This is an apolitical forum for discussions on the Axis nations, as well as the First and Second World Wars in general hosted by Marcus Wendel's Axis History Factbook in cooperation with Michael Miller's Axis Biographical Research and Christoph Awender's WW2 day by day.
Delta Tank wrote: It was my understanding that the Japanese Navy only had 1500 qualified carrier pilots at the beginning of the war and that they only qualified 100 new pilots a year. If that is true, accidents, combat, sickness, etc would pretty much destroy that force very quickly. do you have any information on this subject?
R. Leonard wrote: The Japanese Navy had, as near as I can figure, some 3500 “front line” pilots of whom about one half were carrier current, that is, assignable to carrier squadrons. These numbers pretty much correlate with those of the USN/USMC. Just looking at active USN squadrons yields a similar number of available aviators. As far as carrier qualified pilots are concerned, that is a more difficult number ascertain from the sources I have available. I suppose a copy of “Sunburst” might clear some of this up for me, but I have yet to get around to purchasing a copy. USN carrier squadrons, at the end of 1941 only mustered about 580 flying slots in 38 squadrons. USMC VMF and VMSB squadrons probably accounted for another 200-250 readily available carrier qualified pilots. Certainly this was not the total pool of available carrier qualified USN/USMC pilots as it does not take into account carrier qualified pilots assigned to such mundane activities as training and staff positions, as well as land based squadrons. The same would be true of the IJN, there were undoubtedly many carrier qualified pilots not actually assigned to a carrier squadron and so operating. In preparing for the war, the IJN brought it’s operational aircraft up to a level of about 1800 aircraft, with about 1200 of them shore based and 600 ship based (aircraft carriers and battleship and cruiser scouts). If there were indeed only 1500 carrier qualified IJN pilots, then, obviously they had twice as many pilots as carrier pilot slots.
What was the final devastating factor for IJN aviation, both carrier and land based was their inability to make good their losses. While some like to believe that the cream of the IJN carrier aviators were wiped out at Midway, that is not exactly true. The loss of the four carriers in this battle meant that, no matter what, all of their aircraft were lost. So, probably about 256 planes were lost. This does not equate to the loss of 256 pilots; rather, the Japanese only lost somewhat less than100 pilots in the battle, most of whom met their ends aboard sinking carriers as opposed to air combat operations. Where the curve of the loss of experienced pilots started to drop off the chart was in the Solomons where both land based pilots and, thrown in as reinforcements, carrier pilot losses, went beyond the IJN’s training programs ability to replace them with a quality product. The short hiatus from the Solomons campaigns to the Mariana’s allowed the IJN some training and preparation respite, but it really was never enough to build air groups of the pre-war caliber. A substantial majority of these newly trained pilots, along with many of the residual experienced leaders, were lost in the Battle of the Philippines Sea, or as it is known, “The Great Mariana’s Turkey Shoot.” Somewhere (grabbing numbers out of the air because I don’t feel like looking it up) around 325 IJN planes and their crews were shot down, with no hope of rescue for any who might have been able to survive their downing. Essentially, this action eliminated the second generation of IJN carrier pilots and was a blow from which the IJN never recovered.
As near as I can put together, during the course of the war the IJN trained some 24,000 pilots of all stripes. Roughly 18,900 of them, and their pre-war compatriots, were killed, either in action, training, or operationally. Over 2500 of these were killed in suicide attacks.
If you look at USN pilot training, in the years 1925 through 1941 (very few aviators from classes prior to 1925 were still in flying billets by 1941) 7,061 pilots had completed the program. Of these, 44 percent, 3,112 completed the program just in 1941. Those most likely to endure the most of the fighting were those who completed flight training between 1934 and 1941, some 5,687 pilots. How many of these were carrier qualified? I have not the slightest idea; I would suspect certainly a majority, as the USN, especially in the 1930’s, had a habit of moving pilots from one type of squadron to another. In 1942 USN pilot training programs started going to high gear, 10,869 aviators received their wings of gold, three times the number that had completed the program in the previous 17 years. In 1943 there were 20,842 graduates; 1944, 21,067; and with then end of the war in sight, 1945 ended with 8,880 graduates. Thus in the period 1942 to 1945, the USN produced more than 2.5 times the number of pilots as the IJN. And each of those USN pilots went through a program of primary, intermediate, advanced, and, for carrier pilots combat preparation in RAGs before heading west. New pilots were arriving for action in USN carrier squadrons with as many as 600 hours flying under their belts and as much as 200 hours of that in type.
This was a level of training and preparation with which the IJN could never dream of competing. The IJN training programs suffered from an insufficient number of qualified instructors, lack of fuel for extensive flying time, poor maintenance of training aircraft, and shortages of ordnance. There two most critically lacking areas were a continued adherence to traditional adversarial nature of their programs (for every one graduate, there were nine others who did not) and, of course, time. There was never enough time to develop the students’ skills, to practice attack tactics or defensive actions. Most of them arrived in combat squadrons with less than 200 hours in all, by the very end of the war, less than 100 hours. Most had to learn combat skills on the job once assigned to a combat squadron. By then, it is too late and few survived.
Many will harp on the overall superiority of the start of the war IJN carrier pilots. I would suggest that this, too, is somewhat of a distorted view. Popularly, the IJN pilots are given credit for racking up all this great combat experience in China. Well what about this great combat experience? This was exciting work, bombing raids blasting relatively, certainly by later wartime standards, undefended villages, towns, cities and the odd US gunboat. Fighterplane wise, this meant flying strike escort for these mostly unchallenged air raids, shooting up an occasional column of troops or refugees, and, on rare occasions, cornering a bunch of Russian built and Chinese flown I-15 biplanes or a rare I-16 monoplane.
Also, consider that IJN air units had considerably less involvement in China than IJA air units and that virtually all, if not actually all, USN/USMC F4F vs Japanese VF encounters, in the 12/7/41 to 12/31/42 time period, were against IJN VF. This is not to say the IJN flyers had no combat experience, but to posit instead that it was, perhaps, a "lower quality combat experience" than that for which they are popularly given credit . . . really not much more than overly realistic training. The entire argument of the IJN pilots having all this vast combat experience must rest on some fairly unlikely presuppositions, such as: All IJN pilots/air groups went off to China and obtained this combat experience. That all sorties resulted in air to air combat action, all VF pilots received air to air combat experience, and all VF air to air combat experience was obtained flying the A6M2. The extensions of these presuppositions are: all IJN pilots/air groups went off to fight the Americans with no pilot without this experience. There were no PCS transfers out, no operational casualties, no assignment of new pilots fresh from whatever advanced training, and no PCS transfers in from pilots who were busy elsewhere during the China adventure
Significantly, whatever combat experience the IJN pilots did acquire in China would only stand them good stead if the USN pilots flew like the Chinese Air Force . . . which was, most definitely, not the case.
So the popular theory is that these green, inexperienced, fresh from training, USN/USMC pilots faced all these, to a man, combat experienced, multiple victory, mature late 20's to early 30's, rock steady, hardened professionals. Not really true.
The USN/USMC F4F pilots, while not combat experienced, were, in most cases, well trained, well led, and possessed of sound tactical doctrine. Their squadron commanders and executive officers, for the most part, were experienced aviators who had received their wings by the early 1930's, the division and section leaders usually had anywhere from three years to slightly less than a year in type. What do you suppose the USN/USMC pilots were doing while the IJN pilots were cavorting around China ... sitting around on their hands at the Kaneohe, Ford Island, or Norfolk NAS O Clubs? No, they were flying and training, flying and training, flying and training, ad nauseum. They had a good idea who they were going to have to fight, and some, Lt Cdr's James Flatley and John Thach being the prime examples, had a pretty good idea how they were going to go about it.
A shining example of the USN squadrons would be the aviators from one fighter squadron, VF-42, who fought against the Shoho, Zuikaku, Shokaku, Akagi, Soryu, Hiryu, and Kaga air groups, as well as aircraft stationed at Tulagi. VF-42 had spent some 8 months on Neutrality Patrols in the Atlantic, flying F4F's (and before that in its previous identity of VS-41, SBUs) off Ranger, Wasp, and Yorktown before Pearl Harbor. In June of 1941, the squadron was attached to the Yorktown and, with the coming of the war, went to the Pacific aboard her. The experience level for the squadron, reported on 30 April 1942, ranged from a high of 3019.3 hours (Flatley, the XO) down to 274.4 hours (Ens Gibbs, who joined the squadron on 8 December 1941). The average pilot hours for the squadron were 989.4. Note that 3.8 hours flying a day, 5 days a week, for a year would net you 988 hours flight time. In actuality, once assigned to a carrier squadron one could expect a pilot to acquire not more than about 10 hours a week if he really worked at it, or about 500 hours a year. Even in 1945, USN carrier pilots were still only averaging 10 hours a week in operational flying, this during the final July-August strikes. The squadron average, therefore, represents almost two years worth of flying experience.
The squadron suffered no combat casualties in the early raids, in fact, none until the Battle of the Coral Sea, where they lost two planes and one pilot in air-to-air combat. Another one plane and its pilot were lost operationally during the battle. The squadron was credited with 24 victories between 4 May 42 and 8 May 42. A month later, at Midway, where VF-42 pilots made up 64% (16 of 25) of Jimmy Thach's VF-3 pilots engaged on June 4th (and 59% of VF-3, overall), they lost 4 planes shot down and 2 pilots. Of claims confirmed and credited to pilots flying with VF-3 at Midway, 17 of 27 went to the VF-42 contingent. Of a total of 21 pilots assigned to this squadron from 7 December, 1941 to the end of June 1942 when it was disestablished, only 6 planes and 3 pilots were lost in combat. This squadron was one of only two that flew at both at Coral Sea and at Midway (the other squadron being the Yorktown's VB-5, which was temporarily re-designated "VS-5" during the Midway period) and the only US VF squadron whose pilots fought at both battles.
Where the real difference lay, as I am always so quick to point out, was in tactics . . . and this is where the discussion wraps back around to training . . . without training and practice in tactics you are just boring holes in the sky until someone shoots you down. While the USN/USMC VF pilots specialized in deflection gunnery, the IJN pilots, while having some training in deflection gunnery, tended to prefer the high side rear or frontal attack. If their target turned away at the last instance before firing, as the USN pilots were trained to react, the attack was spoiled. It has been said that true deflection gunnery tactics ended forever the concept of the "dogfight" as it had been practiced since WWI. If you do not practice the art of deflection gunnery and you find yourself up against someone who does, you re already behind the curve and in deep trouble. When you add Thach's beam defense to deflection gunnery, you are close to a world-beater. Escorting the Yorktown's VT-3 on its strike on the Japanese carriers at Midway, Jimmy Thach led a 4-plane VF-3 division as cover. After losing one plane (a VF-42 pilot, E. Bassett), in the initial contact with the Japanese CAP, he initiated the beam defense tactic with the remaining three planes of his division. They shot down at least four, and probably five, A6M2's with no further losses to themselves. In the process, they soaked up the attentions of some 12 of the Japanese CAP (almost a third of the airborne CAP) while the SBDs were gathering overhead. The Japanese reported that they had encountered some 18 Grumman fighters in this action.
What was your fathers name and which outfit was he in again. I understand that you wrote a book on the subject what is the name of that book.
Barrett’s “practically wrote the Wildcat book” reference to my father is just a figure of speech. Folks like Barrett, John Lundstrom, Robert Cressman, and others write the books; folks such as my father provide the grist for the mill. So, no, I have not written a book, though the thought has crossed my mind on more than one occasion, especially after long posts.
My father is Bill Leonard who flew in Yorktown’s VF-42 in the Lae-Salamaua raid, the Tulagi raid, and in the Battle of the Coral Sea. He was executive officer of VF-3 at the Battle of Midway and in the summer of 1943 was flight officer and, later, executive officer of VF-11 in the Solomon Islands campaign. An ace, he then spent about a year in ComFAirWest training new fighter squadrons and working with Jimmy Flatley on the revisions to the fleet fighter operations manual. In the fall of 1944, he went back out west as Jimmy Thach’s assistant on the TF-38 operations staff where he stayed until the end of the war. In 1971, he ended up 33 years commissioned service as a Rear Admiral commanding the US Naval Safety Center.
binder001 wrote:Delta Tank wrote: Now back to Halsey. Why didn't he leave some sort of force or at least keep the straight under surveillance? He had a large enough force to leave something there.Mike
There's the million-dollar question! That very subject has been the subject of endless debate and speculation in print and on the internet since the event occurred. You'll soon have a 20-page thread if you go down that path :-)
john becktel wrote:i have a vague recollection of reading somewhere of king being critical of kinkaid's not having scouted the san bernardino strait. can anyone help me with this?
H. P. Willmott has each CVE carrying between 9 -12 torpedoes, between the 16-17 CVEs, that is a minimum of 144 torpedoes. Quite an anti-surface punch despite what most "popular" authors have to say about the battle. Had the CVEs been properly ready to engage Kurita instead of being caught flat-footed, the action off Samar could have been quite the American victory.john becktel wrote:it's a bit of a puzzle because i can't see what kinkaid could have done except perhaps to send the taffy's away and screamed for help earlier. of course it's always nice to know where your enemy is.
In 1942 USN pilot training programs started going to high gear, 10,869 aviators received their wings of gold, three times the number that had completed the program in the previous 17 years. In 1943 there were 20,842 graduates; 1944, 21,067; and with then end of the war in sight, 1945 ended with 8,880 graduates
Rian wrote:In 1942 USN pilot training programs started going to high gear, 10,869 aviators received their wings of gold, three times the number that had completed the program in the previous 17 years. In 1943 there were 20,842 graduates; 1944, 21,067; and with then end of the war in sight, 1945 ended with 8,880 graduates
"Naval Aviator" this is not the same as "Carrier Qualified Pilot". After December 7 1941 C.Q. training (Carrier Qualification) was made on board "lake carriers" - USS Wolverine and USS Sable. But in 1942 Wolverine qualified only 287 pilots and Sable started her duty in may 1943. And was some pilots qualified on board of escort carriers and sometimes on board of operational carriers.
In next years was better (betw. 1942 and 1945 "lake carriers" qualified 17820 pilots).
And remember - not all "Carrier Qualified Pilots" were members of US Navy!! Lot of carrier qualified pilots were from US Marine Corps. Some probably from US Coastal Guard. And some were from abroad (UK carrier pilots for example).
So - how many real carrier qualified pilots entered into US Navy service in 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945????
1930 - 348
1931 - 321
1932 - 168
1933 - 138
1934 - 35
1935 - 100
1936 - 212
1937 - 527
1938 - 543
1939 - 450
1940 - 708
1941 - 3,112
1942 - 10,869
1943 - 20,842
1944 - 21,067
1945 - 8,880
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