Douglas Ford, ‘Informing Airmen? The US Army Air Forces’ Intelligence on Japanese Fighter Tactics in The Pacific Theatre, 1941–5′
This article traces the development of US air intelligence on the tactics and weapons of Japan’s fighter forces during the Pacific War. During the opening stages of the conflict, the US Army Air Forces (USAAF) struggled to set up an intelligence network in the Pacific theater because they were unprepared to wage a large scale conflict against the Japanese. Prior to December 1941, most American air commanders expected Japan to refrain from initiating hostilities with the western powers, and were thus caught unawares when faced with the onslaught of the Japanese air services. The setbacks which US forces suffered in the western Pacific regions during the opening stages of the conflict persuaded air commanders to create a more efficient apparatus that was designed to make good use of the information which aircrews gathered in their encounters with enemy forces. By the end of 1942, observations of the Japanese air forces’ performance in combat enabled the Americans to acquire a rudimentary knowledge of the tactical procedures which pilots needed to follow in order to neutralize their opponent. After 1943, the tide of the air war turned decisively in favor of the Allies, owing to the fact that Japan’s strengths were stretched to the limit, and its industries could not replace the planes and equipment which the armed forces had lost during the battle of Midway and the Solomons campaign.As the conflict progressed, US aviators noticed how the Japanese had suffered losses to the point where they could no longer defend the skies above their occupied territories, as evidenced by the fact that enemy interceptors were appearing in ever-decreasing numbers. The development motivated airmen to seek ways to destroy the remnants of Japan’s air forces as quickly as possible and thereby hasten the tempo of the campaign in the Pacific theater. However, the USAAF remained mindful of the difficulties they faced in fighting the Japanese. This was mainly because the intelligence secured via encounters with enemy forces continued to suggest that they still possessed a good number of serviceable planes, along with trained pilots who were able to cause significant disruption for US air missions. The evidence was taken as a clear indication that the Americans needed to deploy sufficient aircraft strengths and simultaneously develop the tactical methods needed to protect friendly forces against unnecessary casualties.