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"Notes on Air Tactics Used by Japanese" from Intelligence Bulletin

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   An informal report on Japanese air tactics in the Pacific, from the Intelligence Bulletin, December 1943.

[Editor's Note: The following article is wartime information on enemy tactics and equipment published for Allied soldiers. In most cases, more accurate data is available in postwar publications.]



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 dusk.


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 rear airfields;

(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 strafing attack.

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 strafing runs.

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 light bombs

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.


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.


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 20 minutes.


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.

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