Profile Publications No. 129 The Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero-Sen

The Mits A6M2 Ze en by Rene J. Francillorif Ph.D. A Navy Type O Carrier Fighter Model II, aircraft number 3-182, o f the 12th Rcngo K okutai. This unit was the first to evaluate the Zero in combat, operating from Hankow, China. (Unless otherwise indicated, all photographs appearing in this Profile arc supplied from the au tho r’s collection). When Japan entered the war with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbour by carrier borne aircraft, the quality of its air forces was considerably underrated by the Western Powers. The belief that the Allies would meet no serious opposition from Japan in the air was the result of a propaganda campaign which had been conducted in the Land of the Rising Sun for many years before the Second World War. Probably no other nation was as security minded as Japan, where the slogan, “Every foreigner is a spy”, had resulted in an almost complete lack of up-to-date information coming from that country. Even two years after Japan had entered the war, its most famous aircraft, the Navy Type O Carrier Fighter (Mitsubishi A6M), better known by its codename “Zeke” and still better known as the Zero, retained much of the mystery which had surrounded it and an American aeronautical publication had this to say in 1943: “The quick-zooming, vulnerable Jap Zero is a triumph for the world’s greatest adapters ...One type of Mitsubishi “Kinsei” engine, essentially a copy of the U.S. Pratt &Whitney “Wasp” with features of the Wright “Cyclone” and British Bristol “Hercules”, is used in many of the Zeros. (Actually this type o f engine, long favoured by Jiro Horikoshi, was only used on the two prototypes o f the last version o f the Zero, the A6M8, produced in November 1944, almost 18 months after the quoted article had been A captured A 6M 2 in China in the background, a Curtiss P-40M o f the Air Volunteer Group with the “Flying Tiger" emblem behind the cockpit. written.— Author) ...Workmanship is spotty some parts are finely finished, others arc very crude. The weakest point is the cooling system ...The propeller is a duplicate of the U.S.-made Hamilton Standard. The air-frame is very similar to the German Heinkel He 113. Most of the other features are standard with many other types of fighter craft now in use”. One can only wonder how could we believe the performances of such a hybrid and justify the defeats inflicted onus by this aircraft and its pilots ?First reported in 1940, although without attention being given to this information, by Claire E. Chennault of Flying Tigers fame, the Zero came as a rude surprise to the hard pressed Allies trying to contain the onrush of the Nipponese forces throughout the Pacific. Feared as long as Japan had the initiative, the Zero was often ridiculed when the Allies gained a quali­tative and quantitative advantage over the forces of the Rising Sun. Seemingly invincible, the aircraft won its fame during the first six months of the conflict and ever since has been at the same time the best known and most villified Japanese aircraft. To this day, there arc people willing to assert the aircraft was nothing abut second rate copy of the 1935 Hughes Racer, an aircraft having nothing in common with the A6M series but its low-wing design and radial engine. This, and similar assertions, make no sense to the historians who learnt to recognize that the so-called “state of the art” has resulted in similar aircraft appearing at the same time in various countries or from different manufacturers, examples in modern aeronautical history including the F-86 and MiG-15, and the Douglas DC-8 and Boeing 707. THE ORIG INS OF THE A6M SERIES The introduction of the Navy Type 96 Carrier Fighter (Mitsubishi A5M, Claude), a low-wing monoplane with “trousered” landing gear, at a time when the U.S. Navy was taking delivery of its first F3F-1, a biplane with retractable gear, and the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm was still flying the Hawker Nimrod, a 181 m.p.h. biplane fighter with fixed undercarriage, had given a definite advantage to the Imperial Japanese Navy. Intent on preserving their advantage, the Japanese naval stafT submitted on 19th May, 19373
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