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The Nakajima J1N Gekko

Genesis and Overview

Initially the Nakajima J1N was intended to be a long-range fighter. In 1938 some militaries recognized the need for a fighter that could escort bombers to and from their targets. The Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) issued specifications to Mitsubishi and Nakajima for a 3-seat, twin-engine escort fighter. The specifications called for an aircraft with a maximum speed of 518 kph (322 mph), a normal range of 2,410 km (1,496 miles) and a maximum range of 3,706 km (2,302 miles). The armament had to include forward firing guns and a flexible rear gun. The aircraft also had to be maneuverable enough to dogfight with single-engine fighters.[i]

The Nakajima J1N, designed by engineer Katsuji Nakamura, made its first test flight on May 2, 1941. It was closer to the specifications than the Mitsubishi design. The J1N had the range and takeoff distance necessary, but fell short in the other performance characteristics.[ii] The Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero was already in service. The Zero was a single engine, single seat fighter that had the necessary range and could match any other fighter in service. In trials the J1N had a superior range but was nowhere near the Zero as a fighter.

Nakajima produced 486 J1N1s. Only one remains. It is at the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.[iii]


[i] National Air & Space Museum, Nakajima J1N1-S Gekko (Moonlight) IRVING | National Air and Space Museum (si.edu), last accessed 1/18/21.

[ii] National Air & Space Museum, Nakajima J1N1-S Gekko (Moonlight) IRVING | National Air and Space Museum (si.edu), last accessed 1/18/21.

[iii] National Air & Space Museum, Nakajima J1N1-S Gekko (Moonlight) IRVING | National Air and Space Museum (si.edu), last accessed 1/18/21.

In Combat

The IJN authorized the J1N to be converted to a high-speed, long-range reconnaissance aircraft. Nakajima began production in April 1942 and over the next year produced 54 aircraft. The J1N1-Cs flew primarily from Rabaul, New Britain. The U.S. gave the aircraft the code name “Irving”. The Rabaul base was a frequent target of B-17 Flying Fortresses. In the spring of 1943 Commander Yasua Kozono ordered a J1N1-C modified for night interception missions. The aircraft was modified to have 2 upward and 2 downward firing 20mm cannons. On the night of May 21, Shigetoshi Kudo with Lt(jg) Akira Sugawara as observer, flew the modified J1N and shot down 2 Flying Fortresses. Kudo fired a total of 178 rounds.[i] This impressed the IJN staff which ordered production of the J1N1-S Gekko (Moonlight).[ii] On June 26 Kudo downed the B-17s “Naughty But Nice” and “Taxpayer’s Pride”. He expended 164 rounds.[iii] On June 30 he shot down the B-17F “Pluto”.[iv] On July 7 Kudo and Sugawara shot down a Lockheed Hudson.[v]

Allied intelligence didn’t believe Japan had an effective night fighter. They didn’t realize the unexplained losses of their heavy bombers on night missions were from the Gekko. The J2N1s were later used for night defense of Japan. Japan credited Lt. Sachio Endo with downing 8 B-29s and damaging 8 others. On August 20, 1944 Endo was credited with shooting down 3 B-29s and damaged 2 others. The U.S. lost 14 out of 61 Superfortresses that day. On January 14, 1945 Endo shot down a B-29 and damaged another by day before he was shot down and killed by B-29 defensive fire. On the night of 25/26 May Warrant Officer Juzo Kuramoto with radar operator Lt.(jg) Shiro Kurotiri claimed 5 B-29s shot down and another damaged. Warrant Officer Juzo Kuramoto claimed another Superfortress shot down and another damaged in May.[vi] The IJN used some Gekkos on kamikaze missions.[vii]


[i] Pacific Wrecks, Shigetoshi Kudo, Pacific Wrecks - Shigetoshi Kudo - 251st Kokutai J1N1 Gekko Night Fighter Pilot, last accessed 1/19/21. Of the 20 B-17 crew members 15 died in the crash, 1 was captured and killed, 4 others were taken prisoner.

[ii] National Air & Space Museum, Nakajima J1N1-S Gekko (Moonlight) IRVING | National Air and Space Museum (si.edu), last accessed 1/18/21.

[iii] Pacific Wrecks, Shigetoshi Kudo, Pacific Wrecks - Shigetoshi Kudo - 251st Kokutai J1N1 Gekko Night Fighter Pilot, last accessed 1/19/21. Of the 20 B-17 crew members only Jose Holguin is confirmed to have survived the crash. He bailed out with severe wounds. Villagers took him to the Japanese believing he would receive medical treatment. The Japanese gave him no medical treatment. A Dr. Hirano did carry out medical experiments on him that included injecting him with malaria. He was one of 9 POWs that survived captivity at Rabaul.

[iv] Pacific Wrecks, Shigetoshi Kudo, Pacific Wrecks - Shigetoshi Kudo - 251st Kokutai J1N1 Gekko Night Fighter Pilot, last accessed 1/19/21. All on board the B-17 were killed.

[v] Pacific Wrecks, Shigetoshi Kudo, Pacific Wrecks - Shigetoshi Kudo - 251st Kokutai J1N1 Gekko Night Fighter Pilot, last accessed 1/19/21. All on board the Hudson died.

[vi] Air Aces by Christopher Shores, © 1983 Bison Books Corp. P.155.

[vii] National Air & Space Museum, Nakajima J1N1-S Gekko (Moonlight) IRVING | National Air and Space Museum (si.edu), last accessed 1/18/21.

Nakajima J1N Gekko (Moonlight) Allied Code Name: Irving

Source: History of War: http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_nakajima_J1N_gekko.html, last accessed 1/21/21.

 J1N1

Engines

2 x 1,130hp

Crew

2

Empty Weight

10,692lb (4,860 kg)

Max. T/O Weight

18,045lb (8,200 kg)

Max Speed

315mph (500 km/h)

Service Ceiling

30,580ft (9,270 m)

Max. Range

2,348 miles (3,760 km)

Armament

4 x 20mm cannons

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Robert Sacchi

Comments

Robert Sacchi (author) on January 26, 2021:

Yes, that list of yours, maybe it belongs in the Imperial Museum, in the same section with the Woolly Mammoth and the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

FlourishAnyway from USA on January 25, 2021:

Oh my goodness I just looked that up! Unbelievable!

Robert Sacchi (author) on January 24, 2021:

Thank you for reading and commenting. It is good the Smithsonian and others went through efforts to acquire at least one example of enemy aircraft. There are a few sole survivors in the Smithsonian's collection.

Another note: I read somebody in the UK was arrested for performing "Kung Fu Fighting." Planes aren't the only things that won't fly today.

FlourishAnyway from USA on January 24, 2021:

That's really tragic what happened to Jose Holguin and surely violated the villagers' trust too. How interesting that the US has the sole surviving example of this aircraft. I've been to the museum in the DC area a few years ago along with a group. Definitely worthwhile.

Robert Sacchi (author) on January 22, 2021:

Thank you both for reading and commenting.

Peggy Woods: What happened to Jose Holguin should be remembered. That's why I include such stories.

Liz Westwood: Towards the end just the Japanese used just about every type of aircraft on kamikaze missions. Curiosly, the reference said against ground targets. The U.S. wanted to preserve at least 1 example of every enemy plane. The Smithsonian has a number of sole survivor aircraft.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 22, 2021:

Thanks for another interesting story about this airplane. How horrible it must have been for Jose Holguin to not only not receive treatment for his wounds but then be experimented upon by his captors. Had he not survived, we might never have known that story.

Liz Westwood from UK on January 21, 2021:

This is an interesting and well-documented article. I was wondering if this plane was used in kamikaze missions. You answered my question. Amazing that the one survivor is in the USA.

Robert Sacchi (author) on January 21, 2021:

Thank you for reading and commenting. Many countries were involved in conflict before the official start of WWII. Japan, and some other countries had expansionist aims. So it's reasonable they would want aircraft and other weapon systems. It's also reasonable any country that didn't want to be taken over would look to developing of purchasing military equipment.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on January 21, 2021:

I am surprisded at the large numbers of planes built just brefore or near WWII. The the B-17s “Naughty But Nice” and “Taxpayer’s Pride” are interesting. The number of wrecks is not all that surprising as they flew in during the war. This is another good historical article, Robert.

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