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The Mitsubishi A6M Zero was a fighter aircraft operated by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service (IJNAS) from 1940 to 1945. The origin of its official designation was that "A" signified a carrier-based fighter, "6" for the sixth such model built for the Imperial Navy, and "M" for the manufacturer, Mitsubishi. The A6M was usually referred to by the Allies as the "Zero"Ña name that was frequently misapplied to other Japanese fighters, such as the Nakajima Ki-43Ñas well as other codenames and nicknames, including "Zeke", "Hamp" and "Hap".
When it was introduced early in the Second World War, the Zero was the best carrier-based fighter in the world, combining excellent maneuverability and very long range. In early combat operations, the Zero gained a legendary reputation as a "dogfighter," but by 1942, a combination of new tactics and the introduction of better equipment enabled the Allied pilots to engage the Zero on more equal terms. The Imperial Japanese Naval Air Service (IJNAS) also frequently used the type as a land-based fighter. By 1943, inherent design weaknesses and the increasing lack of more powerful aircraft engines meant that the Zero became less effective against newer enemy fighters that possessed greater firepower, armor, speed, and approached the Zero's maneuverability. Although the Mitsubishi A6M was outdated by 1944, it was never totally supplanted by the newer Japanese aircraft types. During the final years of the War in the Pacific, the Zero was used in kamikaze operations.
The A6M2-N floatplane was developed from the Mitsubishi A6M Zero Type 0, for the purposes of supporting amphibious operations and defending remote bases. It was based on the A6M-2 Model 11 fuselage, with a modified tail and added floats. This aircraft was the brainchild of Shinobu Mitsutake, Nakajima Aircraft Company's Chief Engineer, and Atsushi Tajima, one of the company's designers. A total of 327 were built, including the original prototype.
The aircraft was deployed in 1942, referred to as the "Suisen 2" ("Hydro fighter type 2"), and was only utilized in defensive actions in the Aleutians and Solomon Islands operations. Such seaplanes were effective in harassing American PT boats at night, and they were very difficult to detect, even with primitive radar. Close misses killed officers and crews of boats such as PT 105. They could also drop flares to illuminate the PTs which were vulnerable to destroyer gunfire, and depended on cover of darkness. Since the boats left a phosphorescent wake which was visible from the air, they would leave their engines in idle to minimize this. It was primarily for this reason that John F. Kennedy's PT 109 was caught off guard in idle and rammed by the destroyer Amagiri, unable to maneuver out of the way in time.
A6M2-Ns at Attu, Alaska.
The seaplane also served as an interceptor for protecting fueling depots in Balikpapan and Avon Bases (Dutch East Indies) and reinforced the Shumushu base (North Kuriles) in the same period. Such fighters served aboard seaplane carriers Kamikawa Maru in the Solomons and Kuriles areas and aboard Japanese raiders Hokoku Maru and Aikoku Maru in Indian Ocean raids. In the Aleutian Campaign this fighter engaged with Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighters and Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress bombers. The aircraft was used for interceptor, fighter-bomber, and short reconnaissance support for amphibious landings, among other uses.
Later in the conflict the Otsu Air Group utilized the A6M2-N as an interceptor alongside Kawanishi N1K1 Kyofu ("Rex") aircraft based in Biwa lake in the Honshū area.
The last A6M2-N in military service was a single example recovered by the French forces in Indochina after the end of World War II. It crashed shortly after being overhauled.
The large float and wing pontoons of the A6M2-N degraded its performance by about 20%, enough that the A6M2-N was not usually a match for even the first generation of Allied fighters.