Stefan Wikstrom recently posted a link at j-aircraft.com to a very interesting contemporary report on the Zero recovered by the Americans in the Aleutian Islands during 1942.
On 4th June 1942 19 year old Petty Officer 1st Class Tadayoshi Koga off the carrier 'Ryujo' had attempted to land his damaged Zero on Akutan Island in the Aleutians following a raid on Dutch Harbor. The 'field' where Koga attempted to put down was actually a bog and the Zero flipped over as the wheels dug in, killing the unfortunate pilot. The aircraft was later recovered by a USN shore party, repaired and flown to reveal its secrets.
Although often claimed as the first intact Zero to fall into Allied hands it was not. That dubious honour belonged to an aircraft from the Tainan Kokutai captured in China in November 1941. The full story of the China Zero may be viewed here.
The report posted by Stefan describes the colour of Koga's Zero as "light gray". The flight test officer at NAS Anacostia described the same aircraft as "a very smooth light gray, tinted with blue light green". I'm not sure what to make of the description "blue light green" but a BUAER report of 15th March 1943 described the Zero as being "a glossy greenish-gray". It may be that the blue grey chalking of the surface paint noted on extant artifacts by color researcher James F Lansdale literally colored the perception of these observers, but the fact that the paint was described as glossy suggests it had not weathered much. This particular Zero had been put into service in February 1942 so was only about 3 months old.
I have depicted Koga's Zero in Munsell 7.8 Y 5.5/2.5, a pale olive grey, without the horizontal yellow stripe on the fin below the tail code shown in many depictions but not mentioned in the reports (Click on the images to see larger versions). It is true that what appears to be a pale horizontal stripe may be discerned in a photograph of the Zero, but this could have been caused by a band of discoloration where the fin was immersed inverted in the boggy water of Akutan Island. The original profile contained in the intelligence report does not show a yellow tail stripe. The stencil data plate on the fuselage is deliberately left blank btw.
Author Jim Rearden described the aircraft as having a yellow tail stripe in his book 'Cracking The Zero Mystery' (Stackpole, 1990) and John Hume painted it this way for the cover of that book. Mr Hume showed the aircraft in the very pale, almost off-white grey long associated with the Zero.
The old Hasegawa 1/72nd scale kit featured this aircraft with yellow stripes above and below the tail code!
PS: Thanks to those who very kindly sent me additional data and photographs enabling me to correct the profiles to more accurately display this aircraft.
Image credit: Original artwork © Straggler 2008