Mitsubishi G3M long-range land-based naval bomber

Three days after Pearl Harbor, G3Ms made world headlines when a force of 60 bombers helped sink the British battleships HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales off Malaysia.

As Bill pointed out.

“G4M1s were mainly responsible for sinking the British battleship Prince of Wales and battle cruiser Repulse off Malaya in December 1941.”

While it’s likely the G4Ms would have sunk the Prince of Wales by themselves, it was a G3M that scored the critical hit on the ship that enabled the G4Ms to complete the sinking.

At the time of its appearance, the Nell was one of the world’s most advanced long-range bombers. It participated in many famous actions in World War II before assuming transport duties.

In 1934 Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, future head of the Japanese Combined Fleet, advocated development of long-range land-based naval bombers to compliment carrier-based aviation. That year Mitsubishi designed and flew the Ka 9, an unsightly but effective reconnaissance craft with great endurance. It owed more than a passing resemblance to Junkers’s Ju 86, as that firm had assisted Mitsubishi with the design.

Successful demonstration by Mitsubishi of its Ka-9 twin-engine long-range reconnaissance aircraft during 1934 led to the company designing and developing a twin-engine bomber/transport under the initial company designation Mitsubishi Ka-15. A cantilever mid-wing monoplane with wings tapering in thickness and chord from wing root to wingtip, a tail unit incorporating twin fins and rudders, retractable tailwheel landing gear and two 750-hp (559-kW) Hiro Type 91 engines, the prototype was flown for the first time during July 1935. A total of 21 prototypes was built (eight with an unglazed nose) and several engine/propeller combinations were evaluated. Service trials left little doubt that Mitsubishi had developed an excellent aircraft with exceptional range capability, and in June 1936 the type entered production with the official designation Navy Type 96 Attack Bomber Model 11, Mitsubishi designation G3M1. This first production version was powered by two 910-hp (679-kW) Mitsubishi Kinsei 3 radial engines and had a defensive armament of three 7.7-mm (0.303- in) machine-guns, one each in two dorsal and one ventral turret, all three turrets being retractable. However, only 34 G3M1 production aircraft were built before availability of 1,075-hp (802-kW) Kinsei 41 or 42 radials gave the promise of even better performance. The resulting G3M2 Model 21 differed from the early production version by the installation of these engines and by having increased fuel capacity. They soon demonstrated their capability, on 14 August 1937, when a force of G3M2s based on Taipei, Taiwan, attacked targets 1,250 miles (2010 km) distant in China, recording simultaneously the world’s first transoceanic air attack.

Subsequent production, which eventually totalled 1,048 aircraft built by Mitsubishi (636) and Nakajima (412), included the G3M2 Model 22 in which the five men crew of all earlier versions was increased to seven to provide additional gunners to cope with armament that comprised one 20-mm cannon and four 7.7-mm (0.303-in) machine-guns; and the generally similar G3M2 Model 23 which introduced Kinsei 51 engines and increased fuel capacity. A number of G3M1s were converted for service as military transport aircraft under the designation G3M1-L, being provided with two 1,075-hp (802-kW) Kinsei 45 engines, and from 1938 about 24 G3M2s were converted for transport use by civil operators, these being designated Mitsubishi Twin-Engined Transport. Two other transport models were produced later in the war, when the First Naval Air Arsenal at Kasumigaura converted a number of G3M1s and G3M2s to L3Y1 Model 11 and L3Y2 Model 12 Navy Type 96 Transports respectively. Both incorporated cabin windows, a door on the port side and were armed by a single 7.7-mm (0.303-in) machinegun. When deployed throughout the war zone they were allocated the Allied codename ‘Tina’, and all bomber versions had the codename’ ell’.

Mitsubishi G3Ms are remembered for their part in a number of important engagements, but almost certainly best known was the attack made on the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales and battle-cruiser HMS Repulse on 10 December 1941, just three days after the initial attack on Pearl Harbor. The British vessels were steaming off Malaya, believing they were out of range of shore-based aircraft, when they were caught by a force of G3Ms with a smaller number of G4Ms and sunk. The type remained in service until the end of the Pacific war, but by 1943 most were being used in second-line roles.

Nells were among the first Japanese aircraft shot down by U.S. Navy fighters at Wake Island. The spring of 1942 then witnessed G3Ms functioning as parachute aircraft over the Dutch East Indies. Within months, however, revitalized Allied forces poured into the region, forcing the slow and under-armed Nells to sustain heavy losses. By 1942 most had ceased active combat operations and spent the rest of the war as transports.



    Prototype with either Hiro Type 91 (559 kW/750 hp), Mitsubishi Kinsei 2 (619 kW/830 hp), or Mitsubishi Kinsei 3 (679 kW/910 hp) engines and glass or solid nose, 21 built.


    Redesignated prototypes powered by Hiro Type 91 or Mitsubishi Kinsei engines, glass nose.

G3M1 Model 11

    Land-based attack bomber navy Type 96 first series model. Major extension of the cabin with a revised cover, some with fixed-pitch propeller, 34 built.


    G3M1 converted into an armed or unarmed military transport version and powered by Mitsubishi Kinsei 45 (802 kW/1,075 hp) engines.

G3M2 Model 21

    More powerful engines and increased fuel capacity, dorsal turret; 343 constructed by Mitsubishi, 412 G3M2 and G3M3 manufactured by Nakajima.

G3M2 Model 22

    Upper and belly turrets substituted for one upper turret, glass side positions, 238 built.

G3M3 Model 23

    More powerful engines and increased fuel capacity for longer range, constructed by Nakajima.

L3Y1 Model 11

    Transport navy Type 96, advanced conversion of G3M1 armed transport, built by Yokosuka.

L3Y2 Model 12

    Modification of G3M2 with Mitsubishi Kinsei engines, built by Yokosuka.

Mitsubishi twin-engined transport

    Around two dozen G3M2 Model 21 bombers convrted for use by civil operators such as Nippon Koku K.K..


    One of the twin engined transports converted to carry out a round the world flight in 1939 on behalf of the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.

Specifications (Mitsubishi G3M2 Model 21)

General characteristics

  • Crew: 7
  • Length: 16.45 m (54 ft 0 in)
  • Wingspan: 25 m (82 ft 0 in)
  • Height: 3.68 m (12 ft 1 in)
  • Wing area: 75 m2 (810 sq ft)
  • Empty weight: 4,965 kg (10,946 lb)
  • Gross weight: 8,000 kg (17,637 lb)
  • Fuel capacity: 3,874 l (852.2 imp gal; 1,023.4 US gal)
  • Powerplant: 2 × Mitsubishi Kinsei 14-cyl. air-cooled radial piston engines, 791 kW (1,061 hp) each


  • Maximum speed: 375 km/h (233 mph; 202 kn)
  • Cruise speed: 280 km/h (174 mph; 151 kn)
  • Range: 4,400 km (2,734 mi; 2,376 nmi)
  • Service ceiling: 9,200 m (30,200 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 6 m/s (1,200 ft/min)


  • Guns:
  • 1× 20 mm (0.79 in) Type 99 cannon in rear dorsal turret
  • 4× 7.7 mm (0.30 in) Type 92 machine gun in cockpit, left and right side positions, and in retractable forward dorsal turret.
  • Bombs: 800 kg (1,800 lb) of bombs or one aerial torpedo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *