Aichi D3A1 Val

The main Japanese Dive Bomber at the start of World War II, the Aichi D3A was a key part of the terrifyingly effective Japanese carrier force.

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After the jump, a look at this very important aircraft.

The Imperial Japanese Navy and US Navy pursued dive bombing hardware and tactics for similar reasons.  Aircraft carriers operate only small single-engine aircraft, which puts bombing accuracy at a premium for their small bomb loads.  Naval aviation also puts a premium on targeting ships maneuvering at sea.  So the US and Japan both developed weapons and tactics that were all about putting a bomb on a small moving target.

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Many western observers initially concluded the fixed gear Val was a Stuka rip off. Which is funny since it was actually patterned on a completely different German aircraft; the wing and rear fuselage were derived from the Heinkel He70 Blitz, a well known fast light cargo plane and airliner of the mid-1930s. Heinkel engineers were even consulted in the Aichi D3A program.

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A few months ago I mentioned how the US Navy, Marines and the German Luftwaffe all utilized steep angle “hell-diving” as the best way to go about it.  The Japanese chose to use a slightly shallower dive angle, usually closer to 60 degrees.  But the same sort of high accuracy was achieved with a low altitude pull out, and more relentless training than any other air force.  Actually, Japanese accuracy at the start of World War II was staggering.  The US Navy considered 10% hits on a ship to be a good rate (plus another 10% near misses; shrapnel and mining damage from a near miss can be fully as damaging as a direct hit). So a 30 plane strike would expect three hits and three damaging near misses.  When the Japanese Navy went on a raid in the Indian Ocean, in April of 1942, they sank a British Aircraft Carrier (Hermes), two heavy cruisers and a number of destroyers while achieving 70% hits.  This is unparalleled and a high point for bombing accuracy prior to the use of smart bombs.

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Like the American Dauntless, the Val was the most effective anti-shipping weapon of its Navy.  And like the Dauntless, the Val had good handling and maneuverability; it was also used as a sort of improvised fighter on occasion.  But it had lighter fire power of just two light machine guns in the cowl (7.7 mm); it was however, slightly faster.

A clear view of the 250 kg bomb and the displacement gear to ensure the bomb falls clear of the propeller arc. There are also windows on the belly so the pilot and gunner can watch directly below. The dive brakes are outboard of the landing gear.

A clear view of the 250 kg bomb and the displacement gear to ensure the bomb falls clear of the propeller arc.
There are also windows on the belly so the pilot and gunner can watch directly below.
The dive brakes are outboard of the landing gear.

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Val and Dauntless. Two planes of similar role, capability and accomplishment.

 

This is the Hasegawa kit with Eagle Strike decals.  It is a D3A1 based on the IJN Hiryu early in the war.  Specifically, this aircraft participated in the Pearl Harbor raid.  Like all the Vals from the Hiryu it was a part of the second wave that hit ships still in harbor.  I don’t know the fate of this exact air frame; but this squadron went on to attack Wake Island, the Indian Ocean, and Darwin until the ship was lost at Midway.

A well known image of Vals getting ready on December 7, 1941.

 

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About atcDave

I'm 53 years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I've been an air traffic controller for 30 years; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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2 Responses to Aichi D3A1 Val

  1. Theresa says:

    Yes the Japanese Dive Bombers were very impressive at the start of the war However, with a war of attrition those Squadrons were the first to not get replacements.

    • atcDave says:

      Even worse were the aircrew replacements. The rigorous Japanese training was not sustainable; so after Midway, and then the Guadalcanal/Solomons campaign attrition led to a very diminished force.

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