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"Japanese Pilots" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following military report on WWII Japanese pilots, and their classification into "Division I" and "Division II," was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 15, Dec. 31, 1942.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


The Japanese Army and Navy have two classifications for their pilots and bombardiers, namely: "Division I" and "Division II". This classification is based on combat experience, initiative, and combat ability.

The pilots and bombardiers of Division I usually have had approximately 4 years combat experience in China. This Division totals about 1,500 pilots, including Army and Navy.

The performance of the personnel of Division II is not comparable with that of Division I, as was demonstrated during the Port Darwin bombardment of March 19 when the pilots and bombardiers of Division I, in one flight of 18 bombers, sank 11 of 17 ships on their first time over, from a height of 24,000 feet. Meanwhile, the personnel of Division II were indiscriminately bombing the airfield and hangars. Recent reports have indicated that the Japanese, in order to conserve their first-line pilot strength, are sending out their less-experienced pilots on routine missions with the leader alone coming from their first-line group.

The first-line Japanese pilot is well trained and resourceful, and handles his plane in a skillful manner; he will initiate attack, is aggressive in combat, and is a fighting airman not to be underestimated. It is also noteworthy that they will change their methods with alacrity whenever they find their aerial operations successfully countered. They are alert, and quick to take advantage of any evident weakness. A disabled plane will receive more fire than other planes in formation. Stragglers are sure to be concentrated on, and a gun not firing is a sure point of attack. Several instances have also been reported where our airmen have been machine-gunned from Japanese planes while parachuting to earth. Our airmen should delay opening the parachute when forced to leave the plane.

While there is little information available concerning the number of pilots being trained in Japan, conservative estimates placed this figure at 360 per month prior to December 7, 1941, and concluded that there were at that time approximately 9,750 trained pilots, many of whom had seen service in China. It is estimated that the Japanese have lost approximately 400 planes per month for the first 5 months of the war. Thus the rates of loss and replacement are approximately the same. The above estimated Japanese losses and production of pilots apply to a period when very little opposition was encountered by the Japanese, and it is safe to assume that when the United Nations undertake a more determined offense, the losses will be at a substantially higher rate. It is reasonable to assume that the Japanese have anticipated this and have increased the production of trained pilot personnel to meet this expected higher monthly loss. Therefore, a fair inference would be that Japan must at the present time be turning out, at the minimum, 600 to 700 new pilots per month in order to take care of losses and provide for expansion of the air forces.

In Japan it has been the tradition that Naval officers are of a higher type than officers of the Army, and it has been observed that in planes of corresponding type, the naval pilot is much harder to combat, and that apparently the materiel, quality of personnel, and training in the Naval Service are of a higher standard than in the Japanese Army Air Forces. However, morale is undoubtedly high in both services.


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