Thursday 8 October 2015

Nakajima Ki-44 "Shoki" - 47 Sentai

The following is a translation we did from Maru Mechanic #33. An article written by 2nd Lt Oishi Sozo who flew Nakajima Ki-44 "Shoki" with the 47th Sentai.
I joined the 47th Sentai in the middle of October 1944. At that time I was still training with the "Shoki". The aircraft had a ridiculously large 1450hp engine on the nose and the main wing was so small it looked a duck's. No aircraft type built during the war had higher landing speed than the "Shoki". On top of that the elevator was way too sensitive. Just before landing if you pulled the elevator too much, the plane flew away leading to accidents. The plane could easily stall and crash on the ground. The fuselage section right behind the pilot could snap into two, the front half could roll over a few times hit the ground, and keep dragging itself upside down. This is what usually happened in case of an accident. It's amazing that pilots with only 200 hours flying time with a "Hayabusa" were required to fly the "Shoki" right after the "Hayabusa", expecting no accidents to happen.
I was trained with "Shoki" at Hitachi Hiko Shidan. The first time a landed a "Shoki" my eyes were bloodshot. Just after I touched the ground, I was asked to take off again, but the plane just couldn't leave the ground. I thought that was strange but I noticed the propeller pitch lever was on "cruising flight". I changed it to "low pitch" and finally took off. The first 2-3 times I took-off and landed with a "Shoki" was like stepping on a tiger's tail but once I got used to the aircraft, I was able to control it very well and easily make a 3-point landing. It was a nice plane, with no problems and good speed.
  But eventually I came to realise that the "Shoki" was not a good type to fight against B-29s flying at high altitude. On November 1, 1944 B-29s from Saipan came over the Kanto area on a reconnaissance mission. Maybe all the fighter aircraft in the Kanto area took-off. The three B-29 formation flying at 12,000 meters managed complete their mission and fly away. On that day I took-off too but gradually my oil pressure got lower and at 7,000 meters it was almost zero. The engine barely run. Exactly at that time I saw the three B-29s flying above me but I was not able to do something because the altitude difference was too high. But I just couldn't sit there and watch them go so I lifted the nose and was about to hit the machine cannon button. At exactly that moment my poor "aiki" (beloved plane) stalled.
  After that incident, when a young LTJG brought the combat report to the headquarters, the staff officer there shouted "why the hell didn't you ram the enemy bombers with your planes?" With such staff officers with next to no knowledge about aircraft there was virtually no way to win the war.
  The US planes with their superchargers were able to fly at very high altitude but our planes were lagging behind in technology. The maintenance crew did their best to fix the problem with the oil pressure during high altitude. They used a larger diameter oil pipe and we could fly as high as 9,500 meters.
  Contrary to reconnaissance missions, the B-29 formations flew at 9,000 meters during bombing missions and so were finally able to catch up with them. But when we reached the 9,000 meters, it was always individually, not as a group, so we had to deal with the rain of defencive fire a ten B-29 formation was throwing at each one of us.
  On November 24 the first air raid took place. In December and January there were air raids almost every second day. Corporal Mita of the "Shinten Seiku-tai", which originated from my 2nd Chutai (Fuji-tai), was the first to perish in a ramming attack in the Kanto area. The next year, on January 9, Sergeant Sachi was also lost during a ramming attack. He crashed head long with a B-29, his aircraft was completely destroyed but the B-29 lost only its starboard outward engine. With one less engine it flew out of formation and other aircraft of ours were able to attack and shoot it down. I was amazed that the bomber was still able to fly after suffering such damage. On the same day, our precious WO Awamura Takashi, passed away. He was my comrade with the 2nd Chutai of the 47th, was very smart and had trained all the young 2nd Lieutenants. On that day he attacked B-29s twice but on the third time realising he was out of ammunition, destroyed the elevator of a B-29 with the propeller of his aircraft downing the enemy bomber. He managed to bail out with his parachute but he fell in the sea 20km from the nearest coast. Although aircraft were sent to look for him, unfortunately he was not found. 

 Below are three in-action photos from a vintage publication featuring Nakajima Ki-44 "Shoki" of the 47th Sentai in their Narimasu base.



David Brizzard said...

A very interesting read. Thank you for this as it goes to show more of how things actually happened. History, we can always learn anew.

D. Chouinard said...

As always, I like reading things like this. Thank you!

Note how dirty the white bands are around the fuselage, almost to the point of thinking they are a different color all together.

David Brizzard said...

Are the bands dirty white, or as I have read before, yellow.

Arawasi said...

just looking at the photos, especially the last one, it is easy to assume that the fuselage band is almost the same color with the tail marking, i.e. yellow. Nevertheless these are photos published 70 years ago and the conditions as you can see are not that favorable for clear photography. Lots of dust, overcast sky etc. White paint on duralumin often looks dull and dirty, especially when the photographic conditions don't help. For the very best "Shoki" photos, check: &

In any case, the standard practice of the IJAAF was the wing and fuselage band to be white, simply because the national flag of Japan is red on white. If the band on a plane was a different color (ex. yellow) that would have been extremely rare, highly irregular and we would have some documentation, like a testimony, to support this. I had a similar discussion with a gentleman recently on a similar subject. It is extremely difficult to interpret color on b/w photos. It's not just what you see but it should be combined with knowledge about rules, regulations and practices.
Q: "Was there a purple Rufe?"
A: "No, because Japanese planes were never painted purple."
Q: "Could some pilot had his plane specialy painted purple?"
A: "Extremely unlikely and we would have aditional documentation to support this claim. So, no."
Q: "Ok, but what if..."
A: "Then paint your model pink with lovely orange and red spots and have a good time!"

David Brizzard said...

Did some of the Army training units use yellow to warn other pilots of a trainee, and if so, could some of these aircraft made their way
to a fighter unit and had the tails repainted for that unit. Seems I recall reading that somewhere and seeing a color profile showing the yellow fuselage bands. I will try and find the source for that info.

As always, any feedback most welcome.

Arawasi said...

Elementary and intermediate training units like Kumagaya and Utsunomiya had elementary and intermediate trainer aircraft (Ki-9, Ki-55) which were painted trainer orange (not yellow in my opinion) and a few combat types which were painted as they left the factory (nmf or hairyokushoku, with or without camo). I mean they were not painted trainer colors because they served with trainer units. Once pilots graduated from these schools advanced to more specialized schools like Hamamatsu (bombers) and Akeno (fighters). These schools had combat types, again painted as they left the factory. So there were no orange combat types "Hayabusa", "Shoki" or "Hiryu" serving with Akeno or any other school.
Therefore the "yellow" bands could not be a leftover from aircraft previously serving with a school.

Anonymous said...

I remember seeing A6M color profiles of aircraft from the Genzen Ku that were green on the top and orange/yellow on the bottom. Are they correct? Did the navy use "trainer orange" on their advance trainers?

Wind Swords

David Brizzard said...

Ok, and thank you for clearing this up. Makes more sense now.

Arawasi said...

Always feel free to ask and share your thoughts David (and everybody else).
WS - IJNAF A6M2-K trainers left the factory in trainer orange. Maybe there were exceptions, perhaps a/c with A6M2 parts, but the vast majority were orange. Around 1944 when US air forces started attacking the mainland they received green top camo to hide the planes in the airfields. Therefore the green-top/orange-bottom combination. There are illustrations showing A6M2 fighters green-top/orange bottom. Very colorful but the fact is that ALL A6M fighters left the factories either hairyokushoku overall or green/gray. That's because the factories painted the planes without considering which units they would be assigned to or in what role they would serve. Repainting the bottom of the a/c because it belongs to a trainer school is a needless waste of time and resources. Try to imagine how the ground crew would re-paint the undersides of the a/c. Flip the plane upside down? Crouch under the plane with the paint falling on themselves? Next time you visit a museum try to imagine yourself walking under the plane painting it. Furthermore, Japanese pilots always wanted to get the best from their Zeros by reducing the weight as much as possible. Applying X kilos of orange paint over the pre-existing gray doesn't make much sense. Removing the previous grey is even more tedious. So, in my opinion, there were no orange A6M2s. IF there were (because I don't know how all 10,000 Zeros were painted), they would be rare exceptions serving very specific purposes.

Ron said...

The Shoki deserved to be produced in larger numbers instead of the Hayabusa in parallel with the unreliable but stellar Hayate. When phased out, the Ki 44 packed 20, 37, and 40mm cannons. B-29s were the main threat for the IJAAF. The Ki 84 was a disappointment at high altitude. So the Shoki was in demand. The Ki 61 did well up high but was even more unreliable than the Hayate. The reliable Ki 44 was an interceptor with enough firepower finally. The Ki 43 went on in production when the Ki 44 was phased out. In my opinion that was a big mistake. The Ki 43 was still too slow to be a contender. It took 25,000 man-hours each to build, and it only packed twin 12.7mm guns! What could it do to stop B-29s? So you are left with the obsolete but reliable Ki 43 and the formidable at medium altitude but unreliable Ki 84. The IJNAF had the same problem with reliability. The Navy counterpart to the Shoki was the Raiden most of which were unreliable like the excellent mid-altitude Shiden. That left the obsolete but reliable Zero by default, to stay in the ring.
The Ki 44 could have left a mark in history if not aced out by the popular but irrelevant Ki 43!

Unknown said...

Arawasi, would you please send me a private email? I have some questions about this for a film I am doing. MissingOverTokyoMovie at g m a i l

Anonymous said...

There is so much controversy over what weapons the Ki 44 used to shoot down 10 B-29s in a day. What guns were used?