(Information and artwork supplied courtesy of Mr. Nick King)
Imperial Japanese Army Air Force (IJAAF)
IJAAF Unit Designations
IJAAF Aircraft Designations
- The basic unit was the HIKOSENTAI (Air Group or Regiment) usually abbreviated to Sentai comprising 25--50 aircraft.
- The Sentai consisted of 2 or more CHUTAIs (company or squadron) plus a Sentai Hombu (HQ flight).
- The Chutai included (usually) 3 SHOTAIs (sections or flights) of 3/4 aircraft. (Like other Air Forces they had found that the odd man out in a 3-plane flight was most vulnerable.)
- Higher formations included in ascending order the HIKODAN (Air Brigade), HIKOSHIDAN (Air Division), and the KOKUGUN (Air Army).
- Other formations included the Dokuritsu Chutais (Independent Companies) and Rensei Hikotais (Fighter OTUs).
- Very approximate equivalents (established strengths varied considerably) were:
IJAAF Aircraft Markings
The Sentai markings were almost always confined to the vertical tail ( 95th was on rear fuselage), in company (Chutai) colours; HQ and Chutai colours were blue, red, white and yellow in no particular order. Green used if there was a 4th Chutai. At least one Chutai used brown.
Many Sentai had a stylized version of their unit number on the tail though usually still recognizable eg. 14th, 27th, 45th.
The Special Attack Units (Shimbu-Tai) equivalent to the Navy Kamikazes, sometimes had special tail or nose markings.
Some Sentai had symbolic unit markings eg. a river, Mt. Fuji or the sacred Chrysanthemum.
- Identified by a "Kitai" (Ki.) or Type number, eg. Ki.49 with modifications added, as Ki.49-II. Later aircraft had additions (as British or American "Mark" numbers) such as -OTSU or --HEI.
- A number was also allocated by the manufacturer based on the year of service acceptance (based on the Japanese year) eg. Type 100 (the Ki.49). Inevitably there were duplications, eg. there were 3 Type 99s.
- Some Army aircraft were named e.g., Ki.67 Hiryu (Flying Dragon).
- Code names were allocated by The Allied Technical Air Intelligence Unit (ATAIU). Captured aircraft were marked ATAIU-SEA (South East Asia).
- Early code names were "Hillbilly" style e.g., Rufe, Zeke, Oscar, Nate, Claude.
- Some names were changed eg. the A6M3 Zero originally "Hap" after Hap Arnold (deemed not appropriate) and was renamed "Hamp".
- Fighters (including floatplanes) generally had male names (e.g., Frank). Bombers (including floatplanes) generally had female names (e.g., Dinah). Transports generally had female names beginning with "T" (e.g., Thalia). Trainers generally had tree names (e.g., Willow).
- Imported types in both services were given seperate designations.
Imperial Japanese Navy Air Force (IJNAF)
IJNAF Unit Designations
IJNAF Aircraft Designations
- Basic unit was the KOKUTAI (Air Group) roughly equivalent to the Sentai of 35-70 aircraft.
- This comprised 3 or more HIKOTAIs (Squadrons) of 12-16 aircraft.
- The Hikotai had 3 or more SHOTAIs (Flights) of 3-4 aircraft.
- Ship-board groups carried the name of the carrier eg. "AKAGI" fighter flight.
- Fighter Groups were numbered 200-399, mixed Groups nos. 600-699, floatplane units 400-499.
IJNAF Aircraft Markings
Employed a number or symbol on vertical tail separated by a hyphen; first number was the unit (Air Group), second identified the aircraft. The first number sometimes abbreviated, eg. Zeke "8-36" was aircraft 36 from the 238th Kokutai.
George "343-B-03" was aircraft 3 from the 343rd Kokutai (B=squadron).
Some aircraft were named after their base, eg. "Yokosuka" and carried their symbol on the tail; some had numbers later, eg. the "Genzan" AG became the 252nd AG.
- Designations were somewhat similar to the USN, ie, letters-numbers:
The Navy used a letter-number-letter-number sequence where:
first letter: function e.g., carrier fighter
first number: order of aircraft design entering service
second letter: manufacturer
second number: aircraft model number
example....Mitsubishi F1M2 "Pete" observation float biplane:
1--first to go into JNAF service
2--second version of designc
- Letters denoting manufacturers were:
G--Tokyo Gasu Denki
W--Kyushu (was Watanabe)
- Letters denoting role were:
- Some aircraft were named:
Fighters after meteorlogical e.g., N1K1 Kyofu (Mighty Wind)
Bombers/attack after mountains e.g., G7M1 Taizan (Great Mountain)
Bombers after constellations e.g., P1Y1 Ginga (Milky Way)
Patrol a/c after seas e.g., Q1W1 Tokai (Eastern Sea)
Transports after skies e.g., H8K2 Seiku (Clear Sky)
Trainers after trees or plants e.g., K11W1 Shiragiku (White Chrysanthemum)
- Code names (as per IJAAF) were more commonly used as this was obviously a complicated system, a tendency often seen in Japanese operational plans.
Generalized Aircraft Markings
- The Hinomaru was not carried from about 1937-42 on fuselage by Army aircraft.
- White "theatre" (combat) band was used pre-war in China by both services on front-line aircraft (including most captured planes). Discontinued by some units later.
- Yellow leading edge stripes from 1942 (various shades), and possibly some had red. RAF fighters had similar from 1942.
- White "bandages" (backing the Hinomaru) employed by home-defence fighters (Army).
- Coloured bands on rear fuselages as distinctions eg. for command aircraft, trainers or prototypes.
Japanese Allies 1940-1945