The Japanese fighter most commonly encountered is the Mitsubishi "Zero," which
came into production in 1940. The following comments are largely applicable to
this type of fighter plane.
Tactical practices employed by Japanese fighter aircraft vary according to the
situation and the type of opposing aircraft encountered. A formation frequently
used by the Japanese for ground attack is a Vee of three aircraft flanked by
echelons of two. When fighter opposition is encountered the echelon "pairs" meet
it, while the Vee executes the ground attack.
Zero fighters ordinarily attack a bomber singly from the rear, diving under it, pulling
up into the belly, and firing until they fall off the wing in a stall turn. They
attack B-17D's in the tail but make frontal attacks
against B-17E's. Recently it was reported that Japanese pilots
in the Aleutian area, becoming increasingly bold,
attacked B-17's and B-24's from all directions, side
and front and underneath, interception taking place at 20,000 feet.
In one instance, a flight of Zeros approaching at 22,000 feet rose to attack B-17's in Vee
formation at 28,000 feet. One Zero consistently attacked by climbing up and
under the belly of a B-17, stalling and falling off while the other Zeros
in the flight acted independently, and flying parallel to the
other B-17's for some distance ahead before turning to make direct frontal attacks.
In another instance, nine Zeros, flying in loose echelon formation at 6,000 feet, intercepted
from ahead, and at the same level, two 3-ship elements of B-17E's, one
below the other, at 4,000 feet. The leading Zero made an attack directly from the
front; the other eight planes divided into two groups, one on each side of
the B-17E's, and pulled into parallel flight without attacking. Individual
fighters then darted ahead, turned sharply, and attacked the staircase
formation of B-17E's from the forward quarter before coming within range of
their rear gunners. A few planes passed underneath the B-17E's and out toward
the rear. Less than 50% of attacks of this nature were pressed within effective
range of the Japanese guns.
It is the usual practice in attacking a B-26 for a flight of three Zeros to detach
itself from the remainder of the squadron, divide into two elements of one and two
fighters respectively, and fly, out of gun range, on each side of the B-26. The
single Japanese fighter on the right then turns slowly, and at a slightly lower
altitude attacks the B-26 from the forward quarter. The two Zeros on the left
side of the bomber make the same approach, but more quickly. The Zero on the
right then zooms under the B-26 after attacking it and climbs ahead to take the
left flank, while the two planes formerly occupying this position make a similar
maneuver and become the right element. After a head-on attack against our
fighters, Japanese pilots often go into a turn resembling a tight Immelman, involving a
steep climb and a flip-over to a half-roll at the top of the loop.
It is reported from Alaska that two float-plane fighters (probably Mitsubishi-Zero fighters
equipped with single floats) attacked United States bombers, out of gun range, and then
took up positions, one to the left, and the other to the right front oblique. They
preceded the attack by an Immelman turn, and then made rapid diagonal crossings of
the bomber, one of the fighters attacking when the bomber attempted to bring its
nose guns to bear on the other.
Japanese fighters follow up their attacks on airfields by strafing grounded planes. The
Zero and T-97 aircraft are used in these low-flying attacks. In early stages of
combat, tracer bullets are employed to get on the target, the attack being carried
out with machine-gun and light-cannon fire.
General tactics used by the Japanese prior to July indicate that their Zero fighters
disengage from combat by making turns, and that they avoid long power dives. Current
reports, however, affirm that power dives have been employed in
following P-40E's and P-39's, Zeros having attacked a P-40E at 24,000 feet, again
after a dive to about 10,000 feet, and a third time at 300 feet. This maneuver
may indicate the introduction of a structurally stronger Zero or a new type of
fighter plane. A general practice also is the use of decoy aircraft with top cover.
Bombing tactics call for close formations and straight, long runs, frequently at
altitudes of 22,000 to 24,000 feet. Flights are often composed of 27 aircraft with
Zero fighters weaving above, below, or to port. When forced to bombardment ceiling
by antiaircraft, as in the Philippine campaign, the Japanese used area bombing. The
bombers fly in large formations and release bombs either in salvo or in train, depending
upon dispersion to encompass the target. Spot or precision bombing, which is more accurate
than area bombing, is undertaken when there is no defensive antiaircraft fire, and is
delivered from altitudes below 10,000 feet.
A bomber formation over Darwin was reported as consisting of a starboard flight
of nine bombers at 21,000 feet, a middle flight of the same number in line but
stepped up about 240 feet, with the right flight similarly stepped up, and the
escorting aircraft weaving continuously. This method gives the starboard flight a
greater field of fire and eliminates the need for fighter protection on this side.
Glide-bombing is usually undertaken by light bombers, the attack being
launched at approximately 19,000 feet. When this maneuver is employed, aircraft
nose down toward the target at an angle of about 45 degrees and level off at
from 3,000 to 2,500 feet before releasing their bombs. If the limits of antiaircraft
fire are clearly defined, swing-bombing has been used. In this case planes fly
toward the target until the perimeter of antiaircraft fire is reached, and, making a
banked turn, release their bombs with a centrifugal "throw." The
inaccuracy of this method is obvious.
In dive-bombing, the practice of the Japanese is to approach the objective
at about 12,000 feet and gradually work down to about 7,000 feet. As the attack
develops, the aircraft go into dives of about 60 to 80 degrees with diving flaps
lowered. The dives culminate in pull-outs ranging down to 800 feet. As many
as 60 to 70 Japanese aircraft have been used in these dive-bombing attacks.