Nakajima Ki-43 "Hayabusa" (Oscar)

Monday, 26 March 2012


The first Nieuport 24 arrived in Japan by ship in November 1917 and the first SPAD S-7C1 in December 1917. Nevertheless it seems that these were not put in action since during the Siberian Intervention of 1918-1919 the two air units used only Maurice Farman and Sopwith 1A2 rece/bombers. The photo below taken in Chita in October 1918 shows a Sopwith 1 of the second kokutai. Note that the Hinomaru has a white surround. It only makes sense the Japanese to have adopted the Hinomaru as the national marking by then since that was an international campaign and a clear identification of their aircraft should have been paramount. The Army air units returned from Siberia by March 1919.

After the end of WWI, the Army was the first to start a modernization programme with the purchase of war surplus Nieuport and Spad fighters in April 1918. These were used only for training, the pilots spending their time in purposeless flying since they lacked the knowledge of how to use their aircraft as a military force. To solve the problem, the Army invited French military instructors in 1919, the Col Faure mission about which we had an article by Owaki-san in Arawasi International #5 & #6. Faure brought with him a number of modern aircraft namely Breguets, Salmsons, Nieuports, Cauldrons and Spad XIII.
Some of the French types of that period have an unusual red star marking on the tail which has confused researchers and some have identified it as an early IJAAF marking.
Most researchers until very recently had to make do with photos of very low quality and this hampered their efforts to make correct observations. Our article on the Nieuport 24 (Arawasi International #11), for the first time, featured photos of very high quality. From this it became obvious that:

1. The red star was always surrounded with a white circular background. This star marking was almost always applied on the tail, the top of the upper wing, the bottom of the upper wing and the bottom of the lower wing. Both the design of the marking and its positioning are exactly the same with the markings of Red Army aircraft of the time. An example below of a Soviet Nieuport from THIS site:

Here’s a telling photo from the Faure mission:

Faure is standing on the right with some IJAAF officers. The Nieuport 24 (third from left) has the red star on the tail with a white background. At the same time the second from left running trainer, has a hinomaru on the tail.
In the photo below which I believe was taken when these aircraft first arrived in Japan, the Nieuport 24 on the right has the red stars while none of the Nieuport 81s have any marking.

As we saw in the first part, the IJAAF started using the Hinomaru as early as 1916; before that date, at least in Tsingtao, they used the Navy flag. In this second part we saw that the Army used the Hinomaru in an international engagement, the Siberian Exhibition of 1918. It would be absurd to paint some of their aircraft exactly like Soviet ones, especially after having engaged Red forces in Siberia while at the same time have some aircraft carry Hinomaru. Therefore I believe that it makes no sense the red star to be an "early IJAAF marking resembling the Japanese Army symbol". 

2. The application of the star marking did not follow any type/usage rule.
For example another French type in Japanese service with red stars is the SPAD. At the same time there were SPADs without the star like the one below, proving that not all SPADs carried the red star.

  French mechanics from the Faure mission service a SPAD without any visible national insignia.

The photo below from volume #6 of the "Encyclopedia of Japanese Aircraft" shows a Sopwith Strutter with the Red Star marking on the tail. This proves that not only fighters but reconnaissance aircraft too carried this marking.
Quoting from Wikipedia (here): "Over 100 1½ Strutters were also built in Russia by Duks and Lebedev, supplemented by large numbers delivered directly from Britain and France."

It has been suggested that perhaps these few Japanese planes were painted with Soviet markings to play the role of the enemy during training in mock air battles. Apart from the fact that these markings were thoroughly applied on difficult positions like under the top wing, the photo below from the brilliant book "Baron Miyahara and his World of Aircraft, Vol. 2 " shows a Spad 7 with a Red Star on the tail and other markings which according to the caption read: "Hispano-Suiza 140-hp, P.U. 125, C. 80." P.U is the initials for Poids Utile (payload) and C. stands for combustible (fuel) in metric units."

The position of the markings and the white circle with the red star are perfectly symetrical and it would be too much of a coincidence to assume that the lettering was applied by the French before they delivered the aircraft at exactly the perfect position so that the Japanese would later apply the star for this aircraft to play the role of the enemy.

Finally I would like to add this incredible photo as final proof.

Notice the huge hinomaru under the top wing. It is actually painted over a previous roundel which closely resembles the roundel French-built Nieuports 81 carried when exported to the Russian Empire (image source: HERE).

Conclusion: From the above it becomes obvious that some of the surplus aircraft the Army imported were originally intended to be exported to Russia and were diverted to Japan carrying the markings of their intended original owners, together with other aircraft without any markings.

As mentioned before your comments, suggestions, additions and corrections are highly welcome.



D. Chouinard said...

Great information! I'm not sure what I could add, but I do agree with the findings.
Using a red star on a Japanese aircraft so close to the end of a conflict with the Soviets is a bit of a stretch, and the markings are too neat and precise for "war games"

Arawasi said...

Thank you D. for the comment.
The marking could have been applied either by the Japanese or the French. The evidence we presented indicate that the red star was not an early IJAAF marking and was not applied for training purposes as has been suggested before. Therefore there is no reason for the Japanese to apply markings identical in every respect with the Soviet a/c. That leaves the French as more possible and that's what we tried to prove with this article which was about the early hinomaru and the national markings of Japan and not about the Siberian Expedition. The French could have built and painted these a/c to send them to the Soviets or for whatever other reason of their own. The point of this research was to offer proving evidence that it was not applied by the Japanese but it was by the French.
Could the red star have been applied by the Russians? Sure. Anybody can create any scenarios they like. Even the Klingons could have painted them. We would be happy to see somebody else offering more concrete evidence that even proves us wrong. This pt#2 offers a suggestion to the solution of the problem based on evidence. It's up to the reader to decide if it's satisfactory or not.

maxwgreen said...

Could you post more information on the Sopwith 1 1/2 strutter, if possible?