The Pride of The Imperial Japanese Air Force

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by Milos Sijacki, Mar 1, 2008.

  1. Milos Sijacki

    Milos Sijacki Member

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    A6M Zero

    The Mitsubishi A6M Zero ("A" for fighter, 6th model, "M" for Mitsubishi) was a lightweight, carrier-based fighter aircraft employed by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service from 1940 to 1945. Its history mirrored the fortunes of Imperial Japan in World War II. At the time it was introduced, the Mitsubishi A6M was the best carrier-based fighter plane in the world and was greatly feared by Allied pilots. [1] [2] [3] By 1942, thanks to the evolution of new tactics and techniques, Allied pilots were able to engage the Zero on more equal terms. By 1943, American and British manufacturers were producing fighters with greater firepower, armor, and speed and approaching the Zero's maneuverability. By 1944, the Mitsubishi A6M was outdated but remained in production. In shifting priorities during the final years of the War in the Pacific, the Zero was utilized in kamikaze operations.

    A combination of excellent maneuverability and very long range made it one of the finest fighters of its era. In early combat operations, the Zero gained a legendary reputation, outclassing its contemporaries. Later, design weaknesses and the increasing scarcity of more powerful aircraft engines meant that the Zero became less effective against newer fighters.

    The Mitsubishi A5M fighter was just starting to enter service in early 1937 when the Imperial Japanese Navy started looking for its eventual replacement. In May they issued specification 12-Shi for a new aircraft carrier-based fighter, sending it to Nakajima and Mitsubishi. Both firms started preliminary design work while they awaited more definitive requirements to be handed over in a few months.

    Based on the experiences of the A5M in China, the Navy sent out updated requirements in October. The new requirements called for a speed of 500 km/h at 4000 m and a climb to 3000 m in 3.5 min. They needed an endurance of two hours at normal power, or six to eight hours at economical cruising speed (both with drop tanks). Armament was to consist of two 20 mm cannon and two 7.7 mm machine guns and two 30 kg or 60 kg bombs. A complete radio set was to be mounted in all airplanes, along with a radio direction finder for long-range navigation. The maneuverability was to be at least equal to that of the A5M, while the wing span had to be less than 12 m to fit on the carriers.

    Nakajima's team thought the new requirements were impossible to achieve and pulled out of the competition in January. Mitsubishi's chief designer, Jiro Horikoshi, felt that the requirements could be met, but only if the aircraft could be made as light as possible. Every weight-saving method was used. Most of the airplane was built of T-7178 aluminum, a top-secret variety developed by the Japanese just for this aircraft. It was lighter and stronger than the normal aluminum used at the time, but more brittle. In addition, no armor was carried for the pilot, engine or other critical points of the aircraft, and the self-sealing fuel tanks that were becoming common at the time were also left off.

    With its low-wing cantilever monoplane layout, retractable wide-set landing gear and enclosed cockpit, the design was not only much more modern than any the Navy had used in the past, it was one of the most modern in the world. The Zero had a fairly high-lift, low-speed wing with a very low wing loading; combined with the light weight this gave it a very low stalling speed of well below 60 knots. This is the reason for the phenomenal turning ability of the airplane, allowing it to turn more sharply than any Allied fighter of the time. Roll rate is enhanced by servo tabs on the ailerons which deflect opposite to the ailerons and make the control force much lighter. The disadvantage is that they reduce the maximum roll effect at full travel. At 160 mph (260 km/h) the A6M2 had a roll rate of 56 degrees per second. Because of wing flexibility, roll effectiveness dropped to near zero at about 300 mph indicated airspeed.

    Name:

    It is universally known as Zero from its Japanese Navy designation, Type 0 Carrier Fighter (Rei shiki Kanjo sentoki, 零式艦上戦闘機), taken from the last digit of the Imperial year 2600 (1940), when it entered service. In Japan it was unofficially referred to as both Rei-sen and Zero-sen. The official Allied code name was Zeke (Hamp for the A6M3 model 32 variant); while this was in keeping with standard practice of giving boys' names to fighters, it is not definitely known if this was chosen for its similarity to "Zero."

    Operational history:

    The pre-series A6M2 Zero became known in 1940-41, when the fighter destroyed 266 confirmed aircraft in China. At the time of Pearl Harbor, there were 420 Zeros active in the Pacific. The carrier-borne Model 21 was the type encountered by the Americans, often much further from its carriers than expected, with a mission range of over 1600 statute miles (2,600 km). The Zero fighters were superior in many aspects of performance to all Allied fighters in the Pacific in 1941 and quickly gained a great reputation. However, the Zero failed to achieve complete air superiority due to the development of suitable tactics and new aircraft by the Allies. During World War II, the Zero destroyed at least 1,550 American aircraft.

    The Japanese ace Saburo Sakai described how the resilience of early Allied aircraft was a factor in preventing the Zeros from total domination: [4]
    “ I had full confidence in my ability to destroy the Grumman and decided to finish off the enemy fighter with only my 7.7mm machine guns. I turned the 20mm. cannon switch to the 'off' position, and closed in. For some strange reason, even after I had poured about five or six hundred rounds of ammunition directly into the Grumman, the airplane did not fall, but kept on flying. I thought this very odd - it had never happened before - and closed the distance between the two airplanes until I could almost reach out and touch the Grumman. To my surprise, the Grumman's rudder and tail were torn to shreds, looking like an old torn piece of rag. With his plane in such condition, no wonder the pilot was unable to continue fighting! A Zero which had taken that many bullets would have been a ball of fire by now. ”

    Designed for attack, the Zero gave precedence to maneuverability and firepower at the expense of protection — most had no self-sealing tanks or armor plate — thus many Zeros were lost too easily in combat along with their pilots. During the initial phases of the Pacific conflict, the Japanese trained their aviators far more strenuously than their Allied counterparts. However, unexpectedly heavy pilot losses at the Coral Sea and Midway made them difficult to replace.

    The American military discovered many of the A6M's unique attributes when they recovered a mostly intact specimen on Akutan Island in the Aleutians. Flight Petty Officer Tadayoshi Koga was losing fuel and hoped to make an emergency landing but the Zero flipped over and the pilot's neck was broken. The relatively undamaged fighter was recovered and shipped to North Air Station, North Island, San Diego. Subsequent testing of the repaired A6M revealed not only its strengths but also deficiencies in design and performance.[5]

    With the extreme agility of the Zero, the Allied pilots found that the appropriate combat tactic against Zeros was to remain out of range and fight on the dive and climb. By using speed and resisting the deadly error of trying to out-turn the Zero, eventually cannon or heavy machine guns could be brought to bear and a single burst of fire was usually enough to down the Zero. These tactics, known as boom-and-zoom, were successfully employed in the CBI against similarly maneuverable Japanese Army aircraft such as the Ki-27 and Nakajima Ki-43 by the Flying Tigers (American Volunteer Group). AVG pilots were trained to exploit the advantages of their P-40s; very sturdy, heavily armed, generally faster in a dive and in level flight at low altitude, with a good rate of roll.

    Another important maneuver was called the "Thach Weave," named for the man that invented it, then-Lt Cdr John S. "Jimmy" Thach. It required two fighters, a leader and his wingman, to fly about 200 ft (61 meters) apart. When a Zero would latch onto the tail of one of the fighters, the two planes would turn toward each other. If the Zero followed its original target through the turn, it would come into a position to be fired on by his target's wingman. This tactic was used with spectacular results at the Battle of the Coral Sea and at the Battle of Midway, helping make up for the inferiority of the U.S. fighters until new aircraft types were brought into service.

    When the powerful Grumman F6F Hellcat, Vought F4U Corsair and Lockheed P-38 appeared in the Pacific theater, the A6M with its low-powered engine lost its competitiveness. The U.S. Navy's 1:1 kill ratio suddenly jumped to better than 10:1. While the Hellcat and Corsair are generally considered to better all-around than the Zero, U.S. successes also had to do with the increasingly inexperienced Japanese aviators.

    Nonetheless, until the end of the war, in competent hands, the Zero could still be deadly. Because of the scarcity of high-powered aviation engines and some problems with planned successor models, the Zero remained in production until 1945, with over 11,000 of all types produced.
     

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  2. Micdrow

    Micdrow “Archive”
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    Very interesting read Milos Sijacki, many thanks!!!!
     
  3. magnocain

    magnocain Member

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    You did your homework.
     
  4. Konigstiger205

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    The Zero was indeed a superb fighter.Interesting read and thanks for the info!
     
  5. HoHun

    HoHun Active Member

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  6. Wayne Little

    Wayne Little Well-Known Member

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    Nicely done Milos....
     
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