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Mitsubishi Zero

Mitsubishi Zero: Japan's Legendary Fighter Book Review

By David L. Veres

Date of Review May 2015 Title Mitsubishi Zero: Japan's Legendary Fighter
Author Peter C Smith Publisher Pen & Sword
Published 2015 ISBN 9781781593196
Format 225 pages, hardbound MSRP (USD) $34.95


Historian Peter C Smith recaps the Imperial Japanese Navy's most famous fighter in Mitsubishi Zero: Japan's Legendary Fighter.

Published by Pen & Sword – available in North America from Casemate – the admirably annotated effort courses chronologically through the whole terrific tale: design, development, deployment and disposition.

After historical background details, coverage recaps all major actions in which the IJN fighter fought, including:

  • China
  • Pearl Harbor
  • The Philippines
  • Coral Sea
  • Midway Island
  • The Aleutians
  • The Solomons
  • Santa Cruz
  • Bismarck Sea
  • Rabaul

The invincible warrior at the start of the Pacific war had, by 1944, succumbed to overwhelming Allied numbers and technical superiority. During "The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot", for instance, Japanese forces lost over 350 aircraft. And this, Smith notes, "effectively marked the end of the Imperial Navy's carrier force as a viable unit."

Zeroes – many in Kamikaze roles – helped form Japan's last lines of defense. Iwo Jima. Okinawa. Japan itself. A6Ms comprised 1,189 of the 2,663 IJN aircraft employed in suicide actions. Smith recounts those efforts, too.

Some of the author's most engaging sections compare Mitsubishi's fighter to key Allied competitors – the Spitfire, Hellcat and FM-2 Wildcat. Interesting, too, are notes on tests of captured Zeroes – 19-year-old Petty Officer Tadayoshi Koga's machine from the Aleutians being, arguably, the most famous. Text also includes absorbing anecdotes. All proved informative.

Smith further admits that he writes "for a British leadership from a British viewpoint". And that's immediately apparent from some rather caustic comments on between-wars naval limitations treaties, Royal Navy carrier-based fighter perspectives and RAF intelligence assessments.

Coverage spans 12 chapters and 225 pages. Over 35 B&W photographs add visual flavor. Three appendices cover specifications, variants and production figures. And useful endnotes with a handy index conclude contents.

Gremlins, however, haunt this otherwise commendable chronicle. And Pen & Sword's effort sometimes suffers editing issues, faulty nomenclature and typographical errors.

"A20" – not "A-20" – was the Commonwealth Wirraway's serial prefix, not its identification. It's either Martin 139 or Martin 166 – not "Martin 169". Dutch Buffaloes properly bore the Brewster B-339 designation – not "F2A". And why routinely refer to the USAAC and USAAF as "USAAS" – the "United States Army Air Service", its name to mid-1926?

Smith's chronology occasionally confuses, too. The Chinese did not acquire Republic P-43s and Vultee P-66s until 1942. So neither American design belongs with 1937-vintage types like the Boeing 281, FIAT CR.30 and Dewoitine D.510. Moreover, Kunming eventually received 104 (of 128) Vanguards through Lend-Lease – not a "lone" example, as the author avers.

And – whoa! – speaking of tenuous timelines, why is a late-model A6M5 targeting a 1942-vintage, No 43 Squadron RAF Hurricane in North African colors on the book's cover???

Gripes aside, I really enjoyed Smith's handy history of Mitsubishi's legendary Zero. Make it your launchpad to further study of this classic combatant!

Available in North America from Casemate.

With thanks to Casemate for the review copy.