(03) Fighters over Japan part 1

Color profiles: Janusz Światłoń, text, captions: Leszek A. Wieliczko, Tomasz Szlagor
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Of all USAAF fighter outfits which operated over Japan, the three Mustang VLR (Very Long Range) groups – 15th, 21st and 506th FG – stationed at Iwo Jima, the “Sun Setters” as they called themselves, duly gained most fame. Their component squadrons evolved distinct and colorful markings. In 15th FG, 45th FS sported green/black/green spinners, a green diagonal band with black borders on the upper fin and rudder, and green black-bordered stripes on wings and tailplanes sweeping out and back; 47th FS chose yellow/black/yellow spinners, black yellow-bordered band in the aft fuselage, a black wedge with yellow borders on the upper fin/rudder and black yellow-bordered bands around wings and tailplanes; 78th FS aircraft were marked with yellow/black spinner, black cowl ring and yellow/black tips of the tailfin, wings and tailplanes. Later the markings were simplified. In 21st FG, 46th FS adorned its aircraft with blue spinner, black cowl ring, blue black-bordered tips of wings and tailplanes, and a blue black-bordered band around fin and rudder. In 72nd and 531st FS blue color was replaced by yellow and white, respectively. Also 506th FG chose squadron-specific color markings. These initially comprised angled stripes on the rear fuselage, fin and tailplanes (exclusive of control surfaces), later changed to solid colors; 457th FS used green, whilst 458th and 462nd FS blue and yellow respectively. All VLR Mustangs were P-51D-20/25s in late-war natural metal finish with olive drab anti-glare strips forward of the windshield. Of the 5th AF’s Mustangs that raided Japan, there were 35th and 348th FG. Their P-51s carried black bands around rear fuselage and wings, typical of 5th AF fighters; 348 FG’s squadrons painted spinners and vertical bars forward of rudder in their own colors: 340th FS red, 341st yellow, 342nd blue and 460th black. Also red/white rudder stripes were in use by both groups.
No less colorful were Thunderbolts which saw action over Japan. 318th FG, the only P-47N outfit of 7th AF, initially applied squadron-colored outer thirds of tails and tailplane tips (some squadrons also cowl rings and cowl flaps) – blue for 19th FS, black for 73rd and yellow for 333rd. In June 1945 black/yellow diagonal tail stripes were chosen for the entire group. Of 20th AF, there were three P-47N groups. 413th FG picked up playing card symbols for its squadrons: 1st FS used yellow diamonds on blue tails and black cowl fronts, 21st yellow hearts on blue tails and yellow cowl rings, and in 34th there were black spades on yellow tails and yellow forward cowls. In case of 414th FG, squadron colors were seen on tail units and cowl fronts: yellow for 413th FS, black/yellow checker for 437th and blue for 456th. Lastly, 507th FG used yellow tails and wing bands with blue squadron tail symbols: 463rd FS triangles, 464th single diagonal stripes, and 465th single vertical bars.
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Fighting American B-29 Superfortress
heavy bombers which raided Japan was the top prio­rity task for the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force (IJAAF) in the last year of the war in the Pacific. Their efforts focused on the Kanto region, where the Empire’s capital – Tokyo – was located. This was the task bestowed upon 10th Hikoshidan (air division). Meanwhile the industrial centers of Kansai region, mainly Osaka, Nagoya and Kobe, were to be defended by 11th Hikoshidan. Besides, numerous training outfits were engaged in intercepting Superfortresses, especially the experienced personnel of the instructor divisions (Kyodo Hiko Shidan).
The IJAAF units which formed the homeland air defense system (Hondo Boei Butai) flew both single– and twin-engined fighters. The most common among them were Nakajima Ki-44 Shoki (“Tojo”) and Ki-84 Hayate (“Frank”) as well as Kawasaki Ki-61 Hien (“Tony”). Most Ki-44s and Ki-61s were left in natural metal finish, with black anti-glare strips forward of windshield (in case of Ki-44 the strip also extended behind the cockpit). Fabric-covered control surfaces (ailerons, elevators, rudder) were painted in light gray. Many aircraft were camouflaged by the units which operated them with dark green color on upper surfaces and sides (either solid coat of paint or mottling). In turn, most Ki-84s rolled off assembly lines already camouflaged in solid dark green on the upper surfaces and sides and light gray on the undersides, with black anti-glare strips. From late 1944 the upper and lower surface camouflage was markedly tinged brown.
Japanese national insignia – the red “rising sun” discs (hinomaru) – were painted on either side of rear fuselage and both wings. Against dark background the red discs were usually outlined with 75-mm wide border. Wings’ leading edges, from wingroots to half-length of wing, were painted yellow to facilitate recognition in the air. Additional element, which distinguished the Hondo Boei Butai aircraft, were wide white bands (so-called “bandages”) around fuselage and wings, which formed background for hinomaru markings. Sometimes these “bandages” were applied only to fuselage or to wings.