Osprey's Mitsubishi A6M Zero
64 pages, 7¼ x 9¼
Continuing with their Air Vanguard series is Osprey's title on the A6M Zero. The A6M was one of those aircraft that took Western allied completely by surprise at the start of the Pacific War. It was a 'fact' that the Japanese were unable to produce world class aircraft and were only able to copy the designs of other nations. Even after the war was over, it was popular in general aviation media to denigrate the design of the Zero as one that had been copied from a US aviation manufacturer.
Of course, the truth is that while the Japanese did purchase Western designs, it was only to judge the progress of aviation engineering and to see what there was new to learn. Many writers of the late 1940s and into the 1950s claim that the Zero was the basis of the Vought V-156. The Zero's designer, Jiro Horikoshi, stated that the only thing he found useful in that aircraft was the design of the gear retraction mechanism.
After successfully designing the A5M, Horikoshi was chosen to lead the design of the next Mitsubishi fighter project. The owners wanted a designer who was not steeped in tradition and was able to take a fresh look at aircraft design. The Navy's requirements were extremely difficult and all other manufacturers dropped out of the design. However, by designing a very light airframe and one where the wings and the center fuselage were a single piece, not only was lightness achieved, but it also proved to be quite strong. The need for a light airframe was due as much to Japan's lack of a powerful engine as on the need to provide extreme range.
Despite the usual teething troubles with the prototype, the first production model was a huge success. Not only was the A6M a world beater, but it was the world's first long range escort fighter and it came as a huge shock to those who faced it in combat. The first to fight it were the Chinese and Claire Chennault saw the results of the air battles, which were exceedingly one-sided. His reports to Washington were ignored as impossible so a major intelligence coup was once more stifled by military brass/politicians. Make no mistake, reaching general officer is as much as if not more reliant on politics as it is anything else.
Eventually, it was the Corsair and Hellcat as well as tactics that helped to even the playing field and allow the Western Allies to pull ahead. During all this the Zero stayed pretty much the same. Increases in horsepower did little to even the odds and the Japanese lack of progress in developing fighter planes meant that the A6M stayed in production until the end of the war.
In this book, the author covers the reason for being of the Zero as well as its design and development. All of the different variations on the airframe are covered. Indeed, 40 of the 64 pages are on this aspect of the aircraft. The rest of the book broadly covers the aircraft's combat career, from its initial overwhelming superiority until the type's use as a kamikaze in the last year of the war. I should mention that I found the initial sections of the book somewhat repetitive. There were some phrases that were used multiple times within a page or two and that was quite unexpected. As if we'd forgotten what we had just read a few minutes before. In spite of this, the book is well worth reading and adds yet another title to Osprey's cataloge of fine books.
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