Osprey's Ki-27 'Nate' Aces

Author:

Nicholas Millman

Publisher/Distributor

Osprey Publishing

Price

$22.95 MSRP

Reviewer:

Scott Van Aken

Notes: 80 pages, 7 x 9 inches, softcover
ISBN: 978-1-84908-622-2

The most important Japanese Army fighter on the eve of the Pacific War was the Ki-27. It was an aircraft that was the first production monoplane fighter for that service, replacing the Ki-10 biplane fighter. The Ki-27 was light, nimble and a major improvement over the older biplane, despite sticking with fixed landing gear. To the Japanese pilot, maneuverability was the main trait that every fighter should have. This was left over from WWI and was hard for pilots to think otherwise. Also left over from WWI was the rather anemic armament of two rifle calibre machine guns.

However, the Ki-27 was developed in that climate and it was felt that it would do well in combat. Indeed, it did do well when fighting the Chinese in the late 1930s though it was more pilot skill than anything else. It was during the Nomohan War with the Soviet union that the Ki-27 reached its pinnacle of effectiveness. Japanese pilots racked up some pretty impressive scores against the Soviets in the initial stages of the war. At this time the Soviets were flying the I-15/153 and the I-16. In reality the I-16 was a superior aircraft  in terms of speed and ability to withstand punishment, but it was not fought well. It wasn't until reinforcements in the form of Soviet units that had pilots experienced in the Spanish Civil War that the tide started to turn. The lack of speed was something that would continue to be an issue for Ki-27 pilots. The Ki-27 could dogfight with the best of them, but once the enemy learned to use hit and run tactics, the Ki-27 quickly became obsolete.

Despite this, the Ki-27 was still the main Army plane at the start of the Pacific war. The Ki-43 was just entering service, but there were not enough to equip everyone. So when the Japanese started fighting in southeast asia, it was the Ki-27 that was the main army fighter. Just like in Manchuria, the Ki-27 proved to be well suited to fighting the British, Dutch and the AVG in the early going with several Ki-27 pilots racking up scores in addition to their Nomohan totals. Again, once the opposition learned to do hit and run tactics, the score totals reversed a bit, but by that time, it was too late and the Japanese had overrun the are.

China in 1942 was the last effective use of the Ki-27. With the introduction of the P-40E with its higher speed and greater armor/armament, the Ki-27 was shown to be pretty well ineffective. In fact, most of the fighter kills by the AVG were against the Ki-27, despite many pilots calling them 'zeros' in their action reports. The Ki-27 was also pretty much the only home defense fighter of the early war and it was this aircraft that made several unsuccessful attacks on Doolittle B-25s during that raid. Even later in the war, the Ki-27 was used against the B-29 in both Manchuria and over the homelands. The only successes it had at that time was when the pilot deliberately crashed his plane into the Superfortress. Most of its later years were used as advanced trainers and late in the war as a suicide plane, piloted by inexperienced teenage pilots.

Author Nicholas Millman does a superlative job of telling the story of the men who flew the Ki-27. The Japanese side of the story during WWII has been slow in coming and this book helps to fill a considerable void in that knowledge here in the West. Superbly illustrated by what few photos have been found of this aircraft as well as the excellent profiles we come to expect from Osprey, it is a book that every enthusiast has to have on their shelves.

September 2013

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