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The Imperial Japanese Navy(日本海軍, Nihon Kaigun) at the beginning of World War II contained the world's largest carrier fleet. At the centre, was the 1st Air Fleet (第一航空艦隊, Dai-ichi KōKū Kantai) which was a grouping of naval aircraft and aircraft carriers. With the Kido Butai (being its primary carrier battle group) the Imperial Japanese Navy would reign supreme for the first six months of World War II.

Contents

Origins

The origin of the 1st Air Fleet has to do with creating the first carrier based air fleet. 1st Air Fleet and 2nd Air Fleet were the primary attack force of the IJNAS.

Organisation

The Navy Air Services' carrier-based Air Corps (kokutai, later called koku sentai) was a major component of the Combined Fleet whose size (from a handful to 80 or 90 aircraft) was dependent on both the mission and type of aircraft carrier that they were on.[1]

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First half as Carrier Task Force

On April 10, 1941 the Imperial Japanese Navy formed the First Air Fleet (Daiichi Koku Kantai) consisting of all seven of Japan's fleet and light carriers with a total of 474 aircraft. This would result in a naval battlegroup with the single most powerful concentration of naval aviation in the world. The groundwork for the true carrier task force had been laid.[2]

The large fleet carriers had three types of aircraft; fighters, level bombers/torpedo planes, and dive bombers. While the smaller carriers tended to have only two types of aircraft; fighters and dive bombers. The carrier-based kokutai numbered over 1500 pilots with over 1500 aircraft at the beginning of the Pacific War, there would be 10 carriers with a total aircraft capacity of about 600.

Kido Butai

The Kido Butai (機動部隊 literally Mobile Unit/Force) was the Combined Fleet's main carrier battle group carrying the 1st Air Fleet and mobile taskforce consisting of Japan's six large carriers at its core known for executing the attack on Pearl Harbor under Admiral Chuichi Nagumo in 1941. It was considered the single most powerful naval fleet until the disastrous Battle of Midway, which resulted in the destruction of four of its six aircraft carriers and a severe loss of experienced pilots. For the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Kido Butai consisted of 6 aircraft carriers (commanded by Chuichi Nagumo, Tamon Yamaguchi and Chuichi Hara) with 414 airplanes, 2 battleships, 3 cruisers, 9 destroyers, 8 tankers, 23 submarines and 4 midget submarines. However, these escort ships were borrowed from other fleet and squadrons. On 14 July 1942, all carriers were moved to the 3rd fleet.

Carriers of the Kido Butai, 1941
1st Carrier Division
Akagi Japanese.aircraft.carrier.akagi.jpg
Kaga Kaga Field Manual FM 30-58.jpg
2nd Carrier Division
Sōryū HIJMS Soryu.jpg
Hiryū Japanese aircraft carrier hiryu.jpg
5th Carrier Division
Shōkaku Aircraft carrier shokaku h73066.jpg
Zuikaku Japanese.aircraft.carrier.zuikaku.jpg

Transition (extract)

Date Lower units Lowest units and ships
10 April 1941 (original) 1st Carrier Division Akagi, Kaga
Destroyer Division 7 : Akebono, Ushio
2nd Carrier Division Hiryū, Sōryū
Destroyer Division 23 : Kikuzuki, Uzuki
4th Carrier Division Ryūjō
10 December 1941 1st Carrier Division Akagi, Kaga
Destroyer Division 7 : Akebono, Ushio
2nd Carrier Division Hiryū, Sōryū
Destroyer Division 23 : Kikuzuki, Uzuki
4th Carrier Division Ryūjō, MV Kasuga Maru
Destroyer Division 3 : Shiokaze, Hokaze
5th Carrier Division Shōkaku, Zuikaku, Oboro, Akigumo
10 April 1942 1st Carrier Division Akagi, Kaga
2nd Carrier Division Hiryū, Sōryū
4th Carrier Division Ryūjō, Shōhō
5th Carrier Division Shōkaku, Zuikaku
10th Division Nagara
Destroyer Division 4 : Nowaki, Arashi, Hagikaze, Maikaze
Destroyer Division 10 : Kazagumo, Makigumo, Yūgumo, Akigumo
Destroyer Division 17 : Urakaze, Isokaze, Tanikaze, Hamakaze
14 July 1942 disbanded

Commanders

  • Commander in chief
Rank Name Date
1 Vice-Admiral Chūichi Nagumo 10 April 1941
x disbanded 14 July 1942
  • Chief of Staff
Rank Name Date
1 Rear-Admiral Ryūnosuke Kusaka 10 April 1941
x disbanded 14 July 1942

Second half as Land-based Air Fleet

On 1 June 1943, the 1st Air Fleet was reborn as the land-based Air Fleet. On 30 September 1943, a cabinet meeting planned the Absolute National Defence Zone (絶対国防圏 Zettai Kokubōken ?) strategy.[3] The plan intended the Kuril Islands, Bonin Islands, Mariana Islands, Caroline Islands, Geelvink Bay (Biak), Sunda Islands and Burma to be unsinkable aircraft carriers. The 1st Air Fleet became the main force of this plan. However, it was soundly beaten in the Battle of Philippine Sea. The IJN then moved the air fleet to the Philippines to regroup. However, the IJN lost the air fleet as it was not combat ready in the Aerial Battle of Taiwan–Okinawa. After the battle it had only 30 aircraft. The only tactic left for them was the Kamikaze Attack.

Transition (extract)

Date Higher unit Lower units Lowest units
1 June 1943 (original) Imperial General Headquarters 261st NAG[4], 521st NAG, 761st NAG
1 January 1944 Imperial General Headquarters 121st NAG, 261st NAG, 263rd NAG, 265th NAG, 321st NAG,
341st NAG, 344th NAG, 521st NAG, 523rd NAG, 1021st NAG
15 February 1944 Combined Fleet 61st Air Flotilla 121st NAG, 261st NAG, 263rd NAG, 321st NAG, 341st NAG,
343rd NAG, 521st NAG, 523rd NAG, 763rd NAG, 1021st NAG
62nd Air Flotilla 141st NAG, 262nd NAG, 265th NAG, 322st NAG, 345th NAG,
361st NAG, 522nd NAG, 524th NAG, 541st NAG, 762nd NAG
5 May 1944 Combined Fleet 22nd Air Flotilla 151st NAG, 202nd NAG, 251st NAG, 253rd NAG, 301st NAG,
503rd NAG, 551st NAG, 755th NAG
26th Air Flotilla 201st NAG, 501st NAG, 751st NAG
61st Air Flotilla 121st NAG, 261st NAG, 263rd NAG, 321st NAG, 341st NAG,
343rd NAG, 521st NAG, 523rd NAG, 763rd NAG, 1021st NAG
7 August 1944 Southwest Area Fleet 22nd Air Flotilla Higashi-Caroline NAG
23rd Air Flotilla Gōhoku NAG
26th Air Flotilla Hitō NAG
61st Air Flotilla Mariana NAG, Nishi-Caroline NAG
153rd NAG, 201st NAG, 221st NAG, 761st NAG, 1021st NAG
15 December 1944 Southwest Area Fleet 23rd Air Flotilla Gōhoku NAG
26th Air Flotilla Hokuhi NAG, Chūhi NAG, Nanpi NAG
153rd NAG, 201st NAG, 761st NAG, 1021st NAG
1 March 1945 Southwest Area Fleet 26th Air Flotilla Hokuhi NAG, Chūhi NAG, Nanpi NAG, 141st NAG, 153rd NAG,
201st NAG, 221st NAG, 341st NAG, 761st NAG, 763rd NAG
Taiwan NAG, 132nd NAG, 133rd NAG, 165th NAG, 634th NAG,
765th NAG, 1021st NAG
8 May 1945 Combined Fleet 132nd NAG, 133rd NAG, 205th NAG, 765th NAG
15 June 1945 disbanded

Commanders

  • Commander in chief
Rank Name Date Note
1 Vice-Admiral Kakuji Kakuta 1 June 1943 KIA on 2 August 1944.
x vacant post 3 August 1944 (The life and death of Vice-Admiral Kakuta were unidentified.)
2 Vice-Admiral Kinpei Teraoka 7 August 1944
3 Vice-Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi 20 October 1944
4 Vice-Admiral Kiyohide Shima 10 May 1945
x disbanded 15 June 1945
  • Chief of Staff
Rank Name Date Note
1 Captain / Rear-Admiral Yoshitake Miwa 1 June 1943 KIA on 2 August 1944. Rear-Admiral on same day.
x vacant post 3 August 1944 (The life and death of Rear-Admiral Miwa were unidentified.)
2 Captain Toshihiko Odawara 7 August 1944
3 Rear-Admiral Tomozō Kikuchi 1 January 1945
4 Rear-Admiral Tasuku Nakazawa 10 May 1945
x disbanded 15 June 1945

Operations

Pearl Harbor

1st Air Fleet planes from the Japanese aircraft carrier Shokaku preparing to take off to attack American naval base in Pearl Harbor.
1st Air Fleet Aichi dive bombers preparing to bomb American naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

The Kido Butai (also known as the Carrier Striking Task Force) set sail from Hittokapu Bay, Japan under Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo on 26 November 1941, arriving in Hawaiian waters on Sunday December 7, 1941 Hawaiian time. At around 8am, the first wave began its attack on the US Pacific Fleet based at Pearl Harbor and on outlying airfields. By the end of the day 21 American ships were either sunk or crippled, 188 aircraft were destroyed and over 3,500 American personnel were casualties of war. Japan was now formally at war with the United States.

For the attack on Pearl Harbor, this fleet had a strength of 103 level bombers, 128 dive bombers, 40 torpedo bombers, 88 fighter planes and plus 91 planes with a total of 441 planes. The Pearl Harbor Attack force composition

Indian Ocean Raid

Between March 31 and 10 April,1942 the Japanese conducted a naval sortie against Allied naval forces in the Indian Ocean. The Fast Carrier Task Force(Kido Butai) consisting of six carriers commanded by Admiral Chuichi Nagumo inflicted heavy losses on the British Fleet; with the sinking of 1 carrier, 2 cruisers, 2 destroyers and 23 merchant ships for the loss of 20 aircraft. Attacks on the island of Ceylon were also carried out.

Battle of the Coral Sea

The 1st Air Fleet dispatched the Fifth Air Squadron in the Coral Sea during the return from the Indian Ocean. The remaining fleet returned in the mainland, had to prepare for the Midway invasion (Operation MI).

Battle of Midway

Battle of Santa Cruz

Battle of the Philippine Sea

Battle of Leyte Gulf

Notes

  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Carriers
  3. ^ http://www.ndl.go.jp/horei_jp/kakugi/txt/txt00504.htm (今後採ルヘキ戦争指導ノ大綱) by National Diet Library. Accessed 2009-05-28. Archived 2009-05-30.
  4. ^ NAG = Naval Air Group (or Naval Aviation Group). The same shall apply hereinafter.

Bibliography

External links

Some of the commanders of the Kido Butai

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