Kawasaki Ki-45 required more time to develop and place in service than
almost every other Japanese warplane of World War II. Takeo Doi, chief
project engineer, began work on this design in January 1938 but the
first production aircraft did not fly combat until the fall of 1942.
When it finally entered service, the Ki-45 soon became popular with
flight crews who used it primarily for attacking ground targets and
ships including U. S. Navy Patrol Torpedo (P. T.) boats. The Toryu was
also the only Japanese Army night fighter to see action during the war.
strategists observed the Americans and the Europeans design and build a
number of twin-engine, two-seat, heavy fighters during the mid- and
late 1930s. The Japanese Army needed a long-range fighter to cover
great distances during any large-scale conflict in the Pacific and army
planners felt that a twin-engine design could meet this need. In March
1937, the Japanese Army Staff sent a rather vague specification for
such an airplane to a number of manufacturers. Kawasaki, Nakajima, and
Mitsubishi responded, but the latter two dropped out of the competition
to concentrate on other projects. Between October and December 1937,
the army amended the specification with additional information and
directed Kawasaki to begin the design work. The specification described
a two-seat fighter with a speed of 540 kph (336 mph), an operating
altitude of 2-5,000 m (6,560-16,405 ft), and endurance of over 5 hours.
The army chose the Bristol Mercury engine, built under license, to
power the new aircraft.
January 1939, Kawasaki rolled out the first prototype but initial
flight tests did not impress. The airplane was too slow to meet the
army speed requirement, and it suffered mechanical problems with the
landing gear and engines. Top speed remained a problem, despite major
changes on the second prototype, and the army put the project on hold.
In April 1940, Kawasaki substituted 14-cylinder Nakajima engines, rated
at 1000 horsepower each, for the original 9-cylinder motors rated at
820 horsepower each. Engineer Doi also revised the engine nacelles and
prop spinners. These modifications increased top speed to 520 kph (323
mph) but the revisions continued. Kawasaki narrowed the fuselage,
increased the wing span and area, revised the nacelles again, and
modified the armament package. The new aircraft did not fly until
May-June 1941 but performance at last met army standards and they
ordered the Toryu into production.
delivered the first Ki-45 Kai (modified) in August 1942 but Toryus did
not reach combat units in China until October. Unlike many Japanese
Navy fighter airplanes, the Ki-45 aircraft had crew armour and
fire-resistant fuel tanks. These airplanes also carried a heavy gun
battery that usually consisted of 20 mm and 37 mm cannons. Toryus
operated in the New Guinea area against Allied shipping and attacked
Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers of the 5th Air Force. The Japanese
also employed some Ki-45s as night fighters. Field personnel modified
these Toryus by substituting the upper fuselage fuel tank for two 12.7
mm machine guns mounted to fire obliquely upwards at a target's
vulnerable belly. This worked so well that the army told Kawasaki to
manufacture a night fighter version of the Toryu-the Ki-45 Kai (Mod.
C)-with two 20 mm cannon, mounted obliquely, and a 37 mm cannon mounted
in the lower fuselage.
June 1944, 20th Air Force bomber crews flew Boeing B-29 Superfortresses
on the first raids against the Japanese home islands since Doolittle's
attack back in May 1942. Bad weather and attacks by Japanese fighter
interceptors, including Ki-45 Toryus, hampered these raids. On one
mission, Ki-45 pilots downed eight Superfortresses.
March 9, 1945, the 20th Air Force began flying low altitude attacks at
night using incendiary bombs. These missions marked a radical departure
from the traditional American high-altitude, daylight bombing strikes.
The Japanese fought back with anti-aircraft gunfire and night fighter
attacks. As many as six Sentais (groups) of NICK night fighters
defended the home islands by war's end. The Ki-45 Kai Hai (Mod. C) the
Japanese Army's only night fighter, operated alongside Navy night
fighters including the Nakajima J1N1-S Gekko (IRVING) and P1Y1-S Byakko
(FRANCIS). Examples of the IRVING and FRANCIS are also preserved in
NASM's collection. The NASM Ki-45 Kai Hai (Mod. C) is the last known
survivor of 1,700 Ki-45s built by Kawasaki. The company built a total
of 477 Kai Hai C night fighters.
NASM airplane was produced in the second of three batches and the
thrust-augmentation exhausts fitted to the engines to improve speed and
reduce glare at night identify aircraft in this batch. This NICK was
one of about 145 Japanese airplanes returned to the United States for
evaluation after the war. The Navy shipped them to Norfolk, Virginia,
aboard the escort carrier USS Barnes. On December 8, 1945, the
Navy transferred the NICK to the U. S. Army Air Forces at Langley
Field, Virginia. Personnel at Langley shipped the Ki-45 to the Air
Depot at Middletown, Pennsylvania, for overhaul and flight test. During
the next few months, the aircraft was extensively test-flown at Wright
Field, Ohio, and Naval Air Station Anacostia in the District of
Columbia. During the army's evaluation, pilots reported that NICK
handled very poorly on the ground. They also did not like the cramped
cockpit, excessive vibration, and the poor visibility. Takeoff
distance, climb speed, flight characteristics, approach and landing,
and manoeuvrability were all rated as good to excellent.
||15 m (49 ft 3 in)
||11 m (36 ft 1 in)
||3.7 m (12 ft 2 in)
||Empty, 4,000 kg (8,818