Japanese Army Air Force – China 1942




During early 1942, the enemy gradually strengthened its air forces in south China, especially around Hengyang and K’weilin. Also, aerial pictures taken by the 1st Air Brigade in late March showed that the runways on Chuhsien, Lishui and Yushan airfields had been increased from 700 meters to 1,500 meters; that ammunition and fuel were gradually being accumulated and that additional installations were being built. Furthermore, an airfield had been constructed at Chienou. This work was carried out under the protection of fighters that flew almost daily from Hengyang and Kweilin.

In early April, the 1st Air Brigade (using about 50 planes, including fighters and reconnaissance planes) attacked and destroyed a newly built enemy airfield in the Chekiang sector, destroying the runways and the majority of installations. Although the Brigade repeated these attacks again and again, each time the enemy succeeded in rebuilding the field.

Imperial General Headquarters foreseeing that airfields in the Chekiang area could be used to advantage by the enemy as terminals in raids against Japan from air bases and carriers in the Pacific, as well as from other bases on continental China, ordered the China Expeditionary Army to destroy enemy air bases in the Chekiang area.

On 16 April, Imperial General Headquarters drafted an operation-al plan, an extract from which read:

Objective: The primary mission will be to defeat the enemy in the Chekiang area and to destroy the air bases from which the enemy might conduct aerial raids on the Japanese Homeland.

It further stated that the new enemy airfields and their attach-ed installations were being skilfully camouflaged and decentralized and that they should be sought out and destroyed. On 20 April, a further directive was issued stating:

The Air Forces of the United States, Britain and China will seek bases in China from which to bomb Japan. They may also attempt to carryout air raids on Japan from Midway, Morell, the Aleutians and from aircraft carriers, in which event the logical terminal would be airfields in Chekiang Province.

Air and ground units will be employed to capture and secure airfields in the vicinity of Lishui, Chuhsien and Yushan. Other airstrips in Chekiang Province will be neutralized by our air units at an opportune time.

Consideration will be given as to whether certain air bases, together with the accompanying military installations and important lines of communication, will be destroyed completely or whether they will be occupied for a certain period of time.

In order to reinforce the 1st Air Brigade during its attacks against the airfields in Chekiang Province, in early April the Southern Army was directed to send the 62d Air Regiment (28 heavy bombers)and the 90th Air Regiment (20 light bombers) to central China.

On 30 April, Imperial General Headquarters ordered the Chekiang-Kiangsi Operation to be undertaken at the earliest possible date. The operation proceeded smoothly with the 1st Air Brigade cooperating with the ground units when required. Not only did the Brigade sup-port the ground forces by bombing the opposing forces but its reconnaissance planes greatly assisted the operation by supplying information in regard to enemy ground movements, positions and strength.

Subsequent to the occupation of the captured areas, by mid-August units of the 13th Army had destroyed the Yushan, Chuhsien and Lishui airfields. The enemy, however, continued to reinforce their air force around Hengyang and Kweilin and, with the withdrawal of the Eleventh and Thirteenth Armies, it was feared that using air-fields in Kiangsi and western Chekiang Provinces as staging areas, they would bomb the Homeland. The 1st Air Brigade, therefore, in spite of the fact that its fighting strength was gradually diminishing, repeatedly attacked and damaged airfields in this area.

In order to strengthen the air force in China, Imperial General Headquarters ordered the return of the 3d Air Division Headquarters from Singapore. The Headquarters (which had been reorganized from the 3d Air Group on 10 June) arrived at Canton on 6 August and was again placed under the command of the Commander in Chief of the China Expeditionary Army.

While the 3d Air Division cooperated with the operations of the various ground forces in China, at the same time, in order to destroy the enemy air forces which had advanced to Hunan and Kwangsi Provinces, it disposed the air units as follows:

The commander of the 1st Air Brigade was ordered to advance to Canton and, using the main strength of the 18th Independent Squadron, the 24th Air Regiment and the 10th Independent Air Squadron, to destroy the enemy advancing into Hunan and Kwangsi Provinces as soon as possible. Should this prove impossible, this force, using airfields in the Wu-Han area, was to conduct sneak attacks against Chungking.

The 44th Air Regiment (three Type 97 Headquarters reconnaissance planes and a squadron of the 54th Air Regiment attached) using Nanchang as its base, was charged with the responsibility of reporting the movements of the enemy at the main airfields in Kiang-si, Fukien and Chekiang Provinces and crushing the enemy’s attempt to attack Japan from the air. It was also, at the appropriate time, to cooperate with the Eleventh Army’s operations.

The 65th Air Regiment (83d Independent Squadron attached) using Hang chou as its base, was to cooperate immediately with the Thirteenth Army’s operation while the 206th Independent Air Unit, from Yangchu, was to cooperate directly with the North China Area Army’s operation. The 54th Air Regiment (minus one squadron) was responsible for the air defense of the Wu-Han sector.

The 90th Air Regiment was to continue night training at Peipingand Licheng while the 16th Air Regiment, upon its arrival in China from the Philippines, was to conduct night training exercises at Hsinhsiang and Anyang.

The 29th Independent Air Unit was scheduled to be returned to Manchuria within a short time.

About the end of August, the 55th Independent Squadron (Head-quarters reconnaissance planes) and the 33d Air Regiment (fighters) arrived in China. The former unit was engaged in taking aerial pictures of the interior of China from its base at Kingmen, while the latter attacked the Kweilin-Liuchowhsien area from its base at Canton.

Toward the middle of September, the 65th Air Regiment which had suffered heavy casualties, was ordered back to Manchuria.

Although the 3d Air Division made every effort to fulfil its mission of destroying the enemy air force based at Kweilin, Hengyang and Lingling, the enemy refused to engage in a decisive battle.

Tactical Command of Imperial General Headquarters

On 10 December, Imperial General Headquarters notified the China Expeditionary Army that the future policy and conduct of operations in China was being carefully studied. Before defining the policy, however, grave consideration would have to be given to the situation of the Japanese Army in all theaters, as well as the shortage of shipping and war materiel. Aerial operations were to be carried out as the situation demanded and every effort was to be made to destroy the rapidly increasing enemy air forces. The conduct of future operations in China could not be planned in detail, however, until the successful completion of the first phase of operations in the Pacific.

Preparations were to be undertaken for air operations in China after the spring of 1943 when every effort was to be made to crush the enemy air force. In the meantime, air operations were to be conducted in accordance with the changes in the situation within their present boundaries.

The China Expeditionary Army was directed to carefully study the situation and to arrange for the use of Type 2 single seater-fighters on at least one of each of the front line airfields in north, central and south China as promptly as possible.

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