Reviewed by C.V. Glines
By Robert C. Mikesh
Schiffer Military History, Atglen, Pa., 2004
Why would anyone want to possess a detailed inventory of World War II Japanese aircraft components and equipment? Robert C. Mikesh, a retired Air Force pilot and former senior curator at the National Air and Space Museum, answers that question in his preface to this extraordinary collection of facts and photographs: Crashed relics of Japanese aircraft are more and more frequently being brought from the battle areas in attempts to reconstruct them. The restorers have suffered from a lack of information about the various components and the configurations in which they were installed. This book is the answer to their problems.
Mikesh has divided his extensively illustrated book into chapters on aircraft instruments, radio equipment, aerial cameras, machine guns, gun and bombsights and interior colors and coatings. This is the product of a prodigious effort and serves as a companion book to his previously published Japanese Aircraft Interiors. While the equipment and component chapters will be of great value to restorers, the opening chapter on how planes were obtained for study by Technical Air Intelligence (TAI) units will also be of interest to WWII buffs.
TAI units in the South Pacific had the primary responsibility for collecting Japanese aircraft, identifying the various types and taking photos in order to make drawings and determine performance capabilities. In the war’s early days, it was difficult for the TAIs to obtain crashed aircraft from the widespread battle zones. In addition, Japanese labels had to be translated, and identifications often proved difficult. The need for technical information about the enemy in the Pacific resulted in the establishment of a facility at Eagle Farms, near Brisbane, Australia, to study wrecked and captured equipment. Later on, the Technical Air Intelligence Center was established at Anacostia Naval Air Station in Washington, D.C.
There are many interesting historical tidbits throughout Mikesh’s narrative and captions. For example, on August 7, 1945, the day after the first atomic bomb was dropped, Japan entered the Jet Age when Lt. Cmdr. Susumu Takaoka made the first jet flight in the Nakajima Kikka. The Japanese also had many types of advanced gunsights, including one model that was adapted from the Sperry computing gunsight, garnered from downed B-17s. They also used a variety of aerial cameras with various lenses, which were surprisingly sophisticated for that era and attracted the interest of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey after the war.
Those interested in Japanese aircraft as well as restorers of aircraft and equipment will find Mikesh’s book an invaluable source of information that is not available anywhere else. It also deserves a place in the reference library of every aviation museum.