Hellcat Vs Shiden/Shiden-Kai Pacific Theater 1944-45

Published: March 16th, 2019     
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Author: Tony Holmes; Illustrator: Jim Laurier, Gareth Hector
Reviewed by: Hub Plott - IPMS# 31328
ISBN #: 978-1-4728-2974-0
E-Book ISBN #: 9781472829757
Other Publication Information: Soft Cover
Price: $22.00
Product / Stock #: DUE 91
Product provided by: Osprey Publishing

The opponent vs opponent series is one of Osprey's most enjoyable, this volume does not disappoint. The Hellcat was a later war USN fighter of which 12,275 were built. It was fast, maneuverable and very rugged (there is good reason Grumman was called "The Iron Works". The Hellcat became the premier fighter of the USN. The Kawanishi Shiden and Shiden-Kai of which a total of approximately 1400 were built, was developed from a floatplane and departed from customary Japanese design philosophy in that it was heavily armed and both maneuverable and ruggedly constructed.

The book is broken down into 10 sections beginning with two short introduction and design chronology sections totaling 4 pages.

Next there comes the Design and Development section. The hellcat is discussed first. Design of the Hellcat was done using lessons learned from the use of the F4F Wildcat in combat as well as intelligence from RAF combat with the Luftwaffe. The Hellcat was well armed, able to take tremendous punishment, fast and maneuverable with a reputation for bringing its pilot home despite heavy damage. The Shiden started life as a floatplane but as this was going into operation, the Japanese were already on the defensive and the use for forward based floatplane fighters where runways were non-existent had passed. The redesign to a land based fighter began. The N1K1 retained the mid-wing of the floatplane version and the long landing gear lead to gear failure issues. This along with engine problems with the new Nakajima Homare engine still did not diminish the promise shown. It was faster than the Zero and had a much longer range than the Mitsubishi J2M Raiden and thus was ordered for production. Almost immediately a redesign was started with the wings changed to a low position, thus allowing the use of shorter undercarriage. The fuselage was lengthened and the tail redesigned. This making the N1K2 version faster and several hundred pounds lighter than the original N1K1.

Section Four covers the various technical specifications of the two aircraft. Again the Hellcat is covered first with the two main production variants, the F6F-3 and F6F-5 discussed. The Hellcat saw many improvements during production with only the rearward visibility problem not seeing any improvement. A free blown hood canopy was tested but abandoned after it disintegrated after the Hellcat exceeded 200MPH in testing. Next the Shiden is discussed with all the changes from the mid-wing, long landing gear N1K1 to the low wing shorter gear N1K2.

Section Five is on The Strategic Situation. When the N1K1 entered combat the Japanese situation was already dire. They had lost many experienced pilots, production of new aircraft was hampered, the IJN fleet was all but destroyed and the Americans were getting ever closer to the home islands. On the flip side America was ever increasing the numbers of pilots, planes and ships available. The island hopping campaign had them within striking distance of the Japanese mainland and B-29s were raiding constantly.

Section Six covers the combatants with good information on USN pilot training and rather than repeating past volumes coverage of IJNAF training, goes into the establishment of the 343rd Kokutai. They were the primary unit to use the N1K1/2 allied code name "George" in combat. The section concludes with information on USN Hellcat ace Thomas Harris and IJNAF N1K1 ace Shoichi Sugita.

Section Seven details the actual combat between the two types. Until a few Georges were captured at Clark Field the fact that this was a new aircraft was relatively unknown as they had only been infrequently encountered and in small numbers. There is also good coverage of homeland defense and Kamikaze escorts by the Shidens. The Shiden gave a good accounting of itself in combat against the Hellcat and others but it despite being a very good aircraft it was a case of too little too late. The Hellcat became a legend! Hellcats also gave a good account of themselves and in combat with a George and with both aircraft flown by experienced pilots it was a real brutal duel to the death.

Section Eight is titled Statistics and Analysis. In all there are about 20 confirmed engagements between Hellcats and Shidens and due to serious production issues only one frontline Kokutai was equipped with the Shiden/Shiden-Kai. Their performance did result in notable losses of American aircraft in combat. However; there is no way to determine an actual account of losses on either side in Hellcat vs Shiden combat due to issues with records, over claiming and other things on both sides.

The book concludes with Aftermath and index sections, noting that 6 Shidens were sent to the USA for testing after the war. These were equally divided between the USAAC and USN all three USAAC aircraft survived to be museum exhibits with a fourth recovered from the sea in the 1970s on display in Japan.

This is a good read. There is a lot of information within the pages. The photos and drawings are a great enhancement for the book. This book is recommended to the aviation historian, buff and modeler alike. I don't think you will be disappointed.

Our thanks to Osprey Publications for the review copy and my thanks to IPMS/USA for the review opportunity

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