The highest-scoring fighter ace of the Japanese Army Air Force in World War II (indeed, in the history of the JAAF) never, at any point in his career, engaged a single American aircraft. He also died two years before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Have I effectively blown your mind like a close-range double-barreled shotgun blast to the eye socket? If the answer is no, just give me a minute, because Hiriomichi Shinohara is probably the one of the most badass fighter pilots you've never heard of. This dude was an utterly fearless warrior who never once backed down from a fight and was once regarded as one of the toughest pilots the Allies ever faced, but is so obscure that nowadays he doesn't even have his own Wikipedia entry. And that's saying something, because it really seems like Wikipedia has articles on pretty much everything these days.
Shinohara was born in 1913 to a small Japanese farming family. He enlisted in the Imperial Cavalry in 1931, and was soon sent out to assist the Imperial Japanese Army in its invasion, conquest, and occupation of the Manchuria region of China. Eventually (and wisely) realizing that horses weren't really designed to have machine gun ammunition and grenades flung at them, Shinohara decided to say goodbye to his days of galloping over bullet-riddled battlefields and instead decided to enroll in the burgeoning Japanese pilot training program, where he could really get out there and do some damage For the Glory of the Emperor. He graduated flight school in 1934, was trained in effective destructive applications of the brand-new, state-of-the-art Ki-27 "Nate" fighter aircraft in 1936, and was assigned to the 11th Sentai, which I assume is like some kind of fighter squadron or something along those lines.
The Nakajima Ki-27. It kind of looks a little less than impressive,
but keep in mind that it was going up against biplanes and other such bullshit.
Well, the technologically-superior and borderline-fanatical Imperial War Machine was able to overrun Manchuria without too much resistance, and by 1939 the Japanese had advanced all the way through China to the border of the Soviet Union. Now, the Japanese were afraid of nothing, and more than willing to start shit with anybody they damn well pleased, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that it wasn't long before the Emperor came out and said some incredibly profane and malicious things about Stalin's mother, Lenin's corpse, the quality of Soviet vodka, and how if the USSR wanted the Manchurian border to be situated along the lines of the Kalka River then they were going to need to find a way to defend it without having all of their tanks, airplanes, and soldiers exploded like expired eggs in a high-wattage microwave. The Japanese Army Air Force was dispatched to start incinerating Commies wherever they could catch them, and the next thing you know Shinohara Hiromichi was unleashed on the skies above the disputed border region.
Now most pilots on their first combat mission generally spent most of the engagement one of two ways: desperately trying not to die or uncontrollably urinating in their flight suits. Well Shinohara Hiromichi (who you will see was so utterly fearless he would have dog-fought against a winged LaserBear with machine guns for eyes and balls made out of nuclear warheads if he'd had the opportunity) almost became an Ace in a Day, killing four Russian I-6 aircraft in his first aerial combat mission of any kind. In case you think this is beginners luck or some crap, Hiromichi went out the next day and actually accomplished the head-searingly difficult feat, destroying five Russian I-15 fighter planes in a single battle.
Hiromichi was so awesome at destroying Soviet fighter planes
that eventually the Russians just saved him the trouble
and started manufacturing pre-destroyed aircraft fuselages.
Now, granted, the Nakajima Ki-27 low-wing fighter was significantly more advanced than the Russian I-5 and I-15 biplanes it was going up against, and the Japanese pilots tended to be better-trained and more efficient than their Soviet counterparts, but Hiromichi's accomplishments in his first week on the job are completely insane. Hell, the top Chinese fighter ace of the entire war had 11 kills, and friggin Shinohara had nearly reached that mark in his first two days as a combat pilot.
What's even more impressive is that these battles between the Soviet Union and the Japanese Army Air Force weren't just like a couple of random bullshit isolated dogfights spread out here and there – these were insane, massive engagements with dozens (and sometimes hundreds!) of aircraft flying around all over the damn place, strafing anything that moved, and/or blowing up like antacid-filled seagulls. If it helps, you can think of Hiromichi as being less like Tom "Iceman" Kazanski taking on a half-dozen MiGs in some remote portion of the Mediterranean and more like Wedge "Red Leader" Antilles in the middle of a clusterfuck of shrieking TIE Fighters and impenetrable green laser fire above the forest moon of Endor.
To help illustrate my point, let me try to sum up my impression of the Soviet-Japanese air war with a short series of pictures:
Just to give you some idea of the sort of insane Bullet Hell Shinohara's twin-linked aircraft machine guns were cleaving their way through, on 27 June 1939 he dove straight into the middle of a fucktardedly-massive 150-plane deathmatch in the skies above Tamask-Bulak. In the insane, whose-leg-is-that super-orgy of twisted metal, cannon fire, and explosions, this guy ended up killing 11 enemy fighter planes in a single day. As I said, the top Chinese ace had 11 kills in his career, and this guy punched that out in roughly the amount of time it takes for a modern-day commercial airline to fly from Seattle to Hawaii. Hell, the top U.S. Marine ace of the war had 28 kills, and Shinohara nearly came up with half of that in this one battle.
Habitually turning perfectly good flying machines into bullet-riddled coffins is quite a way to earn yourself a reputation, and Shinohara soon became well-known and appropriately-feared by Soviet and Chinese pilots across the Manchurian front. Dubbed "The Richthofen of the Orient", this guy killed 58 enemy aircraft in the span of just a few months of service – the most of any Japanese Army Air Force pilot, and the most of any pilot of the entire Manchurian campaign. His tactics were no less bold than he was – he preferred to find a huge, massed formation of enemy fighter planes and charge straight into the middle of it with his machine guns blazing. This high-speed, bullet-ridden game of "chicken" was always won by Shinohara and his adamantium scrotum. His straight-on attack would break the formation apart, at which point he would go around and pick the enemy planes off one by one. This is basically like going to Pamplona's running of the bulls, grabbing a matador's sword, and running towards the horns instead of away from them. It's a feat that requires a certain mixture of psychosis, courage, and insanity that I think we can all respect.
(Please take a moment to make awesome airplane noises with your mouth really loudly.)
ZOOOOOOM! RAT-TAT-TAT-TAT! FWOOOSH!
Despite what he may have believed, it turns out that Shinohara actually wasn't invincible (or at least he forgot to turn on his God Mode cheat), because on 24 July he miscalculated the size of his hitbox and was shot down over enemy territory. He managed to somehow evade capture, death, and other such terribleness, and made his way back to be rescued by friendly forces, which I assume was OK by him.
On 27 August he wasn't quite as lucky. Shinohara was scouting alone, when all of a sudden was attacked by a huge, almost impossible number of enemy aircraft desperately seeking to zoom in and kill him at all costs. Despite facing a battle he had no hope of surviving, Hiromichi Shinohara still refused to allow anything but liquid nitrogen to course through his veins – he took on the entire formation himself, flying full-throttle into the middle of the enemy phalanx of propellers and machine gun barrels. Surrounded on all sides, as well as above and below, he not only gave them a good asskicking, but he became an ace in a day for the third time in his short, three-month-long career -- he killed five more enemy fighters before they finally brought him down.
Back in the days before the Nintendo DS, people were pretty proficient in the art of just chillin'.
World War 2 in Color
Sakaida, Henry. Japanese Army Air Aces 1937-45. Osprey, 1997.
Sterling, Christopher H. "Aces". Air Warfare: An International Encyclopedia. Ed. Walter J. Boyne. ABC-CLIO, 2002.
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