This aircraft is Tora (Tiger) – 110, the mount of the CO of the 261 Kokutai. This aircraft features prominently in Thorpe’s classic Japanese Naval Air Force Camouflage and Markings of WWII, being pictured on the cover, a photograph (below), and a color profile. Very attractive, but also problematic. The photograph shows a Type 21, with a dark finish on the forward fuselage and a lighter finish aft. Various people (all of whom know much more about this than me) have interpreted the difference in colors as two greens, discoloration due to primer, dirt or fading, or even as the aft fuselage being painted red matching the Hinomaru. Thorpe’s cover artwork depicts a Type 22 with the wing stripes and upper wing Hinomaru moved inward.
For my build I chose the primer interpretation and mixed the green a little lighter for the aft fuselage and sections of the upper wings, but I keep thinking it would look good in red. Fine Molds kit, all stripes are painted, tail codes are Hasegawa decals.
The fifth leading Imperial Japanese Navy ace was Takeo Okumura with 54 victories. The model represents WI-108, an A6M3 Type 22 assigned to the 201 Kokutai at Buin in September 1943. The only profile I was able to locate of this aircraft was in Osprey Aces 22, IJN Aces 1937-45, which was depicted in a badly chipped paint job. Most photographs of operational Zeros show little or no chipping, so mine is rendered similarly. Okumura was credited with four Chinese aircraft prior to the start of the Pacific War. He was assigned to the aircraft carrier Ryujo during the Guadalcanal Campaign and was transferred to the Tainan Air Group at Rabaul. When operating from Buin in September 1943, he was credited with nine victories and one shared over five sorties, a record for the Pacific War. He was lost at the end of the month attacking a convoy off Cape Cretin, New Guinea.
Saburo Sakai is the most well-known of the Japanese aces in the West, thanks to the publication of books in English of his exploits by Martin Caiden and by Henry Sakaida. He opened his account in China where he scored four victories. He was part of the force which attacked US airfields in the Philippines on 08DEC41 (local time). Over Guadalcanal he was wounded by rear gunners of a formation of SBD Dauntless dive bombers which he mistook for Wildcats, the mistake cost him an eye. He survived the war and was credited with 64 victories. V-103 was one of the aircraft flown by Sakai while a member of the Tainan Air Group. The remains of this aircraft (and those of its’ last pilot) were discovered on Guadalcanal in 1993, and Sakai himself has verified that this is one of the aircraft which he flew while with the Tainan Air Group.
Shoichi Sugita was credited with his first arial victorie on 01DEC42, a B-17 Flying Fortress. He formed part of the escort for the transport carrying ADM Isoroku Yamamoto on the day he was shot down. T2 190 was an A6M3 Type 32 assigned to the 204 Kokutai at Rabaul in May, 1943, and wears a field applied mottled camouflage. In August of 1943 he was himself shot down but escaped by parachute, although badly burned.
This aircraft is only known from entries and a sketch in Iwomoto’s journal, and is one of three he flew from Rabaul which displayed kill markings. Researchers have been trying to determine the manufacturer, model, and markings for these aircraft, but only one rather fuzzy photograph has surfaced publicly thus far. Tetsuzo Iwamoto survived the war. His personal diaries record 202 enemy aircraft claimed, historians have put the actual total at 80.
The second leading scorer of the Imperial Japanese Navy with 80 victories, Tetsuzo Iwamoto fought throughout the Pacific War and survived. During his first combat on 25FEB38 he was credited with five Chinese aircraft downed over Nanking. The model depicts the aircraft he flew from the carrier Zuikaku at Pearl Harbor and the Coral Sea.
The highest-scoring Japanese naval aviator was Hiroyoshi Nishizawa, credited with 87 victories. A Japanese photographer shot several in flight photographs of UI-105, which was flown by Nishizawa while assigned to the 251 Kokutai operating out of Rabaul in May of 1943. On 25OCT44 he led the escort group during the first Kamikaze mission in the Philippines, claiming two American aircraft. The following day he was flying as a passenger on a transport plane when it was attacked and shot down by two US Navy F6F Hellcats. Nishizawa died in the crash.
Hasegawa – While they do not have the detail nor refined engineering of the other two manufacturers, these are still good, solid kits. The main strength of the Hasegawa line is the variety of types offered – from the A6M1 to the A6M8, and everything in between. Weaknesses are the very basic cockpits and shallow wheelwells. Overall the shape looks good. The vertical fin is a little too broad in chord, but that is easily fixed. The cowling on their A6M2 is a bit small, which is noticeable when compared directly to the other manufacturers (see photo above, Hasegawa kit on the left). For many of the versions, a Hasegawa kit is still the best place to start.
Fine Molds – These are great kits, some of the best offered in our scale. Fine Molds kit the A6M2, A6M3 Type 32, and A6M5. They offer great detail and outstanding engineering. Their A6M2 kit has several options including open cowl claps, lowered landing flaps, open canopy, and wing tips which can be posed folded. The main drawbacks are price and their unique distribution method as bundles with two issues of Model Graphics magazine.
Tamiya – The Tamiya kits are every bit as nice as the Fine Molds kits, but in different ways. Asking which is best is like trying to figure out which Victoria’s Secret supermodel is the prettiest. The details are superb and the engineering allows the kits to just fall together. If I were looking to purchase new Zero kits today, the Tamiya A6M2 or A6M5s would be my first choices.
Aftermarket – I used three aftermarket parts on these builds. The Hasegawa kits all got True Details resin wheels, the Tamiya and Fine Molds wheels looked fine to me. All the kits received Eduard photoetch seatbelts, from set 73001. Eduard provides different style belts for the Mitsubishi and Nakajima-built aircraft – something I would not have caught otherwise. The center section of the canopies are all Squadron vacuforms, the other sections are kit parts. The front section of the Squadron canopies will not fit any of these three kits, even though they are intended to replace the Hasegawa parts. I also used the Eduard canopy mask set CX006, which saved a lot of time. Aviaeology supplied tailcode numerals, and Techmod supplied Hinomarus where needed.
This is a resurrected work-in-progress build log of a batch build comparison of seven kits from Hasegawa, Fine Molds, and Tamiya. For me the gains in efficiency from building in batches outweigh the burdens of repetitive construction. It also helps keep the number of kits in the stash down to reasonable levels. Thanks to a few “deals I could not refuse” at the shows I discovered I had managed to accumulate several Hasegawa Zeros. Added to a Fine Molds A6M2 and a couple more from Tamiya, there was a small pile of Zeros waiting to be built. This is also a good opportunity to compare the kits.