Nakajima A6M2-N Rufe

One of the more dangerous float planes ever built (!), the Rufe was Japan’s solution to having far flung bases on tiny islands.

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After the jump, a look at the float Zero.

This plane is pretty much exactly what it looks like, an A6M2 Zero on floats.  As Japan was planning on expansion across a large area that would include many remote bases with no airstrip, this seemed like an obvious solution.  The Zero was being built by both Mitsubishi and Nakajima (unlike in USN usage, both aircraft carried the same “A6M” designation).  The Navy felt Nakajima had more floatplane experience, so Nakajima was ordered to develop and produce a float variant of the Zero.  Over 300 would be built.

This is a good view of the beaching gear.  As a pure float plane, the Rufe had no wheels; but after a water landing it would taxi to a beaching ramp and be pulled onto this dolly to pull it up on shore.

This is a good view of the beaching gear. As a pure float plane, the Rufe had no wheels; but after a water landing it would taxi to a beaching ramp and be pulled onto this dolly to pull it up on shore. Also note the very light structure for attaching the floats. This was so the Rufe could still fly like the Zero it was! This is perhaps the most maneuverable and aerobatic float plane ever built.

All Rufes were delivered in the early war all grey color.  But in early 1943 this aircraft received a coat of Navy Green camouflage all over, except under the canopy!

All Rufes were delivered in the early war all grey color. But in early 1943 this aircraft received a coat of Navy Green camouflage all over, except under the canopy!

The floats took about 60 knots off the type’s top speed.  This meant that it would never be a match for a more conventional fighter plane, even a first generation sort like an Airacobra or Wildcat.  But when used at remote bases, where it would mostly face long range patrol and bomber types it could perform a valuable service.  Unfortunately for pilots of the Rufe, the US quickly responded with long range fighters and carrier air power that meant bombers were rarely left unescorted.

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The US and Britain had considered similar projects, for the same reasons.  Protoypes flew of float Spitfires and float Wildcats.  But an aggressive use of Naval Construction Battalions to build airfields in record short times, and Escort Carriers to provide air cover for almost every assault convoy eliminated the need for the allies.

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This particular subject is from the Hasegawa kit with Aeromaster decals.  It represents a less common usage of the type.  It was based on the seaplane tender IJN Kamakawa Maru.  As such it worked with a full air group of float attack and reconnasaince planes, basically a small air base of float planes.  This was based in the Shortland Islands in 1943 as a part of the extended Guadalcanal and Solomons campaign.

Deadly rivals in the Solomon Islands, 1943.  The Wildcat would clearly be faster than this version of the Zero.  But still less maneuverable.

Deadly rivals in the Solomon Islands, 1943. The Wildcat would clearly be faster than this version of the Zero. But still less maneuverable.

  Up Next: M8 Greyhound   

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About atcDave

I'm 53 years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I've been an air traffic controller for 30 years; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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12 Responses to Nakajima A6M2-N Rufe

  1. Theresa says:

    Interesting solution for a wide spread empire.

  2. Ernie Davis says:

    We’ve talked about the allies superior logistics, and the SeaBees are one marvelous example. An uncle was in the CB’s in WWII building those airfields. So while we still had float planes like the Japanese we didn’t need them in a combat role that, realistically, any float plane is going to have a problem fulfilling outside the limited description you gave.

    • atcDave says:

      Yeah the CBs were a huge logistical advantage. As were 130 escort carriers (about 90 built by the U.S., 40 by Britain).
      Although eventually I’ll get to the Rex/George. The Rex was an advanced float fighter, replacement for the Rufe. It was such a beast, they reversed the process and designed a land plane variant that was easily one of the best fighters of WWII. The engineering challenges in producing a first rate float fighter led to a brilliant design. Of course like all of Japan’s more advanced projects it was too late, and in nowhere near the required quantity to make a difference.

  3. Terry Brodin says:

    The only “not designed as a floatplane” aircraft that doesn’t look like an afterthought with a float stuck on it.

    • atcDave says:

      Yeah its actually quite good looking. Too bad the purple Rufe seems to be a myth. Still, I may mix some red and blue into an IJN Grey and see just how far I can push it.

      • Terry Brodin says:

        Read one theory that the red primer bled through the grey paint, resulting in a purple hue.
        The explanation for a pink submarine (Operation Petticoat) was believable wasn’t it?
        Seems everyone wants the “purple Rufe” to exist — you should go for it!
        Leave it up to someone else to prove you wrong.

      • atcDave says:

        Yeah I’d read the same explanation. I’m thinking I’ll try to suggest purple, in a way that may have led some people during the war to think they’d seen purple! Basically, I’ll try to recreate it exactly like you said.

  4. Terry Brodin says:

    Even though color specs may be very specific, there are just to many variables at play once any piece of equipment leaves the factory.
    A good example would be the PT Boats of Squadron 3,1941. The boats arrived In the Phillippines painted a standard Navy spec grey (don’t ask me which grey). According to a Ron 3 veteran, after war broke out the boats were painted a dark green that was locally procurred, thinned with gasoline and swabbed on with mops and wallpaper paste brushes. Doesn’t exactly sound like it would be up to Navy specs, not to mention what that green looked like after the sun and salt ahd thier effect on this “homebrew” paint
    Then there is the age old olive drab debate. Who hasn’t seen pictures of 8th Air Force B-17s that aged olive drad looks more brown and in some cases even took on a purpleish hue.
    While everyone is entitled to thier opinion, many get too bog down with minor issue and lose sight of the big picture.
    Another example; B-17E (41-9032) “My Gal Sal”.
    Bob Ready and the volunteers who put her back together have been taken to task for supposedly painting her incorrectly. They painted her based on survivng paint on the aircraft —- not on a whim! Yet, by forum comments, by self appointed “experts”, you’d swear they put a mostache on the Mona Lisa! I agree that there is quite a bit of controversy about the color schemes of the B-17Es of the 8th, but whether or not “My Gal Sal” is painted correctly, she was saved and that’s the bottom line! Bob Ready and the volunteers need to be recognized for that and not nitpicked on a paint job! Another thing that gets criticized was that “paddle blade” propellers were used rather then the corect “broomstick” type. Again, someone is losing sight of what was accomplished.
    Likewise, here in Illinois, Mike Kellner is criticized for restoring B-17E (41-02595) “Desert Rat/Tangerine” as a B-17E and not to its final configuration of an XC-108.
    I wonder if any of these critics have donated time or money to the projects that they find fault with, or just “armchair generals”?
    Well, I’ve wandered off the original subject once again.
    Build the ‘purple Rufe”!
    Maybe we all won’t agree with it, but I guarantee we all will be looking at it!

    • atcDave says:

      Some people clearly have too much time on their hands!

      But for myself, I try to combine what I think is reasonable with what looks good. I’ve already put up several builds that were pretty speculative, some I have good reason to think I made bad guesses (!). And in some cases it’s just my best effort still doesn’t look like my own research photos. I don’t necessarily worry about it, but I do try to match reality as closely as I can within a reasonable period of time. Which applies both to color and detail issues.

      • Terry Brodin says:

        You live, you learn.
        There is no fault with doing one’s best best on the information available.
        Until a time machine becomes reality, most mysteries, big and small, will remain mysteries.

  5. Another great-looking professional model Dave. You really have captured the fighting essence of the Rufe, only the Seiran surpassed it in elegance. Another terrific build.

    • atcDave says:

      Thanks! Yeah the Seiran is a real beauty, I’ve got one on the “to do” list that will hopefully show up here in a few months.

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