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Defiant Russia




Leyte Gulf:
Japanese Aircraft

Leyte Gulf is about to end its early commitment phase, and we’ve been hard at work on this game. Kevin Canada has put in an enormous effort to build an aircraft database, and Peggy Gordon and Shane Ivey are busily turning that into counters. Here’s a brief look at just a few of the new aircraft types, and the older ones still present.

While the Second World War at Sea series has concentrated on the Pacific Theater of Operations, the games released so far all take place in the first year of the war. SOPAC, Eastern Fleet, Midway and the upcoming Strike South all wind up their scenarios before the end of 1942.

In each game, Japanese carrier air power is crucial to the Japanese player’s success. In the first four games, the Japanese player wields the same mix of aircraft that carried the Imperial Navy from victory to victory.

A Zero buzzes the South Pacific

The standard Japanese fighter is the A6M Zero-sen. This is a solid airplane for 1942, with performance superior to many of the planes it will meet. The American F4F Wildcat is a match in air-to-air combat, but has much shorter range than the Japanese plane. The Zero is definitely superior to anything the British player can put into the air in Eastern Fleet.

The Zero remains the standard Japanese fighter in Leyte Gulf as well, despite American deployment of new and much more powerful machines. Japan had its answer to them, the A7M “Reppu” (“Hurricane”), known in Allied code as “Sam.” The Japanese Navy issued its request in July 1942, but engine changes delayed the flight of the final prototype until October 1944. The result was a big, fast fighter with good high-altitude performance and powerful armament (four 20 mm cannon). But more problems ensued when an earthquake destroyed the engine factory and B29 raids smashed the aircraft plant. Only one production aircraft would be completed by war’s end.

Leyte Gulf will include this powerful fighter anyway, to give the Japanese player something to match the awesome U.S. aircraft. With better luck the A7M could have been at Leyte Gulf to meet the Americans, though Japanese industry was not up to producing them in huge numbers and the Navy’s training establishment lacked the capacity to fill the cockpits with skilled pilots. But these problems would not be fully understood until after the war, and American planners had to be wary of Japanese capabilities.


In the 1942 battles, Japanese carrier striking power came from the D3A1 “Val” dive bomber and B5N2 “Kate” torpedo plane. These were older but rugged types, though not as out of date as their appearance implied. Their good performance shocked Allied observers in 1941 and 1942, understandably since Japanese carriers had operated a biplane dive bomber as late as 1940. This rapid improvement also led the Americans to be wary of further Japanese developments.


The Americans had reason for their suspicions, as a new dive bomber had entered service in 1942, the Yokosuka D4Y Suisei or “Comet.” A small handful even appeared at the Battle of Midway in a reconnaissance role. But a weak airframe kept the plane from fulfilling its attack role for almost two more years, and by the time the Comet flew the days of Japanese carrier offensives were almost over. The Japanese carriers operated airgroups consisting almost exclusively of fighters in the 1944 battles.


Even as they worked to make the Suisei combat-capable, the Japanese had new and even more powerful attack planes on the way. The Nakajima B6N “Tenzan” or “Heavenly Mountain” made its first appearance in combat in 1943, over the upper Solomon Islands. Known as “Jill” in the Allied code, it was superior to the Kate, but Japan had a plane still better already in the works.

Japan’s Shooting Star

Aichi had worked with German firms before the war, and that influence was clear in the firm’s B7A “Ryusei” (“Shooting Star”). The Ryusei was a big plane, stretching the limits of Japanese carriers, and while it carried almost the same weapons load as the Heavenly Mountain it had outstanding performance. Known as “Grace” to the Allies, the plane could be used as a torpedo or a dive bomber. While the plane had its first test flight in 1941, it did not become operational for several years due to engine troubles and only 114 saw service. With a powerful armament for an attack plane (two 20 mm cannon in her wings), maneuverability equal to the A6M, and range matched by few single-engine aircraft, this plane would have been a formidable foe at sea.

These are just a handful of the Japanese aircraft types present in the game. Keep watching this spot for more development updates.

Mike Bennighof
November 2004