World War II: Japanese Military Aviation Training


Figure 1.--The Yokaren Naval Preparatory Flight Training Program was begun in 1930. It was a rigorous, intensive training program. This is training staff for glider operation. Japan thus began the Pacific War with the finest, most superbly trained naval aviators in the world. It was a force perfectly suited for scoring a knockout blow against an enemy force which it demonstrated at Pearl Harbor and winning a short war. The carrier aviators was, however, a very small force and totally unsuited for a protracted war against the United States with its large population and massive resources. Japan did nor bring its experienced pilots back to help train new recruits. They staid on staion until shot down. And as they gradually were lost, especially after Midway, Japan was left with poorly trained naval aviation recruits who could hardly land on their carriers. The Japanese increased the number of entrants to the Yokaren program dramatically in the last 2 years of the War, but they were rushed through with minimal training and flight time. Numerous Yokaren-trained pilots and crew members carried out the kamikaze attacks on American invasion forces (1944-45). Many more recruits were still in training preparing to crash into the expected American fleet preparing to invade the Home Islands when Japan surrendered. About 80 percent of the graduates of the Yokaren died in the Pacific War. This snapshot came from a Japanese aviator's scrapbook. Click on the image to see the page with some writing. Perhaps some of our Japanese readers can read the writing on the page.

Not only were the Japanese unable to compete in industrial terms with the United States, but the Japanese pilot training program proved an abject failure. Both the Army and Navy had aviation training programs. At this time we know mostly about the naval program. The Japanese pilot and ither air crew training program was excellent, at least for the war in China. They trained excellent pilots and their skill was on display both at Pearl Harbor and througout the Pacific for the first months of the war. What the Japanese did not plan for was losses once they went to war against an industrilized enemy that had an modern airforce. The British, locked into a life and death sruggle with the Germans in Europe, did not have the industrial power to spare much of its aircraft to the Pacific. The Americans did, although its aircraft were still lrgely obsolete at the outbreak of the Pacific War(Sevember 1941). The Japanese given their early successes, mafe no effort to substantially expAnd pilot training, not only for the incrasing needs of the Pacific War or to replace the inevitanle losses. This strategic lapse caught up with the Japanese at Midway (June 1942). On one single day Japan lost a substantil numbr of its superbly trained and eperiebced aviators. By the end of theyear, many of the survivors of Midway had been lost in air combat in the South Pacific. As a result, when advanced American aircraft began to reach the Pacific (1943), the Japanese were left with not only increasingly inadequate aircraft, but with minimally trained aviators.

Imperial Army


Imperial Navy

The Japanese Navy before the War had perhaps the best pilot training programs in the world. The Yokaren Naval Preparatory Flight Training Program was begun in 1930. It was a rigorous, intensive training program. This is a training session which began with gliders. Japan thus began the Pacific War with the finest, most superbly trained naval aviators in the world. It was a force perfectly suited for scoring a knockout blow against an enemy force which it demonstrated at Pearl Harbor (December 1941) and winning a short war. The Japanese carrier pilots continued to demonstrate their sdkill by their performance in the early months of the War aid by their sleek Mitsubishi A6M Zero, the modt effective fighter in the Pacific for the first year of the War. In the final action at Midway (June 1942) after three Japanese carriers were sunk on crippled, a handfull of pilots from Hiryū scored repearted hits on heavily defended Yorktown. One shudders to think what Admiral Nagumo would have achieved had he suceeded in launching a full-scale attack on the American carriers from all four of his carriers. The Japanese pilot training program, however, was geared to producing a relatively small number of superb aviators to man the air units of the Imperial Fleet at a time that the United States was significantly limiting military spending. The Japanese pilot training was adequate for a peace time Navy. The question for Admiral Yanamoto was could Japan force the United States to make peace before his corps of superb naval aviators was worn down. And in fact as the Pacific War was fought out, the corps of well-trained naval aviators proved totally inadequate for the Pacific War when the United States did not sue for peace and instead mobilized its massive resources. The United States very rapidly expanded the U.S. Navy and in particular naval aviation, much more rapidly than the Japanese thought possible. The United States very rapidly established an effective pilot training program aimed at training a large number of well trained, competent but not superb aviators. The Japanese carrier aviators were, however, a very small force and totally unsuited for a protracted war of attrition against the United States with its huge industrial capacity and virtually unlimited resources. The existing Japanese training program was so intensive that it could not be expanded to train large numbers of meerly competent naval aviators. Nor did Japanese commanders move to do so. Japan did nor bring its experienced pilots back to help train new recruits. They stayed on staion until shot down. And as they gradually were lost, especially after Midway, Japan was left with poorly trained naval aviation recruits who could hardly land on their carriers. The Japanese did not respond after losing most of their pre-War aviators with a comparable training program. The Japanese increased the number of entrants to the Yokaren program dramatically in the last 2 years of the War, but now they were rushed the young recruits through with minimal training and flight time. Not only did they fail to create an effective training program, but fuel shortages because of American submarine attacks on the Maru fleet sharply limited training time in the air. Access to oil and the other resources of the Southern Resource Zone (SRZ) was the primary reason that Japan launched the Pacific War. And while they suceeded in conquering the SRZ after Pearl Harbor they soon found it impossible to get those resources back to support the war industries on the Home Island. Nor could they get needed food supplies back to Japan. This severly crimped Japan's war industries. And the resulting fuel shortage especially affected the already inadequate pilot training program. As a result, when the Imperial Navy carriers finally emerged to give battle in the Philippines Sea (June 1944), its highly committed, but poorly trained aviators were slaughtered in what became known the Marianas Turkey Shoot (June 1944). This is when the Japanese began to shift to Kamikazee attacks, using youngmen whom knew little more than how to take off and steer. Numerous Yokaren-trained pilots and crew members carried out the kamikaze attacks on American invasion forces (1944-45). Many more recruits were still in training preparing to crash into the expected American fleet assembling to invade the Home Islands when Japan surrendered. About 80 percent of the graduates of the Yokaren died in the Pacific War.







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Created: 10:01 PM 10/15/2013
Last updated: 1:34 PM 8/5/2015