Nakajima J1N Gekko / IRVING
|ESCORT, NIGHT FIGHTER||Virtual Aircraft Museum / Japan / Nakajima|
Just as specialist night-fighter design had largely been ignored by European nations before World War II, Japan's similar failing left the country without adequate night defence when the fortunes of war began their inexorable turn against her in 1943. Fortunately, however, the Imperial Japanese Navy possessed a number of excellent heavy fighters and reconnaissance aircraft, of which the Nakajima J1N Gekko (moonlight) had been arriving in service slowly since April 1942 with reconnaissance units in the Western Pacific. When first encountered in action during the Solomons campaign the aircraft was mistakenly thought to be a fighter and codenamed 'Irving' by the Allies. As night air attacks were stepped up by the Americans it was the commanding officer of the 251st Kokutai, Commander Yasuna Kozono, then based at Rabaul, New Guinea, who first suggested adaptation of the J1N as a night-fighter by installing two 20mm cannon in the observer's cockpit, fixed to fire obliquely forward and upward at an angle of 30°, and another pair firing forward and downward. When two Consolidated B-24s were quickly destroyed, the modifications came to the attention of the Japanese naval staff and an order was placed with Nakajima to go ahead with a dedicated night-fighter version, designed and built as such from scratch. This version, the J1N1-S, entered production in August 1943 and continued until December 1944, during which period a total of 420 J1Ns were produced, the great majority of them J1N1-S night-fighters. These differed from the earlier reconnaissance version in having the crew reduced from three to two, the observer's cockpit being eliminated and faired over; all aircraft retained the upward-firing cannon, but the downward firing guns (found difficult to aim and seldom used) were omitted from later aircraft, while a third upper gun and a forward-firing 20mm cannon was fitted in the J1N1-Sa. Rudimentary centimetric AI radar was installed in the nose and some airciaft also carried a small nose searchlight. In service with the 251st, 302nd and 322nd Kokutais, the J1N1-S night-fighters proved fairly effective against the B-24, which was not in any case well-suited to night operations, but with the appearance of the Boeing B-29 the Japanese night-fighters proved too slow and were seldom able to make more than a single firing attack. Most of them were expended during the final months of the war when, equipped to carry two 250kg bombs, they were employed in kamikaze attacks against ground targets.