Japanese Experimental Transport Aircraft of the Pacific War

Published on
Review Author(s)
Book Author(s)
Giuseppe Picarella
Other Publication Information
Hardcover, 248 pages, period photos, color plates
Product / Stock #
Other 005

The very first thing I would like to say about this excellent book is that the title does it a disservice. This book does a great job covering ALL transport aircraft of the Japanese Army and Navy Air Forces during the Pacific War. In fact, out of the thirteen chapters in the book, only three are devoted exclusively to experimental aircraft.

This book is hardbound and comprised just under 250 pages. Production quality is quite high, and there are photos and nicely-done color plates throughout the book. In terms of content, the first few chapters describe the history of transport aircraft in both branches of Japanese service, beginning in the 1920s. An entire chapter is dedicated to Paratroop and Special Forces operations. Following this are chapters on experimental transports, followed by sections covering both operational and experimental transport and assault gliders. Next comes a chapter devoted to the transport aircraft involved in ferrying the surrender delegations to the Allied forces. Rounding this all out is a chapter on surviving transport aircraft and finally a “photo album” with various snapshots.

The author does a nice job describing the early history of military transport aircraft in Japan during the 1920s and 1930s. There seemed to be little pressing need for any type of dedicated transport aircraft or units, and any demand for such was thought to be able to be provided by the various “independent” airlines operated by Japan in the region. By the time the Pacific War was underway and the demand for aircraft to transport men and material over the vast distances was realized, it was essentially too late. As a result, very few indigenous exclusively-transport designs made it into full production. By far, the most-produced transport aircraft in Japan during this period was the L2D (code-named “Tabby”), which originated as a license-built version of the Douglas DC-3.

A very clear picture is painted of the indecision, and reversal of decisions, surrounding various transport designs. First it was thought that none were needed, then the airlines were thought to be sufficient providers, then it became apparent dedicated transport aircraft were, in fact, needed. Bombers were modified as a stop-gap, then modifications stopped as offensive aircraft were deemed more important. New transport designs often reached prototype stages, only to be modified to handle offensive capabilities, then those modifications were reversed, then entire projects were canceled. All in all, a lot of stopping and starting with little production seemed to be the result.

One chapter each is dedicated to transport aircraft of the Army and the Navy. Each one starts with the early years, then proceeds to cover each type of aircraft operated and the units operating them. Color profiles describe each unit code or symbol. Many photos (some color) accompany the text.

Besides the discussion regarding “standard” transport aircraft, I found the coverage of paratroop and special forces operations to be of particular interest. I don’t think much has been written about this particular branch of the Japanese military prior to this. The same applies to the coverage of glider operations. This part of the book, much like the other chapters, includes many clear photos, color profiles, and some 3-views of the various aircraft. I was interested to read that, as the war progressed, the Japanese experimented with adding engines to their existing glider designs, hoping to create viable transport aircraft. However, this never reached much beyond the experimental stage. This is exactly what the Luftwaffe did with its glider aircraft, but the Germans actually managed to produce these powered gliders (like the Messerschmitt 323 and Gotha 244).

There is a chapter dedicated to experimental transport aircraft for each branch of service. Each one lists, one by one, each aircraft type that made it to at least the prototype (or at least wind tunnel model) stage. Several of these are proposed modifications of existing aircraft (like the “Emily” flying boat). One type that grabbed my attention in here was the L2D5 – a version of the L2D “Tabby” built entirely of wood (save the nose section and engine nacelles). Two of these airframes were built, and one was discovered by Allied forces at Showa Airbase after the war. The fuselage has a squarish cross section and definitely stands out. Photos taken by Allied personnel at this base clearly show this strange hybrid. In addition to the photos, some nice profiles and line drawings highlight the differences between this and the standard L2Ds. Many other aircraft receive similar treatment.

The chapter dedicated to “surrender aircraft” is also quite interesting. The author includes text of the message transmitted to the Japanese Government by the Supreme Commander for Allied Powers on August 15th, 1945. This message describes in great detail the type of aircraft that were to provide transport for the Japanese delegation and how exactly these aircraft were to be marked. The entire mission is described, and many photos (including a color one), as well as a color profile, accompany the text. In addition to the coverage of the surrender delegation that flew to surrender to the American forces (with their famous all-white Bettys), there are also several photos of Ki-54s that flew delegations surrendering to the Chinese. Interestingly, these do not carry any of the surrender markings commonly associated with this period of time. Apparently the Chinese did not stipulate any sort of special markings be applied.

A small chapter after this covers post-war operational use of Japanese transports. There was a pressing need to spread word of the surrender to isolated Japanese outposts and, in many cases, it was more expedient to use existing Japanese aircraft and crews. Japanese transport aircraft and crews were also put to use against guerillas in French Indo-China, often operating in SEAC markings with a British officer or two aboard. Later, these aircraft were handed over to the French.

Appendices at the end of the book list operational transport aircraft, with a full description, 3-views, and photos of each type. Further appendices have more interesting information, such as a translated service manual for the L2D (from Allied Intelligence).

I very much enjoyed reading this book, and was very impressed with the author’s coverage of all things relating to Japanese transport aircraft before, during, and immediately after WW2. The text is quite descriptive, photos are plentiful (including many previously unpublished), and there are some nice color profiles and 3-views to boot. I did spot one or two tiny editing errors, but certainly nothing to take away from the overall quality of the book. My only real complaint is that the title may cause many to skip over this book, and that would be a mistake. Anyone interested in Japanese aircraft of the Pacific War should have this one in his or her library. Trust me, ALL Japanese transport aircraft of this era are well-covered in this book.

Thanks to MMP Books for providing the review copy and to IPMS/USA for allowing me to review it.


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