IntroductionJ2M Raiden and N1K1/2 Shiden/Shiden-Kai Aces
by authors Yasuho Izawa and Tony Holmes lifts the veil of operational mystery from these two late-war IJNAF fighters. It is the 129th title of the Aircraft of the Aces
series. Illustrated by Jim Laurier, this 96-page paperback book has the short code ACE 129 and the ISBN 9781472812612.
The J2M Raiden
(雷電, "Thunderbolt", Allied codename "Jack") was designed by Jiro Horikoshi, creator of the incredible Mitsubishi A6M ReiShikiSen. It was a local-defense interceptor intended to counter the threat of high-altitude bomber raids, and thus relied on speed, climb performance, and armament at the expense of ( by Japanese standards ) maneuverability. "Jack" was a sleek but stubby craft with its over-sized Mitsubishi Kasei
engine buried in a long cowling, cooled by an intake fan and connected to the propeller with a long extension shaft. Pilot visibility was poor. A total of 621 aircraft were built by Mitsubishi, and 128 J2M3 were built by Koza Naval Air Arsenal. Raiden
made its combat debut in September 1944, over Balikpapan, with the 381st Kokutai. J2Ms operated from Singapore, Guam and Saipan, China, and a small number of aircraft were deployed to the Philippines. The Raiden
is best remembered for intercepting B-29 Superfortress raids over the Japanese home islands.
Graceful as a sumo wrestler, the N1K1-J Shiden
(Violet Lightning, or "George" to the Allies) was a private development by Kawanishi of their air superiority floatplane fighter, the N1K Kyofu
(Strong Wind) "Rex," into a land-based interceptor. A unique feature was the aircraft's automatic combat flaps that adjusted automatically. It is widely considered the best Imperial Navy fighter of the war. Built around the powerful 1,990 hp (1,480 kW) Nakajima Homare
NK9H radial engine, extremely maneuverable, packing devastating firepower ( up to two Type 97 7.7 mm machine guns and four Type 99 20 mm cannons) and able to withstand heavy damage, Shiden
was as threatening as its thunderstorm allegory...
...when it could fly. Shiden
’s engine was unreliable. The aircraft retained the mid-mounted wing of the floatplane, and this and the large propeller necessitated long, stalky landing gear, prone to failure.
was redesigned to remedy defects, primarily repositioning the wings to the bottom of the fuselage, solving the long, complex landing gear issue; the fuselage was lengthened, the tail redesigned, and the whole airframe was made much simpler to produce by some 18,000 (!) parts. The troublesome Homare
engine was retained because there was no real alternative. Thus came to being the redesignated N1K2-J Shiden-Kai
, ‘Kai’ standing for Modified.
entered combat for first time in spring 1944. They proved to be excellent dogfighters at low to medium altitudes. N1K-J fighters were mainly used by few units including the elite IJN 343rd Air Group (343 Kokutai), Japan’s "Squadron of Experts" similar to Germany’s JV-44, and commanded by Minoru Genda. 343rd Kokutai pilot Kaneyoshi Muto reputedly shot down, by himself, four Hellcats in one dogfight. Had reliable "Georges" been available, the Allies would have had a tougher time over the Pacific. However, the powerful Homare
rapidly lost performance in the rarefied air of the B-29's domain, thus "George" was not useful at the high altitudes the war was moving into.
Although seen as a replacement for the A6M Zero-sen carrier-based fighter, the Mitsubishi J2M Raiden was actually designed as a land-based naval interceptor optimised for speed rather than manoeuvrability. Engine cooling problems for its Mitsubishi Kasai 23 engine, airflow and flight control issues plagued the Raiden's development, but despite these production delays, aces Sadaaki Akamatsu Yoshihiro Aoki, Susumu Ito and Susumu Ishihara all claimed significant scores in the Raiden. Kawanishi's N1K family of fighters were privately developed by the manufacturer from the N1K Kyofu floatplane fighter. Again plagued by structural and engine maladies, the N1K1-J Shiden eventually entered frontline service in time to see considerable action in the doomed defence of the Philippines in October 1944. Despite suffering heavy losses, the units equipped with new fighter proved that the N1K could more than hold its own against P-38s and F6Fs. The improved N1K2-J Shiden-KAI started to reach the frontline by late 1944 - in time for defence of the Home Islands. Here, it proved to be the best IJN fighter of the war. - Osprey
ContentJ2M Raiden and N1K1/2 Shiden/Shiden-Kai Aces
is 96 pages in length. It is divided into seven chapters;
The need for interceptors
N1K1 Kyofu and J2M Raiden in combat
N1K1-J Shiden in combat
N1K2-J Shiden-kai in combat
The lead aircraft look to have finished his attack. The target aircraft filled my gunsight. I aimed at the B-29 to the right side of the tail element. The distance shortened to 400 meters, then 300. I gripped the firing lever. The four 20 mm guns spat fire in unison. Tracers flew, trailing red tails. I aimed at the wing root of the B-29. I saw the shells explode. After finishing the attack, I formed up with the lead aircraft. The B-29 emitted white smoke. I did it! The second and fourth aircraft formed up with us. LA Kinzo Kasuya, our fourth man, was my good friend. We finished our second passes and assembled, but I did not see Kasuya again.
So opens J2M Raiden and N1K1/2 Shiden/Shiden-Kai Aces
. For students of the late airwar over the Pacific, this book reveals a wealth of information. The team of authors Yasuho Izawa and Tony Holmes effectively presents this story with a treasure of archival and first-hand pilot narratives from Raiden
and "George" pilots. In The need for interceptors
, 10 pages relate the deign, development and subsequent Allied evaluation of "Jack". Included in those 10 pages are two full pages from a report filed by Allied field grade evaluation pilots of captured "Jacks". Interesting facts about the aircraft are included, such as the supercharger-equipped J2M5 required a pilot with a special type rating to fly it. It also includes recounts of J2M trials by combat veterans of the Yokosuka Kokutai. Kawanishi fighters
presents the development of what became the "George" through seven pages. Test pilot Lt Yoshio Shiga wrote;
At an altitude of 3000 m there was no problem with stability in either direction, even with the landing gear and flaps down. Stall came abruptly - this was different from the Zero-sen fighter. Visibility was okay. There was no problem with the tailplanes or rudder. The Shiden-Kai was totally different to fly than the Shiden.
Development and technical information continued to pop up in the remain chapters that actually present the combat service of "Jack" and "George".
N1K1 Kyofu and J2M Raiden in combat
is the chapter that starts to answer many long standing questions. It starts out discussing the A6M2-N "Rufe" units and where they served, mentioning the known kills of those Kokutais (Air Groups). As an aside, the book mentions the mixed composition of some of those units which rostered a different aircraft type in each of their Hikotai (squadron). We find out that some of these late-war fighters were actually deployed to the edges of the Japanese occupation, i.e., "Jacks" fought over Balikpapan. The chapter follows each of the Kokutai that flew the Raiden
, delving into as much of its history as possible. The title "Raiden & Shiden Aces" explores how many Japanese pilots shot down 5 or more in either type, or scored their fifth kill in one or the other, or were already aces who flew a Raiden
, whether scoring kills or not. Pilots of the legendary 343rd Kokutai, "Genda's Circus", receives a lot of ink in particular.
As shown above, this book includes first-hand accounts. These are in both official reports and personal interviews. Interestingly, many Raiden
pilots survived the war, although whether by the quality of the N1K and J2M, or in spite of is for the reader to ponder. Those who survived the aerial bloodbaths suffered by Japan starting in June 1944 were lucky indeed. Some pilots could wield their planes effectively, as did J2M pilot Ens Sadaaki Akamatsu, the self-proclaimed 'King of Aces', who alone took on two P-51s, shooting both down.
'Our dogfighting techniques were superior to any other country's, but the Americans' shooting average was better than ours', Akamatsu stated after the war.
The book also explores the shortcomings of the Raiden
that the Luftwaffe already knew - even with a battery of cannons, multiple passes might be necessary against heavy bombers. Many pilots complained that "Jack" was hard to see out of; Lt Susumu Itoh told the author that intercepting aircraft with a Raiden
was difficult at high altitude;
...with pilots commenting after such missions that they felt as if B-29s 'popped out of nowhere' due to the limited field of vision from the Raiden's cockpit.
There is also a unique Japanese account of B-29s attacking his airfield from low altitude in shallow dives!
I was surprised by the overall affect the J2M had in combat and think readers will be equally astonished.
and N1K2-J Shiden-kai in combat
continue this riveting account of N1K and J2M pilots.
Having overshot his target, Yamada now found himself being pursued by two more Corsais, one of which was flown by veteran fighter pilot Cdr John Hyland, commander of Carrier Air Group 10.
For seven minutes personnel at Matsuyama watched Yamada fly for his life...I was about to go up by twisting. Then some bullets hit. One of them came and stopped under the sole of my boot. ...then we passed each other and I waved my scarf. The other guy...also waved. That was our goodbye.
You can surmise by the length of this review that there is a great deal of fascinating information in this book. These chapters include, among others, these sections:
Attacking PBMs and PB4Ys
Thunderbolts, Corsairs and Mustangs
Bungo Strait Battle
There are many more first-hand accounts by American and Japanese pilots as well as technical and historical descriptions of the N1K1/2 Shiden/Shiden-Kai, and their aces. This book packs a lot of history into 96 pages!
Art and Photographs
Many black-and-white photos display airplanes and pilots. Some are amateur-quality 'grab shots' yet the vast majority are professional studio quality. Even a shot from a PBM of a N1K making a pass at another PBM is a quality 'in action' view. I didn't count them yet I guess the images are about evenly split between images of aircraft and pilots. One extraordinary photograph is the Corsair of 2Lt Alton Frazer of VMF-113, who came off the worse from a fight with ace Lt Naoshi Kanno. (This event is the book cover art.) Frazer landed back at base yet his Corsair is the most thoroughly shot up F4U I have ever seen; most of a wing is gone, the fuselage cracked, and severe damage mars the empennage, courtesy of Kanno's Type 99 cannon.
Twenty-four color profiles by artist Jim Laurier bring life to the book. Despite the claim on the back cover, there are no scale plans. Each profile has a caption as well as a concise commentary of the subject.
The photographs and artwork greatly enhances and supports the text.
Although I am bias in favor of the subject of this book, I think that makes me even more picky about the content. With that in mind, I think J2M Raiden and N1K1/2 Shiden/Shiden-Kai Aces
is an exceptional book. It is not a book just about the 343rd nor the 352nd, yet it contains a fine amount of operational history about those units, and especially about the pilots. It has a detailed text with many first-hand narratives by both sides. The photographs and artwork greatly enhances and supports the text.
I was surprised by the overall affect the J2M and N1K had in combat and think readers will be equally astonished. Some of my previous concepts are validated and reinforced, while some are shattered.
I have nothing objective to complain about this book.
Students, modelers, artists and enthusiasts of "Jacks" and "Georges", IJNAF pilots and the Pacific War should find this book essential to their library. Enthusiastically recommended.
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