Japanese aircraft production in World War 2

WW2 Military Japanese aircraft: A two headed beast

Before and during World War II, Japan did not have three branches in its military; rather, the army and the navy each had their own air service. Since they worked independently of each other, the Japanese army and navy created separate air forces suited to their specific needs. The army built Japanese aircraft and trained to fight the Russians overland and the navy prepared to fight Britain and the USA on the open seas.

This organization of Japanese air power was detrimental for obvious reasons. Some less believable circumstances exacerbated the problem though. For instance: army and navy plane factories were kept separate from one another. They acted like competitors! Both branches kept their design secrets to themselves, there was no standardization of simple mechanics like screws and framing, and they each employed different electrical systems.

A classic example of this over-arching problem was the superiority of the navy’s Zero to the army’s Hayabusa. Had the navy been willing to share the Zero (and the army willing to accept the helping hand) Japan might have scrapped the Hayabusa altogether. Simple economies-of-scale would have meant a much greater number of battle-ready fighters for the Japanese war effort. Furthermore, neither air service developed a heavy bomber on par with those of Britain or the United States until they finally co-operated in 1944 on the massive 6-engine Fugaku. This collusion was too little, too late however, as the Fugaku never made it to service.

Besides this stubbornness in regards to co-operation, the two branches also hid their weaknesses and losses from each other. For example, the army was not made aware of the navy’s 1942 rout at Midway until 1945.

Both Japanese air forces were very well trained and both met with great success in the Sino-Japanese war and the early Pacific campaigns. Japan easily gained air superiority over China. In 1941, most first-string Japanese pilots had somewhere between 500 and 800 flying hours. Roughly half of army pilots had seen combat against China and Russia (around 10% for the navy). Unfortunately, Japan did not have a proper plan in place to replace lost pilots and by 1944 – due to time and fuel constraints – most replacement pilots were lucky to have 120 flying hours before entering combat.

Early on though, the Japanese aircraft were deadly instruments. On December 7th, 1941 the naval air force surprise-attacked Pearl Harbour, ushering in a new era of naval aviation. Just a few days later navy planes sunk the British battleship Prince of Wales and the cruiser Repulse near Malaya. Japan had created a new paradigm: air support became a necessity for naval fleets.

As the war progressed the Japanese air forces quickly lost ground to the faster, more heavily armed and armoured American air force. When the American B-29s began bombing over the Japanese islands, lightly-armed Japanese fighters had difficulty bringing them down. Japanese planes also lacked the advantage of airborne radar. This discrepancy led Japan to begin kamikaze, a suicide tactic where a plane is loaded with explosives and crashed directly into its target, attacks on U.S. shipping.

A successful, if desperate, doctrine, kamikaze attacks caused the US more naval losses than ever before or since. The attacks were first used in the Battle of Leyte Gulf but were most notorious in the Battle of Okinawa. Kamikaze was too little, too late as well as Japan felt the full focus of the US military after the German surrender.

Between 1940 and 1945 Japan produced nearly 75,000 aircraft. The US produced nearly 300,000. Japanese losses by the time of surrender were 43,110.


A6M Reisen (Zero)

J2M Raiden

Aichi E16A Zuiun

Aichi M6A Seiran

Aichi B7A Ryusei

Kawasaki Ki-45 KAIc Toryu

Kawasaki Ki-61 Hien/Tony

Kawasaki Ki-100

Kawanishi E7E

Kawanishi H6K (Mavis)

Kawanishi H8K (Emily)

Kawanishi N1K-J Shiden

Mitsubishi A5M

Mitsubishi A6M

Mitsubishi G4M

Mitsubishi Ki-21

Nakajima B5N (Kate)

Nakajima G8N (Renzan Rita)

Yokosuka D4Y Suisei

Yokosuka P1-Y1

Japan Aircraft Carriers of World War 2

2 thoughts on “Japanese aircraft production in World War 2

  1. Ron

    I didn’t notice the Oscar, Tojo, and Frank. These were important fighters.

    The Ki 43 Hayabuse was very slow and packed only 2 MGs but claimed more victories than any other Japanese fighter! It was the choice of aces till the end. It could turn a full circle in 11 seconds!
    It could out-roll the Zero. It was the most numerous next to the Zero. It had armor protection long before the Zero did.

    The Ki 44 was parallel to the Ki 43, but as a point defense interceptor. It hit it’s stride against the B-29 raids.
    Most all were not cannon armed, but the Ki 44-IIc held promise. It sported the low velocity 40mm cannon that put a hole in a B-29 1.5m wide! I prefer the one with 4x20mm H0-3s. There is some question if these saw action but it was like the US 20mm Hispano but more reliable and with a much heavier shell.
    The 37mm version was in action with the 70th Sentai say some sources. The Tojo had a 20 sec turn but was great in the vertical plane. It could dive with a Ki 100 and much faster than a Ki 84! It was a good match for the P-38 and compete with a Spitfire VIII.
    The engine was reliable unlike most of the Japanese fighters that came after it. This is why I believe it should have been produced far more than some 1,200 and change. When the Ki 61 came to grief in the tropics, the Ki 44 could have come to the rescue in quantity. The Zero was mostly produced by Nakajima and was obsolete by mid-war, therefore Nakajima should have stopped and produced more of it’s own Ki 44s instead. Can you imagine 6,000 Shokis all over the B-29s? Zeros and Oscars were impotent for this.

    The Ki 84 was the most important late war fighter of Japan due to it’s numbers! It shot down Tommy McQuire. It could out-turn a Spitfire and outrun all other Japanese fighters. On one occasion, an agressive force of Hayates inercepted P-47Ns and both sides lost 7 in the dogfight. It’s engine was unreliable at those altitudes especially.

    You must be hiding these fighters somewhere on your site.

  2. Heinkel Wulf

    The Japanese had a handful of heavy bomber prototypes that were absolutely on par with their western counterparts such as the G8N Renzan, and the stereotype of a constantly fighting among themselves IJA and IJN is wildly exaggerated victors history, as is the notion that its not having a dedicated air force was detrimental. The US never had one during the war, with a similar army and navy air force the Japanese had, yet I rarely hear complaints about “poor organization” when it comes to them. As for carriers, the flat tops of the IJN were far superior when the war broke out to the Americans, and their late war Taiho and Shinano continued this trend, even if only one of each was built, and weren’t of much use on the defensive. Regarding Shinano, few seem to realize she was the worlds first super carrier, and could carry more planes than any other during the war, even if most were spares for other ships, there’s no reason why she couldn’t employ them herself. She was also the most heavily armoured carrier to this day as well. She was sunk not so much because of any supposed “design flaw” as much as not having been completed and battle ready upon her sinking, with a mostly civilian crew that relied to much on her armour, not realizing that just because you have armour doesn’t mean you don’t have to evade attacks. Had she have been completed and deployed earlier with newer fighters like the Reppu, and possibly navalized Shiden’s, she would’ve made a fine carrier and addition to any navy of the day. I’m really getting tired of so-called “historians” trotting out these same outdated stereotypes of supposedly “inherent Japanese inferiority” who’s presumptuous attitude I would class as borderline racism if I didn’t know better. Hopefully future historians from the victor nations can learn to put aside their egos when addressing the topic of WWII as well as others.


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