Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Toryu Redux

First prototype Ki 45.01

 Second prototype Ki 45.02

 Third prototype Ki 45.03

 Seventh prototype Ki 45.07

 Hucks starting truck

The Ki 45 was Japan’s first twin-engine fighter and its most successful night fighter. It also served capably in a variety of missions, including ground attack, antishipping, and kamikaze.

By 1937 the notion of long-range strategic fighters, capable of escorting bomber fleets to targets and back, was becoming prevalent. Germany began successfully experimenting with its Messerschmitt Bf 110, which prompted the Imperial Japanese Army to adopt similar craft. That year it invited several companies into a competition, and Kawasaki, after many trials and prototypes, originated the Ki 45 Toryu (Dragon Slayer). This was a handsome, low-wing design with a pointed nose and a long, tandem cabin housing pilot and gunner. Initial flights revealed that the craft was underpowered, so a succession of better engines ensued until the Nakajima Ha–25 was utilized. Other problems centered around the landing gear, which were weak and hand-cranked in flight. With better motors and powered undercarriage, the Ki 45 showed promise, so in 1941 it entered production. A total of 1,701 were ultimately built, and they received the code name Nick during World War II.

The first Ki 45s were deployed in Southeast Asia and, despite exceptional maneuverability for their size, were at a disadvantage fighting single-engine opponents. Given their speed and heavy armament, however, they proved ideal for ground attacks and antishipping strikes. Moreover, the Ki 45 was also an effective bomber interceptor and played havoc with American B-24 formations throughout Burma and Indochina. When the B-24s switched to night attacks, the Ki 45 was converted into a night fighter by mounting heavy cannons on top of the fuselage in slanted fashion. Considerable success was achieved, which gave rise to the Ki 45 KAIc, a dedicated night-fighter version, in 1944. These machines also performed useful work against high-flying B-29s over Japan toward the end of the war. More ominously, on May 27, 1944, it fell upon four Nicks to perform the first army kamikaze attacks against American warships off Biak.

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