Arado 196 in the Pacific

It is not widely known that a German submarine command was stationed in Penang which operated Ar196s. Hiroshi Yasunaga was one of the few Japanese pilots who saw this plane. I have learned recently from Mr. Hans Mcilveen that the Ar196 had Hinomarus, and that the Germans possibly also operated a E13A as well!

The following translation from "Shito no Suiteitai" by Yasunaga-san describes the author' witnessing the German plane in fall, 1944.

The next night, there was a movie in the hanger. The movie was a western titled "Western Union". The film was in English, but the story wasn't hard to follow. It was a story of tough, brave, and spirited Americans.

On the way back to our quarters, I said,

"Gee, we're fighting THOSE guys. No wonder the fight is so tough."

Aoki was silent for a while, and then mumbled something like

"Well, you know, it's a movie, a story"

Then PO1 Koritani, walking right ahead of us turned around and grinned back in agreement. Seems everyone else thought the same way too. However, I thought about the German Navy plane I saw yesterday and the amazing precision with which it was built. The Germans and the Americans must have about the equal industrial standard, so as far as industry was concerened, we are way behind the Americans. I walked back feeling down about the situation.

Just before lunch yesterday, a two seat float plane of the German Navy paid a visit to our base. The plane was a twin-float low-wing monoplane, a size or two smaller than our Type Zero float plane. This was a recon float plane that belonged to the submarine fleet command stationed in Penang. It touched down gently on the sea about 200 meters off the command post. It was a beautiful touchdown. The plane killed it's speed way low, pulled up near stall, and touched down quietly from the rear end of the floats. It was a surprise for me who firmly believed that we Japanese are much superior than the white people at such delicate operation as bringing a float plane down.

"Gee, his so good!", I heard someone make an honest comment.

The two German Navy officers appeared at the command post. The pilot was a tough looking man, at least ten years older than I was. He put out his big clumsy looking hand out to our commander, and I wondered how that hand could make such a delicate and gentle landing maneuver.

They said they were here to change the floats, so moved the German plane to the hanger and our maintenance crew brought out the pair of floats, struts, and the wires. The floats were smaller than those of our Type 0, and I felt a bit superior since they looked stubbier and less refined than the floats on my mount. However, the feeling didn't last long as the big handed pilot started giving instructions to our ground crew who held up the floats.

"Choi ue, mou choi ue (up, a bit more up)" the pilot instructed in Japanese. But that was as far as his Japanese went. The instructions to left and right were given in German and gestures. When the fittings on the end of the struts and the fittings on the bottom of the fuselage was matched, our crew swiftly inserted the bolts. Then the bolts were inserted to the rear struts, and then the lateral struts, and in no time, the pair of brand new floats were mounted on the airframe.

The maintenance crew at Singapore were used to this and performed all this matter-of-factly, but the fleet crew, pilots, and officers were all very much surprised. The time it took to change the floats was about a tenth of the time it would take to do the same for our Type O. And the German officer did this by commanding a band of our crew mostly by gestures only!

Curiosity took the better of me. I stepped forward to the workbench between the two floats, took the spanner from the maintenance man's hand, and touched the brand new bolt that he was tightening. My guess was, there was considerable "play" between the bolt and the bolt hole for it to go in that smoothly. However, the bolt was securely inserted without any play. There was not even a tenth of a millimeter nor even a hundredth of a millimeter of space between the hole and the bolt. It was amazingly precise. Utterly unthinkable from experience. And the material of the bolt was high-grade steel with a beautiful gleam. I was no expert on steel, but the difference of material was obvious.

When we changed floats, it was a much more of a major operation. Up to where the front struts were matched against the fuselage fittings was the exactly the same procedure when conducted by Myoko's veteran petty officer Motonaga or the German officer by his gestures. There are two plates on the bottom of the fuselage about 10 millimeters apart. Then the fitting on the end of the strut is placed between the two plates, and the bolt is inserted though all three metal fittings. Here's where things start getting complicated.

"Round file!" yells Motonaga. The holes on the three fittings do not match, so the bolts do not go in. The fittings are filed, and the bolts are sometimes hammered in. The banging of the hammer kills my nerves. If all that hammering creates unseen cracks on the fittings, maybe the floats will collapse when landing on rough sea. The filing was also depressing to the pilot as seach second of filing lowered the strength of the fittings and consequently, the safety margin on emergencies. Sometimes the bolts go through really smooth, but then I have to worry that the bolt is loose.

The sad fact was there was a world of difference in the precision of our products, as well as in the quality of material. However, the 1200HP Kinsei never failed on me on long overwater fights. I was convinced that the people who build our motors and the guys that build the airframe were of totally different skill levels.

Shito no Suiteitai, Hiroshi Yasunaga ISBN4-257-17281-9