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The first A6M2 Zero to be captured intact was not Koga’s Zero from the Aleutians, as is generally believed. The First captured Zero was serial number 3372, manufactured by Mitsubishi on 21OCT41. It was assigned to the Tainan Kokutai and given tail code V-172. On 26NOV41 it was flown by PO1C Shimezoh Inoue, who became lost on a transfer flight and landed his fighter on a beach near Teitsan, China. A second aircraft, V-174, was damaged landing on the beach at the same time.
V-172 was disassembled and carted off into the mountains by the local Chinese, while the damaged V-174 was destroyed. After several months the components were eventually transported to Liuchow, where Chinese and American mechanics began reassembling the Zero and restoring it to flight-worthy condition.
Notice in these three photographs from Liuchow the aircraft is missing the panels covering the engine accessory area aft of the engine. These had become lost during the journey. The tires were also missing, the originals were said to have been used by local Chinese to fashion shoes. Markings are blue tail stripes and a diagonal fuselage band in yellow.
By the end of Summer 1942 the restoration was complete, and the Zero emerged in Chinese camouflage colors wearing the new serial number P-5016 on her tail. By this time the Americans had become interested in flight testing the aircraft, and General Claire Chennault ordered it transferred to Kweilin in October 1942. Note the 23rd Fighter Group P-40E in the background. The distinctive shark’s mouth marking has led to the erroneous interpretation that the Zero was captured by the American Volunteer Group, the Flying Tigers.
P-5016 seen from a slightly different angle. At this time, the Zero only carried the Chinese national insignia on the underwing positions.
A later photograph which shows P-5016 still in Chinese camouflage but with American insignia under the wings. The engine accessory panels were replaced during the restoration, the new panels featuring distinctive non-standard cooling louvers. Note that the louver pattern differs slightly port and starboard.
This close-up shows the details of the port replacement panel to good advantage.
Several of the more experienced pilots from the 23rd FG were given the opportunity to fly the Zero. Here a group of American pilots familiarize themselves with the aircraft.
Details of the landing gear from the same series of photographs. The tires were replaced with American substitutes. Note the signs of stress visible on the drop tank, which has certainly suffered more punishment than it was designed to take. The undersides are stained and the load markings on the landing gear covers are retained, it is possible that the undersides retained their original Japanese camouflage.
A view of the cockpit shows several of the instruments have been replaced with American counterparts. The 7.7 mm cowl guns are still in place, visible in the upper part of the photograph. These guns were charged manually by the pilot using the handles mounted to the side.
In early 1943 the Zero was flown to Karachi, Pakistan, where it was loaded on a freighter and shipped to the United States for further testing. During transit it was damaged, repairs were made by Curtiss Aircraft employees and the Zero re-emerged in USAAF markings with the tail code EB-2 on 13JUL43. The landing gear cover has been repainted, it is possible that EB-2 also now wears U.S. camouflage colors. It was tested at Wright Field in these markings, then was transferred to Eglin Field, Florida for further testing, then returned again to Wright Field in April 1944. The tail code was changed to EB-200. It survived until March 1946 when it was listed as available for release, but its ultimate fate is unknown.