Wednesday 30 October 2013

Nichimo Co.Ltd. 1951 to 2013 ~ A Retrospective

The news that Nichimo - or Nichimoco as they branded themselves recently - is leaving the plastic model kit business after 62 years is rather sad. There must be the possibility that some of their moulds, unique despite their age, will be bought and released by another manufacturer. Let's  hope so. Nichimo's  classic 1/48th scale Ki-43-I Hayabusa 'Oscar' is arguably a better model if not a better kit than the more recent Hasegawa version and has graced many a competition table since it first appeared in the 1970s with that strange brown Shoki-like scheme on the box art.

Their Mitsubishi Ki-51 'Sonia' remains unique in 1/48th scale and is another ever popular kit in its much debated blue colour scheme. The box art (as with most other Nichimo aircraft kits) was by Mr. R Nakanishi (b.1934). There is a fine advanced build article of the Ki-51 by Tetsuya Inoue here, honouring his grandfather who was a test pilot on the type for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. 

The floatplane Aichi E13A1-B 'Jake' is another unique 1/48th kit and it was recently the subject of an improved aftermarket resin interior set from Lone Star Models (sadly no longer available). 

Then there is the Tachikawa Ki-9 'Spruce' (Army Type 95-1 Medium Grade Trainer), another so far unduplicated model of the Army training biplane in 1/48th scale not to be confused with Otaki's 'Willow'. The Ki-9 is a lovely, delicately moulded kit, definitely worth re-issue, which includes an impressive interior, brass wire for rigging, nicely moulded standing and seated crewmen and decals for four flying schools - Kumagaya, Army Air Academy, Tachiarai and the seldom represented Mito. Let's hope we can see this one available again.

The Nichimo Nakajima B5N2 'Kate' and Kawasaki Ki-45 Toryu 'Nick' although also long standing as unique and popular show table entries have now both been eclipsed by more modern Hasegawa reproductions.

Seldom seen these days is Nichimo's 1/48th Mitsubishi A6M5, long rendered obsolete by better and more modern versions.

Nichimo's 1/70th scale Ki-61-II Hien from the 1960s has been covered previously here and here and deservedly praised in the context of its time and technology. Their A6M2 Zero and A6M5 to the same scale were available until quite recently in attractive boxes to lure the unwary. The A6M2 is probably better in many respects than some other Zero kits of the same era, certainly besting the very strange looking Aoshima and rather poor Fujimi examples. Although the  evocative A6M2 box art depicts a Hiryu carrier fighter cruising with the canopy open and the pilot watching contrails the decal sheet curiously offers markings only for the well-known Saburo Sakai  machine V-103 of the Tainan Ku. 

The 1/70th scale Mitsubishi JM2 Raiden with classic K Hashimoto box art was a similarly workmanlike but unappreciated kit, perhaps overshadowed by the 1964 Tamiya example and later by the greatly improved Hasegawa issue. The two unusual markings options in this kit (the other being Yo-J2-34) remain, as far as I know, unique.

For many years until Fujimi embarked on a new family series of 'Claude' the Nichimo A5M4 was the only game in town for this nimble IJN fighter and has appeared over the years in various boxes, deservedly earning the title of 'classic'. It is last but not least here. 

Farewell Nichimo and thank you for your valuable contributions to the genre of Japanese aviation models, maybe gone now but certainly not to be forgotten. 

Image credits: All box art from author's collection © Nichimo Co. Ltd., various dates. 

Friday 25 October 2013

Ki-54 of 10th Dokuritsu Hikodan Shireibu

Bob Alford has very kindly sent these additional photographs of the 10th Dokuritsu Hikodan Shireibu Ki-54 'Hickory" used to transport Lieutenant General Masao Baba's surrender delegation and of General Baba himself. 

Major Gen. Shozo Mitsunari commanded the 10th Dokuritsu Hikodan which had the 83rd Sentai under command and operated within the 37th Air Sector of 3rd Air Army. The Hikodan Shireibu (Air Brigade HQ) was usually responsible for directing the flying operations of units under command as well as overseeing ground support administration, usually under the auspices of the Air Army in which it served. The relationship of the  Dokuritsu Hikodan within IJAAF organisation is a little more obscure and in this case rather than just being independent of Air Army command it was directly engaged under local ground forces command - e.g. 37th Army for (mainly) direct co-operation and support duties. Other IJAAF units operating in the 37th Sector and which illustrate the logistical and support elements (often overlooked in the study of this subject for preferential interest in the 'teeth' arms) were the 100th, 110th, 111th Airfield Battalions, the 113th Airfield Construction Unit, the 4th Detached Depot, the 16th Field Air Depot. the 1st Branch of the 20th Field Air Supply and Repair Depot, the 1st Branch of the 25th Field Air Supply and Repair Depot, the Borneo Section of Southern Air Ways Department, the North-Australia Air Ways Department, a detachment from the 13th Field Meteorological Regiment, a detachment from the 14th Field Meteorological Regiment, the 4th Air Communication Unit, the 5th Company of the 2nd Meteorological Regiment and the Borneo Detached Party of  the 11th Air Communication Regiment.

According to Minoru Akimoto the 10th Dokuritsu Hikodan Shireibu was redesignated from a former 10th Dokuritsu Hikodan Shireibu on 23rd October 1944. The original HQ unit had been established in Manchuria on 1st December 1940 and served in Thailand, Burma, the Philippines and Borneo. The transport section operated the Army Type 1 Transport Model Hei (Tachikawa Ki-54c) and evidently the Mitsubishi Ki-51 'Sonia', probably as liaison and command aircraft, the flying units under command being predominantly equipped with this type.

The 83rd Sentai has one of the most complex and confusing genealogies of IJAAF units, originally established in March 1941 as a mixed unit from the three Chutai of the 10th Sentai with the Type 97 light bomber (Mitsubishi Ki-30 'Ann') and Type 98 Direct Co-operation Aircraft (Tachikawa Ki-36 'Ida'). In July 1941 it was re-designated Independent 38 Air Group (Dokuritsu No.38 Hikotai) bringing under command a HQ unit, and the Dokuritsu Hiko Chutai (Independent Air Squadrons - DHC) 71st, 73rd and 89th to operate over Indo-China, Burma and the Dutch East Indies. In April 1944 it was reconstituted as the 83rd Sentai. The 71st DHC originally operated the Ki-51 but in December 1943 returned to Japan and re-equipped with the Type 1 fighter  (Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa 'Oscar'), operating that type in air defence duties over Sumatra and later forming a special attack (suicide) unit the 'Shichisho Shoken Tai' in Formosa. The 73rd and 89th DHC both operated the Ki-51 as principal equipment mainly in the convoy escort and anti-submarine role but Akimoto-san reports that the latter unit also operated the Type 2 two-seater fighter (Kawasaki Ki-45 Toryu 'Nick') in the anti-shipping role.

Lieutenant General Baba was Supreme Commander of Japanese Forces in Borneo and commanded the 37th Japanese Army. He formally surrendered to Allied forces during a ceremony at the Headquarters of 9th Division on Labuan Island. General Baba was subsequently found guilty of war crimes in relation to the Sandakan Death Marches, sentenced to death and hanged at Rabaul on 7 August 1947.

Image credits: © 2013 Bob Alford

Friday 11 October 2013

Ki-51 10th Dokuritsu Hikodan Shireibu

Following the blogpost about that Ki-51 over Miri artist Ronnie Olsthoorn has very kindly provided an excellent schematic of the markings on the aircraft.

Image credits: © 2013 Ronnie Olsthoorn

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Ki-51 'Sonia' Over Miri, Borneo

Courtesy of the sleuthing skills and perseverance of Ronnie Olsthoorn come these remarkable images of the last moments of a Ki-51 'Sonia' of the 10th Dokuritsu Hikodan Shireibu (Independent Air Brigade Headquarters - 独立 飛行団 司令部) near Miri airstrip, Borneo at 1155 hrs on 22nd March 1945. Note that the 'Sonia' has had the wheel spats removed.

The 'Sonia' was shot down by the nose, top and starboard waist gunners of a PB4Y-1 of VPB-117 being flown by Lt A G Elder USNR and engaged in a search of the North-West coast of Borneo. The 'Sonia', mis-identified as a 'Kate' (Nakajima B5N1/2) with its undercarriage not yet retracted (!), had just taken off from Miri as the PB4Y-1 was about to commence a bombing and strafing run on the strip from 500 ft altitude just below an overcast. Lt Elder turned onto the Ki-51's tail and then pulled alongside while his gunners fired at it from the 7 and 8 o'clock positions.

The 'Sonia' then rolled to the right and crashed in a fireball beside the road below. Note the car with open door on the road. An enlargement of frame 2 of the 'Sonia' was also reproduced on page 23 of the excellent Arawasi Eagle Eye Series No. 1 on the Ki-36 and Ki-51 but the location was incorrectly identified as Mili Atoll in the Marshall Islands rather than Miri airstrip in Borneo where the 10th were operating at the time and where this incident actually took place. The Ki-51 was usually quite handy, manoeuvrable as a fighter with 2 x 12.7mm in the wings, as 73rd Dokuritsu Hiko Chutai leader Captain Shimada's epic fight with Lindbergh and the 49th FG P-38s over Amahai Bay in the Halmaheras on 28 July 1944 demonstrated. But in this instance it was probably caught by surprise without a gunner/observer in the back seat and the unfortunate pilot was probably a staff officer rather than a combat flyer.

The aircraft was in mottled camouflage with a dark fuselage stripe with light borders and a stylised insignia '10' on fin and rudder that the PB4Y-1 crew described as "rays". The aircraft identity was subsequently corrected to 'Ann' (Mitsubishi Ki-30) by intelligence personnel, a type with superficial resemblance to the Ki-51. It is apparent from reviewing many USN and USMC combat reports against Japanese records that the Ki-51 'Sonia', especially in special attack operations, was frequently mis-identified as a 'Val' (Aichi D3A1/2).

A Ki-54 'Hickory' transport aircraft of the 10th Dokuritsu Hikodan Shireibu was used to convey the Japanese surrender delegation under Lt General Masao Baba to Labuan, Borneo in August 1945 and carried similar markings on the tail.

Image credits: Ki-51 NARA via Ronnie Olsthoorn; KI-54 Australian War Memorial

Sunday 6 October 2013

Mystery Japanese Fighter ~ Update

Incorporated the poll results in the original blog post.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Lucky Sun 1/48th scale Resin Mitsubishi Ki-46-II

Regular correspondent and contributor Mark Smith has very kindly shared these images of a little known Japanese resin kit of the Mitsubishi Ki-46-II 'Dinah' in 1/48th scale made by "Lucky Sun".

Mark writes that the kit, perhaps from the early 1990s or late 1980s is contained in a box that is no larger than the LS 1/72nd scale Ki-46 series and has an attached price tag of ¥6,800 (about £42 now). He reports that the engraving on the pale blue-green resin parts is extremely uneven and ‘soapy’ but looks better in the photos than it really is. And the lack of definition extends to the one piece vacform canopy.  

"Apparently the kit maker outlined the bottom sill of the canopy with a blue Sharpie, which would be alright if his hand hadn’t slipped well above the cut on one side of the windscreen.  One continuous canopy (like the LS and the Hasegawa Dinah kits) is included, along with its male mold, which gives the builder a shot at another if one owns a powerful vacform."

Tamiya has issued excellent kits of the Ki-46-III in both reconnaissance and air defence fighter versions but as far as I know there has never been a 1/48th scale mainstream kit of the Ki-46-II.

Tamiya box art for their Ki-46-III Series

Image credits: Lucky Sun kit pics © 2013 Mark Smith; Tamiya box art © Tamiya Inc.