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Japanese aircraft code-names in perspective (continued)


In July 1942 Maj. Gen. George Churchill Kenney left his post as commander of the 4th Air Force in the western United States and headed for the Southwest Pacific where he would take over as commander of the U.S. 5th Air Force and also the Allied Air Forces in the S.W.P.A. The southwest Pacific was then the most active combat area in the Pacific. After a whirlwind inspection tour Kenney took over his new post on August 4th. His new command needed a shake up. Kenney perceived there was too much dead wood and too few "operators" in his organization to get done the things he considered necessary. Kenney made it clear to his staff that it was results not bureaucratic niceties that he sought.

Much good work had been going on under Kenney's predecessor Lt. Gen. George Brett. The intelligence staff at Allied air-headquarters (Australians as well as Americans) had been collecting information and photographs of Japanese aircraft, armament and air organization. They proposed a comprehensive manual on the subject. Noting the lack of uniformity in Japanese aircraft designations, a system of code-names was suggested for inclusion in the document. Frank T. McCoy of Kenney's intelligence staff selected most of the names and many betrayed his background and penchant for names common or unique to the Ozarks or other parts of the southern United States.

In September 1942 "Intelligence Information Memorandum No. 12, Japanese Air Services and Japanese Aircraft" was published. It was an impressive and professionally printed document. Laced between its durable covers were glossy pages that contained clear print and high-resolution lithographs of near photographic quality. The information it contained was state of the art (it is informative even today).

Right at the beginning of the document was an introduction explaining the need for a system of code-names. It used the example of the possible confusion caused by multiple "Zeros." The Zero was awarded the code-name ZEKE. Each section describing an aircraft was headed by its newly created code-name (with its official designation in smaller print). The second page of the memorandum was titled "JAPANESE AIRCRAFT" with a "LIST OF IDENTIFYING NAMES (Replacing Serial Numbers)." This list awarded code-names to Japanese aircraft that had never been encountered in the S.W.P.A. The first two pages of the memorandum were virtually a sales tool for the code-name system.

McCoy appears to have been an "operator", the kind of staff officer Kenney liked. The intelligence memorandum was a valuable document well worth sharing. Shared it was! It was not only sent in quantity to army, navy and air units in the S.W.P.A. but to London, Washington, Hawaii, New Zealand, and numerous outpost islands in the Pacific. Kenney probably considered it a minor point that neither he nor McCoy had any authority to do this. Having forgotten Chennault in China, one hundred copies were sent there by urgent air transportation on October 16th.

With the memorandum widely distributed, McCoy drafted for Kenney's signature cable messages to air headquarters in Washington and London recommending adoption of the list of aircraft designations. A week later a separate message was prepared for China as well. Possibly as prelude to requesting the Supreme Commander's (MacArthur) intervention in the matter, this message was routed to General Headquarters for coordination and approval.

This message made the case for adopting the code-names. "Many publications from London and Washington name leading Japanese fighter as 'Mitsubishi Zero' and 'Nagoya Zero.' Much confusion in this case of using Nagoya as manufacturer when fact exists only geographical location of one Mitsubishi factory. Some aircraft also made by Nakajima. Have urged Washington, Hawaii, and London accept list of proper names, types and identifying code-names all Jap aircraft published by this headquarters as standard_"

Kenney's message was referred to General Headquarters on November 4th and had not yet been acted upon when a reply to his earlier message came from the British Air Ministry. "Your signal 27/10 explaining suggested use code names for Japanese aircraft appreciated. Operational requirements necessitate abbreviations, but consider essential that official style of designations be adhered to except for purely local purposes. These designations will be given in Japanese section of AP 1976_Revision following receipt of captured documents identifying aircraft as follows. Navy or Army, followed by type number, followed by duty. Example Navy 00 (R); 00 Deck Landing Single Seat Fighter. When known we are including the manufacturer's name."

At General Headquarters Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Chamberlain sent a note to Maj. Gen. Richard K. Sutherland, MacArthur's Chief of Staff. The note reviewed the previous correspondence and stated: "2. It appears that the Air Force has established a list of identifying names (replacing serial numbers) for Japanese aircraft_The radiogram proposes that the list_be accepted as universal. 3. Unless the correspondence outside the Southwest Pacific Theater has been approved by you, the Air Force erred in sending all this data...._G-3 believes it to be another case of using improper channels. 4. I doubt we should attempt to impose our own system upon others.... 5. G-3 opinion is that it would be much better to refer to Japanese aircraft by types rather than some identifying name. Code names can be very much overdone_....G-3 recommendation is that this radiogram not be sent and that the Air Force reconsider their former action of utilizing identifying names. Suggest that this matter be taken up with General Kenney."

On the 11th of November Sutherland signed a buck slip saying the radiogram should be withdrawn. There is no indication he spoke to Kenney about the matter. Kenney's star was on the rise at this point and Sutherland, consummate politician that he was, probably saw no need to confront Kenney or push the matter further.

Intelligence memorandum No. 12, with the argument for a list of aircraft names right in the front, had already been spread throughout the Pacific. Many intelligence officers probably thought they had received it because it had official endorsement. It seems unlikely that the twin terms "Mitsubishi" and "Nagoya" Zero could cause any serious confusion. But when the truth of the assertion that these were redundant terms became widely known it could only add credibility to the S.W.P.A. claims that code-names were needed.

Codenames largely based on the original S.W.P.A. list later were officially adopted but that was almost acceptance of a fait accompli. Rather than reasoned discourse, force of personality and bending the rules were the primary factors in acceptance of the code-names.

continued in part 3

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