As the USAAF's mighty B-29 Superfortresses relentlessly pounded the Imperial Japanese war machine, few Japanese fighter interceptors could match these high-flying super bombers. The heavily armed Superfortresses, the largest and fastest piston-engined bomber in World War II, were slowly grinding Japan's industrial cities and factories to dust.
Increasingly desperate to counter the threat, the Japanese Air Force turned vainly for salvation to the Nakajima Ki-44 Shoki. Codenamed Tojo by the Allies, the high performance interceptor was designed for speed and high altitude, could climb quickly to 37,000 feet, and was one of the very few Japanese aircraft that could challenge the fearsome Superfortresses.
Initially disliked by inexperienced pilots, the Ki-44's poor visibility on the ground and high landing speed made it seem a lethal machine to fly but, well armed with four forward firing heavy cannon and an excellent pilot's view in the air during combat, its unpopularity eventually turned to respect. In the case of crews of the B-29s, it could be a dangerous and deadly opponent. The little fighter saw service in China, Burma, the Phillippines and, during the final months of the war, was prominent in kamikaze attacks.
Richard Taylor's painting, Threatening Skies, recreates an encounter on 19 February, 1945. As dawn breaks over the Pacific, a determined force of Japanese Ki-44s launch a surprise attack on a large formation of USAAF B-29 Superfortresses as they approach the Japanese mainland. B-29 gunners let rip as one fighter flashes past, with a second fighter closing at high speed. Chunks of the B-29's port wing and aileron have been taken out in the initial attack, and with another Japanese fighter fast on its tail, the outcome of this particular encounter hangs in the balance. A total of ten Superfortresses fell victim that day.
Threatening Skies - The Signatures:
Three veterans of the Pacific War who flew B-29s in the assault on mainland Japan, have added great authenticity to Richard Taylor's limited edition by signing each print. The print is also signed by the artist, and individually hand numbered.
Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Nutter
Ralph Nutter was a student at Harvard Law School when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and enlisted in the Army Air Corps the following day. Training as a navigator, he was posted to the 8th Air Force in Europe, joining the 366th Bomb Squadron, 305th Bomb Group and flying his first mission in November 1942. He flew with Major General Custis Lemay on the first bombing mission to Germany, and Lemay made him Group Navigator. After completing his tour in Europe he transferred out to the Pacific and was picked by Major General Haywood 'Possum' Hansell as his lead navigator on B29 Superfortresses. He took part in some of the largest and most significant B29 raids on Japan, completing a total of 30 missions.
Colonel James Pattillo
Pilot James Pattillo flew as an instructor after joining up in October 1940, and it was four years later in October 1944 that he was posted out to the China/Burma/India Theater flying B29 Superfortresses. He flew B29s on 26 combat missions in Burma, China and Japan: and commanded the 24 July 1945 mission to Takaruza, as well as taking part in the big daylight raid against the Yawata Imperial Iron and Steel Mill.
Captain Ben Robertson
Ben Robertson enlisted following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, qualifying as a pilot. He was posted as an instructor on bombers until early 1945 when he transferred to combat flying in the Western Pacific. Joining the 43rd Bomb Squadron, 29th Bomb Group he flew B29s from Guam on 35 combat missions, several of which were as lead crew. He flew on five raids to Tokyo, as well as to Kobe, Osaka and Nagoya.
Overall print size: 30 1/2" x 23 1/2" high.
Image size: 24" wide x 16" high.
Into The Sun
by Richard Taylor
Overall companion print size: 20 3/4" wide x 16 3/4" high.
With the onset of dawn, Captain Yoshio Yoshida, an Ace with six victories over B29s to his credit, together with other pilots of the 3rd Chutai, 70th Sentai, power their Nakajima Ki44s into an attacking position ready to strike the strong incoming force of B29 Superfortresses in the distance beyond. Within a few minutes another titanic clash will erupt in the skies over Japan as the B29 crews fight their way through to the target.