Profile Publications No. 118 The Kawasaki Ki-61 Hien

In-Jlight .study o f a captured Ki-61-ll) repainted in Japanese markings. (Photo: U.S. Army via Mam )The Kawasaki K i-61 Hien By the spring of 1943 the Allied lighter pilots operating in New Guinea were slowly wresting air superiority from their opponents of the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy whose Nakajima Ki-43's and Mitsubishi A6M’s had until then been the scourges of the Southwest Pacific sky. Without the benefit of a radar network the Japanese forces operating in New Guinea had to rely on a primitive system of ground observers extending from the Owen Stanley Range to their airfields to warn them of impending Allied raids. All too often the Japanese pilots had to scramble madly amidst raining bombs only to be bounced by P-40's flying top cover for the Allied bombers. Caught in the most unfavourable position the Japanese fighters fell easy prey to the hit and run attacks which by now had been found the most effective against the nimble Nipponese aircraft. Even when sufficient warning was received, thus giving them a chance to avoid the escorting fighters and to engage the B-25's, B-26's and A-20's raiding their airfields and disrupting Japanese shipping, the Japanese pilots had a hard time fighting ofi' the bombers as the Oscars* lacked pilot and fuel tank protection and, conceived as long-range aircraft for fighter versus fighter combat, carried only alight armament wholly insufficient to quickly destroy the well protected Allied bombers. On the ground, life was even more uncomfortable for the Japanese pilots who suffered from a combination of equatorial climate and diseases and incessant harassment by air bombing and naval shelling of their quarters. For awhile Allied pilots lost the grip of the situa­tion when anew enemy fighter aircraft made its appearance over Awar and VVewak. This aircraft appeared in none of the recognition manuals yet issued to the Allied crews and initial combat reports were conflicting. All reports, however, confirmed that the aircraft was powered by a single liquid cooled engine, a type of motor not in current use in the Japanese forces with the exception of some obsolete machines such as the Kawasaki Ki-IO, Perry, a biplane fighter with fixed undercarriage, and* KAN A JIM A Ki-43 Hayabitsa. see PROFILE No. 46. by Hcnc J. PViineillon, I’h.D. the Kawasaki Ki-32, Mary, a single-engined light bomber also with fixed undercarriage. Some pilots and Intelligence officers believed that these aircraft were German Messerschmitt Bf 109's, a type which the Allies anticipated for a longtime would be manu­factured under licence in Japan and which had already been assigned the Pacific code-name Mike. However, as further combat reports mentioning the new aircraft became available, it became obvious that the new aircraft was not the Bf 109 but that it had many of the recognition features of current Italian aircraft such as the Macchi C.202. On this basis Colonel Frank McCoy and his staff of the Materiel Section of the Directorate of Intelligence, Allied Air Forces, Southwest Pacific Area, agreed on the probable Italian origin of this aircraft and consequently assigned to it the code-name Tony for Antonio. Once again the Japanese had succeeded in mysti­fying the Allies as Tony was neither a licence-built Bf 109 nor an Italian aircraft, but was an original Japanese design, the Army Type 3 Fighter Hien (Swallow) or Ki-61 built by Kawaski Kokuki Kogyo K.K. (Kawasaki Aircraft Engineering Co., Ltd.). The error in identifying correctly the origin of the Ki-61, eradicated in the summer of 1943, was under­standable as the Hien was powered by a licence-built Daimler Bcnz DB 601 giving to the aircraft a strong family resemblance to the similarly-powered Mes- Tlie second prototype Ki-61 at Gifu in February 1942 note the additional fuselage window ahead o f the windshield, partly masked by the anti-glare panel. (Photo: the author) 3
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