Japanese Naval Fighters

Carrier-Based Fighters

Historical note: Mitsubishi almost monopolized this area of Japanese naval aircraft production. Japanese carrier based fighters suffered from two related problems; one was a lack of engine power that limited overall performance, the other was that the Japanese aircraft carriers all dated from the early 1940s and their size restricted the weight of aircraft deployed from them. The Japanese never built larger carriers and, as the older ship wore out, the potential production runs of naval aircraft shrank. As a result, the Japanese never developed a range of truly modern carrier-based fighters comparable with, for example, the F8U or the F4H.

Mitsubishi A5M, CADS Code Name Amy (later Alice) A lightweight but very successful Japanese naval fighter first deployed in early 1937. The mainstay of Japanese naval fighter units until 1941, the A5M was exceptionally agile but lightly armed. It remained in service until late 1943. When the CADS naming system was devised, the A5M was named Amy but it was feared this would be confused with the common nickname for the Martin AM-1 Mauler, “Amie” and the CADS reporting name was changed to Alice.

Mitsubishi A6M Zero, CADS Code Name Jane Probably the definitive Japanese naval fighter of the 1940s, the A6M was relatively fast, long-ranged, agile and heavily armed. Arguably it was the best carrier-based fighter of the early-mid 1940s and would probably have given a reasonable account of itself had it faced the US Navy. This was not to be and the A6M family never really got a chance to show what it was capable of and spent most of its life in the shadow of its better-known Army rivals. Despite its relative obscurity, the A6M had a long service life since later, heavier naval aircraft could not be operated from smaller Japanese carriers. The last variant of the A6M family, the A6M9, was only withdrawn from service in 1955.

Mitsubishi A7M Reppu, CADS Code Name Chit The A7M was designed as a logical follow-on to the A6M using an engine of almost twice the deliverable power. The first prototype was rather disappointing but a cleaned-up development proved to have sparkling performance, combining the A6Ms range and agility with a 400mph top speed and an armament of four 20mm cannon. The aircraft’s one problem was its size that made it unable to operate from smaller and slower carriers; as a result, the A7M was restricted to the Shokaku and Taiho classes. This mean that the A7M, for all its virtues, was outlived by the A6M since the bigger carriers were capable of operating even better aircraft when these became available. The A7M entered service in 1944 and had vanished from the fleet by 1949.

Kawasaki A7K Shinpu, CADS Code Name Chrissy The Kawasaki competitor to the A7M, the A7K was unique in being the only fighter with a liquid-cooled in-line engine (actually a V-16) proposed for Japanese Naval service. It failed its service trials and was not proceeded with.

Mitsubishi A8M Rifuku, CADS Code Name Dana By the time the A7M was entering service, it was becoming obvious that jets were the way of the future. They had, however, two problems for carrier service. The early jets, especially German-technology ones, were fuel-thirsty in the extreme and they powered up slowly. This made carrier launch difficult and gave the aircraft very short endurance once up. Mitsubishi provided an ingenious solution. They redesigned the A7M to have a nosewheel undercarriage (vital to keep the jet exhaust clear of the deck) and installed a 1,047 pound thrust Ne-20 jet engine in the rear fuselage. The idea was that the aircraft would fly on its piston engine, just using the jet as an emergency power boost. This idea proved successful and the A8M entered service in 1947, quickly replacing the A7M.

Mitsubishi A9M Reisan, CADS Code Name Ellie A further development of the A8M concept, the A9M replaced the piston engine in the nose with a turboprop. This offered much better performance at cost of a significant decrease in range. By the time the A9M was ready for service, pure jet fighters were already available and the type was abandoned.

Kyushu A7W3 Shinden, CADS Code Name Fanny This aircraft represents an unusual anomaly in the otherwise-logical Japanese naval designation system. It was a version of the Kyushu J7W land-based fighter and should, therefore, have been the J7W3-A but for some reason this was changed to A7W3. The original J7W1 had a pusher piston engine and a long, fragile undercarriage that barred it from carrier service. The J7W2 was equipped with a 2,000 pound thrust jet engine and had a much shorter, stronger undercarriage. As the Shokaku and Taiho class carriers were modernized with angled decks and catapults, they were deemed capable of operating the J7W2 and a navalized version, the A7W3 entered service in 1951. It proved to be very successful and later versions with much more powerful engines remained the fastest fighters in the Japanese Navy carrier squadrons until the early 1960s. The A7W3, like all members of that family, was difficult and treacherous to fly and was suited only to the most experienced of pilots.

Kawasaki A10K Tenrai, CADS Code Name Gertie Kawasaki took their rejected A7K fighter and redesigned it to mount a 2,000 pound thrust jet engine in the fuselage. By the time redesign had been completed, only the wings remained in common with the A7K. In this form, the A10K1 was accepted for production and entered fleet service in 1951. It was slower than the A7W3, in fact was barely faster than the A8M but it was a pure jet and carried a very heavy gun battery of six 20mm cannon in the wings. The A10K was only used in limited numbers in the fleet but it proved to be a vital training aircraft and was quite extensively produced.

Mitsubishi A11M Shurikan, CADS Code Name Hannah This aircraft was a further development of the A9M although it bore little resemblance to the earlier aircraft. Mitsubishi had come up with a jet engine design that used split intakes and a bifurcated exhaust. This allowed the engine to be mounted in the middle of the aircraft, its intakes in the wing root leading edge and its exhaust in the trailing edge. The rest of the aircraft was stuffed with fuel tanks and thus was the range problem at last overcome. The A10M bore a distinct resemblance to a slimmed-down F9F Panther. It also entered service in 1951 and its docility and range made it a favorite even though its performance was lack-lustre. It remained in service until 1962.

Kyushu A12W Kabuko, CADS Code Name Ivy This aircraft was a twin-engined, twin seat version of the A7W. Contemporary with (and bearing a close resemblance to) the Chance Vought F7U Cutlass, it also shared all the flaws of the “Gutless Cutlass. It was notable as the first Japanese naval fighter to be equipped with radar as standard and was armed with four of the Navy’s new Tanto infra-red homing missiles and four 30mm Type 5 cannon. The Tanto was one of the earliest all-aspect infra-red missiles and carried an unusually large warhead.. It was, however, short ranged and easily decoyed. The A12W had extremely bad flying characteristics that included a habit of stalling without warning. Like its single-engined ancestor, it tended to be restricted to the most experienced aircrew and, like the A7W was usually deployed to carriers in small detachments. The A12W entered service in 1958 but was relatively short-lived and vanished from the fleet by 1963.

Mitsubishi A13M Katana, CADS Code Name Janis By the mid-1950s, the Japanese had cracked the problem of building high-powered jet engines that were relatively fuel-efficient. The Japanese developed the Ne-45, a turbojet that gave 9,900 pounds of thrust. This was installed in an enlarged A11M airframe, retaining the wing-root intakes but exhausting through a single port in the tail. The wings and tail were moderately swept and an armament of four 30mm Type cannon fitted under the nose. The A13M was an instant success being agile, heavily armed although being restricted to transonic speeds (the A13M could exceed the speed of sound in a dive from altitude but suffered from engine surges in that regime). Significantly, it had a service ceiling of approximately 52,500 feet, making it the first Japanese carrier-born fighter capable of intercepting SAC’s bombers. The A13M entered service in 1959 and remained in Japanese fleet fighter squadrons until they were disbanded in 1986. Very large numbers of A13M aircraft (some say more than 2,000) were supplied to The Caliphate.

Mitsubishi A14M Naginata A proposed development of the A13M, the A14M would have had new, thinner wings, a reheated Ne-45 engine. The prototype A14M showed a speed of 820 miles per hour at sea level and 970 miles per hour at altitude. It had a service ceiling of 59,500 feet. However, the strategic defense review of 1959 envisioned the end of the Japanese carrier fleet and development of the A14M was canceled. With its end, Japanese carrier fighter development ceased.

Land-based Fighters

Historical note: Japanese Navy land-based fighters went through several changes of role in their career. Originally, the land-based fighter force was designed to provide long-range escorts to Japanese Navy land-based bombers. In the early 1940s, attention shifted to providing air cover for Japanese naval and air bases, the Japanese Army showing no interest in that role. When the high-altitude bombing threat to Japan materialized in 1947/48, the navy had the only effective interceptors capable of reaching B-36 operational altitudes and, as a result, the Navy became responsible for the strategic air defense of Japan. Following the 1965 Showa Restoration Coup, the Army took over this role and the navy fighter arm reverted to defending Japanese naval installations.

Nakajima J1N Gekko CADS Code Name Avril The J1N1 was originally designed as a long-range day fighter intended for deep penetration raids into enemy territory or for long-distance escort over the sea. The aircraft turned out to be deficient in many respects and was a failure as a fighter. However, a much-simplified version of the design was produced as a reconnaissance aircraft. This was more satisfactory and a small number of the type was built (Japanese designation being J1N1-R). When reported by the Triple Alliance, these were assumed to be fighters and given the appropriate female name. The J1N1 entered service in 1943 and had been withdrawn by 1945.

Mitsubishi J2M Raiden, CADS Code Name Bea The J2M Raiden was a complete break from earlier Japanese fighters in that its design stressed speed, firepower and rate of climb over all other considerations. Intended purely as a point defense interceptor, it first flew in 1941 and entered service in early 1943. Armed with four 20mm type 99 cannon and capable of almost 400 miles per hour, it would have posed a serious threat to the B-29 had that aircraft ever actually been used against Japan. However, its service ceiling of 37,000 feet made it useless against the B-36. The J2M remained in service until mid-1948.

Kawanishi J3K Shinpu, CADS Code Name Candy In 1942, the Kawanishi group designed the J3K as a successor to the J2M as a point defense fighter. The aircraft was technically very successful and, when it entered service in 1944 was the fastest fighter in Japanese Navy service. However, it was quickly supplanted by the even better N1K2-J and only three groups were ever equipped with the J3K. It had vanished from service by 1947.

Kawanishi N1K1-J Shiden, CADS Code Name Diane The most successful of the piston-engined Japanese land-based fighters, the N1K1-J was a wheeled version of the N1K1 floatplane fighter. A truly outstanding fighter, it was fast, very heavily armed, agile and fast-climbing. It entered service in 1944 and remained in service until 1953.

Kawanishi N2K1-J Shiden-kai, CADS Code Name Diane A drastically modified version of the N1K1-J (some sources suggest that this aircraft was designated the N1K2-J) this had its wing lowered from the mid-fuselage position and reputedly had the number of individual components in its construction reduced by 30,000. The first N2K1-Js entered service in 1945 and the type remained in Japanese Navy service until 1954.

Mitsubishi J4M Shinden A pusher-engined fighter with its propeller mounted in the rear of a short fuselage nacelle with its tail mounted on booms. The Shinden prototype was half-built when the program was canceled by the Japanese Navy who felt it offered no advantages over the existing fighters.

Nakajima J5N Oroi An advanced version of the J1N1, this aircraft was also canceled as a result of it offering no real advantages over the N2K1-J

Kawanishi J6K Shinfu, CADS Code Name Candy A version of the J3K with a more powerful engine and 30mm cannon replacing the 20mm weapons. A small number were built as attrition replacements for J3K aircraft lost in accidents.

Kyushu J7W3 Shinden, CADS Code Name Fanny A radical canard design with a rear-mounted wing and forward mounted tailplane. The J7W1 was piston-engined and had a long, fragile undercarriage but the J7W2 had a Ne-130 jet engine and a much shorter, stronger undercarriage. The J7W1 entered service in 1946 and the J7W2 in 1947. They remained in service until 1953, their life as home-defense interceptors being restricted by their inability to reach more than 40,000 feet and thus being incapable of intercepting the B-36.

Mitsubishi J8M Shusui, CADS Code Name Erin Often described as a copy of the Me-163 rocket fighter, the J8M was certainly derived from the German aircraft but was actually a much superior product. The Japanese team examining a sample Me-163B were appalled by the wasted weight and over-complex engineering in the German fighter and redesigned it. The result was a stronger, lighter airframe that was less prone to the Me-163s disastrous fuel leaks and explosions while being easier to fly. The J8M was some 50mph faster than the Me-163, could maintain full power for a minute longer and had a service ceiling of 52,500 feet, 13,000 feet more than the Me-163B. Far from the J8M being a copy of the Me-163, information on the J8M was supplied to Germany and was used to develop the Me-163C. The J8M was the first fighter to be able to reach altitudes where it was a significant threat to the B-36 bomber and it was this capability that resulted in the Japanese Navy being assigned the role of strategic defense of the Japanese homeland. The J8M entered service in 1945 and remained in Naval force structures until 1951.

Mitsubishi J9M Shusui, CADS Code Name Flip A further complete redesign of the technology obtained from the Me-163B, the J9M featured a throttlable rocket engine, much enlarged fuel tanks an entirely new fuselage with a bubble cockpit. The J9M had a maximum speed of 620 miles per hour, a powered endurance of nine minutes and a service ceiling of 52,500 feet. The J9M became the backbone of the Japanese naval land-based fighter force, the first aircraft entering service in 1947 and the type remaining in the inventory until 1959. The J9M was built in Germany as the Me-263 and early production Me-263s plus the available Me-163cs were the only fighters capable of offering any significant resistance to The Big One, shooting down at least two, possibly three, B-36s. J9M aircraft were also exported to the Caliphate.

Nakajima J10N Kikka, CADS Code Name Grace Another aircraft often described as a copy of a German design, the J10N was actually designed on the basis of photographs of the Me-262 but was a much smaller and aerodynamically more efficient aircraft. It discarded the draggy triangular fuselage and inefficient wing profile of the Me-262 in favor of a sleek elliptical fuselage and much thinner wings better suited to high speeds. As a result, despite having less power than the Me-262, it was faster and higher-flying. In addition, its 30mm cannon were much better weapons than the German design. The J10N proved to have better flying characteristics than the me-262. Introduced in 1948, it quickly replaced the piston-engined fighters and, by the mid-1950s, the Japanese Naval land-based fighter fleet had standardized on the J9M and J10N. The J10N remained in service until it was replaced by the J12K from 1960 onwards. However, the last J10Ns were not withdrawn from service until 1966.

Mitsubishi J11M Saro, CADS Code Name Happy By the mid-1950s, the Japanese Navy land-based fighter squadrons were operating two types of aircraft, the J9M that had adequate speed and altitude ability but cripplingly short endurance and the J10N that had the required speed and endurance but lacked the altitude to engage the American bombers. Mitsubishi, therefore, decided to develop an aircraft that effectively combined both types in one airframe. Their original effort was the J11M1 that still used a rocket engine as its main source of power but was equipped with a get-home jet engine. However, it quickly became obvious that a more substantial jet component was needed, the aircraft needed more firepower and a radar system. Thus, a new, significantly larger aircraft, the J11M2 was born. This featured its engines arranged vertically, an Ne-80 in the lower part of the fuselage and a rocket engine in the upper. The aircraft was armed with two Tanto missiles on its wingtips. Trials indicated that the aircraft, when running on both its rocket and jet had spectacular performance. It had a maximum speed of 1,550 miles per hour and a stunning initial climb rate of 60,000 feet per minute to reach a service ceiling of 67,000 feet. This made the B-36 and B-60 instantly obsolete and placed the B-52 at considerable risk. The J11M2 went into production in 1958 and it remained in service until 1986.

Kawasaki J12K Kamiden, CADS Code Name Irene For all its virtues, the J11M2 had the same drawback as other hybrid aircraft (and one foreshadowed by the Ta-152H). Although it had excellent performance while running its boost system (the rocket in the J11M2, GM-1 injection in the Ta-152), that boost was limited and when its fuel ran out, the weight and complexity of the system was such that it severely penalized the aircraft. A J11M2 with its rocket fuel gone was a very slow and pedestrian performer. Kawasaki looked at the idea and came up with a better idea, why not simply replace the rocket with a second jet engine? They proceeded to design the minimum aircraft that could be built around two Ne-80 engines, each delivering 11,100 pounds of thrust. The two engines were arranged vertically in the fuselage. The most distinguishing feature of the aircraft was its sharply-swept wings, essentially a delta with a small triangle cut out of the trailing edge. The J12K1 was armed with two 30mm cannon but the J12K2 version sacrificed these in favor of a pair of Tanto missiles. Mounted on the fuselage sides The J12K3 geatured a prominent bulge in its belly that contained extra fuel and a pair of 30mm cannon while the pair of Tanto missiles were replaced by a pair of the much-improved Tanto-Kai. The major production version was the J12K4 that featured an enlarged belly tank and provision for over-wing drop tanks.

The J12K had a maximum speed of 1,500 miles per hour at 40,000 feet, a rate of climb just under 50,000 feet per minute and a service ceiling of around 65,000 feet. It’s endurance was still very limited, the early K1 and K2 versions being unable to reach maximum speed before they ran out of fuel. It’s radar, mounted in the nose intake cone was very limited in capability, short-ranged, vulnerable to countermeasures and with a very narrow tracking cone. The aircraft’s armament was also too light; it had munitions for barely one pass at its target although, in fairness, that’s all its fuel load allowed. The J12K entered service in 1961. In 1965, as a result of the Showa Restoration Coup, all J12K4 aircraft were taken over by the Japanese Army that seized the strategic defense role from the Navy. The Navy retained its J11M2 interceptors for local defense of Japanese naval bases, but the J12K4 was, henceforth an Army aircraft and no further Navy land based fighters were built. Large numbers of J12Ks were exported to The Caliphate which used them in the fighting around Algeria and in attempts to intercept SAC bombers. Those attempts were futile, although many J12Ks were lost in the effort.

Seaplane Fighters

Historical note: The widespread deployment of seaplane fighters was unique to the Japanese who found them an ideal solution to defending its large number of small island bases. As the carrier and land-based fighter fleets vanished, the seaplane fighters became the last surviving remnant of Japanese naval tactical air power

Nakajima A6M2-N Zero, CADS Code Name Babs A redesigned version of the A6M2, the A6M2-N had its undercarriage removed and faired over, a taller tail and a large central float with two outriggers under the outer wings. The aircraft as approximately 60 mph slower than the standard A6M2 and was not viable as a frontline fighter. A few were deployed at Truk and some of the other Japanese islands but most served as training aircraft for the later N1K1.

Kawanishi N1K Kyofu, CADS Code Name Cassie An advanced floatplane fighter designed for water-borne operations from the start, the N1K1 entered service in early 1943. Although a floatplane, its speed and agility were equal to contemporary models of the A6M. The type saw mass production and detachments of the N1K were deployed to most Japanese island and coastal bases. From 1945 onwards, the type was replaced by the N2K.

Kawanishi N2K Kyofu-Kai, CADS Code Name Cassie Kawanishi’s work in developing an improved land-based fighter was fed back into the floatplane fighter to produce the N2K Kyofu-Kai. This was a significant advance on the N1K, being faster, more agile and much easier to build. It slowly replaced the older aircraft from 1945 onwards and remained in service until 1954.

Kawanishi N3K Kamifu, CADS Code Name Doll With the introduction of jet engines, Kawanishi realized that eliminating the propeller made it possible to design a much more streamlined and efficient seaplane fighter. The company already was experienced in designing low-drag, high-speed float and flying boat hulls and used this experience to produce a flying boat fighter powered by two Ne-30 jet engines. The fuselage of the aircraft was bulky, primarily to provide the volume necessary for the aircraft to float but also to keep the air intake in the nose free of spray during takeoff. Despite its portly appearance, the N3K was a highly successful fighter, capable of 512 mph, an endurance of two and a half hours and a service ceiling of 43,000 feet. This didn’t put it quite in the forefront of fighter development but it made the aircraft a serious threat when deployed to small islands and remote bases. Japanese seaplane carriers were first to receive the N3K in 1952 and the type remained in service until 1959.

Mitsubishi N4M Shokikaze, CADS Code Name Eliza During the late 1940s, Mitsubishi started to develop a new technology for seaplanes, the hydro-ski. They designed a new, delta-wing fighter around this concept, powered by two Ne-15 jet engines. Development was long and hard, the original twin-ski configuration proved to cause excessive vibration on take-off and landings although the aircraft proved to be a delight to fly once airborne. A new layout that used a single ski eventually solved the problems. However, by that time, the aircraft was considered underpowered and its engines were replaced by afterburning Ne-60s. This led to a further round of problems but, finally, the aircraft entered service in 1957. It achieved a maximum speed of 825 miles per hour and had a service ceiling of 54,800 feet, making it solidly comparable with land- and carrier-based fighters of the era. It was armed with two 30mm cannons and two Tanto missiles carried over the wings. It remained in service until 1970.

Mitsubishi N5M Ohtori, CADS Code Name Fuzzy Reputedly the CADS name for this aircraft comes from the poor quality of initial pictures of the type, leading to jokes that the Japanese had “built it fuzzy”. The N5M was an onward development of the N4M, replacing the twin Ne-60 engines with a single Ne-150 that offered more power than the earlier layout yet resulted in less drag. The N5M was faster than the N4M, achieving 1,050 mph and a service ceiling of 58,000 feet. The most important innovation of the new aircraft was a fuselage weapons by that could hold four Tanto-Kai missiles in addition to the two overwing weapons. In addition to sealing the doors against water leakage, Mitusbish arranged the bay so it could be accessed from the top of the fuselage while he fighter was floating in the water. The N5M entered service in 1960 and remained in service until 1986. One N5M has the unique distinction (for a fighter) of being torpedoed by an Australian submarine during the “Guano War”.

Mitsubishi N6M Tsurugi, CADS Code Name Greta The Japanese floatplane fighters not only survived the 1959 Japanese strategic review, they benefited from it. Seaplane carriers were much cheaper to build than aircraft carriers (five Nisshin class carriers could be built for the cost of one Improved Taiho) and the need to garrison small island bases still existed. Accordingly, in 1961, a new seaplane fighter program was started. This essentially took the N5M and returned to the twin-engined layout, using two Ne-150 engines. The fuselage and wings were completely redesigned. Development was slowed by the Showa Restoration Coup, but by 1975, the aircraft was ready for service. The N6M was capable of 1,750 mph at 55,000 feet and could reach an altitude of 75,000 feet. It remains in service at this time, the only fighter currently in Japanese Naval service.

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