January 28th 1941 – Italian submarine sinks British steamer Urla west of Ireland

The discussion of Britain’s battle with Italy during World War Two is often confined to the Mediterranean and North African theaters. However, Mussolini’s forces also attacked Britain directly and even committed aircraft to support the German Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain. An even less-known fact is that Italian submarines supported the German Kriegsmarine in their siege of Britain in an effort to strangle her of vital war supplies from across the Atlantic.

One such Italian submarine was the Marconi-class Luigi Torelli which was launched five months before Italy would declare war on Britain and France in support of Germany. After completing its shakedown cruise and the training of its crew the Luigi Torelli sailed for German-occupied Bordeaux to join up with the small Italian submarine flotilla based there. Italian fortunes in the Atlantic didn’t often mirror their German counterparts but the Luigi Torelli would prove an exception when over the course of January 15th-16th 1941, the submarine attacked and sank three ships from a convoy over 400 miles west of Rockall; a British islet west of Scotland and south of Iceland. A fourth ship was attacked but escaped destruction.

Four days before this incident, the 17-year old 5,198-ton steamer Urla departed Halifax in Canada with convoy HX 102 carrying a load of steel and lumber bound for Manchester. The crossing was not an easy one for the 42 men of the Urla which struggled to keep pace with the rest of the convoy. The North Atlantic weather had battered HX 102 and a number of ships had to turn back to Canada to join HX 103 when the weather improved. The Urla pressed on but soon found itself straggling behind the others by the time the convoy approached the British Isles toward the end of the month.

Urla Luigi Torelli north atlantic submarine sinking italian navyOn January 28th, the Urla had the misfortune to stumble across the Luigi Torelli on patrol to the west of Ireland (Right). The Italian submarine fired on the Urla, scoring a direct hit on the ship which soon began to sink but incredibly not before all 42 crewmembers managed to safely launch their lifeboats.

While the war was over for the Urla, it was far from over for the Luigi Torelli. The Italian submarine would be on the receiving end of an attack when on the night of June 3rd 1942, it was bombed by an RAF Vickers Wellington using its powerful Leigh light searchlight 70 miles off the Spanish coast. It suffered considerable damage but managed to reach the port of Avilés in the north of neutral Spain but was damaged again shortly after in an attack by a Royal Australian Air Force Short Sunderland as it attempted to reach Bordeaux forcing it back to Spain for more repairs.

In 1943, the submarine was one of four Italian boats assigned to join a German mission to the Far East to sneak through Allied naval patrols to acquire vital war material from the Japanese in Asia. During the mission, the Italian government joined with the Allies and the submarine was interned by the Japanese. It was then taken on charge by a mixed German-Italian crew to combat the Allies in the Far East under the German flag as U.IT.25. It served the German Navy in the Far East up until Germany’s surrender in 1945 after which the submarine was then taken on by the Japanese as I-504. The submarine and her Italian sister Comandante Cappellini were the only two ships to fly the flags of all three main Axis powers during the course of World War II.

With the war nearly over, the service life of I-504 was relatively short. Based in Kobe, Japan it was damaged in a major air raid on the city by USAAF B-29 Superfortress bombers on July 15th 1945; less than 24 hours after its new Japanese captain had assumed command. The I-504 is credited as probably the last warship of the Axis powers to score a victory over the Allies when in the waning days of the war its deck guns shot down a B-25 Mitchell bomber that was raiding the harbour.

On August 30th, the I-504 was formally surrendered to the Allies ending the submarine’s war for good. On April 16th 1946, the submarine was taken out in to the Kii Channel east of the city of Tokushima and scuttled. A sad end to the story of an incredible warship.



China warns UK about sending new carriers to the South China Sea

HMS QE 8The Chinese government have responded to Sir Kim Darroch’s claims that the UK plans to deploy its new aircraft carriers to the South China Sea to exercise the right to “freedom of navigation” despite renewed Chinese territorial claims. Darroch, the British ambassador to the United States, made the announcement earlier this month when speaking at an event in Washington during which he said;

Certainly, as we bring our two new aircraft carriers on stream in 2020 and as we renew and update our defence forces, they will be seen in the Pacific…And we absolutely share the objective of this U.S. administration, and the next one, to protect freedom of navigation and to keep sea routes and air routes open.

Darroch made the announcement as the Royal Air Force sent a flight of Typhoon FGR.4s to Japan for historic military exercises as part of what both countries have said is a tightening of security ties. Japan is one of several countries at odds with China over territorial claims in the region and the UK’s new interest in working closer with Tokyo on security matters has not gone unnoticed by Beijing.

The Chinese state-owned news agency, Xinhua News, reported that if Britain was to get more involved in military operations that were contrary to Chinese interests such as deliberately sailing warships in disputed waters then it would not be in London’s best interests economically. Xinhua effectively reported that Chinese investment in the post-Brexit UK would likely be reduced in protest. According to the Asia Times, between 2005  and 2015 the Chinese invested £34.3 billion pounds in the UK with the highest profile project being the admittedly problematic China General Nuclear Power Company Hinkley Point C nuclear power station.

peoples-liberation-army-navy-air-force-china-j-15-liaoning-carrierIf economical threats were not enough, this week saw the People’s Liberation Army Navy conduct their first major live fire exercise involving their own carrier, the Liaoning. The carrier deployed ten of its Sukhoi Su-33-inspired J-15 multi-role combat aircraft that carried out air-to-air and air-to-ground training including live weaponry. As well as the carrier, ten warships and supporting vessels also participated in the exercise showing that China is realising its ambition of becoming a major naval power.

The question therefore becomes what is more important to London; maintaining the special military relationship with the US under a Trump presidency which has promised to maintain “peace through strength” regarding China or encouraging Beijing to continue to invest in the UK post-Brexit and step back from its defence ties with the US and Japan?

It seems for the time being, despite Darroch’s choice of words in Washington, the UK is still sitting on the fence. The British embassy in Washington later stated that any British military forces deployed in the region would use “internationally-recognised air ways and waters” rather than conduct the more aggressive “freedom of navigation” operations the US and Japan carry out in areas disputed by China. That may change however if come January when Donald Trump takes office he demands London take a stronger approach to China.

Royal Navy’s new carriers will deploy to Pacific to exercise freedom of navigation


British ambassador to the United States, Sir Kim Darroch, has told a Washington think tank that despite Britain’s current focus on the Middle East combating Daesh in Iraq and Syria there will be increased focus on the Pacific region as the two new carriers become operational around 2020. Speaking at an event in Washington attended by the Japanese ambassador to the US, Kenchiro Sasae, he said that Britain will play its part in maintaining the security and stability of the Pacific region with emphasis on maintaining the right to freedom of navigation.

Certainly, as we bring our two new aircraft carriers on stream in 2020 and as we renew and update our defence forces, they will be seen in the Pacific…And we absolutely share the objective of this U.S. administration, and the next one, to protect freedom of navigation and to keep sea routes and air routes open.

The first step in this renewed British military interest in the region has already been taken. In October this year, four RAF Typhoon FGR.2s from No.II(AC) Squadron landed at Misawa Air Base in Northern Japan to participate in Exercise Guardian North 16 with Japanese and US forces. The aircraft then flew to South Korea for exercises with Korean and US forces.

The Japanese ambassador added that during a meeting held at the Pentagon in Washington at the time of the exercise, the UK agreed to increase the level of naval cooperation with Japan and the US in the South and East China Sea as tensions continue with Beijing regarding territorial claims in the region. The ambassador said that Tokyo welcomed Britain’s increased focus on maintaining regional stability.

Darroch’s words come on the eve of President-elect Donald Trump taking up office in Washington on a pledge to build up the US military. Regarding China whom Trump has been deeply critical of, his advisers have said that the new US President will pursue a policy of “peace through strength” in the Pacific to challenge China’s efforts to assert its own authority over the region.


RAF deploy to Japan for historic military exercise


Official photograph of RAF and JASDF personnel following arrival of No.II(AC) Squadron to Japan (JASDF/Tokyo Embassy via Twitter)

Four Royal Air Force (RAF) Typhoon FGR.2s of No.II (AC) Squadron have arrived in Japan to participate in a military exercise with their Japanese hosts as part of an ongoing effort to strengthen security ties between the two countries. The four Typhoons arrived at Misawa Air Base in Northern Japan on Saturday having deployed from RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland. The four Typhoons are being supported by a Voyager refuelling aircraft and up to 200 personnel.

The exercise, Guardian North 16, will see the RAF fighters pitted against the Japan Air Self Defence Force’s (JASDF) premier fighters namely the F-15 Eagle and the Japanese manufactured Mitsubishi F-2 (a development of the American F-16 Fighting Falcon). Guardian North 16 will not be the end of the RAF deployment in Asia however as the Typhoons will then move on to South Korea for yet more exercises this time with the Republic of Korea Air Force.

Wing Commander Roger Elliott of No.II (AC) Squadron told reporters;

This is the most ambitious deployment that the Typhoon Force has ever done. I think it’s probably the most ambitious deployment that the Air Force has done to the Far East…We will learn from each other, and ultimately we will make friendships that will tie us together more closely in the future.

The Japanese Defense Ministry told CNN;

Conducting this exercise in Japan will help in strengthening the UK’s commitment in the Asia Pacific region and increasing other European countries’ interest in the security situation in Japan and the Asia Pacific region.

The ministry denied that the deployment was in response to any specific threat in the region. This comes in the wake of fresh protests against North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs and China’s ongoing claim to the Senkaku islands which Japan controls. In August of this year nearly 230 Chinese fishing boats supported by armed Chinese Coast Guard ships approached the disputed islands in what Japan considered an act of intimidation.

The RAF Typhoons are scheduled to leave Japan for South Korea on November 6th.


NEWS: RAF jets may deploy to Japan in near future


RAF Typhoon FGR.4

During a visit to Tokyo beginning on Friday, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon hinted that British combat aircraft may deploy to Japan for training with the Japanese Self-Defence Forces in the near future. Alternatively, Japanese forces would be invited by Britain to deploy to Europe to participate in NATO exercises.

With North Korea having claimed this month to have detonated their first hydrogen bomb, the Defence Secretary was quick to add that any deployment to Japan by RAF jets was not in response to any regional threat but rather would be to help;

  …significantly deepen defence cooperation between [the] two nations.

Any deployment to Japan by British combat aircraft will almost certainly face strong political opposition both internationally and at home. Japan and China are currently in a state of cold war regarding the ownership of the Senkaku Islands which is currently under Japanese administration. With the UK and China having recently completed a series of economic agreements, a British military presence in Japan could be seen as London siding with Tokyo which in turn could threaten those agreements.

The deployment and possible intervention in the far east would also face heavy opposition from an increasingly pacifist opposition in the British Labour Party. Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has recently completed a reshuffle of his shadow cabinet that has seen a greater number of anti-military factions take prominent positions. Along with the Scottish National Party they would almost certainly criticise any military deployment to the region

MOVIE – Kato Hayabusa Sento-tai (1944)

Kato Hayabusa Sento-tai (1944)

There’s no escaping it. Every country makes some kind of propaganda movie especially during wartime. We may look at these movies more cynically with the benefit of hindsight but if you take a moment to step back to those dark times and consider the position of civilians who had loved ones fighting far away in the field. They didn’t want to see the brutal reality of what their loved ones were going through. They wanted to see them living it up in between daring escapades if only to give them a reprieve from worrying for an hour or two.

This movie falls well in to that category and is one of the few Japanese propaganda movies to have survived in to the 21st century. It tells the story (albeit loosely) of Colonel Tateo Katō, a Japanese ace of the early war period as he leads his men in to combat for the first time in their new mount, the Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa (Peregrine Falcon); the title actually translates in to “Kato’s Peregrine Falcon Squadron”. Katō’s real story is a fascinating one and I would recommend anyone with an interest in military history to research him on the internet. Despite all his skill in the air he was killed in a fluke by a gunner aboard a Bristol Blenheim in May 1942. His heroism and attractive physical attributes made him an ideal tool for the Japanese propaganda machine who commissioned this movie less than two years later.

Let’s be clear on something; this is not a biopic of Katō’s life and death. The movie is more about honour, duty and selflessness – essentially all the things the Japanese leadership wanted from it’s people as the noose around Japan’s neck tightened. The characters rarely display any other attributes and when they aren’t in the air annihilating the Allies they are fooling around on the ground or giving grandiose speeches about what it means to serve the Japanese Empire.

I can put up with all this (although being a patriotic Brit seeing the Union Jack desecrated was a bit hard to swallow) but what I found unsettling shall we say is how the pilots treat women in the few scenes where there is one. There is an early scene with a Chinese servant where Katō asks if she understands what he is saying and it feels downright threatening. In a later scene concerning a woman who only works at the base as a maid, the pilots are disappointed hinting that they hoped she was one of the notorious “comfort women”. Anyone who knows more than the average person when it comes to the war in the Pacifc knows just how brutal the Japanese were especially to women who were raped and murdered on a whim by Japanese soldiers without punishment. On the contrary it was expected of them to “dominate” their defeated foes. It was this more than anything that left a bitter taste with me and I can’t dismiss it. Don’t get me wrong here I am not being biased. I watch the film Zulu and while I thoroughly enjoy it my sympathies are actually with the Zulu warriors who at the end of the day were defending their homeland.

Moving on to something more positive, the production values of this movie are exceptionally high even compared to Hollywood propaganda movies of the day. Stunning footage of actual Japanese warplanes are intermixed with painstakingly recreated models to produce some rather epic dogfight sequences. Of particular note is a scene involving an RAF Brewster Buffalo in a very low level dogfight. Quite amusingly, the RAF pilot is animated(!) because they obviously didn’t have any Caucasian actors for the role. Just as fascinating is the fact they used a captured Brewster Buffalo and P-40 Tomahawk for a ground scene where a few engineers are looking them over.

A fascinating movie that is probably tainted by my own views of the war but well worth a try.

Supermarine Spitfire Vb vs. Kawasaki Ki-61-I-KAIc Hien (“Tony”)

Spit V Ki-61

The alliance between Germany and Japan has been the subject of much debate since the end of World War II. Theoretically, neither nation should have considered the other a viable ally because of their own similar concepts of their own racial superiority that considered the other inferior. However, given the geographical distances between them their own immediate interests were unlikely to clash at least for the foreseeable future. One thing they both had in common was the possibility of clashing with the British Empire; Germany on mainland Europe against Britain herself while Japan against her Eastern possessions. Despite this it was actually the threat from the Soviet Union to both parties that laid the groundwork for the formalising of an alliance in the shape of the Anti-Comintern Pact. When Italy signed on to the treaty the Axis powers were created.

When the Axis powers finally found themselves thrust in to war with Britain, the USA and the Soviet Union they effectively fought two separate conflicts. There was very little coordination between them in the same way that there was between the Allied nations but both sides of the Axis compass knew of the importance of keeping the other’s fight alive because the defeat of one would only see the Allies relocate the resources fighting the defeated nation brought to bare on them and this is exactly what happened after Germany and Italy fell in 1945. To that end there was a lot of technology exchange between them with Nazi Germany going to great lengths to get scientists and technology to Japan hoping they could put them to good use to perhaps ease the pressure in Europe. This was especially true in military aviation and in turn led to the development of the Kawasaki Ki-61 Hien – a fighter that would not look out of place over the skies of Europe.

Kawasaki Ki-10

Kawasaki Ki-10

The story of the Ki-61 can be traced back to the appointment of German engineer Dr. Richard Vogt to the position of chief designer at the Kawasaki Aircraft Engineering Company between 1923 and 1933. During his time at the company he impressed many Western design philosophies on the aircraft he worked on and this left a great impression on his Japanese successor Takeo Dai. One of Vogt’s biggest influences on Takeo Dai and Kawasaki was the belief in liquid-cooled inline engines as opposed to the air-cooed radial designs that prevailed in Japan at that time. This relatively radical approach produced the Ki-10 biplane fighter powered by a license built BMW inline engine but these aircraft remained the exception.

Advances in Europe with such engines couldn’t be ignored forever and in 1935 the British flew the prototype for what would become the Hawker Hurricane for the first time while Germany flew the Messerschmitt Bf109 prototype a year later. Both of these aircraft were fitted with inline engines which gave them performance far in advance of the many radial-engined aircraft then in Japanese service. This resulted in Japanese interest in the Bf109 and plans for an acquisition reached an advanced stage before being cancelled. While they were impressed with the Messerschmitt design they disliked the short range of the aircraft which didn’t meet their requirements for an offensive fighter. They were however impressed with the aircraft’s Daimler-Benz DB 601A engine and so plans were made for a license produced version to be built in Japan and fitted to a Japanese designed aircraft that could meet the Imperial Japanese Army’s requirement for an offensive fighter.

In 1939 the Japanese aviation bureau, the Koku Hombu, issued a requirement for two aircraft to be built around the new engine. The first was to be a high altitude interceptor while the second was to be a general purpose offensive fighter. Takeo Dai went about designing the Ki-60 and Ki-61 respective to these requirements but ultimately the Ki-60 was dropped. Development of the Ki-61 continued but the first flight didn’t take place until December 1941 by which time the engine was falling behind its competitors in the West.

Macchi C.202

Macchi C.202

Even before the aircraft flew Britain’s Royal Air Force began receiving the latest Spitfire, the Mark V, which was designed to address some of the shortcomings of the earlier Spitfires such as Mark I/II. Unfortunately the Mark V will always be remembered as being too little too late for its arrival coincided with the arrival of the “Butcher Bird” – the mighty Focke-Wulf Fw190 over Europe. While it was a poor match for the Fw190 it was still a good aircraft comparable to nearly all other fighters in the European and North African theatres including the Messerschmitt Bf109E  and Macchi C.202 (see comparison here) both of which used the DB 601 engine. The similarity of the Ki-61 to the C.202 was such that Allied pilots actually initially mistook it for the Italian fighter and this in turn resulted in it receiving the Allied codename of “Tony” based on the Italian name “Antonio”.

Early combat experience with the Ki-61 revealed that it was still underdeveloped despite being an improvement over previous Japanese designs that it was replacing. This was especially true in terms of its armament and the designers at Kawasaki went back to the drawing board producing a slightly longer variant with a heavier punch. This “new” aircraft was designated as the Ki-61-I KAIc.

In a fight between the Supermarine Spitfire V and the Kawasaki Ki-61-I KAIc which aircraft had more going for it?


Spitfire Vb

The Spitfire V was powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin 45, a variant of the Merlin XX and came fitted with a single-stage, single-speed supercharger. The engine still lacked the direct fuel injection system of the German engines but improvements to the carburettor did allowed the Spitfire V to undertake negative-G manoeuvres without major disruption to the flow of fuel as had been the case in earlier variants. First production Merlin 45s were delivered in January 1941 and churned out around 1,450hp at 9,000ft, an advance over the Spitfire II/Merlin XII combination of some 275hp, which it translated it in to forward motion via a three bladed propeller.

Despite these advances the Merlin 45 proved problematic in the Pacific theatre. The Royal Australian Air Force found quite quickly that the Spitfire V was a logistical headache in the extreme since the parts for it were built half way around the world. The dust and heat of the outback of Northern Australia was particularly hostile to the Merlin where it went from extreme heat on the ground to extreme cold at high altitude causing numerous breakdowns and leakages thus further straining the logistical chain supporting it.

Kawasaki Ki-61 4

It would be more accurate to say that the Kawasaki Ha-40 engine was a development of the DB 601A rather than a direct license produced version as was the case with the Macchi C.202’s  RA.1000 R.C.41-I Monsone version. While the engine had the same layout and configuration as the DB 601 it was tweaked slightly to better meet Japan’s requirements. Consequently the Ha-40 offered more power at take-off than the DB 601A and was actually marginally lighter. The engine was delayed briefly which meant that the first three Ki-61 prototypes flew with DB 601A engines provided by Germany before the first Ha-40s became available.

Even before the constraints of war with America the engine suffered chronic reliability problems compared to the more reliable DB 601A as a result of infrequent manufacturing practices at the Akashi plant where it was built. The situation was only exacerbated by the intervention of the US Navy’s submarine blockade of the Japanese home islands meaning that production of later Ha-40 engines was often undertaken with sub-par materials sourced in Japan rather than the high quality materials imported from the Asian continent. When functioning properly the Ha-40 produced 1,159hp which turned a three bladed propeller.


Spitfire VB Trop 2

The Merlin 45 pulled the Spitfire Vb along at a comfortable top speed of 375mph at 20,000ft. The dust encountered at lower levels such as during take off or straffing enemy formations required the fitting of a large Vokes air filter that not only ruined the Spitfire’s elegant lines but also incurred a 7-9mph speed penalty. The aircraft had an initial climb rate of 2,600ft/min which increased to over 3,100ft/min above 14,000ft once clear of the thicker air lower down leading on to a service ceiling of 36,500ft. The Spitfire Vb had a respectable wing loading of 27.35 lb/ft2  and had a maximum of 639hp to share for every ton in weight while with a full fuel and weapon loadout this figure fell to 490hp per ton.

Kawasaki Ki-61

The Ki-61 topped out it’s air speed indicator at 367mph at 16,400ft which was still a good figure for the period given that more powerful engines were available by the time the Ki-61 was entering service after its protracted development. It was capable of reaching a service ceiling of just over 38,000ft and had an initial rate of climb of 2,983ft/min which increased around 16,000ft before dropping off again. The Ki-61 had a higher wing loading than most of the contemporary Japanese designs again betraying its Western influence being in the region of 35.5 lb/ft² which was even higher than the Spitfire Vb. With the Ha-40 installation the Ki-61 had a maximum power to weight ratio of 440hp for every ton. When flying under a full load however this ratio dropped to just 330hp per ton.


Spitfire Vb 2

It’s name may have been “Spitfire” but in the early marks, Supermarine’s legendary fighter was barely an adequate gun platform. It’s eight .303 machine guns were spaced out across the wing making it difficult to train them to a point ahead of the aircraft where their collective firepower could inflict heavy enough damage on an enemy aircraft equipped with self sealing fuel tanks and armour. This was why the Hawker Hurricane, with its eight .303 machine guns coupled closely together, was the superior gun platform in the Battle of Britain.

Efforts were therefore made to up-gun the Spitfire by fitting 20mm cannons but early trials were abysmal with the Hispano 20mm cannon proving extremely unreliable and prone to jamming after just a few shots. Nevertheless the RAF persisted and after the bugs had been ironed out cannon armament became the standard on all later Spitfires. The Spitfire Vb was therefore armed with a pair of 20mm cannon each with 60 rounds and these had a muzzle velocity of 2800ft/sec. The .303s were still there however and the Spitfire Vb carried four of them spaced along the wings. There were alternative wing configurations available and some variants of the Mark V were armed with four 20mm cannon mainly in the light attack mission but this didn’t become standard for fighter variants until the last two years of the war.

Kawasaki ki-61 guns

The early Ki-61s too suffered from light armament. The early production versions were armed with two 7.7mm (0.303in) Type 89 machine guns in the wings and two synchronized 12.7 mm (0.50 in) Ho-103 machine guns in the upper engine cowling in a similar arrangement to the Messerschmitt Bf109 and Macchi C.202/205. This proved inadequate against the sturdy American bombers such as the B-17 Flying Fortress and so the Japanese began a series of efforts to up-gun the aircraft including at one point the fitting of German Mauser MG 151/20 cannons brought to Japan by U-Boat.

By the time the Ki-61-I-KAIc appeared the Japanese had settled on having two Ho-5 20mm canon mounted in the forward fuselage position synchronised to fire through the propeller. The Ho-5 was developed from the Ho-103 machine gun which was itself developed from the American Model 1921 Browning aircraft machine gun and as such used belt-fed ammunition that utilised Browning-style steel disintegrating links between the rounds. Each gun was given 120 rounds and these could be discharged at 2,460 ft/s with a rate of fire of 950rds/min.

The wings featured a pair of 12.7 (.50cal) Ho-103 machine guns that each was given a generous 250 rounds each. The weapon could fire put these rounds on to a target at 2,600 ft/s with a rate of fire being 900rds/min. As the war progressed some aircraft saw these weapons replaced by another pair of Ho.5s finally giving the Ki-61 the heavy punch it always needed.


Supermarine Spitfire V 6

The Spitfire pilot sat sandwiched between two fuel tanks; one ahead of the cockpit behind the Merlin engine and an auxiliary tank behind the cockpit. This meant that should his aircraft be hit in either of these areas he was likely to suffer horrendous burns if he didn’t get out quick enough. To that end Martin-Baker, the company that would eventually become synonymous with ejection seat technology, developed a quick release system that allowed the Spitfire pilot get the canopy off in one quick movement and allow him to exit. The fuel tanks featured a rubber self-sealing system that expanded over single small calibre bullet holes but was rendered ineffective if there was a number of impacts.

He was not entirely without protection as he had armour plates behind his seat and head as well as a bullet-resistant windscreen. While the Spitfire was often cited as a delight to fly it was a notoriously bad aircraft to handle on the ground thanks to its narrow undercarriage that raised from the centre fuselage towards the wingtips as opposed to the opposite which was much more common and much more stable on semi-prepared airstrips as was often the case in the Pacific and the China-Burma-India theatres.

Kawasaki Ki-61 2

The pilot of the Ki-61 sat ahead of the fuselage fuel tank while ahead of him was the ammunition feed and storage tank for the cowling mounted weapons. This provided some additional level of protection to the pilot from an attack from the forward hemisphere such as when facing defensive guns on a bomber. This was because there was a lot of objects to get in the way of the bullet reducing how far it could travel through the aircraft. The Ki-61 was one of the first Japanese aircraft to feature self-sealing fuel tanks making it more resilient than many other Japanese aircraft of the period.

The aircraft was more robust than the Spitfire being of solid construction and having a wider set landing gear making it far more stable on the ground. It also made it far more likely for the pilot to walk away from a hard landing such as when occurs after taking heavy damage. The narrower wing positioned more centrally to the pilot as opposed to the Spitfire meant that he did enjoy a greater field of downward view fore and aft although both aircraft had poor rearward vision.


Both of these aircraft enjoyed very brief periods of superiority over their contemporaries before new models rendered them obsolete. Compared to one another they are quite well matched in many respects but each have their own strengths and weaknesses. The Ki-61-I-KAIc pilot enjoyed a certain degree of superiority in performance at lower levels where his aircraft had a speed and climb advantage. Between 15,000 and 20,000ft the two aircraft become more evenly matched while above these altitudes the Spitfire V began to enjoy a greater degree of performance thanks mainly to its larger wing area that produced more lift and the fact the Rolls Royce Merlin was tailored for this flight regime. This is despite the fact that the Ki-61-I-KAIc enjoyed a very slight advantage in terms of service ceiling.

In terms of agility the larger wing area of the Spitfire meant that the aircraft’s rate of roll, especially lower down in the denser air, was behind that of Ki-61-I-KAIc. It did however aid in the aircraft achieving a very high rate of continuous turn and with a higher power-to-weight ratio the Spitfire was therefore more agile in the horizontal plane than the Ki-61-I-KAIc. If attacked the Spitfire pilot’s best defence would be to try to keep turning ahead of the Ki-61 pilot’s arc of fire.

Regarding firepower, even though the Spitfire technically had more guns, the larger calibre of the wing mounted machine guns in the Ki-61-I-KAIc helped negate this advantage somewhat which means that in terms of damaging an enemy aircraft the two aircraft’s effectiveness was broadly the same although with more bullets flying the Spitfire at least had a higher chance of hitting something.

In this instance there is no clear winner as the altitude at which the combat would take place would have a major impact on the aircraft. As always we also have to take in to consideration pilot capability and in this respect the quality of Japanese pilots diminished as the war went on and their situation became more desperate. Another important factor to consider is that the Spitfire Vb was never considered ideally suited for operations against the Japanese given the environment they were expected to operate in that played havoc with it. The Spitfire VIII however was a far superior aircraft and enjoyed far more success against the Japanese although The Spitfire Vs did soldier on until the end of the war in an increasingly diminishing capacity.