Mitsubishi A6M2 Model 21 Zero

The best known Japanese aircraft of World War II is the A6M Zero.  This really isn’t even close.

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After the jump, a look at the type that shocked the western allies and dominated the first year of the Pacific War.

In 1937 the Imperial Japanese Navy issued a specification for a new generation of carrier fighter.  They required a top speed of 350kts, climb to 3000 meters in 3 1/2 minutes, 8 hours extended cruise range, firepower of two machine guns and two cannon and maneuverability equal to current types. The Nakajima Company looked at these requirements and said it couldn’t be done.  But Mitsubishi’s Head Designer, Jiro Hirakoshi was up to the challenge.

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Notice there is no antenna mast on this aircraft. This would normally come through the aft cockpit glass. But it was common practice on Japanese aircraft that only section leaders would use a radio, so other pilots would do away with the “unnecessary weight”.

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The A6M was a clean design mated to Nakajima’s 1000 hp Sakae engine.  It met the Navy’s design requirements easily. The first service test of the type involved 13 A6M2s sent to China.  In a year of operations they destroyed 100 or more Chinese aircraft (much more according to Japanese records) for no loss.  Throughout the year 1941 as the type was entering widespread service it had a huge effect on Japanese war planning.  Its range was such that it reduced the need for satellite airfields and even aircraft carriers.

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I did an experiment on this build. I used a .3 mm pencil to darken in the panel lines. I don’t think I’ll try this again. It makes the aircraft look too much like an engineering drawing and not enough like a real airplane. At least to me.

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The Japanese were confident they had the greatest carrier fighter in the world, and when the war started in December of 1941 most of their opponents would come to agree with them.  The Zero was fast, long ranged and maneuverable to such a degree it annihilated opposing air forces and terrified pilots.  Cmdr John Thach, who developed defensive tactics that allowed the US Navy to achieve parity with the Japanese was furious at the Wildcat’s inadequacy.  Famous British test pilot Eric Brown described the Zero as the most maneuverable fighter he ever flew and believed it to be the greatest fighter in the world until mid 1943.

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Beautiful restoration of an A6M2 Zero.

This A6M2 is at the Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. (And I don’t see any panel lines; what was I thinking!)

In time, better allied aircraft would come available that could take advantage of the Zero’s shortcomings (lightness of construction, lack of armor and self sealing fuel tanks, and loss of maneuverability at high speeds).

The main naval strike aircraft used by Japan at the start of the Pacific War.  A B5N Kate (torpedo bomber), A6M Zeke (fighter) and D3A Val (dive bomber).

The main naval strike aircraft used by Japan at the start of the Pacific War. A B5N Kate (torpedo bomber), A6M Zeke (fighter) and D3A Val (dive bomber).

This example is from the Hasegawa kit.  It is an aircraft attached to the famous Tainan Air Group based in Formosa at the start of the war.  This group produced more aces than any other including Hiroyoshi Nishizawa and Saburo Sakai.  It destroyed allied air power in the Philippines, Singapore and Dutch East Indies.  It was eventually ground down in the lengthy New Guinea/Solomons campaign that continued into 1943.  But here, in its earliest wartime markings, the Zero was at the height of its invincibility.

The A6M Zero outperformed the F4F-4 Wildcat in every traditional measure of fighter quality; and Japanese pilot quality was best in the world. But with good tactics US Navy pilots held their own until better types arrived.

The A6M Zero outperformed the F4F-4 Wildcat in every traditional measure of fighter quality; and Japanese pilot quality was best in the world.
But with good tactics US Navy pilots held their own until better types arrived.

Related Posts
Mitsubishi A6M5 Zero
Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat

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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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3 Responses to Mitsubishi A6M2 Model 21 Zero

  1. Theresa says:

    There is no doubting the superiority of Japanese Zero. Its speed, maneuverability and lightness plus long range capabilities were unmatched by any other plane until the middle of the war.

  2. Pingback: Mitsubishi A6M3 Model 32 Hamp | Plane Dave

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