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ArmourWorm

Japanese navy aircraft designations

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Few words about airplanes designations in Japanese navy;

 

Imperial Japanese Navy (Nippon Teikoku Kaigun) had four different names on their plane types. The factory designation, the navy designation, common name and finally Allies code name.

 

First and most used are the factory designations following 1 Letter, 2 Number, 3 Letter, 4 number*, 5 Options letter*, 6 Dash + capital letter* format, where elements marked with asterisk were optional and used only when needed.

1 Letter was the type of aircraft at the moment of acceptance to Navy service. For example A stood for carrier fighter and J was land based fighter. Once applied, names were permanent even when some planes never actually did the role they were given by designation. J1N1 stayed J1 even if it was never actually used as land based fighter.

All alphabets up to S were used.

 

2 The number telling how many types with this purpose had been accepted to Navy service when this type was introduced. Number was absolute and meant only purpose built types accepted; N1K1 was first purpose built float fighter hence gaining N1 designation, even when A6M2-N float fighter had been in service before it, the S1A1 was first purpose built night fighter even when multiple night-fighter versions of other planes had proceed it and J2M was first land based fighter actually used as one, but since J1 designation was given to J1N, the designation was J2M.

 

3 Second letter was the original manufacturer. M = Mitsubishi, N = Nakajima, A = Aichi etc. In Japanese use manufacturer could be anyone and letter did not change (Zeroes were built by numerous manufacturers and they were always designated as A6M). Same was applied to licensed aircraft, like L2D2, where D was Douglas (licensed copy of C-47). Some manufacturers were also double letters, like He was heinkel.

 

4 Major version number of this plane. It was not given to first/prototype version. For example D3A and D3N were two plane types competing to become Navy standard dive bomber. After changes demanded by review board both manufacturers brought new versions named D3A1 and D3N1 to tests. D3A1 won and become the "Val" of WWII and when it was upgraded in 1942 it became D3A2. Major/Minor version was also marked by two number set after full factory designation, where first number was major version and second indicated minor changes like A6M5 mod 52. Note that mod numbers followed different rules than rest of designation.

 

5 Optional letter designating special equipment on board the model. B6N2ko and J1N1-Sko carried heavier defensive armamament and air-search radar and A6M5hei had armament/armor added. These are sometimes marked by latin letters mainly in western sources (ko = a, otsu = b, hei = c etc.).

 

6 Dash letter is final piece marking that indicated version with purpose change from aircraft's original one. A6M2 is carrier fighter, A6M2-N is float fighter version and N1K1 is float fighter while N1K1-J is land based fighter version. The letters after dash have same meaning as first, purpose, letters in designation.

 

Thus factory designation of P1Y2-S opens as P = Bomber, land based, 1= First Bomber land based type accepted to Navy's service, Y = Original design/manufacturer Yokosuka, 2 = Second major variant -S = Night Fighter version. Designation for Kyokko night fighter.

 

Second type of name was navy's official designation. It consisted year of acceptance in Imperial calendar format indicated by two numbers or just one number in case of numbers smaller than 10 followed by word shiki (Type). This is most often turned around in western sources to read Type + Year. Since year 1940 was 2600 in that calendar that was year of 0-types. This was followed by full explanation of plane's purpose.

Type 96 Carrier based fighter (introduced in 1936) or Type 0 Small Reconnaissance Seaplane (year 1940) are official names for A5M "Claude" and E14Y "Glen". A6M was officially Rei-Shiki Kanjō Sentōki, thus the call name Reisen was just Japanese syllable length acronym of words Zero and Fighter.

Needless to say the year based numbering caused some confusion as there were multiple planes with same type number, thus Japanese navy added the "Common Name" to their planes to avoid misunderstandings starting 1943 (Army had started doing so in 1940).

 

Common Names. Japanese started to add common names to their planes starting 1940 for Army and 1943 for Navy. In Navy these were generally one word and two pronounced syllables for ease of understanding.

 

Finally there was allied Code Names. These were added to all Japanese planes allied intelligence found out about. They followed male names to fighters, females to bombers and birds and trees to gliders and trainers. These were in common use after 1942.

 

As for what names pilots themselves used, there was a tendency (a habit also found in Luftwaffe) to call any plane by its manufacturer and this was often applied to enemy equipment as well. Thus A6M2 Japanese pilot flew was Mitsubishi  and the D3A1s he was escorting were Aichis. F4F Wildcat trying catch him was Grumman. If pilots needed clarity as the type was not quite clear from the context, they would simply add the type of plane into the message, such as Mitsubishi bomber (G4M1) Mitsubishi Fighter (A6M2), Grumman torpedo plane (TBF) etc.

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It's funny how organized the naval system was compared to the army kitai system that by the end of the war was literally random numbers.

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4 hours ago, fufubear said:

It's funny how organized the naval system was compared to the army kitai system that by the end of the war was literally random numbers.

And how similar it is to the US Naval designation system as it existed prior to 1962(which was a little different, being the Type, number in the series depending on aircraft manufacturer, and then the company designation, rather than the type, number in the series across all manufacturers, and then the company designation for the Kaigun.)

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