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.
Winged Samurai: Saburo Sakai and the Zero Fighter Pilots
By Henry Sakaida
Softcover, 159 pages, heavily illustrated
Published by Champlin Fighter Museum, August 1985
Dimensions: 8.2 x 0.5 x 11.0 inches
First-hand accounts of Japanese airmen from the Pacific War are rare in the West; biographies are almost unique. In Winged Samurai author Henry Sakaida presents the results of several interviews with Saburo Sakai, who is recognized as Japan’s fourth-highest scoring ace.
There has been a biography of Sakai’s exploits published in English, Samurai! by Martin Caiden, an adaptation of Sakai’s own Ôzora no samurai (Samurai in the Sky). It appears Caiden took several liberties with the narrative in order to dramatize the account for Western readers. These are not limited to the construction of details and conversations, Sakai himself indicates many incidents related in Caiden’s book never actually happened.
Henry Sakaida corrects Sakai’s record. The book is not presented in the usual narrative form, but it reads more as a collection of reference materials, much of which comes from Sakai’s own personal collection. It is heavily illustrated with photographs, maps, and copies of official reports. The author has researched each engagement from both sides wherever possible. Combatants are identified by name and unit, and Sakai’s own evaluations of the Allied aircraft, pilots, and tactics are of particular interest. Several pages are devoted to the combat over Guadalcanal on 07AUG42, where Sakai encountered U.S. Navy carrier aircraft for the first time and was severely wounded. Much of this account is based upon an article written by John B. Lundstrom and draws upon interviews and records of the U.S. Navy aircrews involved.
Also included are brief biographies of many of the Zero pilots Sakai flew with as well as photographs and accounts of reunions held after the war, where Sakai was treated as an honored guest by many of the men he fought against. This is an interesting book and a valuable addition to the history of the Pacific War. I would love to see it reprinted in hardback on glossy paper with color profiles of the aircraft. Maybe someday!
Shigetoshi Kudo was trained as a reconnaissance pilot and was assigned to the famous Tainan Kokutai in October 1941. When the Pacific War began he supported the Kokutai by performing reconnaissance and navigation duties over the Philippines and Dutch East Indies. The unit eventually moved to Rabaul, where Kudo was credited with his first aerial victories using air-to-air bombs. Kudo returned to Japan in the fall of 1942 where he trained to fly the Nakajima J1N1 Gekko (“Irving”) nightfighter.
The Tainan Kokutai was redesignated the 251st Kokutai in November 1942, Kudo rejoining the unit in May 1943. On strength were two J1N1 nightfighters which had been modified with the addition of oblique-firing 20mm cannon on the orders of the squadron commander, CDR Yasuna Kozono. These guns were angled to fire 30 degrees above and below the line of flight, similar to the Schräge Musik installation on German nightfighters. Kudo flew the J1N1 defending Rabaul against American B-17s, eventually claiming six plus an Australian Hudson and becoming the first nightfighter ace of the Pacific War. Japanese sources credited him with nine victories.
Kudo returned to Japan in February 1944 and was assigned to the Yokosuka Air Group. He was injured in a landing accident in May 1945. He survived the war but died in 1960.