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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.”
3 March 1942: A Koninklijke Nederlandsch-Indische Luchtvaart Maatschappij (KNILM) Douglas DC-3 airliner, registration PK-AFV, named Pelikaan, was flying from Bandoeng, Java, Dutch East Indies, to Broome, Western Australia. The flight was under the command of Captain Ivan Vasilyevich Smirnov, a World War I fighter ace of the Imperial Russian Air Service. There were three other crew members and eight passengers on board.
And A£300,000 in diamonds.¹
At about 10:30 a.m., as the DC-3 approached the shore of Western Australia, it was attacked by three Mitsubishi A6M2 Navy Type 0 Model 21 (“Zero”) fighters of the Third Kokutai, Imperial Japanese Navy, then based at Timor. The flight was lead by Lieutenant Zenjiro Miyano, IJN.
Captain Smirnov and several others were wounded and the airliner’s left engine caught fire. Smirnov made a crash landing on a beach at Carnot Bay, approximately 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Broome. The fighters continued to strafe the DC-3 on the beach.
The following day, 4 March, the airliner was bombed by a Kawanishi H6K “Mavis” four-engine flying boat, but there was no further injury or damage.
Over the next several days, four of the passengers died of wounds. The survivors were rescued on 9 March.
The diamonds disappeared.
A beach comber, John (“Diamond Jack”) Palmer, later turned in a parcel of diamonds which he said he had found on the beach. These were valued at A£20,447, but were only about 10% of the original amount. Palmer was charged with stealing the diamonds, and he and two others, John Arthur Mulgrue and Frank Archibald Robinson, were charged with unlawfully receiving the diamonds. They were prosecuted in 1943, but all were acquitted.
PK-AFV was a Douglas DC-3-194B, serial number 1965, built in 1937. It was one of twenty-three DC-3s operated by Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij N.V. (KLM, or Royal Dutch Airlines) and was originally registered PH-ALP. It was transferred to KNILM in the Dutch East Indies in June 1940.
The Douglas DC-3 was an all-metal, twin-engine civil transport with retractable landing gear. The airplane was operated by a pilot and co-pilot and could carry up to 21 passengers.
The DC-3-194B was 64 feet, 5 inches (19.634 meters) long with a wingspan of 95 feet (28.956 meters). It was 16 feet, 11 inches (5.156 meters) high. The airplane weighed approximately 18,000 pounds (8,165 kilograms) empty and had a gross weight of 25,200 pounds (11,431 kilograms). The -194Bs were built with the passenger door on the right side of the fuselage.
The DC-3-194B was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,829.39-cubic-inch-displacement (29.978 liter) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp two-row, 14-cylinder radial engines. The specific engine variant is not known. The engines drove three-bladed Curtiss Electric propellers.
[Douglas C-47 Skytrains were equipped with the R-1830-92 (Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp S1C3-G). These had a maximum continuous rating for normal operation was 1,060 horsepower at 2,550 r.pm., up to 7,500 feet (2,286 meters), and 1,200 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m., at Sea Level, for takeoff. Each engine drives a three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed full-feathering propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 6 inches (3.505 meters) through a 16:9 gear reduction. The R-1830-92 is 48.19 inches (1.224 meters) long, 61.67 inches (1.566 meters) in diameter, and weighs 1,465 pounds (665 kilograms).]
The DC-3 had a cruise speed of 150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 237 miles per hour (381 kilometers per hour) at 8,500 feet (2,591 meters). The airplane had a service ceiling 24,000 feet (7,315 meters), and its range was 1,025 miles (1,650 kilometers).
The Douglas DC-3 was in production for 11 years with 10,655 civil and C-47 military airplanes built, and another 5,000 license-built copies. Over 400 are still in commercial service.
¹ Equivalent to approximately A$21,630,927 in 2017.