Imperial Japanese Army Air Force

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Imperial Japanese Army Air Force

War flag of the Imperial Japanese Army.svg

Identification mark of the Imperial Army Air Force
active January 1919 to September 2, 1945
Country JapanJapan Japanese Empire
Armed forces JapanJapan (war flag) Imperial Japanese Army
Type Armed forces ( air forces )
structure Air fleets
Strength 1940 : 33,000
1945 : 676,863
Headquarters Army Air Force Headquarters, Ministry of the Army ( Tokyo )
Symbol of the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force Roundel of Japan.svg

The Imperial Japanese Army Air Forces ( Japanese 帝国 陸軍 航空 隊 , Teikoku Rikugun Kōkūtai , literally "Air Forces of the Army of the Empire") were the land-based air forces of the Imperial Japanese Army (as Anglicism Imperial Japanese Army ). Mainly the air forces and anti-aircraft forces of the army were gathered in them, but they also set up ground troops and paratroopers for use in the army.

The Imperial Japanese Navy , on the other hand, had its own air forces with the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Force, which were subordinate to the Navy Ministry and therefore operated independently of the Army Air Force.

The " Headquarters of the Army Air Force" ( 陸軍 航空 本部 , rikugun kōkū hombu , English Army Air Force Headquarters ), a "Foreign Office" ( gaikyoku ) of the Army Ministry (also Army Ministry or War Ministry) established in this form in 1925 after several forerunner institutions since the First World War , was in Tokyo’s Hayabusachō district . In 1938 the rikugun kōkū sōkan-bu ( 陸軍 航空 総 監 部 , about "Department of the Inspectorate General of Aviation" ) under the direction of the "General Inspector of the Army Air Force" ( rikugun kōkū sōkan , English Inspector General of Aviation ) established, which was at the same time at the head of the headquarters of the Army Air Force.

Organization and leadership

Air Force High Command

The Imperial Japanese Army Air Forces in Japan had several commanders-in-chief until 1945 , including War and Prime Minister Tōjō Hideki . The Imperial Air Force was subordinate to the Army Ministry, and as Commander-in-Chief of the Army Forces, the Minister of War assumed supreme command of the Japanese Air Force.

Structure in the Pacific War

Before the start of the war, the Imperial Air Force was divided into four air armies , to which air fleets were subordinate to as territorial areas: Air Army 1 (Tokyo) was subordinate to a total of four air fleets that defended the main Japanese islands. The Air Army 2 ( Changchun ) was after the conquest of Manchuria in 1932 in the puppet state of Manchukuo stationed and consisted of three air fleets, while the Air Army 5 , which consisted of four air fleets in the occupied parts since 1935. China was operating. The Air Army 6 , of the two air forces were assumed defended Taiwan , Korea and Okinawa . After the beginning of the Pacific War , two more air armies were set up, the 3rd and 4th , whose four air fleets were stationed in Singapore and Rabaul respectively.

The air fleets of the Imperial Air Force were departments that took on certain territorial tasks and to which a certain number of aircraft belonged. The air fleets consisted of a maximum of 600 machines and several thousand pilots and ground crew men. These soldiers were primarily involved in the maintenance of all facilities and airfields of the Army Air Force. Later in the war, the air fleets, which rose to twenty between 1940 and 1944, commanded the units of the Japanese Air Force at the front. The air fleets were numbered from 1 to 26 (the numbering was not continuous, as some air fleets had previously been merged) and were subordinate to the various air armies, with each air fleet being assigned at least six taxiways.


In the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905, the Imperial Japanese Army used hot air balloons for aerial observation during the fighting . These balloons were mainly used during the siege of Port Arthur and over the city of Harbin , where they could not be hit by the Russian riflemen and the enemy batteries because of their high altitude. In 1910, a few years after the end of hostilities in Manchuria, the Imperial Army acquired its first aircraft, a Farman - biplane , which was imported from Europe. A serious interest of the Japanese Army Ministry in military aviation developed, however, only during the First World War and the aerial battles in Europe. Japanese military observers in France and Flanders quickly recognized the advantages of the new flight technology, which enabled both reconnaissance and attacks against enemy infantry troops to be flown, so that after the end of the war large numbers of Allied aircraft now in Europe, such as the English Sopwith 1½ Strutter , French Nieuport Bébé and aircraft from Société de Production des Aéroplanes Deperdussin were bought by the Japanese army. Some former aircraft of the German Empire were also bought by Japan, including machines from the Fokker company .

Japanese Army Aviation was assigned to its own chain of command within the Japanese Army Ministry in January 1919 . It was not until 1920 that the aircraft of the Japanese troops, during the Siberian intervention, were actively used against the units of the Bolshevik Red Army in the fighting for Vladivostok .

The first Japanese aircraft factory, the Nakajima Hikōki works, was founded in 1918 by Nakajima Chikuhei in Tokyo and Musashino and later built Nieuport 24 and Nieuport 29C1 as well as Hispano-Suiza engines under license. The largest factories were in Tokyo, Ōta, Donryu and Musashino. Later Gloster Gannet and Bristol Jupiter were also built by the Nakajima company. Similarly, Mitsubishi began producing French Salmson 2 bombers, hiring German engineers like Richard Vogt to develop their own products, while the autonomous company Kawasaki built aircraft engines from BMW under license. Towards the end of the 1920s, special aircraft designs were developed in Japan: from 1930 the Nakajima began to build some carrier aircraft for the Japanese Navy, while Mitsubishi and Kawasaki provided other models to meet the requirements of the army. As early as 1935, Japan had a large number of technically sophisticated aircraft that were flown by pilots from the Imperial Army Aviation Academy.

In 1937, with the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War , the Japanese Army Air Force could count on 1,500 aircraft: most of the squadrons consisted of biplanes, but at the end of the 1930s the first bomber aircraft, such as the Mitsubishi Ki-21 , could also be built . During the fighting in China, the Japanese planes often had to fight against Soviet Polikarpov I-16 aircraft . In 1941 the Army Air Force had a strength of around 3,000 aircraft suitable for combat use. In the early years of the Pacific War , Japan continued the technical development and production of advanced types of aircraft and enjoyed air sovereignty over most of the battlefields due to the superior equipment and combat experience of the aircraft crews . In the further course of the war, however, Japan was unable to maintain high production figures due to the increasing scarcity of raw materials and the impairment of the industrial infrastructure by Allied bombing raids on the Japanese heartland. In 1942, around 40,000 aircraft were produced in Japan, while only 23,000 could be completed in 1944. Experienced aircraft crews suffered increasing losses in combat missions. In desperation, the Army Air Force, threatened in its existence, did not shrink back from kamikaze attacks ( Tokubetsu-Tokkōtai ) against the Allied superior forces.


The primary purpose of the Army Air Force in the early years of the Pacific War was primarily to provide tactical close air support to the Japanese ground troops , while at the same time limiting the battlefield . In the final years of the war, however, the Japanese squadrons were used to protect the war industries on Honshu from the American B-29 Superfortress bombers . However, the Army Air Force normally did not exercise any control over the reconnaissance and observation aircraft that were in use for the artillery units. The naval aircraft were also not under the command of the Army Air Force.

Although the Army Air Force also operated a strategic bombing of major Chinese cities such as Shanghai and Chongqing in the early stages of the war , that was not its primary task; it also lacked heavy strategic bombers , such as those later used by the United States Army Air Forces against Japan.


Divisions of the Army Air Force

  • Commander in Chief of the Army Air Force
  • Staff department of the Army Air Force
  • General Affairs and Administration Department
  • Inspector General of Aviation
    • General Affairs Unit of the Army Aviation Inspectorate
  • Department of Education and Training
  • Army Air Force Academy
  • Supply office
  • Tachikawa Army Air Force Arsenal
  • Transport department of the Army Air Force
  • Reconnaissance Department of the Army Air Force

Usage history

Before the First World War , the "Fliegerbataillon" ( 航空 大隊 , Kōkū Daitai ), consisting of two squadrons ( 中隊 , Chūtai ) with nine aircraft each as well as three reserve aircraft and another three aircraft reserved for headquarters, formed the base unit of the Army Air Force. Each of these battalions thus had 27 aircraft.

On May 5, 1927, the " Fliegerregiment " ( 飛行 連隊 , Hikō Rentai ) were introduced due to a reorganization , which consisted of two battalions with up to four squadrons each. Each pilot regiment was a multipurpose unit, consisting of squadrons with fighters and squadrons with reconnaissance aircraft .

At the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, the use of many small units was preferred, leading to the establishment of numerous "independent air battalions" ( 独立 飛行 大隊 , Dokuritsu Hikō Daitai ) or even "independent squadrons" ( 独立 飛行 中隊 , Dokuritsu Hikō Chūtai ) led. Each of these units carried their own distinctive markings.

In August 1938, a complete reorganization of the Army Air Force led to the creation of the " Air Combat Group " ( 飛行 戦 隊 , Hikō Sentai ), which replaced all previous air battalions and air regiments. Each aerial combat group served a specific purpose and usually consisted of three squadrons, which in turn were divided into three " swarms " ( 小隊 , shōtai ) with three aircraft each. Together with replacement aircraft and aircraft for the headquarters, an air combat group consisted of a total of 45 fighters or up to 30 bombers or reconnaissance aircraft. Two or more of these aerial combat groups formed a " flying division " ( 飛行 団 , Hikōdan ), which in turn formed an " flying corps " ( 飛行 集 団 , Hikō Shūdan ) with base and supply units and a number of independent squadrons .

In 1942, the air corps were renamed to "air divisions" ( 飛行 師 団 , Hikō Shidan ) to reflect the terminology of the infantry divisions. However, the structure was retained. Two aviation divisions together with some independent units formed an " air army " ( 航空 軍 , Kōkū gun ).

The Japanese Army Air Force was organized into four air armies for almost the entire Pacific War . Only towards the end of the war there were two additional air armies.

A final reorganization of the Army Air Force was carried out in April 1944. The units for maintenance and repairs, which were previously under a separate command, were integrated into the air combat groups ( Hiko Sentai ). The flying squadrons of the aerial combat groups were renamed "attack units " ( 攻 撃 隊 Kōgekitai ) and the ground units called "maintenance units" ( 整 備 隊 , Seibitai ).

Another change in the final stages of the war was the formation of "special attack units", which were short-lived units with their own names, often borrowed from Japanese mythology or history , and markings, but were incorporated into existing squadrons. These units were specially trained for ramming operations against Allied bombers. As a rule, the armament was expanded and the fuselage reinforced.

In the final phase of the war, the “special attack units” evolved into dedicated self-sacrifice units for kamikaze missions. Around 170 such units were set up, 57 of them by the flight schools alone . With theoretically twelve aircraft per unit, this ultimately resulted in 2,000 aircraft.


In 1939 the Japanese Army Air Force consisted of:

  • 33,000 people
  • Over 1,600 aircraft (including 1,375 front-line aircraft).
  • The planes were spread over 85 squadrons:
    • 36 fighter squadrons
    • 28 light bomber squadrons
    • 20 medium bomber squadrons
    • 2 submarine squadrons

In 1945 the Japanese Army Air Force consisted of:

  • 60,000 people
  • Over 9,000 aircraft (including 7,406 front-line aircraft).
  • The planes were spread over 597 squadrons:
    • 323 fighter squadrons
    • 70 kamikaze squadrons
    • 93 light bomber squadrons
    • 81 medium bomber squadrons
    • 12 submarine squadrons

Army Air Force Arsenal

The Japanese Army Air Force had a technical facility: the first Army Air Force arsenal in Tachikawa , which dealt with research into aviation and its own developments. This also included a test run for captured Allied aircraft.

The Army Air Force arsenal was also connected to the companies Tachikawa Hikōki and Rikugun Kokukosho , which manufactured aircraft for the Army Air Force and were part of the Army.

Army escort aircraft carrier

Due to the poor relations between the Imperial Japanese Army and the Imperial Japanese Navy , the Army considered it necessary to operate its own aircraft carriers as air support for the army's landing operations and to escort the army's transport convoys. These escort aircraft carriers were converted smaller passenger liners or merchant ships. From these escort aircraft carriers, depending on type and size, 8 to 38 aircraft could operate. Since the aircraft were able to take off from the short decks but not land again, the army's carriers were used almost exclusively as aircraft transport ships. These ships were also used to transport personnel and tanks .

These escort aircraft carriers included the Taiyō Maru , Unyo Maru , Chuyo Maru , Kaiyō Maru , Shinyo Maru , Kamakura Maru , Akitsu Maru , Nigitsu Maru , Kumano Maru , Yamashiro Maru , Chigusa Maru , Shimane Maru and Otakisan Maru , who were served by civilian crews . Army personnel operated the light and heavy anti-aircraft guns .

In some sources, the Akitsu Maru and her sister ship, the Nigitsu Maru, are referred to as the world's first amphibious assault ships. B. the Akitsu Maru for landing operations could accommodate 27 Daihatsu landing craft.

Uniforms and equipment

As an integral part of the Army, the staff of the Army Air Force wore standard Army uniforms. Only the uniforms of the flight personnel and the ground crew had sky-blue stripes. Officers wore their insignia on sky-blue patches.


  • Ikuhiko Hata: Japanese Army Air Force Units and Their Aces: 1931-1945. Grub Street, ISBN 1-902304-89-6
  • SL Mayer: The Rise and Fall of Imperial Japan. The Military Press, 1976, ISBN 0-517-42313-8
  • Henry Sakaida: Japanese Army Air Force Aces 1937–1945. Osprey Publishing, 1997, ISBN 1-85532-529-2

Individual evidence

  1. Steven J. Zaloga : Defense of Japan 1945 . 2010, p. 50
  2. Steven J. Zaloga: Defense of Japan 1945 . 2010, pp. 51-55

See also

Weblinks (English)