Aviation of Word War II

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Kokusai Ki-76. Combat Use

Kokusai Ki-76

Ki-76 aircraft were quite widespread in the army. The Japanese cars that caught the eye of American intelligence received the code designation "Stella" from the Allies. Unfortunately, there are not many details of their use - these aircraft remained in the shadow of the first-line machines. As artillery spotters, Ki-76s entered separate units (shotai) and separate squadrons (dokuri hikochutai) of short-range reconnaissance, in addition, Ki-76s often served as personal transports for army command personnel, were used as liaison officers who were operationally subordinate to ground military units of the level regiment and even battalion. There were Ki-76s assigned to artillery brigades, infantry regiments and even tank units. Defensive armament, represented by a single pivot 7.7-mm Te-4 machine gun, which was more of a psychological factor for a slow-moving vehicle, was often not installed.

A little more details about the use of the Ki-76 as a carrier-based anti-submarine patrol aircraft.

The pronounced antagonism between Japanese army and navy structures is well known. And at the beginning of 1944, it reached, perhaps, its climax, when the army command ordered the conversion of several landing transports into escort aircraft carriers. At first glance, a completely illogical decision was explained extremely simply. The naval command turned out to be simply unable to provide cover for transport convoys in the interests of the army.

In April 1944, at the Harima shipyard, the landing ship "Akitsu Maru" received a small flight deck, turning into an ersatz aircraft carrier. The length of the deck was only enough for the takeoff and landing of light aircraft, and the Ki-76 in the Japanese aviation was the only one capable of carrying them out. Six Ki-76 aircraft were to be located directly on the deck. Another one or two could be stored disassembled in the stern of the aircraft carrier. To be based on the deck, the Ki-76 was equipped with a primitive landing hook. Under the fuselage, a suspension was mounted for two 60-kg depth charges arranged in tandem.

To train army pilots in maritime navigation and takeoff and landing operations from an aircraft carrier, in March 1944, the 1st Separate Squadron (dokuri hikochutai) was organized. In May 1944, Akitsu Maru took on board a new materiel. Major (shosa) Katakura became the commander of the aircraft carrier's air group, and Captain (tayi) Yasushi Terao became the direct commander of the squadron.


The main task of the Akitsu Maru aircraft carrier was to escort transport convoys in the Sea of ​​Japan and the Korea Strait, as well as anti-submarine patrols in coastal waters, where the chances of meeting with Allied aircraft at that time were small. The Akitsu Maru Air Group managed to conduct four anti-submarine patrols, however, without much success, before the aircraft carrier went to the bottom on November 15, 1944, torpedoed by the Keunfish submarine. His sistership "Nigitsu Maru", apparently, did not even have time to take on board his air group, sunk back in January 1944.

The 1st Separate Squadron, which was removed from the aircraft carrier before its last flight as a regular transport, after the death of the ship, was based at the Fukuoka airfield, from where it made routine patrol flights to search for submarines. However, the pilots of the squadron did not have a chance to get even for their ship. In the summer of 1945, the squadron flew to Korea, where they met the end of the war.

In addition, eight Ki-76s were planned on the army aircraft carriers Yamashiro Maru, Chigusa Maru and Zuyun Maru, of which only the first was completed, but before the end of the war he did not have time to go to sea.

After the war, most of the Ki-76s produced were destroyed by the Allies. One of the captured "Stell" passed comparative tests by the Americans, but the winners did not appreciate it, recognizing that it is inferior to both the American "Grasshopper" and the German "Storch". A number of Ki-76s that remained on the move after the war were operated in Japan for some time as completely peaceful civilian vehicles. It is characteristic that, despite the rather significant number of Ki-76 aircraft produced, which regularly served on almost all fronts of the Japanese Empire, very few wartime photographs of it have been preserved. Apparently, this modest machine was of no interest to both Japanese propaganda and allied intelligence.

(c) Evgeny Aranov

Bibliography

  • Kokusai Ki-76 /Evgeny Aranov/
  • Japanese Aviation /Andrey Firsov/
  • Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War /Rene J Francillion/