Ki-44 Shoki (Demon Queller)

I’ve gotten fond of Japanese planes lately, after discovering how many different types of fighters they used alongside the A6M Zero. Army and Navy had their own air forces with their own sets of aircraft. After the initial technological lead by the Navy, courtesy of Mitsubishi, the Army air forces caught up and surpassed them, with powerful aircraft designed by Nakajima and Kawasaki. It actually happened quite early on: Nakajima’s Ki-44 Shoki/Tojo and Kawasaki’s Ki-61 Hien/Tony, Japan’s first efforts at creating power fighters, were ready by late 1942.

The Hien was designed around the Ha-40, a Japanese engine derived from the German DB-601 liquid-cooled inline engine powering the famous Messerschmitt Bf-109. Kawasaki’s fighter had a very different profile from the usual radial engined aircraft fielded by Japan. Additionally, the Hien was solidly built, with protection for the pilot and fuel tank, unlike most Japanese aircraft in its time, and its sleek lines, resembling the Macchi C.202 Folgore, led to it being initially mistaken for Italian (hence the Allied codename “Tony”).

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Kawasaki Ki-61 Hien/Tony. Looks like a certain German plane doesn’t it?

The other power fighter, the Ki-44 Shoki/Tojo was commissioned by the Army as a bomber interceptor. They toned down the requirement for maneuverability in favour of power, climb,  and speed. Nakajima stuck with air-cooled radials for this plane. The main problem was that the only engine Nakajima had which was capable of generating the necessary power for the specified performance, was the Ha-41, which had a large diameter. It was more suitable for powering bombers.

Nakajima made the wings and rudder relatively stubby, and seems to have followed the principle of squeezing the smallest possible fuselage behind the most powerful engine. In this case, it was also the biggest engine they had. The result looks somewhat ungainly:

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Nakajima K-44 Shoki, the fierce little Demon Queller.

Unlike the Ki-61 Hien, the Ki-44 saw little action in the Pacific Theatre. The Doolittle Raid, in which American B-25 Mitchell bombers made a one-way bombing mission from an aircraft carrier into Japan and ditched their planes in China, spooked the Japanese high command. Most Ki-44 were pulled back to protect the Home Islands. The Shoki did see action over the oil fields in Sumatra against British raiders, where they seemed to have been fearsome aircraft.

Since the Shoki saw little action until near the end, the plane has been mostly overlooked by flight simulation games until recently. But when the plane was finally included in sims such as Il-2 Sturmovik and Warbirds, many flight simmers expressed delight at its performance. “Bad, baaaad little plane”, enthused one virtual flyer. It was almost as good as the Ki-84 Hayate/Frank, which was *the* Japanese superfighter. It was, however, more temperamental in flight, stalling without warning more easily. A Zero or Oscar flyer accustomed to easy handling would be in for a shock when transitioning to this fierce little “demon-queller.”

I’m actually rather fond of this unlikely-looking plane. It would have made a fine companion for the Ki-61, just like the Fw-190 was a good complement to the Bf-109. It lacked the range of most Japanese craft, since interceptors were intended to defend bases and cities from bombers and not stray very far. On the other hand it was not unknown for interceptors to pitch in as fighters against other fighters as well. Many interceptor designs seemed very successful in this role, for example, P-38 Lightning, J2M Raiden, Fw-190D “Dora”, Ta-152, and Bf-109K “Kurfurst”. You can’t really go wrong with high power, acceleration, speed, climb and dive, especially when competing with later Allied fighters.

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One thought on “Ki-44 Shoki (Demon Queller)

  1. I think the Shoki had potential.
    As an interceptor, it should have packed cannons in it’s major version.
    True, it doubled the MGs of the Oscar, but that still isn’t saying much.
    The main thing it had going for it was a reliable engine in the Ki 44-II. No fighter design following it had a reliable engine, army or navy, except for a few Ki 100s in 1945.
    The Shoki was the least tight-turning of Japanese singe-seat-single engine fighters. But nothing else could out-dive it except perhaps a Tony and the Tojo could out-climb it any day. So, the Ki 44 was a great vertical dogfighter.

    The problem was the B-29. The less numerous IJN counterpart, the Jack, packed 4x20mm cannons in it’s main version and was more at home at B-29 altitudes than the Shoki.
    The Shoki pilots requested 20mm cannons like the Ho-3. The response was the 40mm Ho-301.
    This had caseless ammo and minimal recoil if any. So wing mounting was OK. Only 9 or 10 rounds per gun at a rate of 450 r/m means only 1.3 seconds’ supply. The range was suicidal at 150m to tackle a box of B-29s that open fire at a distance of 910m! This was not popular with pilots.

    There was another option according to some.
    The wings of the Ki 44 were stubby and strengthened. The 37mm Ho-203 had moderate M/V of 576m/s yet a decent range of 900m. There apparently was an outfit of these in China that intercepted a B-29 raid with success. These had 25 r/g, and rate of fire was only 120 r/m so this was a 12.5 second supply of ammo. the cowl 12.7mm guns had perhaps 33 seconds. A salvo was deadly!
    4 of those 37mm hits in one second could KO even a B-29.
    The Russians later captured these if I’m not mistaken. In any case, these should’ve been the typical Shoki interceptor.
    Even if the pilots had just simply gotten the Ho-3 cannons they requested, these would’ve done very well as dogfighters or interceptors. True, this 20mm cannon was the slowest 20 at up to 400 r/m, but 4 of them compensate. Ammo was 100 r/g for a 15 second supply, followed by 17 seconds with just the cowl 20mm cannons with reduction to synchronize with the prop by more than half the rate.
    These shells included 162g APT, the heaviest 20s of WW2 with good M/V, 820-846m/s. Range was 900m. About 20 rounds per second from the quartet is the density of the cone of fire.
    This cannon option was likely not used, unfortunately for the Shoki.
    The Ki 44-III was planned to have 4x20mm new Ho-5s with the lighter shells for faster RoF and a 37mm cannon version too. This was all cancelled for the Ki 84 Frank, but the Ki 43 Oscar continued production. Go figure!

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