Nakajima Ki-43 "Hayabusa" (Oscar)

Thursday, 12 January 2012

244 Sentai - Kawasaki Ki-61 / Ki-100 #3

The April 1978 issue of Koku Fan magazine featured an interview with Suzuki Shigeru who served as a 1t Lt and was a member of the maintenance crew of the 244h Sentai. Below are some extracts of this interview.
Suzuki-san joined the 244th in August 1944 when the unit was solely equipped with the Kawasaki Ki-61 "Hien" (Tony). Although some units in cold climates like in Manchuria had difficulties, in the milder climate of Tokyo, where the unit was based, the Ha-40 engines started immediately without any difficulty. Maintenance became easier when the 244 changed some of its Hien to "5shikisen" (Kawasaki Ki-100). The Ha-40 liquid-cooled engine was very well-behaved but the maintenance of the liquid pipes was quite hard. In comparison, the maintenance crew didn’t have to constantly worry about the steady liquid flow or whether there was sufficient liquid quantity in the air cooled Ha-33 engine and as a result they were easier to maintain. Liquid cooled engines were very quite making a "suru-suru-suru" sound. On the other hand air-cooled engines made a "butsun-butsubutsun-ba-babaaaa" sound. In other words air-cooled were more "manly" while liquid-cooled were more "feminine". The change from Hien to 5shikishen brought a significant improvement in the performance. It took Hien about 30 minutes to reach 10,000m while it took for the 5shikisen half that time.
Furthermore, Hien had a serious flaw. Right after taking off there were many fatal accidents. Engineers from Kawasaki were brought to the base to investigate the reason for these accidents. There was a problem with the supercharger of the Ha-40 but Suzuki-san doesn’t recall what became with the investigation. In any case these incidents were over once the 5shikisen arrived. Therefore, it is fair to conclude that these problems were not due to pilot mistakes or bad maintenance but instead should be attributed to the engine. The pilots and the maintenance crew placed their full trust on the Ha-33 of the 5shikisen and as a result the engine received many good remarks.
The 244 Sentai moved from Chofu/Tokyo to Hamamatsu in Shizuoka prefecture, then to Chiran in Kagoshima prefecture in order to escort aircraft belonging to "toko" (special attack) units flying to Okinawa. But since the battle for the island was over by the time the 244 Sentai arrived to Chiran, there was actually no need for such escorting missions. Instead enemy airplanes started appearing over Kyushu. During an incident in Chiran, armament maintenance crew had placed an aircraft under a wooden hangar camouflaged with foliage. Since there was no electric light inside the hangar, it was necessary to remove some of the camouflage from the roof so that the daylight could enter the hangar and they could have sufficient light to work on the plane. Unfortunately three overflying P-38s were able to spot them and during the subsequent attack one crew member was killed and all the others were injured.
The fact that the 244 Sentai was not a combat fighter unit may come as a surprise to the reader. Actually the unit was a highly specialised intercepting unit protecting the skies over Tokyo. Therefore the pilots were unable to engage in aerial combat the enemy airplanes and so the unit relocated to Yokaichi (Shiga prefecture) in the Kansai/Osaka region.
One of the main differences between a combat unit and an interceptor unit was that in the first case the unit had a specific flight mission plan and therefore there was enough time for maintenance. For the interceptor unit the aircraft had to be 100% ready all the time although naturally that was not practical. As a result there was a number of spare aircraft in each chutai, which ofcourse they had to be ready at all times. Especially for the taicho (the unit commander) there had to be a spare aircraft always on stand-by since without him the unit would not have been able to take-off and fight. Although the taicho could organize and control the unit from the ground as a rule he was always flying with the rest. Kobayashi Teruhiko had a spare aircraft and flew a lot. All the information was related to his aircraft from the ground by radio and then he passed the various commands to the rest of the unit members in the air.
As an interceptor unit there was no time for rest for the aircraft and the maintenance crew. Immediately after returning to the base, the ground crew refuelled and re-armed the planes getting them ready to take off again.

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