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Book Review
P-38 Lightning vs Ki-61 Tony
P-38 Lightning vs Ki-61 Tony - New Guinea 1943-44
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by: Rowan Baylis [ MERLIN ]

Originally published on:

Among the latest aircraft titles from Osprey is a fascinating account of the bitter duels between the American P-38 and Japanese Ki-61 over New Guinea.

The book very much follows Osprey's established format, with 80 pages softbound, largely text-based and supported with a mix of period photos and modern artwork, including maps and a few excellent colour illustrations of the aircraft.

Author Donald Nijboer takes a threefold approach to the subject:

● Describing the development of the P-38 and Ki-61 themselves, outlining their strengths and weaknesses and the tactics used by their pilots.

● Portraying the tactical situation in New Guinea and the South Pacific.

● Covering the wider strategic picture, including production, pilot training and the ability of the combatants to make good losses.

I found the text very readable and informative, and it provides a good grounding into the air war in the Pacific. While it certainly couldn't be argued to be anything approaching a definitive reference for the Lightning or Hien, it outlines their development concisely and gives a very good idea of their respective merits as they faced each other in combat.

It is quite shocking to learn just how much of an advantage Allied pilots faced over the Japanese as early as 1943. The book quotes from a number of intelligence reports of the period and it is clear that there was already a calamitous drop in the overall quality of IJAAF pilots as the experienced veterans who started the war were killed, wounded or simply incapacitated by tropical diseases.

In terms of the aircraft, the P-38 held all the aces - speed, firepower and the ability to fight on its own terms - while the Ki-61 was rushed into combat still plagued by reliability problems and was unable to meet the Lightning on remotely even terms. It had even sacrificed the maneuverability of previous Japanese fighters. As 5-kill Lightning ace Charles King put it:

"The P-38 pilots all liked the "Tony". It may have been a bit faster than the current Jap fighter we were fighting, but we had plenty to spare, and the "Tony" was a lot less maneuverable than the Zero-sen or the "Oscar", so it was an easy victory when encountered."

With the Allies also enjoying greater numbers, superior airfield engineering, plus better technical support, and supplies of spares, food and medicine, the outcome of the conflict was almost inevitable. Amazingly, although the Japanese apparently realised the situation was untenable as early as mid 1943, they still doggedly reinforced disaster, squandering their best units that were, literally, annihilated.

P-38 Lightning vs Ki-61 Hien is a very worthwhile read. Is it a modelling book? Not specifically, that's not the author's intention - although the colour illustrations include excellent cockpit views and some details of the armament of each aircraft. There are profiles of a pair of aircraft involved in the fighting in New Guinea, while the original photos provide a good source of inspiration for weathering models or building a vignette of a jungle airstrip. Recommended to anyone interested in the Pacific air war.

Please remember, when contacting retailers or manufacturers, to mention that you saw their products highlighted here - on AEROSCALE.
Highs: Covers the development of the P-38 and Ki-61, their strengths and tactics, plus the wider tactical and strategic situation of the air war in the South Pacific.
Verdict: While not specifially aimed at modellers, the book is a very worthwhile read for anyone interested in the Pacific conflict.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: Other
  Mfg. ID: 978-1-84603-943-0
  Suggested Retail: 12.99
  Related Link: 
  PUBLISHED: Apr 28, 2010

Our Thanks to Osprey Publishing!
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About Rowan Baylis (Merlin)

I've been modelling for about 40 years, on and off. While I'm happy to build anything, my interests lie primarily in 1/48 scale aircraft. I mostly concentrate on WW2 subjects, although I'm also interested in WW1, Golden Age aviation and the early Jet Age - and have even been known to build the occas...

Copyright 2021 text by Rowan Baylis [ MERLIN ]. 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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