P-47D Thunmderbolt vs. KI-43-II Oscar: New Guinea, 1943-44

Published on
Review Author(s)
Book Author(s)
Michael John Claringbould; Illustrator: Jim Laurier, Gareth Hector
Other Publication Information
Paperback, 9 ¾” x 7 ¼”, 80 Pages, 53 BW Photos, 2 Color Photos, 8 Color Drawings, 1 Map, Chronology.
Product / Stock #
Company: Osprey Publishing - Website: Visit Site
Provided by: Osprey Publishing - Website: Visit Site
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This book is part of a series of excellent Osprey Publications dealing with the history of World War II in the air. This volume deals with the conflicts between the Japanese Army, who were attempting to dominate New Guinea early in World War II, and the United States Army, who were attempting to remove the Japanese and send them back where they belonged. Several JAAF units were involved, using primarily the Nakajima Ki-43-II “Oscar” fighter, opposed by the U.S. 5th Air Force P-47D units. This story has not been told before.

The Book

The book deals with the campaigns in New Guinea, and explains the development of fighter aircraft of both services. The Japanese developed lightly armed and low powered fighters which excelled in maneuverability and rate of climb. This had been the emphasis of Japanese designers for many years, and this tradition was carried out in the Nakajima Ki-43. Lightly armed and with no armor protection, the Ki-43’s performed well against older enemy fighters, but they could not compare to the heavier, higher powered American fighters, especially the Republic P-47D “Thunderbolt”. The Japanese Ki-27 “Nate” fighters did very well in China, but their descendants, the Ki-43’s, were at a disadvantage against more modern fighters.

The Japanese occupied New Guinea in late 1942 and established air bases along the North Coast from which to operate against American positions on the Eastern side of the island. However, some of the major Japanese efforts were against Rabaul and Guadalcanal, and the efforts in New Guinea were fairly low key. Originally equipped with Curtiss P-40’s, in mid 1942, Republic P-47D’s arrived in Australia, and these were moved up to oppose the Japanese attempts to complete the occupation of New Guinea. Later in the year, combats between the Japanese Ki-43’s and American P-47D’s became more common, and Japanese losses became a serious problem. One factor in the American effectiveness was their basic formation strategy. American flew in groups of four fighters, with leader and wing man operating as a paired unit, while the Japanese operated in formations of three aircraft, a tactic that had long gone out of style in Europe. The Japanese suffered serious losses, and replaced units with new ones, sometimes made up of pilots fresh out of flight school. Besides air-to-air combat, much of the American action consisted of strafing attacks against airfields and military installations, and eventually, the Japanese base at Wewak was attacked heavily by P-47’s, causing the Japanese to retreat. The term “Wewak” eventually became synonymous with utter devastation.


The book gives a fascinating account of the events that resulted in the American dominance of the area. The design and development of the P-47 is described in detail, and this is compared with the origins of the Ki-43. Each aircraft featured a totally different design philosophy, with the P-47 featuring very high power, heavy armament, and an extremely strong structure. The Japanese Ki-43 was light and maneuverable, but its two 12.7 mm machine guns could not compare with the eight .50 caliber machine guns on the P-47D. Of course, the fact that the P-47D was about 100 mph. faster than the Ki-43 was another factor. Japanese pilots were at a distinct disadvantage.


The book begins with a chronology of the events. Following this is a description of the technological development of both aircraft, and a discussion of the technical specifications of each aircraft. The author then describes the strategic situation in the New Guinea campaign, and the number and quality of the units committed to combat. Several maps are provided for the reader to visualize the geographical factors involved.

Later, the author explains the statistical analysis of the campaign, explaining why the Ki-43’s were destroyed in such numbers, one factor being that many of them were strafed on the ground. Pilots on both sides tended to over count their victories, but the fact that the Japanese employed mainly fighters, while the Americans also operated heavy bombers and other fighter types tended to make the totals a little confusing. Many accounts incorrectly identified aircraft types, and claims were often totally inaccurate. So exact numbers and specifics are sometimes hard to obtain, and much description of the action is speculative.


Although dealing with a lot of inaccurate information, the author still manages to answer the questions “what happened?” and “Why did it happen?” The reader of this book should come away with a good understanding of the campaign, and why the P-47D was so important to American success. Don’t miss out on this one. Highly recommended.

Thanks to Osprey Publications for the review copy.


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