B-24 Liberator vs. Ki-43 Oscar
China and Burma 1943
Series: Duel 41
Author: Edward M. Young
Artists: Jim Laurier, Gareth Hector
Formats: Soft cover; PDF eBook; ePub eBook
Students and enthusiasts of the Great Pacific War, the CBI (China Burma India theater of operations), fighter defense against heavy bombers, the IJAAF (Imperial Japanese Army Air Force) or the USAAF (United States Army Air Force) should find this a fascinating book.
From lessons gleaned from Spain and early WW2 the US Army Air Corps call for heavier armor and armament inspired the B-24. Japan believed nimble fighters would rule the skies and although they did build “heavy fighters”, they mainly faced the heavy bombers with the lightly built severely outgunned Ki-43 “Oscar”. Osprey continues their popular series Duel
focusing on the clash between USAAF B-24s and IJAAF Ki-43s over the CBI.
After Japan conquered Burma and ran off the Allied air forces, IJAAF (Imperial Japanese Army Air Force) had to defend the area from Allied air forces looking to run off the Japanese air force and reconquer Burma. Nakajima’s Ki-43 Type I Hayabusa
(Peregrine Falcon to the Japanese, and code-named ‘Oscar’ by the Allies) was built to be more powerful than the mid-1930s Ki-27 fighter, yet as maneuverable. This lead to a lightly built airframe with only two heavy machine guns – actually comparable to fighter armament of European fighters. Koku Hombu (Japanese air force high command) was impressed with a 12.7 mm Breda with explosive bullets but couldn’t make it work in the Type 1. So they ingeniously copied the .50 caliber Browning to accept the Breda bullets.
When the Allies returned over Burma they arrived in Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bombers of the 7th Bomb Group; later the 308th brought heavy bombers over China. The B-24 was designed to better the big Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. Sturdily built with some armor, and full of .50 caliber machine guns, Liberators were nearly as fast as Hayabusa
at altitude. IJAAF would quickly learn what the Luftwaffe was learning half the world away – heavy bombers in massed formations were hard to knock down without more firepower.
However, Ki-43 was too delicate to be up-gunned and Japan never developed a heavily armed fighter in sufficient numbers to supplant Oscar to oppose the Liberators. Yet the American heavy bomber force in the CBI was ‘tail-end Charlie’ of the strained supply lines and never had the numbers for massed formations envisioned by USAAF bombing doctrine.
So set the stage for a balanced mismatched duel between warplanes not expected to face each other.
Accomplished author and researcher Edward Young brings us the story of the duel between USA's 7th and 308th Bomb Groups as they carried the war into the Japanese Ki-43 Chutais across China and South East Asia. This is his fourth title for Osprey. Through fine research and writing, Mr. Young reveals the triumphs, tragedies, heroism, and accomplishments of those combat crews dueling over China and Burma.
B-24 Liberator vs. Ki-43 Oscar, China and Burma 1943
presents this duel in 11 sections and 80 pages:
Design and Development
The Strategic Situation
Statistics and Analysis
Mr. Young writes in a clear style with, to me, a good mix of quotes, technical data and doctrine, personal accounts, and archival knowledge. He even touches upon that almost all Japanese fighters of the time were called “Zeros”. The story flows and is presented well. The reader is introduced to the concepts and ‘holy cows’ of IJAAF fighter, and USAAF bomber doctrine. Development of the aircraft are examined and described in good detail.
I appreciate the chapter on training comparing the American and Japanese systems. Mr. Young also includes anecdotal discussions and direct quotes from both Japanese and American participants. This is my favorite aspect of the book. From those I learned that the first Oscar was structurally weak and several were lost to catastrophic airframe failure. Some examples include, Ki-43:
As Yohei Hinoki noted in his post-war interview, "by the time the Hayabusa had become a good attack aircraft things were changing. It was now to be used for defense, as an interceptor. So again its firepower was insufficient. And it lacked the speed needed for attacking bombers. The Hayabusa was coming to the end of its time."
From the B-24:
It was something to see the firing from the Japanese fighters as they attacked us head on. Each attack lasted only a few seconds at a closing rate of around 600mph. The leading edge of their wings [sic] just blazed with fire, with an occasional brighter flash as they fired their cannon.
That last sentence opens very interesting debate about just what a combat crewman thought he saw, and why? Oscars neither had wing guns nor cannon!
Two pilots are profiled. For the B-24 it is Col. Conrad F. Necrason of the 7th BG. For Japan it is Nakakazu Ozaki, “the B-24 killer” of the 25th Sentai in China.
Neither side fought the war envisioned. USAAF saw packed fleets of heavies obliterating all targets below them while their gunners swept the skies of interceptors. IJAAF saw fleet Hayabusa darting in and out of enemy bombers, sharpshooting the big birds out of the air. The tactics for fighting the aircraft is very interesting to me. While USAAF holy writ was that massed unescorted heavy bombers in tight formations could “always get through,” it turned out not to be. Col. Necrason wrote that with his small tight formations, evasive turns were more effective than bombardment gunnery, which he remarked, “…was not that good”. Japanese pilots are quoted discussing how difficult yet essential it was to roar straight into the return fire as close as possible.
After the first year the results over Burma were mixed. Both forces had lost four aircraft apiece, with many more were damaged. Hayabusa pilots, like their distant Luftwaffe brethren, had to adopt head-on concentrated attacks on a single aircraft; USAAF pilots relied on jinking to thwart the attacks. However, over China, the Japanese were able to assemble bigger formations. Then the big bombers started suffering losses like their 8th AF brethren over Germany, even after the up-gunned B-24J arrived. Like over Germany, fighter escort was realized as essential for the bombers.
Illustrations, Photos, Graphics
Osprey visually enhances Duel series with photographs, color artwork, cutaways, maps, charts and tables. Dozens of black-and-white photos, and a single period color photo fortify the text. Photos lead us along a visual path of the development, deployment, and operation of the opposing forces, both machines and men. Almost every photo in this title is a high quality exposure. Several are airborne in-action photos which tend to be grainier, and some IJAAF pilot group images seem to be stills from a motion picture. Several photos are very good studies of IJAAF pilots in flying gear. And a surprise to me is several exposures from bombers of Oscars darting around the formation.
Artists Jim Laurier, Gareth Hector created 12 full color illustrations and a table:
1. Side, top and nose views of B-24D-25 41-124293 ”SHERAZADE”, 425th BS/308th BG; Kumming, China, 1943.
2. Side, top and nose views of Ki-43-II, of 1st Chutai leader Capt. Kiyoshi Namai, 33rd Sentai; Hanoi, Indochina, 15 September, 1943.
3. B-24D Armament Fields-of-fire.
4. Ki-43-II “Oscar” nose guns mountings.
5. Map of China: Japanese and Fourteenth Air Force bases, Japanese occupied areas, railways.
6. Map of India and Burma: 7th BG air bases and Japanese air bases.
7. B-24D Liberator Nose Compartment.
8. Ki-43-II cockpit.
9. Formations used by the 7th and 308th BGs.
10. Diagram of Hayabusa attack formations against B-24s.
11. Centerfold of Maj Akira Watanabe, CO 33rd Sentai, barreling through the 425th BS over Hankow, August 24, 1943.
12. Engaging the Enemy: dramatic artwork from the cockpit of a Hayabusa shooting head-on into a formation of B-24s.
13. Table: USAAF bomber and JAAF fighter losses over Burma and China in 1943
I found this to be yet another illuminating and enjoyable Duel book. It has a good deal of detail to explain not only the gee-whiz of the battles, also the rear-echelon efforts that trained the crews, designed the aircraft, and crafted the operational concepts. The strategic bombing campaign over the CBI was nothing next to the scope of European raids, nor even those over the Southwest Pacific Area of operations. Yet the handicaps of terrain, weather, being at the end of the longest supply chains, and a host of other troubles made the war between the B-24 and Type 1 just as difficult for the crews.
The text is informative and interesting. Photographic quality and support is very good. The artwork is super. I really have no lows to report.
Overall I find this to be another great overview of two antagonists in a specific arena that deserves mention and study, and happily recommend the book.
Please remember, when contacting manufacturers and sellers, to mention you saw this book here—on Aeroscale