A blow-by-blow description of the air fighting between Airacobras and Zero-sens in New Guinea in 1942.
The structure of this book is the normal for the Duel series.
The beginning of the book is very good, giving interesting information on the circumstances in which the combatants fought. Both sides suffered from bad food and had severe health problems, but on the Japanese side the situation was worse. On both sides there were severe supply problems and initially both sides suffered equipment and replacement aircraft shortages, but over the time, the massive production superiority of the U.S. began to take effect. The airfield situation was better on the Allies side, being better equipped for the construction, improvements and repairs of airfields. Also they had much better early-warning system, not because they had radar – radar performance was much hampered by the Owen Stanley Ranges – but by the Australian spotter network. To their merit U.S. leaders and pilots heeded the advice given by surviving Australian P-40 pilots, which they had learned by hard way in their previous fierce battles against Zeros over Port Moresby. This was by no means self-evident, e.g. Spitfire pilots who later arrived from Europe to Australia and India did not at first believe the warnings about the phenomenal agility of Japanese fighters to their own cost.
Also interesting is the information that the results of Japanese strafing attacks against Port Moresby airfields were minimal because of the effectiveness of AA defences there. Earlier they had been fairly effective and Airacobras made few fairly successful strafing attacks against Lae airfield. Maybe the USAAF had also learned disperse its aircraft better.
In Chronology it was interesting to note that the first flight of P-39 was within a week a year earlier than that of A6M.
Design & Development chapter is generally good.
On page 13 there are mostly the same interesting quotes from summary reports submitted by several Airacobra pilots in May 1942 on Airacobra vs. Zero as given by Dunn in his research article on http://www.j-aircraft.com site. Claringbould adds some unsurprising Airacobra pilots’ comments on Zeros manoeuvrability and rate of climb. Overall the book contains a fairly reasonable number of recollections and contemporary reports from pilots of both sides.
There are some errors in the technical descriptions:
The reason why the wing machineguns of P-39 were so far out was not the propeller arc but the wing fuel tanks. The propeller arc itself would have allowed clearly more inward placement.
On the ammunition supply of 20 mm Hispano. The cannon in the drawing on page 19 is a Hispano but the ammunition supply looks like that of the 37 mm M4 cannon. It might be that the Hispano used same kind of endless belt magazine as M4 but I doubt that. IMHO it is much more probable that the Hispano used the standard 60 rounds drum magazine used with it in French fighters like Morane-Saulnier M.S.406 and Dewoitine D.520 and the early cannon armed British fighters like Westland Whirlwind Mk. I, Spitfire VBs and very early Bristol Beaufighters. And the 6th Part of Report A.A.E.E./774 BOSCOMBE DOWN Airacobra A.H.573 (Allison V-1710 – E.4.) Weights and loadings data in its paragraph 5. Loading Details under the 20 m/m Cannon Ammunition states: ‘Drum and 60 rds. 54 lb’. I had difficulties to find a good photo of the weapon bay of a P-400 but in the end I found one in the same folder that contains the Report A.A.E.E./774. It shows a normal 60 rounds drum magazine. Also the Soviet technical description had a cutaway drawing of the P-400 which seems to show a drum magazine on the Hispano. And as the 20 mm cartridge was significantly slimmer and significantly shorter than of the 37 mm, it could not anyway use the same magazine than the 37 mm ammunition. The photo of the weapon bay of a P-400 also clearly shows why the British complained about poor access to areas requiring maintenance.
The book shows two rates of fire to the 20 mm Type 99-1 cannon, 540 and 490 rpm. According to Williams & Gustin, the right figure is 520 rpm, 490 is the rpm for the longer barrelled and heavier Type 99-2 used by later A6M models from A6M3a Model 22a onwards. Contrary to Claringbould claim it seems that 20 mm Type 99-1 cannons in A6M3 were still drum magazine fed but used bigger 100 rounds drum, the belt-fed cannon with 125 rounds per gun came later according to Williams & Gustin, Nohara, Millman and Mikesh. Also Kohjiro Funatsu, a former IJN maintenance crew had bitter memories of the 100 rounds ammunition drums of Zero, it was too heavy for easy loading, making loading process very painful.
The specifications figures of Airacobra are identical to those obtained from the official tests of the P-39D A.C. No. 41-6722, which was powered by earlier Allison V-1710-35 but the climb data (5 min 7 sec to 15,000 ft) but this might well be a misunderstanding, in the above mentioned test report the climb time is marked as 5.7 min meaning 5 min 42 sec. Of course it is possible that the author has had access to a test report of a P-39D-2, this subtype was powered stronger V-1710-63, which with 100/125 fuel could produce more power at low level than -35 because it could tolerate higher manifold pressure but its supercharger could produce the maximum manifold pressure only up to 2500 feet so the maximum speed stayed identical. Nevertheless the speed and climb rate were better low down. So it is possible that Claringbould has found a test report of a P-39D-2 showing the time to 15,000 ft as 5.11 or 5.12 min but I somewhat doubt it. Wagner gives for P-39K, which had the same V-1710-63 engine as in P-39D-2 but was 200 lb heavier than P-39D, the same 5.7 min. to 15,000 ft as for P-39D. P-39 D-2 had 121.5 lb heavier basic weight than the plain D according to Dean, so P-39K was not much heavier than D-2, so very probably D-2 had the same rate of climb as K and so the same as the plain D.
Soviet data shows 363.5 mph at 13780 ft with Allison V-1710-E4 powered Airacobra. That means P-400. British test results for P-400 gave the maximum speed of 355 mph at 13, 000 feet.
On A6M3 range, almost all my books on Zero give a different figure for the range of A6M3, Claringbould’s figure is one of the middle ones. Francillon 1987 and 1991 gives normal range for Model 21 as 1,160 miles, the same as Claringbould gives as the range. Francillon 1987 and 1991 give maximum range for Model 21 as 1,930 statute miles; 1987 gives for Model 32 1,477 statute miles, a reduction of 453 statute miles, Noharas figures are 1930 and 1284 miles, a reduction of 646 miles.
The map on page 28 gives according to its caption the strategic situation in April 1942 but e.g. the Gilbert & Ellis Islands were occupied by Japanese in December 1941, Rabaul on New Britain in late January of 1942 and Shortland Islands in Northern Salomons at the end of March, and had at least begun the occupation of Bougainville during March. So Japanese flags should be at least on the Bismarck Archipelago, after all Rabaul had become the Japanese bastion in the area, also on the Gilbert & Ellis Islands, it was already part of the Japanese outer defence perimeter. The situation in the Northern Salomons in early April was more so and so but still the Japanese were already there. The southern part of the Salomons were still in British/Australian hands.
The map on page 30, there is a plenty of room on the map for more place names mentioned in the text, e.g. Rorona airfield, Cape Ward Hunt, Ora Bay and Cape Nelson. In the text it is revealed that the airfield situated to the west of Port Moresby. And Milne Bay is marked a bit too much south. The locations and layouts of the main airfields around Port Moresby are shown on the map on the next page, very interesting piece of information.
In The Combatants chapter on US pilots only the flight time during the advanced training phase, 70 hours, is given, I would like to know their total flight time US fighter pilots had when they arrived to their first 1-line unit in early 1942.
But there are nice drawings of the cockpits of P-39D and A6M2 with the explanations of the gauges and switches shown.
The two short biographies are of 1Lt, later Captain, Arthur “Art” E. Andres and Lt, later Lt Cdr, Shiro Kawai.
This 32-page section is pretty good, the essence of the book I think. And the main reason I bought the book. A bit more on tactics used would have been beneficial, I think. On page 47 in the caption of the diagram it should read that sticking to one’s leader not to one’s wingman was essential in air combat and the caption of the diagram on page 53 should have explanation how IJNAF pilots loosen their three plane shotai formation from the tight British style “vic” over areas where there was a risk of combat. That was because combat experience in China had demonstrated to them that the tight “vic” formation was too rigid and so they had adopted a looser formation whenever they expected action, wingmen, especially No.3, moving further away and higher than the leader and so the formation gained more flexibility.
On 26 May 1942 a P-39 mission was to escort five troop-laden C-47s to Wau. Claringbould describes the combat between escort and Zeros giving claims and real losses of fighters but says nothing on the success or failure of the escort mission, in other words whether the C-47s succeeded to carry out their mission or not.
On 16 June 1942 there was a big air combat over Port Moresby. One can count from Claringbould’s text that the USAAF losses were five Airacobras lost and two damaged with wounded pilots bringing them back to their base, but unusually he does not give the claims. IMHO it would be interesting to know what Japanese claims were during this mission, which produced the heaviest one-day losses for Airacobras operating over New Guinea. Fortunately both Millman and the Pacific Wrecks site disclose that Japanese pilots claimed 17 plus two probables while losing none of their own. It seems that USAAF pilots made no claims. So the Japanese were clearly overclaiming, but by no means outlandishly, bearing in mind that it was rather large air battle, 21 Zeros vs. 32 Airacobras, which took place partly over the sea and partly deep in the Allied territory.
Previously I have seen the P-400 joke more often as ‘the P-400 was nothing more than a P-40 with a Zero on its tail’ but of course substituting P-39 for P-40 is technically more correct and I have also seen it in that form in the past.
Statistics and Analysis chapter
I am puzzled that in the Statistics and Analysis chapter Claringbould at first on page 75 writes that “In 1942 in New Guinea a total 44 Airacobras was lost in combat compared to just 15 Zero-sens, constituting a loss ratio almost three-to-one...”. But on page 76 he writes that of the 44 Aircobras lost in combat in 1942 in New Guinea only 15 were shot down by Zeros. Who shot down the rest, ground fire got some but the first JAAF fighters unit, the 1st Chutai of the 11th Sentai, became active in New Guinea on 26 December 1942 and it did not claim Airacobras during the last few days of 1942. Japanese air gunners seems to have got a few but what about the rest. Did the combat losses include those destroyed on ground by bombing and strafing? But Claringbould notices earlier that the results of Japanese strafing attacks against Port Moresby airfields were minimal. Some Airacobras were destroyed by bombing, that is true but still the figures seem not to add up. And it seems that the 15 Zero losses does not include losses on ground because already the first Airacobra strafing attack on Lae on 30 April 1942 destroyed three Zeros according to Claringbould and according to Tagaya burned one and wrecked another Zero. Lae and other Japanese airfields in the area were also bombed rather regularly. The Zero pilot losses were shown on the Amazon.com page in image 3, which is unfortunately no longer shown. According to it Tainan lost altogether 44 pilots in New Guinea, 13 of them to the Airacobras of the 8th and 35th FGs. Others include e.g. seven to RAAF Kittyhawks, four to B-17 and B-25 gunners, seven to operational causes and five to marginal weather. For the rest either the table was partly blocked so I could not see what happened to them or was it that I just did not write the reasons of the loss of the rest down when I looked the image, I cannot remember for sure which but the reason was probably the first one. From Claringbould’s text one sees that some were lost to ground fire.
And pseudonym Wildcat on the thread http://www.ww2aircraft.net/forum/aviation/p-39-zero-killer-40531.html writes: 'According to the excellent book "Eagles of the Southern sky" by Luca Ruffato & Michael Claringbould, during the period 1 April to 15 November 1942, the Tainan Kokutai shot down 38 Airacobras for a loss of 12 Zero's (1 by collision). These are confirmed victories, not claims.' At first I thought that the figure probably includes victories over Guadalcanal but in another thread, https://ww2aircraft.net/forum/threads/p-39-vs-german-fighters.47960/page-3, Greg Boeser clearly stated that the figure is on the results of combats over New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago. So it does not include losses suffered in the fighting over the Solomons. Altogether according to Boeser, based on Luca Ruffato and Michael J. Claringbould, Eagles of the Southern Sky: The Tainan Naval Air Group in WWII Volume One: New Guinea (2012) the Tainan pilots shot down 81 enemy a/c of all types over New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago, losing 42 pilots to all causes. These 81 shot down aircraft were: 17 Kittyhawks/Warhawks, 38 P-39/P-400s, five A-24s, one Hudson, 10 B-25s, 5 B-26s, 5 B-17s. The Tainan Naval Air Group lost 11-13 pilots to P-39s during this period. This is more or less in line with JoeB’s figures he gave in 2007 in threads https://ww2aircraft.net/forum/threads/how-good-was-japanese-aviation.730/page-12 and
http://www.ww2aircraft.net/forum/aviation/allied-vs-japanese-losses-7203.html, namely: 'stats from Apr 30-June 1 '42, 45 e/a claimed, 37 of them Zeroes, for 26 P-39's (13 pilots) lost in air combat. The Tainan Kokutai lost 11 pilots in this period, w/ the 8th the only Allied fighter unit it faced after May 3.' According to Boesner Ruffato & Claringbould agrees that Tainan lost 11 pilots during that timeframe, but they say that of those seven were lost to Airacobras, two to B-25s and two to ground fire. According to Hata and Izawa the Tainan Air Group lost over eastern New Guinea from April through July 1942 ‘…twenty aircraft that either destroyed themselves or failed to return to base.’ Destroying oneself meant in Japanese parlance either that other Japanese pilots saw that the plane was shot down or that they saw that in a desperate situation, e.g. when his plane was so badly damaged or suffered so serious technical problems that the pilot concluded that his plane could not reach the base he deliberately dived onto ground.
I could have read the book one more time and count the P-39/P-400 losses, but did not bother. Instead I went through the P-39/P-400 losses in New Guinea in 1942 on the Pacific Wrecks site. When it in few cases does not give a clear reason, I checked what Claringbould says. All Airacobra losses are not mentioned on the site. Results were:
P-39s/P-400s reason of loss:
Possibly Zeros 5
Forced landing because of Zero, plane not recovered, so lost 1
Ground fire 3
Friendly fire 1 possible
Probably engine 1
Millman writes that during fighter combats in May and June the Tainan Kokutai accounted 29 Airacobras for the loss of eight of its own pilots. Maybe his source is Ruffato & Claringbould. So it seems that Claringbould’s figure 15 is too low.
According to Pacific Wrecks there is one case in which a P-39 claimed in Eagles of the Southern Sky to be lost over Port Moresby in fact crashed into sea off Queensland.
It is easier to believe that A6Ms had an upper hand, IJNAF pilots were at this stage better trained than their USAAF counterparts and they had already got significant combat experience when for almost all US pilots New Guinea was their first combat assignment. And Airacobra was not in its element in high altitude interception missions. Even if USAAF pilots used more modern finger-four formation, braking up into two two-fighter elements and the Japanese three plane shotai, the difference was not so marked because combat experience in China had taught the Japanese to enter combat in a more open and so more flexible formation. Airacobra was sturdier and had armour protection, self-sealing fuel tanks and a good radio. It also dived faster. It was also somewhat faster at lower altitudes. So at lower altitudes the planes were more evenly matched. Of course at quite low level Airacobra lost its best way to disengage, namely diving away.
The first deliveries of P-39Q were made in May 1943, so the 35th FG was hardly operating them in April 1943, P-39N, which had almost identical performance, was possible, its first deliveries had been in November 1942. Claringbould rightly notice that neither Zero nor Airacobra units could achieve air superiority over New Guinea in 1942 and on the Allies side situation eased when US forces landed onto Tulagi, Gavutu and Guadalcanal on 7 August 1942 and forced the IJNAF divert its resources there. In late December 1942 first P-38s arrived in New Guinea and in late summer of 1943 the first P-47s. He might somewhat underestimate the significance of P-39s during the first part of 1943. But in 1943 the main opponent of the Allies was the JAAF, not Zeros of the IJNAF. At the turn of the year 1942/43 the Japanese Army Air Force had accepted to take the sole responsibility for fighter operations in New Guinea from the badly over-stretched IJNAF. So Airacobra actions in 1943 are not part of the subject of this book. Maybe he mentions these combats briefly in his new P-47D Thunderbolt vs Ki-43-II Oscar NEW GUINEA 1943–44 DUEL 103 book. On the other hand, Claringbould gives almost a whole page of interesting information about the use of the P-39 in 1944 in New Guinea.
Anyway Airacobra had its moments of glory in air combats during the first part of 1943. Stanaway in his P-39 Airacobra Aces and Nijboer write that between February and August 1943 P-39 pilots claimed more than 40 of the 50 kills credited to USAAF units between those months, but this is hardly true because e.g. on 21 July P-38 pilots claimed 21 or 22 Japanese aircraft and 16 August P-38 and P-47 pilots claimed 15, and on 6 February, while Airacobra pilots claimed 11 Japanese planes, other USAAF fighter pilots claimed additional 13. But up to late summer 1943 Airacobras still made some significant contributions in air fighting over New Guinea. During the air battle over Wau in 6 Feb 1943 Airacobra pilots from the 40th Fighter Squadron/35th Fighter Group made 11 claims against JAAF fighters and bombers but during this engagement USAAF pilots heavily overclaimed, making altogether 24 claims, plus 3 claims made by Australian AA gunners, for seven Japanese planes lost. Another important combat was over Tsili Tsili on 15 August 1943 when Airacobra pilots made 14 claims for nine Japanese losses, six Ki-48 light bombers and three Ki-43 fighters, but three P-39Ns and two C-47s were also lost plus a P-39N was damaged and crash-landed at Tsili Tsili Airfield. The latter may have been a written-off because some sources say that four P-39s were lost.
Photos are well chosen, but many are reproduced rather small. Of course this book is rather small and so space limited, maybe some photos could have left out and so create space for reproducing some photos larger. There is a nice aerial reconnaissance photo of Lae airfield taken in May 1942.
Warmly recommended especially as a good blow-by-blow history of the air fighting over New Guinea in 1942.
6th Part of Report A.A.E.E./774 BOSCOMBE DOWN Airacobra A.H.573 (Allison V-1710 – E.4.) Weights and
loadings data. On the front page there is a written archive ID AVIA 18/724 but according to the
database of The National Archives, Kew this folder holds Chesapeke aircraft: performance trials,
Chesapeke, in fact Chesapeake Mk.I, was an export version of Vought SB2U Vindicator. On the other hand
the description of AVIA 18/725 is Airacobra aircraft: performance and handling trials. On the front page
of the 1st Part of Report A.A.E.E./774 BOSCOMBE DOWN Airacobra A.H.573 (Allison V-1710 E.4.)
Preliminary Handling Tests there is a written archive ID AVIA 18/725. But also e.g. on the front page of
9th part of the report, namely Climb and level speed performance there is a written archive ID AVIA
Pilot’s Flight Operating Instructions for Army Model P-39Q-1.
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