The quality of Japanese aircraft came as a rather nasty shock to the Allies after their entry into the Second World War, making their mark with the attacks on Pearl Harbor and sinking the Prince of Wales and Repulse before sweeping the British, American and Dutch air forces in the area from the skies. However as the Allies gained in power, the Japanese slowly fell behind, and by the end of the war their once powerful air services were reduced to making kamikaze attacks on the massive Allied fleets closing in on Japan.
This book is organised differently to most on this subject, which tend to be organised either by manufacturer or split into chapters on the Navy and the Army, each of which had their own air force, and largely used different aircraft types. Instead this book is organised by aircraft type – land based bombers and reconnaissance aircraft, land-based fighters, carrier aircraft (many of which were used in very large numbers as land based aircraft as well), flying boats and floatplanes and rocket and jet-powered aircraft. I quite like this approach, as it keeps similar aircraft together, although in practice it does mean that the first and second chapters cover Army aircraft and the third and fourth Navy aircraft (with one or two exceptions).
In general the text is good, and it’s refreshing to find a book of this type that has an entirely new text rather than reusing familiar older works. One or two of the individual articles seemed to have an unusually high number of little errors. Unfortunately this does include the very first article, on the Mitsubishi G3M, which includes the statement that ‘aircrews were sourced from both Japan and the United States’, a G3M1 labelled as a G3M2 (although in general the illustrations are accurate), and a repeat of the claim that a raid on China in August 1937 was the first ‘trans-Oceanic bombing raid in history’ – rather ignoring the many German bombing raids on British targets during the First World War, some of which involved lengthy flights across the North Sea. This gives a slightly false impression, and the vast majority of the articles are fine.
I’m not sure about the decision to place the technical details in a separate appendix rather than with the aircraft they relate to – it looks to be a largely cosmetic decision that allows each aircraft to start at the top of a page, but it means that most of this information will never be found. Even less clear is the reason why the excellent cutaway diagrams showing the internal layout of six key aircraft at the back – each of these takes up exactly two pages, so wouldn’t have disrupted the main flow of the book at all.
The explanation of the complex Japanese designation system is accurate and clear, and the section on the Allied reporting names is unusually comprehensive, listing every name that was allocated, including those that were allocated to aircraft types that never existed (surprising common), German aircraft falsely believed to be in Japanese service, duplicates and civil aircraft.
Overall this is a good introduction to the topic, aimed at the general reader, with a good amount of information in each of the combat types, and without the clutter of minor or experimental types.
Land-based Bombers and Reconnaissance Aircraft
Flying Boats and Floatplanes
Rocket and Jet-powered Aircraft
Specifications and Data
Author: Thomas Newdick