Airfix 1/72 A6M2 Zero

KIT #:  
PRICE: $6.00
DECALS: One option
NOTES: Old tool kit


On 14 Sep, 1939, the Imperial Japanese Navy accepted the first of twenty 12-Shi fighters from Mitsubishi. They were allocated the designation A6M2 and the name Zero-sen.  The episode was celebrated by a parade for the new fighters which culminated in a mass rapid take-off, a fly-past of the formation, then a mock dog fight.  Observing the parade was an assistant to the German Military Attaché, Leutnnant Hans Greuber, a Luftwaffe Officer.

Greuber was amazed at the agility of the new Japanese fighter and, after flattering the Japanese Navy members about their new wonder plane, he politely requested permission to have a close look at one.  The Japanese pilots fell over themselves to show-off their new machines and to boast about its capabilities.  After a look at the new Zero-sen and reading its technical manual, Greuber secretly noted its strengths and weaknesses.  Its agility, range and heavy armament had been bought at the expense of robustness, self-sealing fuel tanks and armour-plating.    

Eventually, the IJN allowed Hans to fly one.  When he landed, he was outwardly delighted with the Zero-sen because it was a beautifully light and well-balanced plane.  Though he noted that the controls became VERY heavy at high speeds, quietly, he was very alarmed.  This thing could easily out-fly and out-last Germany’s new Me.109.  In a secret report to Berlin, Greuber reported on the Zero-sen and finished with a recommendation that the Luftwaffe buy one to examine in detail.   

At the end of his posting to Japan, Greuber was posted to Bad Wörishofen in Barvaria and promoted to Haptmann.  Initially puzzled, he was delighted to find six Zero-sens parked there.  Apparently General Ernst Udet had read his report and had procured these six, and a host of spare parts, in a 1-for-1 exchange for Messerschmits. 

But these weren’t exactly like the Zeros-sen he had seen in Japan.  “Nein,” said General Udet.  “I had them modified a little to be more compatible with the Luftwaffe. 

The tail hook went to lighten the load – besides, the Kreigsmarine are nowhere near completing the Graf Zeppelin yet.  The instruments, radio equipment and gunsights have naturally been replaced by German equipment, as have the weapons (you have two 7.92mm MG-17s in the nose and a 20mm MG-FF cannon in each wing).  The middle cockpit canopy section has been substituted for a new one, similar to the clear bubble of the Spitfire.  The Japanese one had struts all over the place.  I had the engineers put-in some steel roll-over protection for your thick head should you want to flip one of these onto its back.  And I having new wheel rims manufactured so that it can be fitted with German tires later.  The Japanese didn’t send too many tires.  Oh, and I had those big red circles painted-out.          

Gruber’s new job was to assess suitability of the Zero-sen for Luftwaffe operations.  He set about canvassing the Luftwaffe ranks for pilots to fly them, but returns were disappointing.  Most pilots looked at the specs of the Zero-sen, branded it a deathtrap, and refused to fly it.  The aircraft designers, Willie Messerschmitt & Ernest Hienkel, were even less complimentary about the Zero-sen.  It was difficult, but eventually Hans found four experienced pilots who were willing (and in one case, blackmailed) to fly the Zero-sen (I have photos of you as Brunhilda in the Staff Cadet opera).      

Greuber’s Schwarm of Zero-sens became a common sight in the skies over Bad Wörishofen as the pilots quickly became acquainted with their new mounts.  Like Hans, they appreciated the Zero-sen’s nimbleness in a dog-fight, while ignoring its deficiencies (for now).  And they shortened its name to Zero.

Then came the day in September when orders were received for the Schwarm to be disbanded.  The pilots were needed in operational Staffells engaging the RAF over England.  Hans protested strongly to OKL, and raged around the airfield.  However, he had an idea that would prove the Zero – if only he could fore-stall the closure order till after the Reichmarshall’s airshow in Berlin.  Getting an invitation for the schwarm to perform at the airshow was easy as one of his pilots was dating the secretary of the Orbost who was arranging it.  She simply typed their Unit at the bottom of the list (AFTER the Orbost had signed it).

On the day of the airshow, Greuber and his pilots were confident but tense.  Their four Zeros were to be quickly ‘shot-down’ in a mock dog-fight against a larger number of Me.109’s.  Afterwards, the Messerschmitts were to land for a demonstration of a rapid refuelling and rearming.

Right on schedule, Greuber followed by his Schwarm flew along the Berlin aerodrome, and, equally on cue, the Staffel of Messerschmitts dived down to bounce them – and got the shock of their lives.  The excellent visibility from the Zero’s new canopy allowed the Schwam pilots to see the Messerschmitts early, and they pulled-up sharply into them, causing them to scatter.  From then on, the Zeros seemed to be able to roar-in on the side of every Messerschmitt, thanks to a new weaving tactic that the schwarm had devised (and practiced in secret).

The dog-fight seemed to go on for an hour instead of the actual four minutes.  And instead of clearing the sky when the Messeschmitts landed, the Zeros continued to stage mock attacks on them as the Blackmen refuelled and rearmed the Staffel.  And they kept it up for the twenty minutes of the fast turn around.  All the time, the ground controller screamed at them to leave because they were disrupting the schedule – to which Greuber calmly replied that they would fly escort for all subsequent display aircraft and that they would land after the show.  The airshow continued for another hour and forty minutes during which the Schwarm did exactly that.  After it had ended, Hans brought his Schwarm in to land, and they were met by a detachment of Military Police who drove them to the control tower with surprising courtesy.  Greuber grinned to his pilots and said “Well Gentlemen, I might be a Private by tonight”. 

They were marched-in to the Kommandant’s office, but sitting behind the desk was the Reichmarshall himself.  “Pretty good flying,” he said.  “Now, exactly how long were you boys in the air?”  “Two hours and twenty minutes, Sir.”  And Hans, his pilots, and the Reichmarshall had a long, frank discussion about the technical and tactical merits of the Zero.  He even mentioned their weaknesses.  “Herr Reichmarshall, the Zero does not need armour plating because a Spitfire will not be able to hold us in his sights.  Today’s gun-camera footage will prove it”.  That night, Greuber and his pilots watched the gun-camera footage that told them that they had shot-down eleven of the Messerschmitts – several of them had been shot-down twice, and one three times.  As they ate the Reichmarshall’s very good food (and drank his very fine wine and smoked his very fine cigars), they gleefully listened to the Reichmarshall deflect Herr Messerschmitt’s angry words about the Zeros.  

A week later, the Schwarm, was attached as an independent Unit to Adolf Galland’s “Green Hearts”, with orders to report directly to the Reichmarshall.   Before departing for France, a Luftwaffe camouflage pattern was quickly painted over the monotone grey of the Japanese Navy, and extra-large Balkenkruezs were painted on the upper wings so that other Luftwaffe aircrews wouldn’t mistake the strange new aircraft for RAF planes.  Their departure was delayed by two days because, at Hans’ insistence, the external fittings were exchanged so that the Zeros could carry a standard Messerschmitt external fuel tank.  

On that first day, they took-off from France to look for trouble over England.  And they found it.  The Schwarm proved that the Zeros could indeed turn inside even the much-vaunted Spitfire.  After a whole morning over England, the Schwarm returned to France to rearm, and claimed twelve Spitfires destroyed.  That afternoon when they returned from England, they claimed another fifteen Spitfires, all without even receiving a single bullet-strike.

After his flight in a Zero, in-which he had a dog-fight with a schwarm of Me.109’s, Galland said “Bugger the Spitfires.  I’ll have a squadron of these!”.           


On May 19, 1937, the Japanese Imperial Navy submitted specifications for a new navy fighter to replace the Mitsubishi A5M, Navy Type 96 Carrier Fighter.  The Mitsubishi design team was led by Jiro Horikoshi, and they submitted the Mitsubishi A6M1 prototype.  It was an all metal, low-wing monoplane with retractable undercarriage, and powered by a 780hp/580kW Mitsubishi Zuisei 13 engine.  Apart from maximum speed, the new aircraft met (or exceeded) all of the IJN requirements.  Still, the aircraft was upgraded with a 925hp/690kW Nakajima NK1C Sakae 12 engine and a three-blade variable pitch propeller to become the A6M2.

The IJN assigned 15 A6M2s to combat trials in China, where they destroyed 99 Chinese aircraft with a loss of only 2 of their own.  Modifications introduced during production included a reinforced rear spar and manually folding wingtips.  With its maximum speed of 331mph/532 km/h and the ability to climb to 6,000 m in 7.5 minutes, it possessed an ascendancy over any other fighter type in the Pacific – or Europe.  Despite receiving reports from China, the A6M2 came as a nasty surprise to the Allies when it was encountered in combat.  To the Japanese, the aircraft was the Zero-sen.  To the Allies, it became the Zeke, and then the Zero.   

Knowing that the RAAF Spitfire Mk.VIIIs over Darwin, Australia, had a hard time dominating the Zero, I once had a disturbing notion of German Zeros easily besting Spitfires during the Battle of Britain.  So I set-out to find an inexpensive early-model Zero to make it a scale reality on my shelf.  Later Zeros were easy to find, but an early one wasn’t, till I saw this one on-line, in the Rare-Plane Detective in Las Vages, Nevada, USA (G’Day Jeff).  It was only one of the items of my first buy from Jeff, who is a great bloke.  I got because it was that it was exactly what I wanted, and because it didn’t cost a lot.            


 I know that a lot of modern modellers deride olde Airfix kits because they are no longer the state-of-the-art kits that they used to be, but I don’t.  As a model builder, I do not mind a bit of modelling work to produce a pleasing (to me) model - that’s why I like this hobby.  This one exhibited all of the hallmarks of its age – minimal detail, large to huge sprue-gates, sink holes, rivets and mould seams.


 I set-out to build this model as a Zero in Luftwaffe markings.  All I really wanted to do was to plate-over the IJN’s arrestor hook (which was waaaaaaaay too thick anyway), add a few details inside of the cockpit (there was only the pilot figure perched on a few pegs) and put Luftwaffe markings on it.  But the build got away from me a little, as you will see. 

During dry-fitting, I saw that the wheel wells weren’t deep enough for the wheels, that there was a huge gap between the wing trailing edge & the belly of the fuselage, that the two chin-mounted intakes would need major work to make them look right, and that the cowling wouldn’t fit the fuselage without some heavy-duty cutting.  

Within minutes of opening the box, I had the tail-planes on, and I was scribing at the upper wings and fuselage to deepen the wheel wells.  I’ll need a roof in there, ‘else you’ll see right through to the pilot’s boots.   

On the inside, a few sidewall panels and bumps followed; as did an instrument panel complete with the butts of the machineguns that project into the cockpit.  With the cockpit tub established and painted the greenish colour of the Japanese, I added the way-fat arrestor hook, and closed the fuselage.  I reckon that the Luftwaffe woulda removed the hook (to reduce weight, and because the Kreigsmarine had no carrier) and plated-over the well.  In reality, I left the hook in-place so that my thin sheet-plastic belly-plate would have something to lean-on.

In an attempt to eliminate the fuselage/wingroot gaps, I attached the upper wing halves to the fuselage.  The dihedrals of the wings was kept right by holding them in-place with the lower wing piece.  Only one side worked.  The other side needed a shim of plastic card (and filling & sanding etc) to position it just right.  About now, I significantly reduced the raised details by sanding-down the whole model.  Underneath, I scribed the outline of the flaps, just to break-up the plainness of the underside. 

The cowling was moulded with gills moulded flared and incredibly thick (a common Airfix trait that I hate).  As per normal, I ground/cut/sanded them flush with the cowling, then scribed-in the lines of the individual cowling flaps.  The cowling still needed some persuasion to attach neatly to the front of the fuselage, and there was a chin-mounted intake that opened directly into the underside of the cowling.  For the heck of it, I placed a thin plate/septum between the two.  It was made from paper, solidified with liquid superglue.   


My attack plan was to paint this model like the Zeros that hit Pearl Harbour, then to apply splinter and mottled cam over the top.  So the whole model received an overall coat of Tamiya IJN light grey (not white).  I also wanted it to be obvious that the Japanese hinomaru had been painted-over with a paint that was close to, but not quite the colour of, the Japanese livery.  So from Tamiya tape, I cut stencils of the hinomaru, positioned them, then painted over the base coat with the same grey, darkened with a touch of black, to impart a faint but noticeable difference.  Some dark green splinter cam followed on the wing-tops and the spine.  The mottling on the fuselage sides was dumped because there wasn’t much room and I wanted to get this done while I was enthusiastic about the project (besides, I’m afraid to have a go at doing a mottle – let alone a whole fuselage of it).  Coats of Future followed.  The cowling was painted black as per IJN aircraft, as was the nose deck, because it’ll look like an anti-dazzle pattern.  Later, I’d extend it to the back of the canopy area.      

I had a set of 48-scale FW.190a decals, so I used these to give this Zero larger-than-normal balkencruzes on the wing tops (I saw a photo of a Heinkel 111 over Poland, with oversized crosses).  The rest of the decals were stolen from a Messerschmitt that I’d painted Red Baron style (but that’s another story), so the rest of the markings were standard crosses.  The tail swastikas came from a sheet of spares, as did the number 3.  My good friend Don Williams of Moonie Ponds Models gave me the two 72-scale Green Hearts emblems I sought for my Zero to keep in line with my story.    


I added all of the last bits, like the undercarriage and roll-over protection for the pilot.  The undercarriage doors were way too thick, so I replaced them with ones cut from thin foil.  At the last second, I decided to convert the much-ribbed Japanese canopy (well, the centre section, at any rate) into an FW.190-style bubble.  I did this to reduce the amount of masking I’d have to do (OK – so I’m lazy), and did it by merely polishing the canopy till it was smooth.  This process is made easier by first filling it with plaster.  Add the antenna mast and she was done.  Nope – add the propeller.  I painted the spinner yellow because all BoB Messerschmitts seemed to have yellow spinners – and it adds a splash of colour.  For another splash of colour, I dumped the kit torpedo-shaped IJN droptank, and replaced it with a lightblue Luftwaffe one.  OK – I know that such droptanks weren’t introduced to the Luftwaffe till later in the war, but I wanted the colour.  From another model (a Hasegawa Ki.84 FRANK) I saw that the fuel caps were painted red, so this model got red caps too.  The usual wingtip lights were added for their colour.  They were just nicks cut with a file, into-which I put a dot of colour, then a little Krystal Kleer.  

Another one completed.  Or so I thought – then I found a set of beautiful, turned-brass barrels for a Zero produced by Masters.  At $4, they’d enhance the model and wouldn’t break the bank.  I fitted the nose machinegun barrels, and found that the alignment between the gun positions and the gun troughs was poor.  The cannon barrels I fitted sticking-out from the wings to replicate the Me.109E – but more-so, ‘cos I like guns.        


While my build was in-progress, I wrote the (possibly excessively-long) background story.  I find that it helped me plan the complete build.  Unfortunately, after the photography session, I realised that I’d not provided the Zero with it’s inner doors for the undercarriage, or an antenna wire. 

This is not the only Luftwaffe Zero in existence, because, after seeing my model developing, Don started, and completed, a 48-scale Luftwaffe Zero of his own - before I’d finished mine.  You can do that when you own a hobby shop and have nothing to do but build models and serve customers.  He also wrote a shorter story (in the form of an RAF Intelligence Report).   But this one Luftwaffe Zero is mine, and I enjoyed building it.  I have seen photos of a brilliant Airfix Zero by another modeller (G’Day Allan B) who had gone to town on it, but I’m not that good (neither is my Zero).  AND, I’ve seen a photo and a model of a MIKE – an Me.109E in Japanese markings.

George Oh

December 2014

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