Book Review
P-47 vs Ki-43
P-47D Thunderbolt vs Ki-43-II Oscar New Guinea 1943-44
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

Could there have been a greater mis-match of fighter design? A massive 2.000HP fighter developed to heft eight heavy machine guns into the thin high sky verses a featherweight designed with dogfighting maneuverability as the only consideration; with half the horsepower, a third of the weight and a quarter of the firepower, Ki-43 pilots fought to blunt the growing strength of American P-47 fighters to defend their bases.

It has been over forty years since I first read Flying Buccaneers and learned about 5th Air Force's Col. Neel Kearby. The P-47 was his baby in New Guinea and he became one of the top scoring fighter pilots of the 5th AF in it, employing it as examined in this book.

P-47D Thunderbolt vs Ki-43-II Oscar New Guinea 1943–44 is Osprey Publishing LTD's 103rd title in their series Duel. Authored by acclaimed early Pacific air war author Michael John Claringbould, and illustrated by Jim Laurier & Gareth Hector, this 96-page book is catalogued with Osprey Short code DUE 103, and ISBN 9781472840912.
    Although New Guinea's Thunderbolt pilots faced several different types of enemy aircraft in capricious tropical conditions, by far their most common adversary was the Nakajima Ki-43-II Hayabusa, codenamed ‘Oscar' by the Allies. These two opposing fighters were the products of two radically different design philosophies. The Thunderbolt was heavy, fast and packed a massive punch thanks to its battery of eight 0.50-cal machine guns, while the ‘Oscar' was the complete opposite in respect to fighter design philosophy - lightweight, nimble, manoeuvrable and lightly armed. It was, nonetheless, deadly in the hands of an experienced pilot. The Thunderbolt commenced operations in New Guinea with a series of bomber escort missions in mid-1943, and its firepower and superior speed soon saw Fifth Air Force fighter command deploying elite groups of P-47s to Wewak, on the northern coast. Flying from there, they would pick off unwary enemy aircraft during dedicated fighter patrols. The Thunderbolt pilots in New Guinea slowly wore down their Japanese counterparts by continual combat and deadly strafing attacks, but nevertheless, the Ki-43-II remained a worthy opponent deterrent up until Hollandia was abandoned by the IJAAF in April 1944.

    Fully illustrated throughout with artwork and rare photographs, this fascinating book examines these two vastly different fighters in the New Guinea theatre, and assesses the unique geographic conditions that shaped their deployment and effectiveness.*

More than 40 years have passed since I started reading the books that hooked me to be a pilot and laid the foundation of my interest in military aviation. They told a story of a handful of P-47s rampaging across New Guinea, falling like thunderbolts upon experienced Japanese fighter units, leaving the Japanese army air bastion of Wewak in ruins. Since then the Cold War ended, archives have opened, and a revolution is gaining and sharing data has produced analysis and understanding at a forensic level impracticable at the time. Col. Neel Kearby used the P-47 to become one of 5th Air Forces greatest leaders and aces, and I am eager to read how this book retells that history.

P-47D Thunderbolt vs Ki-43-II Oscar presents the content through 80 pages of standardized chapters:
    Design and Development
    Technical Specifications
    The Strategic Situation
    The Combatants
    Statistics and Analysis
    Further Reading

The book is well organized and clearly written. Two pilots are profiled: USAAF ace William "Bill" Dunham; Imperial Japanese Army Air Force (JAAF) ace Shigeo Nango.

Out of the chocks the author provides us with a concise overview of the P-47 and Ki-43, and how they came to clash over New Guinea, and the timeline. Design and Development is very useful to understand why these two subject aircraft are so different. I am impressed with the about of technical detail crammed into so few pages. The author even explains some peculiarities of Japanese nomenclature that has confused historians and modelers over the decades. Technical Specifications compares and contrasts the physical and handling aspects of the two fighters, and even includes interesting bits of information, i.e., P-47 tail wheel failures.

Fourteen pages explore and explain The Strategic Situation and The Combatants. The exigency that brought the Japanese Army Air Force into New Guinea is revealed, as it what brought the P-47 into the arena. Pilot training, equipping front line air units, and morale are discussed.

Combat is the meat of this title, 34 pages worth. It spans August 1943-April 1944, the developing offensive against Japanese air power in New Guinea through the neutralization of Wewak. In that time the Japanese were still launching offensive operations, especially against Allied airfields. Likewise, several Allied offensive operations occurred, including the invasion of New Britain at Cape Gloucester, across the island from the Japanese fortress of Rabaul. Information recounted includes number of aircraft in a mission, JAAF units transferred into the area, individual pilots, tactics, logistics, and a host of other subjects. Excerpts from pilot reports are included. Numerous P-47 vs Ki-43, and mixed fighter dogfights are described, listing numbers and units, and frequently individual pilots involved. Many pilots are named because they were victorious, or lost. New research has since confirmed or disproved many fighters credited as shot down were lost to other factors - or not lost at all. Some engagements are described in detail requiring more than a couple pages, including the intense air battles over the Cape Gloucester invasion, where JAAF heavy bombers entering ongoing dogfights.

This chapter is very interesting to read. I was surprised to find that JAAF not only used aerial bombs against bombers and attack aircraft, they also used them to take shots at fighters. Whether one is interested in this subject for the general campaign, accounts of dogfights, or unit performances, the chapter should be satisfying to everyone.

Statistics and Analysis and Aftermath reviews what was presented in the previous chapters, distilling it into useful and interesting facts that tell why the Ki-43 and P-47 combats turned out as they did, both in individual combats as well as in the strategic outcome. The performance of the sophisticated P-47 against the obsolescent Ki-43 is revelatory.

Photographs, Artwork, Graphics
Osprey's visual gallery is a strength of their books. Author Claringbould provided many of the images used in this title, too. Modelers and artists should find many of them extraordinary. Many I have not seen before. Most are black-and-white although there are two color photos, one of US subjects and one of Japanese subjects. Curiously, both are of training aircraft.

Most of the photos are clear. All are useful. The images run the gamut from formal portraits to amateur "grab shots" in the field. Many are of pilots or individual aircraft. Many are tactical views. Several all but beg to be reproduced as dioramas.

Useful captions or narratives accompany each image.


Artists Jim Laurier and Gareth Hector created detailed color artwork supplementing scenes not available through photos.

1. Combat centerfold of Col. Kearby's last mission.

2. Engaging the Enemy recreates a pilot-eye view from inside a P-47 as it flames an "Oscar." Discussed are the N-3 optical reflector gunsight, tactics, the weather and terrain, and general aircraft performance.

3. USAAF 4-plane standard flight as seen from above.

4. IJAAF chutai tactical formation with a trio of shotai.

5. Ki-43-II "Oscar" Cockpit: keyed to 53 components.

6. P-47D Thunderbolt Cockpit: keyed to 65 components.

7. Ki-43-II Armament: cutaway planform revealing the machine gun gear of "Oscar."

8. P-47D Thunderbolt Armament: cutaway planform revealing the eight .50-cal machine guns and standard ammo combination.

9. Ki-43-II "Oscar": 3-view of Construction Number 6010, Capt. Shigeo Nango, 59th Sentai, November 1, 1943.

10. P-47D-4 Thunderbolt: 3-view of P-47D-4 42-22687, 1Lt James Harris, 9th FS, 49th FG, January 1944.


1. Table: P-47D-2 and Ki-43-II Comparison Specifications:


USAAF and IJAAF Airfields: Papua New Guinea and New Britain, mid-1943 through April 1944.

This graphic support enhances and excites the text.

P-47D Thunderbolt vs Ki-43-II Oscar New Guinea 1943–44 is revelatory. It has been worth the wait. It provides a great deal of insight and knowledge for those interested in the destruction of the IJAAF in eastern New Guinea, and the role of the huge P-47 and wispish Ki-43 in the campaign. The author is knowledgeable of the subject matter, and the book is easy to read and digest. The gallery of art and photographs definitely reinforces the text.

My takeaway can be summed up by asking did anybody actually shoot anybody else down?? Hundreds of IJAAF fighters were lost in New Guinea during the time after P-47 operations began. Scrutiny of recorded victories to known enemy loss records has become a history in and of itself, since the end of the Cold War has allowed more time and resources for research. We know that both sides overclaimed. We know that USAAF used gun cameras for verification, within technical and functional limitations; we know that military bureaucracy accounting can be incomprehensible. Yet, it is bizarre to discover IJAAF records only recorded two losses from a battle in which USAAF gun camera film confirmed nine kills. The author discusses this phenomena of overclaiming.

The book features detailed erudite text, excellent artwork and photographic support, a useful map, and many other enticing characteristics. Modelers should be thrilled by graphic support.

This is a valued subject for me and I recommend this book to everyone interested in the 1943 aerial offensive over New Guinea, P-47s, "Oscars," and Col. Neel Kearby.

* Osprey
Highs: Detailed erudite text, excellent artwork and photographic support, a useful map, and many other enticing characteristics. Modelers should be thrilled by graphic support.
Lows: No meaningful complains.
Verdict: I recommend this book to everyone interested in the 1943 aerial offensive over New Guinea, P-47s, "Oscars," and Col. Neel Kearby.
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: DUE103, 9781472840
  PUBLISHED: Nov 14, 2020
  NATIONALITY: Papua new Guinea

Our Thanks to Osprey Publishing!
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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright ©2021 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.


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