Japanese Army Air Force Fighter Units and their Aces

1931-1945

by Ikuhiko Hata, Yasuho Izawa and Christopher Shores

reviewed by Mark Smith

 

 

New information in English about Japanese aviation history is always welcome. This volume has been long-awaited in the West as a companion volume to Hata and Izawa's volume on Naval Units and Aces, which was published some years ago by Naval Institute Press (now out of print). NAP has often explained that they would not be doing the Army volume since their books only cover Naval subjects. Christopher Shores has authored previous books for Grub Street, however, and has a longstanding mutual collaboration with prime Japanese sources. What has resulted from their combined efforts is a superb overview of Army fighter units and the individuals that were key to their success. In addition it's a much smoother translation and easier read than the Naval book. While this book was originally published in Japanese in the 1970s, it did not include all the material presented here, which has been revised and corrected in light of considerable new research.

As one would hope of such an expensive book, it's sewn-bound and printed on heavy stock, and the dust jacket bears a Rikyu Watanabe painting of a 50th Sentai Hayabusa attacking a B-24 (the only scrap of color the book can boast, by the way). Photo reproduction is of a high quality although some of the source photos are of poor to marginal quality. This has to be weighed against their historical value and rarity. Most of the photos are of individual pilots or group shots as opposed to hardware or aircraft details.

Section One is a hundred page chronological account of the JAAF from its early ragwing days through its intensive involvement in the China conflict, into the grinder of New Guinea and the Solomons, and its doomed attempt to defend the homeland. The unit histories give only general details.

Section Two covers The Units - thumbnail histories, commanders, bases, and markings. The illustrations for the latter are fairly basic and don't break any new ground, but they are comprehensive.

Section Three, The Aces, holds the most compelling and of course personal material, again about a hundred pages. Almost all these accounts bear at least one photo of the pilot in question. Some of their exploits are astonishing, and often give the reader a better idea of the ideological and philosophical differences of these warriors from their Western counterparts. In any case, the reader will never have encountered much of this information anywhere else.

While of great interest to serious modelers of Japanese aircraft, this one plays to the historian (born out by the lack of color, which would have been welcome). While the price is dear, the subject matter is unique. It's taken a long time to see the light of day; it's only a shame that this book was published in English long after most of Japan's World War II Aces had passed away, proof of the axiom that the winners write history.

- Mark Smith

Hardback with dust jacket, 340 pp. $54.95