Nakajima Ki-27 Nate

A good pre-War design, the Ki-27 continued in wide service later than most other fighters of its generation.

Let’s look at a fighter that was a part of Japan’s conquest of the Philippines.

Prior to World War II much of the World assumed the Ki-27 was Japan’s state-of-the-art. Of course those assumptions proved disastrously wrong mainly because of the Navy’s A6M Zero, but in the case of the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) it wasn’t quite so far off the mark. The Ki-27 was in fact, still in wide spread service and its replacement (Ki-43 Oscar) was being issued as fast as it came off the line.

When the Pacific War started in December 1941, the IJA was looking at two main axis of advance, Malaya and the Philippines. There were 6 or 7 Ki-27 Sentais (some vagueness in my sources. A Sentai is theoretically 45 planes) associated with these two drives. There were also two Ki-43 Sentais for Malaya, but only the 64th was nearly full strength.

The aircraft in this post was a part of the 24th Sentai. That made it a part of the Philippines campaign. This started with the IJA capturing several small islands north of the Philippines, then moving in air units. Within a week of the start of the War IJA had some measure of superiority over Northern Luzon. It was not all one sided, American forces launched several successful raids on Japan’s newly acquired bases. 1st Lt Boyd “Buzz” Wagner made ace in those first combats. But largely thanks to the Japanese Navy having neutralized major American air bases in the islands, three Sentai of Nates were able control the airspace near the front and allow IJA close support missions to proceed with little interference.

Ki-27 was armed with two light machine guns firing between the cylinder heads. Synchronizing for the propeller robbed them of 1/3 of their rate of fire, making for very light firepower in 1941.

There was always a context to that, the Nate was the Japanese fighter the Western Allies largely expected. Like most aircraft of its generation it was lighter and more maneuverable than western opponents; and American, British, Dutch and other Allied pilots responded to the small fixed gear Japanese fighters by keeping their speed up and avoiding a battle of maneuver. P-40s and Buffalos consequently did fairly well against the Nate. But they had already taken many losses on day one. It mainly fell to the Japanese Army to ensure they never got their balance back, that was a fight they were well positioned to win.
I have little specific information for this aircraft, but I believe the Sentai tail stripes in red makes it the second Chutai (24th Group, 2nd Squadron). A gaming site identifies the pilot as Hyoe Yonaga, but I don’t know their source.

Nate’s more modern replacement, Oscar, was just entering service as the War started. Not a moment too soon, it was a clear improvement.

This is the Hasegawa kit. It is an oldie, and was actually acquired by Hasegawa when they bought out a small competitor (“Mania”). But its very simple, and acceptably “modern”.

With it’s fixed undercarriage Nate was easily identifiable as an older type. Allied fighter pilots in newer, faster types were often not incompetent about knowing what to do with it.

About atcDave

I'm 5o-something years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I was an air traffic controller for 33 years and recently retired; 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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