Thursday 15 May 2008

The Akutan Zero

Stefan Wikstrom recently posted a link at 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


Anonymous said...

The color profiles are very good. Thanks for posting them, and the reports of how the color appeared to observers.

Ken Glass

Anonymous said...

Indeed, these are very nice profiles, and good information to boot. I am always interested in seeing any research done on early war IJN/IJAAF aircraft.

Warren Dickinson

Straggler 脱走兵 said...

Thanks for the comments! Sod's Law dictates that as soon as they are completed a photograph will turn up (many thanks Sensei) and now I need to adjust the position of the tail code! Still, musn't grumble - nice cup of tea first and then clean my glasses . . . :-)

Anonymous said...

Nick- congratulation on this nice color art. Well done and keep on good work.

Srecko Bradic

Straggler 脱走兵 said...

Thanks much Srecko!

Anonymous said...

Nice summary and good drawing. But the tail had a yellow stripe on it, as seen in the book "Cracking the Zero Mystery". A small detail, I know.

Straggler 脱走兵 said...

Thank you for your comment - pity it is anonymous. I originally posted two profiles - one with the yellow tail stripe and one without. Please see the text of my posting and the original intelligence drawing. The consensus is that there was no yellow tail stripe on the original aircraft.

richss said...

Dear Nick, thank you for a great website. I have learned so much about Japanese aircraft and coloring. I am doing an Airfix 1/72 A6M2 as P.O. Koga's plane sitting on the dock at Dutch Harbor. I do have several questions. I believe that I read that his plane was Mitsubishi-built, so I need to do the cockpit in a Mitsu color. Was the instrument panel done in interior green, or was was it in black? Was the engine firewall bare metal, or done in aotake? I have looked at photos of existing A6M2 remains and can't see any remnants of aotake. The engine oil tank appears to be in NMF from photos sitting on the dock. And the tail marking of D1-108 appears to be black instead of red compared to the hinomaru color. And about the mythical yellow tail stripe, from photos taken at the crash site, and in the hangar in San Diego, there is no yellow stripe.
Thanks again for the site.

Rich Scheuerer
North Pole, Alaska

Straggler 脱走兵 said...

Hello Rich

Thanks. The instrument panel should be in the interior olive green colour. The engine firewall and engine oil tank are usually depicted in nmf, whether they were zinc treated in any way I couldn't say. I'm satisfied from looking at photographs that the tail code was probably painted red. Bear in mind that the IJN specified a different red colour standard exclusively for the Hinomaru and the red intended for all other markings was not as bright.