With advancements in both military aircraft an warship designs during the first-half of the 20th Century, it now became a viable option for navies to feature aircraft aboard their naval assets. These became seaplanes and floatplanes, essentially aircraft fitted with specialized equipment to allow for water landings and take-offs. A catapult system typically allowed for the latter to be handled directly from the deck of a warship and a powered crane was used for recovery of the aircraft upon its return.
The Japanese understood better than most the value of such machines as their naval arm would prove the principle force in its rise to dominance across the Pacific during World War 2 (1939-1945). As such, much investment was made in bringing about capable aircraft for the seaplane/floatplane role - these would serve critically in reconnaissance and limited assault of enemy naval units as well as land-based "targets-of-opportunity".
In the early 1930s, the IJN called on various local aircraft-makers like Aichi, Kawanishi and Nakajima to bring about a new, all-modern and effective shipborne reconnaissance seaplane. The type would be used to succeed the aging line of Nakajima E4N models currently in service and introduced back in 1931 (153 of this type were produced in all). Basing the new aircraft on this proven biplane seaplane, the Nakajima concern went to work on a successor and designed a new biplane wing and a revised tail unit. For the testing and evaluation phase, some seven total prototypes were built and designated as "MS". A first-flight was recorded during March of 1934.
The Nakajima MS bested the competition and was selected for serial production. In service, the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) designated the MS as "Navy Type 95 Reconnaissance Seaplane Model 1" with service introduction had during October of 1935. Production spanned from 1935 until 1940.
The aircraft's design was typical of the period: a biplane wing arrangement was used that was of single-bay configuration with N-style struts as support. These planes were fitted ahead of midships with the twin-seat (tandem), open-air cockpits positioned over midships proper. The fuselage was tubular with the engine held in the forward section driving a two-bladed propeller unit. The empennage tapered in the usual way and showcased a single vertical stabilizer with the horizontal planes set low. As a seaplane, the E8N was fitted with a floatplane undercarriage comprised of a single large float under centerline and small outboard floats held under each lower wing mainplane. The aircraft was armed through 2 x 7.7mm machine guns and held provision for up to 132lb of external ordnance (2 x 66lb conventional drop bombs).
Two distinct production versions made it in to service, the E8N1 and E8N2. The initial model, E8N1, was powered by the Nakajima Kotobuki 2 Kai 1 series air-cooled radial piston engine of 580 horsepower. The follow-up E8N2 models were given the uprated Kotobuki Kai 2 series radials of 630 horsepower. As finalized, the E8N2 variant could manage a maximum speed of 186 miles per hour but cruised closer to 115 miles per hour. Range was out to 560 miles and the aircraft's service ceiling reached nearly 24,000 feet.
The E8N was an important player for its time in the IJN - particularly in the period leading up to World War 2 as it had become a veteran of the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) by then. It was positioned aboard many of the important IJN vessels and gave good service for its time aloft in several roles - general reconnaissance and artillery spotting, Search And Rescue (SAR) and dive bombing. Total production ultimate reached 755 aircraft - certainly outpacing that of the earlier E4N.
By the time of World War 2, the series had been superseded by more modern aircraft and led a relatively short frontline service life during the conflict. At least one participated in the famous Battle of Midway (June 4th - 7th, 1942), a decisive American victory over the IJN but, beyond 1942, the E8N was relegated to other secondary roles while more capable seaplane types from competing aircraft concerns took over its over-water, at-sea roles. At least one of the series was sold to the Germans in 1941 but this offering saw only limited service as well. The Royal Thai Navy became the only other recognized foreign operator of the type.
The E8N was known to the Allies under the name of "Dave".