The Mitsubishi A6M Zero And Why It Was Hardly Protected
First of all, it had no armor, making it easy to damage. It was made of wood and thin materials, so it could light up on fire like a candlestick. And, lastly, it was usually very lightly armed, with 20mms and 7.7mms.
When it was first released, the Zero had serious advantages in firepower, maneuverability, and speed. These advantages existed because it was a very light, stripped-down fighter. It carried 2 cannon and 2 machine guns at a time when most fighters only carried machine guns. There was little to no armor around the cockpit and fuel tanks–which were not self-sealing. This meant that it was a very agile, fast fighter with a lot of firepower, but if you took any damage, you were going down.
As the war went on, however, the Allies began to produce new designs and upgrade their older models as well.
(Video) A6M Zero Pilot Armour…NOT!
Most Allied planes were already better protected and could take more damage than the AM6, and once they began to put more powerful engines and armament in them, the Zero lost a lot of its advantages. Japanese designers had to put more armor, firepower and larger engines into the Zero airframe, but it wasn’t really designed for it, resulting in the plane losing its inherent advantage in maneuverability. By 1943-44, it was outclassed by most Allied aircraft.
(Video) This training film contains an instructional prologue to its dramatic story which features Ronald Reagan as a fighter pilot. Both the prologue and the storyline serve the same purpose: to instruct the viewer on the importance of recognizing the difference between the American-built P-14 fighter plane and the Japanese-built Zero fighter plane.
Recognition of the Japanese Zero Fighter, 1943
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When it was introduced early in World War II, the Zero was considered the most capable carrier-based fighter in the world, combining excellent maneuverability and very long range. The Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service (“IJNAS”) also frequently used the type as a land-based fighter.
In early combat operations, the Zero gained a legendary reputation as a dogfighter, achieving the outstanding kill ratio of 12 to 1, but by mid-1942 a combination of new tactics and the introduction of better equipment enabled the Allied pilots to engage the Zero on generally equal terms. By 1943, inherent design weaknesses and the failure to develop more powerful aircraft engines meant that the Zero became less effective against newer Allied fighters, which possessed greater firepower, armor, and speed, and approached the Zero’s maneuverability.
Although the Mitsubishi A6M was outdated by 1944, design delays and production difficulties of newer Japanese aircraft types meant that it continued to serve in a front line role until the end of the war. During the final year of the War in the Pacific, the Zero was also adapted for use in kamikaze operations. During the course of the war, Japan produced more Zeros than any other model of combat aircraft.
The A6M is usually known as the “Zero” from its Japanese Navy type designation, Type 0 Carrier Fighter (Rei shiki Kanjō sentōki, 零式艦上戦闘機), taken from the last digit of theImperial year 2600 (1940), when it entered service. In Japan, it was unofficially referred to as both Rei-sen and Zero-sen; Japanese pilots most commonly called it Zero-sen,where sen is the first syllable of sentōki, Japanese for “fighter plane”.
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The official Allied code name was “Zeke”, in keeping with the practice of giving male names to Japanese fighters, female names to bombers, bird names to gliders, and tree names to trainers. “Zeke” was part of the first batch of “hillbilly” code names assigned by Captain Frank T. McCoy of Nashville, Tennessee, (assigned to the Allied Technical Air Intelligence Unit (ATAIU) at Eagle Farm Airport in Australia), who wanted quick, distinctive, easy-to-remember names.
When, in 1942, the Allied code for Japanese aircraft was introduced, he logically chose “Zeke” for the “Zero”. Later, two variants of the fighter received their own code names: the Nakajima A6M2-N (floatplane version of the Zero) was called “Rufe” and the A6M3-32 variant was initially called “Hap”. After objections from General “Hap” Arnold, commander of the USAAF, the name was changed to “Hamp”. When captured examples were examined in New Guinea, it was realized it was a variant of the Zero and finally renamed “Zeke 32”
The first Zeros (pre-series of 15 A6M2) went into operation with the 12th Rengo Kōkūtai in July 1940. On 13 September 1940, the Zeros scored their first air-to-air victories when 13 A6M2s led by Lieutenant Saburo Shindo attacked 27 Soviet-built Polikarpov I-15s and I-16s of the Chinese Nationalist Air Force, shooting down all the fighters without loss to themselves. By the time they were redeployed a year later, the Zeros had shot down 99 Chinese aircraft (266 according to other sources).
At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, 521 Zeros were active in the Pacific, 328 in first-line units. The carrier-borne Model 21 was the type encountered by the Americans. Its tremendous range of over 2,600 km (1,600 mi) allowed it to range farther from its carrier than expected, appearing over distant battlefronts and giving Allied commanders the impression that there were several times as many Zeros as actually existed.
The Zero quickly gained a fearsome reputation. Thanks to a combination of unsurpassed maneuverability — even when compared to other contemporary Axis fighters — and excellent firepower, it easily disposed the motley collection of Allied aircraft sent against it in the Pacific in 1941.
It proved a difficult opponent even for the Supermarine Spitfire. “The RAF pilots were trained in methods that were excellent against German and Italian equipment but suicide against the acrobatic Japs”, as Lt.Gen. Claire Lee Chennault had to notice. Although not as fast as the British fighter, the Mitsubishi fighter could out-turn the Spitfire with ease, sustain a climb at a very steep angle, and stay in the air for three times as long.
It’s Eventual Downfall
Allied pilots soon developed tactics to cope with the Zero. Due to its extreme agility, engaging a Zero in a traditional, turning dogfight was likely to be fatal.
It was better to swoop down from above in a high-speed pass, fire a quick burst, then climb quickly back up to altitude. (A short burst of fire from heavy machine guns or cannon was often enough to bring down the fragile Zero.) Such “boom-and-zoom” tactics were used successfully in the China Burma India Theater (CBI) by the “Flying Tigers” of the American Volunteer Group (AVG) against similarly maneuverable Japanese Army aircraft such as the Nakajima Ki-27 Nate and Nakajima Ki-43 Oscar. AVG pilots were trained by their commander Claire Chennault to exploit the advantages of their P-40s, which were very sturdy, heavily armed, generally faster in a dive and level flight at low altitude, with a good rate of roll.
Another important maneuver was Lieutenant Commander John S. “Jimmy” Thach‘s “Thach Weave“, in which two fighters would fly about 60 m (200 ft) apart. If a Zero latched onto the tail of one of the fighters, the two aircraft would turn toward each other. If the Zero followed his original target through the turn, he would come into a position to be fired on by the target’s wingman. This tactic was first used to good effect during the Battle of Midway and later over the Solomon Islands.
Many highly experienced Japanese aviators were lost in combat, resulting in a progressive decline in quality, which became a significant factor in Allied successes. Unexpected heavy losses of pilots at the Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway dealt the Japanese carrier air force a blow from which it never fully recovered.
The attack on Pearl Harbor, also known as the Battle of Pearl Harbor, the Hawaii Operation or Operation AI by the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters, and Operation Z during planning, was a surprise attack on the United States fleet in the territory of the Hawaiian islands.
“President Franklin Roosevelt called December 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy.” On that day, Japaneseplanes attacked the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii Territory. The bombing killed more than 2,300 Americans. It completely destroyed the American battleship U.S.S.”
(Video) Pearl Habour – Pearl Harbor Movie (2001) – Japanese Attack Scene
Japan intended the attack as a preventive action to keep the U.S. Pacific Fleet from interfering with military actions theEmpire of Japan planned in Southeast Asia against overseas territories of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the United States. Over the next seven hours there were coordinated Japanese attacks on the U.S.-held Philippines, Guamand Wake Island and on the British Empire in Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong. The A6M Zero played a major role in this attack, many carrying bombs which decimated most of the United States fleet ships.
The attack came as a profound shock to the American people and led directly to the American entry into World War II in both the Pacific and European theaters. The following day, December 8, the United States declared war on Japan
In the early stages of the war in the Pacific, the Zero was in its element but when the Allies began to develop faster, better armed, better protected fighters, the downfall of the A6M Zero was imminent. In reality its dominance only lasted until the beginning of 1943. After that it was all the way down as Japan kept on losing more and more of its skilled pilots and it lost its edge.
When the powerfully armed Lockheed P-38 Lightning, armed with four “light barrel” AN/M2 .50 cal. Browning machine guns and one 20 mm autocannon, and the Grumman F6F Hellcat and Vought F4U Corsair, each with six AN/M2 heavy calibre Browning guns, appeared in the Pacific theater, the A6M, with its low-powered engine and lighter armament, was hard-pressed to remain competitive.
In combat with an F6F or F4U, the only positive thing that could be said of the Zero at this stage of the war was that, in the hands of a skillful pilot, it could maneuver as well as most of its opponents. Nonetheless, in competent hands, the Zero could still be deadly.
Due to shortages of high-powered aviation engines and problems with planned successor models, the Zero remained in production until 1945, with over 11,000 of all variants produced.
Whatever it is, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero was one of the most successful “warbirds” of the second world war and remains a Japanese legend.
Well, this comes to an end our 3rd segment in the Warbird Series. Check back often as more are on the way and if you havent had a read of my previous 2 articles…dont forget to click here.
Cheers for now!