Osprey's P-39/P-400 Airacobra vs A6M2/3 Zero


Michael John Claringbould


Osprey Publishing


$20.00 MSRP


Scott Van Aken

Notes: 80 pages, 7 x 9 inches, softcover
ISBN: 978-1-4728-2366-3

This latest matchup in Osprey's popular Duel series concentrates on two adversaries that met each other early in the Pacific War. They were not evenly matched, though as is often the case in conflict, one fights with what is available.

The P-39/P-400 was a type that was rejected by the RAF for a lack of high altitude performance. Its nose mounted cannon was often appreciated by the pilots who flew it and though it was pretty much useless above 15,000 feet, was reliable, rugged and eventually much appreciated by the Soviet pilots who flew it.

However, against the agile, well armed A6M2/3 Zeros, flown by experienced combat veterans, the Americans in their Airacobras were at a distinct disadvantage when they met in combat over New Guinea. Though claiming a lot of Zeros shot down, American (as well as Japanese) pilots overclaimed by a ratio of about 6.5 to 1.

Undoubtedly more planes were lost due to weather, mechanical breakdown, or ground fire than to other aircraft, but this was very much the trend throughout the war on all sides. American pilots soon learned not to dogfight with the Japanese and use their plane's superior diving speed to get out of trouble. Hit and run was the best offense. Meanwhile Japanese pilots used the A6Ms superior maneuverability and climb to ambush and shoot down the P-39s.

In this book, the author does the standard format of a history of both types, the training and operations of the pilots involved and then combat operations where they met each other. But in this case, goes into more detail about what it was like to operate these aircraft under the conditions that were prevalent at the time. Both suffered from a lack of supply and primitive conditions, though the Japanese more so. Combat in this theater of operations took its toll on both and such is amply covered.

It all makes for a highly readable and very interesting book that flows well. Add to it the super selection of period photos and the well presented illustrations and you have a book that I can highly recommend to you.

July 2018

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