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Old 4th July 2014, 16:26
GuerraCivil GuerraCivil is offline
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Japanese aerial exterminating action?

One of the controversial subjects of the air war during WW2 was the question about parachuted enemy pilots. Were they targets to be destroyed in every opportunity available or left in peace by a unwritten moral code between the pilots?

I became around this subject first time when reading memoirs of Galland, Marseille and some other European pilot celebrities. They condemned the killing of parachuting pilot considering it as a crime against the "unwritten laws" of war. However, after studying more the history of airwar, it became apparent to me that strafing attacks against parachuted enemy airmen were quite common.

The most systematic killers of parachuting pilots were without doubt the Japanese. Chinese, Soviet and Allied pilots reported that Japanese attacked the parachuted pilots systematically continuing to pursue them even on the ground, if parachuted pilots managed to get there. To save bullets, some Japanese pilots used their wingtip to cut off the cords of the parachute.

I must admit that reading about this practice it gave me quite repugnant picture of Japanese fighter pilots. It looked to me that cruelty and sadism were something that came from the cultural values regarding the warfare (like the treatment of the PoWs). As one Soviet pilot said: "it was simple Samurai cruelty".

However, to understand this darker side of the flying samurais, one should also study the combat principles of Japanese Army and Navy Air Forces. Japanese Army Air Force (and very probably Navy Air Force) had a principle called "aereal extermination policy". This meant that enemy airmen were enemy´s resource to be eliminated in every opportunity, specially if they were parachuting to safety over their own territory. In other words, pilots were ordered to kill parachuting enemies whenever possible.

So my question: are we talking of the "simple Samurai cruelty" or soldiers carrying out literally the orders given to them? What made Japanese pilots kill systematically parachuted Chinese, Soviet and Allied airmen in 1937-1945?
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Old 19th July 2014, 15:10
Larry deZeng Larry deZeng is offline
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Re: Japanese aerial exterminating action?

A simple answer would be both. If I were you, and really, really interested in this subject, I would research the Far East War Crimes Trials transcripts and appended evidentiary documentation and look for material on the code and mind set of Bushido (the way of the warrior). Cruelty to the enemy and non-Japanese was deeply ingrained in the Japanese military at that time and enforced by many of the officers. They did not play by the Western rules of warfare.

However, as you pointed out, the killing of enemy pilots in their 'chutes was relatively common on both sides.

L.
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Old 19th July 2014, 20:04
Leo Etgen Leo Etgen is offline
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Japanese aerial exterminating action?

Hello

There is not much to add to what Larry has already pointed out but I would like to add that in reading various accounts of the war in China and the Pacific one comes across mention of Japanese aircrews refusing to abandon their shot down aircraft and instead preferring to follow the fate of the aircraft to its ultimate end. That I know of they were the only combatants that did this and I would certainly believe that this attitude would go someway towards explaining their practice of attacking enemy pilots that baled out.

Horrido!

Leo
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Old 20th July 2014, 00:54
Larry deZeng Larry deZeng is offline
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Re: Japanese aerial exterminating action?

An excellent point, Leo. The Code of Bushido taught that a soldier who surrendered or was captured by the enemy was a contemptable, dishonorable coward who betrayed the Emperor, the Japanese culture and his fellow soldiers. This is the main reason why so few Japanese fell into Allied hands during the Pacific War. They would almost always commit suicide rather than be captured by an enemy they had been brainwashed into believing would torture them to death.

GuerraCivil can find a lot of discussion on this subject over on Axis History Forum ( http://forum.axishistory.com/ ) under Holocaust & 20th Century War Crimes, and I believe a thread dealing with his specific question can be found there, IIRC.

Larry
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Old 21st July 2014, 09:12
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Alfred.MONZAT Alfred.MONZAT is offline
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Re: Japanese aerial exterminating action?

I have read that, during the Battle of Khalkhin Gol/Nomonhan Incident, a japanese pilot landed next to a soviet fighter he shot down and killed its pilot with his katana !

Maybe the japanese were the top killer under chutes (tough I have read some reports of japanese pilot who waved pilots under parachutes) but the Americans are quite high in the top too... Lots of german pilots died this way and even French crew during Operation Torch who would have become Allied in the following days... A russian pilot (one of the top ace of the Korean War, I can't remember his name now) was quite supprised of being fired under parachute during the Korean War, something he hadn't met against the germans.
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Old 21st July 2014, 11:45
Graham Boak Graham Boak is online now
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Re: Japanese aerial exterminating action?

If the parachuting pilot was over his own territory, then he was a legitimate target. If he was falling into captivity, he was not. Just the same as any other combatant.

This ruling was endorsed by AVM Dowding, during the Battle of Britain.
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Old 22nd July 2014, 05:30
bearoutwest bearoutwest is offline
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Re: Japanese aerial exterminating action?

We are privileged in our viewpoint because we are able to observe our history without needing to be involved. Most of us can ask these questions without needing to make such moral decision ourselves. While not wishing to pass judgement in any way, I’d like to point out several incidences on the Allied side of the ledger – for discussion.
  • Battle of the Bismarck Sea, when Allied airpower destroyed a Japanese reinforcement convoy bound for New Guinea. All the transport vessels and half the escorting destroyers were sunk. The New Guinea land campaign was considered to be on such a knife edge that the prospect of a thousand unequipped Japanese survivors was considered enough of a risk that the Allied fighter bombers (B-25s, A-20s, Beaufighters, etc) were tasked with hunting down and strafing the lifeboats and life rafts.
  • In the memoirs of a USAAF P-47 pilot (I believe it was Herschel Green, though it was a library book that I read it in and cannot confirm for sure…so apologies to Herschel Green if I’m mistaken), there was an instance when he encountered a Luftwaffe ace during a escort mission. The dogfight lasted a relatively long time before Green scored a disabling hit on the Fw190{?}. Green was mentally congratulating the German pilot for his skill, when it occurred to him that this was a very skilled expert, and if he survived over German airspace, would likely return to battle and bring down many more US aircraft. Green made a snap judgement call, fired another burst, and walked his fire across the Fw190’s cockpit as the pilot was half out of the plane.
  • Numerous instances where long-range Allied fighters on sweeps (P-51s, Mosquitos, etc) found themselves over Luftwaffe training airfields and racked up high scores on primary trainers (biplanes, not operational trainers like the Dewoitine 520 or early Bf109s and Fw190s).
I don’t wish to condemn nor condone these actions, just to acknowledge that they did happen. Men in difficult situations, being asked to make instant moral decisions in the height of adrenalin-filled battle chose one course of action.
In my opinion, men on both Allied and Axis sides will make these decisions based on their level of awareness (orders, propaganda, training, personal circumstance). Perhaps the type of training amongst some organisations (e.g. the Waffen-SS, the Japanese Bushido-code of WW2, etc) made it easier to cross that moral line?
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Old 22nd July 2014, 13:43
waldo_pepper waldo_pepper is offline
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Re: Japanese aerial exterminating action?

Quote:
Originally Posted by bearoutwest View Post
We are privileged in our viewpoint because we are able to observe our history without needing to be involved. Most of us can ask these questions without needing to make such moral decision ourselves. While not wishing to pass judgement in any way, I’d like to point out several incidences on the Allied side of the ledger – for discussion.
  • Battle of the Bismarck Sea, when Allied airpower destroyed a Japanese reinforcement convoy bound for New Guinea. All the transport vessels and half the escorting destroyers were sunk. The New Guinea land campaign was considered to be on such a knife edge that the prospect of a thousand unequipped Japanese survivors was considered enough of a risk that the Allied fighter bombers (B-25s, A-20s, Beaufighters, etc) were tasked with hunting down and strafing the lifeboats and life rafts.
  • In the memoirs of a USAAF P-47 pilot (I believe it was Herschel Green, though it was a library book that I read it in and cannot confirm for sure…so apologies to Herschel Green if I’m mistaken), there was an instance when he encountered a Luftwaffe ace during a escort mission. The dogfight lasted a relatively long time before Green scored a disabling hit on the Fw190{?}. Green was mentally congratulating the German pilot for his skill, when it occurred to him that this was a very skilled expert, and if he survived over German airspace, would likely return to battle and bring down many more US aircraft. Green made a snap judgement call, fired another burst, and walked his fire across the Fw190’s cockpit as the pilot was half out of the plane.
  • Numerous instances where long-range Allied fighters on sweeps (P-51s, Mosquitos, etc) found themselves over Luftwaffe training airfields and racked up high scores on primary trainers (biplanes, not operational trainers like the Dewoitine 520 or early Bf109s and Fw190s).
I don’t wish to condemn nor condone these actions, just to acknowledge that they did happen. Men in difficult situations, being asked to make instant moral decisions in the height of adrenalin-filled battle chose one course of action.
In my opinion, men on both Allied and Axis sides will make these decisions based on their level of awareness (orders, propaganda, training, personal circumstance). Perhaps the type of training amongst some organisations (e.g. the Waffen-SS, the Japanese Bushido-code of WW2, etc) made it easier to cross that moral line?
One of the best replies I have seen on topics like this.
Thank you.
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Old 22nd July 2014, 13:53
GuerraCivil GuerraCivil is offline
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Re: Japanese aerial exterminating action?

I took a look on this thread of Axishistory forum: http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?t=68936

My guess is that there will be never a common agreement, if shooting the parachuted pilot was legitimate or "morally acceptable" in WW2. It was only after WW2 when international rules of warfare considered the strafing of parachuting pilot as a war crime (international conventions of 1949 and 1977). Probably the issue of killing parachuting pilots was taken up after WW2 precisely because it was so common during the war.

In this thread it has been stated, that RAF commander Downing during BoB accepted the principle that parachuted pilot is a legitimate target when parachuting over his own territory. Well, my guess is that he would not have liked to see his RAF fighter pilots to be annihilated when parachuting over Britain. Both he and British propaganda would have made a lot of noise about the cruelty of German airmen! I think that there has been some hypocrisy on this issue based on double standards. "Our pilots" can strafe parachuted enemy pilots to eliminate them from further combat, but if the enemy does the same, they are "criminals".

I can see Japanese practice having been consistent (eliminate the enemy from further combat whenever possible and kill him when parachuting over his own territory). Some pilots may have enjoyed of attacking easy targets, but for most Japanese pilots it was probably following orders which had logical basis.

At the same time I understand that parachuted and attacked Allied pilots did find it repugnant. I guess that all of us would have felt it that way in their position - you don´t want be strafed while parachuting and without any means to defend yourself - you would very likely feel that "it is not fair".

It is a question on whose position you find it easier to identify.
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Old 22nd July 2014, 14:22
Graham Boak Graham Boak is online now
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Re: Japanese aerial exterminating action?

The Dowding quote was made in response to criticism of German pilots shooting at RAF ones in their parachutes - there were not a lot of Fighter Command missions over France during the Battle of Britain to offer opportunities the other way. I don't suppose he liked British pilots being so shot, but that's hardly the point, is it?
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