Thursday 3 September 2015

Questions & Requests - The "Shamrock Hien"

Mike Czibovic sent the following email:
Dear Arawasi,
Can you tell me if anyone has figured out what the "clover leaf" marking on that 244 Sentai Ki-61 is really supposed to be? Were there any eyewitness accounts that could verify it was a shamrock or clover leaf? Google search was no help. The only known photo is at an extreme angle, so I stretched it in Photoshop to see what it might reveal (see below). It looks to me to be more like an eagle grasping something with its talons. Any thoughts?
Just curious
Let's see.
The subject is a very well-known one and favourite among modellers for many years because of the unusual marking. The only primary source can be found in the book "Broken Wings of the Samurai" by Robert  C. Mikesh, Airlife, 1993. It's only one photo and the caption reads:
"Victory markings on Japanese aircraft were no more uncommon than on American aircraft of the Pacific War. The quantity on this "Tony" seen at Chofu was worth recording through Jim Gallagher's camera. The custom was to credit the aircraft, as well as the pilot since few had their own assigned aircraft. This "Tony" was painted a "chocolate bar" brown all over, with unusually brilliant red Hinomaru insignia. Most remarkably, a large "Kelly-green" Shamrock was painted on both sides of the fuselage. These brightest-of-green shamrocks were bordered in white. The vertical tail surface had the insignia of the 244 Sentai painted in white, and a five-inch band of white around the fuselage in front of the tail surfaces."  
I will not post the photo here respecting the copyrights of Mr. Mikesh and the publisher, but if you visit here you will see the photo and some cool cg artwork.
Below is some nice artwork I found here, typical of most depictions of the aircraft.

The classic Hasegawa kit in 1/72.

Illustrations of the "Shamrock Hien" have been featured in virtually all the publications on the "Hien", very often with small inaccuracies.
First of all, the most current publication, Model Art #733, features an illustration with the captions explaining that the aircraft is a
"Ki-61-I Tei 244 Sentai 3rd Hikotai Mikaduki-tai (sic, should have been "Mikazuki"), flown by Lt. Chuichi Ichikawa, Chofu, Tokyo, Japan, April 1945"
If the accuracy of eye-witness and photographer Gallagher is beyond any doubt then first of all the aircraft should be chocolate brown, not green and the 244 Sentai tail marking aas well as the fuselage band should be in white as he clearly mentions, not as shown above and in virtually all the illustrations I have seen.  
Many illustrators make the mistake to add the fuselage Ho-5 20mm cannons. In the original photo the fuselage cannon troughs are covered indicating that this aircraft probably belonged to a ramming unit.
The "shamrock" or "clover" marking is possible but it should be clear that it is the plant "katabami" (oxalis corniculata check the Japanese wiki entry for better images) which was and is still used in Japan as a family crest (kamon). The particular plant is very strong, propagates easily and once it takes root at a place it is extremely difficult to destroy. All these properties are symbolized in the family crests featuring the "katabami". A problem that arises though is that "kamon" are almost always black/white.
  A few years ago I read in a Czech magazine (Revi No. 42, article by Martin Ferkl. Thank you Miro) an article discussing the "myth" behind this particular aircraft. One of the problems mentioned was about the direction of the B-29 kill markings, pointing upward instead of the typical downward. As you probably know I do not want to use the word "myth" but it seems there are more issues with this particular aircraft without necessarily discrediting the photographer's testimony.
Sakurai Takashi-san, who runs THIS site and is the leading authority on all things 244-Sentai related, has expressed his doubts on this page and I hope he has no objections summarizing them as follows:
1. Lt. Ichikawa Chuichi the "Shamrock Hien" is credited to flew a Model 1 Hei (7.7mm machine guns on the fuselage), not Tei, and this particular aircraft, which was destroyed during a night ramming attack on April 15, had killing but no other personal markings.
2. the killing markings look weird in many ways. First of all is the position they are applied. Killing markings were painted in areas where ground crew members had easy access and stable footing, like the cockpit side or the tail of the plane, not on the nose. Perhaps a ground crew member was standing on a ladder when he painted these but still their position is rather unusual. The other problem is that the B-29 images are in freshly painted white and the arrows look like they are painted with crayons. And they are very different from the killing markings applied on the aircraft of Commander Kobayashi.
3. When a 244 Sentai maintenance crew veteran saw the illustration with the "shamrock" immediately commended that there were no aircraft with this marking in the unit.
4. The angle the photographer has taken the photo is also unusual. Where was Gallagher standing? Perhaps on another aircaft? And if the "shamrock" was that unusual why didn't he choose to shoot that instead of the killing markings from that strange angle.
All things considered, Sakurai-san believes that the killing markings and the "shamrock" (if it's actually there) were applied by US personnel and they were not original Japanese unit or personal markings and I agree with him.       
HTH Mike.
Feel free to email us your questions and requests.


D. Chouinard said...

I have long wondered about the shamrock marking. At first I thought it was slightly interesting, then my thoughts turned on how "un-Japanese" the marking is. And yes, why no direct photographs? I'm also inclined to believe that the shamrock was something added later. (Or may be something different entirely.

Anonymous said...

If the markings were added later, you have to ask why? Why would US personnel take the time to add the marks? Just for the photographer? Seems unlikely they would go to all that trouble just for a picture.


Arawasi said...

You are very right Wind-Swords. That is why I do not use the word "myth".
According to Gallagher the shamrock was painted on both sides of the fuselage. If the US soldiers were just fooling around they wouldn't do that.
On the other hand in the image Mike put together the fuselage marking does not look like a shamrock, more like an eagle. And there was a special attack Hien with similar marking. Check the bottom plane in the Lifelike decal set here:

There is one last possibility that could save the whole Gallagher account. The photo is not of the "shamrock Hien" but of another plane. In other words, there was a "shamrock Hien" it's just not the one in the photo. In that case there is no photo to prove or disprove Gallagher's account.

Arawasi said...

Come on guys! Feel free to leave more comments with your thoughts.

Jacob Terlouw said...

Hi guys,

In Meatballs & Dead birds-the original printing, is a full-page pic't of the so called "Shamrock Hien". My opinion is that Gallagher might have seen a Hien with a shamrock, but the the accompanying drawing by him shows something different than the photo. The profile on the decal sheet of the "Special Attack" Hien also does not match with the Gallagher photo. We will never know unless a good pic't turns up.

Ryan B. said...

Did Gallagher mention the victory markings? If he did not mention such a prominent feature, it would further suggest he was looking at a different plane than the one in the photograph.
Also, the shamrock, which, to me as well, resembles an eagle, also resembles the eagle painted on the side of a Ki-84 of the 57th shinbutia (?)on p. 79 of FAOW #19.