(Information and artwork supplied courtesy of Mr. Nick King)

Imperial Japanese Army Air Force (IJAAF)

IJAAF Unit Designations

  1. 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.)

  2. Higher formations included in ascending order the HIKODAN (Air Brigade), HIKOSHIDAN (Air Division), and the KOKUGUN (Air Army).

  3. Other formations included the Dokuritsu Chutais (Independent Companies) and Rensei Hikotais (Fighter OTUs).

  4. Very approximate equivalents (established strengths varied considerably) were:


IJAAF Aircraft Designations

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Some Army aircraft were named e.g., Ki.67 Hiryu (Flying Dragon).

  4. Code names were allocated by The Allied Technical Air Intelligence Unit (ATAIU). Captured aircraft were marked ATAIU-SEA (South East Asia).

  5. Early code names were "Hillbilly" style e.g., Rufe, Zeke, Oscar, Nate, Claude.

  6. Some names were changed eg. the A6M3 Zero originally "Hap" after Hap Arnold (deemed not appropriate) and was renamed "Hamp".

  7. 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).

  8. Imported types in both services were given seperate designations.

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.

Imperial Japanese Navy Air Force (IJNAF)

IJNAF Unit Designations

  1. Basic unit was the KOKUTAI (Air Group) roughly equivalent to the Sentai of 35-70 aircraft.

  2. This comprised 3 or more HIKOTAIs (Squadrons) of 12-16 aircraft.

  3. The Hikotai had 3 or more SHOTAIs (Flights) of 3-4 aircraft.

  4. Ship-board groups carried the name of the carrier eg. "AKAGI" fighter flight.

  5. Fighter Groups were numbered 200-399, mixed Groups nos. 600-699, floatplane units 400-499.

IJNAF Aircraft Designations

  1. 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:
           F--float observation
           1--first to go into JNAF service
           2--second version of designc

  2. Letters denoting manufacturers were:
           G--Tokyo Gasu Denki
           W--Kyushu (was Watanabe)

  3. Letters denoting role were:
           A--carrier fighter
           B--carrier attack
           C--carrier recon
           D--carrier bomber
           E--recon. floatplane
           F--observation floatplane
           G--medium/heavy bomber
           H--flying boat
           J--land-based fighter
           M--special aircraft
           N--floatplane fighter
           P--land-based bomber
           Q--anti-sub aircraft
           R--land-based recon
           S--night fighter

  4. 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)

  5. Code names (as per IJAAF) were more commonly used as this was obviously a complicated system, a tendency often seen in Japanese operational plans.

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.

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

Aichi E13A1 "Jake":  E13A1 "Jake" of the Royal Thai Navy's 1st Naval Wing supporting the Imperial Japanese Navy and flying rescue-recon missions. The roundels are in 4 wing positions.

Kawasaki Ki.32 "Mary":  Ki.32 "Mary" light bomber from the 1st Company, 45th Sentai.  They operated against Hong Kong in Dec. 1941.  Quite common in China, the Ki.32s were soon relegated to second-line duties.  Camouflage is the 3-colour style used in China. The fuselage Hinomaru was not usually employed at this time.

Kawasaki Ki.45 KAI:  Ki.45 KAI of the 21st Sentai's 1st Company (white markings) in Burma 1944.  They also served in Indo-China and East Indies.

Kawasaki Ki.48 "Lily":  Ki.48 "Lily" from the 2nd Company of the 8th Sentai in Burma 1943.  They were a mixed unit of Dinahs and Lilys.  One of the many Sentai which used a stylised version of their number in this case a winged "8".

Kawasaki Ki.61 "Hien" (translation: "Flying Swallow"; allied codename "Tony"):  Ki.61-I Hien from the 37th Kyoiku Hikotai (Fighter Training Unit) at Matsuyama on Formosa 1944-45.  Finish is a well-worn bare metal with mottled tail.

Mitsubishi A6M2 "Reisen" or "Zero" (allied codename "Zeke"):  An A6M2 model 21 Zeke from the Tainan Air Group IJNAF in late 1941.  Operated over Formosa and E. China at first against the Chinese AF then the USAAF.  Later numbered as the 251st AG.  Standard early war overall light grey, gloss black cowling.  "V" is the group designator.

Mitsubishi Ki.15 "Babs":  Ki.15-II "Babs" army co-operation aircraft of the 51st Independent Company in Indo-China early in the war.

Mitsubishi Ki.21 "Sally":  Ki.21-IIb "Sally" from the 60th Sentai based in China in 1943.  White tail band is the 1st Company.  Unit later re-equipped with the Ki.67 "Peggy".

Mitsubishi Ki.30 "Ann":  Ki.30 "Ann" light bomber from the 31st Sentai, 2nd Company (2 white bands) based in Thailand early in the war.

Mitsubishi Ki.46 "Dinah":  A "China Dinah", a Ki.46-III.  It has the leaping tiger of the 82nd Sentai in Manchuria and China 1944.  Apparently this unit had no Company distinctions.

Mitsubishi Ki.51 "Sonia":  Ki. 51 "Sonia" recon/ light bomber from the 27th Sentai in Burma 1942.  The yellow stripe is the 3rd Company.  They were a mixed unit with "Anns" and "Marys"; later had Ki.45 "Nicks".

Mitsubishi Ki.57 "Topsy":  Ki. 57 which carried Japanese officials to Chihkiang in August 1945 for surrender ceremonies (which may account for the unusually clean appearance).  Transports had female names beginning with "T".  The upper wing hinomarus were on white squares.

Mitsubishi Ki.67-I Hiryu (Flying Dragon); allied codename "Peggy":  Ki.67-I from the 61st Sentai, 3rd Company (red) in China and Formosa in 1945.  The tail marking is a "61" in company colour.

Nakajima Ki.27 "Nate":  1st Company (red flash) of the 50th Sentai in Burma 1942 opposing the AVG and RAF.  Later equipped with Ki.43s, then Ki.84s.  They also served in Indo-China and N. Guinea.

Nakajima Ki.27 "Nate":  Ki.27b "Nate" from the Manchoukuo Air Force in Manchuria.  They were in use until late in the war.  The tail marking may be a variation of the 26th FTU insignia, a white or red winged circle.  The wing insignia is in 4 positions, red forward.  Finish is overall weathered light grey-green.

Nakajima Ki.43 "Hayabusa" (translation: "Peregrine Falcon"; allied codename "Oscar"):  The 204th Sentai was formed with Ki.27s in Manchuria 1942, disbanded on Formosa in 1945 still with Ki.43s.  The red-white tail flash is the HQ Flight marking, the other 3 flights had white-red-yellow respectively.  The undersides were unpainted.  They served on a variety of fronts including Thailand, Indo-China, Burma, Philippines and Okinawa.

Nakajima Ki.43 "Oscar":  Ki.43-II Oscar of the Royal Thai Air Force in 1944.  The insignia is that of the Thai Royal House.  It's painted over the Hinomaru underwing.  The Japanese white-outlined "meatballs" are still above the wings.  Camouflage is dark green-dark brown patches with light grey streaks.

Nakajima Ki.49-II Donryu (Dragon Swallower); allied codename "Helen":  Nakajima Ki.49-II from the 95th Sentai's 3rd Company (yellow colour) in China 1944.  One of the many green over unpainted finishes in the Army.  This may be the only instance of the unit marking on the fuselage (diagonal band).

Nakajima Ki.84 "Hayate" (translation: "Gale"; allied codename "Frank") units in the China Theatre
(including Manchuria, Formosa and Korea) in 1944-45
  1. The company colours are in the order HQ / 1st / 2nd / 3rd Chutais.
  2. Airframe colours are various shades of dark green, dark brown, or unpainted. Undersides light grey or unpainted.
  3. The markings for the 29th Sentai (China and Formosa) are not confirmed.
  4. Aircraft numbers were often marked on fin or rudder.
  5. There were often variations in markings within the Sentai.
  6. Some of these units also served in other areas eg. Burma, Japan, East Indies or the Philippines.

The Profiles:
  1. 22nd (China):  The spinner and river (supporting the Royal Chrysanthemum) were in Company colours, red-white-blue-yellow. There were many variations.
  2. 22nd late war:  Design replaced by numbers, likely for simplicity. Disbanded in Korea.
  3. 25th (China):  HQ=red and blue band, then white-red-yellow; this Sentai also had Oscars. Disbanded in Korea.
  4. 50th (Formosa):  Blue-red-yellow-white. Previously had a lightning flash on their Oscars. Disbanded in Korea.
  5. 85th (China-Korea):  Blue-white-red-yellow. Disbanded in Korea.
  6. 104th (Manchuria-China):  Fin tip in Company colours, sometimes with a rudder stripe - white-red-yellow-blue. White wingtips on camouflaged aircraft. Disbanded in Korea.
  7. 24th Dokuritsu Chutai (Independent Company) (Formosa):  White flash. Disbanded on Formosa.
  8. 9th (Manchuria-China):  Blue-white-red-yellow. Disbanded in China.

Nakajima Ki.84 "Hayate" (translation: "Gale"; allied codename "Frank"):  Ki.84-I "Frank" of the 104th Sentai which spent most of their war (1944-45) in Manchuria and N. China.  Spinner, fin tip and rudder strip are in the Company colour - red = 1st Company.  The white wing tips were on other 104th Franks, possibly an additional Sentai marking.

Tachikawa Ki.36 "Ida":  Ki.36 "Ida" army co-operation type in China 1941--2; unit is the 74th. Independent Company (Chutai).  A trainer version with the rear gun removed was designated Ki.55. (also "Ida" ).  This unit also had Dinahs.

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