Saturday 31 March 2012

Nakajima Ki-43 "Hayabusa" (Oscar)

A photo from a vintage November 1943 magazine.
A "Hayabusa" stationed in the Central China front getting some final maintenance touches before taking off for the next mission.
Note the very interesting camouflage net and the pristine condition the aircraft is in.

Tuesday 27 March 2012


As we saw in the first part the  last battle of IJNAF was in Tsingtao in 1914. Between that and the arrival of the French mission in 1919 the Navy spent most of their time training new pilots and testing new types of aircraft, especially seaplanes. Some of them were the Deperdussin Type 1913, the Sopwith Schneider fighter and the Short 184 torpedo-bomber. One or two samples of these were imported from overseas but none of them carried any hinomaru. At the same time, the Navy was developing their own seaplane designs like the Yokosho-Nakajima Tractor Experimental Seaplane and the Yokosho Hogo-Otsu.
The first successful Japanese seaplane design that was accepted by the Navy was the Yokosho Ro-Go Ko-gata (covered in Arawasi International #9) which was completed by the end of 1918 and although placed under production, it was not until 1923 that it was officially accepted by the Navy. Initial examples of the Ro-Go do not seem to have any hinomaru. Instead, like the Maurice-Farman, simply had their individual number on the tail in Japanese numerals. Nevertheless, from a certain point onward they all have hinomaru in the six positions as shown in the photo below together with the first unit tail markings on the tail.
Yokosho Ro-Go

Imperial Japanese Navy pilots trained with the French mission either with Maurice-Farmans without hinomaru as usual or with other aircraft types having hinomaru. In other words what can be concluded is that Navy airplanes started consistently using hinomaru from sometime in 1919. The reason for this later than the Army adoption of the national marking is that simply the Navy didn’t participate in any overseas engagement like the Army in Siberia, and didn’t have the urgent need to apply the marking on the few examples of imported aircraft they were testing.
After the departure of the French the Navy started importing airplanes from the British, to get into the eye of the Army but also because the British were considered to have more experience with aircraft flying over the sea as opposed to the French who were considered to have more experience with air operations over land. By 1921 the Navy invited their own group of foreign instructors, this time British. They arrived with aircraft like the Avro 504K trainer, Short Reconnaissance seaplane, Gloster Sparrowhawk, Parnall Panther, Sopwith Cuckoo, Blackburn Swift, Supermarine Channel and F.5.
Upon arrival these types were photographed without hinomaru but with markings applied by the British manufacturers indicating they were destined for Japan. The fuselage markings consisted of the type of the aircraft and the letters “JN.” (Japanese Navy) followed by the serial number of the individual aircraft accompanied by a large “J” on the tail.
Gloster Sparrowhawk. 50 of these fighters were imported starting from 1921.

Avro 504 Roe trainer, seaplane version. A total of 78 examples of the Roe type were imported starting from 1921 until production was taken over by Nakajima (250 examples) and Aichi (30). Note again the “J.N. letters on the fuselage and the overall color. The aircraft carrier on the right is "Hosho".

Parnall Panther carrier reconnaissance. Unknown numbers were imported in 1921. Again “JN” on the fuselage and a British with Japanese Naval officers and ground crew.
"Tayha" commented:
"According to records in UK and Windsock Datafile 142, 12 panthers went to japan along with various other aircraft. Constructors (Bristol Aircraft) s/n,s 6128-6139.
Some other pictures of Japanese Panthers also in Datafile."

Blackburn Swift carrier torpedo-bomber upon arrival to Japan. Note the luck of any markings except the company logo on the fuselage.

While these photos were taken when the very latest additions to the Navy air fleet first arrived to Japan, every single of these aircraft came to carry hinomaru on all six positions (wings top/bottom and fuselage sides). Initially the hinomaru were applied together with the British factory markings like on this Sparrowhawk below:

The replacement of the Ro-Go seaplane was the Hansa Brandenburg W.29 (covered in Arawasi International #7), known in Japan as Hansa-shiki (Hansa Type). The type first arrived in Japan in 1921 as part of the war reparations from Germany. The Navy liked it and instructed Aichi to make the necessary modifications to start production domestically. After the initial prototypes production started in 1924 until 1926.
There are no photos of Hansa seaplanes without hinomaru except in civilian service. Interestingly many clear photos show the Hansa hinomaru with a white surround as shown below even though they don’t seem to be camouflaged.

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 2nd Kokutai. Note that the hinomaru has a white surround. It only makes sense the Japanese to have adopted by then the hinomaru as the national marking 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 one 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.

Sunday 25 March 2012


Blogs and sites who simply scan photos and post them on line can provide you, the modeller, with as many reference photos as you like to build your next model. But as you have probably noticed we are more interested to examine the background, the history of Japanese aviation so that at the very least you understand better what you are building. Naturally no historical research is perfect so we would love to hear your comments, corrections and additions. I’m starting this series of articles from the basics. The hinomaru, the national marking of Japan.

Since no official regulations have survived, there is an ongoing “debate” of shorts as to when exactly the hinomaru was chosen as the national marking of Japan. Most of the haphazard research done is based mainly on photographic documentation unfortunately with little consideration of the history behind the status and evolution of the IJAAF and IJNAF and even less of the civilian aviation. As a result, conclusions are drawn in haste often contradicting each other giving an aura of mystery when in reality there is really none.
Allow me to try to put things in order. I’m quoting mainly from “Japanese Aircraft 1910-1941”, Mikesh & Abe but also from a variety of Japanese sources.
The first flight in Japan took place on 19 December, 1910. The aircraft was an imported Henri Farman biplane piloted by Capt Tokugawa Yoshitoshi. This captured public interest and turned attention towards aviation as a military weapon.

Not surprising for the time the very first hinomaru is not found on an airplane but on an airship built in 1910 by Yamada Isaburo, called Yamada No1 Airship. No1 was damaged during a test flight and No2, which also had a hinomaru was destroyed in a fire.

Yamada Airship No1

Yamada Airship No2

The Army established an aviation section and, in April 1911, an airfield was laid out at Tokorozawa while they purchased a Bleriot and a German-made Wright biplane.
The Navy established their own organisation in 1912. Lt Kono, Yamada and Nakajima (founder of the Nakajima plane manufacturer) were sent to the Curtiss flying school in the US, while Lt Umehito and Kohama were sent to France. On their return, Kaneko brought back two Maurice Farman seaplanes and Lt Kono brought two Curtiss seaplanes. These were assembled in 1912.
By 1914, both the Army and the Navy had expanded their aviation sections, whereby the Army had 16 aircraft and the Navy had 12. Not that many as you can see and they spent most of their time training. During Japan’s involvement in WWI, in 1914 the Navy with Farman seaplanes flew missions against German targets in Tsingtao while the Army flew four Maurice Farman and one Nieuport NG2 (IV/VI).

The above photo shows the Army Nieuport NG2 during that period. Note that although an Army plane, it bears the navy flag on the tail. No other photo of that period shows any form of tail marking either on the Navy or the Army planes. In other words, up until 1914 the Maurice Farman did not carry any national markings in any form.

A photo with Farman seaplanes flying the Navy flag on a mast but with no other national markings.

The book "Shashin Kiroku - KOKU JIKO" [A Pictorial History of Aircraft Accident (sic)] by Nozawa Tadashi  features a rare photo (below) of two Maurice-Farman, number 9 & 10, involved in an accident during a Tokorozawa-Odawara flight on January 22, 1916. Their return flight was cancelled due to strong winds and the planes were securely fastened to the ground. At 11 o' clock of the same night strong winds blew them away ending up high on some nearby pine trees. This is the first photo discovered so far with Maurice-Farman sporting hinomaru.
One of the very first aircraft built by/for the IJAAF was the Seishiki-1 the first and only prototype of which was completed on April 30, 1916. As can be clearly seen in the photo below it carries a hinomaru on the tail.
So, what can be safely concluded is that Japanese military aircraft started sporting hinomaru by 1916, perhaps starting some time earlier in 1915. This was the result of the expansion of the air forces and their involvement in overseas military operations.

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Yokosho B3Y1 (Type 92 Carrier Attack bomber)

A photo from a vintage publication of a Yokosho B3Y1 operating during the opening stages of the 2nd Sino-Japanese War. The type was produced by Aichi (75), Watanabe (23) and Hirosho (about 30). The Aichi built planes had twin blade propellers while those produced by Watanabe and Hirosho were with 4-blade propellers, like the one in this photo.

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Mitsubishi G3M2 "Nell" by Jean Barby

Jean Barby sent us photos of his very interesting "Nell" and said:

Here is my rendition of the koster Aero model of the G3M2 Nell. I know that my shade of brown can lead to some controversy, but, Nicholas Millman did send me illustrations from Japanese artists of the period and they show this kind of shade! I sincerely appreciate your magazine and the research you do for Japanese Aviation. There is a full article in WingMaster magazine for that model.

Merci beaucoup Jean for sharing photos of your excellent model.

Saturday 17 March 2012

244 Sentai #6 Artwork - "in the sky of Tokyo"

Beautiful and dramatic artwork entitled "in the sky of Tokyo" by "hylajaponica", found HERE.

(If the artist feels uncomfortable having his artwork featured on our blog, it only takes an email and we'll remove it immediately)

Friday 16 March 2012

VIPs - Mitsubishi G4M "Betty"

These two photos from an official IJNAF publication show Prince Kuni Asaakira (Kuni-no-miya) visiting a forward base in the South Pacific. The publication date of the album is December 1943 and of interest is the information from Wikipedia (here) that: "Prince Kuni was promoted to rear admiral on 1 November 1942, and was given command of the Japanese 19th Naval Fighter Wing, which supported the Japanese occupation of Timor in the Pacific War."

Mitsubishi G4M "Betty"

 A set of photos from vintage publications showing "Betty" bombers getting ready for a mission.

June 1943. Photo taken by Navy reporter Saegusa

June 1943. Photo taken by Navy reporter Ogawa

June 1943. Photo taken by Navy reporter Ogawa

One more photo from a different publication, probably taken at around the same time.

Tuesday 13 March 2012

Nakajima Ki-43 "Hayabusa" (Oscar)

A photo from a January 1943 magazine showing how the engine of a "Hayabusa" was changed in front line conditions. 
The vintage article is about the IJAAF fighting over the India border from Burma so, although the tail marking is not visible, this "Hayabusa" very possibly belonged to the 50th Sentai
Perhaps a good solution for the wrongly shaped Hasegawa "Hayabusa" in 1/48. 

Monday 12 March 2012

Mitsubishi G3M "Nell"

A little massage for those stiff shoulders before taking off on another mission.

Wednesday 7 March 2012

Nipponki '46: IJAAF Focke-Wulf Fw Triebflügel by Ronnie Olsthoorn

Excellent what-if artwork by Ronnie Olsthoorn even though it was done ten years ago and the project would certainly be beyond Japan's technical capabilities.

Mitsubishi "Karigane"

A photo from a vintage publication showing the Asahi Shimbun "Amakaze" (Heavenly Wind) before receiving the civilian designation J-BAAO. Asahi received "Amakaze" in 1939 on loan from the Navy after "Asakaze", another "Babs" from their fleet, was "conscripted".
The inscription under the fuselage reads "Asahi Dai 121go" (Asahi No. 121), the number within the newspaper fleet (it does not mean that Asahi had 120+ a/c in their fleet.)

Tuesday 6 March 2012

Comix #2

This kind of graphic comix and/or novels stirred my interest in Japanese aircraft a lot when I was young. My parents did not approve. In the early sixties an 'adventure' series of an imaginary pilot appeared; Buck Danny was his name. He fought in the S.E.A and Pacific theatre. Titles: "The flying tigers", "Attack on Burma", "The Battle of Midway".
The Japanese planes looked somewhat like Ki-61's and Ki-21's, there was even a "Washing Machine Charley" inspired by the F1M2. The original language in the books was French, later on they were translated in Dutch. They were very popular.
Jacob Terlouw

Saturday 3 March 2012

Comix #1

When I was a kid back in Greece some of the publications I used to enjoy were the war comics that were quite popular among boys. The fingers became black from the ink of the cheaply printed and priced magazines and each weekly issue lasted more than seven days, the stories being read over and over again. I remember spending hours carefully cutting the best figures making paper soldiers for fantastic battles and stories of my own. I also remember insisting to give my pocket money to the poor old guy running the kiosk near my place only for issues that had stories with Japanese involved and definitely Japanese airplanes. I guess that's how it all started for me.

It was only a few years ago and thanks to the net that I discovered that my childhood comic mags were actually the Greek versions of British publications often with different name like the examples below.

"WAR" became "2nd World WAR" in Greek and the original title "THE SHADOW OF DEATH" became "NO MERCY".

"FRONT LINE" became "BATTLE" and "BLUEPRINT FOR TREASON" became "Road to glory!"

A few weeks ago I discovered the website of the magazine "COMMANDO" where I was able to find covers of old issues. How different and sometimes funny they look now after so many years.
Take for example, the cover of issue No. 4383 by Ken Barr showing a Mitsubishi "Pete" under attack by a Hawker Hurricane.
Note the bright overall yellow (trainer yellow-orange perhaps?!?!) and the red cowling of the "Pete" as well as the tiny pilot and the gibberish "Japanese" on the fuselage side.

The story went like this:
"South Africans in Catalinas, French in Dewoitine fighters, British in Hurricanes... what a terrific bunch they were!
They fought among themselves, they scrapped with the Japanese - and to crown it all they had a German saboteur and spy in their midst creating more havoc!"
Now, that's a story I'd like to read!