The poor performance of the 343 Kokutai against USAAF fighters (3 Viewers)

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One extra bit of information that I should have mentioned before was the times of the crashes

318 FG P-47N Harley Kempter crashed southwest of Hime Shima at 1045 hours - pilot bailed out because of engine failure
318 FG P-47N Lloyd Henley Jr. crashed at Yawata at 0945 hours - pilot observed in parachute (bailed out) but cause of crash unknown

For the other two 318 FG pilots we don't have MACRs, but we can guess their crash times would also be 0945 - 1045 hours since that's when the other two crashed

318 FG P-47N Jesse Hill crashed at Yawata at 0945 -1045 hours - aircraft hit by something but cause of crash unknown
318 FG P-47N Marvin Churchill crashed at Ariake Bay at 0945 - 1045 hours - cause of crash unknown

In Genda's Blade it says:

"En route to Yawata at around 09.30 hrs, 1/Lt Edward Freedman of the 333rd Fighter Squadron spotted an aircraft which he identified as a Frank. It was, in fact, a Shiden-Kai flown by CPO Yoshinori Matsumoto of $407."

"The B-29s, now numbering 221, arrived over Yawata with their Thunderbolt escorts and Lt Mitsumoto's Georges in pursuit. Around 10.00 hrs, the pilots of the 19th Fighter Squadron went after the Georges. The only pilot to score a victory was 2/Lt William J. Cuneo when he attacked a division of Georges from astern. They scattered like pigeons, but he stayed with one and smoked him. The flaming aircraft was last seen diving to earth."

This means that the N1K2s and P-47s fought each other enroute and at Yawata at 0930 and 1000 hours. The battle continued after this and so the battle time would probably be 0930 - ~1030 hours.

- N1K2s were credited with six fighters and they fought against P-47s at 0930 - ~1030 hours.
- This means the 343 Kokutai victories would have been at 0930 -~1030 hours.
- At 0930 -~ 1030 hours, three P-47s have their crash cause listed as unknown and the locations were near or at Yawata
- At 0930 -~ 1030 hours, one P-47 was said to have crashed due to engine failure and the location was near Yawata

The causes are officially unknown but the bullet points above prove they were shot down by 343 Kokutai. As for the P-47 which was lost to engine failure, it engaged with the 343 Kokutai, so likely the damage to the engine was caused by gunfire from the 343 Kokutai.

The information I have provided comes from MACRs, an Osprey Aces book and Genda's Blade.
 
Interesting, thanks again for your research!

Do you know which source Sakaida used for the 8th of August? I'll try to dig the original source up later to see what it said. My guess is that the error was a result of duplication rather than misattribution.

But given that the Thunderbolt had a per-mission loss rate of 0.07%, including mechanical failures, losing four/five on one mission is incredibly uncommon and you are certainly correct that most of these losses were caused by combat damage.

A direct hit by a Type 99 Model 2 20mm shell IIRC was normally enough to write off an R-2800, although there were plenty of cases of the engine continuing to run after getting hit. The Type 99 was based on the Oerlikon 20mm FF-L cannon, which did not fire the most destructive shells and had middling velocity. So it wasn't unheard of for an R-2800 to take a direct hit and keep flying (raggedly, with some cylinders out).

Many 20mm cannon (IIRC and I hope someone here has better knowledge than I) were primed to explode at a certain range. This might have been electrically primed ammo, though. Type 99 shells were percussion primed. But if they did explode at a set range, the fragmentation effect also could have severed an oil line without destroying the aircraft.

In Loflin's case, it's possible he was covered in oil while chasing a damaged Shiden Kai. But I agree with you, the most likely scenario is that he took a hit from something.
Unfortunately I don't know all the sources Sakaida used for 8 August, but I know he used 318 FG mission reports since he says so in the book. Do you know how to access mission reports from fighter groups and if you do maybe you could also see if there is a mention on 28 May if Loflin's P-47 was scrapped.

Evidence that Loflin was hit by a Shiden Kai on 28 May:

- In Genda's Blade it says: "Four Japanese pilots pursued Capt William Loflin, but his element leader, 1/Lt Stanley J. Lustic went to his aid and scattered the Japanese who then dived for the deck." This shows Loflin was attacked by Shiden Kais


Evidence that Loflin didn't get oil on his windshield because he shot down a Shiden Kai:

- In Genda's Blade it says: "I sighted Capt. Loflin diving away from the engagement. I dove to intercept him and to offer air cover for him. When I caught up with him, I observed his windshield covered with oil. Also I could not contact him by radio. We proceeded to le Shima." Oil from a Shiden Kai wouldn't cause his radio to malfunction.

- Loflin wasn't credited with shooting down anything on 28 May, so he couldn't have shot down a Shiden Kai

From what you described about the 20mm cannons, it sounds like Loflin's P-47 had its oil line severed, which matches up with Wischer's description.
 
I'm sorry to say that I don't know of any books or references which cover the May 28 air combat (or any other air combat during the time frames you are looking for). As far as I can tell, William Loflin does not have any interviews on record regarding May 28. But given that the N1K2-J only had Type 99 cannons equipped, any damage to the engine of a P-47 would have been substantial. Even if a Type 99 shell hit the oil line and exploded, the fragmentation effect may have been serious enough to write the machine off. But the oil could have been from shooting up a George at close range.

Regarding Genda's Blade, Sakaida was an excellent historian. I'm sure he also had errors although he usually had adequate sourcing for his materials. If there is something incorrect, it's always possible to return to the original documentation in order to verify an inaccuracy. But wow, excellent scholarship on your part for finding the errors in question.

So getting back to the main question: why did the 343rd do poorly against USAAF P-51D and P-47N aircraft? My best guess: altitude advantage. The USAAF operated at higher altitude than the Navy did, as the P-47N and P-51D had turbos. Their bombers were the B-24s and B-29s which also had turbos.

A longer explanation is that:

1. The USAAF probably flew sweep or escort missions whereas the Navy likely did sweeps, escort, and flew attack missions in which they were laden with bombs.
2. The Navy encountered the 343rd earlier when they still had a higher number of elite pilots in their ranks.
3. The USAAF probably (but I don't have evidence) flew at higher altitude on average than the Navy, which allowed them to employ dive-and-zoom attacks to a fuller extent. My reasoning is that they were designed for high altitude and oftentimes escorted either B-24s or B-29s.

Here are some events from Genda's Blade:

The July 5th air combat is interesting. The Mustangs similarly beat up on the 343rd in the same way, knocking down four Georges for no loss of their own. Although, again, they had the advantage of altitude and surprise. Again, and again, throughout the war, surprise and altitude would prove to be the deciding factor in aerial combat. In Genda's Blade the USAAF pilots mentioned that they could simply overtake the Georges and then shoot them down.

The comments regarding ability probably has to do with the 343rd's superior training relative to other Japanese units. It's been reported that many green pilots would enter a flat turn or keep flying straight when getting shot at. The reason that this reflects "poor" training is that aircraft are supposed to fight in sections with coordination between individual pilots. In Genda's blade, it's mentioned several times exactly what they mean by the 343rd being skilled. Here's a quote by a survivor of an attack from above:

"The green-painted Georges made excellent coordinated attacks by sections. The first section came straight in, in a steep dive from 10 o'clock high."

The quote above is similar to the other positive things that were said about the 343rd. Most important, if the 343rd started with altitude advantage, they used tactics that helped preserve altitude advantage. The George had unusually good energy retention for a radial-engine aircraft and would have excelled at maintaining altitude advantage as it could out-accelerate and out climb the Hellcat and Corsair at low altitude, and it had better energy retention. Additionally, the 343rd usually fought effectively as an air group probably because their radios weren't being interfered with by spark plug EMF as was the case on the Zero. (Older Zero fighters had unusable radios, apparently.)

If they did not have altitude advantage, they used beam defense tactics (the Thach Weave) as a defensive measure. I'm not 100% sure about this, but what's described in Genda's Blade sounds exactly like Beam Defense.


By July/August, the 343rd was reportedly using "C-class" pilots, or bottom-of-the-barrel trainees. In other words, the most elite unit in Japan was probably worse off in flight hours per pilot than an average US air group. They were probably never even close to Tainan Kokutai's per-pilot flight hours in 1942 as NTGray NTGray mentioned.

There's a note in Genda's Blade where it was mentioned that Captain Genda had to trade Saburo Sakai (who was not supposed to fly in combat) for Kaneyoshi Muto. The odd thing is that despite being China-war Veterans, neither of these highly experienced fliers had been trained for carrier operations. Both flew from land bases throughout the war. In fact, I couldn't find any 343rd veteran who had flown on carriers. It seems to me that the 343rd was made up out of experienced fliers but most of whom were not at the top of their flight school and had never flown on carriers.
Great summation dude :cool:
 
C CHen10 I couldn't find any resources on the 318th Fighter Group but there's a lot that was written on the 8th Air Force. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the Eighth's history is limited to the European Theater of war. Here are a few books that might be available online or through your local library:

  • Air Combat With the Mighty 8th: A Teenage Warrior in World War II
  • The Mighty Eighth: a History of the Units (Men and Machines of the US 8th Air Force)
  • The Mighty Eighth at War: USAAF Eighth Air Force Bombers Versus the Luftwaffe, 1943-1945
  • The 8th Air Force Album: The Story of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in WW II
  • The Men of the Mighty Eighth: The US 8th Air Force, 1942-45
  • One Way Ticket to Berlin: a Day in the Life of the Mighty Eighth
  • Hann's Crew: 490th Bomb Group of the Mighty 8th Air Force
In my spare time I'll try to see if I can find anything on my own as well.
 
C CHen10 I couldn't find any resources on the 318th Fighter Group but there's a lot that was written on the 8th Air Force. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the Eighth's history is limited to the European Theater of war. Here are a few books that might be available online or through your local library:

  • Air Combat With the Mighty 8th: A Teenage Warrior in World War II
  • The Mighty Eighth: a History of the Units (Men and Machines of the US 8th Air Force)
  • The Mighty Eighth at War: USAAF Eighth Air Force Bombers Versus the Luftwaffe, 1943-1945
  • The 8th Air Force Album: The Story of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in WW II
  • The Men of the Mighty Eighth: The US 8th Air Force, 1942-45
  • One Way Ticket to Berlin: a Day in the Life of the Mighty Eighth
  • Hann's Crew: 490th Bomb Group of the Mighty 8th Air Force
In my spare time I'll try to see if I can find anything on my own as well.
Thanks I'll look at those books. So am I correct in saying they analyse those fighter and bomber groups we discussed in the Pacific?
 
Thanks I'll look at those books. So am I correct in saying they analyse those fighter and bomber groups we discussed in the Pacific?
The Mighty Eighth includes the 318th FG, so it should cover them. But it seems all of these books only cover their operations in Europe and not in the Pacific. I have been trying to track these sources down but my guess is you'll need archival access to get the details on the 318th. Going off what you've shared and how prideful the 318th seemed regarding having only lost "nine" aircraft due to enemy fighters, it does seem that they were trying to cover up some of their losses.
 
The Mighty Eighth includes the 318th FG, so it should cover them. But it seems all of these books only cover their operations in Europe and not in the Pacific. I have been trying to track these sources down but my guess is you'll need archival access to get the details on the 318th. Going off what you've shared and how prideful the 318th seemed regarding having only lost "nine" aircraft due to enemy fighters, it does seem that they were trying to cover up some of their losses.
Thanks again, keep me updated here if you find anything!
 
C CHen10 I couldn't find any resources on the 318th Fighter Group but there's a lot that was written on the 8th Air Force. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the Eighth's history is limited to the European Theater of war.
Count me among those who thought that the Eighth was exclusively ETO. Where else (and when) did it operate?
 
Count me among those who thought that the Eighth was exclusively ETO. Where else (and when) did it operate?
On 16 July 1945 a series of administrative changes took place. The 8th AF in Britain was disestablished and its units reassigned.

Meanwhile over in the Far East the XX Bomber Command became surplus to requirements when the 58th BW with B-29s was reassigned to the XXI Bomber Command in the Marianas in March 1945 and relocated there. HQ XX Bomber Command then transferred to Okinawa. On 16 July 1945 HQ XX Bomber Command became HQ 8th AF on Okinawa.

THis "move" is usually described as a transfer of the 8th AF to the Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific "without equipment or personnel". At the end of July the 301st Fighter Wing with the 318th, 413th & 507th FG was assigned to the 8th AF while already on Okinawa. The first of its B-29 BG then started to arrive on the island in Aug but none flew operationally before the Japanese surrender.
 
So, there was some shuffling around after the war in Europe ended, and the Eighth was preparing for, but never actually engaged in, combat with Japan, meaning that the Eighth Air Force combat history was exclusively European Theater. OK.
 
NTGray NTGray thank you for the correction! So was the 318th fighter Group under the 20th Air Force then? In that case, the 8th Air Force has nothing to do with the 318th and I've given C CHen10 a bad list of sources.
 
The reason I post this is I want to hear people's thoughts on why their performance against the USAAF fighters was underwhelming and why they performed much better against the US Navy/Marine fighters.
Great topic thanks for posting. I'd like to add something to the discussion to help clarify the actual success of the 343rd Kokutai. In reality this unit didn't do all that great against US Navy/Marine air units either. While the unit did make an adequate initial showing on 19 March 1945 their record after this was lackluster at best.

In fact, according to what I could glean from the book 'Genda's Blade,' after 19 March the unit was only able to destroy just two more F6Fs (verified by both American and Japanese records), their last engagement coming on 24 July 1945 where they lost five of their number, downing just one F6F. I calculated that since March the unit had lost 46 aircraft to Hellcat pilots, which gave a victory to loss ratio of just under 1:6.

If you compare this ratio to what you figured for the unit verses the USAAF you will see a similar result.

I don't remember the victory/loss ratio for the 343rd Ko vs Corsair units but IIRC it was also in favor of the Americans.
 
Great topic thanks for posting. I'd like to add something to the discussion to help clarify the actual success of the 343rd Kokutai. In reality this unit didn't do all that great against US Navy/Marine air units either. While the unit did make an adequate initial showing on 19 March 1945 their record after this was lackluster at best.

In fact, according to what I could glean from the book 'Genda's Blade,' after 19 March the unit was only able to destroy just two more F6Fs (verified by both American and Japanese records), their last engagement coming on 24 July 1945 where they lost five of their number, downing just one F6F. I calculated that since March the unit had lost 46 aircraft to Hellcat pilots, which gave a victory to loss ratio of just under 1:6.

If you compare this ratio to what you figured for the unit verses the USAAF you will see a similar result.

I don't remember the victory/loss ratio for the 343rd Ko vs Corsair units but IIRC it was also in favor of the Americans.
If the 6:1 ratio is based on only US claims, that's in line with the 9:1 loss ratio of Hellcats against the Ki-84 and strictly worse than the 3.7:1 against the Raiden (which means adjusted for overclaiming, the Raiden was probably the best performing combat aircraft against the Hellcat, which is bizarre).

When Sakaida calculated total (from 1945) loss-to-loss totals, it was definitely less than 1:1 but better than 1:6, IIRC. But the 343rd's base was also getting bombed and strafed. Is it possible that some of these totals include deaths on the ground? Additionally, the N1K2-J had an issue that wasn't fixed where diving the aircraft at 470 MPH caused the landing gear to uncontrollably drop. Genda said 25% of all losses in combat were caused by this design flaw. While this is definitely a combat loss, it more reflects the state of Japan's aviation infrastructure in 1945 than it does the efficacy of the 343rd AG.

On that note, I want to emphasize why the 343rd had such terrible pilot losses: the N1K2-J didn't have pilot armor as standard equipment. The reasoning for this seems unclear, but it's known the N1K1-J George 11 and (N1K2-J) 12 had an incorrectly calculated center of gravity. Just as with the Brewster Buffalo, pilot armor couldn't be added because it completely ruined the handling of the aircraft. The same seems to be true for the N1K2-J. This one missing feature seems to have exacerbated air group's attrition rate.

But by any measure, the 343rd Air Group wasn't doing much more than treading water. And that's as one would expect given the state of Japanese industry, manpower, and supply constraints.

One last anecdote from Genda's blade: interestingly, Captain Genda mentioned that they had high fuel quality in the end of the book. They were also sometimes grounded due to fuel shortages. It seems they weren't watering their fuel down so the Shiden Kai's Homare-21's performance was maximized.
 
If the 6:1 ratio is based on only US claims, that's in line with the 9:1 loss ratio of Hellcats against the Ki-84 and strictly worse than the 3.7:1 against the Raiden (which means adjusted for overclaiming, the Raiden was probably the best performing combat aircraft against the Hellcat, which is bizarre).

When Sakaida calculated total (from 1945) loss-to-loss totals, it was definitely less than 1:1 but better than 1:6, IIRC. But the 343rd's base was also getting bombed and strafed. Is it possible that some of these totals include deaths on the ground? Additionally, the N1K2-J had an issue that wasn't fixed where diving the aircraft at 470 MPH caused the landing gear to uncontrollably drop. Genda said 25% of all losses in combat were caused by this design flaw. While this is definitely a combat loss, it more reflects the state of Japan's aviation infrastructure in 1945 than it does the efficacy of the 343rd AG.

On that note, I want to emphasize why the 343rd had such terrible pilot losses: the N1K2-J didn't have pilot armor as standard equipment. The reasoning for this seems unclear, but it's known the N1K1-J George 11 and (N1K2-J) 12 had an incorrectly calculated center of gravity. Just as with the Brewster Buffalo, pilot armor couldn't be added because it completely ruined the handling of the aircraft. The same seems to be true for the N1K2-J. This one missing feature seems to have exacerbated air group's attrition rate.

But by any measure, the 343rd Air Group wasn't doing much more than treading water. And that's as one would expect given the state of Japanese industry, manpower, and supply constraints.

One last anecdote from Genda's blade: interestingly, Captain Genda mentioned that they had high fuel quality in the end of the book. They were also sometimes grounded due to fuel shortages. It seems they weren't watering their fuel down so the Shiden Kai's Homare-21's performance was maximized.I went through each of the known eight encounters between US Navy Hellcats and the 343rd in the book and scrutinized actual losses on each side due to enemy action and this came to 46 for the Japanese and eight for the Americans. I believe Corsair units faired a little worse in combat against the 343rd so this would positively affect the record for the Japanese.
I actually went through each engagement between Hellcats and the 343rd in "Genda's Blade" to make sure the numbers I presented were accurate and based on records from both sides. I do believe that Corsair units faired worse so this would improve the overall war record of the 343rd somewhat.

FWIW the N1K1 was introduced to combat in Formosa during October 1944 and shortly thereafter saw action during tbe Battle of Leyte Gulf. This was the first time US Navy pilots engaged the George in air combat. Plus there were other Japanese units which flew the NIK2 besides the 343rd so the actual claim to loss ratio between the F6F and the George would have to include these statistics as well to be totally accurate.

Anyway, I like all the information that you're bringing to light here. You really don't hear much concerning the USAAF involvement with the 3343rd Kokutai so I'm learning a lot..thanks! :cool:
 
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In fact, according to what I could glean from the book 'Genda's Blade,' after 19 March the unit was only able to destroy just two more F6Fs (verified by both American and Japanese records), their last engagement coming on 24 July 1945 where they lost five of their number, downing just one F6F. I calculated that since March the unit had lost 46 aircraft to Hellcat pilots, which gave a victory to loss ratio of just under 1:6.
According to Genda's Blade and my own research, here are F6Fs shot down by N1K2s of the 343 Kokutai after 19 March 1945:

12 April 1945
N1K2 flown by Kanno Naoshi shot down an F6F-5 flown by Raymond Grosso of VBF-17
N1K2 shot down an F6F-5 flown by Terry Mills of VF-82

16 April 1945
N1K2 shot down an F6F-5 flown by Richard Stephansky of VF-47
N1K2 shot down an F6F-5 flown by Victor Rink of VF-47

13 May 1945
N1K2 flown by Ichimura Goro shot down an F6F-5 flown by Phil Perabo of VF-82

24 July 1945
N1K2 flown by Honda Minoru shot down an F6F-5 flown by Kenneth Meyer of VF-88
 
According to Genda's Blade and my own research, here are F6Fs shot down by N1K2s of the 343 Kokutai after 19 March 1945:

12 April 1945
N1K2 flown by Kanno Naoshi shot down an F6F-5 flown by Raymond Grosso of VBF-17
N1K2 shot down an F6F-5 flown by Terry Mills of VF-82

16 April 1945
N1K2 shot down an F6F-5 flown by Richard Stephansky of VF-47
N1K2 shot down an F6F-5 flown by Victor Rink of VF-47

13 May 1945
N1K2 flown by Ichimura Goro shot down an F6F-5 flown by Phil Perabo of VF-82

24 July 1945
N1K2 flown by Honda Minoru shot down an F6F-5 flown by Kenneth Meyer of VF-88
Thanks for looking those stats over. I'll check them against mine and see why we have come to different results.

What are you other sources besides Genda's Blade?
 
Thanks for looking those stats over. I'll check them against mine and see why we have come to different results.

What are you other sources besides Genda's Blade?
There is this website


Under 'databases' you can see details of USAAF/USN/USMC losses.

Genda's Blade does actually mention all the losses I said above, I just used that website to find the names of the pilots lost on 16 April 1945
 
I actually went through each engagement between Hellcats and the 343rd in "Genda's Blade" to make sure the numbers I presented were accurate and based on records from both sides. I do believe that Corsair units faired worse so this would improve the overall war record of the 343rd somewhat.

FWIW the N1K1 was introduced during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. This was the first time US Navy pilots engaged the George in action. Plus there were other Japanese units which flew the aircraft besides the 343rd so the actual claim to loss ratio between the F6F and the George would have to include these statistics as well to be totally accurate.

Anyway, I like all the information that you're bringing to light here. You really don't hear much concerning the USAAF involvement with the 3343rd Kokutai so I'm learning a lot..thanks! :cool:
Likewise, thank you for sharing your knowledge on this subject. My main interest is aerial torpedoes, but trainwrecks like the He-162, Brewster (all aircraft), and the MiG-3 are my favorite aviation topics.

There was an earlier air combat involving the N1K1-J that occurred over Taiwan during the Formosa Air Battle but I don't know much about it other than what was mentioned in Hellcat vs. Shiden, by Tony Holmes. Going off some first-person reports of these early skirmishes (a fairly decent read on this is F6F Hellcat Philippines 1944) one thing is clear: all the first F6F-3 and N1K1-J combats reported that the F6F-3 could very slowly catch up with the N1K1-J in a chase (not 100% sure these were -3s).

This strongly suggests that if the F6F-3's top speed was around 370-380 MPH, then the N1K1-J's (George 11) top speed was around 360-370 MPH, which is about what was listed in Francilion's book. However, the George 11B (or Shiden Otsu) had removed its underwing gondolas and 7.7mm machine guns which made it faster and lighter than the George 11A model. It would have made around 380 MPH, if the estimates on the gondola's drag are true (source: Japanese Wikipedia).

But get this: around 50% of the George 11s were written off in landing accidents. The US report recorded that 2/3rds of Shiden wrecks at Cebu were due to landing gear malfunction. A plane that destroys itself half the time is one of the worst aircraft of the war. It had great technology and design elements but was ultimately it may have been a product of political corruption.

I've seen speculation that the 343rd's CO, Captain Genda, had contacts at Kawanishi and he had been pulling levers behind the scenes in order to get Kawanishi the contract, despite the many design flaws and poor construction quality. Saburo Sakai criticized Genda's undue enthusiasm for the aircraft, although Sakai never actually flew the Shiden (source: Japanese wikipedia).

Genda would later pull more strings, but as a general. He got the much maligned Starfighter put into service in Japan. It was later revealed that Genda received bribes from Lockheed. I feel this last bit exonerates Sakai's viewpoint and explains why such a flawed aircraft made its way into combat, twice. So is the N1K2-J a superior design to the F6F-5? On paper, maybe, but only on paper.
 

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