyington ... was one of the very few aviators who was relocated to Japan and therefore didn't suffer through the same treatment that most Allied fliers got when imprisoned in a war zone.
Certainly, the treatment handed out at local bases in the WAR ZONE such as Rabaul was brutal and many USAF pilots were executed there. I'm not so sure that there was less brutality at POW camps in the home islands (Japan) though.

Look at the experience of bombadier, Lt. Louis Zamperini who was tortured and beaten in several camps in Japan after capture by the Japanese Navy when his B-24 crashed near the Marshall Islands.

The 47 days the three fliers spent drifting in a life raft before capture was probably an even greater torture. Knowing they had very little water or food supplies, they were fortunate that rain and some fluke fishing kept 2 of them alive long enough to be captured. I think I might rather have died but Zamperini was made from much tougher stuff than I'll ever be. Good movie by the way - "UNBROKEN" directed by Angelina Jolie.

Speaking of life rafts...

(5) Life preserver "Kyuumeigu" as life rafts and life buoys,

The IJNAF used the Type 97 Models 1 and 2 life rafts which were produced by Fujikura Composites from 1939 - 1945. Today they are still in the business of producing life preservers (belts or vests) and life rafts. Below is the Type 97 Model 1 - a one or two person rubber life raft carried by Zero fighters, F1M2 Pete, A6M2-N Rufe and other seaplanes. The 2 clowns would have to be British!

Japanese 1 or 2 man life raft Seletar Singapore 1945-IWM-1.jpg


The Type 97 Model 2 was much larger and as a 5 person rubber life raft was carried by bombers such as the Mitsubishi G4M Rikko (Betty).

Pic coming soon.

Moky for JEC
 
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On 3 Jan 1944 Boyington was shot down during a sweep over Rabaul and ended up in the water about 5 miles out to sea.

At the same time the submarine I-181 was returning to Rabaul, the main IJN base in the SW Pacific, after a supply run to New Guinea when it came across Boyington, who by then had been in the water for about 8 hours. It picked him up, took him to Rabaul where he was allowed no medical treatment for 10 days. After 6 weeks, as the IJN withdrew from Rabaul, he was flown to Truk, arriving during Operation Hailstone (the US carrier strikes in Feb 1944). From there he went to Japan.
Minor point here, the Japanese never withdrew from Rabaul and it was occupied until the end of the war. The reason he wasn't held at Rabaul was because Boyington's interpreter tricked his superiors into relocating himself and Boyington to Japan. The interpreter thought that Rabaul would be overrun, although it was instead strategically bypassed.

Boyington's recollection of how he got downed was a wild read. He got into a turn-fight with Zeroes after having exhausted his altitude trying to save his squadron mates.

It's a mystery how the sub managed to find him. My guess is that a Japanese aviator reported the exact position where Boyington had been downed (and that aviator probably wasn't Mike Kawato).

Oddly, Boyington said he was well treated aboard the sub. The worst treatment that he received came from undisciplined prison guards. Japanese prison guards were oftentimes the worst of the worst. Usually, these were poorly performing soldiers with a history of disciplinary problems. Oftentimes they were transferred to prison guard units and themselves were frequently beaten by their superiors.

The horrible thing is that Boyington reported that he had been hit by a 20mm shell to his leg. He described the wound as being a hole in his leg. I'd guess this was actually either a 7.7mm round or a 20mm fragment. I've never heard of a pilot getting directly hit with a 20mm round.
 
At an airshow where Boyington had a table and some distance away Mike Kawato had his table selling Rising Sun headbands, someone asked Boyington about Kawato. Greg's answer, "He would have been too young to see out of the cockpit!" There were also some added vulgarities.
 
Oddly, Boyington said he was well treated aboard the sub. The worst treatment that he received came from undisciplined prison guards. Japanese prison guards were oftentimes the worst of the worst. Usually, these were poorly performing soldiers with a history of disciplinary problems. Oftentimes they were transferred to prison guard units and themselves were frequently beaten by their superiors.
Even today, some uncooperative immigrants are treated violently at Japanese immigration bureau.
Officers' mindset is still beyond my imagination but looks traditional since the prewar.

A Kurdish refugee treated violently at Japanese immigration bureau in 2021.
Kurdish_refugee_in_Japan_2021.jpeg

Source: 嘘と詭弁だらけ 入管の「逆ギレ」が酷いー入管法「改正」Q&Aをファクトチェック(志葉玲) - 個人 - Yahoo!ニュース
 
At an airshow where Boyington had a table and some distance away Mike Kawato had his table selling Rising Sun headbands, someone asked Boyington about Kawato. Greg's answer, "He would have been too young to see out of the cockpit!" There were also some added vulgarities.
I was secretary of the aces assn. when Kawato appeared in the US. Eventually we queried the Zero Fighter Pilots Assn because Kawato's claims were um suspect. It was a Big to Huge Deal when the Japanese said, IIRC, "Masajiro Kawato is no longer Japan's disgrace. Now he is America's disgrace."

Henry Sakaida of honored memory investigated as well, found that K was in fact at Rabaul but was so junior that he seldom flew. He was shot down an captured by the Aussies, and Henry's spadework showed that he sang like the proverbial canary.
 
Minor point here, the Japanese never withdrew from Rabaul and it was occupied until the end of the war. The reason he wasn't held at Rabaul was because Boyington's interpreter tricked his superiors into relocating himself and Boyington to Japan. The interpreter thought that Rabaul would be overrun, although it was instead strategically bypassed.

Boyington's recollection of how he got downed was a wild read. He got into a turn-fight with Zeroes after having exhausted his altitude trying to save his squadron mates.

It's a mystery how the sub managed to find him. My guess is that a Japanese aviator reported the exact position where Boyington had been downed (and that aviator probably wasn't Mike Kawato).

Oddly, Boyington said he was well treated aboard the sub. The worst treatment that he received came from undisciplined prison guards. Japanese prison guards were oftentimes the worst of the worst. Usually, these were poorly performing soldiers with a history of disciplinary problems. Oftentimes they were transferred to prison guard units and themselves were frequently beaten by their superiors.

The horrible thing is that Boyington reported that he had been hit by a 20mm shell to his leg. He described the wound as being a hole in his leg. I'd guess this was actually either a 7.7mm round or a 20mm fragment. I've never heard of a pilot getting directly hit with a 20mm round.
The only way anyone could survive a 20mm hit was from explosive splinters. A marvelous instructor of mine with a Navy Cross survived a 20 exploding in his F4U cockpit that resulted in serious blood loss. He climbed out and fainted.

Henry Sakaida, a tireless researcher, concluded that Boyington ditched based on radio calls--further analyzed in Bruce Gamble's excellent GB biography. So...again...Pappy tended to gild the Lilly.
 
Many IJN and IJAF combat aircraft had little protection of the aircrew and the IJN seemingly had no SAR plan for recovering pilots.

During Guadalcanal era it was quite easy for US to pick up pilots near the Guadalcanal island with a short flight. in air space they controlled most hours of the day and night.
Its not really a fair criticism to say Japan had a poor Rescue service (in this famous campaign) when they would have been needing to land seaplanes or boats into US controlled Guadalcanal area.

There are still many cases of Japanese pilots been picked up and returned even in 42-43 though, or Japanese rescuing allied pilots ala Boyington!
 

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