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TM-E 30-480: Handbook on Japanese Military Forces
Technical Manual, U.S. War Department, October 1, 1944
[DISCLAIMER: The following text and illustrations are taken from a WWII U.S. War Department Technical Manual. As with all wartime manuals, the text may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the contents of the original technical manual. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]

Chapter IV: Japanese Air Service

Section IV: Japanese Air Tactics

1. BOMBING TACTICS. a. Formations. Japanese bombing tactics exemplify certain of their natural traits; courage, indifference to losses, and adherence to preconceived plans. Bombers usually have flown in multiples of 9 in a V of V's, although occasionally attacks have been made in line abreast, with fighters weaving about in loose escort formations. The formations encountered until the close of 1943 were 6 separate flat V's, occasionally with one or two vacancies and often with 1 plane at the rear of the apex of the V; a V of three 9-plane V's, with the leading V 50 or 100 feet above the others, changing to a slightly staggered formation of 1 V when 7 or 10 miles from the bomb release point; 3 flights of 9 bombers, successively stepped up 250 feet from port to starboard, and in line with fighters weaving about the formation; two 9-plane V of V's, with the leading echelon highest and the left echelon next highest.

b. Characteristics. Attacks were characterized by a long approach in close formation, held persistently regardless of antiaircraft fire and/or fighter opposition. Bombs usually were dropped on a signal from the leader at altitudes ranging from 7,000 to 26.000 feet, depending upon the nature of the target and the opposition. Generally, the formation was well maintained until bombs were dropped, when it was loosened up somewhat. The flights then engaged in a series of surges up and down, losing and gaining about 500 feet in altitude.

c. Reconnaissance. The Japanese usually precede long-distance bombing missions by ample air reconnaissance. Scouting aircraft communicate with the home base by radio. Before the main bombing force leaves its base, alternative objectives are designated. Airfields are given high target priority.

d. Evasion. Evasive tactics against antiaircraft fire are taken by maintaining altitude above the effective range of such fire, by occasional changes in altitude, and by weaving in formation.

e. Escort. Fighter escort on bomber missions varies according to the opposition expected and the number of fighters available. The position and escort technique of fighters protecting bomber formations constantly change. Frequently bombers are escorted by fighters above and behind the bomber formation.

f. Follow-up. Bomber operations against important targets have been characterized by repeated attacks and "follow-up" missions. Many of these attacks appear to have been made along the same route and at the same time each day, although not necessarily by the same type of formation.

g. Tactical changes. By the close of 1943 the Japanese, finding themselves on the defensive in many theaters, were obliged to change their bombing tactics. This resulted in:

(1) Virtual abandonment of daylight horizontal bombing attacks on Allied land bases or convoy with air cover.

(2) Adoption of dawn and dusk bombing by fighters, and night bombing by medium, torpedo, and dive bombers.

(3) Improved efficiency and coordination in night torpedo and bombing attacks against Allied shipping en route and at anchor in advanced bases.

2. DIVE BOMBING. a. General. Japanese dive-bombing attacks, most frequent and effective in the early months of the war, are largely directed against shipping and equipment on beachheads. The accuracy of Japanese dive bombing is not outstanding and has been affected by Allied antiaircraft fire and fighter interception. Numerous reports make it clear that damaged planes, particularly dive bombers, attempt to crash on their targets as a last resort.

b. Formations. (1) The usual Japanese dive-bombing formations are in multiples of 3 as follows: 3-plane Vs in line astern; in 6-or 9-plane Vs; in Vs of Vs. The number of dive bombers employed varies with the nature of the target; for example, larger formations are employed against naval vessels than against merchant ships. Efforts are made to saturate enemy defenses by increasing the density of attacking planes. Of late, because of Allied fighter opposition, the approach to the target has been generally at altitudes of from 12,000 to 18,000 feet. Immediately before the initial dive, which is approximately one of from 35° to almost vertical (more often dives approximating 45°), the Japanese change their formations to one of loose echelon or string. Upon this change-over, the individual dives commence in rapid succession, usually from up-sun, from areas of restricted visibility, or from coordinates exposing them to minimum antiaircraft fire. The bomb release point varies from 500 feet to as high as 3,000 feet. This release point, it is believed, is governed by the pull-out point of the lead plane or the intensity of antiaircraft fire. It also has been noted that the bomb-release point is generally higher during dives approaching the vertical where greater speeds have been attained.

(2) When larger formations have been employed, Japanese dive bombers frequently divide their strength into smaller forces and attack a given target simultaneously from different directions.

3. GLIDE BOMBING. a. While occasional reports of dive-bombing attacks at angles of 70 to 80° have been received, the majority of attacks have been made by a powered glide at an angle of 45 to 50°.

b. Bombers begin the dive at a height of 3,000 to 5,000 feet and follow each other down until near the target before releasing their bombs. Subsequently, the planes employ their machine guns against ground installations. Retirements are effected at high speed, with evasive action usually limited to short climbs and dips. Attacks are well coordinated and usually are made out of the sun.

4. TORPEDO BOMBING. a. Daylight. Daylight torpedo bombing approaches are usually made in close formation at medium altitude. Attacks may be made in a wedge or loose diamond formation, or in small groups which separate to attack individual objectives from different directions. Glides are made at an angle of 40 to 45°, and torpedoes are dropped from an altitude of 200 to 300 feet at a range from 500 to 1,200 yards from the target. Approaches are planned from the direction where the least concentration of antiaircraft fire may be expected. Full advantage is taken of the position of the sun and cloud formations.

b. Night. Night torpedo attacks (including dawn and dusk) were greatly developed by the Japanese in 1943 and followed a nearly uniform pattern. Reconnaissance planes drop variously colored flares to reveal the course of the convoy and to identify targets by types. Torpedo planes then attack singly, with the bulk of the force coming from one direction, while a few attempt to approach from another course. The attackers skim the surface of the water; drop their torpedoes at less than 1,000 yards; and perform S curves, dips, and rises for evasion on the way out.

5. FIGHTER TACTICS. a. General. Japanese fighter tactics against Allied fighters and bombers necessarily vary both with the number and type of aircraft encountered, the conditions under which attacks are executed, and the skill and ability of the Japanese pilots.

b. Formations. (1) The Japanese fighter tactical unit is normally a squadron of nine planes, subdivided into three flights in either V or echelon formation. Formerly, a V of three fighter aircraft was employed, flanked by echelons of two fighters. Fighter formations usually fly at altitudes of 15,000 to 20,000 feet, but are believed to operate effectively at altitudes of 27,000 feet or higher.

(2) The last months of 1943 showed a trend towards Japanese adoption of the standard United States Air Force basic fighter formations, consisting of two-plane sections and four-plane flights. Considerable coordination between planes and sections is evident, with sections fighting in pairs and alternating in attack.

c. Characteristics of fighter tactics. (1) The Japanese fighter pilots usually work with, and believe in, high cover. Their flights frequently take off about 1/2 hour apart, so that when one flight has exhausted its fuel a second flight can take over.

(2) Individual Japanese pilots seldom engage Allied formations or even single aircraft; usually they require numerical superiority before they will attack.

d. Deception. Deceptive tactics of various kinds have been extensively employed by Japanese fighters in efforts to lure Allied aircraft out of formations. Fake "dogfights" have been staged, and decoy tactics have been employed with one plane at a low altitude protected by others flying as high cover.

e. Avoidance of head-on attacks. Head-on attacks against Allied fighters generally were avoided until after increased armor was installed in Japanese fighters. Frequently attacks against Allied fighters have been made from above and the side, and, if possible, out of the sun. Evasive tactics were characterized by abrupt and violent skids, turns, and rolls. Japanese fighter pilots attempted to draw their opponent up into a steep climb and into stalling position, after which they would do a quick wingover or snap-loop back on their opponent's tail. By late 1943, the favorite evasive maneuver of Japanese fighters was a Split "S." This is a downward half snap-roll followed by a pull-out to normal flight, thus obtaining a 180° change in direction with loss of altitude.

f. Attack on bombers. According to reports Japanese fighter attacks against Allied heavy bombers come from all directions, with a decreasing trend in frontal attacks. They have attacked Allied bombers from 10 to 2 o'clock and at both 9 and 3 o'clock positions. Frequently these attacks have been coordinated by two fighters on each side; one comes in above the wing and one passes below, each peeling off to rake the fuselage of Allied aircraft.

g. Characteristics of attacks on bombers. (1) The degree of coordination achieved by Japanese fighters varies greatly. In many cases attacks are not coordinated, and at other times a high degree of coordination has been attained. Reports from the Southwest Pacific Area indicate a trend towards greater coordination in frontal and waist attacks.

(2) The Japanese rely to a great extent on the maneuverability of their planes, and while their tendency towards acrobatics has steadily diminished, the variety of the types of attacks employed has commensurately increased.

(3) Japanese fighters are particularly observant of any damage inflicted on Allied bombers and are quick to take all possible advantage of it. Stragglers are a favorite target for concentrated attacks, and, when a tight formation is maintained by Allied bombers, attacks are usually concentrated on the leader. However, Japanese fighter pilots are not consistent in the degree to which their attacks are pressed home.

6. JAPANESE NIGHT FIGHTERS. a. During 1943 Allied heavy bombers, operating at night over enemy bases in New Britain and the Upper Solomons, encountered increased fighter opposition as the Japanese concentrated greater efforts on night interceptions in order to oppose these bombardment missions. Generally. Japanese night fighters have been sighted at 10,000 feet or above that level.

b. The trend of employment of Japanese night fighters suggests a continued interest in this phase of interception and may indicate an increasing development of technique.

7. AIR ATTACKS ON AIRFIELDS. a. An analysis of Japanese attacks on Allied airfields shows distinct changes in the methods employed. It is believed that these changes do not result from the development of improved tactics but were forced on the enemy by the increased strength of Allied air interception and ground defenses.

b. During the early period of Japanese occupation and expansion, full advantage was taken of the weakness of Allied air and ground defenses. Japanese carrier-borne aircraft operated in conjunction with land-based medium bombers. Dive bombers attacked antiaircraft positions and ground installations, with fighters strafing grounded aircraft from low level.

c. Later, as ground and fighter defenses became more formidable, the Japanese were forced to conduct their bombing operations from higher altitudes. By 1943, their characteristic attack was by night, with single aircraft or small to medium formations of medium bombers. There have been occasions when the Japanese have reverted to daylight attacks, as in their attacks on aircraft based on forward strips in support of Allied ground forces in New Guinea.

8. AIR TO-AIR BOMBING. a. The use of small air-to-air bombs against Allied bomber planes was first reported in May 1942 in the Southwest Pacific Area. Since that time there have been an increasing number of reports of the use of air-to-air bombs against Allied heavy-bombing formations.

b. Air-to-air bombs dropped by the Japanese are reported to be accurately-timed high explosives combined with some incendiaries. They have been released both singly and in pattern arrangement. The majority of these bombs appear to weigh about 50 pounds each, and the explosion, based upon its blast effect on Allied planes, is estimated to be about the same as that of a heavy antiaircraft shell.

c. The presence of a Japanese "spotter" plane flying at the level of the formation to be attacked is a frequently observed characteristic of Japanese air-to-air bombing.

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