Considering the popularity of Japanese WW2 aircraft, it's rather surprising that there aren't more books available on the subject in the West. Compared with, say, the Luftwaffe, JAAF fighter pilots get relatively little coverage. All the more reason then to welcome the fact that one of the readily available titles provides excellent coverage of the subject - Grub Street's Japanese Army Air Force Fighter Units and Their Aces, 1941 - 1945
The book was originally published in Japanese by Ikuhiko Hata and Yasuho Izawa and unlike their earlier companion study on the Imperial Japanese Navy is somewhat wider in scope. As their English co-author and translator, Peter Shores, makes clear, this makes this volume more useful to a general reader, being both more accessible and, importantly, providing a historical and geographic context in which to view the events and personalities described.
The book divides neatly into three main parts:
Section 1 - A history of the fighter arm of the JAAF
Section 2 - The fighter units
Section 3 - The aces
The book is then completed with a series of "appendices" covering such diverse topics as listing the birthplaces of aces, campaign maps and lists of airfield names.
At around 100 pages in length, Section One provides an ideal background for anyone who's unfamiliar with the JAAF and its fighter aircraft.
Running in basically chronological order, the authors describe the evolution of the force, its tactics, and its involvement in various conflicts across many fronts. Along the way, the text covers succinctly the development and introduction of each major fighter aircraft. The chapters are very "readable", avoiding the trap of being just a list of events, instead vividly portraying the changing fortunes of the Japanese army pilots, from early dominance of the skies in which they fought, through increasing pressure as the Allies grew in both quality and quantity, to the final desperate battles in defence of their homeland and eventual surrender.
Peter Shores is careful to point out the very different nature of the Japanese pilots' concept of honour and sacrifice compared with their Western opponents. As with any account of combats involving a number of pilots engaging the same targets, there is plenty of scope for multiple claims of the same "kill" in the confusion, so some of the tallies are inevitably exaggerated. The author is again careful to call them "claims", rather than confirmed "kills". And some of these early claims are truly sobering - testament to manner in which Japanese forces swept through SE Asia and the Pacific in 1941-42, garnering an air of near invincibility as they went.
The section is profusely illustrated with at least one B&W photo on almost every page. Many of these are drawn from private collections and most were new to me. They naturally vary widely in quality, but while they deal primarily with the pilots themselves, there are still plenty of details of their uniforms and aircraft to interest modellers. Each photo is accompanied by an informative caption, but I did spot a couple of instances where Ki 43s, '44s and '84s were confused.
One small point that I think would improve Section One is that I would have preferred to see the maps at the back of the book interwoven with the historical narrative, as many of the places and events described will be unfamiliar to modern readers.
Section Two describes each JAAF unit, listing its bases, battle honours and commanders. Accompanying the unit histories are useful B&W profiles of typical aircraft in the units' colours. The colours of camouflage and markings are keyed to each drawing, but it has to be said, these would really benefit from being in printed colour, because the contrast of the monochrome illustrations does occasionally make it hard to discern the insignia, particularly the tail emblems on camouflaged machines. Nevertheless, the section will be very useful as a quick recognition-guide for the various units.
Section Three lists the known JAAF aces alphabetically, assigning a short biography of a page of so to each pilot. Their individual stories are clearly recounted and, wherever possible, one or more photos is included, and it's impossible not to contrast the happy or determined faces looking out from the pages with the descriptions of the fates which befell all too many of them.
I found this an excellent book that actually goes a long way beyond the scope suggested by its title. As a background primer on the JAAF it's very good indeed, while the detailed coverage of the units and their pilots goes far beyond anything else I've read on the subject. Although in essence not a modellers' book, the hundreds of photos will provide a wealth of often incidental details to help bring models and dioramas to life. Recommended.
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Highs: Very useful overview of the JAAF's evolution and fighter aircraft. Highly detailed coverage of the units and aces.Lows: Some profile illustrations could be clearer.Verdict: An excellent book that should appeal to modellers and aviation enthusiasts alike, packed with a wealth of useful information.
About Rowan Baylis (Merlin) FROM: NO REGIONAL SELECTED, UNITED KINGDOM
I've been modelling for about 40 years, on and off. While I'm happy to build anything, my interests lie primarily in 1/48 scale aircraft. I mostly concentrate on WW2 subjects, although I'm also interested in WW1, Golden Age aviation and the early Jet Age - and have even been known to build the occas...