Tag Archives: Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0 Model 21

7 December 1941

Lieutenants Ken Taylor and George Welch, U.S. Army Air Corps. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenants Kenneth Marlar Taylor and George Schwartz Welch, Air Corps, United States Army. (U.S. Air Force)

On the morning of December 7, 1941, very few American fighter pilots were able to get airborne to fight the Japanese attackers. Ken Taylor and George Schwartz were two of them.

Distinguished Service Cross
Distinguished Service Cross

Second Lieutenants Kenneth Marlar Taylor and George S. Welch took two Curtiss-Wright P-40B Warhawk fighters from a remote airfield at Haleiwa, on the northwestern side of the island of Oahu, and against overwhelming odds, each shot down four enemy airplanes: Welch shot down three Aichi D3A Type 99 “Val” dive bombers and one Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0 (“Zero”) fighter. Taylor also shot down four Japanese airplanes.

Although both officers were nominated for the Medal of Honor by General Henry H. (“Hap”) Arnold, they were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

During the War, Welch flew the Bell P-39 Airacobra and Lockheed P-38 Lightning on 348 combat missions. He had 16 confirmed aerial victories over Japanese airplanes and rose to the rank of Major.

Suffering from malaria, George Welch was out of combat and recuperating in Australia. When North American Aviation approached General Arnold to recommend a highly experienced fighter pilot as a test pilot for the P-51H Mustang, Arnold suggested Welch and authorized his resignation from the Air Corps.

Aichi D3A Type 99 dive bomber, “Val”. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

George Welch tested the P-51H, XP-86 Sabre and YF-100A Super Sabre for North American Aviation. Reportedly, while demonstrating the F-86 Sabre’s capabilities to Air Force pilots during the Korean War, he shot down as many as six MiG 15s.

George Welch was killed while testing a F-100A Super Sabre, 12 October 1954.

A Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0 Model 21, A1-108, flown by PO2c Sakae Mori, takes of from IJN Akagi, an aircraft carrier of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 7 December 1941. (U.S. Navy)

Ken Taylor scored two more victories at Guadalcanal before wounds received in an air raid sent him back to the United States. He remained in the Air Force until he retired in 1971 with the rank of Brigadier General. He died in 2006.

Curtiss-Wright P-40 Warhawk, circa 1940. (Rudy Arnold Collection/NASM)

The Curtiss-Wright Corporation Hawk 81B (P-40B Warhawk) was a single-seat, single-engine pursuit. It was a low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction, and used flush riveting to reduce aerodynamic drag. It had an enclosed cockpit and retractable landing gear. Extensive wind tunnel testing at the NACA Langley laboratories refined the airplane’s design, significantly increasing the top speed.

The P-40B Warhawk was 31 feet, 8¾ inches (9.671 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet, 4 inches (11.379 meters). Its empty weight was 5,590 pounds (2,536 kilograms), and 7,326 pounds (3,323 kilograms) gross. The maximum takeoff weight was 7,600 pounds (3,447 kilograms).

The P-40B was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,710.60-cubic-inch-displacement (28.032 liter) Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-C15 (V-1710-33), a single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine, which produced 1,040 horsepower at 2,800 r.p.m., and turned a three-bladed Curtiss Electric constant-speed propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction. The V-1710-33 was 8 feet, 2.54 inches (2.503 meters) long, 3 feet, 5.88 inches (1.064 meters) high, and 2 feet, 5.29 inches (0.744 meters) wide. It weighed 1,340 pounds (607.8 kilograms).

Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-33 V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. (NASM)
Allison Engineering Co. V-1710-33 V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. (NASM)

Heavier than the initial production P-40, the P-40B was slightly slower, with a maximum speed of 352 miles per hour (567 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). It had a service ceiling of 32,400 feet (9,876 meters) and range of 730 miles (1,175 kilometers).

Armament consisted of two air-cooled Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns mounted in the cowlingabove the engine and synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc, with 380 rounds per gun, and four Browning M2 .30-caliber aircraft machine guns, with two in each wing.

Curtiss-Wright produced 13,738 P-40s between 1939 and 1944. 131 of those were P-40B Warhawks.

A flight of six Curtiss P-40B Warhawks of the 44th Pursuit Squadron, 18th Pursuit Group, over the Territory of Hawaii, August 1941. (U.S. Air Force)
A flight of six Curtiss-Wright P-40B Warhawks of the 44th Pursuit Squadron, 18th Pursuit Group, over the island of Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, 9:00 a.m., 1 August 1941. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

7 December 1941

Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0 Model 21 (“Zero”) fighters ready for takeoff aboard an aircraft carrier of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 7 December 1941. (Imperial Japanese Navy)
Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0 Model 21 (“Zero”) fighters prepare for takeoff aboard IJN Akagi, 7 December 1941. (Imperial Japanese Navy)
A Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0 Model 21, A1-108, flown by PO2c Sakae Mori, takes of from IJN Akagi, an aircraft carrier of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 7 December 1941. (U.S. Navy)

4 June 1942, 0702: Torpedo Eight

The pilots of Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8) aboard USS Hornet (CV-8) shortly before the Battle of Midway. Only Ensign George H. Gay, front row, center, would survive. (U.S. Navy photograph published in LIFE Magazine)

4 June 1942: At the Battle of Midway, beginning at 0702 hours, fifteen Douglas TBD-1 Devastator torpedo bombers were launched from the United States Navy aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) along with squadrons of Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers and Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters.

Lieutenant Commander John Charles Waldron, United States Navy. (U.S. Naval Institute)

Led by Lieutenant Commander John C. Waldron, Torpedo Squadron Eight (VT-8) flew at low altitude toward the expected position of the attacking Japanese fleet, while the fighters escorted the dive bombers at high altitude. Waldron sighted the enemy fleet at a distance of 30 miles and ordered his squadron to attack. Without any fighter escort, the slow flying torpedo bombers were attacked by Japanese Navy A6M2 Type 0 fighters and defensive anti-aircraft fire from the warships. All fifteen TBDs were shot down.

A detachment of VT-8, flying Grumman TBF-1 Avengers, had been sent ahead to Midway from Pearl Harbor. These six torpedo bombers, led by Lieutenant Langdon K. Fieberling, also attacked the Japanese fleet. Five were shot down by intercepting Zero fighters. The sixth, flown by Ensign Albert Kyle Earnest, was badly damaged and its gunner killed. The torpedo bomber was able to return to Midway but crash-landed. It was the only aircraft of Torpedo Eight to survive the Battle of Midway.¹

Only one man, Ensign George H. Gay, of the thirty pilots and gunners of Torpedo Eight who had launched from USS Hornet, survived. Ensign Earnest and Radioman Harry Hackett Ferrier, were the only survivors of the 18 men from the Midway detachment of VT-8. The torpedo bombers failed to score any hits on the Japanese ships, and their machine guns did not bring down any of the Zeros.

Ensign George Gay, United States Navy, with his Douglas TBD Devastator, 4 June 1942. (U.S. Navy)
Ensign George H. Gay, Jr., United States Navy, and radio operator/gunner ARM3c George Arthur Field, with their Douglas TBD-1 Devastator, Bu. No. 1518, May 1942. (U.S. Navy)
The crew of Grumman TBF-1 Avenger 8-T-1 (Bu. No. 00380), left to right, Chief Aviation Ordnanceman Basil Rick, Ensign Albert K. Ernest, and Aviation Radioman 3/c Harry H. Ferrier. On 4 June, Rick’s gun turret was operated Seaman 2/c Jay D. Manning, who was killed in action. (U.S. Navy via Things With Wings)

In the enigmatic ways of warfare, the attack by Torpedo Eight caused all of the Japanese fighters defending their aircraft carriers to descend to low altitude in their efforts to shoot down the American torpedo bombers. When the SBD Dauntless dive bombers from USS Enterprise and USS Yorktown arrived a few minutes later, there were no Japanese fighters at high altitude to interfere with their attack.

The dive bomber attack was devastating. The aircraft carriers Akagi, Kaga and Hiryu were bombed and sunk. Soryu received major damage, and was sunk by its escorting destroyers later in the day.

The Imperial Japanese Navy, up to this time on the offense all over the Pacific and Indian Oceans, never recovered from the loss of the experienced pilots that died when those carriers went down.

One of Torpedo Eight's Douglas TBD-1 Devastator torpedo bombers, 8-T-5, aboard USS Hornet, mid-May 1942. (U.S. Navy)
One of Torpedo Eight’s Douglas TBD-1 Devastator torpedo bombers, Bu. No. 0308, marked 8-T-5, aboard USS Hornet (CV-8), mid-May 1942. (U.S. Navy)

In his After Action Report, Hornet‘s commanding officer, Captain Marc A. Mitscher (later, Admiral) wrote:

Beset on all sides by the deadly Zero fighters, which were doggedly attacking them in force, and faced with a seemingly impenetrable screen of cruisers and destroyers, the squadron drove in valiantly at short range. Plane after plane was shot down by fighters, anti-aircraft bursts were searing faces and tearing out chunks of fuselage, and still the squadron bored in. Those who were left dropped their torpedoes at short range.

A Douglas TBD-1 Devastator, Bu. No. 0308, of VT-6 (Torpedo Six) drops a Mark XIII aerial torpedo during practice, 20 October 1941. (U.S. Navy)
Grumman TBF-1 Avenger Bu. No. 00380 (8-T-1), the only aircraft of Torpedo Eight to survive the Battle of Midway. (U.S. Navy via Things With Wings)

¹ In a 2008 U.S. Naval Institute article, survivor Commander Harry H. Ferrier (then Aviation Radioman 3/c) wrote that following the Battle of Midway, TBF-1 Bu. No. 00380 was returned to Pearl Harbor for inspection. It had been hit by at least nine 20 mm cannon shells and sixty-four 7.7 mm machine gun bullets.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

4 June 1942, 0430: Admiral Nagumo Attacks

Midway Atoll, looking from east to west. Eastern Island in foreground, Sand Island in background. (U.S. Navy)

4 June 1942: The Battle of Midway: The Japanese naval task force (First Mobile Force) under Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, consisting of the aircraft carriers IJN Agagi, IJN Kaga, IJN Hiryu and IJN Soryu, along with their escorts of battleships, cruisers, destroyers and supporting tankers, launched the first attack at 0430 against the United States base at Midway Island. The attackers consisted of 36 Aichi D3A dive bombers, 36 Nakajima B5N torpedo bombers and 36 Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters as escort.

The incoming aircraft were detected by radar on the island and defending U.S. Marines fighters—obsolescent Grumman F4F Wildcats and obsolete Brewster F2A Buffalos—were launched to defend the island’s airstrip and facilities. 15 U.S. Army Air Force B-17E Flying Fortress heavy bombers and 4 Martin B-26 Marauder medium bombers took off to attack the Japanese carriers.

The Marine fighters were outnumbered and technologically inferior. 4 of the F4Fs and all 12 F2As were shot down. The Japanese lost 4 torpedo bombers and 3 Zero fighters. Facilities on the island were heavily damaged by the dive bomber attack, but it was not put out of action.

IJN Hiryu evading B-17 bomber attack at Battle of Midway, 4 June 1942. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

1 April 1939

The first prototype Mitsubishi A6M1 Type 0, c/n 201. (Mitsubishi Kokuki K.K.)

1 April 1939: Mitsubishi Kokuki K.K. (Mitsubishi Aircraft Company) Chief Test Pilot Katsuzo Shima made the first flight of the prototype Mitsubishi A6M1 Navy Type 0¹ fighter at the Kagamigahara air field (now, Gifu Airbase).

Completed about ten days earlier, at the Mitsubishi Aircraft Company factory at Nagoya on the island of Honshu, the prototype fighter had been disassembled so that it could be transported by road approximately 22 miles (36 kilometers) to the airfield.

Beginning late in the afternoon with taxi tests and a brief “hop” to check control response, at 5:30 p.m., Shima took off on what would be a successful test flight.

The prototype S12, serial number 201, had been designed in response to an Imperial Japanese Navy requirement for a new, light-weight fighter for operation from aircraft carriers. The design team was led by Dr. Jiro Horikoshi, an engineering graduate from the Aviation Laboratory at the University of Tokyo.

The design team for the Mitsubishi A6M1 Type Zero. Dr. Jiro Horikoshi is second from left. His assistant, Yohtoshi Sone is in the center. (Mitsubishi)
The design team for the Mitsubishi A6M1 Type Zero. Dr. Jiro Horikoshi is at the center. His assistant, Yoshitoshi Sone, is at the left. (Mitsubishi Kokuki K.K.)

The Type 0 (best known as the “Zero”) was a single-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear. It was of very light construction, being primarily built of a special aluminum alloy, although its control surfaces were fabric covered. The empty weight of the first prototype was just 1,565.9 kilograms (3,452.2 pounds). Its test weight on 1 April was 1,928 kilograms (4,251 pounds).

The two prototype A6M1s were powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 28.017 liter (1,709.7 cubic inch displacement) Mitsubishi MK2C Zuisen 13, a two-row, fourteen cylinder radial engine, rated at 780 horsepower for takeoff. The engine initially drove a two-bladed variable pitch propeller, but during testing this was replaced by a three-bladed Sumitomo constant-speed propeller, which was manufactured under license from Hamilton Standard.

The combination of very light weight and relatively low power made the Zero very maneuverable and capable of long distance flights.

After the success of the A6M1’s initial flight tests, a second prototype, c/n 202, was built and testing continued. In September 1939 the Japanese Navy accepted the new fighter, the Rei Shiki Sento Ki, or “Rei-Sen,” and it was ordered into production with few changes.

A Mitsubishi A6M2 Model 21 "Zero" fighter takes off from an aircraft carrier of the Imperial Japanese Navy.
A Mitsubishi A6M2 Model 21 “Zero” fighter takes off from an aircraft carrier of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

The first production model was the A6M2 Type 0 Model 21. The Mitsubishi engine was replaced by a more powerful Nakajima NK1C Sakae 12. The fighter’s wing tips could be folded upward for a slight improvement in storage aboard aircraft carriers.

Sources vary on the exact dimensions of the Zero fighters. The National Naval Aviation Museum at NAS Pensacola, Florida, which has an A6M2 in its collection, gives the airplane’s length as 29 feet, 8.6 inches (9.058 meters). The wingspan is 39 feet, 4.5 inches (12.002 meters), and the height is 10 feet, 0 inches (3.048 meters). It has an empty weight of 1,680 kilograms (3,704 pounds), and loaded weight of 2,796 kilograms (6,164 pounds), about half the weight of its rivals, the Chance Vought F4U Corsair and Grumman F6F Hellcat.

Mitsubisshi A6M3 Model 22 "Zeke" in the Solomon Islands, 1943. (Imperial Japanese Navy)
Petty Officer 1st Class Hiroyoshi Nishizawa, a leading fighter ace of the Imperial Japanese Navy, flying a Mitsubishi A6M3 Type 0 Model 22 in the Solomon Islands, May 1943. (Imperial Japanese Navy)

The A6M2 Type 0 was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 27.874 liter (1,700.962 cubic inch) Nakajima Hikoki K.K. NK1C Sakae 12, a two-row, fourteen-cylinder radial engine which was rated at 925 horsepower, and drove a three-bladed Sumitomo constant-speed propeller through a 1.71:1 gear reduction.

The Model 21 had a cruise speed of 207 miles per hour (333 kilometers per hour). Its maximum speed was 277 miles per hour (446 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level and 335 miles per hour (539 kilometers per hour) at 16,000 feet (4,877 meters). The service ceiling was 37,000 feet (11,278 meters) and maximum range, 1,175 miles (1,891 kilometers).

The A6M2’s armament was manufactured by Dai Nihon Heiki K.K. Two Type 97 7.7 mm (.303-caliber) machine guns were mounted on the forward upper fuselage, synchronized and firing through the propeller arc. These were licensed versions of the Vickers Type E .303 machine gun. There were 600 rounds of ammunition per gun. A Type 99 20 mm autocannon was mounted in each wing with 100 shells per gun. The Type 99 was a licensed version of the Oerlikon FF autocannon.

The Mitsubishi A6M Zero was one of the most successful fighters of World War II. Although its light construction made it vulnerable to the heavy machine guns of American fighters, in skilled hands, the highly maneuverable Zero was a deadly opponent.

The Mitsubishi A6M Type 0 was produced from 1940 through 1945. 10,939 Zeros were built. At the end of World War II, almost all of the surviving fighters were destroyed and only a very few remain.

An A6M2 was captured near Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands in June 1943. Known as the “Akutan Zero,” the fighter was extensively tested by the U.S. Navy and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) at NAS Anacostia. Under extreme secrecy, the airplane was also tested in the Full Scale Wind Tunnel at NACA’s Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory at Hampton, Virginia.

Lieutenant Commander Eddie Sanders, United States Navy, taxis a captured Mitsubishi A6M2 Navy Type 0 Model 21 “Zero” at NAS San Diego, California, circa September 1942. (U.S. Navy)
Mitsubishi A6M2 Navy Type 0 Model 21 fighter at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, 8 March 1943. (NASA)
Mitsubishi A6M2 Navy Type 0 Model 21 fighter at NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, 8 March 1943. (NASA)
A captured Mitsubishi A6M2 Navy Type 0 Model 21 fighter during flight testing in the United States, circa 1942–1943. (U.S. Navy)
Mitsubishi A6M2 Navy Type 0 Model 21 (U.S. Navy)

¹ The 0 (the numeral zero) in the fighter’s type designation refers to the the final digit of the year 2600 of the Imperial Japanese Calendar, which was 1940 AD by the Gregorian calendar. This gave the A6M2 its most common identification, simply, “the Zero.”

© 2019 Bryan R. Swopes