|Tony Holmes, illustrated by Jim Laurier|
80 pages, 7¼ x 9¼ inches, softcover
This next edition of Osprey's Duel series pits two naval fighters against each other in the last year of WWII in the Pacific. On the American side is the F6F Hellcat while on the other side is the N1K1-J/N1K2 Shiden/Shiden-kai. These are two fairly similar aircraft with similar power and flight characteristics.
The Hellcat was the main carrier borne fighter in the last years of the war. It was rugged, fairly easy to fly, and well armed. It was not the fastest fighter in US naval service, that going to the F4U, but the Corsair was tricky to fly and land on carriers, something the Hellcat was not. The Hellcat was also fairly maneuverable and by the time it met the adversary of this book, was a well wrung out weapons system.
The Kawanishi plane, however, was not well wrung out and thanks to its rather odd beginnings (it was privately developed from a floatplane fighter), had some major glitches. One of them was a very long and troublesome main landing gear that had a tendency to break even when only taxiing. This is not a good thing. It was due to the N1K1-J having the fairly high mounted wing of the floatplane. The long gear was needed to provide prop clearance. Given the code name 'George', the Shiden was a plane that handled well in the air and was heavily armed. It also had pilot and fuel tank armor protection, something lacking in earlier Japanese fighters. Flown by an experience pilot, it was more than a match for the Hellcat. It was highly maneuverable thanks to its automatic combat flaps.
However, the plane needed fixed. The later Shiden-kai, was almost an entirely new plane with a lower mounted wing, stronger landing gear and an all cannon armament that provided deadly to those planes hit by it. Unfortunately for the Japanese, both versions of the George suffered from poor manufacturing, especially engine issues caused by low octane aviation fuel. The Shiden-kai was also built in few numbers with less than 300 completed prior to war's end. The Shiden numbers were not very impressive either. The Hellcat, on the other hand had over 12,000 examples built by the end of production.
Since the book concentrates on meetings between the Hellcat and George, there is little in the book on the initial N1K1-J variant which did see combat against Hellcats over the Philippines and Formosa, but very few encounters and the type was often misidentified as a Zero. So we get most of the combat stuff regarding the N1K2 and specifically the 343rd Kokutai, which was basically a unit made up of skilled pilots and aces. It was felt that this unit would have the greatest impact. Indeed, it did as the aggression and skill of its pilots along with an excellent aircraft (when everything was working) was a nasty surprise to Hellcat units. Fortunately for F6F pilots, there were a lot more Hellcats than Shiden-kais so what was accomplished by the 343rd really had very little impact on the outcome of the war.
As is the norm with this series, the authors provide a bit of background history to the two types as well as a look at how the crews were trained and how the aircraft were used in combat. One is surprised at how effective the latter N1K2 aircraft was against a similar number of F6Fs. The superior maneuverability of the George and its heavy four 20mm cannon armament were often decisive in the outcome of combat. Where the Hellcat had an advantage was in its rugged construction and in the sheer numbers. Add to all this some great period photos and superbly done art work and you'll have an excellent book that is well worth picking up.
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