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Why were Japanese fighters so poor compared to Allied?

Discussion in 'WWII General' started by Wolfy, Jul 3, 2009.

  1. Wolfy

    Wolfy Ace

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    I do understand that the Japanese lost their best trained pilots earlier on and didn't have the time or the fuel to replace them. And I understand that there were vulnerabilities in their fighter planes.

    But I don't understand why Japanese vs. Allied (particularily US) dogfights often ended up as a virtual turkey shoot for the Allies.
     
  2. Sentinel

    Sentinel Member

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    Weellll ... I would say that in the early part of the Pacific war, the Japanese planes with their high maneouverability and carefully trained pilots, managed to outclass the Allies in the area.

    But as the war progressed, many of the best Japanese pilots died. They weren't rotated back to home base, as Americans were. Thus, new Japanese pilots were inexperienced, while new American pilots were trained by veterans.

    Besides this, American fighters soon became technically superior, with better engines, guns, and other factors.

    Japan just fell behind, inevitably, because of its smaller population and industrial base.
     
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  3. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Good Ol' Boy Staff Member WW2|ORG Editor

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    One major contributing factor was inadequate training for new Japanese pilots. US pilots had flown at least 300 hrs before ever making to a squadron. Japanese pilots received 100 hrs of flight training and were expected to learn the art of combat flight when they got to the squadron. By 1944, training was cut to 40 hrs and they received no training in navigation. They were expected to follow an experienced leader and if he was lost, they often could not find their way back home.

    Brute Force, Ellis
     
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  4. Totenkopf

    Totenkopf אוּרִיאֵל

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    I wouldnt say that they were poor exactly but for reasons such as training, budgeting, doctrine and beliefs were all factors that led to the Allies shooting down many more then they lost.
     
  5. marc780

    marc780 Member

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    Slipdigit is right, as the war went on US pilots training hours increased to almost 700 hours while Japans slipped to less than half to a quarter of that. Flying a combat aircraft is a complicated business and the place to learn it is the training field not the battlefield - so the more training your pilots have the better they are.

    As for the aircraft, in the early years until about 1943 the zero was the premier naval fighter in the world and nothing could touch it. The closest thing the US had was the wildcat, but it was too slow, lacked the range, and maneuvered poorly compared to the zero.

    The zero was very maneuverable and could outclimb anything the US could put in the air at first. This was because it was a very light aircraft and the power to weight ratio was high, the Japanese did this by sacrificing any armor protection for the pilot - and the fuel tanks were not self-sealing as on US aircraft. This meant that even if a US pilot could only get in a short burst of 50 cal it was often enough to light up the zero like a torch. At the beginning of the war this was not such a big problem for the Japanese - their pilots had better aircraft then and years of experience from fighting in China, while the US pilots were all rookies flying heavier, slower and less manueverable aircraft.

    As the war went on, the Japanese continued this policy of sacrificing armor protection for speed and range, as it fit with their code of "bushido" (the way of the samurai) - this meant that many of their pilots did not even wear parachutes! But once America started turning out airplanes in quantity, the Japanese naval air efforts were finished. The Hellcat was an excellent upgrade of the Wildcat and was estimated to have shot down over 5,000 japanese aircraft - the Corsair was the fastest naval fighter of the war, and the P-38 was a great japanese bomber hunter since it had long range and the reliability of two engines (it was a unit of P-38's that found and shot down Yamamoto's aircraft, after being tipped off by American "Magic" code breaking intercepts). All these aircraft were heavier and a bit less maneuvarable than Japanese aircraft but by 1943-1944 this made no difference. American planes were sturdier, well armored and well armed and could absorb a lot of enemy fire before destruction, while the Japanese continued to produce aircraft that were unarmored death traps for their crews.
     
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  6. Totenkopf

    Totenkopf אוּרִיאֵל

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    Ahh poor Yamamoto, assassinating officers is not how war should be fought.


    Also if somebody could help me with this, didnt the Oscar perform well when it was used in the Pacific? (Im aware that they were an "Army" plane but late war saw them used by the navy.)
     
  7. JagdtigerI

    JagdtigerI Ace

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    I have always thought that one of the main reasons for this poor performance by the Japanese in dogfights, aside from their lack of experienced and properly trained pilots, is their failure to replace their older model planes. I believe this is a topic touched on earlier in the thread.

    This is really most evident by examining the Zero. In 1941, the Zero was an outstanding plane. It was superior to every plane the allies had at that point in speed and mobility. However, by 1945 when facing off against corsairs and hellcats, it was really no match. And it is not that the Japanese engineers could not develop new prototypes, they had even developed a replacement for the Zero, the Sam (Mitsubishi A7M Reppu / SAM - fighter). They just failed to fully institute these planes into their formations.

    This does not go only for the Zero/Sam, there is the Kate/Jill, Val/Judy, Betty/Peggy, etc.

    As for the Oscar comment. I am not entirely sure but I would find it hard to believe the Oscar could have preformed very well anytime but in the very beginning of the war, seeing as it could barely make it to 330mph and was only armed with 2x12.7mm machine guns.
     
  8. Willy_2

    Willy_2 Member

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  9. acker

    acker Member

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    I would partially disagree with you with the Zero comment.

    The P-40 was faster than the Zero in level flight. Pretty much every Allied plane at the time was faster than the Zero in a dive as well.

    The Zero was more maneuverable than any other Allied plane at the time below 250 miles per hour. The P-40 and Wildcat could outturn and outmaneuver the Zero at speeds higher than that. At low speeds, the P-40 couldn't outturn the Zero, but it could outroll it. The Zero had problems maneuvering at high altitudes as well, but the Allied planes in the theater typically didn't have superchargers at the time, so that didn't matter as much.
     
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  10. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    I've also read that Japanese fuel quality declined as well as quantity.
     
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  11. brndirt1

    brndirt1 Saddle Tramp

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    That is true, by the time of the atomics being used the Japanese had forbidden any fighters to even rise to fight lone or small groups of bombers due to a lack of fuel. A major reason that both Hiroshima and Nagasaki had no fighter defenses at that moment. Another quality problem was the base they were using to produce their gasoline. Pine root oil. This produced a very low grade, low octane fuel which would foul and ruin an engine in short order, another factor in the lack of training, and lack of fighter cover in the waning months of WW2.
     
  12. Devilsadvocate

    Devilsadvocate Ace

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    In my opinion, this is complete BS!

    Yamamoto was a senior naval officer, wearing the uniform of Japan's naval service, flying in an armed, military aircraft, in a combat zone, on an important military mission. To allow him a safe conduct under such circumstances would have constituted a gross dereliction of duty for any Allied military commander or enlisted personnel.

    Quaint medieval ideas of chivalry aside, why should senior officers be immune to threats to their lives in combat when no one else is?
     
  13. Devilsadvocate

    Devilsadvocate Ace

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    Eric Bergerud explores exactly this question in his book, "Fire In The Sky", an examination of the air war in the Southwest Pacific. He points out that the vaunted Japanese naval air force was defeated by those "poorly" trained, inexperienced Allied pilots, flying inferior aircraft, in the first year of the war. Bergerud's conclusion is that the Allies did it by utilizing those aspects of their planes that were superior to the Japanese aircraft, coupled with superior air doctrine, better tactics, and better leadership.

    Actually, some US pilots, especially US Naval pilots, were not markedly inferior to Japanese pilots either in training or experience. One example is that the US Navy was the only air service early in the war, that spent a lot of training time on "deflection" gunnery, the ability to accurately shoot at enemy aircraft from large angles of attack. Even the Japanese couldn't consisently do this, and it cost them in combat against USN pilots, and rendered their superior dogfighting capabilities less significant.

    In an attempt to keep to keep their aircraft as maneuverable as possible, the Japanese often stripped their unreliable radios out of their fighter planes; this left them unable to communicate and use teamwork tactics in the air, a major Allied advantage. Bergerud also points out that it was the inability of the Japanese aviation industry to produce comparatively high power ouput in a reliable, lightwight aircraft engine that forced the design of the "superior" Zero on them. This allowed Allied pilots to use "energy" tactics against them, and they had no effective counter.

    Another factor was the Allied use of very large, well armed, heavy and robust bomber aircraft, which the Japanese never were able to attack effectively in their lightweight aircraft. The Japanese air services lost nearly as many planes and pilots attacking Allied bombers as they did to Allied fighters.

    See; Fire in the Sky: The Air War in the ... - Google Books
     
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  14. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Trying to fight a major air campaign at extreme range didn't help the Japanese either. The canal broke the back of the IJN air power.
     
  15. Devilsadvocate

    Devilsadvocate Ace

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    Absolutely agree. The extreme range of Japanese aircraft was a two-edged sword in that it encouraged Japanese air commanders to launch strikes at extreme ranges which imposed additional burdens on Japanese pilots and aircraft.

    And Bergerud in "Fire In The Sky" says that Allied intelligence first noticed a distinct drop off in Japanese pilot capabilities in late November and early December, 1942, at the height of the Guadalcanal campaign. It was the unrelenting air battles over the Solomon islands that fatally bled Japanese naval pilot ranks.
     
  16. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Good Ol' Boy Staff Member WW2|ORG Editor

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    I see a disconnect here.

    It is being offered that US aircraft (specifically the Wildcat) was an inferior fighter. It is also being supposed that US naval aviators were inferior to Japanese naval pilots early in the war.

    Yet, the US repeatedly won air engagements early in the war. How can outnumbered, inferior aircraft, piloted by inexperienced pilots win battles in the manner they did, so early in the war.
     
  17. Devilsadvocate

    Devilsadvocate Ace

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    Not by me.

    My post on this thread clearly states that US Navy pilots were not markedly inferior in training or experience to Japanese naval pilots in 1942. And in some respects, their training was superior to Japanese pilot training; deflection gunnery is an example.

    Allied planes in 1942 were a mixed bag, but the best Allied fighters available in the Southwest Pacific did have performance aspects which were superior to Japanese aircraft performance, and which, in the hands of a knowledgable pilot, could be exploited to defeat Japanese air tactics. Similarly, Japanese planes were not miracles of engineering; they had performance strengths and weaknesses, which, once Allied pilots discovered them, could be used to the Allies advantage. Basically, the trick was to never fight on Japanese terms. Allied air doctrine, tactics, and teamwork made the difference in the Pacific in 1942.
     
  18. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    My take on it is the F4F was basically on a par with the zero. They both had advantages and disadvantage vs each other. The IJN pilots were probably the best trained in the world at that time but the USN wasn't far behind. Japanese strike doctrine was in some ways superior to the US. Air to Air doctrine was about on par. However the US rapidly figured out how to make use of it's advantages and reduce or nullify those of the Japanese. The latter didn't adapt nearly as quickly and in some cases not at all.
     
  19. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Good Ol' Boy Staff Member WW2|ORG Editor

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    We assign values to an aircraft's or pilot's abilties and while these values do have merit, they are not the be-all end-all designators where the outcome of combat will be decided. Does refusing to fight a enemy on his terms render a plane or pilot inferior? No, it made the Japanese pilot a casualty and the US pilot a hero as the US quickly learned not to engage an enemy at his strength. To me, that is indicative of an intelligent pilot who forces the opposing pilot to abandon his strengths and fight to those of his enemy.

    John Thatch's critical thought resulted in a tactic that build up the capabilities of US aircraft and training, while diminishing those of the Japanese. Sucker the Japanese pilot(s) into what they thought was a combat of maneuver only to find themselves in a well orchestrated trap using superior communication and deflection shooting. Who is the better pilot and aircraft now? While speed and maneuverability are important, that is not the whole of the aircraft.

    Apparently the Japanese were never able to overcome doctrinal deficiencies until it was too late, as they did not have pilots who were skilled enough to implement them later in the war.
     
  20. 343

    343 Member

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    If we are strictly talking about the capabilities of the fighter aircraft the Japanese did have some aircraft that could match the American's F6F, F4U and the P-51, these aircraft included the N1K2 Shiden Kai George, the Ki-84 Frank, and the Ki-100. But for the most the Japanese lacked capable air crews and pilots to utilize the effectiveness of these machines in combat. One instance in which this is not true was the 343rd Kokutai an elite formation of aces formed by Minoru Genda, which flew the N1K1 and the N1K2 exclusively, this formation performed well against the Americans numerous times.
     

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