40 - Mitsubishi A6M “Zero”

The Mitsubitshi A6M “Zero”

The ruler of the Pacific sky from 1940 to mid-1943

models and dioramas by Bjørn Jacobsen

Building the Zero

I had two Zero 1/48 kits, one from Tamiya and one from Hasegawa, both A6M5 Type 52.

After the models were built, it was hard to tell the difference, unless you look very closely at the cockpit, the wheels and the exhaust pipes.

The IJN Zeros were mostly painted in green and light grey, but some were also painted grey all over. I chose to paint the Zeros green/grey with black cowlings and reddish/grown propellers

WWII pictures from end of 1943, shows that the paint on the Japanese aircraft often is peeling off.   This had nothing to do with the quality of the paint, but rather lack of primer under the external colour.


As the war progressed, more and more new aircraft, including most single-seat fighters, were delivered without any undersurface paint at all, causing the paint to peel readily off the metal skin.

I painted the Zeros in Aluminium before I put on the camouflage colours. That way, it was easy to peel off some of the camouflage colours to let the aluminium appear where the paint was gone.

The Mitsubishi A6M "Zero" was a long-

range fighter, manufactured by Mitsubishi 

and operated by the Imperial Japanese

Navy from 1940 to 1945.

The A6M was usually referred to by its

pilots as the "Reisen" (zero fighter),

"0" being the last digit of the Imperial year

2600 (1940) when it entered service with

the Imperial Navy. The official Allied reporting name was "Zeke", although the use of the name "Zero" was later commonly adopted by the Allies as well.

When it was introduced early in

World War II, the Zero was considered the

most capable carrier-based fighter in the

world, combining excellent manoeuvrability

and very long range.

In early combat operations, the Zero

gained a legendary reputation as a

dogfighter, achieving the outstanding kill

ratio of 12 to 1, but by mid-1942 a

combination of new tactics and the

introduction of better equipment enabled

the Allied pilots to engage the Zero on

generally equal terms.

By 1943, inherent design weaknesses

and the failure to develop more powerful

aircraft engines meant that the Zero

became less effective against newer

enemy fighters, which possessed greater

firepower, armour, and speed, and

approached the Zero's manoeuvrability.

Although the Mitsubishi A6M was outdated

by 1944, it continued to serve in a front

line role until the end of the war.

During the course of the war, Japan produced more Zeros than any other model of combat aircraft.

At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, 521 Zeros were active in the Pacific, 328 in first-line units

The carrier-borne Model 21 was the type encountered by the Americans. Its tremendous range of over 2,600 km (1,600 mi) allowed it to range farther from its carrier than expected, appearing over distant battlefronts and giving Allied commanders the impression that there were several times as many Zeros as actually existed

The Zero quickly gained a fearsome


Thanks to a combination of unsurpassed

manoeuvrability and excellent firepower, it

easily disposed the motley collection of

Allied aircraft in the Pacific in 1941.

It even proved a difficult opponent even for

the Supermarine Spitfire.  Lt-Gen. Claire Lee

Chennault (commander of the Flying Tigers) had to notice: "The RAF pilots were trained in methods that were excellent against German and Italian fighters, but suicide against the acrobatic Japs."

Although not as fast as the British fighter, the Mitsubishi fighter could out-turn the Spitfire with ease, could sustain a climb at a very steep angle, and could stay in the air for three times as long.

Soon, however, Allied pilots developed tactics

to cope with the Zero. Due to its extreme

agility, engaging a Zero in a traditional, turning

dogfight was likely to be fatal. 

It was better to roar down from above in a

high-speed pass, fire a quick burst, then

climb quickly back up to altitude. A short

burst of fire from heavy machine guns or

cannons were often enough to bring down the

fragile Zero which had no armour protecting

pilot or fuel tank.

In the last part of the war, many highly

experienced Japanese aviators were lost in

combat, resulting in a progressive decline in

the quality of the IJN pilots, which became a

significant factor in Allied successes.

Unexpected heavy losses of experienced

pilots at the battles of the Coral Sea and

Midway dealt the Japanese carrier air force

a blow from which it never fully recovered

(page 36 “Battle of Midway” on this website)

Thing changed, however, when the Grumman

F6F Hellcat and Vought F4U Corsair, each using six of the AN/M2 heavy calibre Browning guns appeared in the Pacific theatre in 1943. T

he A6M, with its low-powered engine, lighter armament, and lack of protective armour was hard-pressed to remain competitive.

Thought to be invincible in the first part of the war, the Zero was soon discovered to be underpowered and underprotected, and by 1945, it was hopelessly outclassed.

The Hasegawa Model

The Tamiya Model

The Zero was initially a carrier-based fighter, operated by the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN).  From mid-1943, the IJN, lost most of its carriers, and later in the war, the Japanese carrier fleet almost ceased to exist and the fighters had to operate from land bases.  I have therefore placed the Zeros both to sea and on land in the following pictures.

If you are interested in the aerial warfare in the Pacific War Theatre, please have a look at

Page 33   The Battle of Midway

Page 39  Grumman F6F Hellcat – the Zero Killer

I hope you enjoyed this website!

Thank you for visiting!


Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions or comments




Bjørn Jacobsen

Desember 2015