Nakajima B5N

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Nakajima B5N.jpg
A Nakajima B5N2 "Kate" in flight
Role Carrier-based torpedo bomber/high-level bomber
National origin Japan
Manufacturer Nakajima Aircraft Company
First flight January 1937
Retired 1945
Status Retired
Primary user Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service
Number built 1,149[1]

The Nakajima B5N (Japanese: 中島 B5N, Allied reporting name "Kate") was the standard carrier-based torpedo bomber of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) for much of World War II.

Although the B5N was substantially faster and more capable than its Allied counterparts, the American Douglas TBD Devastator monoplane (the U.S. Navy's first all-metal, carrier-borne monoplane of any type with retracting gear), and the British Fairey Swordfish and Fairey Albacore torpedo biplanes, it was nearing obsolescence by 1941. Nevertheless, the B5N operated throughout the whole war, due to the delayed development of its successor, the B6N.

In the early part of the Pacific War, when flown by well-trained IJN aircrews and as part of well-coordinated attacks, the B5N achieved particular successes at the battles of Pearl Harbor, Coral Sea, Midway, and Santa Cruz Islands.[2][3]

Design and development[edit]

The B5N was designed by a team led by Katsuji Nakamura in response to a 1935 specification by the Navy for a torpedo bomber to replace the Yokosuka B4Y. Internally designated Type K by Nakajima, it successfully competed with the Mitsubishi B5M for a production contract. The first prototype flew in January 1937 and was ordered into production soon afterwards with the full designation Type 97 Carrier Attack Bomber[4] (九七式艦上攻撃機) (kyū-nana-shiki kanjō kōgeki-ki or kankō for short).[5]

Combat experience during the Second Sino-Japanese War revealed several weaknesses in the original B5N1 production model. These were mainly concerned with the lack of protection that the design offered its crew and its fuel tanks. Keen to maintain the high performance of the type, the Navy was reluctant to add weight in the form of armor, and instead looked to obtaining a faster version of the aircraft in the hopes of outrunning enemy fighters. The B5N2 was given a much more powerful engine - Nakajima's own Sakae Model 11, 14-cylinder twin-row radial, as used in the initial models of the Mitsubishi A6M fighter – and various modifications were made to streamline it. Although its performance was only marginally better, and its weaknesses remained unremedied, this version replaced the B5N1 in production and service from 1939.


Type 88 bombsight, torpedo release lever, and manual bomb release from a Nakajima B5N2 "Kate" at the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum

The navigator/bombardier/observer position was equipped with a Type 90 bombsight, which was a long vertical tube located in the front-left of the seat. There was also a Type 3 reflector compass for precise navigation that was mounted on the top of the cockpit frame. The radio-operator/gunner position was equipped with one of the standard-issue radio sets for navy three-seater aircraft (Type 96 Mk3 earlier and Type 2 Mk3 later) that was mounted in front of the radio-operator/gunner's seat and behind the navigator/bombardier/observer's seat.[6][7]

The radio-operator/gunner also operated one flexible 7.7 mm (.303 in) Type 92 machine gun at the rear end of the cockpit. One Type 91 torpedo could be mounted on the racks that were fixed eccentrically to the right at the bottom of the fuselage. Alternatively, racks could be replaced to carry either one 800 kg bomb (e.g., Type 99 No 80 armor-piercing bomb) or two 250 kg bombs (e.g., Type 98 No 25 land bomb) or six 60 kg bombs (e.g., Type 2 No 6 land bomb). Replacing the racks and exchanging between the torpedo and bombs was not a trivial process and could take more than two hours to complete.[8]

Initially, most of the B5N bombers were painted in silver, which was the color used throughout the early stages of the Second Sino-Japanese War. The color eventually changed to dark green before the start of the Pacific War.[9]

Operational history[edit]

Nakajima B5N2 "Kate"
A crashed Nakajima B5N2 "Kate" (tail marking "EI-306") from Shokaku
A B5N1 Kate parked in front of a hangar

The B5N was primarily employed as a carrier-based aircraft and occasionally as a land-based bomber. It carried a crew of three: pilot, navigator/bombardier/observer, and radio-operator/gunner.[10] Like with other IJN multi-seat aircraft, an individual bomber was commanded by the senior ranking crew member aboard, which could be the observer rather than the pilot.[11]

The initial model B5N1 first saw action in the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1938. The updated, B5N2 played a major role in the Attack on Pearl Harbor. One of B5N2's carried Mitsuo Fuchida, the commander of the attack, with one high-level bomber from the carrier Hiryu credited with sinking the battleship Arizona. The B5N2 torpedo bombers also sunk the battleships West Virginia, California, Oklahoma and Utah. Five torpedo bombers were shot down in the first wave. Apart from this raid, the greatest successes of the B5N2 were the key roles it played in sinking the United States Navy aircraft carrier Lexington at the Battle of the Coral Sea and Hornet at the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, and the disabling of the Yorktown at the Battle of Midway, later sunk by the Japanese submarine I-168.[2][3]

B5N2 torpedo bombers normally performed a coordinated attack on enemy carriers with Aichi D3A dive bombers. Ideally, dive bombers would help to suppress the ship's anti-aircraft fire, which improved the chances of success for the slow-flying torpedo bombers.[11] During the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, IJN tried to minimize losses to torpedo bombers and initially sent only the dive bombers to attack and cripple US carriers for the subsequent torpedo strike, this proved unsuccessful, as the torpedo bombers did not launch until the battle was over.[12]

The B5N served as the basis for a follow-on design, the B6N, which eventually replaced it in front-line service. The B5N continued to fly in secondary roles, such as training, target towing, and anti-submarine warfare. Some of the aircraft used for this latter purpose were equipped with early radars and magnetic anomaly detectors. B5Ns were also used as bombers during the unsuccessful defense of the Philippines in October 1944, suffering severe losses. Later in the war, they were used for kamikaze attacks.


  • Type K:Prototype.
  • B5N1:First production model.
  • B5N1-K:Many B5N1s were converted into advanced training aircraft.
  • B5N2:Improved version.


  • Use by Indonesia Guerrilla

Surviving aircraft[edit]

Nakajima B5N2 "Kate" reconstruction at the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum in 2019. The original Hinomaru is still visible on the starboard wing underside.

None of the 1,150 production B5Ns survived World War II intact. Only two partially-recovered B5Ns are known to exist, neither of them airworthy.

Replicas of the B5N2s were made using stretched fuselages from U.S. Canadian Car and Foundry "Harvard" - a variant of the North American T-6 Texan trainers, which were modified to represent Japanese aircraft for the movie Tora! Tora! Tora!, and have been used in a number of movies and airshows since to depict the aircraft.

One recovered B5N2 is at the Wings Museum in Balcombe, West Sussex, UK.[13] This large portion was recovered from the Kuril Islands by a British private collector in 2003.[citation needed]

A B5N was unveiled at the Pacific Aviation Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii on 18 April 2016.[14]

Specifications (Nakajima B5N2)[edit]

Nakajima B5N1

Data from Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War [15]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 3
  • Length: 10.3 m (33 ft 10 in)
  • Wingspan: 15.518 m (50 ft 11 in)
  • Height: 3.7 m (12 ft 2 in)
  • Wing area: 37.7 m2 (406 sq ft)
  • Airfoil: root: NN-5 mod (16%); tip: NN-5 mod (8%)[16]
  • Empty weight: 2,279 kg (5,024 lb)
  • Gross weight: 3,800 kg (8,378 lb)
  • Max takeoff weight: 4,100 kg (9,039 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Nakajima Sakae 11 14-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engine, 750 kW (1,000 hp) for take-off
720 kW (970 hp) at 3,000 m (9,843 ft)
  • Propellers: 3-bladed constant-speed metal propeller


  • Maximum speed: 378 km/h (235 mph, 204 kn) at 3,600 m (11,811 ft)
  • Cruise speed: 259 km/h (161 mph, 140 kn) at 3,000 m (9,843 ft)
  • Range: 978 km (608 mi, 528 nmi)
  • Ferry range: 1,991 km (1,237 mi, 1,075 nmi)
  • Service ceiling: 8,260 m (27,100 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 6.5 m/s (1,280 ft/min)
  • Time to altitude: 3,000 m (9,843 ft) in 7 minutes 40 seconds
  • Wing loading: 100.8 kg/m2 (20.6 lb/sq ft)
  • Power/mass: 0.196 kW/kg (0.119 hp/lb)


  • Guns: 1 × 7.7 mm Type 92 machine gun 'Ru' (Lewis) in rear dorsal position, fed by hand loaded drum magazines of 97 rounds. A number of B5N1s were equipped with 2 × 7.7 Type 97 machine guns in the wings.
  • Bombs: 1 × 800 kg (1,760 lb) Type 91 torpedo or 1 × 800 kg (1,760 lb) bomb or 2 × 250 kg (550 lb) bombs or 6 × 60 kg (132 lb) bombs[17]

See also[edit]

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration, and era

Related lists



  1. ^ Angelucci, Enzo (1988). Combat aircraft of World War II. p. 18. ISBN 0-517-64179-8.
  2. ^ a b Lundstrom 2005a.
  3. ^ a b Lundstrom 2005b.
  4. ^ Francillon 1970, pp. 412–413
  5. ^ Parshall & Tully 2007, p. 80
  6. ^ Mikesh 2004.
  7. ^ Tagaya 2003.
  8. ^ Chambers 2017, p. 43.
  9. ^ Chambers 2017, p. 11.
  10. ^ Chambers 2017, p. 8.
  11. ^ a b Tagaya 2011.
  12. ^ Chambers 2017, p. 67.
  13. ^ "Ghosts of the Tundra". Wings Museum. Retrieved 24 April 2022.
  14. ^ "Nakajima B5N2 'Kate' Unveiled at Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor". Warbirds News. Warbirds News. 21 April 2016. Retrieved 29 April 2016.
  15. ^ Francillon 1970, p. 416
  16. ^ Lednicer, David. "The Incomplete Guide to Airfoil Usage". Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  17. ^ Wieliczko, Leszek (in Polish). Nakajima B5N (Kate). „Lotnictwo” No. 5/2018(199), p. 87.


  • 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.
  • Chambers, Mark A. (2017). Nakajima B5N 'Kate' and B6N 'Jill' Units. Vol. Combat Aircraft #119. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1472818744.
  • Francillon, René J. (1970). Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War. London: Putnam & Company Ltd. ISBN 0-370-30251-6.
  • Francillon, René J. Japanese Bombers of World War Two, Volume One. Windsor, Berkshire, UK: Hylton Lacy Publishers Ltd., 1969. ISBN 0-85064-022-9.
  • Lundstrom, John B. (2005a). The First Team: Pacific Naval Air Combat from Pearl Harbor to Midway (New ed.). Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-59114-471-X.
  • Lundstrom, John B. (2005b). First Team and the Guadalcanal Campaign: Naval Fighter Combat from August to November 1942 (New ed.). Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-59114-472-8.
  • Mikesh, Robert C. (2004). Japanese Aircraft Equipment: 1940-1945. Schiffer Publishing. ISBN 0764320971..
  • Parshall, Jonathan; Tully, Anthony (2007). Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway. Washington D.C.: Potomac Books Inc. ISBN 978-1-57488-924-6.
  • Tagaya, Osamu (2003). Imperial Japanese Naval Aviator 1937-45. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1841763853.
  • Tagaya, Osamu (2011). Aichi 99 Kanbaku 'Val' Units of World War 2. Botley, UK: Osprey Publications. ISBN 978-1-84176-912-7.

External links[edit]