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The Japanese High Command realized that the loss of Okinawa would give the Americans a base for the invasion of Japan. Its desperate response to the invasion of Okinawa was to unleash the full force of the Special Attack Units, known in the west as the Kamikaze ('Divine Wind'), in the hope of inflicting punishing casualties on the US Pacific fleet that in turn disrupted the invasion. In a series of mass attacks in between April and June 1945, more than 900 Kamikaze aeroplanes were shot down. Conventional fighters and bombers accompanied the Special Attack Units as escorts, and to add their own weight to the attacks on the US fleet. In the air battles leading up to the invasion of Okinawa, as well as those that raged over the island in the three months, that followed, and in strikes on Japanese airfields in Kyushu (the base of the Special Attack Units), the Japanese lost more than 7000 aircraft both in the air and on the ground. In the course of the fighting, 67 Navy, 21 Marine, and three USAAF pilots became aces, destroying at least five aircraft between March and June 1945. In many ways it was an uneven combat. While many regular Japanese Army and Navy aviators volunteered for the Special Attack Units, a large number of the pilots in the Special Attack Units were inexperienced and only recently out of flying training. They also often flew obsolete aircraft. These less experienced pilots were no match for the Hellcat, Corsair and Thunderbolt pilots who were at the peak of their game. Indeed, many of the latter had been flying fighters for two or more years, and had previous combat experience. On numerous occasions following these uneven contests, American fighter pilots would return from combat having shot down up to six Japanese aeroplanes during a single mission. Indeed, during the campaign 13 Navy, five Marine Corps and two USAAF pilots became 'aces in a day'.
Osprey's study of the B-24 Liberator Units in the CBI Theatre of World War II (1939-1945). The B-24 Liberator was the mainstay of the US Army Air Force's strategic bombing effort in the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theatre from 1942 until the end of the war in 1945. With longer range and a greater load-carrying capacity than the B-17, the B-24 was well suited to the demands of the CBI. The CBI's two air forces - the Tenth in India and the Fourteenth in China - each had one heavy bomb group equipped with Liberators. These two groups, the 7th and the 308th, carried the war to the Japanese across China and South East Asia, flying over some of the most difficult terrain in the world. The 308th had the added burden of having to carry its own fuel and bombs over the Himalayan 'Hump' from India to China in support of its missions. Despite the hardships and extreme distances from sources of supply, both units compiled a notable record, each winning two Distinguished Unit Citations.
During the late 1930s an armament race developed between bombers and the fighters that were bent on stopping them. The development of multi-engined, multi-gun, all-metal bombers forced a corresponding increase in fighter armament which, in turn, led to further attempts to improve bomber armament to ensure its ability to survive in the face of hostile fighters. The US Army Air Corps (USAAC) requested that powered gun turrets be fitted to its two principal long-range bombers, the B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-24 Liberator. In reviewing reports of air combat from Spain, China and the early stages of the war in Europe, the USAAC assumed that the greatest danger to the bomber would be attacks from the rear quarter, and thus took steps to ensure that both the B-17 and the B-24 had tail turrets. A powered turret above and behind the cockpit could deal, it was felt, with attacks from the frontal quarter so that the nose armament for the B-17 and the B-24 consisted of several hand-held 0.50-cal machine guns, but not a powered turret. German and Japanese fighter pilots would soon discover and exploit this weakness. The JAAF's response to the increase in bomber armament was to develop a so-called heavy fighter in parallel to the development of the Army's main fighter, the Ki-43 Hayabusa (known as the 'Oscar'), which sacrificed armament for superior manoeuvrability. Yet the inability of the Japanese aircraft industry to produce these heavier fighters (the Kawasaki Ki-60 and Nakajima Ki-44) in sufficient quantities meant that the JAAF had no alternative but to rely on the Ki-43 to intercept American heavy bombers. Under the ideal conditions that existed in the Burma and China theatres for much of 1943, the absence of escort fighters allowed the Ki-43 pilots to press home their attacks to devastating effect.
From Coral Sea to Midway to Guadalcanal and Santa Cruz, these fighters battled for air supremacy over the Pacific in World War II. The Grumman F4F Wildcat and the Mitsubishi A6M Zero-sen were contemporaries, although designed to very different requirements. Ruggedly built so as to survive the rigors of carrier operations, the Wildcat was the best carrier fighter the US Navy had available when the USA entered World War II, and it remained the principal fighter for the US Navy and the US Marine Corps until the more capable F6F Hellcat and F4U Corsair entered service in 1942-43. Designed to meet a seemingly impossible requirement from the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) for an aeroplane with a speed greater than 300mph, exceptional maneuverability, long range, and an impressive armament - for the time - of two 7.7mm machine guns and two 20mm cannon, the Zero-sen could out-perform any Allied fighter in 1941-42.In one-on-one combat the Zero-sen was clearly superior to the rugged Grumman F4F Wildcat in speed, climb, maneuverability, and service ceiling. The Wildcat, in turn, had better firepower and structural strength but was some 2,600lb heavier than its Japanese opponent, with only 250 additional horsepower; even so, the Wildcat pilots had no alternative but to take on their more capable Japanese opponents until superior American aircraft could be put into production. The battles between the Wildcat and the Zero-sen during 1942 represent a classic duel in which pilots flying a nominally inferior fighter successfully developed air combat tactics that negated the strengths of their opponent.
After Pearl Harbor, the US Navy's VF-9 carrier fighter group formed, seeing action in North Africa, The Marshalls, Kwajelein, Truk, the Marianas Turkey Shoot and on to Tokyo and Okinawa.VF-9 was activated in March 1942 as part of Carrier Air Group (CAG) 9, one of the many air groups the US Navy was hurriedly forming in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Equipped with Grumman F4F Wildcats, VF-9 first saw combat during the Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942, where the squadron engaged Vichy French fighters over Morocco. Returning to the United States, VF-9 became one of the first squadrons to receive the Grumman F6F Hellcat and to deploy on the USS Essex, the first of its class of fleet carriers that would form the backbone of the US Navy's Fast Carrier Task Force. VF-9, the Hellcat, and the Essex all entered combat in the fall of 1943. In the hands of the squadron's pilots, and with other Navy fighter squadrons, the Hellcat proved superior to the Imperial Japanese Navy's A6M Zero, which had heretofore been the world's premier carrier fighter plane. During its second combat tour, beginning in August 1943, VF-9 participated in the initial stages of the US Navy's successful island-hopping campaign across the Pacific. Flying strikes against Marcus Island, Wake Island, Rabaul, the invasions of Tarawa and Kwajalein, and the attack on Truk, VF-9 helped prove the Hellcat as a fighter and supported CAG-9 in its relentless attacks on Japanese forces, helping to validate the concept of the multi-carrier task force and the new carrier doctrine that led to the US Navy's complete defeat of the Imperial Japanese Navy. During its second combat tour VF-9 claimed 120 Japanese aircraft and produced the first Hellcat ace in Lt(jg) Hamilton McWhorter and nine additional aces. VF-9 began its third combat tour in February 1945 aboard the USS Lexington, shifting to the USS Yorktown a month later. The squadron participated in the February strikes against Tokyo and played a significant role in the Okinawa Campaign from March to June 1945. Now equipped with the F6F-5 Hellcat, the squadron claimed 130 Japanese aircraft shot down. Ten VF-9 pilots became aces during the campaign, most notably Lt Eugene Valencia, who ended the war as the second highest scoring Hellcat ace and tied with Lt Cecil Harris as the US Navy's second highest scoring ace overall with 23 victories. Valencia's division became famous as the most successful fighter team in the US Navy during World War 2, claiming a combined total of 43 Japanese aircraft. In addition VF-9 had one of the US Navy's few nightfighter aces in Lt(jg) John Orth, who flew an F6F-5N Hellcat.
In the key Pacific War battles of the Marianas Turkey Shoot, Leyte Gulf, and in and around Japan itself (from late 1943 through to VJ-Day) the principal fighters involved were the F6F Hellcat and the A6M5/7 Zero-sen. The former was Grumman's successor to the pugnacious Wildcat, and its creation was shaped by the combat experiences of Naval Aviators flying the F4F against the A6M2/3 Zero-sen from late 1941. Blooded in combat against the Japanese in August 1943, the Hellcat went on to serve as the principal US Navy fighter on board carrier decks until war's end. Despite its lethality in the air when ranged against the best Japanese fighters, the Hellcat still retained docile handling qualities around the carrier deck. Naval Aviators flying the Hellcat claimed in excess of 5,000 kills in the Pacific, and more than 300 pilots achieved ace status on the type. The majority of these victories took the form of A6M5 Zero-sens, the most-produced model of the final Mitsubishi fighter - some 6000 were built from late 1943 through to war's end. The A6M5 reached front-line units just as the Hellcat was making its combat debut, the new version of the Zero-sen being based on the previous A6M3 model but with modified flaps and ailerons and thickened wing skinning. It was only meant to be an interim design pending the arrival of the A7M Reppu and J2M Raiden. However, terminal development problems with the former and technical issues with the latter meant that the A6M5, and re-engined limited run A6M7 (150 built), had to hold the line through to September 1945. By now badly outclassed by the Hellcat, literally thousands of Zero-sens fell victim to US Navy fighter squadrons in the final years of the war.
Merrill's Marauders were the first American Army infantry unit to fight in the China-Burma-India theater, and one of the most renowned units to come out of World War II (1939-1945). The Marauders established a lasting reputation for hard fighting and tenacity in the face of adversity, combating a determined enemy, some of the most difficult and disease-ridden terrain in the world, and a seemingly indifferent higher command. Pushed beyond the limit of their endurance, at the end of nearly six months of operations behind Japanese lines, the remaining Marauders were withdrawn from combat after suffering over 90% casualties. Because of its courageous actions, the unit received the very rare honor of having every member presented with a Bronze Star for gallantry. This book explores the creation, training and combat experiences of the Marauders, one of the most famous units in the US Army's roll of honor.
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