When the Japanese declared war on the United States on Dec. 7, 1941, with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese possessed the second largest naval force ever assembled at that time on the planet. Moreover, the most critical strategic element – the Imperial Navy’s aircraft carriers were the largest and most powerful in the world at that time. Imperial officers believed that this force, coupled with their highly trained pilots and a new line of aircraft, would win them the war.
The Battle of Midway: The Turning Point
The Japanese numerical naval advantage lasted only a few short months. After Pearl Harbor, what Harvard educated Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto called “a sleeping giant” awoke, and started producing warships almost immediately. Yamamoto, understanding that time was of the essence, obsessed about luring the U.S. Navy into a decisive battle and then crushing them. The plan would use Japan’s superior carrier based forces and, if at all possible, make use of their powerful battleships such as the Yamamoto (which remains the world’s largest battleship ever built to this day).
Yamamoto would get his battle, but it wasn’t the decisive blow he was hoping for. At Midway, a remote and isolated atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the U.S. Navy prepared to spring her own trap. The United States was aware of the Japanese plan in almost its entirety through intelligence briefs. United States aircraft carriers, consequently, were lying in wait for the Japanese forces and ambushed Yamamoto’s combined fleet under the command of Admiral Chester Nimitz. The carrier groups were completely unprepared for the United States’ carrier based planes (that they believed to be days away from responding) and took enormous losses. The ensuing battles claimed four of Japan’s aircraft carriers, dealing them a blow that would put the Imperial Navy on the defensive for the rest of the war.
Which naval force had better pilots, Japan or the U.S.?
Early in the war, Japanese pilots were better trained than their United States counterparts. After 1942, or at least by 1943, the United States had a distinctive advantage as the Japanese were unable to replace their skilled pilots as quickly as they were losing them. The reason: The United States rotated its best pilots home to train the new classes of aviators while most of Japan’s aces died in combat. Another reason: The United States planes were better armored.
By 1944, training for Japanese pilots had been drastically cut. American ace Richard Bong notched 40 kills before a test plane malfunction took his life; Japan had six aces top 50 confirmed kills.
Which side had better aircraft, Japan or the U.S.?
At the onset of WWII, Japanese aircraft were superior to American aircraft in almost every conceivable way. The Mitsubishi A6M2 “Zero” had better speed, maneuverability, climb rate and range than any American aircraft, not to mention extremely proficient pilots. Perhaps the single largest weakness was that the Zero had no armor and was called the “flaming gas can”, because almost any well-placed burst would ignite the fuel tanks held in the wings.
Americans would gradually gain the upper hand, thanks — at least in part — to capturing a downed Zero in the Aleutian Islands and dissecting how it was made and what its weaknesses were. The United States would gain almost total superiority by 1943, making use of their new tactics, and now having more powerful, better armed aircraft.
http://dogfighthistory.be/ Dogfighthistory/Japanese_Aces_ WWII.html
http://armedforcesmuseum.com/ top-ten-united-states-fighter- pilot-aces-from-wwii/
Japanese AircraftAdmiral Yamamoto, Chester W. Nimitz and the Battle of Midway
Aircraft Carriers and the Imperial Navy’s Air Force
Zero vs. Wildcat
Samurai! by Saburo Sakai