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Mitsubishi A6M (type Zero) : Japanese Fighter

Discussion in 'Axis Fighter Planes' started by Junkie88, Nov 2, 2006.

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  1. Junkie88

    Junkie88 New Member

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    The "Zeke" or "Zero" to the Allies

    The Zero was the emerging standard fighter for the Japanese at the beginning of their Pacific campaign; it was fairly new (having first flown in 1939) but not so new the U.S. didn't know about it - it had seen action in China and elsewhere long before it was used against the Americans. Even so American armed forces severely underestimated the A6M and that mistake caused considerable problems - it's primary opponents in the early war, the F4F Wildcat, the P40, and the lamentable P39, were heavily outclassed by the Zero.

    The Mitsubishi A6M Zero-Sen​


    [​IMG]

    The wide disparity in plane ability forced a quick adoption of new air to air tactics by the American pilots; the famous "Thatch weave" for instance, which was effective but required two to one engagement odds, close wingman contact, and was fairly risky even so. More commonly Americans took to a simple philosophy echoed by pilot biographies throughout the era; engage with altitude, engage with numbers, and when compromised immediately dive to safety (a singular weakness of the Zero was high speed diving).

    This confused the Japanese, who by and large considered air combat almost an art form which matched the wits and ability of one pilot against another.

    This was mirrored in the very design of the Zero; it was at the time the ultimate "dogfight" style plane, exhibiting superb turning capability, good range, and excellent power - at the price of durability, low offensive armament, and very limited payload or bombing options. If American pilots had attempted to engage the Japanese on a level playing field, so to speak, they would have been slaughtered, both by the superior design and better training at the onset of the war the Japanese enjoyed.

    Unfortunately for the Japanese the features they designed their premier fighter for were quickly obsolete in the air war. Having demonstrated the validity of their new tactics in combat, the U.S. armed forces began making planes to better utilize them, and training their pilots extremely well in how to do it. Against a supreme turning plane the U.S. answered with several planes that had common core design features: they were fast, they were heavily armed, they were heavily armoured, and they performed well at high altitudes.

    Against the likes of well flown P38, F6F or F4U, the Zero was hopelessly outclassed, but by the time that was evident to all concerned it was too late to displace it as the number one fighter for Japan. When asked after the war which plane he fly in WW2 combat if he had a choice of any, Sabaro Sakai, one of the leading Japanese aces of WW2, said he would pick a P51. The pilots of the Zero understood what they needed was a faster, tougher plane, but the design that produced such outstanding early war results was no longer able to give them that four years later.
     
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  2. Dave War44

    Dave War44 Member

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    Nice post Junkie, and welcome to the forums.

    P51 Mustang - good choice ! :)


    [​IMG]
     
  3. Spitfire XIV-E

    Spitfire XIV-E New Member

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    Indeed the Zero outclassed most of the early Allied Fighters in the Pacific Campaign. But it was a short lived dominance really because the Americans in particular brought out some superb aircarft to counter it like the P38 Lightning, F6F Hellcat & F4U Corsair all of which were superior to the Zero.
     
  4. Poppy

    Poppy grasshopper

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  5. CAC

    CAC Ace of Spades

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    There were late war Japanese fighters that were very capable...
     
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  6. JJWilson

    JJWilson Well-Known Member

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    Indeed, the Ki-84 and N1K1 were quite capable.......it was the lack of trained pilots, and materials, that ended up doing in the Japanese.
     
  7. USMCPrice

    USMCPrice Idiot at Large

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    Garbage article. Agree with you about the comments. The "Zero" did have weaknesses, but they were trade offs made for specific reasons. One of the key ones was range. In order to achieve that the aircraft needed to be as light as possible. The A6M2 Model 21 had a range of 1,929 mi. (the A6M2 had an internal fuel capacity of 140 gallons and a range of 1265 miles, it's 85 gallon drop tank stretched the range to 1929 mi) something deemed critical considering the great distances in the Pacific.
    One problem with most current "reevaluations" of the Zero is they ignore the military requirements and planned operational employment when evaluating it, hence the title of the article Poppy posted "
    The Mitsubishi A6M Zero Was Nowhere Near The Plane You Think It Was". Also note than in the title they even misspelled Mitsubishi as Mistubishi, (I corrected it in my quote). Spelling is not such a big deal in a discussion environment, but you're putting yourself out there as an expert in an article you're publishing on the internet, come on.
    Then they use anachronistic comparisons, the A6M was introduced into service in July 1940, a mere month before the battle of Britain, not 1943 which is when most of the aircraft it is routinely compared to entered wide scale availability. The Zero was the worlds first, long range, single seat fighter. The Zero introduced cannons as armament for fighter planes. It was the fastest carrier fighter of it's time and had a superior rate of climb to all it's contemporaries except the Bf.109 E.
    Now you can take the opinion of the OP or Michael Ballaban, the author of Poppy's article. I prefer to take the opinion of Captain Eric Brown, the Chief Naval Test Pilot of the Royal Navy. He was an experienced aviator that actually flew the aircraft and apparently the British military establishment considered his opinion worthwhile since he was the Royal navy's Chief Test Pilot. He recalled being impressed by the Zero during tests of captured aircraft. "I don't think I have ever flown a fighter that could match the rate of turn of the Zero. The Zero had ruled the roost totally and was the finest fighter in the world until mid-1943."

    For those who are not familiar with Captain Brown, here's his Wikipedia entry. Read his credentials and I think you'll agree his opinion is very worthwhile:
    Eric Brown (pilot) - Wikipedia

    Then read the opinion of the pilots that flew against it, in 1942 well into 1943, they had a great deal of respect for this aircraft.
    Then consider what a big deal is always made over the P-51's ability to finally escort bombers on raids over Germany! Well, the A6M routinely escorted raids on Guadalcanal out of Rabaul, a distance comparable to that from London to Berlin, and this in August of 1942. The Mustang did it by having an internal fuel capacity that was three times that of the A6M2, something the US could afford but the fuel starved Japanese could not.

    The allied aircraft that are most commonly compared to the Zero are the F4U, F6F and P-38. The Navy only received it's first production F4U-1 on 31 July, 1942 and it wasn't declared combat ready until the end of 1942 and then only for land based units, the Zero had been fighting for two and a half years. The Navy's first operational F6F squadron reached readiness in February 1943. There were P-38's deployed to the Aleutian's at the end of May, 1942, but their real first introduction to combat vs Japan was in New Guinea on 27 December 1942, and even then they primarily encountered IJ Army aircraft such as the KI-43.
    To be fair these aircraft should be compared to contemporary Japanese aircraft such as the KI-84 (Frank) production aircraft being delivered in April, 1943. It was faster than both the P-51 and P-47 and a match for any allied aircraft it might face. Unfortunately for Japan it lacked the raw materials and manufacturing capacity to match US production numbers (3,514 were produced) and by the time it was introduced Japan lacked enough skilled pilot. The N1K-J Shiden (George) introduced in early 1944 was the equal of the F4U, F6F and P-51but due to the factors I listed under the KI-84 it too little, too late. Only 1,532 were produced. Then you have the KI-100. Based on the airframe of he KI-61 which was a decent fighter, plagued by an unreliable engine. When B-29's destroyed the engine production facilities for the HA-140 engine (an inline engine adapted from the German DB-601) which powered the KI-61 in January 1945, the Japanese were left with 275 airframes with no engines. Studies on mating the 1,500 hp HA-112 radial engine to the KI-61 airframe had been started in October 1944, now with no more HA-140 engines Japan had new impetus to complete the project. Only 13 days after B-29's destroyed the engine factory the first KI-100 flew and it was an immediate success, and was ordered into production. It was one of the finest fighter/interceptors of the war. Only about 400 were produced, again due to the factors previously listed.
    The A6M was forced to soldier on, well past the time when newer models could have, and should have superseded it. They were flown by ill trained pilots, that were outclassed by the better trained allied pilots.

    Lastly, I think I'd take the OP's Saburo Sakai quote with a grain of salt. In 1991, when Doug Champlin took Sakai up for a flight in a P-51D, the pilot attempted to impress the Japanese ace with high speed passes and aerobatics. Upon returning to the ground when asked to comment on the flight; "Upon alighting, Sakai bowed gratefully to his hosts, and Champlin asked Crossley what the visitor thought. Crossley laughed, “Saburo-san says, ‘Mustang is almost as good as Hellcat!’”
    In this particular instance Sakai apparently held a different opinion.
     
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  8. CAC

    CAC Ace of Spades

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    [​IMG]
    A Zero that took part in the bombing of Pearl Harbour...then came to the NT and ended here...almost looks like a toy. Im surprised the test pilot even fit into it. The Japanese pilot wondered around the bush for a while, and an aboriginal crept up behind him and put his axe handle into his back and said hands up! He then took the pilots side arm and THEN showed him the axe with a smile.
     
  9. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer I Point at Opana WW2|ORG Editor

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    Chuck Yeager was assigned to test a MiG in the early 1950s. (One of the Korean pilots heard about the big bounty we had out for one and got rich.) Yeager flew an F-86 against it and won. Then the pilots swapped planes. Yeager won again. The "organic processing unit" in the cockpit matters.
     
  10. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    The extreme range may have been a bit of a mistake looking at it with 20:20 hindsight. Without it they couldn't even have fought in the meat grinder over Guadalcanal. It was also designed as a dog fighting fighter but that gave way to energy tactics during the war. The Zero was IMO a superb embodiment of the specification and desires laid down by the IJN at the time of it's design. It also made pretty efficient use of the materials and production capability and logistics constraints Japan was under. There are those who over rate it but the opposite is also true.
     
  11. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    A few corrections...

    The Soviets experimented in arming some of their Polikarpov I-16s with 20mm cannons beginning in 1936. They entered into large scale production in 1938-1939. The French began putting a 20mm cannon on their fighters with the Dewoitine D.501 in 1935, and the Morane-Sauliner M.S.405/406 in 1935-38.


    Well, to be fair, the F4U and P-38 are contemporary comparisons of the A6M. The F4U began life in February, 1938 when the US Navy began a design competition for a new carrier fighter. Vought proposed 2 designs, V-166A & V-166B. The V-166B full-scale mockup was completed on February 8, 1939, and the US Navy approved the design giving it the designation XF4U-1. After almost 15 months of work, the XF4U-1 first flew on May 29, 1940. The P-38 began even earlier, when the USAAC issued the specifications in 1936, and the contract for one XP-38 was issued on June 23, 1937. Lockheed completed the XP-38 in January, 1939, and it first flew on January 27, 1939. Remember, the prototype A6M was not completed until February, 1939, and did not have it's first flight until April of that year.

    The deciding factors in the A6M reaching operational readiness and quantity production first; are that the Japanese encountered far fewer and less critical problems with their design, and overcame those problems that did occur faster than the Americans.


    Well, the Ki-61 was powered by an unreliable engine, the Ha-40. To correct the flaws in the Ha-40, Kawasaki, in April, 1942, began working on a successor, the Ha-140, and it was to be fitted to the new Ki-61-II. However, the engine proved to be far more problematical, both to design and produce. A year later, only three engines had been produced, and it would not be until October, 1943, that these three engines would be fitted on to the first three Ki-61-II. Now, here's the kicker...As Kawasaki was struggling with the Ha-140, in July, 1943, the Imperial Japanese Army contracted Kawasaki to develop a radial engined Ki-61 designated the KI-100. However, Kawasaki saw the matter differently - they had invested a good deal of money and time into developing the Ki-61 & -11, as well as the Ha-40/140, and if the Ki-100 succeeded, they would lose there only foothold on areoengine production, not to mention money & prestige...So Kawasaki dragged their feet...and the put no effort in to developing the Ki-100. As time past, the Ha-140 fell further and further behind schedule, the Ki-61-II airframes piled up. Needless to say, the IJA was less than pleased with Kawasaki, and in October, 1944, the IJA laid down the law - the Ki-100 would be developed expedite or else Kawasaki was finished in the aero industry. The destruction of Kawasaki's engine plant had nothing to do with the decision to produce the Ki-100...As that decision had already been made by the IJA months before the plant was destroyed.
     
  12. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    They IJNAAF would have had serious problems fighting in China, the extreme range allowed the A6M to escort bombers to their target and back. The extreme range allowed the A6Ms to get to the Philippines and back without operating from aircraft carriers, freeing them to attack Pearl Harbor. The extreme range was hoped to allow the Japanese to strike their enemies before their enemies were able to strike them.

    The Solomons was a mistake only in that the Japanese leaped to far. They were at the extreme edge of the Zero's range, and were beyond the range of the Aichi Val divebomber. This error was compounded by the lack of satellite or emergency airfields closer to the target until very late in the campaign. Had the Japanese proceeded by building their satellite fields, before moving on to Guadalcanal, the Solomons could have played out quite differently.
     
  13. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer I Point at Opana WW2|ORG Editor

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    IIRC no American aircraft that was designed during WWII saw action. Is that correct?
     
  14. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    Depends on how you are defining "during WW2"...Are you using a September, 1939, or December, 1941, as a start date.

    12/41-8/45 is a very short list.
     

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