|BOMBER||Virtual Aircraft Museum / Japan / Mitsubishi|
The Mitsubishi Ki-21 (Army Type 97 Heavy Bomber) was produced by engineers Nakata and Ozawa in response to an operational specification issued by the Air Headquarters (Daihonei) of the JAAF on 15 February 1936. The first of two prototypes flew on 18 December 1936, the first production model being the Mitsubishi Ki-21- Ia (Army Type 97 Model 1A). Because of production bottlenecks it was not until the end of 1939 that Ki-21-la bombers equipped the first JAAF unit, the 60th Hikosentai (air regiment) based in China, in totality; the next unit to be equipped was the 61st Sentai. Early lessons learned over China demonstrated lack of firepower and protection, and the Ki-21-Ib and Ki-21-Ic subvariants had extra armour, additional 7.7mm Type 89 machine-guns, more fuel and larger bomb-bays. The engines were 634kW Nakajima Ha-5 KAI radials. By the time of the outbreak of war in December 1941, the majority of the Mitsubishi Ki-21-Ia, Ki-21-Ib and Ki-21-Ic bombers had been relegated to second-line duties, or to service as operational bomber trainers. First-line bomber sentais had by now received the more powerful Ki-21-II, with 1119kW Mitsubishi Ha-101 engines in modified Cowlings; production models in service in 1941 were the Ki-21-IIa (Army Type 97 Heavy Bomber Model 2A), and the Ki-21-IIb which had a pedal-operated dorsal turret with one 12.7mm Type 1 heavy machine gun. Three sentais remained in Japan, Korea and in Manchuria when the Japanese high command went to war in South East Asia. For operations over the Philippines the JAAF's 5th Air Group, based in Formosa, mustered the 14th and 62nd Hikosentais; these went into action early on the morning of 8 December 1941 striking at Aparri, Tuguegarao, Vigan and other targets in Luzon. Mitsubishi Ki-21s of the 3rd Air Group, based in French Indo- China, were earmarked for bombing strikes against Siam (Thailand) and Malaya: units were the 12th, 60th and 98th Hikosentais. These smashed RAF and RAAF facilities at Alor Star, Sungei Patani and Butterworth, being escorted by Nakajima Ki-27 and Ki-43 fighters. In the flush of Japanese victory in 1941-2 the Mitsubishi Ki-21, codenamed 'Sally', performed well; only over Rangoon over December 1941 and January 1942 did the Ki-21s suffer heavy casualties. The Ki-21-IIb was the final model to enter service, which was seen on all fronts in the Pacific and Far East theatres. Some 2,064 Ki-21s were built.