Photograph of Japanese "Rufe" seaplane

U.S. Navy photograph.  From Francillon (1979)

Seaplanes are small aircraft equipped with pontoons that allow them to land or take off from calm water. Most cruisers and battleships of the Pacific War were equipped with catapults to launch a small number of seaplanes for the purposes of reconnaissance and for spotting their own gunfire. The Japanese also built up a force of seaplane fighters, which they hoped would prove useful for establishing air control over the far regions of the Pacific where airfields were nonexistent. However, the dominance of the aircraft carrier and the Allied skill at building new airfields greatly limited the usefulness of Japanese seaplane fighters, whose pontoons prevented them from matching the performance of conventional fighters.

By the time of the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Americans were using their cruiser seaplanes for antisubmarine patrol around their task forces. During the Guadalcanal campaign, the Americans learned by hard experience that seaplanes still on board ship were a dangerous fire hazard, and they began routinely launching their seaplanes to get them off the ships whenever night combat was anticipated. With increased reliance on radar for gunfire spotting, most cruiser seaplanes were eventually permanently landed.

Japanese seaplanes

A6M2-N "Rufe"

E7K "Alf"

E8N "Dave"

E13A "Jake"

E14Y "Glenn"

E16A "Paul"

F1M2 "Pete"

U.S. seaplanes

J2F Duck

OS2U Kingfisher

SOC Seagull

Dutch seaplanes




Willmott (1983)

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