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

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Two Tone Type 0 Carrier Fighters Over China

The most recent explanation for the two tone appearance in  some photographs of the early Type 0 Carrier Fighters over China is that tarpaulins laid over the cockpit area against heat protected the paint in that area from sun fading.

Here are a selection of photographs showing the phenomenon (click on the pics for the full size views). In the lowest photograph the difference in appearance is not so noticeable and the demarcation line is to the rear of the fuselage hinomaru, perhaps lending credence to the tarpaulin explanation.

Note the dark appearance of the ailerons on the Type 0 in the foreground of two of the photographs. In one of these a patch of the dark colour appears to extend onto the trailing edge of the wing.

Interestingly artist Kunihiko Hisa makes no concession to the two tone China Type 0 Carrier Fighters in his 'Zero Fighter 1940-1945' (sic) cartoon album. In their 1/72nd scale kit of the 'Mitsubishi A6M2a Zero Fighter Type 11' (sic) (AP 13) Hasegawa suggest painting the darker area (which includes the whole lower wing surfaces but curiously not the tail or any part of the upper wing surfaces) with a 75%/25% mix of  Gunze H61 IJN Gray and H 82 Dark Gray, whilst the remainder is to be painted H61. The photographs clearly show that the dark area extends to an area outboard of the wing roots but the demarcation is less sharp than on the fuselage.

Images credit: Saburo Sakai via Straggler 

Friday, 2 May 2008

ROCAF Dewoitine D.510

A superb photograph of French Dewoitine D.510 in  Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) service. This line-up shows the Dewoitine aircraft at the time they were operated by a French volunteer squadron. The camouflage pattern may be seen to good advantage and appears to be dark green dapple over silver dope/natural metal finish. After examining many photographs of the Chinese Dewoitines I still cannot make up my mind whether there is a second base colour under the dark green mottle or it is just the effect of overspray!  Even the prop blades were mottled.

Some accounts claim that the Dewoitines were only used as fighter trainers by the Chinese. In fact, after the French had departed, the surviving Dewoitines were deployed by the Chinese 17th Chung tui (approx. squadron). On 4th November 1939 they were part of a force that intercepted formations of Imperial Japanese Navy G3M bombers attacking Chengtu.  Captain Shen Tse-Liu in aircraft '5921', leading the 17th's Dewoitines, attacked the G3M of 13th Ku commander Captain Okuda in a head on pass, using the 20mm cannon to set fire to the Japanese bomber and destroying it. 

The Chinese had discovered that if fired in a dive the spring tension of the drum magazine of the Hispano HS-9 cannon was not strong enough to feed rounds into the breech of the gun, resulting in stoppages. They therefore made straight and level attacking passes on the bombers.

After the head on pass Captain Shen made further attacks against the rear of the Japanese formation but his aircraft was damaged by return fire, resulting in a forced landing in which he was injured.  Dewoitine '5924' flown by Lieutenant Chen Kwei-min was also damaged by return fore but landed safely. 

The Chinese Dewoitines do not appear to have been equipped with wing armament.

Image credit: Albert Lee Wong via "CAF-Flyboy"