As 1945 dawned Japan's military
situation was becoming more and more desperate. In Europe, the Third Reich was
clearly almost finished, and Japan's forces were being pushed back on all
fronts. Military leaders were forced to begin plans to fight off the expected
Allied invasion of the home islands.
The air arms of both the Imperial Army and Navy had been increasing relying
on "special attack" suicide units, in which pilots with only
rudimentary training would be sent to fly their explosive-laden aircraft
directly into allied ships or other targets. Such units were an integral part of
the defense plans for the home islands, and the Imperial forces had developed
several aircraft specifically for suicide missions. One of the lesser known
designs was the Type 12 Special Attack Scooter, designed by the Japanese Naval
Air Technical Arsenal. It was intended to be a cheap, easy-to-fly aircraft that
could be rapidly produced in huge numbers. To accelerate development, designers
relied on proven components, basically mating a scooter with the scaled-down
wings and tail of the Zero fighter (the tailwheel and hook were retained, in the
hopes that the design might eventually be adapted as a carrier-based
interceptor.) The plan was to have thousands of the aircraft stashed
in mountain caves, and then when Allied forces began their landings, military
planners declared they would attack "like a mighty wind, breaking up
the invasion." Hence, the aircraft was named "Toppakaze," which
literally translates as "breaking wind."
images below to see larger images
Development proceeded rapidly. The aircraft was given folding wings for
storage in tight spaces. The Type 11 relied on its own power to get up
to speed on a launch ramp, and then would glide down to attack. Initial test
flights were not entirely disappointing, but it was found that once a bomb load
was added, the aircraft would only stay airborne for a few feet off the end of
the launch ramp. Designers were forced to add a three-cylinder 30 hp Hitachi
radial engine to simply keep the aircraft in the air. The Imperial Navy also
insisted that the aircraft be given some form of armament, but it was too small
for conventional guns. Designers added four compressed-gas powered weapons in
the wings, based on a design by the American Daisy company. Unfortunately,
several trainee pilots managed to shoot their eyes out.
While several hundred of the scooters were built, Japan capitulated without
an invasion, so luckily for the pilots they were never employed operationally.
Allied intelligence was unaware of the aircraft's existence, but when it was
discovered by occupation troops, it was given the code name "Melvin."
Most ended up having their wings, tails and nose engines removed, and provided
handy transportation for weary GIs.
This project had its genesis at the 2009 IPMS USA National Convention. The
Tamiya reps were handing out 1/24 scale Scooter kits, which used to be part
of the "Campus Friends" figure set. The kit consists of seven parts on
one sprue. There is a tag molded on the sprue saying "In Commemoration Of
Your Visit," so I assume Tamiya gives them out after factory tours. Someone
in IPMS West Michigan got the bright idea to get a bunch of the kits, and
then we would all build them for what was dubbed the "Mean Motor
Scooter" club contest.
Most of our club members built their scooters as various custom jobs, but I'm
mainly a WWII aircraft builder, so my first thought was "OK, how do I make
this thing fly?" I remembered I had an old 70s vintage 1/72 Hasegawa Zero
that I picked up for 50 cents many years ago, and decided it would be perfect
for the project. After a bit of slice & dice I attached nose and tail
sections, fairing them in with a bit of Apoxy Sculpt putty. The nose engine came
from the junk box..I think it was once part of a 1/48 Monogram AT-6. I used
styrene rod and tube to make hinges for the wings, and some brass tube for the
gun barrels. Tail codes came from the Decal Dungeon, and since I figured the
rivets on the wings and strange contours on the sides might prove difficult for
decals, I decided to mask an paint the Hinomarus. I was surprised at how well
they turned out..I may start using this technique on all my Japanese projects.
No Mon-Keys were harmed and no Banana Brew was consumed during this project.