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Peattie, Mark R., Sunburst: The Rist of Japanese Naval Air Power 1909-1941 (2001)

Author background: Peattie authored a library of books on WWII Japan, Sunburst was the most recent.

Core Thesis (XIX)

Thesis: When the Imperial Japanese Navy was established in the 1870s, there existed a formidable gap between Japan and the Western maritime powers. These powers, led by Britain, had made epochal advances in naval technology, the tactical coordination of fleets, and the applications of sea power to achieve strategic objectives. Decades and in some cases centuries of naval evolution in the West confronted Japan with a daunting challenge. The Japanese navy was able to narrow this gap dramatically, but only through extraordinary effort intensified by a consciousness of Japanese inferiority and backwardness.

Main Ideas (XIX)Edit

- Rdr was the most important technological advantage USN had in the Pacific War. Proximity fuse another important one…US technological, productional, logistical might “killed” the JP force.

- Japanese aviation developed similar to other nations: U.S., Italy, U.K., Germany, Russia; but lack of technology/resources necessitated foreign assistance

- U.K. “Semphill Mission” provided jump in training and dev technologies

- Mitchell-esque theories/beliefs of airpower effectiveness and cost-savings (battleship argument)

- Experimented with various designs: sea-planes, wheel-based, and dirigibles before deciding on wheel-based designs.

- Tactics: Explored dive-bombing, air-to-air, and carriers. Iterative carrier design…experimented with various configurations

- Developed a carrier “shadow-fleet” of merchant ships able to be quickly converted to carriers…did not function as well as expected.

- Eventual fleet composition heavily favored attack aircraft: bombers and torpedo-bombers

- Similar arguments between “battleship mafia” and “aviators”

- 1935 – first A5M aircraft produced: completely designed, developed, produced in, by, and from Japan (Japanese resources)…design improvements continued and A6M “Zero” created

- China War: Japan realized fighter aircraft were causing heavy bomber losses and reducing their effectiveness…decided to add fighter escorts. Japanese pilots also lacked combat experience, but quickly gained it in this war

- Japanese airmen loved “dogfighting”; traced to days of ‘samurai’ and ‘honor’ of 1-on-1 combat…would often leave bombers unprotected to dogfight.

- Japan continued to refine tactics and doctrine: developed shallow-water torpedo technology, formation flying

- Japan failed to establish forward bases; relied too heavily on carriers; failed to project power…expected to fight another China, but instead encountered a dynamic enemy (U.S.)

- Overall, the failure of Japan to produce aerial capabilities in-house (without foreign support and strategies) had a dual effect:

o Having not gone through the trial and error of creating their own aerial force left them vulnerable when they began fighting the very people who had “trained” them. Japan failed to adapt to a dynamic enemy and continued to use old tactics and strategies.

o Japan could not easily move to an upgraded aircraft, although they eventually made their aircraft entirely in-house, they did not possess the engineering and production experience to quickly design and build a new, more effective aircraft.

Key Quotes (XX-Tim D.)


The present work is an attempt to provide an outline history of the evolution of the organization, doctrine, tactics, training, and technology of Japanese naval aviation—its aircraft, its ships, and its personnel—from its inception up to the beginning of the Pacific War.

5 Lt. Comdr. Yamamoto Eisuke-the conceptual father of Japanese naval aviation. While serving on the Navy General Staff, Commander Yamamoto became intensely interested in aviation. Seeking ways to demonstrate to the navy brass the possibilities for aviation, Yamamoto hit upon the idea of using the navy's newly purchased foreign aircraft in the annual naval review held before the emperor.

10 But the most detailed and influential policy statement on the development of aviation in the Japanese navy was a report—"On the Stagnation of Naval Aviation and Other Matters"—issued By the Navy Ministry in December 1919. The report pointed out that Japan's isolation from the recent war's main combat theater meant that Japan had fallen considerably behind the other Allied powers in naval aviation and that in order to catch up with these powers the navy needed to take steps.

           1. The navy must decide on what sort or aircraft it required, and then it should begin to produce these in Japan, under licensing arrangements if necessary.

           2. It needed to invite foreign instructors, most probably British, to provide instruction in flight operations from warships.

           3. Naval air strength had to be augmented by increasing the number of land-based air units, by converting a conventional warship to an aircraft carrier, and by building two fleet carriers.

11 But the air power statement that most directly confronted naval orthodoxy had been drafted three years earlier. Nakajima Chikuhei. The thrust of the memorandum was that even though the airplane was in its infancy, it was destined to be the decisive weapon of the future, and the dreadnought battleship was now fatally threatened by the aerially launched torpedo and mine.

13 1916-21 The beginning of a regular and systematic program of naval air training;

            the creation of the navy's first permanent shore-based air groups; an attempt to establish a single administrative organization for naval aviation; a brief exploration of the possibilities of lighter-than-air aviation; the construction of Japan's first aircraft carrier, and the creation of a training program for flight operations to be conducted from it; and the invitation of a British aviation mission to facilitate the development or naval air training and to promote the manufacture or naval aircraft in Japan.

19 The Japanese naval leadership, decided in 1920 to seek the assistance of the British navy in improving the proficiency its naval air arm. The Sempill Mission, which lasted a year, provided the Japanese navy with a quantum jump in aviation training and technology.

           The Japanese navy had substantially improved its naval air training program, had begun to understand the rudiments of carrier flight-deck operations, and become familiar with such naval air tactics as existed at the time,

27 By the London Naval Treaty of 1930, Japan had, with great reluctance and con sequent turmoil within its navy's high command, accepted further limitations on its warship construction in relation to that of the British and American navies. Now the Japanese navy turned to air power to make up for these deficiencies.

28 The Prototypes System, called for the pairing of firms to compete for orders of various types of aircraft that were to be designed and produced according to specifications set forth by the navy. The firm whose prototype successfully met these specifications was awarded the navy contract. the losing firm would have to generate the competitor's design as well. This led to sharing of ideas. The Prototypes System was a revolutionary step in the way the aircraft industry came to compete, integrate components, and build aircraft.

40 Even after the Japanese navy had assembled a significant carrier force in the 1930s, it continued to increase its land-based contingents in keeping with its initial strategy of providing a rapid defense of the home islands against the possible westward advance of an American naval offensive.

40 In both the Japanese and American navies the adoption of dive bombing represented a change in major offensive tactics for carrier aviation.

44 The hineri-komi (half loop and roll) eventually adopted by all Japanese navy fighter units and by Japanese army fighter pilots as well, it was the only original aerial tactic developed by the Japanese that was not known to foreign pilots before the Pacific War. Thus, by the mid-1930s the Yokosuka Naval Air Base had become the mecca of fighter pilots and the pioneering center for the development fighter tactics.

45 In about 1934, a general opinion among fighter pilots at Yokosuka that fighters really no longer had an operational role.

63 The difference in the design and operation of Japanese and American carriers was the method of calculating aircraft capacity. In the Japanese navy, aircraft capacity was determined by the size of the hangar rather than by the size of the flight deck. American carriers normally parked most of their aircraft on the flight deck and used the hangars below only for aircraft repair and maintenance.

70 Once a Japanese recovery cycle had been completed, the aircraft were struck below, to be serviced and armed. It was this procedure, governed by elevator cycles, that kept Japanese carrier flight operations at a slower pace than those of their American opposites.

74 It was only by the elimination of the enemy's carriers that Japanese forces could achieve air superiority over the area of the surface battle. Air operations were to take place before the decisive battle, and such operations would have as their objectives both the command of air space over the battle zone and the destruction of the enemy's car- riers and battleships.

74 The essential condition for that destruction was that Japanese naval air forces be able to strike first, before Japan's carriers came within range of the enemy's carriers. That in turn depended on the Japanese ability to "outrange" the enemy in the air. It was for this reason that throughout the 1930s the Japanese navy came to emphasize range in it in its specifications when calling for bids for aircraft design.

80 Aircraft-versus-gun. The debate was the result of two proposed solutions to the same problem: the numerical inferiority to the United States. The solution of the "gun club" to this tactical dilemma was the construction of capital ships far more powerfully armed and armored than those of the enemy. The solution of the air power advocates, was to change drastically the composition of Japanese naval forces by making carriers the navy's main force, so as to circumvent and render irrelevant Japan's inferiority in capital ships.

85 By the evidence available at mid-decade, the navy's battleship orthodoxy seemed to have the greater logic in the controversy.

92 The Mitsubishi Zero, its low wing loading enabled it to turn inside any fighter plane, and its large ailerons enabled its pilots to fly rapid rolls. The 950-horsepower Sakae engine and the plane's innovative wing design made it able to climb faster and steeper than any contemporary aircraft. But it had poor diving speed (too light weight), poor handling capabilities at high altitude, and a low V maximum speed. Also had armament issues.

175 Four critical operational lessons were brought home to the Japanese navy after Midway.

           The first was the importance of a carrier fleet completely shaped for carrier war—that is, a fleet capable of operating independently and providing tor its own air defense.

           The First Air Fleet's concentration of carriers had proved disastrous.

           The battle forced the Japanese navy to rethink the composition of its carrier air groups.

           The navy was forced to rethink not only the design and construction of its carriers to provide greater protection for carrier flight decks, aircraft hangars, and fuel storage areas, but also the processes and procedures for refueling and rearming aircraft

176 But in a strategic oversight of major consequence, the Japanese had done little to capitalize on their advantageous position in the southwestern Pacific by strengthening it. For not a single full-service air base was established south of Rabaul.

180 The failure to establish locally controlled, self-sufficient air bases at the front meant that the navy was unable to provide flexible, responsive air support to Japanese ground and surface forces on or near Guadalcanal, which had come under increasing attack by the Allied enemy. Tactically, it prevented the use of single-engined, land-based bombers whose operational range, with ordnance, did not permit them the round trip from Rabaul to Guadalcanal and back.

180 The consequence of too few advance air bases in the Solomon Islands was that the Japanese navy—there were few Japanese army an army air units in the southwestern Pacific until the last stage of the Solomons air combat—was obliged to fight an air campaign of attrition at long range, whereas the American enemy based his aircraft literally at the front.

the two most important reasons for the collapse of the Japanese navy's air campaign over the Solomon Islands: the growing qualitative disparity between Japanese and American aircrews, and the appearance of Allied aircraft superior in performance to the Zero.

189 The causes of the destruction of Japanese naval air power, 1942-44.

           The failure of the navy to anticipate the kind of air combat it would be obliged to wage;

           Once in the new kind of air war, the failure to make the right decisions to deal with its realities;

           The inability of Japanese industry and technology to support Japanese naval aviation against the emerging numerical and qualitative superiority of American air power.

194 The navy clearly misjudged the vast distances over which it would have to fight. The Japanese naval air arm simply lost the battle of maintenance and supply.

195 The creation of a small but elite pool of naval aviators with no substantial reserve to back it up

195 The origin of nearly all of these dilemmas for the Japanese naval air arm can be traced back to the navy's assumption that it would fight a short, decisive war.

196 The Japanese navy was slow to give up its prewar big-gun/big-ship convictions. The Japanese navy's high command had been reluctant to discard its conviction that the battleship was the supreme a arbiter at sea and that aviation's subsidiary role was to support the battle line. This lead to the failure to give airmen substantial authority over the strategy and conduct of the navy's air war.

197 The Imperial Japanese Navy and the Imperial Japanese Army...when the conflict turned against Japan, the two services turned to bickering as men and resources became increasingly scarce.

198 Finally, the fiery descent of Japanese naval air power in the Pacific War can be attributed to the discrepancies in strength and versatility between American and Japanese industry.

           Radar, VT Fuse, engines

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