An unspecified type of Mitsubishi bomber features several times in Biggles in the Orient. In Chapter 7, Biggles sees a flight of three Mitsubishi bombers flying westwards escorted by 6 Zeroes and remarks that the Japanese are "getting cocky". In Chapter 10, Calcutta is blitzed by a large force of 98 Mitsubishi bombers which was defeated by Biggles and the other pilots stationed at Dum Dum airport.
There are several plausible Mitsubishi types Johns could have been referring to or which fit the context of his story. A look at the illustrations used on the different editions of the book show that the illustrators considered at least three possible types: the Ki-30 "Ann", the Ki-21 "Sally" and the G4M "Betty". However the balance of probability points to the G4M Betty if only because the bomber was seen being escorted by Zeroes, which was a Japanese navy fighter. The "Betty", likewise, was a Japanese navy bomber. The Ki-30 and Ki-21 were used only by the Japanese Army Air Force.
The Ki-30, codenamed "Ann" by the allies was a single-engine mid-wing light bomber of the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force.
Introduced in 1938, the wing of the "Ann", of inverted gull form is mounted midway up the fuselage to allow for an interior bomb bay. Other distinctive features include the spatted fixed undercarriage and the long "greenhouse" like canopy giving excellent visibility for the crew of two. With a 940 hp radial engine, the "Ann" had a maximum speed of 423 km/h (263 mph) and cruised at 380 km/h (236 mph). One machine gun is mounted on the wing and another at the rear for the rear gunner. The "Ann" could carry a bombload of 400 kg (882 lb).
The illustrations by Leslie Stead in the 1st Edition include a drawing of the air battle featuring a Hurricane diving on what looks like a Ki-30 "Ann". The "Ann" was used heavily in the early part of the Second World War especially in the Philippines campaign but was relegated to training duties by 1942, so it would have been obsolete and unlikely to have been used at the time of the events described in the book. Secondly, the "Ann" was used exclusively by the Japanese Army Air Force, and would therefore by less likely to have been escorted by Zero fighters, which belonged to the Japanese Navy.
The Mitsubishi Ki-21 Sally is a second plausible candidate for the Mitsubishi bomber. The Sally, also known as "Army Type 97 Heavy Bomber Model 1A" was an all metal twin engine medium bomber developed in 1936 for the Japanese Army Air Force. Among its distinctive features was a long greenhouse canopy for crew members in the dorsal area of the fuselage. This canopy was replaced in later variants with a dorsal turret. The Sally took part in all major Japanese land campaigns during the Second World War.
There was no tail gun position and the tail therefore tapers sharply, like the bombers depicted in the 1980 edition of Biggles in the Orient.
The Mitsubishi G4M Betty is perhaps the most well known of Japanese bombers. Developed in 1939 and used exclusively by the Japanese Navy, the Betty was a land based bomber and served on all major fronts and besides attacking naval ships with torpedoes, also attacked land targets with conventional bombs. Designed for speed and range, the Betty was lightly unarmed and did not carry much protection for its crew. One of its distinctive features was the bulbous tail gun position which carried a 20 mm cannon.
Despite obsolescence towards the end of the Second World War, both the Sally and the Betty continued to be used operationally. There is good historical evidence that both types served on the Burma Front and were used on raids against Calcutta. On 5 December 1943, for example, a force of 27 army Sallys escorted by over a hundred Oscars mounted a raid on Calcutta. These were joined in a second wave by 9 navy Bettys escorted by Zeroes.
- ↑ Norman Franks, "RAF Fighter Pilots Over Burma: Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives," (Barnsley, Pen & Sword Books Ltd., 2014), 95.