Book Review
Mitsubishi A6M Zero
Mitsubishi A6M Zero
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

Mitsubishi A6M Zero by Osprey Publishing LTD is the 19th book in their series Air Vanguard. Authored by James D’Angina and illustrated by artists Adam Tooby, the 64-page softcover book is catalogued with Osprey's short code AVG 19 and the IBSN 9781472808219. The book is also available in PDF and eBook formats.
    Unquestionably the most iconic Japanese fighter of World War II, the Mitsubishi A6M Rei-Sen, Type Zero fighter was used from the initial raid on Pearl Harbor up to the Kamikaze attacks at the end of the war. Facing off against the likes of the Wildcat, Corsair and even the Spitfire, the Zero gained a legendary reputation amongst Allied pilots due to its incredible manoeuvrability. Detailed analysis of its technical qualities show why the Zero was so feared, but also pinpoints the weaknesses that would eventually be its downfall as Allied pilots learned how to combat it.
    A selection of historical photographs and unique artwork accompanies the analysis as James D'Angina delves into the history of the premier Axis fighter of the Pacific Theater, exploring the design and combat effectiveness of the Zero as well as the tactics developed by Allied pilots to counter it.
    - Osprey

Iconic of World War Two’s Pacific War and one of the best known fighter planes in history, Imperial Japan’s Mitsubishi A6M Zero earned such a reputation that the moniker Zero became synonymous with Japanese WW2 warplanes. As aesthetically captivating as martially effective, confidence in the Zero’s performance was a factor in Imperial Japan’s decision to expanded its war of conquest.

Contrasting the global air war in 1942 with an astronomical euphemism, the air war over the Pacific in 1942 was more like a shooting star than a European comet. Small numbers of aircraft predominately fought on-again off-again yet extremely intense clashes until the Allied invasion of Guadalcanal. It was over that island that the United States Navy (USN) and Marine Corps (USMC) met the Imperial Japanese Naval Air Force (IJNAF) in the type of fight the Japanese planned for, trained for, and eagerly sought: a campaign to slaughter the Allies into exhaustion.

Japan planned to exhaust the West with a grueling campaign featuring a cadre of superbly trained warriors equipped with world-class weapons. Fighter pilots in the IJN Kōkū Kantai (Air Fleet) and Kōkū Sentais (Air Flotillas) vanguard were equipped with a secret super fighter, the Mitsubishi A6M Type 0 reisen, the Zero-sen. Those fighter pilots probably were the most thoroughly screened and tested pilots in history, assigned to an air unit only after a viciously rigorous training regiment unconscionable to Western societies. The survivors then learned on-the-job against the Chinese. Some IJNAF aviators arrived over Pearl Harbor with hundreds of hours of combat flying behind them. Many historians agree that the IJNAF Zero pilots of 1942 were the most formidable air superiority force in the world.

Against them flew Allied air forces with a polyglot of experience, tactics, training, and airplanes. Despite receiving some bloody noses, IJNAF Zero pilots swept the skies of opposition and established a legend (and myth) that reigns today. However, a few USN aviators took heed of an intelligence report sent to America by retired and discounted Army Air Corps (USAAC) fighter pilot Claire Chennault, commander of the Chinese Air Force. Chennault observed and accurately reported IJNAF activity, and even examined a captured Zero. While his warnings about the incredible A6M were met with dismissive disdain by most American air commanders, USN fighter pilot Lt Cdr John Thach took it to heart and, with great concern, began cogitating how to counter the A6M Zero (reisen, or carrier fighter). His weapon was the Grumman F4F Wildcat, a competent fighter, although it lacked the performance of the A6M.

While USAAF (United States Army Air Force) fighter pilots suffered against the reisen in a protracted campaign from the Philippines to New Guinea, USN VF (fighters) first met the dreaded Zero-sen over the Coral Seas in May, 1942. There the legendary VF leader Lt Cdr James Flatley came away with lessons-learned and confidence in the F4F. A month later near Midway Lt Cdr Thach successfully demonstrated his Beam Defense Position - "The Thach Weave", although Thach lost confidence in the F4F. Yet in just two battles the F4F was shown that it could, properly employed by trained pilots, handle the A6M. Those lessons and tactics would mean life or death for hundreds of carrier and land based USMC and USN Wildcat squadrons in the sustained battle for Guadalcanal.

Japan never managed to plan for nor produce a realistic replacement for the Zero-sen before Allied resources destroyed Japan. Zeros faced increasing numbers of superior Allied fighters that killed veteran pilots able to employ the Zero. USN's F6F Hellcat was described by Zero designer Jiro Hiroshito as being able to take on the Zero "face-to-face". Even when potentially better fighters were fielded, because they were rife with problems, Zeros continued to be the most important fighter IJNAF had. Yet even in late 1943, Zeros were still respected by Hellcat pilots like ace Eugene Valencia, who told war correspondents, "When people here [At NAS Pasco in the USA.] say the Japanese fighters are inferior, we get mad. People can say what they want, but we know the Jap Zero is still the best and the fastest aeroplane in the air." Still A6M showed its age and fell further behind Allied fighters, eventually facing fighters with almost a 100 mph speed advantage! The brilliant A6M was expended as a kamikaze or in desperate near-suicidal dogfights against superior planes.

Still, the great fighter is an icon in Japan today. So much so that the JSDF F-2A version of the F-16 has the name Viper-Zero.

Author James D’Angina brings this techno-historical look at the A6M to us through 64 pages of five chapters, plus a bibliography and an index. chapters and sections:
    Design and Development
    Technical Specifications and Variants
    Operational History
    Select Bibliography

The book reads easily and is full of excellent information and data. Sidebars are used to impart further information outside of the normal text. The author does a fine job of describing the variants of the A6M and reasons behind them. Thirty-three pages present in good detail the concept and design of the A6M, as well as the technical aspects of building the fighter. The 15 main variants of the Zero are examined. These include the difference between Zeros built by Mitsubishi and Nakajima, and the A6M2a and A6M2b. Developments like the A6M2-N Zero floatplane fighter (code named "Rufe") and the Hitachi Zero trainer are examined. The A6M's pedigree is not ignored with author D’Angina discussing the A5M "Claude" and the proceeding Mitsubishi designs.

Happily Mr. D’Angina also explains the IJNAF nomenclature for aircraft makes and models, plus technical specifications are explained and demonstrated. This is very useful to readers not familiar with the Japanese system.

A section is dedicated to explaining and exploring the perpetual myths and legends of the reisen, including the ideas that the Zero was a copy of a Vought or Howard Hughs design.

Twenty-one pages describe the Zero's combat history from its first fight over Hankow through the rest of the war. Major operations are discussed: Pearl Harbor, Malaysia, the Philippines and the conquest of the SW pacific; the 1942 carrier battles; New Guinea and Guadalcanal; the 1944 battles, and finally the defense of Japan and kamikaze missions. It even recounted the "Niihau Incident", considered the catalyst for America incarcerating Japanese-Americans during the war, when Japanese-Americans in Hawaii helped a downed reisen pilot against Hawaiian Considering the constraint of the 64 page format the author did a fine job with the important campaigns of the Zero. Yet nothing was discussed about the post-Guadalcanal fights over the Solomons and Rabaul, where the elite Zero pilots were ground down, nor the campaign against Darwin, where Zeros humiliated the Spitfire wing sent to humiliate the Zero.

The text is not perfect, harboring a few minor typos that could confuse those not familiar with the Zero nor the Pacific air war. Saburō Sakai's name is misspelled in a list of top Zero aces.

One thing that is not discussed, perhaps because there is still debate about it, is the proper color of the early Zeros; not uprising considering the adage;
    Wanna start a debate? Ask another modeler about ”the true color of… .” Wanna start an argument? Debate the colors and markings of Imperial Japan.

Perhaps a reference to Osprey's title Modelling the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, Modelling 25 was not included due to format constraints. I was also hoping the author would address whether the A6M2 external fuel tank could jettisoned or not.

Photographs and Graphics
I did not see any WWII photos that I've not encountered before. Most photos, not surprisingly, are black-and-white. However, there are color photos of museum Zeros. Many b/w photos are aerial shots and not the highest of quality, yet they are very useful in presenting reisen in its natural habitat. Thankfully, many of the images are studio quality. Several show Zeros in factories as well as Zero pilots and crew.

Artist Adam Tooby created dozens of color images which enhance the book. These include the action scenes:
    1. Baptism of Fire: Mitsubishi Works A6M2 Model 11, 12th Kokutai, NAP2/C Tsutomu Iwai, Hankow AB, China, September 13, 1940. A6M's first combat, almost wiping out a larger Chinese fighter force over Hankow, without loss.

    B. Nakajima Works A6M2 Model 21 (02-888) (Fighter-Bomber/Bakusen), Lt Yukio Seki, "Shikishima-Tai" Special Attack Unit, Mabalacat, Philippines, October 25, 1944: the first official kamikaze strike taking off against the Allied fleet.

Over a dozen color images of aircraft and weapons are included:
    1. Mitsubishi Works A6M1 Prototype, Kakamigahara Airfield, Gifu City, Japan, April 1940.
    2. Mitsubishi Works A6M2 Model 11 (3-141), 12th Kokutai, Lt Minoru Suzuki, China, May 1941.
    3. Mitsubishi Works A6M2 Model 21 (AI-155), Lt Cmdr Shigeru Itaya, Akagi, December 7, 1941.
    4. Nakajima Works A6M2-N Type 2 Float-Fighter (YII-105), assigned to IJN seaplane carrier Kamikawa-Maru, August 1942.
    5. 3-view, Mitsubishi Works A6M3 Model 32 (T2-197), F1/c Kenji Yanagyia, 204th Kokutai, East Airfield, Rabaul, April 1943.
    6. Weapons
      a. Type 97 7.7mm machine gun
      b. Type 3 13.2mm machine gun
      c. Type 99 Mark I Model 1-Kai 20mm cannon
      d. Type 99 Mark 2 Model 4 20mm cannon
      e. Type 98 250kg general purpose bomb (fighter-bomber variants)
      f. Type 99 No.3 Mk3 Model 1 (30kg air-to-air bomb)
      g. Type 3 No.6 Mk3 Model 1 (60kg air-to-air bomb)
      h. Type 3 No.6 Mk27 Model 1 (60kg air-to-air rocket)
    7. Mitsubishi Works A6M3a Model 22-Koh, 582nd Kokutai, Lt Cmdr Saburo Shindo, Buin, June 1943.
    8. Nakajima Works A6M5 Night-Fighter (32-89), 333rd Kokutai, Iwakuni AB, January 1945.
    9. Hitachi Kokutai KK Works A6M2-K (428), Genzan Kokutai, Wonsan Korea, March 1945.
    10. Nakajima Works A6M5c Model 52-Hei, 203rd Kokutai, CPO Takeo Tanimizu, June 1945.

Weapons contains mismatches of some weapons with the captions, i.e, identifying the 13.2mm as a 20mm cannon, and the rocket with a bomb.

Several table present data in graphic form:

    i. Japanese carrier-fighter development: eight fighters from 1923-45.
    ii. 12-Shi prototype (A6M1)
    iii. Zero specifications (Model 11-Model 22): A6M2a Model 11; A6M2b Model 21; A6M2-N Type 21; A6M2-K Type 11; A6M3 Model 32; A6M3 Model 22.
    iv. A6M8c: Powerplant, dimensions, Performance, Internal armament.
    v. Zero specifications (Model 52-Model 63): A6M5 Model 52; A6M5a Model 52-Koh; A6M5b Model 52-Otsu; A6M5c Model 52-Hei; A6M7 Model 63.
    vi. Variant summary by designation, base model/model number, engine, notes.
    vii. Zero production by model and company
    viii. Zeros over Hawaii
    ix. Land-based Zero unit designations: Numbered Kokutai
    x. Top five Zero aces (1941-45)

Mr. Tooby's artwork is a feast for the eyes, and the data tables are an excellent visual reference to illuminate information in the text. The gallery of photos - both period b/w and contemporary color shots - greatly enhance and support the text.

Mitsubishi A6M Zero is an excellent concise resource for enthusiasts and modelers of the Zero. There is good information within that should be educational, whether one's Zero knowledge is casual or extensive. I appreciate the explanation of IJNAF nomenclature for aircraft makes and models, plus technical specifications of the aircraft.

Two things that disappointed me are the misidentified weapons and the combat history constrained by format.

However, those are, to me, minor in overall context. The artwork and photographic support are excellent.

As a long time student of the A6M Zero-sen, I am very enthusiastic about this book and highly recommend it.

Please remember to tell Osprey and retailers that you saw this book here - on Aeroscale.
Highs: Detailed text. Excellent graphics.
Lows: Misidentified weapons and some minor typos. Combat history constrained by format.
Verdict: An excellent resource about the legendary A6M Zero worthy of any historian or modeler's collection.
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: 9781472808219
  Suggested Retail: $19.00
  Related Link: Modelling the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, Modelling 25
  PUBLISHED: Dec 01, 2016
  NATIONALITY: Japan / 日本

Our Thanks to Osprey Publishing!
This item was provided by them for the purpose of having it reviewed on this KitMaker Network site. If you would like your kit, book, or product reviewed, please contact us.

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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright ©2021 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of AeroScale. All rights reserved.


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