Japanese aircraft of World War II

This is an overview of the most important aircraft used by Japan during World War II.


The most famous Japanese fighter and airplane of WW II is the Mitsubishi A6M “Zero”. They were used throughout the war by the Navy. Early on they clearly outperformed the opposition, especially in terms of turning performance and service ceiling. This came at the cost of decreased survivability.  Armament consisted of two 20mm cannons and two 12.7mm MGs.

The Army counterpart was the Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa or “Oscar”., with strengths and weaknesses comparable to the Zero. Typical armament was two 12.7mm MGs.

Starting in 1943 the Navy used the Mitsubishi J2m Raiden or “Jack” as land-based fighter, especially against B-29 raids. They were armed with four 20mm cannons. A second land-based fighter was the Kawanishi N1K “George”, also armed with four cannons.. The Army had the Nakajima Ki-44 “Tojo”, armed with four 12.7mm MGs, as addition to its force of Oscars.

The Army also used the Kawasaki Ki-61 “Tony” starting in 1943. Unlike other Japanese fighters it used a liquid-cooled V engine, the German DB 601. It was armed with two 20mm cannons and two 12.7mm MGs. Another 1943 introduction used by the Army was the Nakajima Ki-84 “Frank”, armed with the same mix of cannons and MGs. Introduced in 1945 was a further evolution of the Ki-61, the Kawasaki Ki-100.

Japan also used two twin-engined heavy fighters: The Kawasaki Ki-45 “Nick”, and the Nakajima J1N “Irving”.


The Navy used the Nakajima B5N “Kate” torpedo bomber throughout the war, typical load was one 800kg torpedo. It’s dive-bombing counterpart was the Aicho D3A “Val”, which carried 250kg of bombs.

The Navy also used land based bombers. The Mitsubishi G3M “Nell”, and starting in 1941 the Mitsubishi K4M “Betty” (both with 800kg bomb load). The Army had its own bombers, the Mitsubishi Ki-21 “Sally” and the Nakajima Ki-49 “Helen”, both able to carry 1000kg of bombs. The Mitsubishi Ki-51 “Sonia” was used as light bomber with a 200kg load.

The “Kate” was replaced by the Nakajima B6N “Jill” starting in 1944. Since the Japanese Navy had already lost most of its carriers at this time, the B6N was predominantly used as land-based torpedo bomber. Likewise, the Yokosuka D4Y “Judy” replaced the “Val” as dive bomber starting in 1943. It was also used as reconnaissance plane and saw heavy use for Kamikaze attacks.

The Army also received newer types during the war. The Kawasaki Ki-48 “Lily”, capable of carrying a bomb load of 800kg, served throughout the war. The Mitsubishi Ki-67 “Peggy” could carry more than 1,000kg of bombs. A similar load could be carried by the Yokosuka P1Y “Frances”, introduced in late 1943.


Japan used the Kawanishi H6K and H8K flying boats for maritime patrols. The Mitsubishi Ki-46 “Dinah” was used for reconnaissance. In 1941, the Navy introduced the Aichi E13A “Jake” reconnaissance seaplane. The most numerous transport plane was the Mitsubishi Ki-57.

Paint schemes

Early on, Zeros were painted in a very light olive-gray that appears almost white. Most aircraft were later painted in a two-tone scheme of dark green and light gray, though camouflage and variations using tan colors also existed.

Aircraft of WW II: Germany Great BritainUS Air ForceUS NavyJapanSoviet Union.