Score Zero

Regarding the Japanese Air Force, which many people, he said, were inclined to discount as a second-rate body equipped with obsolete aircraft and lacking skillful and daring pilots, Air Vice-Marshal Pulford said that he certainly does not underrate its capacity. When it was suggested to him that it might be compared with the Italian Air Force, he pointed out how completely the R.A.F. gained the mastery of the skies of the Middle East even when the Italians possessed great numerical superiority. He thinks that what the R.A.F. has done in the Middle East it could certainly do in the Far East against the Japanese. One of the best Japanese fighters is the 'O' naval fighter, but the Brewster Buffaloes at present with the R.A.F. in Malaya and Burma would have no difficulty in dealing with them. The Japanese, he said, have two bombers of the Mitsuibishi type, one of which is used by the Navy and one by the Army -- they are about equal in performance to the Whitley bomber in the R.A.F. He believes that Messerschmitt 109s are being produced in limited numbers in Japanese factories.

Source: The Times, 20 October 1941, p. 4 (via the WWII mailing list).

The Air Vice-Marshal was somewhat mistaken in his opinions of the relative merits of Zeroes and Buffaloes (but then public pessimism from high-ranking officers doesn't go down too well in wartime). Pulford was the Air Officer Commanding, RAF Far East, at the time of the Japanese attack in December 1941. According to Air of Authority he was in home air defence and seaplanes during the First World War; afterwards he won recognition for his experimental work with torpedo bombing and, in 1926, for leading a flight of Fairey IIIDs in a record-breaking flight from Cairo to Cape Town and back, and then on to Lee-on-Solent. Unfortunately, his story had an unhappy ending. He evacuated from Singapore two days before its surrender, along with many other small boats, but the one his party was on was hit and forced to beach on an inhospitable island, where they remained for two months before being picked up by Japanese forces. Pulford was in poor health and died before the rescue.

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5 thoughts on “Score Zero

  1. That comment about the Buffaloes sure is hard to swallow, but they did have success with the Finnish forces against Russia, so the design wasn't a total disaster. And the Zero's tight turning radius and effectiveness in close combat was more than offset by its lack of self-sealing tanks and cockpit protection for the pilot. So I can understand Pulford's comparison with the Italians even though subsequent history proved, for a time, a nightmare for Allied forces in the Far East. Great post -- keep digging this wonderful stuff up!

  2. Brett Holman

    Post author

    True, it's easy to be smug in hindsight. I find it interesting though, that Pulford explicitly warned against underestimating the Japanese, and then went on to do exactly that himself! The "many people" he mentions must have had very low opinions of the Japanese indeed.

  3. George Shaner

    This brings to mind a question near and dear to my heart and for which no one seems to have the answer: the origins of JAAF bomber doctrine. I've seen some tantalizing hints that they had a counter-force strategy by the mid-thirties, possibly in answer to the build-up of the Soviet and American aerial capabilities, but no one seems to have really researched the question in English.

  4. Brett Holman

    Post author

    That's an interesting question, George, and I'm sure I don't know! (But if you haven't already seen them, a couple of earlier posts might interest you.) What sort of hints have you come across?

  5. George Shaner

    Mostly some comments in "Kogun" by Hayashi & Coox and another source that I can't remember for the life of me.

    The JAAF has been very badly served analytically, though maybe the Imperial Army was just better at destroying their records than the navy!

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