Saturday 31 October 2020

Mitsubishi Ki-51 "Sonia" - modelling options #6 - Controversial markings

Let's start with a paragraph from Peter Scott's "Emblems of the Rising Sun", a book that should not be missing from the library of any Japanese aviation fan, page 9.

"Another area of concern lies with some unit markings that were produced in the form of drawings in the mid-1960s. In the interim, these appear to have been accepted as the definitive unit markings and, indeed, have been produced both on specialist decal sheets and on decal sheets within model kits, despite their lack of any photographic evidence to their provenance."   

When the Maru Mechanic came out in 1982, it featured a short article by Akimoto Minoru entitled "Colors & Markings" which included illustrations of tail markings of the various units that were equipped with "Sonias". Among them were illustrations of markings that fall in the category Peter Scott described above. No photographic evidence has surfaced for these few markings, but artwork in various publications and decal sheets have been created based on these illustrations.
Allow me to explain. Akimoto-sensei was one of the first to record and organize tail markings of IJAAF (and IJNAF) units and was considered one of the experts in the field. He had been working I believe from the 50s in the field of historical aviation and naturally he had many contacts with veterans and veteran groups. As he explained to me, since no photos had survived of some units, some of the designs were based on veteran descriptions and sometimes sketches the veterans did when he asked them about the tail markings of their units. 
There are also other reasons, a little more complicated. For example, it is known from official documentation that the 1st chutai of an X sentai was equipped with "Idas", the 2nd and 3rd with "Sonias". There is a photo of an "Ida" of that sentai and the tail marking is clear but no photos of "Sonias" of the same sentai. It is reasonable to assume they had the same marking even though, strictly speaking, there are no photos of "Sonias" with that marking.
Another reason is that the Japanese are very strict with their privacy sometimes to the point of being paranoid. I remember going to an exhibition with war memorabilia and there was a "no photos" sign. I asked why, and they said it's because in some photos, people's faces can be seen. I pointed out that no names are mentioned anywhere and these people are long dead, so what's the point for all the secrecy, but they wouldn't have it. Many Japanese magazines and publications still avoid publishing photos with people's faces unless there is explicit permission to do so. As a result, there are, for example, photos of veterans posing in front of their aircraft that have not been published because of that reason. Akimoto had access to these photos and some of the artwork was based on them. It is no surprise that non-Japanese aviation researchers, who have done zero research in Japan, do not have access to this material and therefore think that the artwork is fake.
Over the years, some of the markings in the Akimoto series have been confirmed to be 100% accurate by photographic evidence, some have proven in need of modification and some have not been confirmed...yet.    
In my opinion, these tail markings should not be dismissed out of hand, but perhaps a question mark should be added to them. In cases where there are no actual photos of aircraft with these markings, the overall paint schemes are also questionable. Not necessarily innacurate, just questionable.
Akimoto first published the tail marking series in the magazine Aireview. Here's a page example from the September 1965 issue.
Further publications followed, in the magazines "Maru" and "Koku Fan" up until the 80s. Akimoto therefore had the chance to revise the series over time. But let's see some of these questionable "Sonia" markings. All illustrations below are from Maru Mechanic. Feel free to leave comments if you have seen photos of "Sonias" with these markings.
First up is the 6th Sentai.
The unit was organized on August 31, 1938, changing name from 6th Rentai. It was originally equipped with "Mary" but changed to "Sonia" around 1941 when the unit was based in Manchuria until April 1944. At that time it used this marking.
AFAIK no photos of "Sonias" with this tail marking have surfaced.
Then it was assigned to China until the beginning of 1945. After that it was relocated to Korea.
During that time they used two tail markings.
First the one below. I think I have seen photos of this marking, but I'm not sure at the moment. Will revise this post accordingly.
Then this one.
For a number of years this marking was labeled as "unconfirmed" until photos surfaced of a particular aircraft found at the end of the war at Chofu airfield. Either it was visiting the area or was sent there to be assigned to a toko unit. The photo below is from here
Zooming in we can see this "Sonia"
Here's another view of the tail marking from a photo of an old Koku Fan issue.
You can see one more photo of this same aircraft in the 244 Sentai site, here and here.
As you can see, the illustration in Akimoto's series is correct but needs slight modification.

Another unit is the 66 Sentai which was organized on March 31, 1942, in Pyongyang. Saw action in Manchuria, the Philippines, Okinawa and elsewhere. I have not seen photos of "Sonias" with this tail marking.

The 67 Sentai was founded on February 25, 1943, in Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture, to patrol the northeast areas. In the autumn of 1944 the unit took part in the battle of the Philippines. The unit was disbanded on May 2, 1945. Akimoto mentions that "the white color of the 2nd Chutai marking, is confirmed", so it seems he has seen photos.

Another marking is this one, of the 73 Dokuritsu Chutai.
As we saw in a previous post, the 73 Dokuritsu Chutai joined the 83 Dokuritsu Hikotai (ex 83 Sentai), and during that time it used the 83 Sentai marking. But when it joined the 3rd Hikodan in September 1942, the unit changed its marking to the one above.

45 Dokuritsu Chutai. Originally a Direct Cooperation unit belonging to the Japanese Army based in Seoul, Korea, it had nine "Sonia" in its strength of which six were operational. On October 20, 1944, the unit was organized as 45 Dokuritsu Chutai with only three operational aircraft and was assigned to Labuan in Borneo. 

47 Dokuritsu Chutai
Originally named 6 "Chokyo Hikotai" it was renamed 47 Dokuritsu Chutai on October 20, 1944. It was assigned to Taiwan on sea patrol duties, but also took part in battle of Okinawa with suicide aircraft guide missions as well as ship attack.

48 Dokuritsu Chutai
The 7 Chokyo Hikotai was organized on July 18, 1941. In the beginning, it had "Ida"  and was based in Manchuria. It took part in operations in north China. In March 1944, changed from "Ida" to "Sonia" and was assigned to Taiwan on anti-submarine duties. On October 20, 1944, it was renamed 48 Dokuritsu Chutai.

"Hokubu Gun Chokyo Hikotai" (North Area Army Direct Cooperation Unit). Organized on May 30, 1942, with about a dozen "Ida" and "Sonia", its duties was patrol of Hokaido and Shakhalin areas. On October 20, 1944, was renamed 42 Dokuritsu Chutai and was reassigned to Taiwan. 

4 Koku Gun Shireibu Hikohan (4 Air Army Headquarters Air Group). The 4th Air Army responsible for the defense of the Philippines had a small number of "Sonias" in its strength. The headquarters was organized on July 25, 1943, in Rabaul. The 4th Air Army was disbanded on February 28, 1945. The marking was used from August until November 1943.

Saturday 24 October 2020

Mitsubishi Ki-51 "Sonia" - modelling options #5 - Unknown Unit

In an earlier post I wrote about the "Sonia" "versions". Well, here's a well-known "assault version" "Sonia" found abandoned in Okinawa. You can clearly see that it lacks fuselage windows. Photo: NARA
The unit is unfortunately unknown and it has no tail marking. But there are a number of smaller details that make this aircraft quite interesting as a modelling subject if you care about such stuff.
First of all, we can clearly see that the rudder is a replacement from another aircraft, as the camouflage pattern is not the same with the rest of the aircraft. What is less visible at first glance, is that the whole tail end comes from the aircraft with the blotches camo.

Another interesting detail is that the fuselage, white band which is not exactly perpendicular to the central line of the aircraft, is not a complete white band and I suspect it doesn't wrap around the fuselage.

Note also that the green camouflage is not perfectly applied around the fuselage hinomaru. It looks as if they were trying hard not to paint over the hinomaru, when the green top camo was applied,. This detail together with the not-uniform top camo, is a strong indication that the aircraft was originally hairyokushoku and the green camouflage was applied later at the depot, not the factory. 

The canopy is also of the later type that slided rearwards. Since only few "assault version" "Sonias" were built and the sliding canopy was adopted from the #134th produced aircraft, I believe the whole canopy is a replacement. Note that it is in hairyokushoku without any camouflage.

Another hidden detail is that some parts of the cowling are from the aircraft with the blotches camouflage.

Note also the later type propeller.   

The undercarriage is in hairyokushoku but notice that the edge looks dirty, perhaps from dripped paint. 

The top vertical surfaces of the port side of the tail look to be in green camouflage, but the top surfaces of the port main wing are not clear. Most probably green, but I wouldn't be surprised if the aileron(s) were replacement(s) from the blotches aircraft.
In general, I believe this aircraft is a very old one, perhaps taken from a school, with various replacement parts and field modifications to make it more front line combat worthy.
AFAIK there are no decals for this most interesting aircraft.

Friday 23 October 2020

Mitsubishi Ki-51 "Sonia" - modelling options #4 - 83 Sentai or 89 Dokuritsu Chutai

Another quite well known "Sonia" is the one below. Photo from here.
You can see at the same link a number of photos of the same aircraft from the AWM collection.
The aircraft was found in the airfield of Keningau, North Borneo, and had green surrender crosses applied next to the hinomaru as well as the letters "QE?" on the starboard side of the tail only.

As often is the case, there is some controversy regarding the unit the aircraft belonged to. Some sources say 83 Sentai, others say 89 Dokuritsu Chutai. So let's try to figure out what's going on.

The 83rd Sentai was organized on March 1, 1941, with two chutai equipped with "Mary" and "Ann" and one chutai, probably the sentai hq, equipped with "Ida", all from the 10th Sentai. Between July and August 1941, the two "Mary" and "Ann" chutai changed their aircraft to "Sonias". In the end of June the unit re-organized its chutai to the 83 Dokuritsu Hikotai Headquarters, the 71 Dokuritsu Chutai, the 73 Dokuritsu Chutai and the 89 Dokuritsu Chutai which occasionaly returned to the main unit but most times operated independently.  
In November 1941, the 71 and the 73 Dokuritsu Chutai had nine "Sonias" each, the 89 Dokuritsu Chutai had 12 "Ida".
They were very active in the south Pacific areas, against Singapore and in the Burma operations.
Around September 1943, the 89 Dokuritsu Chutai changed their "Idas" to "Sonias".
On March 31, 1944, the 83 Sentai was reorganized for one last time, and included the 83 Dokuritsu Hikotai Headquarters, the 91 Dokuritsu Chutai as its 1st Chutai and the 89 Dokuritsu Chutai as its 2nd Chutai. At that time the 89 Dokuritsu Chutai ceased to exist as independent chutai.
After this re-organization the 83rd Sentai was assigned to Borneo in ship escort missions. When in the begining of June the Allies launched Operation Oboe Six, the unit was ordered to relocate to Keningau from where it launched attacks against the Allied forces until the end of the war.

When the 83 Sentai included all three chutai, the 71 Dokuritsu Chutai had the unit marking in white...

...the 73 Dokuritsu Chutai in red...

...and the 89 Dokuritsu Chutai in yellow.

When the 91 Dokuritsu Chutai joined them it had the tail marking in "cobalt" blue.
All artwork Nohara Shigeru, Koku Fan Illustrated #64.
The "Sonia" in question seems to have her tail marking in a color darker than the white of the surrender cross, therefore it is speculated that it was yellow. If that's the case, the aircraft was originally flown by the 89 Dokuritsu Chutai but at the time it was captured it was under the 83 Sentai. The fuselage band seems to me to be the same color with the white of the surrender cross.

As we saw in an earlier post the second Wingsy kit includes decals for an "83 Independent Chutai" "Sonia", but has the tail marking in white with a yellow fuselage band. In my opinion, both are incorrect. Not necessarily wrong because not many photos of the unit(s) have survived to know how every individual aircraft was finished, but if the Wingsy option is supposed to represent the aircraft in Keningau before it was captured, then the colors of the markings are wrong.
Rising Decals offers decals for this aircraft in their 48-029 "Guntei" Japanese Army Assault/Reconnaissance Aircraft Ki-51 "Sonia" in 1/48.
And Hasegawa includes decals in 1/72 in this kit.
But gives the tail marking and the fuselage band in yellow like the Rising Decals. My suggestion is to swap the fuselage band with a white one from the other two aircraft.

Thursday 22 October 2020

Mitsubishi Ki-51 "Sonia" - modelling options #3 - unknown unit

 Another "Sonia" found in Hollandia is the one below. Image combo from pinterest.
There are a number of good quality photos of the aircraft in the SDASM Archives.

And from here.

The flag is a personal item of a Japanese soldier. The top reads "buun chokyu" (wishes for a long-lasting good luck in battle). Flags like this were signed and/or included good wishes by family members, friends, fellow soldiers and others before the soldier left Japan to go to the front. More well known are the senninbari. A rather sad "trophy" most probably taken from a dead soldier.
Anyway, back to the aircraft...

One more photo from here.

Although the pinterest combo mentions that the aircraft belonged to the 10th Sentai, the unit has actually not been identified beyond any doubt. We saw in brief the history of the unit in the previous post so the only possibility the 10th Sentai suggestion is correct is if the "Sonia" belonged to the hq of the unit and if the hq used a tail marking different from the rest of the sentai; rather unlikely. And as we saw, it is not even known if the hq of the 10th Sentai had any aircraft.
Nohara suggests that it might belong to an un-identified independent chutai but that's as far as he goes. When we were working for the first print of our Eagle Eye, I asked Akimoto-sensei and he couldn't identify the unit either.  

The unit marking consists of a sakura (cherry blossom) and a symbol in the middle that is very similar to the military symbol for "communications" as can be seen in the tail marking of the Rikugun Koku Tsushin Gakko (Army Flight Radio Operators School) in Mito, Ibaraki Prfecture. (artwork: Zygmunt Szeremeta)
Therefore, we believe that the aircraft belonged to a small liaison unit.
Note also the small white line on the rudder above the sakura

Kora provides decals for this aircraft in their 1/48 set mentioned in the previous post, but has the tail marking in yellow. 
In 1/72 there is this Hasegawa kit.

Wednesday 21 October 2020

Mitsubishi Ki-51 "Sonia" - modelling options #2 - 10 Sentai or 70 Dokuritsu Chutai

 A very well known photo from the Ethell collection is the one below showing a very badly damaged "Sonia" found on the Hollandia airfield in 1944. The aircraft's serial number was #1240 (the source is a close-up photo showing the number on the tail).

First of all, it seems that some on-line sources are confused regarding the "Sonia" variants and often talk about a "reconnaissance version" and an "assault version". In our Eagle Eye publication, we very clearly explained that the IJAAF did not decide to have two versions manufactured but only one that could perform both roles with very few field modifications. Only the first 11 prototypes and pre-production examples and a very small number of early production aircraft were finished as "assault". The main difference is that these early aircraft did not have any windows on the fuselage sides. Except these few "Sonias", all other aircraft had windows and could perform both roles without any distinction in the designation. The difference came to be because the IJAAF originally wanted a ground attack aircraft and after the above mentioned "Sonias" were built, decided that they wanted the aircraft to perform reconnaissance missions too. So instead of having two different types, they had only one type manufactured. Therefore, there were no Ki-51Koh, Ki-51Otsu etc. 
"Sonia" was officially accepted as 99-shiki Shugekiki/Gunteisatsuki (Army Type 99 Assault/Tactical Reconnaissance Aircraft). Throughout the type's carreer there was only the Ki-51, until Manshu designed and experimentally built the Ki-71 with retractable landing gear and a more powerful engine (no Ki-71 photos have ever surfaced). I have no idea why some sites and message boards make such a big deal about the alleged "two versions" as if it's supposed to mean something special. Interestingly, nobody mentions the different canopy types and spinners, small improvements made to the original design that could also not justify the change of the designation. Anyway...back to the aircraft in the photo.

There is some uncertainty regarding the unit the aircraft served with. Most sources mention that it belonged to the 10th Sentai, some to the 70th Dokuritsu Chutai
The 10th Sentai was organized on August 31, 1938, changing its name from 10th Rentai. In the begining, it was a light bomber and reconnaissance unit, but in the spring of 1940 it was reorganized as a light bomber and command reconnaissance unit with four chutai equipped with "Ida". On July 28, 1941, it was again reorganized with 10 Dokuritsu Hikotai Headquarters, 70 Dokuritsu Chutai with command reconnaissance, 76 Dokuritsu Chutai command reconnaissance and 74 Dokuritsu Chutai "Ida". The unit saw action in the Philippines, Solomon and New Guinea areas. In June 1943 it was yet again reorganized, returning to the 10th Sentai designation, including the 10th Dokuritsu Hikotai Headquarters, the 76 Dokuritsu Chutai and one chutai from the 81 Sentai.
The 70 and 74 Dokuritsu Chutai remained independent until the end of the war.
The unit marking is supposed to represent the Nen River where the unit was based at a nearby town.
When the 10 Sentai had all three chutai in its strength, the 1st Chutai or 70 Dokuritsu Chutai had the marking in white, the 2nd Chutai or 76 Dokuritsu Chutai in red, sometimes with a white surround, and the 3rd Chutai or 74 Dokuritsu Chutai in yellow. Japanese sources don't mention if the headquarters had any aircraft, their type and what color was their tail marking but traditionally it would be blue.   
The Allies landed in Hollandia in April 1944, Battle of Hollandia, so based on the above, I believe that this particular aircraft most probably belonged to the 70th Dokuritsu Chutai, not the 10th Sentai.

There are some interesting details in the photo. First of all, note that the propeller blades are intact and not bent, signifying that the aircraft probably didn't make a forced landing. Note also that the port wing is missing. It is not roughly destroyed as you would expect from a bomb explosion, but removed at exactly the joint. In the photo below the same aircraft can be seen put up in an exhibition of shorts, of captured Japanese aircraft and we can see that the starboard wing is still there. Perhaps the port wing was canibalized and used as spares? Maybe, but many engine parts are still there.
Note also that the fabric of the port elevator is gone, but the fabric of the starboard is still there.
I believe the photo below shows the same aircraft from the starboard side.

Nohara Shigeru has created artwork for this aircraft in the Maru Mechanic.

I think it's a most interesting subject for a model and a diorama.
You can find decals in 1/72 in this Hasegawa kit
And in 1/48 in this Kora decal set.
I hope Hasegawa and Kora like our free promotion of their products and we would appreciate free samples!😀

Alexandros Angelopoulos from Greece has built a marvelous model of this aircraft in 1/72.
More photos HERE.