Japanese Captured P-40

    The official reason the IJAAF HQ decided to use Curtiss P-40E Warhawks operationally in the defense of occupied Rangoon is not  known. However, this unusual circumstance has now been well documented.

    Sam TAGAYA translated the pertinent information from, "A-AH, HAYABUSA SENTOTAI" (A-ah, Hayabusa Fighter Unit) by Yasuhiko KUROE (Posthumously), Kojinsha Tokyo:1969, pp 246-248:

    "During the Spring 1943 Air Offensive in Burma, on March 21, 1943, a mission was flown against Feni Airfield by 21 heavy bombers (Sally II) and 15 fighters (Oscar II), the planes returning at night. The heavy bomber formation which headed toward Rangoon were fired upon by friendly anti-aircraft batteries around Rangoon, since the ground air defenses had not been properly alerted to the approach of the returning bombers which had changed the air base to which they were going to land.

    'Not only that, but from Mingaladon Airfield, a unit of our forces equipped with captured P-40s took off to intercept. In the darkened sky, a tragic exchange of friendly fire took place. By the time they realized what had happened, some of the heavy bombers had force-landed after being hit by the friendly fire.'"

    [N.B.: Yasuhiko KUROE, 3rd Chutai Leader of 64th Sentai, was one of the leading aces of the JAAF. Hata & Izawa credit him with 30 victories. In his Osprey book, Henry SAKAIDA credits him with 51, second only to Hiromichi SHINOHARA. KUROE was drowned in a fishing accident in November 1965.]

    That this event actually occurred is officially recorded in other Japanese official records. Sam continues;

 "Boeicho Kokan Senshi (aka "Senshi Sosho") Vol. 61 Burma, N.E.I. Area 3rd Air Army Operations, PP 284-286 gives more concrete details:

    '12 aircraft of 12th Sentai and 9 of 98th Sentai, under escort from 15 fighters of 64th Sentai led by Capt. KUROE attacked Feni No.1 Airfield. Upon return, 98th Sentai and the 1st and 2nd Chutai of the 64th Sentai landed at Magwe. 12th Sentai and 3rd Chutai, 64th Sentai (directly led by KUROE) headed for Toungoo. But Toungoo was under attack from enemy aircraft at the time, and the formation was diverted to Hlegu. KUROE and his Oscars did not catch that radio message. They waited until the enemy raid was over and landed at Toungoo North. When 12th Sentai neared Hlegu, they were suddenly illuminated by searchlights and were attacked by fighters. The aircraft of 3rd Chutai Leader, Capt. Shigeo IWAHASHI, with sentai-cho Col. YOSHII onboard, was hit and crash-landed at Mingaladon. It hit an earth bank, broke its fuselage and the tail flew off. Four crewmen were killed in the crash and Capt. IWAHASHI and two others injured. Col. YOSHII was unhurt. Two other aircraft of IWAHASHI's formation were also hit and force-landed at Hlegu, but there were no casualties among the crew. The rest of the aircraft landed safely at Hlegu and Mingaladon.

    The fighters which attacked IWAHASHI's formation were from a unit equipped with captured P-40s formed for the aerial defense of Rangoon.'"

     Until recently, there was no knowledge of the unit to which this flight of impressed P-40s was attached. Researcher and author  Edward ("Ted") YOUNG ("Air Commando Fighters of World War II," Specialty Press:2000) made the following revelation;

     "Some years ago I found a reference to captured P-40s in the Royal Air Force records at the Public Records Office in London. File Air 40/2172 had a translation of a captured diary of a mechanic assigned to the 12th Sentai. The diary recorded the following entry for March 11, 1943, when the mechanic was at Alor Star in Malaya:

    'At noon a formation of 3 P-40s flew over and landed. They are being moved by air as part of a new chutai [shotai ?] which is being formed to take part in the Burma operations. The 50th Hikosentai mark was on them.'

    I assume he was referring to the 50th Sentai's 'lightning bolt.' Sadly no comment on colors, or where the P-40s came from."

     Below is a provisional rendering by Don MARSH of the Curtiss P-40E as it may have appeared if assigned to No.2 Hiko Chutai, No.50 Hiko Sentai. Someday, a photograph of one of these Warhawks in operational Japanese service may surface.

    The supreme irony of the foregoing is that at least six hapless Sallys of the No.12 Hiko Sentai should have fallen victim to Hawks over Rangoon on two separate occasions. AND, that the second time they came under Warhawk fire, the bullets were fired by Japanese pilots flying captured Allied fighters!

    Sam TAGAYA wryly concludes, "It seems Curtiss's products continued to shoot down Japanese bombers no matter who was flying  them!"

 -Jim Lansdale

 Credit: Graphics 2001 by Don Marsh and Marsh Studios



     One of the most unusual tales regarding the air war in the Far East during World War II concerns the operational use of Curtiss P-40 Warhawks by the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force (IJAAF)! According to research by noted Japanese military aviation historian  Osamu TAGAYA;

    "In total, the Japanese appear to have had as many as ten flyable P-40Es. For a brief period, during 1943, a few of them were    actually used operationally by the 50th Hiko Sentai in the defense of Rangoon. Testimony to this fact is given by Yasuhiko Kuroe     (64th Hiko Sentai) in his memoirs, in which he says one Japanese Warhawk shot down a friendly 'Sally' over Rangoon by mistake!"

     However, Hawk victories over No.12 Hiko Sentai (FR) Mitsubishi Ki-21 Sally bombers in the skies above Rangoon, Burma began on 25 December 1941. On that date, twenty-seven Sally bombers attached to No.12 FR departed their home base at Don Muang Airfield, Bangkok Thailand (Siam) for a mission to bomb Rangoon and the nearby airfield at Mingaladon. Accompanying No.12 FR were thirty-six Sallys of No.60 FR along with an escort of twenty-five Nakajima Ki-43 Oscars belonging to No.64 FR.

     After forming over Don Muang, the formation proceeded to Moulmein, Burma, changed course and approached Rangoon at an  altitude of 6000 meters. With Rangoon in sight, the lead Sally of the No.12 FR under the command of Capt. KUSAKARI, suddenly turned away. A message from Capt. KUSAKARI indicated that his aircraft had some mechanical difficulty and the No.1 Hiko Chutaicho for No.12 FR, Capt. OURA, was to take the lead position. As the formation reorganized and proceeded to the primary target, the electric power facility at Rangoon, they were attacked by the defending force, British Brewster Buffaloes and Curtiss P-40Bs belonging to the 3rd Pursuit Squadron ("Hell's Angels") of the American Volunteer Group, "Flying Tigers."

    At least three of the No.12 FR Sallys were lost. The first being that of Lt. Seizo HAYASHI. Two other Sallys made forced landings.

     One crash-landed at Don Muang and the other, flown by Lt. Koichi MIYAWAKI, crashed in the mountains of Siam. Major Tateo KATO, leading the escort fighters of the No.64 Hiko Sentai, lost at least two of his pilots, Lt. Horoshi OKUMURA and Sgt. Shigekatsu WAKAYAMA.

-Jim Lansdale

"Japanese Army Heavy Bomber Units," by Dr. Yasuho IZAWA
"Japanese Fighter Units and Aces," by Dr. Yasuho IZAWA
Translation by Shuichiro Watabiki
Credits: Lithograph AAFA and Roy Grinnell; Photo, NASM via Dan Ford



    After the fall of Burma, Malaya, Netherlands East Indies (NEI), and the Philippines, all types of Allied aircraft were impressed by the Japanese. Several Curtiss P-40E Warhawks were captured by the IJAAF in the Philippines and Java. Historian Rick DUNN relates:

    "The SS Seawitch's cargo of 27 P-40s was supposed to have been dumped in the harbor in Java, but the Japanese may have been quick enough to have recovered them without too much corrosion. Also, three crated, brand-new P-40s were delivered to Cebu by SS Anhui about mid March 42. I assume, but can't verify, if they were then transported to Mindanao. Anyway while I don't know their fate they were potentially available for capture."

    Author and historian Bill BARTSCH confirmed that, "Three P-40Es were brought by the blockade runner SS Anhui that left Brisbane on February 22, 1942, bound for Cebu. This event is included in my book "Doomed at the Start," (pp. 339-40). The Warhawks ended up being re-shipped to Mindanao, where they were assembled by American mechanics under USAAC 1st Lt. Pete Warden. All  three were flown to the field at Maramag, where two were captured by the Japanese (p. 422)."

     In the event, many Curtiss products were repaired and test flown by the Japanese Koku Gijutsu Kenkyujo (Air Technical Research Laboratory or Gi Ken) at Tachikawa, Japan and at the test facilities in Singapore.

    N.B. For another view of a captured Curtiss P-40 Warhawk in Japanese markings documented by Bill BARTCH, click on the link below the photo of P-40E (Nos 1-4) at Tachikawa.

"Japanese Warhawk!" Yasushi Ushijima as translated by Osamu Tagaya, AAHS Journal: Summer1975, PP 89-93.
"Doomed At the Start." William H. Bartsch, Texas A & M University Press: 1992.
Military Aircraft: September 1997, Delta Publishing Co., Ltd.
Koku Fan Magazine: August 1973, Bunrin-Do Co., Ltd.
Photo credits: Bunrin-Do and Delta Publishing


    C. "Buz" BUSBY, of Winnelli, Australia, has contacted me to say that none of the twenty odd P-40Ds manufactured by Curtiss were captured by the Japanese in the early months of the war. Nor were any British Kittyhawks captured. Buz writes,

    "As far as I can tell all H-87A-2's (and all Curtiss P-40Ds were stateside) are accounted for. All were either in the middle east from the start or were sent there later. Some transferred to RCAF for use in Canada, some transferred to TuAF (Turkish AF) after use in the Desert. My research leans towards the fact that only the 560 aircraft were built for the RAF (as per the official numbers), and their history I have mostly plotted.

    As for the aircraft that went on the USS Langley and SS Seawitch, (both loaded at same time), they came from batches of p-40Es delivered to Australia. The aircraft that did not fit onto the Langley were transferred to the Australian Air Force. The serial numbers for these aircraft were all late batch P-40E's (batches 41-13521 to 41-13599 and 41-5305 to 41-5744).

    Aircraft that I have noted as going to the Philippines/Java are also in batch 41-5305 to 41-5744 (departed Aust for Java as parts of the 5 Provisional Sqdns formed here and flown over). Aircraft delivered to the Philippines before the outbreak of WWII were from the earlier 40-382 to 40-681, some of the later batch may have got through later.

    No E-1s were delivered to the Philippines as far as my Research shows. These tend to arrive in Australia in later shipments the first about 30 January 1942.

    I have also found a photo (see below) in one of my references showing 3 GI's sitting on a P-40 airframe. This airframe is clearly an E model as all three guns have been removed from the Port wing and the Ports left uncovered. Also of intrest is some of the aircraft sent with the 51FG from Australia. These were also E models in the 41-5305 to 41-5744 range (10 airframes sent to India)."

-Jim Lansdale

Photo credit: Donald W. Thorpe via LRA

Repatriated Curtiss P-40E after liberation by Allied Forces. Fabric on control surfaces trashed and canopy missing. Note weathering on camo and dropped flaps. Good model subject. Possible Zero with folded wingtips parked next to it.

Photo from the collection of A. Sean Glaspell


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