Mitsubishi Babs: The World's First High-Speed Strategic Reconnaissance Aircraft, Volume 1

Published on
December 21, 2022
Review Author(s)
Book Author(s)
Giuseppe Picarella; Showzow Abe; Illustrators: Giuseppe Picarella; Editor: Roger Wallsgrove
Other Publication Information
Hard Cover, Square Bound, A4 [8.63” x 12”], 192 pages
Company: Stratus
Provided by: Casemate Publishers - Website: Visit Site

Stratus and MMP Books are two closely cooperating publishing houses offering history and modeling books. In their range you will find publications in English (some of them with a Polish insert) and in Polish.

Giuseppe (Joe) Picarella has worked within the aerospace industry for more than 30 years, producing many of the iconic cutaway illustrations that serve to chart the technical development of contemporary aviation. While his day-to-day job at The Cutaway Company brings him into contact with the most modern and diverse aerospace projects, he has devoted more than 35 years of his life to restoring and researching WWII Japanese aircraft. In addition to writing, lecturing and presenting on the subject, he also acts as the Japanese aviation consultant to numerous museums and private collections around the world, including the Royal Air Force Museum and the Imperial War Museum. A member of the Royal Aeronautical Society and pilot, he and his wife operate an original 1942 Piper L-4B Grasshopper liaison aircraft in the southwest of England, where they support WWII historic, educational, and commemorative events.

Showzow Abe began his career as an aeronautical engineer in 1950s Japan, which brought him into contact with many of the actual people involved in Japan’s early and wartime aeronautical history. Throughout his working career he found time to write aviation articles and collaborate on major book projects, in both Japanese and English, right up until his passing in 2019.

Giuseppe (Joe) Picarella opens up with a summary of Japanese manufactured land-based reconnaissance aircraft from the 1911 PMBRA Kaishiki Number 1 to the adoption of the Mitsubishi Ki-15. Part of the difficulty that the Ki-15 faced was the basic concept of a high-speed reconnaissance aircraft. The Nakajima Ki-8 Two-seat Fighter represents some of this difficulty. The transition from ‘slower’ biplanes to ‘faster’ monoplanes was a tough sell, especially when the ‘faster’ monoplanes weren’t that much faster. Page 46 shows off the Nakajima Army Experimental concept with four photographs. Unfortunately for Nakajima, Mitsubishi’s Ka-14 (A5M Claude) was already notably faster. The Mitsubishi Ki-15 managed to get authorization to go forward with two prototypes, but part of the specifications was it had to be as fast as the Ka-14 / A5M fighter, or 270 mph. The prototype actually achieved 299 mph which helped seal the deal.

Still the military was not rushing to a decision on the Ki-15 or the concept of a fast reconnaissance platform. Seemingly out of the blue, a spokesman from Asahi newspaper proposed a flight from Tokyo to London to bring the newspaper some good news. This was good fortune for Mitsubishi since the Army was wavering. Touting national pride, Asahi Press and Mitsubishi gained the Army’s approval and modifications began. Page 77 shows off three clear black and white photographs of the second prototype, named Kamikaze and wearing the code J-BAAI. The top photograph shows Kamikaze during flight tests and prior to the blue flash was painted on her cowling and upper fuselage. The lower two photographs show Kamikaze after landing at Croydon Aerodrome where the blue flash is quite evident.

The Tokyo to London flight helped move the Army forward on production of the Ki-15, however, the start of the China-Japan War a few weeks later secured it. Unfortunately, the Army only had three prototypes available. These three airframes were sent to China as a test detachment. The first operational mission was achieved on July 24th, 1937, with a reconnaissance mission over Jinan Airfield. Giuseppe (Joe) Picarella dives in deep into the operational use of the Ki-15 and provides details on unit markings in period photographs and color illustrations. A great example is shown on Page 106 with color illustrations of the tiger emblem used by Aoki-Tai / Rinji 1st Dokuritsu Chutai / 18th Dokuritsu Chutai. Page 139 depicts the Chrysanthemum marking, possibly from the 13th Sentai, in color profile as well as the reference black and white photograph. Training squadrons are included as well as shown on Page 181, in this case, the Tokorozawa Army Aviation School. The top photograph shows an early Ki-15-I as the constructor’s number 131 designates this airframe as the 31st built. There seems to be no shortage of supervision in either photograph.

The book is a nice hardbound, with a glossy cover, and 192 pages on high-quality stock. The front cover features a black and white photograph of the Mitsubishi Ki-15 Karigane (Wild Goose) second prototype that was bought by the Asahi newspaper, Asahi Shimbun. Registered as J-BAAI and named Kamikaze (East Wind), it set a world record by flying from Tokyo to London for King George VI’s coronation. This success helped sell some Ki-15s to civilian customers. I counted 125 black and white period photographs to go with an additional 2 color pictures. There is a color map of the Asahi Press Kamikaze Tokyo to London record flight. Giuseppe (Joe) Picarella provides the color illustrations, including 68 color side profiles [in 1/48 and 1/72 scale) along with 224 scrap color illustrations highlighting unit or aircraft specific markings. The following sections are addressed:

  • Introduction and Acknowledgements
  • Notes
    • Army Designation System
      • Kitai Numbers
      • Army Type Numbers
      • Specific Notes on Ki-15 Kitai and Army Type Numbers
      • Early and Late Model Airframes
    • Navy Designation System
      • Shisaku Numbers
      • Short Designations
      • Navy Type Numbers
      • Version 1 and Version 2
      • Popular Names
      • Civilian Names
      • Allied Codenames
      • Aircrew and Terminology
      • Operational and Training Units
  • Chapter 1: Japanese Land-Based Reconnaissance Aircraft 1911-1935
    • PMBRA Kaishiki No. 4
    • PMBRA Seishiki-3, Tokorozawa Koshiki-1 Experimental Reconnaissance Aircraft
    • Tokorozawa and Kawasaki Type-Otsu 1 Reconnaissance Aircraft
    • Tokorozawa Koshiki A-3 Long-Range Reconnaissance Aircraft
    • Nakajima/Breguet 19-A2
    • Ishikawajima T-2 Experimental Reconnaissance Aircraft
      • Definition
      • Performance Parameters and Specialized Equipment
    • Mitsubishi Tobi-Type Reconnaissance Aircraft - 2MR1
    • Nakajima Experimental N-35 Reconnaissance Aircraft
    • Kawasaki Army Type-88 Reconnaissance Aircraft – KDA-2
    • Ishikawajima T-3 Experimental Reconnaissance Aircraft
    • Mitsubishi Experimental Short-Range Reconnaissance Aircraft - 2MR7
    • Kawasaki Experimental KDA-6 Reconnaissance Aircraft / A-6 Communications Aircraft
    • Mitsubishi Army Type-92 Reconnaissance Aircraft - 2MR8
    • Nakajima / Fokker Navy Reconnaissance Aircraft – C2N1
    • Kawasaki C-5 Communications Aircraft
    • Mitsubishi Navy Experimental 8-Shi Special Reconnaissance Aircraft – Ka-9 (G1M1)
    • Nakajima Army Type-94 Reconnaissance Aircraft – Ki-4
    • Japanese Land Based Reconnaissance and High-Speed Communications Aircraft…[Table]
  • Chapter 2: Made in Japan
    • The State-of-the-Art – The Right Time
    • Navy Experimental 7-Shi Carrier Fighter
      • Mitsubishi 1MF10 – Navy Experimental 7-Shi Carrier Fighter [Table]
    • Navy Experimental 8-Shi Special Reconnaissance Aircraft
    • Navy Experimental 9-Shi Single-Seat Fighter
    • Ka-14 and A5M1 Engine Development [Table]
    • Mitsubishi Ka-14 – Navy Experimental 9-Shi Single-Seat Fighter [Table]
    • Kagamigahara Army Airfield – The Right Place
    • Serendipity – The Right People
    • Babs Biographies: Fumihiko Kauno 1896-1982
  • Chapter 3: Strategic Reconnaissance – Uncharted Territory
    • The Status Quo
      • Heinkel He 119
    • A Cool Reception
    • Nakajima DF – Army Experimental Ki-8 Two-Seat Fighter [Page 046]
    • Ki-15 – Cautious Approval
      • Definition
      • Performance Parameters and Specialized Equipment
    • Development
    • Clean Lines
      • Mitsubishi Ki-15 Specifications and Performance [Table]
      • 1936 International Air Race Figures [Table]
      • Fighter Performance Figures in China and Manchuria 1932 to 1939 [Table]
    • Cautious Acceptance
    • Babs Biographies: Yuuzou Fujita 1898-1939
  • Chapter 4: Kamikaze Flight
    • The World Stage
    • Playing for Time
      • Tokyo to Rome Goodwill Flight
  • From Reporting the News to Making the News
    • Babs Biographies: Masaaki Linuma 1912-1941 – Part 1
    • Babs Biographies: Kenji Tsukagoshi 1900-1943 – Part 1
  • Tokyo to London Flight
    • Asahi Press : Kamikaze: Tokyo to London Record Flight [Table]
    • Planning
    • Success, Fame and the Return Flight [Page 077]
      • Colour Scheme and Markings
    • Other Karigane Aircraft
    • Colour Scheme and Markings
    • Mitsubishi Karigane-1 and Karigane-II Aircraft [Table]
  • Chapter 5: Changing the Rules of the Game
    • Back to School
    • Reconnaissance Duties Over China Part-I
    • Ki-15 Debut
      • Aoki-Tai – Aoki Unit
        • Colour Schemes and Production Markings
        • Camouflage and Combat Markings
        • Unit Markings
        • White Identification Bands
        • Camouflage
        • Later Variations
        • Civilian Karigane
    • Aoki-Tai – Rinji 1st Dokuritsu Chutai – 18th Dokuritsu Chutai [Page 106]
    • 2nd Sentai
    • 16th Dokuritsu Chutai
    • 17th Dokuritsu Chutai
    • 15th Sentai
    • 83rd Sentai
      • Central China Area [Table]
      • South China Area [Table]
      • North China Area [Table]
    • 10th Sentai
    • Ki-15 Command and Control Operations
  • Reconnaissance Duties Over Manchuria 1937 to 1939
    • Manchuria – Training Ground for Reconnaissance Operations
    • The Development of Aerial Reconnaissance and Co-Operation Missions
    • Combat with the Soviet Union
    • The Development of Reconnaissance Units
      • Direct Support- Command Liaison
      • Army Reconnaissance
      • Command Reconnaissance
    • Ki-15-II Development
      • Colour Scheme and Markings
    • The Nomonhan Incident May 11th to September 18th 1939
    • Phase I
      • 28th Sentai
      • 29th Sentai
    • Phase II
      • Japanese Reconnaissance Aircraft Losses During the Nomonhan Incident [Table]
    • Manchuria and Korea Operations 1939-1945
      • 13th Sentai [Page 139]
      • 81st Dokuritsu Chutai
      • 63rd Dokuritsu Chutai
      • 70th, 74th, and 76th Dokuritsu Chutai
      • 2nd Hikodan or 2nd Dokuritsu Chutai
    • Reinventing the Wheel – August 1939
    • Mitsubishi Ki-15-III
    • Reconnaissance Duties Over China Part-II
      • 90th Sentai
      • 44th Sentai
      • 65th Sentai
    • French Indochina
      • Clandestine Flights
      • Prelude to Air Operations in the Southern Area
      • 81st Sentai
      • Army and Navy Agreement on Air Operations in the Singapore Area
      • 50th, 51st, and 55th Dokuritsu Chutai
    • Reconnaissance Duties in the Pacific War
      • Malaya and Thailand
      • Damaged and Replaced Aircraft of the 3rd Hikodan, During the Malaya Operations [Table]
      • Babs Biographies: Masaaki Linuma 1912-1941 Part 2
      • Burma
      • Sumatra and Java
      • Philippines and Burma
      • 8th Sentai
      • Solomons
      • Changin of the Guard
    • Home Islands and Brigade Command Reconnaissance Companies
      • 19th Dokuritsu Chutai
      • 101st Dokuritsu Chutai
      • 102nd Dokuritsu Chutai
      • 103rd Dokuritsu Chutai
      • Hikodan Shireibu Teisatsu Chutai
      • 16th Hikodan Shireibu Teisatsu Chutai
      • 17th Hikodan Shireibu Teisatsu Chutai
      • 18th Hikodan Shireibu Teisatsu Chutai
      • 19th Hikodan Shireibu Teisatsu Chutai
    • Flying Aviation and Technical Schools
      • Rikugun Hiko Gakko and Kyoda Hikoshidan Hikotai
      • Shimoshizu Rikugun Hiko Gakko
      • Star of the Silver Screen
      • Hamamatsu and Mito Rikugun Hiko Gakko
      • Tachikawa Koku Gijutsu Gakko
      • Tokorozawa Rikugun Koku Gakko and Rikugun Hiko Gakko [Page 181]
      • Kumagaya Rikugun Hiko Gakko
      • 1st Yasen Hoju Hikotai
      • Operational Deployment of Ki-15 Aircraft [Table]
      • Babs Biographies: Kenji Tsukagoshi 1900-1943 – Part 2
  • Succession and Extinction
  • Postwar
    • Japan
    • Korea
    • South East Asia
    • China

One topic that I really enjoyed was early on, in the Notes section. Giuseppe (Joe) Picarella has been able to explain the Japan Army and Navy method to designation that is absolutely the clearest I have ever come across. I also quite enjoyed the details of the Tokyo to London flight. The inclusion of first-person accounts brings you closer to the action. A third feature was the inclusion of the Babs Biographies. This was a great introduction to the key players in the development and operation of the Mitsubishi Ki-15 Babs, especially the pilot and navigator of Kamikaze, Masaaki Linuma and Kenji Tsukagoshi, respectively.

I was extremely impressed with the coverage and quality of this title. Giuseppe (Joe) Picarella has a very readable style that made this first volume a joy to dive into. This is an incredible tome that is valuable to both the aviation historian and the modeler of the Mitsubishi Ki-15 Babs. I am looking forward to Volume II from Giuseppe (Joe) Picarella.

Speaking of modeling, there is no shortage of Babs kits in 1/72 scale with kits from LS (ARII and Micro Ace), Mania (Hasegawa), allowing one to build the Ki-15-I and Ki-15-II, along with the record holder “Kamikaze” and her back up “Asakaze”. Marusan (UPC) has had several releases in 1/50 scale, including markings for “Kamikaze”. Fine Molds in 1/48 scale is probably the newest release with a new tool in 2018 of a C5M2 Babs. This release was followed up with a Ki-15-I with “Tiger Troops” markings as well as a Ki-15-II with markings for the 8th Flight Regiment. Finally, a fourth release covers the Ki-15 Karigane with “Kamikaze” markings. There is also no shortage of canopy masks available, in both 1/48 and 1/72 scales as well as other detail parts.

My thanks to Giuseppe (Joe) Picarella, Casemate, Stratus, and IPMS/USA for the chance to review this excellent book.

Highly recommended!


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