Mitsubishi J2M3 Raiden

Mitsubishi J2M3 Raiden

Produced in parallel with the J2M2 was the J2M3 Raiden Model 21, which was destined to be the major production version. The J2M3 was equipped with a stronger wing, carrying four 20-mm cannon. The two fuselage-mounted 7.7-mm machine guns were discarded. Two of the cannon were Model 2 versions with projecting muzzles and the other two were slower firing Model Is buried entirely inside the wing. The additional wing guns had dictated some local strengthening of the wing structure and required that some reduction be made in the size of the wing-root fuel tanks. The fuselage tank was also slightly reduced in capacity. However, a 44 Imperial gallon (199.76 litre) drop tank could be carried underneath the fuselage centreline as an alternative to an external load of a pair of 132-pound (60 kilos) bombs underneath the wings. The J2M3 standardised on the enlarged oil cooler with an external air intake that had been introduced during the production run of the J2M2. The Kasei 23a engine was retained.

The J2M3 was initially produced in parallel with the J2M2, but it soon supplanted it and became the major production model of the Raiden. A new domed cockpit canopy (which had been first tried out on the J2M6) was introduced on the production line in June of 1944 in order to address the continual complaints from pilots about poor vision from the cockpit.

The differing type of cannon carried by the J2M3 resulted in different ballistic characteristics. In an attempt to address this problem, the J2M3a Model 21A version was built. The J2M3a differed from the J2M3 only in having the two wing-mounted Type 99 Model 1 20 mm cannon removed and replaced by two 20-mm Type 99 Model 2 cannon carried in pods beneath the wings. The quartet of Model 2 cannon proved more effective, but the drag of the underwing gondolas had an adverse effect on performance, and only 21 of these J2M3a versions were built.

The first J2M3 appeared in October 1943, some time before the J2M2 had been delivered to the 381st Kokutai. This model was adopted in succession to the J2M2 and placed in production at Mitsubishi's Nagoya and Suzuka factories. The first production J2M3 was delivered at the beginning of February 1944.

Unfortunately, the J2M3 was somewhat heavier than the J2M2 owing to its better armament, and the J2M3 could no longer attain the performance called for in the original specification. In addition, its protracted teething troubles and poor mechanical reliability had resulted in slow deliveries and in low availability. Consequently, in June of 1944 the Japanese Navy decided to adopt the Kawanishi N1K1-J Shiden (Allied code name George) as its primary interceptor aircraft. However, production of the Raiden was permitted to continue at a reduced pace until the A7M Reppu (Hurricane) could be placed in production.

However, within weeks of the Japanese Navy's decision to phase out the Raiden, the B-29 Superfortress begin to appear. Since the J2M3 had a good high-altitude performance and an effective armament, it was judged to be a potent B-29 interceptor and its production priority was reinstated. In addition, The Koza Kaigun Kokusho (Koza Naval Air Arsenal) was instructed to join in Raiden production.

The production of Raiden fighters by the Mitsubishi Jugogyo K K of all types totalled 476. The Raiden made its operational debut in September of 1944 over the Marianas during the Battle of the Philippine Sea, where a small number of Raidens had operated from Guam. A technical manual on the Raiden was discovered by American intelligence after the capture of Saipan, and the Raiden was assigned the Allied code name Jack. A small number of Raidens were deployed to the Philippines and were active during the invasion of these islands by the Americans.

The Raiden got its primary use during the defence of the Japanese home islands. Its good performance, powerful armament, and armour protection made it perhaps the best bomber destroyer employed by Japan in the latter stages of the war. It had good high-altitude performance, and was one of the few Japanese fighters able to reach the high-flying B-29 Superfortress. Its armament of four 20-mm cannon was sufficiently heavy that it could do major damage against B-29s.

In February of 1945, an American technical intelligence team discovered a single Raiden abandoned among the trees alongside the Dewey Boulevard on the outskirts of Manila. It was disassembled and transferred to Clark Field, where it was repaired by the Technical Air Intelligence Command (TAIC) and test flown. A senior test pilot attached to TAIC rated the Raiden as being the best Japanese fighter he had flown, offering good performance, good stability, good stalling characteristics, and good takeoff and landing qualities. It had a steep climbing angle and a rapid climb rate. Handling and control were good, but the ailerons became rather heavy at speeds above 325 mph (523 km/h). Stalling characteristics were exceptional. Even though there was relatively little stall warning, the recovery from the stall was extremely rapid, with very little altitude being lost. There was no tendency to spin, the aircraft being exceptionally stable. The manoeuvring flaps were rated as being very effective. On the negative side, the brakes and rudder brake action were poor, the ailerons were heavy which made the manoeuvrability fall off at high speeds, the mechanical reliability was poor, and the range was short.

The Raiden was available too late and in insufficient numbers to affect the outcome of the war. It is indeed fortunate for the B-29 crews that more of these capable interceptors were not deployed by the Japanese in the last year of the war.

Many J2M3 Raidens were assigned to the 302nd Naval Air Group, 1st. Squadron Atsugi Air Base, Kanagawa, (Honshu island-Japan) from 1944 to 1945.

The Atsugi Naval Air Facility

The 1,249 acres (505 Hectares) of Naval Air Facility Atsugi lies in the heart of the Kanto Plain on the main island of Japan, Honshu. The Base was originally built in 1938 by the Japanese Imperial Navy as Emperor Hirohito's Naval Air Base to address the threat posed by foreseen American bombing raids of the Japanese mainland. There were other Air Bases in Yokosuka, Kisarazu and Tateyama, however, these were regarded as being unfit for the larger planes to be used by the Japanese Navy in the future. The surrounding area was almost evenly divided into two parts - namely farmland and forest. Most of the latter consisted of pine trees and underbrush. Hardly any houses were found in this area, which gave it a very lonely appearance. For transportation facilities, there was the main line of the Odakyu Electric Railway, Fujisawa Line and the Jinchu Line still in use today. The Base was used to train the Emperor's pilots of the 302nd Naval Aviation Corps, who flying their Zero and Gekko fighters, were the most formidable factor in Japan's air defence during World War II, as was the 1st and 2nd Sagamino Naval Air Group. These groups used Atsugi as a strategic airfield for night actions, and also worked to construct the base's underground defence facilities. There was an urgent need for expanding the Base but the construction work was not carried out owing to a budgetary deficiency in the Japanese Imperial Navy. The Base during this time handled 48 carrier fighters who flew out to ships ported at Yokosuka and 12 night fighters used to defend the skies over the Kanto Plain.

To heighten the effectiveness of the 302nd against US bombers, the Group's aircraft were fitted, in addition to their standard armament, with 20mm machine cannon aimed up 30 - 40 degrees from the aircraft's centreline to permit attacks from below the bomber formations. This tactic met with mixed success. By the end of the war, the Group was credited with shooting down some 300 attacking American B-29s.

The Training Facility under the command of Captain Yasuna Kozono, was the top Aviation Base in Japan and only the best pilots flew from here. But despite their efforts on August 15, 1945, Emperor Hirohito announced to the world that Japan would surrender unconditionally with the acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration. Many groups throughout the country initially refused to lay down their arms. Among these were Kozono and his pilots at Atsugi who vowed to defend mainland Japan "to the end". They revolted and printed thousands of leaflets stating that those who had agreed to surrender were guilty of treason and urged the continuation of the war. The leaflets were dropped over Tokyo, Yokohama, Yokosuka and other locations around the Kanto Plain. They also held the base captive for seven days. Realising that surrender was a reality the pilots took off in 33 planes for their final destination and the disarmament finally began.

General Douglas Mac Arthur landed at Atsugi, 30th August, in his C-54, the "Bataan" to accept the formal Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri and assumed the duties as Military Governor of Japan. Before MacArthur arrived paratroopers of the 11th Airborne Division deplaned at Atsugi Airfield. By the end of that day more than 4,200 troops in 123 planes had completed the move from Okinawa and Iwo Jima to mainland Japan. The Prisoners of war were released from the caves and other holding facilities around the Base when the war was over.

During the next five years the Base was used by the US Army as a storage area, and as an overflow camp for its Camp Zama - a former Japanese "West Point" for their Army located about five miles (8km) from Atsugi. During World War II, all buildings and facilities were in very poor conditions and very little effort was spent to maintain the buildings and grounds.

At the outbreak of the Korean War, 25th June 1950, Atsugi was selected by the U.S. Navy as its major Naval Air Station in the Far East. Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Two, Seabees arrived in October and found the Station in a complete state of disrepair. Base restoration and development began immediately. Following them was Fleet Aircraft Service Squadron Eleven who moved to Atsugi to prepare the new Station for operational readiness and formal commissioning at the earliest possible date.

Today the Atsugi Naval Air Facility is the largest U.S. Naval Air Facility in the Pacific and is home to Carrier Air Wing Five. NAF Atsugi lies in the heart of the Kanto Plain on the main island of Japan, Honshu. Atsugi is in an excellent location, with both military facilities and exciting Japanese locations close by offering entertainment that contribute to making a stay in Japan a wonderful experience.

The Atsugi Naval Air Facility (NAF) is the home of Carrier Air Wing 5 (CVW-5), the U.S. Navy s only permanently forward-deployed air wing. As such, CVW-5 is able to build a uniquely strong partnership with USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63), the carrier on which they deploy. CVW-5's planes and pilots spend a lot of their time in the air, and maintenance and support crews stay on Kitty Hawk or on the practice strip at historic Iwo Jima. Field Carrier Landing Practice (FCLP) takes place at Iwo Jima. The use of Iwo Jima as a FCLP site was jointly agreed to by the Japanese and United States governments as a temporary measure until the government of Japan provides the US Navy with a permanent FCLP site. Atsugi is situated in the heart of the Kanto Plain, with easy access to metropolitan Tokyo. It is conveniently located within an hour of numerous other US military bases, including Camp Fuji, and Yokota Air Base, a hub for military flights throughout the Western Pacific.

Atsugi houses both American and Japan Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF) units and has a mission to provide facilities, services, and material support for U.S. Navy and Marine Corps aviation operations, as well as to provide logistic support for Carrier Air Wing Five. With the closing of NAS Cubi Point in the Philippines in 1991 and NAS Agana on Guam in 1995, NAF Atsugi became the primary base for support of naval aviation in the Western Pacific. Because of the joint use arrangement between the JMSDF and American military personnel, NAF Atsugi enjoys a unique international base of operations, making it a truly interesting, rewarding place in which to work and live.

On January 17, 1991, Operation Desert Storm began and the Midway/ CVW-5 team was America's first 911 response to Iraqi aggression against Kuwait. Six month deployments and successful combat missions continued through Operation Desert Shield and the transitioning to the USS Independence (CV-62) in 1991. In August 1999, the Air Wing again swapped to the USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63). The Kitty Hawk is a conventionally powered Aircraft Carrier which combined with CVW-5 is a constant combat ready deterrent to aggression in the Western Pacific.

The current community of 8,000 personnel, US military, civilians, family members and over 1,000 Japanese National employees, continues to build upon the rich legacy while meeting increased demands. NAF Atsugi's strategic importance continues to grow, providing the finest facilities, maintenance and logistic services and support to those at the "Tip of the Sword".

Atsugi's secret past also includes being a CIA U-2 Base which housed the U-2 flown by Gary Powers over Russia. At the same time assigned to the U-2 was a young Marine, Lee Harvey Oswald....


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