Kawanishi N1K

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N1K/N1K-J
Kawanishi N1K2-J 050317-F-1234P-015.jpg
Kawanishi N1K2-J Shiden Kai
Role Fighter
Manufacturer Kawanishi Aircraft Company
First flight N1K1: 6 May 1942[1]
N1K1-J: 27 December 1942[2]
N1K2-J: 31 December 1943[3]
Introduction 1943
Retired 1945
Primary user Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service
Number built 1,435

The Kawanishi N1K Kyōfū (強風 "strong wind", Allied reporting name "Rex") was an Imperial Japanese Navy floatplane fighter. The Kawanishi N1K-J Shiden (紫電 "Violet Lightning") was an Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service land-based version of the N1K. Assigned the Allied codename "George", the N1K-J was considered by both its pilots and opponents to be one of the finest land-based fighters flown by the Japanese during World War II.[4][5]

The N1K possessed a heavy armament and, unusual for a Japanese fighter, could absorb considerable battle damage. The N1K-J evenly matched the F6F Hellcat and was a better match than the A6M Zero for such aircraft as the F4U Corsair and P-51 Mustang. Despite such capability, it was produced too late and in insufficient numbers to affect the outcome of the war.

Design and development[edit]

Kawanishi N1K1 "Rex" floatplane fighters found post-war at a Japanese Naval air base.
An N1K1

Kawanishi's N1K was originally built as a floatplane fighter to support forward offensive operations where no airstrips were available, but by 1943 when the aircraft entered service, Japan was firmly on the defensive, and there was no more need for a fighter to fulfill this role.

The requirement to carry a bulky, heavy float essentially crippled the N1K against contemporary American fighters. Kawanishi engineers, however, had proposed in late 1941 that the N1K would be the basis of a formidable land-based fighter too, and a land-based version was produced as a private venture by the company. This version flew on 27 December 1942, powered by a Nakajima NK9A Homare 11 radial engine, replacing the less powerful Mitsubishi MK4C Kasei 13 of the N1K. The aircraft retained the mid-mounted wing of the floatplane, and combined with the large propeller necessitated a long, stalky main landing gear. A unique feature was the aircraft's automatic combat flaps that adjusted automatically based on acceleration, freeing up the pilot from having to do this and reducing the chance of stalling in combat. The N1K did have a vice: If handled roughly, it could easily enter an unrecoverable spin.[citation needed] Its flight characteristics were treacherous and required an experienced pilot.[6]

The Nakajima Homare was powerful, but had been rushed into production before it was sufficiently developed, and proved troublesome. Another problem was that, due to poor heat treatment of the wheels, their failure upon landing would often result in the landing gear being simply ripped off. It was reported that more "Georges" were lost to this than to Allied forces.[citation needed] Apart from engine problems and the landing gear the flight test program showed that the aircraft was promising. Prototypes were evaluated by the Navy, and since the aircraft was faster than the Zero and had a much longer range than the Mitsubishi J2M Raiden, it was ordered into production as the N1K1-J, the -J indicating a land-based fighter modification of the original floatplane fighter.

Only four days after the Shiden '​s first test flight, a complete redesign was begun, the N1K2-J. The new design addressed the N1K1-J's major defects, primarily the mid-mounted wing and long landing gear. The wings were moved to a low position, which permitted the use of shorter, conventional undercarriage, the fuselage was lengthened, the tail redesigned, and the whole aircraft was made much simpler to produce, with over a third of the parts of the Shiden. Construction materials involved the use of non-critical materials.[7] The redesign was approximately 250 kg (550 lb) lighter, faster and more reliable than the previous N1K1 version. Since there was no alternative, the Homare engine was retained, even though its reliability problems had not been fully corrected. A prototype flew on 1 January 1944 and after completing Navy trials in April, the N1K2-J was rushed into production. The variant was named the "Shiden-Kai" (紫電改), Kai standing for Modified.

Operational history[edit]

Kawanishi N1K2-J, probably N1K4-J Shiden Kai Model 32—only two prototypes were built.

The N1K1 entered service in early 1944 and proved highly effective against American fighters. The Kawanishi was among the few Japanese fighters that could stand up to the best enemy types, including Hellcats and Corsairs. In the hands of aces, the Shiden could even outfly its American opponents. In February 1945, Lieutenant Kaneyoshi Muto, flying a N1K2-J as part of a group of at least 10 expert Japanese pilots, faced seven U.S. Navy Hellcats of VF-82 in the sky over Japan. His group shot down four Hellcats with no loss to themselves.[8] After the action, reporters fabricated a story in which Muto was the sole airman facing 12 enemy aircraft.[9] However, a close friend of Lieutenant Kaneyoshi Muto, ace pilot Saburo Sakai, states in his autobiography that the one versus twelve combat did take place, but with Muto at the controls of a Zero fighter.[10]

Despite their formidability, Shidens were often mechanically unreliable. The engine was difficult to maintain and, like the complicated undercarriage, plagued by frequent failures.[citation needed] Nevertheless, N1K1-J aircraft were used very effectively over Formosa, the Philippines and later, Okinawa. Before production was switched to the improved N1K2-J, 1,007 aircraft were produced, including prototypes.

Problems resulted in very few N1K2-J aircraft being produced, but the Shiden-Kai proved to be one of the best "dogfighters" fielded by either side. Along with high speed, the fighters were very agile with a roll rate of 82°/sec at 386 km/h (240 mph). Their weaponry, comprising four 20 mm cannons in the wings, was highly effective. As a bomber interceptor, the N1K2-J was less successful, hampered by a poor rate of climb and reduced engine performance at high altitude.[11][12]

343 Kōkūtai[edit]

Captured Kawanishi N1K2-Js (note US markings) having their Homare engines run up by former JNAF groundcrew.

Due to production difficulties and damage caused by B-29 Superfortress raids on Japanese factories, only 415 fighters were produced. Consequently, N1K2-J fighters were mainly issued to elite units like the IJN 343rd Air Group (343 Kōkūtai Naval Fighter Group), commanded by Minoru Genda that was constituted on 25 December 1944. The new 343rd Kōkūtai consisted of the best pilots, including Muto. The unit was issued the best equipment available and was also equipped with the new Nakajima C6N Saiun, codenamed "Myrt" long-range reconnaissance aircraft. On 18 March 1945, one of the "Myrts"' managed to spot U.S. carriers en route to Japan.

The 343 Kōkūtai's Shiden-Kai, possibly the one flown by ace-pilot Kaneyoshi Muto, displayed at the museum on Shikoku island.
The N1K2-J Shiden Kai on display in the National Museum of Naval Aviation, Pensacola, Florida

The following morning, 343 Kōkūtai '​s Shidens intercepted 300 American aircraft. Many of the 343 Kōkūtai Shiden force were N1K2s. When the Shidens encountered VBF-17 Hellcats, three aircraft were lost on both sides in the initial attack; one Hellcat and two Shiden were shot down by enemy ground fire, two fighters collided in mid-air, and one Hellcat crashed while trying to land. Then the other Shiden dove on the Hellcats, downing another one. In the end, the 407 Hikōtai lost six fighters versus downing eight VBF-17 Hellcats.

In another encounter with VBF-10 Corsairs, two of the Corsairs were separated from the main formations, and then attacked by 343rd Shidens. Four N1K2s were shot down and the Corsairs managed to return to their carrier, USS Bunker Hill. An opportunity for revenge came when VFM-123 Corsairs were surprised by Shidens, initially mistaken for Hellcats. A 30-minute aerial duel ensued in which three Corsairs were shot down and another five were damaged. Three other F4Us which had landed on carriers were so heavily damaged that they had to be pushed into the sea. Of the 10 Japanese aircraft the Americans claimed, not one was effectively downed. Two Shidens however, were shot down at landing by Hellcats of VF-9. Many other Shidens were destroyed by American fighters over another airport, where they tried to land because they were low on fuel. At the end of the day, 343° declared 52 victories, U.S. fighters 63. The actual losses were 15 Shidens and 13 pilots, a "Myrt" with its three man crew, and nine other Japanese fighters. The U.S. also had heavy losses, with 14 fighters and seven pilots, and 11 other attack aircraft.

Five days later, an unofficial award was sent to 343 Kōkūtai for the valour shown on 19 March. On 12 April 1945 another fierce battle involved 343°, during Kikusui N.2. The Japanese scored several victories but suffered 12 losses out of 34 machines. On 4 May, another 24 Shidens were sent in Kikusui N.5.

In every case, the Shiden, especially the Kai version, proved to be a capable dogfighter with the firepower, agility and rugged structure. The premier unit flying the Shiden, 343 Kōkūtai remained operational until the overwhelming unit losses led to the eventual retirement of the unit. The 343° was disbanded on 14 August 1945, when the Emperor ordered surrender.

Variants[edit]

Shiden-Kai Production, data from[13]
[14]
Month Number Produced
1943 1 (prototype)
January 1944 1
February 1944 1
March 1944 1
April 1944 2
May 1944 1
June 1944 1
July 1944 3
August 1944 2
September 1944 1
October 1944 6
November 1944 17
December 1944 31
January 1945 35
February 1945 47
March 1945 59
April 1945 83
May 1945 83 (20 by Himeji factory)
June 1945 25
July 1945 18
August 1945 10
Total 428
N1K1 Kyofu
  • N1K1: only standard type as floatplane, which was used from early 1943.
  • N1K2: reserved name for an intended model with larger engine, not built.
N1K1-J Shiden
  • N1K1-J: Prototypes: development of fighter hydroplane N1K1 Kyofu, 1,357 kW (1,820 hp) Nakajima Homare 11 Engine, 9 built
  • N1K1-J Shiden ("Violet Thunder") Navy Land-Based Interceptor, Model 11: first production model: 1,484 kW (1,990 hp) Homare 21 engine with revised cover, armed with two 7.7 mm (.303 in) Type 97 machine guns and two 20 mm Type 99 cannons. Modified total-vision cockpit.
  • N1K1-Ja, Model 11A: Without frontal 7.7 mm (.303 in) Type 97s, only four 20 mm Type 99s in wings
  • N1K1-Jb, Model 11B: Similar to Model 11A amongst load two 250 kg (550 lb) bombs, revised wing weapons
  • N1K1-Jc,Model 11C: definitive fighter-bomber version, derived from Model 11B. Four bomb racks under wings.
  • N1K1-J KAIa: experimental version with auxiliary rocket. One Model 11 conversion.
  • N1K1-J KAIb: conversion for dive bombing. One 250 kg (550 lb) bomb under belly and six rockets under wings.
N1K2-J Shiden-KAI
  • N1K2-J Prototypes: N1K1-Jb redesigned. Low wings, engine cover and landing gear modified. New fuselage and tail, 8 built
  • N1K2-J Shiden KAI (Violet Thunder, Modified) Navy Land Based Interceptor, Model 21: first model of series
  • N1K2-Ja,Model 21A: Fighter-bomber version. Four 250 kg (550 lb) bombs. Constructed by Kawanishi: 393, Mitsubishi: 9, Aichi: 1, Showa Hikoki: 1, Ohmura Navy Arsenal: 10, Hiro Navy Arsenal: 1.
  • N1K2-K Shiden KAI-Rensen (Violet Thunder Fighter Trainer, Modified) Trainer version of N1K-J Series with two seats, operative or factory conversions
Further variants
  • N1K3-J Shiden KAI 1, Model 31 Prototypes: Engines displaced to ahead, two 13.2 mm (51 in) Type 3 machine guns in front, 2 built
  • N1K3-A Shiden KAI 2, Model 41: Carrier-based version of N1K3-J, project only
  • N1K4-J Shiden KAI 3, Model 32: Prototypes, 1,491 kW (2,000 hp) Homare 23 engine, 2 built.
  • N1K4-A Shiden KAI 4, Model 42: Prototype, experimental conversion of N1K4-J example with equipment for use in carriers, 1 built
  • N1K5-J Shiden KAI 5, Model 25: High-Altitude Interceptor version. Project only
  • Total Production (all versions): 1,435 examples.[15]

Survivors[edit]

The Shiden's bulletproof glass

At least three Shiden Kai aircraft survive in American museums. One is at the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida.

The second N1K2-Ja (s/n 5312), a fighter-bomber variant equipped with wing mounts to carry bombs, is on display in the Air Power gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. This aircraft was displayed outside for many years in a children's playground in San Diego, suffering considerable corrosion, and had become seriously deteriorated. In 1959 it was donated to the Museum through the cooperation of the San Diego Squadron of the Air Force Association.[16] In October 2008 the aircraft was returned to display following an extensive eight year restoration. Many parts had to be reverse engineered by the Museum's restoration staff. Four different aircraft serial numbers were found on parts throughout the airframe, indicating reassembly from three different wrecks brought back to the U.S. for examination, or wartime assembly or repair from parts obtained from three different aircraft. Serial number 5312 was found in the most locations, and is the number now cited. The N1K2-Ja is painted as an aircraft in the Yokosuka Kōkūtai, an evaluation and test unit.[17]

The third example is owned by the National Air and Space Museum but was restored by the Champlin Fighter Museum at Falcon Field, Mesa, Arizona, in return for the right to display the aircraft at Falcon Field for 10 years after restoration. It currently is on display at the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center[18]

An authentic Shiden-Kai from the 343 squadron is displayed at a local museum in Shikoku, Japan. After the aircraft was damaged in battle, its pilot landed on July 24, 1945 in the waters of the Bungo Channel, but he was never found; by the time of the aircraft's recovery from the seabed in the 1970s, he could be identified only as one of six pilots from the 343 squadron who disappeared that day. Photographs of the six—including Takashi Oshibuchi, commander of the 701 Hikōtai, and Kaneyoshi Muto—are displayed under the aircraft engine.

Specifications (N1K1-J)[edit]

Data from TAIC 107 A1 Report[19]

General characteristics

Performance

Armament

  • 4× 20 mm Type 99 Model 2 Mk 4 cannon in wings. 200 rounds per gun (up from 100 rounds per gun internally and 70 rounds per gun in underwing boots for the early N1K1-J). The 20×101 mm round had an effective range of 1,000 m (3,280 ft) and a muzzle velocity of 700 m/s (2,297 ft/s). The 128 g shell had 6-8% HE. Rate of fire was about 500 rounds/min per gun. The guns were harmonized to converge at 200 m (656 ft).
  • 2× 250 kg (551 lb) bombs
  • 1× 400 L (105 gal) drop tank

See also[edit]

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
Related lists

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Francillon 1979, p. 318.
  2. ^ Francillon 1979, p. 321.
  3. ^ Francillon 1979, p. 325.
  4. ^ Francillon 1971, p. 58.
  5. ^ Francillon 1979, p. 323.
  6. ^ Sakai, Saburo (1957). Samurai. p. 304. ISBN 950-15-0163-9. 
  7. ^ Green 1960, p. 114.
  8. ^ Angelucci and Matricardi 1978, p. 171.
  9. ^ Tillman 2010, p. 117.
  10. ^ Sakai, Saburo (1957). "31". Samurai. p. 321. ISBN 950-15-0163-9. 
  11. ^ Francillon 1971, pp. 57–58.
  12. ^ Francillon 1979, p. 325.
  13. ^ Sakaida and Koji 2003, pp. 29, 63–68.
  14. ^ Francillon 1971, p. 64.
  15. ^ Francillon 1979, p. 329.
  16. ^ United States Air Force Museum Guidebook 1975, p. 48.
  17. ^ Werneth 2008, p. 18.
  18. ^ http://airandspace.si.edu/collections/artifact.cfm?id=A19830237000
  19. ^ "TAIC 107 A1 Report: George 11". From the archives of M. Williams, March 1945.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Angelucci, Enzo and Paolo Matricardi. World Aircraft: World War II, Volume II (Sampson Low Guides). Maidenhead, UK: Sampson Low, 1978. ISBN 0-562-00096-8.
  • Francillon, PhD., René J. Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War. London: Putnam & Company Ltd., 1970. second edition 1979. ISBN 0-370-30251-6.
  • Francillon, PhD., René J. Kawanishi Kyofu, Shiden and Shiden Kai Variants (Aircraft in Profile 213). Windsor, Berkshire, UK: Profile Publications Ltd., 1971.
  • Galbiati, Fabio. "Battaglia Aerea del 19 Marzo su Kure.(in Italian)." Storia Militare magazine, Albertelli edizioni, N.166, July 2007.
  • Green, William. Famous Fighters of the Second World War. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1960.
  • Green, William. Warplanes of the Second World War, Volume Three: Fighters. London: Macdonald & Co. (Publishers) Ltd., 1961 (seventh impression 1973). ISBN 0-356-01447-9.
  • Koseski, Krystian. Kawanishi N1K1/N1k2-J "Shiden/Kai" (in Polish). Warszawa, Poland: Wydawnictwo Susei, 1991. ISBN 83-900216-0-9.
  • Mondey, David. The Hamlyn Concise Guide to Axis Aircraft of World War II. London: Bounty Books, 2006. ISBN 0-7537-1460-4.
  • Sakaida, Henry. Imperial Japanese Navy Aces, 1937-45. Botley, Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 1998. ISBN 1-85532-727-9.
  • Sakaida, Henry and Koji Takaki. Genda's Blade: Japan's Squadron of Aces, 343 Kōkūtai. Hersham, Surrey, UK: Classic Publications, 2003. ISBN 1-903223-25-3.
  • Tillman, Barrett. Whirlwind: The Air War Against Japan, 1942–1945. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010. ISBN 978-1-41658-441-4.
  • United States Air Force Museum Guidebook. Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio: Air Force Museum Foundation, 1975.
  • Werneth, Ron. "Rebirth of a Forgotten Japanese Navy Fighter." Flight Journal, Volume 13, Number 3, June 2008.

External links[edit]