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Weapons of World War Two

The Attack on Pearl Harbor (Dec 1941)

Mitsubishi A6M Reisen

Version depicted: A6M5

Mitsubishi A6M5 Reisen

Several decades thereafter, the motivations which led Japan to the action on Pearl Harbor were still very discussed. The American propaganda has always showed the good ones on a side and the bad ones on another. But undoubtedly, even if following its imperialist and expansionist politics, if Japan effectuated that tremendous step was also because it had been pushed by the material necessity of economical survival, to which United States was not totally alien. But the American propaganda continued sending blows, as it was logical, against the aggressor, and it even tried to ridiculize them. Very serious mistake. The Japanese were portrayed as yellow little men, a sort of monkeys wearing spectacles and lacking any wit, capable only of imitating in a rough way the products of the western technology. The roar of the Japanese engines would suffice to debunk these ridiculous cliches, but meanwhile these would be the main cause of the death of a good number of Allied soldiers. And however it would have sufficed to listen to the warning from an aviation officer! Colonel Chennault had delivered to the Pentagon the characteristics of a Japanese fighter aircraft which was until then unknown, and whose speed, maneuverability and operational range outmatched those of any American fighter aircraft which was back then in service. The attitude of the American regarding the Japanese and their technology should have been very different. But the bureaucracy reacted to this cry of alarm by submitting the note written by Chennault to the customary wanderings before burying it under a mountain of paperwork. What an irony that the jewel manufactured by Mitsubishi had not received the attention that it deserved!

Born from a request for a naval fighter made in May 1937, the first prototype could take off for the flight tests in March 1939. The Mitsubishi A6M "Reisen" was a monoplane aircraft of low wing, entirely metallic structure and retractable landing gear. The wings, of trapezoidal shape, united the advantages of a notable lightness with a foolproof robustness. On the other hand, this constructive concept had been applied to the realization of the whole aircraft, and a wide utilization of light alloys and vanguard technical solutions had been adopted. To avoid adding more weight to the "Zero" (as it had been denominated in the Allied code), the first models did not have armor for the pilot nor protection for the fuel tanks, features which were not introduced until the version A6M5, at an already advanced stage of the war. The engine, initially a Zuisei 13 of 780 horsepower, would be soon replaced by a Nakajima Sakae 31 of 1130 horsepower, which would allow to reach a speed of 560 kilometers/hour and an operational range of up to 1922 kilometers (A6M5). The initially rather light armament was later notably enhanced, but it would be always inferior to the American one, which basically comprised between six and eight 12.7-millimeter machine guns, whereas the Japanese one generally comprised four weapons, if not less: two 7.7-millimeter machine guns and two 13.2-millimeter machine guns or 20-millimeter cannons. Undisputed owner of the sky during the first year of the war, it underwent a turn of events from 1943 when the most powerful enemy fighter aircraft were introduced. It was the beginning of the defeat. The last "Zero" took part in the tragic "kamikaze" attacks against American ships, following the crazy fantasy of holding the invasion to be able to deal a decisive counterattack. But for Japan no more Divine Winds would blow.

Mitsubishi A6M5 Reisen
Designer: Technical team led by Engineer Jiro Horikoshi

First flight: March 1939 (A6M1)

Wingspan: 12 meters (A6M1); 11 meters (A6M3 and A6M8)

Wing area: 22.44 square meters (A6M1); 21.53 square meters (A6M3); 21.30 square meters (A6M8)

Length: 9.06 meters (A6M1 and A6M3); 9.24 meters (A6M8)

Height: 3.05 meters (A6M1); 3.51 meters (A6M3); 3.64 meters (A6M8)

Full load/Empty weight: 2343/1652 kilograms (A6M1); 2544/1807 kilograms (A6M3); 3150/2150 kilograms (A6M8)

Payload/Crew: 691 kilograms/1 (A6M1); 737 kilograms/1 (A6M3); 1000 kilograms/1 (A6M8)

Engine: Mitsubishi Zuisei 13 of 780 horsepower (A6M1); Nakajima Sakae 31 of 1130 horsepower (A6M3); Mitsubishi Kinsei 62 of 1560 horsepower (A6M8)

Time to reach 6000 meters of altitude: 7 minutes 19 seconds (A6M3); 6 minutes 50 seconds (A6M8)

Cruising speed: 371 kilometers/hour (A6M3)

Maximum speed: 510 kilometers/hour at 3600 meters (A6M1); 545 kilometers/hour at 6000 meters (A6M3); 573 kilometers/hour at 6000 meters (A6M8)

Service ceiling: 10000 meters (A6M3); 11200 meters (A6M8)

Defensive armament: Two 20-millimeter cannons and two 7.7-millimeter machine guns (A6M1 and A6M3); two 20-millimeter cannons, two 13.2-millimeter machine guns and two 7.7-millimeter machine guns (A6M8)

Drop armament: 60 kilograms of bombs (A6M1 and A6M3); 500 kilograms of bombs (A6M8)

Operational range: 1820 kilometers (A6M1); 2830 kilometers with auxiliary tanks (A6M3)

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