Slipping the Bonds
by George Paterson

A6M2-N-sva1

Introduction

The A6M Type 0 - the “Zero”- is far and away the best-known Japanese fighter of the Second World War. When American forces first encountered Zeros in 1941, they were astonished by its superiority to the relatively mediocre US fighters opposing it. The A6M was fast and very manoeuvrable, it was heavily armed with two 7.7mm machine guns in the fuselage and two 20mm cannons in the wings, and it had a very long range of 1929 miles, so it could pop up in force and without notice almost anywhere in the Pacific theatre. The US top brass in Washington at first simply didn't believe the reports from the front line, so their rude awakening was further delayed.

Eventually, in July 1942, a relatively undamaged A6M2, which had made a crash landing after being hit by American AA fire, was discovered on Akutan Island in the Aleutians. It was salvaged and repaired to flying condition, and test flights revealed the strengths and weaknesses of the type. It was found that, although very manoeuvrable due to its light weight, structural weaknesses limited it in some respects, including in a high-speed dive. Most glaring was the almost total neglect of protective armour for the pilot, and of protection of the airframe, including the absence of self-sealing fuel tanks; the design was focussed on the attack role (long range, manoeuvrability and firepower) at the expense of defensive protection.

The A6M's superiority never fully recovered from these revelations, but progressive improvements kept it competitive until the end of the War; the A6M5 was in fact produced in greater numbers than all the earlier types. It was more heavily armed and better protected from combat damage than the previous A6M2.

The Initial Image

An offshoot of theA6M2 was the A6M2-N, developed by Nakajima as a floatplane for use in remote locations. 327 of these were built, and they generally operated with the support of a tender vessel. They were used in a wide variety of mainly defensive situations. The French captured an A6M2-N in Indo-China (Vietnam), and after some repair it served briefly in the French Navy. I was written off after it was damaged in an accident.

This model by Scott van Aken comes from the latest Hasegawa 1:48 kit, and this picture is the lead image in his review, published only a few weeks ago. The image is a generous 1000x703 pix., so definition is excellent and very even. As soon as I saw it, I couldn't resist making an in-flight version.

Treatment of the Image

The quality of the initial image is good enough that I could have just selected the whole airframe and pasted it onto a sufficiently marine background, but instead I selected each structural element separately and then added them together to get my “af total” selection. I then spent a lot of time making selections of a lot of the internal details. The result is more visually interesting, and gives the impression of more sharpness than the original has. I was particularly careful with the canopy, since the outlines of all the supporting frames were close to the limits of resolution of a 1000 pixel starting image. I decided to add an upstanding headrest/head armour on top of the bulkhead behind the pilot. I suspect that this was a bad decision, and I'll eliminate it if anyone complains. The décor elements I left alone.

The background may have a Pacific theatre look about it, but in fact it's a section of the Dalmatian coast not far north of Dubrovnic.

Conclusions

I've done some Zero pictures before, but not in this amount of detail; often they were merely prey objects for Grumman subjects. I became very impressed by the way the Zero was designed and detailed. I've heard this said often before, but studying the finer details close up, I started to understand the real genius of the design.