Carrier aircraft used during World War II

Over 700 different aircraft models were used during World War II.[1] At least 135 of these models were developed for naval use,[2] including about 50 fighters[3] and 38 bombers.[4] Only about 25 carrier-launched aircraft models were used extensively for combat operations. Of these, nine were introduced during the war years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, four by the United States Navy (USN) and three by the Royal Navy (RN) and two by the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN).

Principal carrier aircraft usedEdit

The table below lists the principal carrier-launched fighters and bombers used during World War II. They are listed within each aircraft type in chronological order of their introduction to combat zones. Allied reporting names such as "Val" and "Kate" are included for IJN aircraft. Neither Germany nor Italy had carriers or carrier-launched planes, but the land-based fighters of the German Luftwaffe and Italy's Regia Aeronautica (RA) menaced Allied ships and planes. Some Axis fighters are included in the table below for comparison with the Allied fighters that met them in combat.

Number Year Number Empty Loaded Engine Max Service Rate of Wing Max Mach. 20mm Rockets
Navy Aircraft Name & Variant of Wings Intro. Produced Weight Weight Power Speed Range Ceiling Climb Loading Ord. Guns Cannon After
(lbs) (lbs) (hp) (mph) (mi) (ft) (ft/min) (lbs/sf) (lbs) 1943
----- ---------------------------------------- ---------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- -------- ---- ---- --------
Carrier Fighters/Fighter-Bombers
1 IJN Nakajima A4N1 Biplane 1936 221 2,813 3,880 730 219 526 25,390 2,812 15.7 265 2 -- --
2 IJN Mitsubishi A5M-4 "Claude" Monoplane 1937 1,094 2,681 3,684 710 270 746 32,000 2,749 19.2 132 2 -- --
3 RN Gloster Sea Gladiator Mk I Biplane 1937 98 3,217 4,594 830 253 400 32,800 2,300 14.2 -- 4 -- --
4 RN Blackburn Roc Monoplane 1939 136 6,121 7950 890 223 810 18,000 1500 25.6 240 4 -- --
5 IJN Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero "Zeke" Monoplane 1940 10,939 3,704 5,313 940 331 1,162 32,810 3,090 25.5 264 2 2 --
6 RN Fairey Fulmer Monoplane 1940 600 7,015 9,672 1,300 272 780 27,200 1,200 28.3 250 4 -- --
7 USN Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat Monoplane 1940 7,885 4,907 7,423 1,200 331 845 39,500 2,303 28.6 200 4-6 -- --
8 RN Hawker Sea Hurricane Mk IIC Monoplane 1941 438 5,745 7,670 1,460 342 600 36,000 2,780 29.8 -- -- 4 --
9 RN Supermarine Seafire F Mk III Monoplane 1942 2,646 5,317 7,232 1,585 359 465 36,000 3,250 29.9 500 4 2 --
10 USN Vought F4U Corsair Monoplane 1942 12,571 9,205 14,533 2,380 446 1,005 41,500 4,360 46.3 4,000 -- 4 8
11 USN Grumman Hellcat F6F-5 Monoplane 1943 12,275 9,238 12,598 2,200 391 945 37,300 3,000 37.7 4,000 4-6 2 6
12 RN Fairey Firefly Mk.1 Monoplane 1944 1,702 9,750 13,479 1,730 316 665 28,000 1,700 42.0 2,000 -- 4 16
Land Fighters
-- USN Curtiss Model 68 Hawk III Biplane 1933 166 3,326 4,552 770 255 725 27,000 1,950 17.4 474 2 0 --
-- RA Fiat CR.32 Biplane 1933 1,052 3,208 4,354 599 220 485 28,900 1,800 18.1 220 2 -- --
-- USN Boeing P-26 Model 281 Monoplane 1933 151 2,196 3,360 600 234 360 27,400 719 -- 200 2 -- --
-- USSR Polikarpov I-15 Biplane 1935 6,750 2,231 3,053 700 228 320 32,200 3,000 13.0 220 2 -- --
-- USSR Polikarpov I-16 Type 24 Monoplane 1935 6,848 3,285 4,279 1,100 326 430 31,800 2,890 27.4 1,100 2 2 6
-- Luft. Messerschmitt Bf 109G-6 Monoplane 1937 33,984 4,954 6,940 1,455 400 711 39,000 3,300 40.2 551 -- 4 2
-- RA Macchi C.200 Monoplane 1939 1,152 4,330 4,850 870 313 350 29,200 3,010 26.8 330 2 -- --
-- RA Fiat CR.42 Falco Biplane 1939 1,817 3,929 5,060 841 274 480 33,500 2,320 21.0 440 2 -- --
-- Luft. Focke-Wulf Fw 190 A-8 Monoplane 1941 >20,000 7,055 9,738 1,677 405 620 33,960 3,000 49.4 1,100 2 4 --
-- RA Reggiane Re.2001 Monoplane 1941 237 5,501 7,231 1,159 337 680 36,000 2,600 32.9 -- 2 -- --
-- RA Macchi C.202 Folgore Monoplane 1941 1,150 5,492 6,460 1,159 370 765 37,700 3,560 35.7 350 4 -- --
-- IJN Kawanishi N1K1-J "George" Monoplane 1944 1,532 6,387 8,598 1,975 355 505 39,400 3,880 34.0 1,100 -- 4 --
Torpedo Bombers
1 RN Fairey Swordfish Biplane 1936 2,391 4,195 7,580 690 143 522 16,500 1,220 12.5 1,670 2 -- 8
2 USN Douglas TBD Devastator Monoplane 1937 130 5,600 9,862 900 206 435 20,800 720 22.0 1,935 2 -- --
3 IJN Nakajima B5N2 "Kate" Monoplane 1937 1,149 5,024 8,378 1,000 235 608 27,100 1,280 20.6 1,760 3 -- --
4 RN Fairey Albacore Biplane 1940 800 7,250 10,460 1,130 161 710 18,800 750 16.8 2,000 1-2 -- --
5 USN Grumman TBF Avenger TBF-1 Monoplane 1942 9,839 10,080 15,536 1,700 278 1,215 22,402 2,060 31.7 2,000 4 -- 8
6 RN Fairey Barracuda Mk II Monoplane 1943 2,602 9,350 13,200 1,640 240 687 16,000 833 32.6 1,800 2 -- --
7 IJN Nakajima B6N2 "Jill" Monoplane 1943 1,268 6,636 11,464 1,850 300 1,085 29,660 1,577 28.7 1,760 2 -- --
Dive Bombers
1 USN Curtiss SBC-4 Helldiver Biplane 1938 257 4,552 7,080 850 234 405 24,000 1,630 22.3 1,000 2 -- --
2 RN Blackburn Skua Mk. II Monoplane 1938 192 5496 8,228 890 225 760 20,200 1,580 25.8 500 4 -- --
3 USN Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless Monoplane 1940 5,936 6,404 9,359 1,200 255 1,115 25,530 1,700 28.8 2,250 4 -- --
4 IJN Aichi D3A2 "Val" Monoplane 1940 1,495 5,666 8,378 1,300 240 840 34,400 1,690 22.3 810 3 -- --
5 IJN Yokosuka D4Y2 "Judy" Monoplane 1942 2,038 5,379 9,370 1,400 343 910 35,100 2,800 36.9 1,100 2 -- --
6 USN Curtiss SB2C-4 Helldiver Monoplane 1942 7,140 10,547 16,616 1,900 295 1,165 29,100 1,800 39.4 2,500 2 2 8

Sources: Celander, Hata, Lockhart, Parshall & Tully,,,


  • Values were obtained from multiple sources. Some reported values may not be directly comparable to others in the same column.
  • Combat ranges for some of the aircraft could be extended using drop tanks containing supplemental fuel.
  • Japanese carrier aircraft designations for planes introduced after 1922 typically adhered to the following conventions. The first letter indicated the aircraft type, "A" for fighter, "B" for torpedo bomber, "C" for reconnaissance, and "D" for dive bomber. The last letter indicated the manufacturer, "A" for Aichi, "M" for Mitsubishi, "N" for Nakajima, and "Y" for Yokosuka. The "Type" indicated the last two digits for the Japanese year that the plane was adopted for service. For example, the "D3A (Type 99)" was a dive bomber manufactured by Aichi and adapted for service during the Japanese Year 2599 (1939). The plane was actually introduced for combat in 1940. The Allies referred to it as a "Val".

Relative aircraft capabilities were not the only factors that contributed to success or failure for carrier aircraft in combat. Attack coordination and tactics, along with pilot skill, determination, and willingness to self-sacrifice were at least as important and perhaps more so. For example, both the new, high-performing Grumman TBF Avenger and the obsolete Douglas TBD Devastator were slaughtered as they tried to deliver their torpedoes at Midway without fighter protection. But their pilots' dogged pressing of their attacks in the face of almost hopeless odds created opportunities for the dive bomber pilots that, by luck as well as by determination, arrived in a timely manner to sink four IJN carriers. The effectiveness of the special attacks ("kamikaze") late in the war using mostly outdated aircraft can also be attributed to pilot determination and self-sacrifice. Nonetheless, other things being equal, faster, more maneuverable aircraft with longer ranges and better armament contributed to successful combat outcomes.

Carrier aircraft types, functions, and featuresEdit

Carrier aircraft types.

The types of aircraft usually launched from aircraft carriers were fighters, torpedo bombers, and dive-bombers. Floatplanes were also launched from some carriers but were typically catapulted from cruisers and battleships. Land-based aircraft types were frequently launched from carriers when delivering them to forward bases, such as when Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighters flew from carriers to newly captured land-bases during the Allied invasion of North Africa. Sometimes land-based aircraft were launched from carriers for special operations, such as the USN Doolittle Raid, when B-25 high altitude bombers were launched for a raid on Tokyo. Some carrier aircraft served in dual roles, such as fighter-bomber and bomber-reconnaissance aircraft.

Carrier aircraft functions.

  • Torpedo and dive bombers attacked enemy warships, transports, merchant ships, and land installations.
  • Fighters accompanied bombers on attack missions, protecting them during interceptions by enemy fighters. Fighters maintained overhead in Combat Air Patrols (CAP) protected their carriers and other warships in the fleet by intercepting enemy bombers and by attacking submarines.
  • Fighters and bombers were also widely used for reconnaissance and sometimes used for mine laying or for spotting to assist bombardment by warships.

Carrier aircraft features.

  • Size of aircrew. With few exceptions, fighters had a single crewmember, the pilot, while dive-bombers had two and torpedo bombers had three crewmembers. The RN valued a second crewmember in fighters for observation and navigation, and provided for them in the Blackburn Roc, the Fairey Fulmar and the Fairey Firefly]].
  • Armament. Fighters and bombers typically had two to four machine guns, sometimes six. These were mostly 7.7mm or 7.62mm (.303in), but the heavier 12.7mm (.50in) were on some RN and USN aircraft. The IJN Zero fighter had the more destructive 20mm (.79in) cannon[5] in addition to machine guns. Later in the war, RN and USN fighters also had 20mm cannon in addition to or instead of machine guns. After 1943, some fighters and bombers were also capable of firing 12.7 cm (5 in) rockets. Bombers also carried bombs or a torpedo, the maximum possible weight for which generally increased with new introductions during the war. Most fighters could carry a small bomb load.
  • Self-sealing fuel tank. Self-sealing fuel tanks retarded or eliminated the flow of fuel from a tank that has been holed during combat. This was typically accomplished by incorporating a material that swelled when it came into contact with fuel. Many RN and USN carrier aircraft used this technology, but it involved adding weight, and the IJN was reluctant to sacrifice range and maneuverability for improved survivability.
  • Protective armor. Like self-sealing fuel tanks, protective armor for the aircrew improved survivability at the cost of performance. The RN and USN armored their carrier aircraft, protecting the aircrew, but the IJN typically did not.[6]
  • Number of wings. Carrier aircraft introduced after 1937 were all monoplanes except for the biplane RN Fairey Albacore torpedo bomber. The biplane RN Fairey Swordfish torpedo bomber, introduced in 1936, was used in combat through the entire war.
  • Folding wings. Monoplane carrier aircraft introduced after 1936 almost all had folding wings to reduce the space taken up in hangers. . Exceptions included the Mitsubishi A5M "Claude" fighter and the Douglas SBD Dauntless and Yokosuka D4Y "Judy" dive bombers.
  • Cockpit. Some early aircraft had open cockpits, but newer introductions typically had enclosed cockpits.
  • Undercarriage. Most of the carrier aircraft introduced after 1937 had retractable landing gear to reduce drag. The two exceptions, introduced in 1940, were the RN Fairy Albacore torpedo bomber and the IJN Aichi D3A2 "Val" dive bomber.

Naval aircraft introduced before Pearl Harbor (1936-1941)Edit

Chinese land-based aircraft vs. Japanese carrier aircraft

During the short “Shanghai Incident” in 1932, Japanese carrier-launched fighters and bombers and water-launched floatplanes attacked areas in and around the city. In one engagement, a group of three Mitsubishi B1M torpedo bombers and three Nakajima A1N fighters were attacked by a lone Boeing 218 fighter flown by an American test pilot. The Boeing was shot down, thereby achieving for the IJN its first aerial victory of the war. The following month, Japanese fighters were unsuccessfully opposed by Chinese Curtiss Hawk fighters, some of which were also shot down.[7]

Over the next five years, IJN introduced improved fighters including the Nakajima A2N in 1932, the first purely Japanese-designed fighter. In 1936, the Nakajima A4N entered service. The year after that, the Mitsubishi A5M "Claude" fighter became the world's first low-wing, carrier-launched monoplane. It was highly maneuverable and the direct predecessor of the famed Mitsubishi A6M Zero introduced three years later.

At the time the Second Sino-Japanese War began in July 1937, IJN had about 200 fighters and bombers and 62 floatplanes available to attack. The Imperial Japanese Army (IJA0 had force concentrations in China's north and agreed that IJN would be responsible for aerial operations over central China. Three aircraft carriers with a total of 136 up-to-date fighters and bombers were sent to the coast off Shanghai.[a][8] The Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) was just emerging from a loose confederation of aircraft and airmen controlled by individual Chinese warlords. It was a hodgepodge of about 300 land-based fighters, mostly supplied by the US, UK, and Italy, with which to intercept Japanese fighters and bombers. Russia also began supplying China aircraft after the Sino-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact was agreed to in August.

The Curtiss Model 68 Hawk III biplane, built both in the US and China, was used by the ROCAF as a bomber as well as the primary fighter during the early part of the war. It took the brunt of the Japanese attack during the defense of Shanghai and Nanjing, helping to make flying aces of several Chinese pilots. Shortly after the conflict began, a Chinese Air Force fighter pilot intercepted a land-based Japanese bomber group from Taiwan and shot down a Mitsubishi G3M medium bomber. This was the first aerial combat victory for the Chinese.[9] In addition to Curtiss Hawk IIIs, the ROCAF opposed Japanese attacks with some older Curtis Hawk II, Boeing P-26 “Peashooter”, Gloster Gladiator, and Fiat CR.32 fighters. After attrition had taken its toll of these aircraft, they were replaced by Soviet Polikarpov I-15 biplane fighters and later by Polikarpov I-16 aircraft, the world's first low-wing monoplane fighter with retractable landing gear used in combat. The latter also had 20mm cannons, making it one of the most heavily armed fighters for the period.

For the next three years, IJN and ROCAF pilots fought above Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuhan and elsewhere as Japan sought unsuccessfully to subdue China. Sometimes IJN carrier air groups were sent temporarily to land bases. Both air forces suffered defeats and enjoyed victories. Losing ground, the Chinese shifted their capital westward and inland until establishing it at Chongqing in central China. By 1941, Japan held large portions of northern and coastal China but had been weakened by the battles for inland central China. In mid-September 1941, as the IJN began to focus on the possibility of a wider war in the Pacific, it turned over responsibility for the air war over China to the IJA.[10] Continued resistance by China's National Revolutionary Army led to a war of attrition that tied down large numbers of Japanese troops until the end of World War II in 1945.[11]

United States vs. Japanese carrier aircraft.

The design of Japanese carrier aircraft was consistent with their overall strategy of emphasizing the offense in order to win a short war before America's overwhelmingly superior production capacity could be brought to bear. Expecting to face a numerically superior fleet, Japan's strategy envisioned using aircraft to help neutralize this advantage by gradual attrition as the enemy USN fleet approached Japan. This required aircraft with extended ranges and striking power, which in turn meant having them be lighter and faster but with less protection.[12] Accordingly, Japan's Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter, Nakajima B5N "Kate" torpedo bomber, and Aichi D3A "Val" dive bomber were all lightly-built with weight minimized by not providing cockpit armor to protect pilots or self-sealing fuel tanks to enable them to continue fighting after taking some hits. As a result of having greater range for its aircraft, the IJN would, during 1942, attack from 250 to 300 miles away compared to the USN that would only do so from 200 miles away[13]

Fighters. At the time of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan had both the world's best fighter and best torpedo bomber. In addition, their aircraft were flown by the world's most extensively trained and experienced airmen,[14] in part due to their engagement since 1937 in the war in China. Japan's Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter was fast, highly maneuverable, and could out-turn and out-climb the USN Grumman Wildcat F4F fighter. Also, when enemy planes were approaching for an attack, it was important for fighters to get off their decks and reach an advantageous altitude quickly. The Zero could climb at 3,000 fps (feet per second) and the Wildcat only 2,300 fps. Experienced Zero pilots were initially very successful against the lower performing Allied aircraft. Over the course of 1942, however, pilots in Wildcats developed aerial combat tactics such as the high-side pass and the Thach Weave. Exploiting these tactics coupled with greater aircraft survivability due to armor and self-sealing tanks, American pilots neutralized the Zero's advantages. Although better USN fighters were introduced later, the Wildcat served throughout the war. Over the course of 1942, Japan's substantial losses of her experienced pilots also contributed to the American's gaining an upper hand in fighter combat.[15]

Torpedo bombers. The Nakajima B5N "Kate" torpedo bomber was superior to the obsolete USN Douglas TBD Devastator in speed, rate of climb, and range. Kate's torpedoes contributed to sinking USN fleet carriers Lexington (Coral Sea), Yorktown (Midway), and Hornet (Santa Cruz Islands), all during 1942. Devastator torpedoes contributed to sinking the IJN carrier Shōhō at the Coral Sea, but Zero fighters slaughtered the Devastators at Midway where they attacked without fighter protection. Only four of the 41 Devastators launched returned to their carriers.[16]

Dive bombers. The US had a superior dive bomber in the Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless compared to Japan's Aichi D3A2 "Val".[17] Bombs from the Dauntless sank all four of the Japanese carriers lost at Midway.[b] Nonetheless, the "Vals" served throughout the war and sank more Allied warships than any other Axis aircraft. This included sinking the HMS Hermes, the first carrier to be sunk by carrier aircraft.[18]

United Kingdom vs. German and Italian land-based aircraft.

Fighters. When war broke out in 1939 in the Atlantic Theater, the RN had only recently reacquired responsibility for their carrier-launched aircraft. For the previous two decades, the Royal Air Force (RAF) had responsibility for all air operations, and development of improved carrier-launched aircraft had been neglected in favor of land-based fighters and bombers. As a result, the RN entered the war with mostly relatively slow, limited range biplane fighters and bombers that were little improved over World War I versions and that were inferior to USN and IJN carrier aircraft.[19] At the time of Britain's evacuation from Norway, her Gloster Sea Gladiator fighters, Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers, and Blackburn Skua fighter-bombers were also inferior compared to German aircraft.[20] Nonetheless, the Sea Gladiators did succeed in shooting down a couple Messerschmitt Bf 110 fighters during the Norwegian campaign in early 1940. [21] They were also operational during the Battle of Britain Britain that autumn, but it was the land-based Supermarine Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes and their pilots that provided the principal aerial defense for the UK. Sea Gladiators also assisted during the defense of Malta, where one shot down an Italian bomber.[22] Gladiators were removed from front-line service around Britain by 1941. The more modern, monoplane Blackburn Roc was able to shoot down a Junkers Ju 88 fighter-bomber attacking a convoy in 1940. However, the Roc was no match for German Messerschmitt Bf 109 or Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighters and could not even perform as well as Britain's own Blackburn Skua. Considered one of the worst fighters of the war, the Roc was, by late 1940, taken out of front line service and consigned to training, target towing, and rescue duties.[23] A more modern monoplane fighter, the Fairey Fulmar, was introduced in 1940 to replace the obsolete Sea Gladiator. It was a two-seat design and was large and less nimble than the Axis fighters it opposed. Nonetheless, while protecting convoys to Malta, Gladiators shot down ten Italian bombers and six Axis fighters. During the war, they provided air cover for the raids on Taranto and Petsamo, protected convoys to Russia, and supported invasions of North Africa and Italy. Fulmars shadowed the German battleship Bismarck enabling Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers to catch up with her.[24] The UK upgraded their naval fighter squadrons in 1941 by adapting the highly successful, land-based Hawker Hurricane to carrier use. The Hawker Sea Hurricane performed well while protecting the Malta convoys and, operating from escort carriers, many Atlantic convoys.

Dive bombers. The monoplane Blackburn Skua two-man fighter-dive bomber was introduced in late 1938. It sank the German cruiser Königsbergsaw during the German invasion of Norway. This was the first major warship sunk by a dive bomber in combat. Skuas provided air cover during the Dunkirk evacuation and served in the Mediterranean. Like the Roc, however, they fared poorly against the Messerschmitt Bf 109, and were withdrawn from front line service during 1941.

Torpedo bombers. The biplane Fairey Swordfish torpedo bomber, affectionately referred to as "Stringbag" by her aircrews, was introduced in 1936. It was an archaic-looking biplane with cloth-covered wings, open cockpit and fixed landing gear. It had been designed as a scout plane but emerged as the standard naval attack aircraft serving as both a dive-bomber and torpedo bomber.[25] In the first airborne torpedo attack of the war, Swordfish damaged a German destroyer at Trondheim. Later, Swordfish famously crippled a French battleship during the Attack on Mers-el-Kébir, disabled three Italian battleships during the Battle of Taranto and chased the German battleship Bismark through gale-force storms across the Atlantic, ultimately landing the torpedo that doomed her. Swordfish dropped depth charges and laid mines as well as well. The Fairey Albacore was introduced in 1940 to replace the Swordfish, but the venerable Swordfish continued to serve in anti-submarine and bombardment spotting assignments throughout the war. In the final accounting, the Swordfish destroyed more tonnage of Axis shipping than any other Allied aircraft.[26]

Naval aircraft introduced after Pearl Harbor (1942-1943)Edit

Over the course of the war, new aircraft introductions tended to be heavier with more powerful engines.[27] They had greater speed, a faster rate of climb, and greater range than their predecessors. In 1944, the IJN would initiate an attack from 350 to 400 miles, 100 miles further away than in 1942. The RN would send out its Swordfish from 250 to about 300 and the USN from 250 miles out.[28] However, aircraft "wing loading", the mass of the aircraft divided by the surface area of its wing, also tended to increase, suggesting poorer maneuverability for these larger planes.

United States aircraft.

Fighters.The Corsair fighter-bomber introduced in 1942 had almost twice the horsepower of the Wildcat, was faster, had greater range, faster rate of climb, and was capable of carrying a 4,000 lb total load of bombs and rockets. It was judged to be relatively difficult to land on a carrier, however, and was initially released by the USN only for use by land-based Marine units. The Hellcat fighter-bomber introduced in 1943 was also faster than the Wildcat, had greater range, a rate of climb comparable to the IJN Zero, and was capable of carrying a 4,000 lb total load of bombs, torpedoes, and rockets. Both the Corsair and the Hellcat aircraft were faster than the Zero and, having armor protection and self-sealing fuel tanks, could take much more punishment. With the Corsair initially relegated to land-based use, the Hellcat became the mainstay of the USN Fast Carrier Task Groups of 1944–45.[29] She was the most successful fighter of the war, with her pilots shooting down over 5,000 enemy aircraft at a 19:1 ratio of victories to losses.[30] The Corsair was deployed for USN carrier squadrons after the British refined the aircraft and landing procedures for it.

Torpedo bombers. After their devastating torpedo bomber losses at Midway, the USN quickly replaced the Devastator with the faster Grumman TBF Avenger. It also had twice the range of the Devastator, in part because the Avenger's torpedo was carried inside the plane, reducing drag.[31] Like the Devastator, it had attacked the Japanese fleet at Midway without fighter protection, and only one of the six attacking planes returned to its base at Naval Air Station on Midway. The Avenger ultimately became the most effective and widely used torpedo bomber of the war and functioned even more often as a level bomber than as a torpedo bomber. Avengers operated from both fleet carriers and escort carriers and were highly effective submarine killers in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. They shared credit for sinking the Japanese super-battleships IJN Yamato and Musashi.

Dive bombers. The Curtiss SB2C Helldiver dive bomber introduced in 1942 was faster than the Dauntless but regarded as difficult to handle. Making necessary improvements delayed its first use in combat until late 1943. By this time, the Allies were moving away from an aircraft type dedicated to dive bombing. Air-to-ground rockets had been introduced that offered accuracy that formerly had been the primary advantage of the dive bomber over level bombers. Such rockets could be fired from the other types of carrier aircraft and were ultimately carried by Hellcat fighters, Corsair fighter-bombers, and Avenger and Swordfish torpedo bombers as well as Helldiver dive bombers. Nonetheless, the Helldiver became widely used and participated in battles over the Marianas, Philippines, Formosa, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa and sank more tonnage of Japanese shipping than any other aircraft during the war.[32] It shared credit with Avengers for sinking IJN Yamato.

United Kingdom aircraft.

Fighters. In 1942, the British introduced another naval fighter by adapting a highly successful land-based aircraft, the Spitfire, to carrier use. The Supermarine Seafire was faster than its predecessors and began replacing Hawker Sea Hurricanes for front-line service. In light wind, however, it was subject to crash landings. Also having its engine-cooling air inlets on the underside of the fuselage made ditching more dangerous for the pilot, as was also the case with the Hurricane.[33] The Seafire's range was limited, but could be extended using drop tanks. Seafires supported the Allied invasions of North Africa, Sicily, mainland Italy, and southern France. Temporarily assigned to land bases, they also supported the invasion of Normandy. In the Pacific as part of the British Pacific Fleet, Seafires were used for CAP. Overall, the adaptations of land aircraft had inferior performance compared to US purpose-built carrier aircraft. Introduced late in the war, the UK purpose-built Fairey Firefly exhibited superior performance and had greater firepower than its predecessor, the Fairey Fulmer. It was conceived as early as 1938, but prolonged development delayed its combat use until mid-1944, by which time its performance had been eclipsed by both Axis and Allied fighters. The Firefly participated in operations against the German battleship Tirpitz in Norway in July 1944. During operations against the Japanese oil refineries at Sumatra in early 1945, a Firefly shot down a Nakajima Ki-43 (“Oscar”) fighter. Fireflies also supported carrier-based actions against Japanese shipping and against positions in the Caroline and Japanese home islands. Less than 800 were produced during the war years.

Bombers. The Fairey Barracuda torpedo bomber/dive bomber was introduced in early 1943 and was the only RN aircraft designed to withstand the stresses of dive bombing since the retirement of the Skua.

As the war progressed, the RN increasingly used US-made, purpose-built Hellcats, Corsairs, and Avengers for carrier operations in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters.[34]

Japanese aircraft.

Fighters. The Zero was among the world's best fighters at the time of the raid on Pearl Harbor. It was little improved over the war, while the Allies introduced more powerful planes with better protection.[35] Over time, the Zero lost its competitive advantage due to development by the Allies of more capable aircraft as well as improved tactics. The IJN introduced a land-based fighter, the Kawanishi N1K1-J, in 1944 that had the power, maneuverability, and ruggedness to compete with the late-war Allied fighters. An improved version of the carrier-launched Zero, the Mitsubishi A6M6, included self-sealing fuel tanks, armor plate protection for the pilot, and a more powerful engine, but the additions made it heavier and less nimble. Only one prototype was built before the war ended. With its diminished value as a competitive fighter, the Zero became the first aircraft to be used as a kamikaze special attack plane[36] and was used more than any other aircraft for this purpose.[c][37][38]

Torpedo bombers. The Nakajima B6N "Jill" torpedo bomber incorporated considerable improvements over the Nakajima B5N "Kate" in speed and range but its introduction was delayed by development and production problems. By the time the Jill was introduced, the Allied thrust up the Solomon Islands caused IJN leadership, in late 1943, to transfer many carrier aircraft from their first line carriers to land-based service out of Rabaul.[39] With the Allies having firmly established air superiority in the area, only a fraction of these planes made it back to their carriers two weeks later. In the following year, carrier-based Jills suffered huge losses at the Battle of the Philippine Sea in mid-1944. With so few IJN carriers remaining afloat after the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the Jills became mostly land-based and by early 1945 were in use as kamikazes.

Dive bombers. IJN plans to upgrade carrier bombers were also frustrated by development and production delays. The Yokosuka D4Y3 "Judy" dive bomber was introduced in mid-1942 and intended to replace the slower "Val" by the end of that year, but the Val was kept in service until 1944.[40] The Judy could outrun the USN Wildcat but, by the time the Judy came into wide use, the even faster USN Hellcat had been introduced. Many Judys were among the several hundred IJN planes lost during the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Nonetheless, it was bombs from a Judy, then operating from a land-base in the Philippines, that sank the light carrier USN Princeton during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944.[41] A bomb from another Judy almost sank USN Franklin in March 1945.[42]

Kamikaze special attack aircraft. Japanese use of "kamikaze" suicide aircraft began at the Leyte Gulf battle, and the D4Y3 "Judy" served in that role, damaging several Allied fleet and escort carriers. As the Allies approached Japan in early 1945, the IJN introduced the Yokosuka D4Y4, specifically for use as a kamikaze. Operating from land-bases, this version caused damage to several Allied carriers. By the end of the war, all six of the monoplane IJN carrier aircraft models used extensively during the war had also been engaged as kamikazes. Non-kamikaze aircraft models continued in use, often providing escort protection for kamikazes en route to enemy fleets.


  1. ^ IJN carriers Hōshō, Kaga, and Ryūjō. Akagi was undergoing a major refit.
  2. ^ Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, Hiryu
  3. ^ Of the 2,363 Japanese Navy aircraft that served as kamakazes, 1,189 of them A6M Zero fighters. (See World War II Database.)


  1. ^ "World War 2 Aircraft (1939-1945)". Military Factory. 2020. Retrieved 15 Nov 2020.
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