Book Review: Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War by René Francillon

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Topic & Content

First published in 1970, this is the 1987 edition published by the Naval Institute Press. This is a comprehensive reference work of the various aircraft used by the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy during WWII. The book is organized as follows:

  • Japanese Aircraft Industry – A Brief History
  • Japanese Army Air Force – A Brief History
  • Japanese Navy Air Force – A Brief History
  • Japanese Aircraft Designation Systems
  • Japanese Aircraft Camouflage and Markings
  • Imperial Japanese Army Aircraft
  • Imperial Japanese Navy Aircraft
  • Appendix A – Lesser Types; Imperial Japanese Army
  • Appendix B – Lesser Types; Imperial Japanese Navy
  • Appendix C – Foreign-designed Aircraft
  • Appendix D – Aircraft Carriers, Seaplane and Flying-boat Tenders, and Aircraft-carrying Submarines
  • Appendix E – Japanese Aero-engines
  • Appendix F – Japanese Aircraft Armament and Guided Missiles
  • Designation Index
  • Allied Code name system

The book begins with brief overviews of Japan’s aircraft industry and the air forces of the Imperial Army and Navy. After some short sections on aircraft designations and camouflage, the bulk of the book is dedicated to an examination of the individual aircraft operated by the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy. The aircraft in these two sections are categorically organized by manufacturer. Within each entry, the aircraft’s design history and variants are covered, along with some photos. This is followed by the aircraft’s technical details and line drawings.

Thesis

The simply stated objective of this book is to provide a compact history of all of the aircraft designed for and operated by the Imperial Japanese Army and the Imperial Japanese Navy during the Pacific War.

Author’s Background

René J. Francillon was born in Italy in 1937, raised in France, and educated in Switzerland. Emigrating to the U.S. in 1961, he would later earn a Ph.D. in Air Transportation Economics from the Universite de Lausanne. Francillon spent his career working for engineering companies and aircraft manufacturers. In addition to his writing on aviation, he also consulted on air transportation in various countries around the globe, as well as for the U.S. Department of Defense.

His writing career included 58 aviation books in English and French, as well as contributions to some 20 others. He wrote over 400 aerospace articles on current and historical aircraft, as well as on civil and military aviation topics.

He died in March 2018, just three days shy of his 81st birthday.

“In Memoriam Rene J. Francillon.” AeroSphere Research. 2021. https://www.aerosphereresearch.com/in-memoriam.html.

Critical Observations

Positives

Unlike many other reference works that just gloss over the material, Francillon’s writing takes the time to insert detail into the text. While the more well-known (and studied) aircraft have more space devoted to them, most of the entries in this book aren’t more than a handful of pages long. However, the text is information dense and well-thought-out. In each entry, some choice photos of the aircraft under discussion are sprinkled throughout, and it concludes with the technical specifications and some nice line drawings (by J.B. Roberts).

The best thing about this work is its sheer comprehensive nature. Even the appendixes are very good and filled with interesting information. Francillon must have devoted a lot of time and energy to dig up the information on the aircraft, especially the more obscure ones. The text is well-written and the book is well-illustrated. While it certainly doesn’t contain every conceivable detail on every aircraft in the text, it’s an excellent starting point for further research.

Negatives

The only real criticism I have of this book is the lack of color illustrations in the section that covers the camouflage and markings. The concession for this is that there is a color key on the dust jacket flap, but this is of no use to me because I picked up a used copy that was missing its dust jacket. Of course, color plates are more expensive for printing, but the grayscale depiction of the aircraft camouflage and color schemes are very underwhelming. It would’ve been better had the book included color illustrations, at least for the short section on aircraft camouflage.

While the text that covers the development of the various aircraft may not be as detailed as you might want, it’s important to understand that this is a reference work. More dedicated development histories have been written on some of these aircraft and the interested reader is encouraged to go seek them out. For example, Zero by Robert Mikesh is probably the best development history on the A6M out there in English. That said, I don’t know if Francillon did wholly original research for this book, but the lack of a bibliography (or even a suggested further reading list) is sorely missing for those who want to do deeper dives into some of these aircraft.

Evaluation (Does the content support the thesis?)

All in all, this book does what it says on the tin. It’s a comprehensive reference work to the various aircraft designed and/or used by the Imperial Japanese military in WWII. Unlike other reference works which are more style over substance, Francillon’s book seems to operate on the opposite tack of substance over style. The text is dense and prioritizes information over opinion. On the surface, the book is unassuming and isn’t a coffee table volume with the simplistic evaluations you usually see with most reference works. This is a reference work for serious amateurs and a great starting place for aviation historians doing research.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (Great/Highly recommended).

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
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