The notes presented below on Japanese air tactics
were extracted from various intelligence reports dealing
with the South Pacific area They are not complete
and are presented here merely as examples of
enemy combat methods. Our observers generally
agree that the Japanese vary their tactics a great
deal, and that tactics used in one area may be different
from those in another theater of operations.
In general, U.S. airmen have found that the Japanese
fly better than they shoot, and that their Navy
fliers appear to be better than their Army pilots.
The Japanese during recent weeks have been making
a large proportion of their bombing attacks at
2. BOMBING ATTACKS
a. During the Day
Japanese bombers usually drop their bombs at high
altitudes, while flying in a V of V's formation. For
protection, they have a tendency to depend more on
altitude than on clouds. However, the enemy, quick
to take advantage of bad weather, is likely to attack
under very poor atmospheric conditions. These attacks
are made in good formations, which are held
after the bombs are dropped.
Japanese bomber formations usually consist of 9,
18, or 27 planes.
In some sectors Japanese Army Air Force bomber
operations have followed a fairly regular and characteristic
pattern, roughly along these lines:
(1) Assembling units and moving them forward from
(2) Making photographic reconnaissances of the targets;
(3) Delivering the attack;
(4) Repeating the attack; and
(5) Withdrawing to rear airfields.
Operation (1) was designed to achieve surprise by
keeping aircraft out of view of our photo-reconnaissance
flights—until the last moment.
In follow-up attacks, Japanese bombers generally
are persistent until their losses become very heavy.
In their relatively new practice of making attacks
at dusk with medium bombers, the Japanese have
often used as many as 40 to 50 escorting fighters.
These attacks have usually been followed up by single
bomber harassing raids at intervals throughout the
remainder of the night.
Dive bombers also have been used in making attacks
at dusk. The fighter escort generally consisted of 30
to 40 planes.
Lately our pilots have noted that Japanese escort
fighters have a tendency to work in pairs.
In one instance 21 Japanese medium bombers, accompanied
by a large fighter escort, made a high-level
attack from 23,000 feet, while a smaller formation of
light bombers carried out a low-level bombing and
The medium bombers pressed home their attack
despite the fact that a large percentage of them were
destroyed or damaged by our fighters before reaching
the target. The original formation was broken, but
the bombers were still able to reach their objective
when reformed into three flights, each consisting of
four bombers and flying in a tight diamond-bow
formation. The Japanese apparently had little fire
control, and the bombers carried out no evasive tactics
except to nose down after passing the bomb-release line.
The escorting fighters appeared to use a generous
amount of white tracer.
The light bombers flew at approximately 200 to 220
miles per hour while making their bombing and
b. At Night
The Japanese apparently feel that moonlight bombing
operations are not materially different from the
same thing by day. They generally precede their
raids with the usual reconnaissance, fly in formation,
and use the normal pattern-bombing procedure with
In a recent attack on a U.S. Navy surface force,
Japanese medium bombers approached during darkness,
in 2 formations of 12 planes each. One plane
detached itself from the formation and flew parallel
to the course of the ships on one side, for a distance
of 5,000 yards. During this run, it dropped float
flares at intervals of about 600 yards. The plane
then flew about 5,000 yards across the course of our
ships, to the front, and dropped a second line of flares
at approximately the same intervals. Finally this
plane dropped a red flare and a green flare abreast
of the formation and outside of the parallel row of flares.
Recent action in the South Pacific has disclosed a
Japanese tendency to employ intruder tactics. On at
least one occasion a returning flight of friendly bombers
was joined by a Japanese plane which followed the
traffic pattern, turned on its landing lights, buzzed
the control tower at about 500 feet altitude, and then
proceeded to make a bombing run on nearby shipping.
This attack occurred after dark but during a full
moon period when visual recognition was most difficult.
3. TORPEDO ATTACKS AGAINST CONVOYS
Approximately 25 Japanese torpedo planes attacked
one of our convoys in the following manner:
The planes came in at angles of about 45°, covered
with three levels of fighters up to 20,000 feet. The
planes dropped their torpedoes from heights of 20 to
50 feet, while flying at about 250 miles per hour.
The fighters strafed several of our ships during,
and after, the period when the torpedoes were being dropped.
4. FIGHTER ATTACKS AGAINST BOMBERS
Observers report that Japanese fighter pilots generally
are skillful in the use of clouds for cover before
coming in close to attack our bombers. They are also
adept at approaching from the direction of the sun.
In some areas most of the enemy fighters have made
their attacks from the 10- and 11- or the 1- and 2-o'clock
directions. They apparently preferred to fly
parallel to the bombers before attacking, and were
often first sighted 2 or 3 miles to the left or right,
where they awaited an opportunity for frontal
attacks. Usually the attacks came from below, and
were both single and coordinated, depending on the
number of fighters involved. In one instance, one
fighter attacked at 5 o'clock and a second at about
2 o'clock. Each made a pass and then shifted to the
other's position and repeated the process.
The enemy pilots usually opened fire at an estimated
range of about 500 yards. After an attack, they half-rolled
and dived to accomplish their breakaway. The
attacks usually were fairly continuous for about 15 to
5. DEFENSE AT NIGHT
The Japanese in recent months have increased the
number of fighter planes used for defense of airfields
at night. In some cases, enemy searchlights have been
operating in conjunction with the fighters. The
searchlights track the targets until the fighters give a
signal, and then all searchlight activity ceases. The
fighters then attack from the 5- to 7-o'clock direction,
high or low. Sometimes enemy fighters have
turned on plane searchlights when approaching our
bombers. The fighters usually worked in pairs, with
both twin- and single-engined fighters being used.