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Carrier aircraft navigation: How did they do it?

Discussion in 'Naval Warfare in the Pacific' started by marc780, Apr 14, 2009.

  1. R Leonard

    R Leonard Member

    Oct 15, 2003
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    The Old Dominion
    Not entirely certain upper winds were something about which carrier strike planners were particularly overly concerned. Note long list of info for scout missions; same went to strike missions.

    Carrier mission profiles were usually from a known point to another known point, that is, from a carrier to a point of land somewhere. Strikes against enemy warships in the middle of the open ocean, while certainly more gee whiz for the historian, were actually a rarity. One can probably count the major ones of those without resorting to toes.

    Further, with the limited ranges, rarely in excess of 200 miles, these were not particularly rigorous navigation feats – remember, known point to known point or somewhere someone else already scouted. It would take some pretty hefty winds aloft to knock an entire Able strike so far off course to miss a target, especially a land target, entirely. Most occasions I can of which I can recall where full strikes came up empty handed (HAG VB-8 & VS-8 at Midway for example) were the result of basic errors in mission planning, not navigation or winds at higher altitudes.

    Certainly the problems more usually faced were either simple inexperience or bad weather or both. Early strikes in the late winter of 1942, just to keep the Japanese on their toes, were plagued with bad weather and a slow transition from peace-time practices to the realities of wartime (cost one VB squadron commander his life). At Midway, VF-8 lost its entire morning strike escort due to a combination of poor planning, poor leadership, poor navigation, and possibly, remotely possibly, carbon monoxide poisoning; thankfully, most of the pilots were eventually rescued - that was one VF CO who never held another combat command. Later in the war, 25 January 1944 to be exact, almost an entire squadron of F4Us (VMF-422) was lost on a ferry flight from Tarawa to Nanomea, about 465 NM, when they hit an over-water storm front about 100 miles short of their destination – a loss of 22 aircraft and six aviators. Only one pilot managed to get his plane on the ground, landing at Funafuti after five hours in the air. This incident alone accounted for 10% of F4Us lost in the Pacific to non combat causes. Causes were attributed to poor communications, planning, and training.

    Rocking and rolling in Richmond!
  2. ResearcherAtLarge

    ResearcherAtLarge Member

    Jun 27, 2010
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  3. CTBurke

    CTBurke Member

    Jan 9, 2012
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    I had read somewhere that post-war estimates of Japanese aircraft losses included some 25% from "navigational errors". Particularly, "staging" single-engined aircraft flying overwater to remote bases from interim bases seemed to be very hazardous. Common US practice was to assign a "mother" multi-engined aircraft as a guide to her brood of single-engined planes flying long distances overwater. I don't think the Japanese did this, or at least not very often. For all the effort that the Japanese put into intense training of their pilots, they paid SO LITTLE attention to guarding that asset from unnecessary attrition---no "air-sea rescue" service, lack of radios, homing beacons, etc., so they kind of frittered away their prowess through neglect.

    Along with radar, the electronic homing beacons were a "force multiplier" that conserved battle assets, made them more efficient, and increased survivability.
  4. Takao

    Takao Ace

    Apr 27, 2010
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    Reading, PA
    Attributing 25% of Japanese aircraft losses to "navigational error" seems to me to be awfully high. I believe that losses due to navigational error are probably much closer to 5% than 25%. IIRC, Japanese operational losses were about 50% of their total aircraft lost, and I really doubt that half of those could be attributed to navigational error.

    The Japanese did use multi-engine aircraft as a formation guide, but I am not sure how often, nor what was the deciding factors - distance, weather, etc.- for using such guide aircraft.

    The Japanese "intense training" is mostly a myth that has been "busted" by several recent authors on the matter. In the early 1930's, yes, the Japanese pilots were highly trained, however, by the late 1930's, the Japanese Army & Naval Air Forces had grown by leaps and bounds. By the start of the war, several of the new Japanese Naval air units were barely combat ready. Although many of the older Japanese aviators did have combat experience against the Chinese Air Force.

    The Japanese did make some effort at "Air-Sea Rescue", however, several factors worked against the Japanese. During late-42 thru 1943, they fought mostly over US controlled territory, contested territory, or unforgiving pacific jungles(few pilots of either side were recovered if they went down in one of those jungles). Also, the Japanese fought at longer ranges than the Americans, as such, they fought farther away from friendly territory, making rescue unlikely. Later in the war, the Japanese were losing ground at terrible rates, and lost pilots could expect no rescue with Japanese forces retreating from the battle area.

    It wasn't so much a "lack", number-wise, of radios, as it was the very poor quality of Japanese radios. Their radios early in the war, were considered to be useless, and as such, were often left behind to save weight.

    The American homing beacons, aka "Zed Baker", were not the "force multiplier" early in the war, that you make them out to be. The "Zed Baker" receivers were a force multiplier when they worked, however, that was not often enough. Ironically, the closer you got to home, the less effective the receivers were. Just look at the Hornet's VF-8 at the Battle of Midway. The VF-8 pilot's visually sighted their task force in the distance, however, the temperamental Zed Bakers were not working, so they thought that the task force was Japanese, and flew right on by. All of the F4Fs ditched into the sea, and had it not been for a PBY out of Midway making a lucky sighting on a patrol mission, all the pilots would have been lost. Unfortunately, a few of the VF-8 pilots were never recovered. Still, the technology was improved later in the war, and it did become very successful. That being said, had the Japanese had effective homing beacons later in the war, they had already lost the air war, and such devices would have had little effect on the outcome of the war.

    But, then again, there are several stories throughout the war, some true, some not, of Japanese pilots trying to land on American carriers at night.
  5. brewdent

    brewdent New Member

    Aug 13, 2016
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    WWII Japanese Pilot Navigational Aid - My Great Uncle who served in the Navy during WWII acquired this during the war. It appears it was intended to be strapped to the leg of the pilot.

    Attached Files:

  6. Gliderboy

    Gliderboy New Member

    Feb 11, 2015
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    In his autobiography 'The Miraculous Torpedo Squadron' (Kindle e-book) the torpedo bomber pilot Juzo Mori makes no mention of any electronic or radio navigation aids.

    However, in reading the autobiographies of other Japanese pilots I learned of two interesting techniques they used:

    1. Planes with navigators would drop a series of green dye markers into the sea indicating the direction following aircraft should fly. These would be dropped at the after-attack rally point or other pre-arranged location.

    2. Those familiar with paint schemes on Japanese aircraft may recall diagonal lines painted on the upper surfaces of the horizontal stabilizers. The relationship between these lines and the prevailing winds indicated by whitecaps helped pilots determine the amount of wind drift to correct for.

    Still, when Mori and his group were undergoing advanced training in Japan, during their first overwater training mission one of the Kates went missing, never to be found....

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