First Look Review
Spitfire VC vs A6M Zero
Spitfire VC vs A6M2/3 Zero-sen Darwin 1943
  • move

by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

England's Spitfire is an enduring idol of the United Kingdom's Second World War air war. Japan's Zero is an legendary icon undermined by savage post-war scrutiny. This book presents an unvarnished account of iconoclastic encounters between two of the most famous fighters of all time, and the acrimonious controversy those clashes have fueled for over 75 years.

Modelers should find a great deal of inspiration and source material in the book, which is scheduled for release on 30 May 2019.

This book is also interesting because it recounts rare instances when Japanese Army and Japanese Navy air units, bitter rivals, cooperated with each other.

Strap in tight - Spitfire VC vs A6M2/3 Zero-sen Darwin 1943 is likely to subject your comprehension of these two fighters to severe turbulence.

Published by Osprey Publishing LTD as the 93rd title in their series Duel, this 80-page softcover book is authored by Peter Ingman and illustrated by artists Jim Laurier and Gareth Hector. It is catalogued both with Osprey's short code DUE 93, and as IBSN 9781472829603.

Osprey preflights this book thusly:
    Just weeks after Pearl Harbor, Darwin was mauled by a massive Japanese attack. Without a single fighter to defend Australian soil, the Australian government made a special appeal to Britain for Spitfires.

    A year later the Spitfire VC-equipped No 1 Fighter Wing, RAAF, faced the battle-hardened 202nd Kokutai of the IJNAF, equipped with A6M2 Zero-sens, over Darwin. This was a grueling campaign between evenly matched foes, fought in isolation from the main South Pacific battlegrounds. Pilots on either side had significant combat experience, including a number of Battle of Britain veterans. The Spitfire had superior flight characteristics but was hampered by short range and material defects in the tropical conditions, while the Japanese employed better tactics and combat doctrine inflicting serious losses on the over-confident Commonwealth forces.

Let's look at this controversy.

Spitfire VC vs A6M2/3 Zero-sen is told through 80 pages of 11 chapters and sections:
    Design and Development
    Technical Specifications
    The Strategic Situation
    The Combatants
    Statistics and Analysis
    Further Reading

This fascinating book is rich with technical and historical accounts of the aircraft and pilots. It is reinforced with many first-hand accounts by pilots, journals, or unit histories. It remarks upon the strengths and weaknesses of the aircraft regarding the groundcrews who maintained them.

Both the Spitfire and Zero are introduced to acquaint the reader with the similarities and differences of their designs. To fully understand the outcomes of the dogfights, these first chapters are important. The Spitfire design was several years older than the Zero and yet able to absorb many changes in airframe and powerplant, increasing engine output by hundreds of horsepower. The Zero was well behind in the horsepower race.

The reputations and design criteria are discussed in Design and Development and Technical Specifications; no two fighters could be less alike. This chapter discusses technical subjects such as the Spitfire's special Vokes air filter, cannon armament, and other equipment to tropicalize the Spitfire. I was surprised by the differences in the superchargers used.

The most important part of this chapter is the discussion of the flight tests between the Spitfire VC and a captured A6M3 over Australia by two Technical Air Intelligence Unit-South West Pacific (TAIU-SWPA) pilots:
    Both pilots consider the Spitfire is outclassed...

The success and failures of fighting aircraft can not be simply analyzed by simply accounting of given kill-to-loss ratios. Technical Specifications dives into the nuts and bolts of each aircraft's strengths and weaknesses, describing and analyzing airframes, armament, and the logistics factors that played heavily in this historical analysis of the two fighters.

Fighters are nigh useless without offensive weapons. Both fighters were armed with 20mm cannon and rifle-caliber machine guns. Ace Saburo Sakai described the drawbacks of the Zero's low velocity 20mm Type 99-1 cannon as:
    ...trying to hit a dragonfly with a rifle.
That is very interesting considering the Type 99-1 was a license-built development of the Oerlikon FF - the same weapon Germany license-built and armed the Spitfire's Battle of Britain foe, the Bf 109E. Both the German and Japanese copies were similar in performance.

The Strategic Situation is more important to this Duel than in other books of the series, in my opinion. It explains why this Spitfire/Zero battle was so "pure." The Combatants examines in detail the pilot factor for the two fighters. It cracked some long standing perceptions of the Spitfire pilots. The air commander was British Desert Air Force quadruple ace (and highest-scoring P-40 ace) Clive "Killer" Caldwell. He was selected to lead Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) No. 1 Wing due to his skill and experience as much as for being Australian. His three Spitfire squadrons were of surprising experience, boasted veterans of the Battle of Britain, the "Fighter Pilot's Heaven" of Malta, and cross-Channel sweeps against Nazi occupied Europe. They had no doubt that they in their legendary Spitfire would slaughter the Japanese Navy's 202nd Kokutai and its inferior Zero.

Combat is the main event of this book.
Through 25 pages it details the six month dry season air campaign against Australia's Darwin military complexes during which No. 1 Fighter Wing Spitfires engaged the 202nd Kokutai Zeros nine times. Like their Luftwaffe allies during the Battle of Britain, the IJNAF pilots - after crossing hundreds of miles of open ocean - had to visually find the Spitfires - alerted and vectored by radar - to fight the RAAF almost overhead their RAAF airfields.

The results were the fruits of tactics, experience, and reliable technology. The latter demonstrates that no matter how incredible a fighter looks on paper, unless its key components work as advertised, the fighter will be a failure. For decades afterwards the Darwin air campaign, historians and enthusiasts have bantered "what if" and "that was only because" excuses about the results. But those results clearly revealed that one of the iconic fighters was effective while the other was a failure.

Statistics and Analysis wraps up the story and explores some of the "what ifs." It rehashes the time honored difference between a strategic victory and tactical victory, considering air-to-air losses compared to total losses that occurred after a damaged airplane made it back to base too damaged to salvage. Aftermath recounts the fallout from the Zero/Spitfire battles.

While the Darwin air battles were underway, both Mitsubishi and Supermarine were improving their fighters. Successive Spitfire models, increasingly superior to the Spitfire VC, expanded the envelope of front-line fighters while the ultimate Zero's performance remained stuck in 1940. It would have been bad for a Zero to meet a Spitfire in 1944-45.

Regardless, during 1943, it was not the Spitfire that stopped Japanese attacks. IJNAF attacks evaporated due to increasing combat pressure farther east in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

Photographs, Artwork, Graphics
A rich gallery of photographs supports the text. While most are black-and-white, several color photographs of RAAF Spitfires and Zero museum artifacts enhance the gallery. Many present excellent details and scenes for modelers to copy.

Several color illustrations by artists Jim Laurier and Gareth Hector enhance the text.
    1. Spitfire VC 3-view: Flt Lt Norwwod, serial LZ846, No. 54 Sqn, coded DL-N.
    2. A6M2 Zero-sen Model 21 3-view: "black X-102', 202nd Kokutai.
    3. A6M2/3 Zero-sen Model 21 Armament: planform cutaway depicting Type 97 7.7mm machine guns and Type 99-1 20mm cannon and ammunition placement.
    4. Spitfire VC Armament: planform cutaway depicting Browning .303-in. machine guns and Hispano Mk II 20mm cannon and ammunition placement.
    5. No.1 Fighter Wing formation.
    6. Standard Japanese Fighter Element.
    7. First combat: action centerfold depicting Wing Commander Caldwell plunging inverted through a shotai of Zeros.
    8. Spitfire VC Cockpit: keyed to 70 components.
    9. A6M2 Zero-sen Cockpit: keyed to 54 components.
    10. Engaging the Enemy: dramatic goggles-view of a Spitfire flaming a Zero.

Charts and Tables
    i. Technical comparisons of the Spitfire VC Tropical and A6M2: powerplants; Performance; Weights; Dimensions; Fuel.
    ii. Weapons comparison, Spitfire VC Tropical and A6M2 Zero-sen.

    a. Northern Australia and Netherlands East Indies, keyed with RAAF and Japanese airfields.
    b. Darwin Area: key airfields; highways.

Detailed captions or narratives accompany each illustration.

Spitfire VC vs A6M2/3 Zero-sen Darwin 1943 by Osprey Publishing LTD should be on a must-read list for modelers and historians of the Pacific air war, Spitfires, Zeros, Royal Australian Air Force, Imperial Japanese Navy Air Force, and Wing Commander Caldwell, to name a few subjects. I usually manage to read 10 pages a sitting and yet this is one of those books that I couldn't put down. Decades of questions fueled my appreciation for this amazing book and I finished it two days after receiving it.

The book features detailed erudite text, excellent artwork and photographic support, useful maps to orient the reader, and many other enticing characteristics. Modelers should be thrilled by the color photographs as well as the black-and-white ones. Quotes from pilots involved enhance the content.

My only complaint is that I reached the end of the book. I am very enthusiastic about this title and certainly recommend it.

Please remember to mention to Osprey that you saw this book here - on Aeroscale.
Highs: Detailed text, excellent artwork and photographs, useful maps. Modelers should be thrilled by the color photographs as well as the black-and-white ones. Quotes from pilots involved enhance the content.
Lows: The end.
Verdict: This book should be on a must-read list for modelers and historians of the Pacific air war, Spitfires, Zeros, Royal Australian Air Force, Imperial Japanese Navy Air Force, and Wing Commander Caldwell.
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: 9781472829603
  PUBLISHED: May 24, 2019
  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.

View This Item  |  View Vendor Homepage  |  More Reviews  

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.


Click image to enlarge
  • move
  • move
  • move
  • move
  • move
  • move