Book Review
Ki-27 'Nate' Aces
Ki-27 ‘Nate’ Aces Aircraft of the Aces 103
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

Ki-27 'Nate' Aces
Series & number: Aircraft of the Aces 103
Author: Nicholas Millman
Illustrator: Ronnie Olsthoorn
Format: Paperback
Length: 96 pages
ISBN: 9781849086622

Ki-27 ‘Nate’ Aces is the 103rd Aircraft of the Aces title. Extensively researched and written by Imperial Japanese authority Nicholas Millman it presents a detailed history of the Japanese Army's dogfighter par excellence in aerial knife fights, the Nakajima Ki-27 "97-sen".

Imperial Japan's Army Air Force (IJAAF) found their biplane Ki-10 sorely lacking in the China skies. New swift bombers were difficult to catch and Chinese fighters of foreign design were competitive in performance. IJA Koku Hombu (Aviation Bureau) issued a call for new fighters and a private venture by Nakajima beat out competitors, accepted in 1937 by IJAAF as the Ki-27 Type 97 fighter. To pilots it was known as "97-sen" and the Allies code-named "Abdul" for a short time, renamed as "Nate". Ki-27 was a modern and aesthetically handsome all-metal airframe which captured the maneuverability of biplanes yet, despite fixed landing gear, possessed the performance of monoplanes.

With First World War armament, no armor nor self-sealing fuel tanks, Ki-27 was the obsolescent fighter backbone of IJAAF when Japan attacked Western powers and was replaced by more modern fighters through 1942. "97-sen" was a common opponent of the Flying Tigers over China; battled United Kingdom pilots over Southeast Asia and Indonesia; America over the Philippines; intercepted the Doolittle raiders over Japan and B-29s years later.

It was over Manchuria during the Nomonhan Incident that Ki-27 fought its most intensive campaign in a brutal undeclared war with Stalin's Russia. From May through September 1939 "97-sen" Sentai (air group) repeatedly ripped into Soviet formations of bombers, plus capable I-153 biplane and world-class I-16 Rata monoplane fighters as both sides sought air supremacy over their armies. In massive dogfights sometimes involving nearly 200 fighters the nimble Nakajimas claimed hundreds of kills and created dozens of aces. Surviving Ki-27 pilots demonstrated their expertise against the Allies after Pearl Harbor.

The Nomonhan fighting revealed the limitations of the Ki-27 and Koku Hombu ordered more modern fighters in the form of the supremely maneuverable air superiority Ki-43 Type 1 Hayabusha and the rocket-climbing Ki-44 Type 2 Shoki interceptor. Still, "Nate" soldiered on as Ki-43 and Ki-44 Sentai formed and supplanted Ki-27, assigned to rear areas and training units, finally expending themselves as kamikazes.

Ki-27 "Nate" Aces is presented through 96 pages in eight chapters and sections:

This is a fascinating book about the Type 97 and the pilots who achieved ace status in amazing air battles. Author Nicholas Millman presents this story of "97-sen" in a well organized and easily read book full of detail. Detail is derived from official documents, personal accounts, journals, interviews and war records. Twenty-eight pages are devoted to fighting over China and against the Soviets. Facing the Allies over the Philippines, Malaya, the East Indies and Burma is told through 26 pages, while fighting against the AVG and USAAF takes 11 pages.

The book begins with the background and development of the Ki-27. Mr. Millman explains design and engineering considerations and transitions into development and deployment. The account continues into a war narrative of the fighter and the pilots that fought it. Students of IJAAF will benefit from this book as Mr. Millman translates and defines Japanese terminology: Hiko Daitai (Air Battalion), Hiko Rentai (Air Regiment), Rinji-Hikotai (Provisional Air Group - an ad hoc tactical unit), Hineri-komi (IJNAF 'hammerhead-stall-turn' turning maneuver similar to an IJAAF maneuver).

Japanese attrition was horrific yet surprisingly many Ki-27 aces survived he war, some resuming service to Japan with the JSDAF. Those pilots are profiled as are those who died before the Pacific War, and those killed fighting the Allies across the Pacific. While minimal detail is known about many of the pilots, Mr. Millman includes known nicknames (Capt Mitsugu Sawada was known as "King of forced landings!"), associations with other pilots, and other units and aircraft the pilot fought with.

Most of the accounts of air combat are third-person yet there are several personal accounts.
    How many enemy aircraft there were, but we had courage, like eagles pursuing swallows, and overwhelmed the enemy. At about 5.30 pm I spotted 25-26 more flying at about 2000 m. On the first pass one was going down in flames, and one by one others went down the same way. More new enemy aircraft appeared and entered the battle - they were all around - we left the area and returned [home]. There were many hits in the wings and tail of my aircraft.

There are even accounts by Russian, British and American pilots.

    Capt A S Nikolayev, who flew an 1-153 during the latter stages of the conflict, gained a similar impression of the Ki-27 in combat;
    '[The] I-97 [Ki-27] dived steeply for less than 700-1000 m, then...'

    Flg Off C D C Dunsford-Wood of Westland Lysander II-equipped No 28 Sqn described the Ki-27s strafing Magwe..;
    'A dozen 97s turning and twisting...their red suns and undercarriages clearly discernible, like toy
    Frog aeroplanes.'

The battles over Nomonhan included feats of incredible devotion to comrades and acts a savagery; vanquished pilots were not only strafed in their parachutes, several Japanese pilots intentionally flew into parachuting Soviets to cut their parachute cords! Some even landed to kill their victim with personal weapons! Yet IJAAF pilots would land within range of communist infantry and tanks to pick up downed Ki-27 pilots! Many pilots were downed fighting for their lives against smothering numbers of Soviet fighters, yet several fought their way out and claimed several kills.
    'I fight well to shoot down 100 aeroplanes, which is my goal. The most desperate fighting until today was that of 12 July. Over Buyr Nuir I found 70 enemy aircraft consisting of I-15s and I-l6s, and I fought desperately in a confused battle for 20 minutes against 10 enemies, receiving 25 hits to my aeroplane. The propeller ceased to turn and, gliding over enemy ground forces, I managed to force land in territory held by friendly troops. I shall, from now on, try to demonstrate my fighting technique.'

    'The 97-Sen was easy to fly and very agile. If a pursuer was seen it was easy to climb quickly and turn to follow him, but it could not be dived too steeply or too fast without excessive vibration and it became difficult to take aim properly. Diving away from a fight was always dangerous because the "gadfly" [I-16] could dive more strongly, and vigilance was necessary.'

While Japanese fighters are notorious for their frail construction against Allied weaponry, "97-sen" pilots returned to base riddled with scores of bullet holes - one with over 80 hits! One pilot returned after successfully diving to extinguish his burning fuel tanks!

Like Britain's "The Few" a year later Japanese pilots fought to exhaustion and this too is recounted.
    On 21 July the 1st and 24th Sentais were in action for nearly 90 minutes against 95 1-16s and 62 I-15bis of 22nd and 70th LAPs. Sgt Maj Shogo Saito claimed four Soviet fighters destroyed and one probable, after which he flew at enemy fighters harrying Lt Shoichi Suzuki (who was flying his first sortie since returning from hospital) even though his guns were inoperable.

    ...tired were the 64th's pilots that they were no longer able to eat the steaks prepared for them by the airfield battalion cook, who had been a chef at a top class hotel...

Japanese tenacity is also spotlighted by Capt Mitsugu Sawada who, with no ammunition, made pass after pass at a Chinese aircraft while making gun noises with his mouth!

Revealed too is harsh treatment born of Bushido; two disabled pilots captured by the Soviets and repatriated after the Nomonhan ceasefire were forced to kill themselves as punishment for being taken alive!

Dozens of IJAAF pilots became multiple aces. Confirmation is explored with surviving records from both sides. Not surprisingly, scores of kills were overclaimed. Interestingly, known official records show Ki-27 pilots overclaimed about 3-1 while Soviets overclaimed by a factor of 6-1, and Allies by 5-1. However, IJAAF records usually seem to only record 'pilots lost' and not necessarily "Nates" shot down or scrapped as unsalvageable.

The tragic use of "Nate" against the powerful B-29 is interesting.

This book is not perfect and editing let a few things slip by, i.e., the text has a pilot dying in combat over Lae but over Rabual in a photo caption.

Art, photos, graphics
This title features six detailed line art profiles and planforms of a Ki-27 Otsu, scaled to 1/72! This is an excellent resource for modelers and lack of these graphics are a complaint against some Osprey titles. Of course this book includes the excellent gallery of dozens of color profiles for which Osprey books are acclaimed. The author is respected for his research into Imperial Japanese paint colors and his coordination with illustrator Ronnie Olsthoorn delivers 33 excellent color illustrations, including a top and bottom planform. It is noted that some color and marking characteristics have yet to be resolved on a particular airframe.

More than three dozen black-and-white photographs populate the book supporting the text. They run the gamut from professional quality to amateur 'grab shots'. One suffers from development chemical flaws. These images show aircraft and pilots, scenes and markings. Students of IJAAF flying kit will find some great resources in this book. Of particular interest are three shots of a Type 97 captured by the Chinese and test-flown by the AVG!

Graphics include two pages of aces: name, Chutai/Sentai, claims and fate.

I always thought the Ki-27 was a beautiful airframe. In fact, one of the few models of my youth I retained is the 1/48 Mania (now Hasegawa) "Nate"; I cleaned it up and repainted it a few years ago for an Aeroscale campaign! I've been fascinated with Far Eastern air wars since reading The Ragged Rugged Warriors decades ago. I would much rather read about uncelebrated fighters battling in the wars between the wars and long have I hoped for the story of the Ki-27 Type 97 "Nate" to be revealed. Thanks to Mr. Millman and osprey the wait is over!

While the limited size of Aircraft of the Aces formats constrain the amount of known information that can be packed within, I believe that this is an exceptionally well written and presented book. Personal quotes and first-hand accounts of the pilots who wielded the Ki-27 Type 97 through violent skies are exceptionally appreciated, as is the wonderful research and documentation including translations and definitions of IJAAF terms. Excellent artwork and graphics support and enhance the text.

The editing errors and typos can confuse readers seeking to expand their knowledge through this book and casts concern of what else is incorrect. The author is aware of them and plans to publish an errata.

Ki-27 'Nate' Aces is an excellent book for modelers, historians and enthusiasts of the Nakajima Ki-27, its pilots, IJAAF, early Asia air war and the early Pacific air war. I heartily recommend it!
Highs: Personal quotes and first-hand accounts of the pilots who wielded the Ki-27 Type 97 through violent skies. Wonderful research and documentation, including translations and definitions of IJAAF terms. Excellent artwork and graphic support.
Lows: Editing errors.
Verdict: Ki-27 'Nate' Aces is an excellent book for modelers, historians and enthusiasts of the Nakajima Ki-27, its pilots, IJAAF, early Asia airwar and the early Pacific air war. I heartily recommend it!
Percentage Rating
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: ISBN: 9781849086622
  Suggested Retail: £13.99
  PUBLISHED: Oct 08, 2013
  NATIONALITY: Japan / 日本

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.


Mentioned in this book is the 1940 Japanese film "Burning Sky". Ki-27 was the mechanical star, with great dizzying aerial scenes and mass takeoffs and landings. One Type 97 survives, recently recovered from crashing into Hakata Bay in 1942. It is now on display at the Tachiarai Peace Museum in Tachiarai, Fukuoka Prefecture.
OCT 08, 2013 - 11:49 AM

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