The F4U Corsair and Ki-84 ‘Frank’ were two of the most advanced fighters that saw combat during the Pacific War, and during 1945 carrier-borne Corsairs took part in a handful of clashes with the Ki-84. These fell into two main categories – against Ki-84s attempting to defend the Japanese Home Islands against the increasingly massive US carrier strikes and against Ki-84s taking part in the large scale kamikaze attack on the US fleet around Okinawa, with the Ki-84 serving both as ‘special attack’ aircraft and as escort fighters.
This book does rather highlight some of the flaws in this series. The two aircraft chosen weren’t the only fighter (or indeed the most important) fighter serving on either side in 1945. On the US side the F6F Hellcat was the main fighter, with well over twice as many victories as the Corsair. On the Japanese side a wide range of Army and Navy fighters were in use, including large numbers of later models of the Zero, the Nakajima K-43 ‘Oscar’, Nakajima Ki-44 ‘Tojo’ and Kawasaki Ki-61 ‘Tony’. Many Japanese records were destroyed as the war turned against them, so the American records are often the only detailed sources. As a result we have to rely on the American fighter pilot’s identification of their opponents to identify possible clashes between the F4U and Ki-84. The authors make it clear how unreliable some of these identifications can be, with Japanese Navy and Army aircraft often reported in the same clash. The original US reports of some of the battles examined here actually identify their opponents as other aircraft (Tojos over Okinawa when none were actually used for example). In total the author has identified twenty occasions when the two aircraft probably clashed, a remarkably low number.
Of more interest for me are the earlier sections, looking at the development of the two aircraft, their entry into service and production, as well as the training of their pilots and the sort of missions they were expected to fight. Here we get a more valid comparison between the two aircraft and the systems that produced and used them. This section highlights the biggest problem faced by the Japanese during the second half of the war – a lack of skilled pilots, and the time and fuel required to train them. As a result the excellent Ki-84 was rarely used to its full potential. In contrast the US Navy was able to develop a comprehensive training regime, with no fuel problems and secure training areas thousands of miles from the war. As a result the balance of skill shifted from the Japanese, who had a clear advantage in 1941, to the Americans. This does make it rather difficult to come to any real conclusions about the relative merits of the two aircraft, as the Japanese were not only outnumbered, but also out-flown and out-fought, suffering very heavy losses. On one occasion detailed here an experienced Japanese pilot in charge of a formation of 30 Ki-84s describing flying in parallel to a massive US aerial armada, so large that it wasn’t worth ordering his inexperienced pilots to even attempt to attack!
The author has done a perfectly good job of searching for the few direct clashes between these two aircraft and analysing those combats. He also makes it clear that the real difference between the two was the industrial might that allowed the US to produce over 12,000 Corsairs (including some smaller scale post-war production) compared to just over 3,000 Ki-84s, of which many were reserved for the final defence of Japan, the American ability to produce a far higher number of highly trained pilots, and perhaps most significantly the naval blockade of Japan that made it almost impossible to import fuel into the Home Islands.
Despite the overall problem that the clashes between these two aircraft weren’t actually that significant, this is still an interesting read. The limited number of clashes between the two types does allow the author to examine them in some detail, and produce a summary that is clearly based on all twenty or so battles, while the earlier sections are well researched and give a good comparison of the two aircraft industries.
Design and Development
The Strategic Situation
Statistics and Analysis
Author: Edward M. Young