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Japanese Wings🇯🇵: Mitsubishi A6M2 [Part.3]
Undoubtedly the most famous Japanese aircraft and the very symbol of the Empire's apparent invincibility during the first months of the war: the mythicised Mitsubishi A6M Zero. The particular variant that interests us in this post is the A6M2 Model 21. After the A6M2 Model 11 performed its first combat mission over China on 19 August 1940, the IJN discovered that it couldn't be effectively operated from an aircraft carrier. The Model 21 was basically a Model 11 with folding wingtips and only 64 Model 11s were built before production shifted to the carrier-capable Model 21. The A6M2 was powered by a Nakajima NK1C Sakae 12 radial engine producing 950hp and armed with two synchronised 7,7mm Type 97 machine guns in the upper fuselage decking and two wing-mounted 20mm Type 99 cannons. No need to say more, we all know the aircraft's strength and weaknesses.
The A6M2 came as a huge surprise for the Allied who believed Japan's aircraft were all second rate designs or copies of Western productions. But the Zero was the first carrier-based fighter capable of matching land-based aircraft's performances. One of the A6M2's biggest feat was its incredible range of 3'100km (1'925miles) which was very useful during the Guadalcanal campaign. Departing from Rabaul, the Zeros had to fly over 1'050km (652miles) and could dogfight over Guadalcanal for at least 30 minutes before returning. These 7h missions were the longest in aviation history to this date but greatly hampered the IJN's attempt to recover air superiority over the Solomons.
When the Guadalcanal campaign started in early August 1942, the Model 21 was the most widely used variant in IJN frontline units. By mid-July 1942, the 11th Kantai (Air Fleet), responsible for the southeastern Pacific theatre, was aligning 204 A6M2s and 16 A6M3s spread in 5 Kōkūtais (carrier's air groups aren't included here). This represented 41.5% of all frontline-deployed A6M2/3s at the time. By late August, this number had augmented to 56%, showing, like we saw with the Mitsubishi G4M1, the huge commitment of the IJN in this particular campaign.
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