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Author Topic: Interesting read about WWII intel on a recovered Japanese Zero  (Read 817 times)

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Interesting read about WWII intel on a recovered Japanese Zero
« on: December 17, 2015, 09:02:40 am »

Pretty long but very interesting read.

A great story about how a chance find of a downed Zero, shaped the outcome of war. This should be of special interest to history and / or airplane enthusiast.

The Japanese Zero.....  and how we learned to fight it.

In  April 1942 thirty-six Zeros attacking a British naval base
at Colombo ,Ceylon (now Sri Lanka ), were met by about sixty Royal Air
Force aircraft of mixed  types, many of them obsolete. Twenty-seven of
the RAF planes went down:  fifteen Hawker Hurricanes (of Battle of
Britain fame), eight Fairey Swordfish,  and four Fairey Fulmars.  The
Japanese lost one Zero.

         Five  months after America 's entry into the war, the Zero was
still a mystery to U.S. Navy pilots.  On May 7, 1942, in the Battle of
the Coral Sea, fighter pilots from our aircraft carriers Lexington and
Yorktown fought the Zero and  didn't know what to call it.  Some
misidentified it as the German Messerschmitt 109.

         A few  weeks later, on June 3 and 4, warplanes flew from the
Japanese carriers Ryujo and Junyo to attack the American military base
at Dutch Harbor in Alaska 's  Aleutian archipelago.  Japan's attack on
Alaska was intended to draw remnants of the U.S. fleet north from Pearl
Harbor, away from Midway Island, where the Japanese were setting a trap.
(The scheme ultimately backfired when our Navy pilots sank four of Japan
's first-line aircraft carriers at Midway, giving the United States a
major turning-point victory).

         In the  raid of June 4, twenty bombers blasted oil storage
tanks, a warehouse, a hospital, a hangar, and a beached freighter, while
eleven Zeros strafed at will.  Chief Petty Officer Makoto Endo led a
three-plane Zero section from the  Ryujo, whose other pilots were Flight
Petty Officers Tsuguo Shikada and Tadayoshi Koga.  Koga, a small
nineteen-year old, was the son of a rural carpenter.  His Zero, serial
number 4593, was light gray, with the imperial rising-sun insignia on
its wings and fuselage.  It had left the Mitsubishi Nagoya aircraft
factory on February 19, only three-and-a-half months earlier,  so it was
the latest design.

         Shortly  before the bombs fell on Dutch Harbor that day,
soldiers at an adjacent Army  outpost had seen three Zeros shoot down a
lumbering Catalina amphibian.  As the plane began to sink, most of the
seven-member crew climbed into a rubber raft  and began paddling toward
shore.  The soldiers watched in horror as the Zeros strafed the crew
until all were killed.  The Zeros are believed to have been those of
Endo, Shikada, and Koga.

         After  massacring the Catalina crew, Endo led his section to
Dutch Harbor, where it  joined the other eight Zeros in strafing. It was
then (according to Shikada, interviewed in 1984) that Koga's Zero was
hit by ground fire.  An Army intelligence team later reported, "Bullet
holes entered the plane from both  upper and lower sides".  One of the
bullets severed the return oil line between the oil cooler and the
engine.   As the engine continued to run, it pumped oil from the broken
line.  A Navy photo taken during the raid shows a Zero trailing what
appears to be smoke.  It is probably oil, and there is little doubt that
this is Zero 4593.

         After the raid, as the enemy planes flew back toward their
carriers, eight American Curtiss Warhawk P-40's shot down four VaI
(Aichi D3A) dive bombers thirty miles west of Dutch Harbor.  In the
swirling, minutes-long dogfight, Lt. John J. Cape shot down a plane
identified as a Zero.  Another Zero was almost instantly on his tail. 
He climbed and rolled, trying to evade, but those were the wrong
maneuvers to escape a Zero.  The enemy fighter easily stayed with him,
firing its two deadly 20-mm cannon and two 7.7-mm machine guns.  Cape
and his plane plunged into the sea.  Another Zero shot up the P-40 of
Lt. Winfield  McIntyre, who survived a crash landing with a dead engine.
         Endo and Shikada accompanied Koga as he flew his oil-spewing
airplane to Akutan  Island , twenty-five miles away, which had been
designated for emergency  landings.

         A  Japanese submarine stood nearby to pick up downed pilots. 
The three Zeros  circled low over the green, treeless island.  At a
level, grassy valley floor half a mile inland, Koga lowered his wheels
and flaps and eased toward a  three-point landing.  As his main wheels
touched, they dug in, and the Zero flipped onto its back, tossing water,
grass, and gobs of mud.  The valley floor was a bog, and the knee-high
grass concealed water.

         Endo  and Shikada circled.  There was no sign of life.  If Koga
was dead, their duty was to destroy the downed fighter. Incendiary
bullets from their machine guns would have done the job. But Koga was a
friend, and they couldn't bring themselves to shoot. Perhaps he would
recover, destroy the plane himself, and walk to the waiting submarine. 
Endo and Shikada abandoned the downed fighter and returned to the Ryujo,
two hundred miles to the south.

         The  Ryujo was sunk two months later in the eastern Solomons by
planes from the  aircraft carrier Saratoga . Endo was killed in action
at Rabaul on October 12,  1943, while Shikada survived the war and
eventually became a banker.

         The  wrecked Zero lay in the bog for more than a month, unseen
by U.S. patrol planes and offshore ships.  Akutan is often foggy, and
constant Aleutian winds create unpleasant turbulence over the rugged
island.  Most pilots preferred to remain over water, so planes rarely
flew over Akutan. However, on July 10 a U.S. Navy Catalina (PBY)
amphibian returning from overnight patrol crossed the  island.  A gunner
named Wall called, "Hey, there's an airplane on the ground down there. 
It has meatballs on the wings".  That meant the rising-sun insignia. 
The patrol plane's commander, Lt. William Thies, descended for a closer
look.  What he saw excited him.

         Back at Dutch Harbor, Thies persuaded his squadron commander to
let him take a party to the downed plane.  No one then knew that it was
a Zero.

         Ens. Robert Larson was Thies's copilot when the plane was
discovered.  He remembers reaching the Zero.  "We approached cautiously,
walking in about a foot of water covered with grass. Koga's body,
thoroughly strapped in, was upside down in the plane, his head barely
submerged in the water.  "We were surprised at the details of the
airplane," Larson continues. "It was well built, with simple, unique
features.  Inspection plates could be opened by pushing on a black dot
with a finger.  A latch would open, and one could pull the plate out. 
Wingtips folded by unlatching them and pushing them up by hand.  The
pilot had a  parachute and a life raft." Koga's body was buried nearby. 
In 1947 it was shifted to a cemetery on nearby Adak Island, and later,
it is believed, his remains were returned to Japan .

         Thies had determined that the wrecked plane was a nearly new
Zero, which suddenly gave it special meaning, for it was repairable. 
However, unlike U.S. warplanes, which had detachable wings, the Zero's
wings were integral with the fuselage.  This complicated salvage and
shipping.  Navy crews fought the plane out of the bog.  The tripod that
was used to lift the engine, and later the fuselage, sank three to four
feet into the mud.  The Zero was too heavy to turn over with the
equipment on hand, so it was left upside down while a tractor dragged it
on a skid to the beach and a barge.  At Dutch Harbor it was turned over
with a crane, cleaned, and crated, wings and all.  When the awkward
crate containing Zero 4593 arrived at North Island Naval Air Station,
San Diego, a twelve-foot-high stockade was erected around it inside a
hangar. Marines guarded the priceless plane while Navy crews worked
around the clock to make it airworthy. (There is no evidence the
Japanese ever knew we had salvaged Koga's plane.)

         In mid-September Lt. Cmdr Eddie R. Sanders studied it for a
week as repairs were completed. Forty-six years later he clearly
remembered his flights in Koga's Zero.  "My log shows that I made
twenty-four flights in Zero 4593 from 20 September to 15 October 1942,"
Sanders told me.  "These flights covered performance tests such as we do
on planes undergoing Navy tests."

         "The  very first flight exposed weaknesses of the Zero that our
pilots could exploit with proper tactics. The Zero had superior
maneuverability only at the lower speeds used in dog fighting, with
short turning radius and excellent aileron control at very low speeds. 
However, immediately apparent was the fact that the ailerons froze up at
speeds above two hundred knots, so that rolling maneuvers at those
speeds were slow and required much force on the control  stick.  It
rolled to the left much easier than to the right.  Also, its engine cut
out under negative acceleration [as when nosing into a dive] due to its
float-type carburetor.  We now had an answer for our pilots who were
unable to escape a pursuing Zero.   We told them to go into a vertical
power dive, using negative acceleration, if possible, to open the range
quickly and gain advantageous speed while the Zero's engine was
stopped.  At about two hundred knots, we instructed them to roll hard
right before the Zero pilot could get his sights lined up.  This
recommended tactic was radioed to the fleet after my first flight of
Koga's plane, and soon the welcome answer came back:  "It  works!'"
Sanders said, satisfaction sounding in his voice even after nearly half
a century.

         Thus by late September 1942 Allied pilots in the Pacific
theater knew how to escape a  pursuing Zero.

         "Was  Zero 4593 a good representative of the Model 21 Zero?" I
asked Sanders.  In other words, was the repaired airplane 100 percent?
         "About  98 percent," he replied.

         The  Zero was added to the U.S. Navy inventory and assigned its
Mitsubishi serial number.  The Japanese colors and insignia were
replaced with those of the U.S. Navy and later the U.S. Army, which also
test-flew it.  The Navy pitted it against the best American fighters of
the time-the P-38 Lockheed Lightning,  the P-39 Bell Airacobra, the P-51
North American Mustang, the F-4 Grumman Wildcat, and the F4U Chance
Vought Corsair-and for each type developed the most effective tactics
and altitudes for engaging the Zero.

         In  February 1945 Cmdr. Richard G. Crommelin was taxiing Zero
4593 at San Diego Naval Air Station, where it was being used to train
pilots bound for the Pacific war zone.  An SB-2C Curtiss Helldiver
overran it and chopped it up from tail to cockpit. Crommelin survived,
but the Zero didn't.  Only a few pieces of Zero 4593 remain today.   The
manifold pressure gauge, the air-speed indicator, and the folding panel
of the port wingtip were donated to the Navy Museum at  the Washington ,
D.C., Navy Yard by Rear Adm. William N. Leonard, who salvaged them at
San Diego in 1945.  In addition, two of its manufacturer's plates are in
the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum in Anchorage, donated by  Arthur
Bauman, the photographer.

         Leonard  recently told me, "The captured Zero was a treasure. 
To my knowledge no other captured machine has ever unlocked so many
secrets at a time when the need was  so great".  A somewhat comparable
event took place off North Africa in 1944-coincidentally on the same
date, June 4, that Koga crashed his Zero.
         A  squadron commanded by Capt. Daniel V. Gallery, aboard the
escort carrier Guadalcanal , captured the German submarine U-505,
boarding and securing the disabled vessel before the fleeing crew could
scuttle it.  Code books, charts, and operating instructions rescued from
U-505 proved quite valuable to the Allies. Captain Gallery later wrote,

           "Reception committees which we were able to arrange as a
result may have had something  to do with the sinking of nearly three
hundred U-boats in the next eleven  months",  By the time of U-505's
capture, however, the German war effort was already starting to crumble
(D-day came only two days later), while Japan still dominated the
Pacific when Koga's plane was recovered.

         A  classic example of the Koga plane's value occurred on April
1, 1943, when Ken Walsh, a Marine flying an F4U Chance-Vought Corsair
over the Russell Islands southeast of Bougainville , encountered a lone
Zero.  "I turned toward him, planning a deflection shot, but before I
could get on him, he rolled, putting his plane right under my tail and
within range.  I had been told the Zero was  extremely maneuverable, but
if I hadn't seen how swiftly his plane flipped onto my tail, I wouldn't
have believed it," Walsh recently recalled.  "I  remembered briefings
that resulted from test flights of Koga's Zero on how to escape from a
following Zero.  With that lone Zero on my tail I did a split S, and
with its nose down and full throttle my Corsair picked up speed fast  .

         I  wanted at least 240 knots, preferably 260.  Then, as
prescribed, I rolled hard right.  As I did this and continued my dive,
tracers from the Zero zinged past my plane's belly.  "From information
that came from Koga's Zero, I knew the Zero rolled more slowly to the
right than to the left.  If I hadn't known which way to turn or roll,
I'd have probably rolled to my left.  If I had done that, the Zero would
likely have turned with me, locked on, and had me.  I used that 
maneuver a number of times to get away from Zeros".  By war's end Capt.
(later  Lt. Col.) Kenneth Walsh had twenty-one aerial victories
(seventeen Zeros, three Vals, one Pete), making him the war's
fourth-ranking Marine Corps ace.   He was awarded the Medal of Honor for
two extremely courageous air battles he fought over the Solomon Islands
in his Corsair during August 1943.  He retired  from the Marine Corps in
1962 after more than twenty-eight years of service.  Walsh holds the
Distinguished Flying Cross with six Gold Stars, the Air Medal  with
fourteen Gold Stars, and more than a dozen other medals and honors.

         How important was our acquisition of Koga's Zero?  Masatake
Okumiya, who survived  more air-sea battles than any other Japanese
naval officer, was aboard the Ryujo when Koga made his last flight. He
later co-authored two classic books,  Zero and Midway. Okumiya has
written that the Allies' acquisition of Koga's  Zero was "no less
serious" than the Japanese defeat at Midway and "did much to hasten our
final defeat." If that doesn't convince you, ask Ken Walsh.

                              INSIDE  THE ZERO

The  Zero was Japan 's main fighter plane throughout World War
II. By war's end  about 11,500 Zeros had been produced in five main
variants. In March 1939,  when the prototype Zero was rolled out, Japan
was in some ways still so backward that the plane had to be hauled by
oxcart from the Mitsubishi factory twenty-nine miles to the airfield
where it flew.  It represented a great leap  in technology.  At the
start of World War II, some countries' fighters were open cockpit,
fabric-covered biplanes.  A low-wing all-metal monoplane carrier
fighter, predecessor to the Zero, had been adopted by the Japanese in
the mid-1930's, while the U.S Navy's standard fighter was still a
biplane.  But the world took little notice of Japan's advanced military
aircraft, so the Zero came as a great shock to Americans at Pearl Harbor
and afterward.   A combination of nimbleness and simplicity gave it
fighting qualities that no Allied plane could match.   Lightness,
simplicity, ease of maintenance, sensitivity to controls, and extreme
maneuverability were the main elements that the designer Jiro Horikoshi
built into the Zero.  The Model 21 flown by Koga weighed 5,500 pounds,
including fuel, ammunition, and pilot, while U.S. fighters weighed 7,500
pounds and up.  Early models had no protective armor or  self-sealing
fuel tanks, although these were standard features on U.S. fighters.
Despite its large-diameter 940-hp radial engine, the Zero had one of the
slimmest silhouettes of any World War II fighter.   The maximum speed of
Koga's Zero was 326 mph at 16,000 feet, not especially fast for a 1942 
fighter.  But high speed wasn't the reason for the Zero's great combat
record.  Agility was.  Its large ailerons gave it great maneuverability
at low speeds.  It could even outmaneuver the British Spitfire.   
Advanced U.S. fighters  produced toward the war's end still couldn't
turn with the Zero, but they were faster and could out climb and out
dive it.  Without self-sealing fuel tanks, the Zero was easily flamed
when hit in any of its three wing and fuselage  tanks or its droppable
belly tank.  And without protective armor, its pilot was vulnerable.  In
1941 the Zero's range of 1,675 nautical miles (1,930 statute  miles) was
one of the wonders of the aviation world.  No other fighter plane had
ever routinely flown such a distance.  Saburo Sakai, Japan's
highest-scoring surviving World War II ace, with sixty- four kills,
believes that if the Zero had not been developed, Japan "would not have
decided to  start the war".  Other Japanese authorities echo this
opinion, and the confidence it reflects was not, in the beginning at
least, misplaced.  Today the Zero is one of the rarest of all major
fighter planes of World War II.  Only sixteen complete and assembled
examples are known to exist.
Of these, only two are flyable: one owned by Planes of Fame, in
Chino, California, and the other by the Commemorative Air Force, in
Midland, Texas.


Re: Interesting read about WWII intel on a recovered Japanese Zero
« Reply #1 on: June 26, 2016, 08:31:48 am »

Just discovered this article.  Wonderful story, great insight to a little known event that helped us win the War in the Pacific.  Thanks.  Once again, my hat's off to that generation of fighters. 

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Re: Interesting read about WWII intel on a recovered Japanese Zero
« Reply #2 on: June 26, 2016, 09:18:34 am »

Love it. Great read.
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