In 1934 the Japanese Navy issued request for a new observation seaplane, to fly from battleships and cruisers and perform gunfire spotting duties. Existing seaplanes were primarily reconnaissance types, tasked with finding the enemy in were not well suited for flying in contested airspace near enemy ships, so the new aircraft was to have a fighter-like armament. In due course the Mitsubishi F1M was selected as the winner of the contract.
The F1M was a relatively compact design, which was an advantage given the limited space available on Japanese battleships and cruisers. It was mainly of metal construction but had fabric-covered control surfaces. Initial models demonstrated poor handling on the water, and were less than stable in flight, but the subsequent F1M2 with an uprated Zuisei engine proved to be a much more capable aircraft.
F1Ms were assigned to many of the warships that pushed south into the Philippines, Malaya and Indochina in the weeks after Pearl Harbour. They flew from seaplane tenders that covered landings throughout the southern campaign. The biplanes were most evident during the Solomons campaign, where they augmented the more capable fighters flying down ‘the Slot’ from Rabaul. In the hands of a capable pilot the F1M was still a threat, but it was largely unable to counter the faster Allied fighters like the F4F and P-40.
As the fighting moved across the Pacific, the F1M was used more as a convoy escort role than as a fighter. However, late in the war, despite being thoroughly outclassed, the F1M was stationed in the Home Islands and used as a point defence fighter where it was of marginal use at best.
In 1942 Allied intelligence assigned the reporting name “Pete” to the F1M.
|Mitsubishi F1M2 Type 0 Observation seaplane|
|Crew||2: Pilot, observer|
|Powerplant||1x Mitsubishi Zuisei 13, 875hp|
|Armament||3x 7.7mm machine guns|
|Dimensions||31ft 2in (length)|
36ft 1in (wingspan)
13ft 2in (height)
|Wing Area||318 sq.ft.|
|In service with||IJN|