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Broncazonk 14th November 2014 02:54

Allied Opinion of IJN vs. IJA Fighter Pilots
I'm looking for information on how Allied fighter pilots viewed their IJN and IJA opponents, specifically, which of the two did they think was more formidable.

I'm trying to think of a campaign where both IJN and IJA fighter pilots were regularly engaged at the same time--I'm not that well versed.

Anyway, I'm hoping someone has something on this.

Thank you in advance!


Leo Etgen 15th November 2014 02:14

Allied Opinion of IJN vs. IJA Fighter Pilots
Hi Bronc

I am not the one to comment on this since my knowledge of the Pacific War is somewhat limited but from my reading on the subject I get the impression that most Allied pilots considered the IJNAF to be the more challenging opponent. However, it should be pointed out that much of this was based on considerable misunderstanding as in the early stages of the war it appears that there was considerable confusion among the Allies regarding which Japanese air force where they engaged with. For example, both the RAF and AVG over Malaysia, Burma and China often claimed that their opponents were naval types when in fact their opponents were almost exclusively IJAAF aircraft - the Nate, Oscar, Sally, Lily and Ann to name a few. It appears that responsibility for the South Pacific theater generally was left to the IJNAF, however, the IJAAF had a number of units stationed on New Guinea by spring 1943 although these were rapidly worn down by combat attrition and supply difficulties. It is my understanding that the IJAAF and IJNAF were engaged alongside each other in the Philippines campaign and the defense of the Home Islands in the later stages of the war. It should be pointed out that at the beginning of the war both air forces had accumulated considerable combat experience as a result of the actions against the Chinese and Russians so in truth its hard to tell if one was "better" than the other. Hopefully, others can add more to this interesting subject.



Broncazonk 15th November 2014 02:40

Hard Question to Answer
It's a hard question to answer--probably impossible. However are these statements correct?

1) Allied fighter pilots in the Pacific didn't begin engaging IJAAF fighters pilots until late 1943, and maybe even 1944. Pearl Harbor, Coral Sea, Midway, Eastern Solomons, Santa Cruz and the whole of the Solomons campaign was fought almost exclusively against the IJNAF.

2) The AVG/Flying Tigers never flew against the IJNAF.

3) The RAF in Malaysia/Burma never flew against the IJNAF.

4) By the time USN and USAAF began engaging IJAAF fighter pilots in any numbers, they were flying Hellcats, Corsairs and P-38's. (Planes that dramatically out-classed IJAAF aircraft.)



Leo Etgen 15th November 2014 05:22

Allied Opinion of IJN vs. IJA Fighter Pilots
Hi Bronc

I will try to answer as to the best of my knowledge which is not the greatest since the Pacific War is not my forte but hopefully others can correct any errors.

1) I agree that the Americans generally fought against the IJNAF in the early campaigns in the southern Pacific. The IJAAF did participate in the conquest of the Philippines and as pointed out before had a number of units based on New Guinea in mid-1943 but for the first two years of the war the Americans mainly fought against the IJNAF.

2) That is my understanding.

3) What I have read of the RAF in the early period of the war is limited to the Buffalo squadrons stationed in Malaysia and Burma and in the defense of Singapore these did engage IJNAF units on at least two occasions that I am aware of. Generally, though, they were confronted by the IJAAF.

4) I honestly have no idea which were the principal American types used in the southern Pacific at that time but I believe you are correct. I am almost certain that some USAAF units were still equipped with the P-40 and others with the P-47 and likewise some USN units were still equipped with the Wildcat. It would be hard to say just how these types compared to their opponents such as the Oscar and Tony of the IJAAF and Zeke of the IJNAF; generally I believe that pilot training was the critical factor for success in aerial combat. I have read that based on fighter losses suffered by both sides the first six months of the Pacific War were a period marked by decided Japanese superiority. However, from the Guadalcanal campaign on through the end of 1943/beginning of 1944 fighter losses were quite balanced after which the Allied units began establishing a notable dominance.

I hope this is accurate and if not any corrections or additional comments would be greatly appreciated.



bearoutwest 15th November 2014 14:25

Re: Allied Opinion of IJN vs. IJA Fighter Pilots
Hello Bronc.
From early 1942 until late 1943, the Allied Air Forces fought a predominantly defensive air war over Northern Australia and New Guinea. This threw the USAAF, RAAF and Dutch NEI flying units in against both Japanese Army and land-based Navy squadrons. It was probably the longest continuous period of time when both the Japanese air arms operated “together” in the same campaign. (Though, “together” is a loose definition – more like benign tolerance of each other, rather than active co-operation.)
A quick rough-guide to Japanese operations would indicate (though not definitive in any way):
- raids against New Guinea targets initially IJNAF, then heavily augmented by IJAAF, then reinforced by IJNAF;
- raids against Darwin (and other Australian targets) predominantly by IJNAF units, with a number of autonomous raids by IJAAF units.

If you are looking for aircrew opinions on the relative merits of Japanese Army and Navy air units, then looking into the unit diaries or biographies of the following units might be useful:
- 49th Fighter Group USAAF (originally destined for Java, but remained in Australia defending Darwin in 1942, before moving to New Guinea and subsequently the Philippines);
- 75 Squadron RAAF (defending Port Moresby in 1942);
- 75 & 76 Squadrons RAAF (defending Milne Bay in New Guinea);
- the Spitfire Wing defending Darwin & Northern Australia in 1943.
I’m sure there are many other units which would provide an insight.

It is my “impression” that poor initial Allied intel on the potency of the Japanese aircraft and units, couple with the similarities in Japanese aircraft types (e.g. Army Ki-43 Oscars cf Navy A6M Zeros; Army Ki-27 Nates cf Navy A5M Claudes; Army Ki-21 Sallys cf Navy G3M Bettys) probably led to great confusion over what units were operating in-theatre. My reading of the last few years has concentrated on the Allied fighter operations. I don’t recall any specific mention of operational orders or aircrew opinions which favoured concern over one Japanese unit over another – e.g. unlike European theatre concerns voiced over the yellow nose Bf109s of the “Abbeville Kids” (JG26?). Mind you, when I was reading up on my interest in the subject, I wasn’t looking subjectively at Allied opinions regarding Japanese Army vs Navy capabilities, so more subtle references would have been lost on me.


GuerraCivil 16th November 2014 00:46

Re: Allied Opinion of IJN vs. IJA Fighter Pilots
The book of Nicholas Millman "Ki-27 ´Nate´Aces" may give some light.

Millman shows that IJAAF units flying near-obsolete but still surprisingly well-doing ´Nate´ made quite well against Allied pilots in 1941-1942.

Action over the Philippines saw two Ki-27 IJAAF units participating and were able to bring down some American P-40 E´s and alone P-35. It seems that IJAAF pilots did make well against American foes who had more advanced planes. American pilots learned that the "obsolete" Nate with its fixed landing gear was still a dangerous plane in the hands of skilled pilot.

IJAAF ´Nate´pilots took further part in the Malaya, The East Indies and Burma campaigns doing rather well against the Brewster Buffalos, Hurricanes and P-40´s of RAF/USAAF/AVG.

RAF ace Barry Sutton about his IJAAF opponents over Burma in 1942 and what the real combat situation made him to think about pre-war newspaper article claiming that Japanese pilots were unable to perform aerobatics: "Many times since I have thought I would have liked to cram the man who wrote that article into the cockpit of my Hurricane as I twisted and turned, trying to dogde the front end of those slippery little 97´s (Nate) as they clawed themselves around incredibly tight corners at a couple of hundred miles a hour"

Broncazonk 16th November 2014 05:46

Allied Opinion of IJN vs. IJA Fighter Pilots
Looking back on it, and knowing what we know now, is it fair to say that the cadre of fighter pilots that the IJNAF started the war with were objectively THE BEST in the world, bar none? (I'm not dissing IJAAF fighter pilots, I just know very little about them.) But looking at the Guadalcanal campaign, where IJNAF fighter pilots were flying missions that were approaching 1000-miles round trip, that is very strong evidence for this proposition is it not?

To some extent, this discussion is like nailing jello to a tree, however, it is a historical fact that in pre-war Japan, circa 1937-1940, the IJNAF and IJAAF were engaged in an extraordinary amount of realistic operational training, not to mention operational flying in Manchuria and China.


bearoutwest 16th November 2014 06:29

Re: Allied Opinion of IJN vs. IJA Fighter Pilots

You can nail jello to a tree with relative ease if you put it into the right container first. Just like being able to juggle 24 eggs at one time is quite easy – if you tape them into the cartons first. ;) It also means that you make a bigger mess when you get it wrong!

I think you need to frame the context of the combat in order to look at areas where a truer comparison of the IJA and IJN capabilities can be drawn. Leo & Guerra have made true statements but which may not lead to any comparison. Let me expand on my thinking (and it is only my opinion now).

Early in the Pacific war (i.e. December 1941 to about mid-1942) the war was very fluid, and the Japanese capabilities very poorly known (or perhaps more correct to state – poorly appreciated) by Allied planners. The performance of the Allied fighters (P-40s, Buffalos, Hurricanes, F4Fs) did not differ greatly from the Japanese Zeros, Oscars and Nates. The advantage would have been to the attackers, able to direct greater numbers to a specific area and overwhelm the defenders for local air superiority. You see these tactics used to advantage in Malaya/Singapore, the Philippines and Java. Under the circumstances where the defending force is constantly spread thin and under local pressure, losing airfields and being pushed backwards….it becomes much more difficult to understand how well you are (or not) actually performing. So then it becomes difficult to hold a true appreciation of the quality of the enemy. Hence the Allied opinion expands to favour an enemy who is filling the skies with Zeros (despite the fact that these aircraft can be Army Oscars and Nates…..a kind of Zero snobbery perhaps).

It’s only when the Japanese started attacking fixed targets where air superiority is contested over a period of time – e.g. the AVG and RAF defending Rangoon, the RAAF over New Guinea and the USAAF over Darwin – that you get a better impression of what the Allied pilots thought about their opposition. The air battles over Rangoon were exclusively a IJAAF affair, though there is some thought that the AVG squadron remaining in China may have encountered IJN aircraft occasionally. So for the early battles, I think you need to look at the RAAF over Port Moresby and the USAAF over Darwin to get a defending force encountering both IJA and IJN air units, and able to hold their own long enough to for a subjective opinion.

The USAAF units that moved into New Guinea for the late 1942 and early 1943 campaigns would also be a good source of opinion – as they would also have encountered both Japanese army and navy air units on reasonably even circumstances. I think the US Army and Marines over Guadalcanal may have been facing mainly IJN air units and may not have encountered sufficient IJA opposition to help you answer your question subjectively.

The RAAF defending Darwin in 1943 (initially with P-40s and then substantially with Spitfires) encountered over 50 “significant” raids (i.e. bombers escorted by fighters or fighter sweeps), but only about 5 (from memory) were IJA raids. Their opinions may be useful in that they were defending from a secure position with little chance of a Japanese invasion, so they may be afforded greater subjectivity in their reports of enemy capabilities. The thing to watch out for here is that the Spitfire wing flew with Bader big-wing tactics, and tended – under the circumstances – to overclaim in the same manner as the RAF big-wings during the Battle of Britain. I think it’s more a result of putting large numbers of defending fighters over a relatively small patch of sky. If six fighters fire at a vic of three bombers – each can be aiming at a separate target, but if one bomber starts smoking…..all six fighters are probably going to claim it. Not dishonesty, just over enthusiasm perhaps.

By the time you get to the 1944 Philippines Campaign and the US carrier raids over Japan, the average quality of US aircraft and aircrew is so much better that the IJA/IJN, the Allied pilots are more thinking of finding the enemy in order to shoot them down, not so much concerned about whether the opposition was any good.

My opinion only - hope it’s of some use.


twocee 16th November 2014 15:05

Re: Allied Opinion of IJN vs. IJA Fighter Pilots
As far as US Navy carrier pilots are concerned I have not come across any reports that seek to compare IJNAF and IJAAF pilot abilities: what I have seen reported is when enemy pilots of unusual skill or aggressiveness have been encountered, whether Army or Navy. Of course, particularly in combat Japanese aircraft, and hence the operating service, were often misidentified.

As a general point, US Navy carrier pilots considered themselves superior to those of the Army and so would no doubt have had the same expectation of their Japanese adversaries.

Leo Etgen 17th November 2014 14:40

Allied Opinion of IJN vs. IJA Fighter Pilots
Hi Bronc

I for one am very wary of using terms such as "the best" when discussing virtually any subject as more often than not it reveals one's prejudices more than anything else. Regarding the level of Japanese pilots and aircrew at the beginning of the war by all accounts it was very high indeed. One source that I have seen states that army and land-based navy pilots had an average of 500 to 600 flight hours; carrier-based navy pilots an average of 800 flight hours. Approximately 50% of army pilots had seen action in China and against the Russians and about 10% of land-based navy pilots had seen combat in China as well. As I wrote before these men did very well in the initial stages of the war and were certainly capable of holding their own in the mid-war period. For example, the Oscar units of the IJAAF in Burma performed well against a variety of opponents in 1942 and 1943 until the arrival in number of improved Allied types began to change the situation in 1944. On the other hand, in the great naval battles of 1942 such as Coral Sea, Midway, Eastern Solomons and Santa Cruz the Japanese consistently lost more aircraft than the Americans and it should be noted that the USN and USMC held their own against the IJN in the Guadalcanal campaign even though the Wildcat was and is generally considered to have been inferior to the Zeke.



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