Japanese Combat Experience

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by OGGleep, Apr 22, 2008.

  1. OGGleep

    OGGleep New Member

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    I have a question I was hoping someone could answer:

    Where does the unbelievable level of quality of Japanese Naval aviators at the outbreak of WW2 come from?

    From everything I have read, pilot quality can overcome a lot of disadvantages. Although debated, the Zero was at minimum the equal of any allied fighter through 42. Yet the general concencous is that the zero vs wildcat (closest comparable naval fighter) is about even.

    So where does the "elite" status of IJN Airmen come from?
     
  2. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    Because of extensive training under real world conditions. Those IJN aviator had a lot of quality flight hours under their belts.
     
  3. kool kitty89

    kool kitty89 Well-Known Member

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    The Zero was faster, climbed much better (roughly 2x), and was much more maneuverable than the wildcat. (though the ailerons became almost useless above 250 mph)

    It's critical dive speed was low at 410 mph though and due to the light airframe acceleration in a dive was very slow compared to the F4F. (even the Hurricane was better in a dive)

    The biggest advantage of the F4F (and P-40) over the Zero (and Oscar) was durrabillity and pilot protection. The construction of the Japanese planes was much lighter and lacked self-sealing tanks and armor. (although the Ki-43II had modest protection and late Zeros had armor, though pilots were known to remove this to improve performance, and some thught it cowardly)

    If it wasn't for the poor pilot protection many Japanese aces could have survived to the end of the war, and inflicted much more damage. (as the German aces did)
     
  4. OGGleep

    OGGleep New Member

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    The title of the thread is misleading. Japanese History Post WW1 101 will give you where their combat experience came from.

    What is in every basic WW2 book, is that the US faced crack pilots in superior planes(debated) until 2nd generation planes came in and enough pilots had been killed by 43.

    Were Zero pilots really that good? Atleast as commonly portrayed? I know there are many different factors(solo, radios, tactics, fragile airframe vs sturdy airframe) why Wildcat pilots were able to hold the line, but wouldn't one of them be the Zero pilots weren't as good as told in every history class? Superior Pilots + Solid Fighter should have ment better results?

    I am trying to think of a modern conflict where that formulan = a 1:1 ratio (one that both sides had guns on their aircraft).
     
  5. OGGleep

    OGGleep New Member

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    Sorry Kool, you posted as I was typing and I missed it until just now. Didn't mean to bypass you.

    The Zero vs Wildcat debate is raging in a forum I participate in. Its acutally why I wanted to explore this line, these guys are scanning government reports etc. One point of contention is that the Wildcat was atleast as manuverable at 270+mph, as well as had a comparable if not better roll rate.

    Wildcat also enjoyed a significant advantage in Arm, 4/6 x 50 Cal vs German Fighters was quite sufficent. Vs Zero's, it was downright deadly. Add to that USN pilots atleast were great with deflection.

    But to my original point, Crack Pilots facing good but unprepared pilots, should have yielded more....dramatic (for lack of a better word) results.

    I am trying tot think of a parallell, where an Air force was able to hold Crack (I keep beating this class, as that is the concensous) Airforce in better planes to a 1:1 ratio. Vietnam - "hey we need a gun in a gun fight"
    era is out due to obvious reasons.

    PS. Too lazy to spell check..its late, and normally I proof before posting to avoid gaffs, but again....its late and I'm tired. Ask for Mercy if any statment is flat out inaccurate.
     
  6. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    Hi Guys

    I am unable to provide evidence to support my opinions at this stage, but i wanted to say something, because this will be an intersting thread in my opinion.

    I am relying mostly on a book that I read some years ago, which assessed in great detail the various factors affecting the battle of the Phillipines Sea, particularly with regard to pilot quality. i realize also that my opinions are not going to coincide with the conventional wisdom that exists in this place, but what the hell, life gets a little boring unless one gets a little adventurous. Hopefully you will find what I have to say engaging, if nothing else. So here goes

    Japanese pilots had, on average, combat experience of about 700 hours at the begining of the war. this was an exceptionally large amount of experience, brought about by Japans long war in China (it had been going on, more or less since 1931), as well as the numerous border disputes with the Soviets in Manchuria. By comparison, the US Pilots engaged in the Phil Sea battle had, on average, about 500 hours of combat experience.

    Moreover, the entry and training regimes of both the IJNAF and the JAAF were the highest in the world, but this conversely led to an extremely low rate of expansion. The IJNAF for example only were receiving about 40 pilots or so per month, which hardly kept up to peacetime requirements, let alone any wartime attrition. Conversely, the tactics of the IJN were based mostly about the dogfight and manouvre princi;as which were becoming somewhat antiquated, as a generalization, by the beginning of the war.

    At the beginning of the war, there about 1300 front line aircraft in the IJNAF, and about 5000 aircrew of various kinds. There was a small reserve of pilots, but the margin for attrition was extremely low.

    Japanese operational practices were extremely wasteful. Pilots sent out to the front line were basically left to "die on the vine" with green replacements being sent as fillers, to learn the hard way. This did not give units much ability to cohese together, the result was that over time the tight knit cohesion that characterized air units and contributed greatly to their effectiveness early in the war, was lost over time. By contrast, US and CW units would rotate units, pulling squadrons that had seen frontline experience, and survived, for a period of rest and recuperation, and more importantly, allowing the squadron to rebuild its Esprit De Corps with the fillers joining the unit. This meant that given two units with equal flying hours, one Jap, and one allied, in the latter part of 1942 (and onwards), the Allied unit is going to be more cohesive, and therefore more effective

    The second high wastage factor was the profligate way that the japanese treated their flyers. If you were shot down in the IJNAF, say in the Solomons, it was basically a very rudimentary SAR service that was going to rescue you. For practical purposes, you were on your own. By contrast, the US, in particular, would go to very extraordinary lengths to save their flyers.

    So far there should not be too much argument. The problem that i have with the collective wisdom so far, is this notion that the japanese were being outgunned and outflown from Day 1 of the war onwards. I will not even try to argue that my knowledge of the Minutae of each combat comes even close to what some of you know, but my argument is based on some very simple facts. If you analyse the losses to the Japanese air forces, up till about the end of April (approximately), their losses from combat (please note, not their total losses, noncombat stuff should be treated differently) were running at about 300 a/c (maximum). It will be a brave researcher to make claims much beyond that figure. By comparison, Allied losses in that same period (combat losses only) were running at well over a 1000 a/c, and probably closer to 1500. how on earth can it therefore be argued that in that period, the Japanese were losing the air battle, in terms of combat ratios.

    Granted from that point on, with increasing lethality, the allies were shooting increasing proportions of the IJNAF and JAAF with relative ease. I am not arguing that point. But the conclusions that have been reached and "proven" in this place frrom the various, and varied threads I have read, are just not born put by the strategic facts that underpin this period of the war.
     
  7. JoeB

    JoeB Member

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    I agree with much of that so will just comment on a few things:
    1. The big difference between Japanese and US pilots in late 1941 was extensive sprinkling of China air combat veterans in Japanese units v essentially none in US. Just focusing on each naval air arm, the actual number of *flying* hours wasn't necessarily higher in the IJN, may have been lower than USN a/o Dec '41. The USN had a pure peacetime profile where most pilots had been flying for awhile, the air arm was expanding but not radically so yet. After PH but before the USN saw any serious fighter combat it rotated a lot of those high hour people to training commands and the average hours dropped, but was still probably comparable to the Japanese ao Coral Sea/Midway, but combat experience per se was not comparable.

    The above went somewhat for the USAAC too except the units thrown into combat right from Dec '41 were less prepared, plus the level of training was just generally lower for land operations, and the effects of expansion by late 1941 (dilution) probably greater.

    The British units in Far East in contrast were more of the war time profile, some veterans of MTO/ETO but typically large % of low hour people in an air arm expanding and/or continously replacing serious losses (again in MTO/ETO).

    The JNAF was somewhere in between, it had combat experience w/o as serious losses nor had it expanded anything like the Brit/CW air arms already had by late '41, but there was some some effort to expand and fill in losses: the IJN had cut experience required to join carrier units before 1941 partly as a result of expansion/attrition due to China.

    2. Actually that's only partly true. Based on experience in China, where the toughest JNAF opponents were hitting and running I-16's (often Soviet piloted*) v Japanese Type 96's ('Claude'), JNAF doctrine shifted somewhat from individualistic aerobatic tactics to tactics with close cooperation among the a/c of the 3 plane 'shotai', hit and run where appropriate. And the Zero in China '40-41 was the fastest plane around, not the most manueverable. And hit and run JNAF tactics were observed by the Allies in the Pacific War (USN reports of late '42 in Solomons mention them as most common). But since their plane was the more manueverable in those contests, they often exploited that, if Allied fighters were willing to play along.

    *experience against the Soviet AF's per se at Nomonhan in 1939 was the JAAF exclusively.

    3. Right, up through April 1942 no Allied air arm met JNAF on fighters on equal terms, or even close. But the comments above were about F4F's. They didn't meet JNAF fighters (besides one small combat in the siege of Wake and another in US carrier strikes on the Marshalls) until May '42; and not in prolonged action until Guadacanal from August. Those combats did come out around 1:1, pretty consistently through end of '42; that was the best Allied performance v Japanese *Navy* fighters even in 2nd half of '42.

    Two-side documented ratio's of US Army/Brit/Dutch units v real Zeroes up to April '42 were far worse, 1:several. US and Australian fighter units did better in May-end of '42 period (Brits didn't face the JNAF in that period, Dutch gone) but not 1:1, 1:2 was more broadly typical. Even after P-39/40 units adopted tactics intended to take more advantage of their a/c's superior dive speeds, it was still awhile before they reached actual parity with the JNAF.

    Joe
     
  8. comiso90

    comiso90 Active Member

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    I think a large portion of that is dramatic hyperbole. It's like a write up in a sports page. It's more compelling to say that your team is going up against a powerful and skillful foe, but through grit and determination, the good guys overcome the odds to win the day.


    It's true that the Japanese were more experienced and we hadn't developed the correct tactics yet but the writers have to make it more interesting.

    It makes the victory loom larger and taste more sweeter.

    .
     
  9. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for the reply joe

    There does not appear to be a lot of disagreement between our respective positions after all (I was expecting to be crucified). In particular we seem to agree that the allies that were engaged were not getting a 1-1 return, even for those that got airborne.

    A footnote for the brits. I am pretty sure that british pilot training for their FAA units was agonizingly slow as well, until about March or April '42. I wont lie, i am guessing, but I know that prior to PH the Brits were still training their pilots to be Night capable, but it may be that after the failure to corner the japs in the bay Of bengal in April that they look as if they abandoned that tedious approach, and went for the mass production style of pilot production being pioneered by the Americans. I am asking a question rather than stating a fact. All i can say is that from observation, the Brits attacked most naval targets at night up until April '42 (and the April 42 manouvres were a failure) but after that there is a marked increase in pilot availability, and an apparent abandonment of night strike capability.

    For the record, the brits were graduating an average of just 16 pilots per month in the FAA per month, in 1940. Dont know what the '41 figures are.
     
  10. OGGleep

    OGGleep New Member

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    I must have mispoke, the 1:1 I was reffering to was vs USN wildcats vs IJN Zeros.
     
  11. kool kitty89

    kool kitty89 Well-Known Member

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    There's a good turn rate chart here: http://www.ww2aircraft.net/forum/aviation/spitfire-mk-vb-seafire-vs-zero-12810.html

    Note that that weight is for the F4F-4 which was ~440 lbs heavier than the F4F-3. (and thus less maneuverable)

    The Zero (like the Early Spitfire) lost any decent roll ability above ~250 mph, this wasn't so bad with the Ki-43. (which rolled very well at low speeds as well, similar to the Fw 190 at ~180*/s albeit at a bit lower speeds than the 190's optimum roll speed) The Oscar also kept turn ability much better at high speeds, turning as well as the Zero at low speeds, significantly better above 200 mph, and still significantly better than the Hurricane IIB and F4F at 300 mph.
     
  12. JoeB

    JoeB Member

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    Right, USN (and USMC, considered together) F4F's had about a 1:1 ratio v Zeroes in 1942, per each side's losses, both sides claimed much better results than that, of course. That was by a considerable margin the best result of any Allied fighter type v the Zero that year, any type which met Zeroes on a significant number of occasions at least. But before May 1942 there was hardly any combats between F4F's and Zeroes, so the statements that the Allies did quite poorly in fighter combat v Zeroes thru April 1942 and F4F's did about 1:1 are not in disagreement. Further, Allied fighter results v Zeroes from May-Dec 1942, other than F4F's, were generally not as bad as they had been Dec 41-Apr '42, but not as good as F4F results either.

    Joe
     
  13. OGGleep

    OGGleep New Member

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    Thanks for the feedback guys. There has been a rather lengthy debate between two different sides and wondered what you guys think. Just to make it easier to identify the sides:

    Team Zero: The Zero was a considerably superior dogfighter than the Wildcat. Advantages in most of the factors that are considered important in dogfighting.

    Team Wildcat has two different points:
    1) Wildcat was as good of a fighter because the advantages it did have allowed it to keep the ratio even, and combat results (carrier battles up till F4F phase out)
    2) Wildcat was just as manuverable as the Zero at speeds greater then 270mph.

    Thats boiling a 7 page thread into a couple of bullet points. I don't claim to know either way, but I have enjoyed reading the discussion and am interested to hear additonal opinions.
     
  14. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    Hi guys

    Well we seem to more or less reached a point of equilibrium as to the extent and reasons for the early successes of the IJNAF, which i will hasten to conclude was intrisically linked to the rise and fall of the Zero Fighter. Essentially, whilst the zero remained ascendant, the Japanese were having the upper hand. Once the Zero had been mastered, it seems pretty clear that the IJNAF was in deep DooDoos.

    So what in your opinion were the crucial weaknesses of the zero that led to its demise. I think we should try and list the weaknesses in order of priority

    As a starting point, in no particulalr order of priority, my shortlist would need to include: relatively low speed, low dive speed, poor roll rate, poor arrmament fit (NB, Not light armament, just a poor choice of ammunition and weapon selection) lack of fire suppression technology, structural weakness, low engine power, and finally lack of pilot protection.

    There may be a few others, but I think as a starting point my list is getting there, but the tricky bit is what was the most significant failing and then the least imporatant.

    To me the most important failing is clearly the small power output of the engine, just 1130 hp (later marks) to over 2000 hp for that of its opponents. Unless Mitsubishi had been able to solve this problem, it is hard to see how tey can solve any of the other problems.

    The last Zero, the A6M8 is interesting, in that it was proposed to fit it with a 1580 HP Kinsei, which meant that its performance was starting to approach that of the hellcat. IJNAF pinned a lot of hopes on this aircraft, but the war ended before it entered large scale service. Hellcat was still a superior A/C though, in my opnion.

    You may not agree with me by putting engine power as the No 1 problem, but surely most will agree that it was at least a significant problem. What may surpise you is what i consiuder to be the least serious problem for the Zero. IMO, the least serious problem is its lack of armour protection. This will undoubtedly raise more than a few eyebrows, and whats more I am unable to prove my theory, so i am on scaqry ground. But hear me out before you shoot the messenger.

    The main opponents of the Zero were almost exclusively armed with 0.5" MGs. I dont know the armour penetration capabilities of the airborne version of this weapon, but as a piece of ground ordinance, it was able to penetrate up to about 10mm of armour. As a rough guess, if you were to fit 10 mm of head and back armour to a standard A6M5, you would probably be adding something like 600 lbs of extra weight to the aircraft. The thing would barely get off the ground let alone aerobat with that weight around its neck

    Moreover, from the gun camera footage that I have been able to observe, zeroes appear to actually crumple, or burst into flame before the aircraft shows signs that the pilot is dead. A big proportion of the vision I have seen shows the zero still attempting to get out of the way, only to either crumple in mid air, or catch fire, or both. So, IMO whilst armour would provide undeniable benefits for crew safety, it was, in my opinion, a less immediate problem compared to the other weaknesses displayed in the design.
     
  15. kool kitty89

    kool kitty89 Well-Known Member

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    he late war Zero (and Oscar) did have up rated engines and armament with speeds boosted to ~360 mph, but the airframe was old and at its limit of development as well.

    The later designs were able to match most allied opposition on more even terms (particularly the Hellcat) with the J2M, Ki 44, Ki 84, N1K, Ki 100, but they were too few and too late. In particular the N1K2-J was probably the best all around design, and quite a tough airframe with good pilot protection. (it also had automatic pressure activated combat flaps)
     
  16. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    KK

    Thanks for the reply

    But what do you see as the salient weaknesses of the design, and also about my opinion that the lack of armour issue was les significant than some of the other problems....
     
  17. lesofprimus

    lesofprimus Active Member

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    I agree with my Grandfather who said on many occasion that if the Japanese had utilized self sealing fuel tanks earlier in the War, there would have been alot more Squids and Jarheads swimmin in the Pacific...

    IMO that was of more importance than armor plating...
     
  18. kool kitty89

    kool kitty89 Well-Known Member

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    And lack of armor or self sealing tanks isn't an intrisic design flaw, at the outbreak of WWII in Europe almost no a/c had any sort of armor or self sealing tanks. By the BoB most British a/c had both as did the majorety of German fighters. Through 1940 the US was still laging with this and it wasn't until early '41 that this was standardized. (but they But even so, retro-fitting of these to older a/c would not be difficult)


    But as to the intrisic design, the early war Japanese a/c (partiularly the fighters) were built very light, while being able to easily withstand the stresses of hard maneuvering, this did not go the same for battle damage. The structure of the Zero Nate and Oscar were easily damaged by even rifle calibur MG's, against .50 cal or 20mm rounds they were shreaded. Even moreso for HE 20mm rounds.

    That said, the lack of fire supression was a much bigger vulnerability than the structure or lack of armor. But it was the only one of these that was integral to the design.
     
  19. FLYBOYJ

    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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    Excellent points! Also keep in mind that all these items were viewed as "nice-aties" by many designers of the day - if they didn't feel that way they would of incorporated them to begin with (IMO) but also keep in mind that omitting these things there was another benefit - $$$$$$

    Now sometimes a company might want to be able to sell and aircraft and make it cost effective and omit those nice-aties - case in point from the same manufacturer that built one of the most robust aircraft of WW2....

    [​IMG]
     
  20. Soren

    Soren Banned

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    What a/c is that ? Looks like an a/c from Vought.
     
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