“Violet Lightning” and “Mighty Wind” – Japanese Late War Fighters

N1K Shiden

Two planes fielded by the Japanese late in WWII, the Kawanishi N1K1-J and N1K2-J fighters, became popular with the Japanese military, despite having an unusual development history.

In the history of aircraft design, it hasn’t been that unusual for land-based planes to be converted into seaplanes. It’s a natural step from the more familiar role to a somewhat more unusual one, removing wheels, adding floats, and making other adaptations.

For the Kawanishi N1K1-J, however, the pattern was the other way around. The N1K1-J Kyofu (meaning “mighty wind”) was a seaplane fighter. It was successful enough to be adapted into the land-based N1K1-J Shiden (meaning “violet lightning”).

By the time the N1K1-J Shiden went into production, the tide of war had already turned against Japan. The Allies, particularly the Americans, were pushing them back across the Pacific, island by island. On the mainland, the Chinese kept fighting with the help of international support, while the British pushed back in Burma. As the sphere of Japanese control shrank, so did the safe territory that the nation’s factories could operate in.

The result was production problems for the N1K1-J. Raids by Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers on factories on the Japanese mainland added to existing difficulties of supply and production.

The N1K1-J Shiden came into service late in the war. It started to be fielded across the Pacific theater in May 1944. Despite the production problems, large numbers of N1K1-J Shidens were produced – over 1,400 by the end of the war.

The titles given to these fighters by their creators were full of dignity and drama. The codename given to them by the Allies was less so. The Japanese used “Mighty Wind” and “Violet Lightning” whereas the Allied forces referred to the planes by the codename “George”, a Christian name common in England at the time.

One of the most successful features of the plane was its automatic combat flaps. This unique feature helped pilots to make extreme combat maneuvers by giving them extra lift. This made it one of the most successful all-round fighters in the Pacific theater, able to take on fighters and bombers alike.

The N1K1-J Shiden’s biggest downside was that it perform well at high altitudes. This was a problem for the Japanese air force, as they faced, the most powerful bombers of the war. The B-29 could reach an altitude of nearly 32,000 feet for bombing runs on Japan, and from the end of 1943, the Americans decided not to use any other bombers in their raids against the Japanese. Any Japanese plane that couldn’t perform well at high altitude would struggle to defend the homeland.

Early models of the Shiden had further problems. The mid-mounted wing produced poor visibility, a serious problem for pilots caught up in dogfights. The landing gear, the most important change from the seaplane version, was also inadequate. Changes needed to be made.

N1K2 “Violetbolt”

The result was a new model, the N1K2-J Shiden-Kai. The prototype for this version first flew at the end of December 1943 and it was soon rushed into mass production.

The N1K2-J was so successful that it soon became the standard land-based fighter and fighter-bomber of the Japanese military. It could hold its own in combat against almost anything the Allies threw against it. Though the tide of war was against them, Japanese fighter pilots at least had an edge in the skies.

The N1K2-J wasn’t just better because of its superior flying abilities. As with several of the best weapons in history, its advantage also came from being easy to produce. An N1K2-J could be completed in half the time it took to build one of its predecessors. With the losses mounting and the pressure on, this was a vital feature for the Japanese.

The N1K2-J was equipped with a mix of weaponry – in the wings were four 20mm cannons, while a pair of 550lb bombs were fixed underneath. This allowed the plane to act in a support role, not just as an interceptor. It could use its cannons in the skies against other planes, or to strafe enemy infantry and ships, which were also the targets for the bombs.

The presence of cannons rather than machine-guns was important. In the early war, many fighters on both sides had relied on machine-guns. But the experience of combat had taught the military that bullets were not enough to take out the latest planes and that cannons firing explosive rounds would be needed instead.

“George”

The N1K2-J had a maximum speed of 370mph and a rate of climb of 3,300 feet per minute. This put it on a par with the Spitfires and Messerschmitts doing much of the fighting in Europe. It also made it superior to the Grumman F4F Wildcat, a fighter widely used by the Americans in the Pacific.

It was, however, slightly out-matched for speed and climb by Grumman’s major late-war plane, the F6F Hellcat. The Shiden-Kai was a good enough plane to compete with its main adversaries, but American industry still held the edge.

Despite its superiority in the air, some N1K2-Js were deliberately crashed by their pilots.

Click on images to enlarge.

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Farewell Salutes – 

Robert Armstrong – Albany, NY; US Army Air Corps, WWII, 11th Airborne Division, Honor Guard

Milton Beatty – Baton Rouge, LA; US Navy, WWII, PTO, Sea Bee

Leonard Davidson (99) – Auckland, NZ; NZ Home Defense, WWII, Sgt.

Jack Gucker – Seattle, WA; US Army, WWII, APO

Nicholas Kakos – MN; US Army Air Corps, WWII

Norris Leafdale – Banner County, NE; US Army, WWII, PTO

Quentin W. McCall – Union Church, MS; USMC, WWII, PTO, KIA (Tarawa)

Chester Posey – Clifton, TX; US Army Air Corps, WWII & Korea, navigator/gunner

Lyle Spalding – Louisville, KY; USMC, WWII

Garth Youd – Lakeshore, UT; US Army, WWII, ETO, 401st Field Artillery Battalion

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on October 21, 2019, in Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 118 Comments.

  1. What a magnificent post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting post mate, one query on your last line, Despite its superiority in the air, some N1K2-Js were deliberately crashed by their pilots. Question being why ? did I miss something here ?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. In my mind, if the war had gone on much longer the then enemy forces would have developed better technology – my goodness, even in destruction, the human mind is amazing in design and development.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi GP. You always have something I didn’t know. I’ve never heard the term violet lightning. Another very cool and educational post. I enjoyed the images of the planes too. Hugs on the wing!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. That Japanese knack for improving on things that you mentioned has continued through the years: my Canon camera and Toyota Corolla are proof of that. Their names aren’t as romantic as Violet Lightning or Mighty Wind, but they’re as dependable as can be — and I have absolutely no wish to crash either one of them!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Fascinating piece! I am intrigued by anything WWII. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Lovely post. It taught me a lot about the planes and their development, it is much appreciated 😊

    Liked by 2 people

  8. A very interesting explanation of Japanese aircraft development. Thanks GP.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. As in the Germany, no matter how disruptive the Allied bombing, the Axis countries continued to produce artillery, aircraft, tanks and more in remarkable quantity. Their problem was getting adequate supplies of fuel where it was needed. Therefore, pilots and tank crews were pressed to fight as infantrymen.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. My Dad’s uncle was called George. He might not have been able to produce “Violet Lightning”
    but Aunt Mabel always used to say that “Mighty Wind” was achieved on occasion.
    For me, the obvious fighter to deal with the Shiden was the F4U-4 Corsair. Delivered to the US Navy in January 1945, it had an increased top speed of 448 mph and was the last version used in WW2 apparently. (My second favourite American fighter).

    Liked by 3 people

  11. It constantly amazes me how many aircraft were involved in WWII when we seldom saw planes flying where I lived in the country. Another great article!

    Liked by 3 people

    • You would think the mid-west would be in the flight path for some of the aircraft going to the Pacific, but you wouldn’t have seen these Japanese fighters.

      Like

      • Thank goodness the Japanese fighters weren’t seen in this country. I lived in Ohio and if Japan had all these planes, surely America did too.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Japan first would have gotten them across the Pacific, and having few island stopovers would have made that difficult. Thankfully we had islands capable of being fuel stops for planes going over to them. Thanks for coming by, Bev!

          Like

  12. Planes with unique characteristics! Interesting, but scary, history to me.
    Again, I am learning about something I’ve never heard about before. Thank you, G.P.!
    No matter what you share in the way of history, I always think of the people who were living (and dying) in that history.
    I hope this new week is good to you in every way! 🙂
    HUGS!!! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • And that’s the idea of history. Think about the people going through all this and planning our future for it to never happen again (except the good parts!!)
      Have a wonderful week yourself and take care!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. The airplanes are one of my favorite studies in WWII. 🙂 Great post!

    Liked by 3 people

  14. japanese War fighters were beautiful. Any chances of Seeing any in today’s world. I wonder Read: http://www.sheilaclapkin.com

    >

    Liked by 3 people

  15. Very interesting post GP. I learned something today! Also leaving a comment to test my ability to comment without appearing as “anonymous.” Still having some problems depending on the blog where I am trying to comment. Thanks and regards

    Liked by 4 people

    • I haven’t had that problem with your comments, though I have seen your Gravatar image on foreign sites with Anonymous under the picture. It has been explained to me that that is not a wordpress glitch.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. GP – did you send the link to this to Kevan at “Pickled Wings”? It’s right up his alley!

    Liked by 3 people

  17. Thank you for this article, GP. I was amazed at the idea of automatic combat flaps. Truely an innovation

    Liked by 3 people

  18. This is such excellent information on Japanese planes late in the war. I did not know about the development of these aircraft. This is really valuable stuff. Keep up the great work, GP.

    Liked by 3 people

  19. I love these posts, GP. I didn’t know anything about these planes. They certainly had some innovative ideas.

    Liked by 3 people

  20. This is a great article, GP. Ironically I was just cataloging some books (in Japanese which I do not speak) on these planes for the USS Midway Library. I’m going to share this column with my Midway shipmates. Bravo Zulu!

    Liked by 4 people

  21. “Despite its superiority in the air, some N1K2-Js were deliberately crashed by their pilots.”
    Do you happen to know why this was done?

    Liked by 3 people

    • As far as I know, many of the pilots were inexperienced and used them as kamikaze planes rather than try to outwit American fighters in air combat. Desperate measures and all that…..

      Like

  22. Interesting bit of lost history! Never knew of these fighters…

    Liked by 3 people

  23. Interesting stuff–again.

    Liked by 3 people

  24. Interesting post GP. Near the end of the war, the plane manufacturers were busy testing other kinds of planes even suicide planes but they lacked creativity in technology. They copied most everything from Germany. Good thing the war ended soon enough.

    Liked by 3 people

  25. I can’t imagine how scary those dogfights were, GP. Thanks for the interesting read. It’s amazing how each little aspect of the war added up to victory or failure.

    Liked by 2 people

  26. It cannot be concealed that the best inventions were made within the framework of the military. Thank you for another great piece of information, GP! Have a beautiful week! Michael

    Liked by 3 people

  27. There are accounts about these late war types – the Frank was a very good performer if it was built well and used the right fuel. I suppose this is the same for the later George. Seems the time needed for proper testing and manufacturing techniques was lacking.

    They certainly are radically different aircraft from the Zero and the Oscar. Too little too late.

    Liked by 3 people

  28. A very interesting read, GP. This shows how the Japanese were still determined to resist in the air, despite the obvious fact that they were going to be on the losing side. Fierce resistance, right up to the end.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 3 people

  1. Pingback: “Violet Lightning” and “Mighty Wind” – Japanese Late War Fighters — Pacific Paratrooper | Ups and Downs of Family History V2.0

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