Imperial Japanese Army Air Service

Last updated
Imperial Japanese Army Air Service (IJAAS)
Dainippon Teikoku Rikugun Kōkūbutai
War flag of the Imperial Japanese Army (1868-1945).svg
CountryMerchant flag of Japan (1870).svg  Empire of Japan
Allegiance Ministry of the Army Inspectorate General of Aviation
BranchWar flag of the Imperial Japanese Army (1868-1945).svg  Imperial Japanese Army
Type Air force
Role Aerial warfare
Part of Armed Forces of the Empire of Japan
Engagements World War I
Mukden Incident
Sino-Japanese War II
Battles of Khalkhin Gol
World War II
Ceremonial chiefFlag of the Japanese Emperor.svg Emperor of Japan
Hajime Sugiyama
Prince Naruhiko Higashikuni
Shunroku Hata
Masakazu Kawabe
Roundel Roundel of Japan (1943).svg

The Imperial Japanese Army Air Service or Imperial Japanese Army Air Force (IJAAS or IJAAF) (大日本帝國陸軍航空部隊, Dainippon Teikoku Rikugun Kōkūbutai) or, more literally, the Greater Japan Empire Army Air Corps, was the aviation force of the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA). Just as the IJA in general was modeled mainly on the German Army, the IJAAS initially developed along similar lines to the Imperial German Army Aviation; its primary mission was to provide tactical close air support for ground forces, as well as a limited air interdiction capability. The IJAAS also provided aerial reconnaissance to other branches of the IJA. While the IJAAS engaged in strategic bombing of cities such as Shanghai, Nanking, Canton, Chongqing, Rangoon, and Mandalay, this was not the primary mission of the IJAAS, and it lacked a heavy bomber force.


It did not usually control artillery spotter/observer aircraft; artillery battalions controlled the light aircraft and balloons that operated in these roles.

The Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service was responsible for long-range bomber and attack aircraft, as well as strategic air defense. It was not until the later stages of the Pacific War that the two air arms attempted to integrate the air defense of the home islands.



French Military Mission to Japan 1918-1919. FrenchMilitaryMissionToJapan.jpg
French Military Mission to Japan 1918-1919.

The Imperial Japanese Army made use of hydrogen balloons for observation purposes in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 [1] and in 1909, together with the Imperial Japanese Navy and the Tokyo Imperial University, the Rinji Gunyo Kikyu Kenkyukai (Temporary Military Balloon Research Association) was set up. [1] In 1910, the society sent Captain Yoshitoshi Tokugawa and Captain Hino Kumazō to France and Germany, respectively, to receive pilot training and purchase aircraft. [2] Japan purchased its first aircraft, a Farman biplane and a Grade monoplane, which had been brought back by the officers from Western Europe. [2] On December 19 1910, Captain Yoshitoshi Tokugawa in a Farman III conducted the first successful powered flight on Japanese soil at Yoyogi Parade Ground in Tokyo. [1] The following year in 1911, several more aircraft were imported and an improved version of the Farman III biplane, the Kaishiki No.1, was built and flown in Japan by Captain Togugawa. [2] In 1914, with the outbreak of war, the Japanese laid siege to the German colony of Tsingtao, aircraft from the army together with the navy conducted reconnaissance and bombing operations. The Provisional Air Corps consisting of four Maurice Farman MF.7 biplanes and a single Nieuport VI-M monoplane flew 86 sorties between them. [3] In December 1915, a air battalion was created under the Army Transport Command, which became responsible for all air operations. [4] However, serious interest in military aviation did not develop until after World War I. Japanese military observers in Western Europe were quick to spot the advantages of the new technology, and after the end of the war, Japan purchased large numbers of surplus military aircraft, including Sopwith 1½ Strutters, Nieuport 24s, and Spads.

Interwar Years

Siberian intervention Khabarovsk intervention.jpg
Siberian intervention

In 1918, a French military mission was invited to Japan to help develop aviation. The mission was headed by Jacques-Paul Faure and composed of 63 members to establish the fundamentals of the Japanese aviation, the mission also brought several aircraft including Salmson 2A2, Nieuport, Spad XIII, two Breguet XIV, as well as Caquot dirigibles. [4] Japanese army aviation was organized into a separate chain of command within the Ministry of War of Japan in 1919, and aircraft were being used in combat roles during the 1920 Siberian Intervention against the Bolshevik Red Army near Vladivostok. The first aircraft factory in Japan, Nakajima Aircraft Company, was founded in 1916 and later obtained a license to produce the Nieuport 24 and Nieuport-Delage NiD 29 C.1 (as the Nakajima Ko-4) as well as the Hispano-Suiza engine. Nakajima later license-produced the Gloster Sparrowhawk and Bristol Jupiter. Similarly, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries started producing aircraft under license from Sopwith in 1921, and Kawasaki Heavy Industries started producing the Salmson 2 A.2 bomber from France, and hired German engineers such as Dr. Richard Vogt to produce original designs such as the Type 88 bomber. Kawasaki also produced aircraft engines under license from BMW. In May 1925, the Imperial Japanese Army Air Corps was established under the command of Lieutenant General Kinichi Yasumitsu, it was regarded as a branch equal to the artillery, cavalry or infantry, [4] and contained 3,700 personnel with about 500 aircraft. [4]

By the end of the 1920s, Japan was producing its own designs to meet the needs of the Army, and by 1935 had a large inventory of indigenous aircraft designs that were technically sophisticated.

By 1941, the Japanese Army Air Force had about 1,500 combat aircraft. During the first years of the war, Japan continued technical development and deployment of increasingly advanced aircraft and enjoyed air superiority over most battlefields due to the combat experience of its crews and the handling qualities of its aircraft.

However, as the war continued, Japan found that its production could not match that of the Allies. On top of these production problems, Japan faced continuous combat and thus continued losses. Furthermore, there were continual production disruptions brought on by moving factories from location to location, each transfer with the goal of avoiding the Allied strategic bombing. Between these factors and others, such as the restricted strategic materials, the Japanese found themselves materialistically outmatched.

In terms of manpower, Japan was even worse off. Experienced crews were killed and replacements had not been planned. The Japanese had lost skilled trainers, and they did not have the fuel or the time to use the trainers they did have. Because of this, towards the end of its existence the JAAF resorted to kamikaze attacks against overwhelmingly superior Allied forces.

Identification chart for Japanese military planes during World War II Japaneseaircraft.JPG
Identification chart for Japanese military planes during World War II
Major Teruhiko Kobayashi, the IJAAF's youngest sentai squadron commander. Teruhiko Kobayashi.jpg
Major Teruhiko Kobayashi, the IJAAF's youngest sentai squadron commander.

World War II Aircraft

Important aircraft used by the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II were:



Forward air control aircraft:


Reconnaissance Planes:


Other planes:


Army Aeronautical Department Sections

Operational Organization

Before World War I, the basic unit of the Army Air Service was the Air Battalion (航空大隊, Kōkū Daitai), each consisting of two squadrons (中隊, Chutai) with nine aircraft each, plus three reserve aircraft and three earmarked for use by the headquarters, for a total of 24 aircraft per battalion. The officer commanding the chutai was the Chutaicho, whose rank was usually that of captain. The commander's aircraft often had distinctive markings, often a partly or totally scarlet, red, orange or yellow tail.

In a reorganization of 1927-05-05, the Air Regiment (飛行連隊, Hikō Rentai) was created, each consisting of two battalions, with each battalion consisting of up to four squadrons. Each Air Regiment was a mixed purpose unit, consisting of a mixture of fighter and reconnaissance squadrons.

With the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, operational conditions favored the use of many small units, resulting in the creation of many independent Air Battalions (独立飛行大隊, Dokuritsu Hikō Daitai) or even independent squadrons (独立飛行中隊, Dokuritsu Hikō Chutai), each with its own distinctive markings.

In August 1938, a complete re-organization of the Army Air Service resulted in the creation of the Air Combat Group (飛行戦隊, Hikō Sentai), which replaced all of the former Air Battalions and Air Regiments. Each Air Combat Group was a single-purpose unit consisting typically of three Squadrons, divided into three flights (小隊, shōtai) of three aircraft each. Together with reserve aircraft and the headquarters flight, an Air Combat Group typically had 45 aircraft (fighter) or up to 30 aircraft (bomber or reconnaissance). Two or more Air Combat Groups formed an Air Brigade (飛行団, Hikōdan), which, together with base and support units and a number of Independent Squadrons, formed an Air Corps (飛行集団, Hikō Shudan).

In 1942, the Air Corps were renamed Air Divisions (飛行師団, Hikō Shidan), to mirror the terminology for infantry divisions, but the structure remained the same. Two Air Divisions, together with some independent units made an Air Army (航空軍, Kōkū gun).

Throughout most of the Pacific War, the Japanese Army Air Service was organized into four Air Armies, with two more added in the final stages of the war:

In April 1944, a reorganization of the Japanese Army Air Service occurred. Maintenance and ground service units, formerly a separate command, were merged into the Air Combat Group (Hiko Sentai). The flying squadrons of the Air Combat Group were re-designated as Squadron (飛行隊, Hikōtai), and the ground units were designated Maintenance Units (整備隊, Seibutai).

Other changes in the final stages of the war was the formation of "Special Attack Units" and "Air-shaking Units", which were short-lived units with their own names (often taken from Japanese mythology or history) and markings, but located within existing squadrons. These units were specially designated and trained with the mission of air-to-air ramming of Allied bomber aircraft. They usually had their armaments removed and their airframes reinforced.

In the final phase of the war, the Special Attack Units evolved into dedicated suicide units for kamikaze missions. Around 170 of these units were formed, 57 by the Instructor Air Division alone. Notionally equipped with 12 aircraft each, it eventually comprised around 2000 aircraft.

The final reorganisation of the took place during preparation for Operation Ketsu-Go, the defence of the home islands in 1945 when all the Air Armies were combined under a centralised command of General Masakazu Kawabe . [5]

Special Operations Forces

Teishin Shudan ("Raiding Group") was the IJA's special forces/airborne unit during World War II. The word teishin may be literally translated as "dash forward", and is usually translated as "raiding". It may also be regarded as similar to the "commando" designation in the terminology of other armies. Called a division, the unit was a brigade-sized force, and was part of the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service (IJAAS). The Teishin units were therefore distinct from the marine parachute units of the Special Naval Landing Forces.

Captain Okuyama and Giretsu Airborne unit depart on their mission to Okinawa Giretsu - Michiro Okuyama & Chuichi Suwabe.jpg
Captain Okuyama and Giretsu Airborne unit depart on their mission to Okinawa

' Giretsu' (義烈空挺隊, Giretsu Kūteitai) was an airborne special forces unit of the Imperial Japanese Army formed from Army paratroopers, in late 1944 as a last-ditch attempt to reduce and delay Allied bombing raids on the Japanese home islands. The Giretsu Special Forces unit was commanded by Lieutenant General Kyoji Tominaga.


In 1940 the Japanese Army Air Service consisted of the following:

First Tachikawa Army Air Arsenal

The Japanese Air Army Force had one technical section, the First Tachikawa Air Army Arsenal, which was in charge of aviation research and development. The Arsenal included a testing section for captured Allied aircraft, the Air Technical Research Laboratory (Koku Gijutsu Kenkyujo).

The Army Air Arsenal was also connected with Tachikawa Hikoki K.K. and Rikugun Kokukosho K.K., the Army-owned and operationed aircraft manufacturing companies. much as the IJNAS operated its own firm, the Yokosuka Naval Air Technical Arsenal.

Army Escort-Aircraft Carriers

Due to the poor relations between the Imperial Japanese Army and Imperial Japanese Navy, the Army found it necessary to procure and operate their own aircraft carriers for the purposes of providing escort and protection for Army transport shipping convoys. These escort/transport carriers were converted from small passenger liners or merchant ships and possessed the capacity to operate from eight to 38 aircraft, depending on type and size, and were also used to transport personnel and tanks.

These vessels included the Taiyō Maru, Unyo Maru, Chuyo Maru, Kaiyō Maru, Shinyo Maru, Kamakura Maru , Akitsu Maru, Nigitsu Maru, Kumano Maru, Yamashiro Maru, Shimane Maru, Chigusa Maru (not completed), and Otakisan Maru (not completed) and were operated by civilian crews with Army personnel manning the light and medium anti-aircraft guns.

Uniforms and equipment

As an integral part of the IJA, the Army Air Service wore the standard Imperial Japanese Army Uniforms. Only flying personnel and ground crews wore sky blue trim and stripes, while officers wore their ranks on sky blue patches.

See also

Related Research Articles

The Nakajima Aircraft Company was a prominent Japanese aircraft manufacturer and aviation engine manufacturer throughout World War II. It continues to the present day as the car and aircraft manufacturer Subaru.

Nakajima Ki-44 1940 fighter aircraft family by Nakajima

The Nakajima Ki-44 Shoki was a single-seat fighter-interceptor developed by the Nakajima Aircraft Company and operated by the Imperial Japanese Army from 1942 to 1945 during World War II. Its official designation is Army Type 2 Single-Seat Fighter (二式単座戦闘機) and its Allied reporting name was Tojo.

Mitsubishi Ki-67 Japanese twin-engine heavy bomber

The Mitsubishi Ki-67Hiryū was a twin-engine heavy bomber produced by Mitsubishi and used by the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service and Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service in World War II. Its Army long designation was "Army Type 4 Heavy Bomber" (四式重爆撃機). Japanese Navy variants included the P2M and Q2M.

Kawasaki Ki-10

The Kawasaki Ki-10 was the last biplane fighter used by the Imperial Japanese Army, entering service in 1935. Built by Kawasaki Kōkūki Kōgyō K.K. for the Imperial Japanese Army, it saw combat service in Manchukuo and in North China during the early stages of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Its reporting name given by the Allies was "Perry".

Manchuria Airplane Manufacturing Company

The Manchuria Airplane Manufacturing Company was an aircraft company in Manchukuo in the 1930s and 1940s, producing a variety of mostly military aircraft and aircraft components. It was named Manshū or Mansyuu in short.

Nakajima Ki-27 Japanese fighter aircraft

The Nakajima Ki-27 was the main fighter aircraft used by the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force up until 1940. Its Allied nickname was "Nate", although it was called "Abdul" in the "China Burma India" (CBI) theater by many post war sources; Allied Intelligence had reserved that name for the nonexistent Mitsubishi Navy Type 97 fighter, expected to be the successor to the carrier-borne Type 96 with retractable landing gear and an enclosed cockpit.

Kawasaki Ki-32

The Kawasaki Ki-32 was a Japanese light bomber aircraft of World War II. It was a single-engine, two-seat, mid-wing, cantilever monoplane with a fixed tailwheel undercarriage. An internal bomb bay accommodated a 300 kg (660 lb) offensive load, supplemented by 150 kg (330 lb) of bombs on external racks. During the war, it was known by the Allies by the name Mary.

The Japanese Army Air Force Hikōtai Unit was an Imperial Japanese Army Air Service Air transport section whose mission was to transport personnel, weapons and equipment to occupied territories or the combat front in wartime. Such units supported Army airborne forces during their missions as well.

Mitsubishi Ki-21

The Mitsubishi Ki-21 was a Japanese heavy bomber during World War II. It began operations during the Second Sino-Japanese War participating in the Nomonhan Incident, and in the first stages of the Pacific War, including the Malayan, Burmese, Dutch East Indies and New Guinea Campaigns. It was also used to attack targets as far-flung as western China, India and northern Australia.

Below is the order of battle for the Canton Operation, October to December 1938 during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Nakajima Ki-49

The Nakajima Ki-49Donryu was a twin-engine Japanese World War II heavy bomber. It was designed to carry out daylight bombing missions, without the protection of escort fighters. Consequently, while its official designation, Army Type 100 Heavy Bomber, was accurate in regard to its formidable defensive armament and armor, these features restricted the Ki-49 to payloads comparable to those of lighter medium bombers – the initial production variant could carry only 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) of bombs.

Mitsubishi Ki-30

The Mitsubishi Ki-30 was a Japanese light bomber of World War II. It was a single-engine, mid-wing, cantilever monoplane of stressed-skin construction with a fixed tailwheel undercarriage and a long transparent cockpit canopy. The type had significance in being the first Japanese aircraft to be powered by a modern two-row radial engine. During the war, it was known by the Allies by the name Ann.

Tachikawa Aircraft Company Limited was an aircraft manufacturer in the Empire of Japan, specializing primarily in aircraft for the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force. It was based at Tachikawa, in Tokyo Prefecture.

Manchukuo Imperial Air Force

The Manchukuo Imperial Air Force (Japanese: 大満州帝国空軍 was the air force of the Empire of Manchuria, a puppet state of Imperial Japan. The air force's predecessor was the Manchukuo Air Transport Company, a paramilitary airline formed in 1931, which undertook transport and reconnaissance missions for the Japanese military.

Takeo Doi (aircraft designer)

Takeo Doi was a Japanese aircraft designer. He designed many World War II fighter aircraft used by the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force. His most important work was the "Army Type 3 Fighter", aka Kawasaki Ki-61 "Hien" or "Tony". Also he was one of the chief designers of the Nihon Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation (NAMC) YS-11.

Mitsubishi Ki-2

The Mitsubishi Ki-2 was a light bomber built by Mitsubishi for the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service (IJAAS) in the 1930s. Its Allied nickname was "Louise". Despite its antiquated appearance, the Ki-2 was successfully used in Manchukuo and in North China during the early stages of the Second Sino-Japanese War, in areas where danger from enemy fighter aircraft was minimal. It was later used in a training role.

Kawasaki Ki-3

The Kawasaki Ki-3 was a light bomber built by Kawasaki Kōkūki Kōgyō K.K. for the Imperial Japanese Army in the 1930s. It was the last biplane bomber design to be produced for the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force, and saw combat service in Manchukuo and in north China during the early stages of the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Mitsubishi K3M

The Mitsubishi K3M was a trainer built by Mitsubishi which was used by the Imperial Japanese Navy in an extremely wide variety of roles, including light transport, liaison aircraft, utility aircraft and occasionally light bomber. Its Allied reporting name was Pine.

Mitsubishi Ki-18

The Mitsubishi Ki-18 was an unsuccessful and unsolicited attempt by Mitsubishi to meet a 1934 requirement issued by the Japanese Army for a modern single-seat monoplane fighter suitable to the needs of the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force. During this competition, Nakajima entered the Nakajima Ki-11, and Kawasaki entered the more maneuverable Kawasaki Ki-10 biplane. The competition was won by Kawasaki, but the new fighter was not accepted by the IJAAF with much enthusiasm.

The Nakajima Ki-19 was an unsuccessful attempt by Nakajima Aircraft Company to meet a 1935 requirement issued by the Japanese government for a modern bomber to replace the Mitsubishi Ki-1 heavy bomber.


  1. 1 2 3 Hata, Izawa & Shores 2012, p. 1.
  2. 1 2 3 Francillon 1979, p. 29.
  3. Stephenson 2017, p. 96.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Francillon 1979, p. 30.
  5. p.107, Skates