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Book Review
Hellcat vs Shiden
Hellcat vs Shiden/Shiden-Kai Pacific Theater 1944-45
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

Originally published on:

Kawanishi's N1K2-J Shiden (Violet Lightning) fighter (code-named “George” by the Allies) has long fascinated students of Imperial Japanese Navy aviation of the Second World War and inspired modelers. Graceful as a sumo wrestler, the N1K1-J Shiden was a private development by Kawanishi of their N1K air superiority floatplane fighter into a land-based interceptor. Shiden is widely considered the best Imperial Navy fighter of the war. Extremely maneuverable, packing devastating firepower ( up to two Type 97 7.7mm machine guns and four Type 99 20mm cannons), and able to withstand battle damage, Shiden was as threatening as its thunderstorm allegory and subject to many "what-if" debates of the air war.

The Grumman F6F Hellcat is one of the icons of the Pacific War. Surrounded in legend and myth, the F6F unequivocally earned its place as one of the all-time great fighter aircraft. In spite of having obsolescent performance compared to Allied and European Axis fighters, it was the right aircraft in the right place at the right time for the US Navy, with performance more than capable of handling what it encountered.

This duel focuses on the prime operators of Shidens, the legendary "Group of Aces" 343rd Kokutai, often called "Genda's Flying Circus."

Hellcat vs Shiden/Shiden-Kai Pacific Theater 1944–45 from Osprey Publishing LTD is the 91st book in their series Duel. Duel series compares and contrasts the two opponents in as comprehensively as the 80-page format allows. This book, Duel 91, features a better than average selection of quotes and first-hand accounts by American and Japanese pilots involved in Hellcat/Shiden clashes.

Authored by Tony Holmes and illustrated by artists Jim Laurier & Gareth Hector, this softcover book is 80 pages in length. It is catalogued as ISBN 9781472829740 and with Osprey's Short Code DUE 91. It is also available in two eBook formats: ePub; PDF.

Osprey writes of this subject:
    By the early months of 1944 in the Pacific, the US Navy's burgeoning force of carrier-based F6F-3/5 Hellcats had pretty much wiped the skies clear of Japanese fighters during a series of one-sided aerial engagements. However, starting in October they faced the superb Kawanishi N1K1/2 Shiden/Shiden-Kai, a formidable fighter with improved armament, a powerful engine and excellent manoeuvrability that in contrast to earlier Japanese fighters had the ability to withstand a greater degree of battle damage.

    Japanese pilots using this aircraft would claim more than 170 aerial victories over Kyushu and whilst escorting Kamikazes attacking Allied ships off Okinawa. US Navy Hellcat pilots in turn were credited with many of the scores of Shiden-Kais that were downed attempting to defend Japan. This fully illustrated book compares these two fascinating aircraft, using specially commissioned artwork, first-hand accounts and a thorough technical analysis.

Hellcat vs Shiden/Shiden-Kai is told through 80 pages with nine chapters and sections:
    Design and Development
    Technical Specifications
    The Strategic Situation
    The Combatants
    Statistics and Analysis
    Further Reading

Through those chapters we learn about the F6F Hellcat and “George,” as Allied intelligence code-named both versions of Kawanishi's legendary fighter. Those were the N1K1-J Shiden and the radically redesigned N1K2-J Shiden-Kai, both called “George”. Duel books present why they were made. How they were manufactured. When they entered operational service and when their combat careers started. The author also discusses that “George” was unfamiliar to USN pilots and mistaken for other Japanese fighters, thus few combat reports mention Shidens. Overclaiming of kills by fighter pilots is also examined in good detail.

Design and Development presents those stories through five pages for each fighter. This chapter surprised me with information I had not encountered before. Technical Specifications presents the F6F structure, systems, weapons, and problems in technical manner. Qualities of the “George” is presented in a fascinating manner - captured “Georges” described through USN Intelligence's Technical Air Intelligence Center (TAIC) Summary No. 33. N1K1-J flight trial evaluation and assessments by US pilots are reproduced herein. American forces captured six airworthy “Georges” and sent them to the U.S., with three going to the Navy and three going to the Army. Those “George” flight assessments and fates are recounted. These two chapters discuss a major technical problem of the Shiden family - engine unreliability, and a reason for it.

The Strategic Situation is a good chapter for those without knowledge of the Pacific War. The Combatants introduce the reader to the organization and training of the Japanese and American naval pilot. It delivers more personal accounts of flying the aircraft. Two biographies introduce us to two opponents of this duel, CMDR Thomas S. Harris and CPO Shoichi Sugita.

Combat (24 pages) starts on page 48 discussing the Shiden's first combat in October, 1944. USN pilots did not report encountering the new fighter three weeks later and the author discusses the reasons. This chapter focuses on the 343rd Kokutai in defense of Japan and escorting Kamikaze missions. Almost every page features first-hand American or Japanese pilot narratives:
    Although the George could turn inside the F6F-5, its superior speed enabled it to stay with the George, despite being pulled to the outside of the turns.

Japanese accounts include:
    I approached the F6F from behind and above. When I saw the head of the pilot, I felt a merciful heart but, in reality, I was engaged in a cold-blooded fight, and I fired 20 rounds. The right wing of the enemy aircraft flew off and it went down in a spin.

    Each time we closed in, tracers from our four 20mm cannon crossed with those from the Americans' 13mm guns.

Statistics and Analysis and Aftermath wrap up the book with data from the clashes. While "George" flights ceased after the American test flights over American soil, Hellcats soldiered on into the 1950s. Tallies of kills and losses between the N1K and F6F are explored, as is the problem of overclaiming kills.

This is a subject many students of the Pacific air war (including myself) have been waiting a long time for. It did not disappoint me. Accounts of the flight training and operational integration of IJNAF and US pilots is illuminating. I appreciate the explanations about the relationship of overclaiming and record keeping in regard to investigating participants and kills. I learned a few new things about Hellcat handling strengths and problems. Those parts of the text make this title worth the wait.

Photographs, Artwork, and Graphics
An excellent gallery of photographs supports the text. Of particular interest are images of battle damage caused by "George's" powerful 20mm cannon. Japanese photographs of their aircraft are plentiful. Many photos are portraits of Japanese and American pilots involved in those clashes. Modelers should find something of interest in the images. The photos are supported with informative and exciting artwork by artists Jim Laurier & Gareth Hector.


1. F6F-5 Hellcat, VF-9, USS Yorktown, 3-view: profile; planform; head-on.

2. N1K2-J Shiden-Kai: 3-view (profile, planform, head-on) of "white 15" 343-A-15, 343rd Kokutai Sento 301st Hikotai, chosen by Lt Kanno.

3. Cutaway F6F-3/5 Hellcat Machine Guns.

4. Cutaway N1K2-J Wing Cannon.

5. Combat centerfold: initial diving attack of the 343rd Kokutai head-on through Hellcats of VBF-17.

6. F6F-5 Hellcat Cockpit: keyed to 72 items.

7. N1K2-J Shiden-Kai Cockpit: keyed to 47 items.

8. Engaging the Enemy: N1K2-J cockpit view of killing a Hellcat head-on.


a. Diagram Vulnerability: TAIC illustration detailing vulnerable components of the Shiden.

b. Chart F6F-3/5, N1K1-J and N1K2-J Comparison Specifications: powerplant; dimensions; weights; performance; armament.

c. Map: Shiden/Shiden-Kai operating theater.

d. USN fighter formation.

e. Shiden/Shiden-Kai formation.

f. Map: USN attacks of March 19, 1945.

Each image is accompanied with captions or a narrative.

Osprey's Hellcat vs Shiden/Shiden-Kai should be welcomed by modelers and historians of those aircraft, the Pacific air war, and American or Japanese naval air units. First-hand accounts are plentiful and fascinating. Allied test flight assessments of "George" are enlightening. Accounts of the flight training programs and operational integration of IJNAF and US pilots is illuminating. The gallery of photographs and artwork is exceptional. They support a well researched text.

I found no typos and have nothing meaningful to complain about.

Whether books inspire our models or our models pique our interest in their history, this book is an excellent source for either interest. Recommended.

Please remember to mention to Osprey and retailers that you saw this book here - on Aeroscale.
Highs: First-hand accounts are plentiful and fascinating. Allied test flight assessments of "George" and accounts of flight training programs are enlightening. The gallery of photographs and artwork is exceptional.
Lows: I found no typos and have nothing meaningful to complain about.
Verdict: Whether books inspire our models or our models pique our interest in their history, this book is an excellent source for either interest.
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: 9781472829740
  Related Link: 
  PUBLISHED: Feb 20, 2019
  NATIONALITY: Japan / 日本

Our Thanks to Osprey Publishing!
This item was provided by them for the purpose of having it reviewed on this KitMaker Network site. If you would like your kit, book, or product reviewed, please contact us.

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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright ©2021 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of ModelGeek. All rights reserved.


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