Kawasaki Ki-45 Toryu (Dragon Killer) by Revell

1/72 scale
Kit No. H-104
Cost: $14.99
Decals: One version – Imperial Japanese Army
Comments: Engraved panel lines, flush rivet detail

History

During the final months of World War II, Kawasaki’s Ki-45 Toryu (Allied code name “Nick”) was the Imperial Japanese Army’s (IJA) only operational nightfighter — an irony in that it was fulfilling a role for which it was never initially designed. The Ki-45 arose from a March 1937 IJA specification for a twin-engined heavy fighter, in part inspired by Germany’s Messerschmitt Bf110 and Junkers Ju88 designs.  While three firms, Mitsubishi, Kawasaki, and Nakajima initially submitted designs, more pressing contracts soon took Mitsubishi and Nakajima out of the running. The first Kawasaki mock-up of what was dubbed the Ki-38 was ready by October 1937, but the project was shelved due to factions within the IJA being unable to agree on the type’s precise performance specifications with regard to armament, speed, and handling.

By January 1938, Kawasaki was authorized to begin construction on the Ki-45, a new designation that would be an improved version of the Ki-38. In January 1939, the first experimental prototype of the Ki-45 was rolled out at Kawasaki’s Gifu plant. Powered by a pair of Nakajima Ha-20b radial engines of 820 hp at 12, 795 feet, the plane had large nacelles with exhaust collector rings just forward of each engine. It was armed with two 7.7mm machine guns in the upper nose, and a 20mm Ho-3 cannon mounted in a ventral tunnel on the starboard underside of the fuselage, with one flexible rear-firing 7.7mm machine gun.

Early flight trials were disappointing due to excessive nacelle drag, caused in part by the exhaust collectors, and the fact that the engines failed to deliver their rated power. There were also problems with the manually retracted undercarriage. Following curtailment of flight trials while the IJA ruminated over the Ki-45’s future, an impressive array of modifications were made, including electrically operated retraction mechanisms for the undercarriage, more powerful Nakajima Ha-25 engines producing 1,000 hp and having a smaller diameter which helped reduce drag, and smaller spinners.

Chief project engineer Takeo Doi also made key design changes in an effort to influence the Army’s review, including a slimmer fuselage with redesigned tail surfaces, a straight tapered wing of increased span, smaller diameter nacelles for the new engines, replacing the telescopic gunsight with a reflector gunsight, and installing heavier armament by replacing the 7.7mm machine guns with 12.7mm machine guns.

Flight tests resumed in May 1941, two more prototypes were ordered, and by the end of the year Kawasaki was ordered to put the type into production. It would be given the degnation Army Type 2, two-seat fighter Model A Toryu (Dragon Killer), Ki-45 KAIa. The 21st Sentai in Burma and the 16th Sentai in China were the first Ki-45 units to reach the combat area, in October and November 1942 respectively. The Ki-45 was popular with aircrews due to its heavy armament and petrol tank protection, and it soon enjoyed a good reputation in the ground attack and anti-shipping roles.

The Ki-45 KAIb was introduced with a revision to its forward firing armament, a 20mm cannon mounted centrally in the nose and a 37mm Type 98 cannon in a ventral tunnel. Late versions of the KAIb had more powerful Mitsubishi Ha-102 radial engines producing 1,050 hp. The Ki-45 was often encountered in the New Guinea theatre where it was actively used against American PT boats. Its heavy armament also made it a potent threat to B-24 bombers operating in the theatre, even after the B-24’s came into heavy use in night operations. In this role, one modification that proved effective, the mounting of 12.7mm machine guns mounted obliquely to fire upward at an angle close to 60 degrees, led to a dedicated night fighter version.

A third version, the Ki-45 KAIc was to be armed with the 37mm cannon in the ventral tunnel and two obliquely mounted upward firing 20mm cannon in place of the 12.7mm machine guns to create a yet more heavily armed night fighter. It had a more pointed nose devoid of armament and was instead to be fitted with radar. But technical and production delays prevented this project from moving forward, with only one prototype aircraft being tested with a centimetric radar under a plexiglas nose. Still, a total of 477 KAIc’s were built without radar, and took an active part in the defense of the Home Islands when B-29 raids targeted Japan herself — the Ki-45’s claimed at least eight Superfortresses on their first mission.

The Ki-45 was an effective and lethal attack aircraft and nightfighter, and continued to be the subject of attempted modifications through the end of the war, usually involving heavier guns and in one instance the installation of a 75mm cannon, a weapon too heavy for the Toryu to operate safely. Had they been produced in larger numbers, they would have posed an even more serious threat the the B-29 raids.

The Kit

Revell’s Kawasaki Ki-45 Toryu, initially released in 1972, has a number of features that make it stand out among kits of its era. For one thing, although clearly a Revell product, it was conceived and made in Japan, not Venice, California, Revell’s known home at the time. The version reviewed here was one of two versions released, with the box art and labels printed in Japan, almost entirely in Japanese. The other verson was printed in English. In addition, the kit features engraved panel lines and recessed rivet detail, something rarely seen in model kits of the early 1970’s. Finally, the control surfaces all possess a highly realistic fabric-like texture, combined with a meticulous stressed fabric effect on the ailerons, elevators, and rudder.  One thing to note about the box art, as well: although it clearly makes reference to this being a 1/32 scale kit, that was a typo — this kit is in 1/72 scale.

The Ki-45 consists of 61 parts on four sprues and is injection molded in silver. Six of the parts are clear plastic for the canopy and rear compartment. The instruction sheet is entirely in Japanese, which poses a slight additional hurdle in that the painting instructions are also in the same language. However, the kit also features a rectangular card measuring roughly 10″ x 3″ that is a Revell color chart, with 36 colors on the front, 12 on the back of the card. This too is printed entirely in Japanese, but the saving grace is that each color is also coded by number (Interior Metallic Blue, for example, is No. 57), and each color is identified by type – gloss, semi-gloss, flat, or metallic, with the first letter of each of these words displayed in English below each color.

The cockpit floor features raised instrumentation detail, and is complemented by a control yoke, seats for the pilot and rear observer/gunner, and a main instrument panel with raised detail for the dials. The pilot also has a rear bulkhead with an integral head rest. With all the thought and detail that went into planning the kit’s exquisite exterior surfaces, it is surprising that it falls down in the area of the landing gear, which are rather clunky and crude, and the engines, which are merely average in their level of detail. The propellers are to scale and look reasonably accurate in shape, and the spinners are nicely tapered and should give the finished kit a sharp, aerodynamic look.

There is an interesting option for a modification which involves cutting off the aircraft’s nose, and replacing it with a more bulbous version which accomodated a heavy cannon that fired through the center of the nose. This was the Ki-45 KAIb. A standard feature of any version was another pair of 12.7mm cannon that fired upward and forward through dorsal apertures just aft of the cockpit. This was the Japanese version of the German “schragemusik” modification made to Luftwaffe nightfighters and was clearly for the nightfighting role envisioned for the Ki-45, a design specifically intended to counter the threat of American B-29 bombers. Finally, there is a single machine gun firing aft from the rear gunner’s station.

If you can find this kit, the decals are likely to be old and yellowed and are best replaced with aftermarket examples. Luckily Aeromaster produces two sets for the Ki-45, entitled “Empire Defenders” Part 1 and 2 (the product number for Part 2 is 72-123), featuring markings similar to those found on the box art of this kit.

Conclusion

This is an interesting 1970’s kit of a late WWII Japanese nightfighter with some cutting edge design features that would not be commonly seen on aircraft models for another 30 years. Highly recommended.

Reference

Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War, by R.J. Francillon; Copyright 1970, Putnam and Company, Ltd; London.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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