Tamiya Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero of Saburo Sakai in 1/72 Scale

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.

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Hasegawa Mitsubishi A6M3 Zero of Shoichi Sugita in 1/72 Scale

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.

Chief Petty Officer Shoichi Sugita flew the Kawanishi N1K2 Shiden-Kai with the 343rd Kokuti operating from Matsuama, Japan in March 1945.  CPO Sugita was credited with approximately seventy victories, including seven in the Shiden-Kai.  He was killed on 15APR45, shot down while attempting to take off by US Navy F6F Hellcats.  His Shiden-Kai is modeled here:  https://inchhighguy.wordpress.com/2020/05/07/hasegawa-kawanishi-n1k2-shiden-kai-%e7%b4%ab%e9%9b%bb-violet-lightning-george-in-1-72-scale/

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Tamiya Mitsubishi A6M5 Zero of Tetsuzo Iwamoto in 1/72 Scale

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.

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Hasegawa Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero of Hiroyoshi Nishizawa in 1/72 Scale

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.

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A6M Zero Aces Batch Build in 1/72 Scale Part III

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A metal rod in the nose makes a good place to handle the model while painting and a convenient way to keep it off the bench while drying. The camo on all these Zeros utilize the same color palette which makes painting more efficient.

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For some reason I always feel “almost done” after the decals are on, but that’s not really the case, is it? Maybe it’s because you can finally start to see something which resembles the finished product developing from the mass of parts. The major sub-assemblies are all complete but there are several smaller parts still on the sprues.

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Decaling is completed here. Quite a few decals, actually. The Tamiya and Fine Molds kits both included extensive stenciling, the FM sheet especially. I purchased a few of the Hasegawa kits at shows, one of the decal sheets in those was ruined, a few more were the older type with the light reds and ivory whites. I used TechMod sheet 72116 for the Hinomaru and Aviaeology sheets for the tail codes to provide the needed replacements. Additional codes were made from an HO scale train sheet from the LHS.

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Here’s the underside of one of the Hasegawa Type 22s, showing the incorporation of the replacement wheelwells. Brake lines are 32-gauge beading wire, tow hooks are HO scale lifting pad eyes. The brake lines run down between the main gear leg and the covers, between the attachment points. The Tamiya covers are molded with a space between the points, the other covers were slotted with a razor saw. The Tamiya kits also came with parts for the U-shaped retraction arms for the inner doors, arms for the other kits were fabricated from wire.

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I used a “sludge wash” to bring out the panel lines, which is just thinned acrylic paint mixed with a small amount of dish soap. I generally like just enough contrast to get the panel lines to show up. A medium grey was used on the underside, but black was used on the uppers because the green is so dark.

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A group shot of all the kits together.

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SUMMARY:

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.

A6M Zero Aces Batch Build in 1/72 Scale Part II

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These are the A6M2 kit engines from the three manufacturers – Hasegawa (upper left), Fine Molds (upper right), and Tamiya (lower). Push rods from 0.010″ round stock were added to the Hasegawa engines. The cases were painted RLM 65 blue-grey, the ignition ring is light gull grey. Ignition wires are roughed in with very fine Copper wire. The Hasegawa engine is definitely smaller when seen with the others, but looks the part inside it’s cowling.

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The Fine Molds kit comes with separate flaps, a nice option. I decided to drop the flaps on one of the Hasegawa A6M3s (top) and the Tamiya A6M5 (bottom) as well. The Tamiya A6M2 is engineered with the entire flap molded into the upper wing piece, while their A6M5 flap is split into halves with the upper & lower wing parts, so I went with the easier job of the two.

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The underside of the wings of the Hasegawa kits were cut out for the resin castings. A bit of a gap on this one, but nothing which can’t be filled and the wheelwells are much deeper now. I like the deep wells a lot better. In this picture you can also see the boattail where the wing underside joins the fuselage. The Hasegawa kits all had small gaps at this joint, and even the Fine Molds & Tamiya kits needed some smoothing there.

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A “conversion” from a Type 22 to a Type 32 – cut off the wingtips and reshape the ends to represent the aerodynamic fairing. I had managed to acquire three Type 22 kits but no 32s, easy enough to fix.

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Construction is almost complete, just have to add the canopies and mask. Now is a good time to mention some of the considerations involved in doing a batch build. The main advantages lie in the efficiencies gained in building kits of same construction and / or color pallet, but that can also lead to confusion in the detail differences between the individual models if you’re not careful. The key is establishing a system to account for the differences between the models. Organization is crucial, just come up with a system which makes sense to you, and stick to it. In this case, I have used the kit boxes as trays, and arranged the model variants in chronological order, from left to right. A post-it note also helps to remind me of the final markings for each kit. This is important, as details such as spinner colors and other painted markings often vary between aircraft. The airframes on the stand are arranged in the same order.

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Sub-assemblies and other parts prepared for painting are kept in front of their respective boxes. Where there are important variations in the camouflage or markings, good notes or pictures are very useful. Notice that the post-it for Tiger 110 says “Nakajima” – many of the colors on Nakajima-made Zero components are different than those manufactured by Mitsubishi.

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The small cards contain parts specific to each model, and are labeled with the pilot’s names like the post-its. They will be sprayed with Alclad lacquers and contain the parts which will be black, silver, or Aotake. The engines are in order on their card, left to right matching the sequence of the boxes. The drop tanks and landing gear covers all get the same color, four are identical parts from Hasegawa kits, the ones on the right of each group are Tamiya.

A6M Zero Aces Batch Build in 1/72 Scale Part I

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.

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Fine Mold’s kit is spectacular. It is incredibly detailed, and includes options such as dropped flaps and folded wingtips. It comes molded in four colors approximating the finished colors of the different components. FM produced three variants, an A6M2, A6M3, and an A6M5. Each was distributed by bundling half the sprues with an issue of Model Graphics magazine. The magazines featured references, a gallery of finished Zeros, a build article, kit instructions, and even a cut-out for those wishing to make their own box! All in Japanese, of course, but still useful.

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Here is a comparison of the interior components of the three kits. At the top is Hasegawa. While not as detailed as the Fine Molds or Tamiya offerings, the older Hasegawa kits offer every Zero variant except the -K trainer, and are generally accurate in shape. The liabilities are typical for Hasegawa – Spartan cockpits and shallow wheelwells. The middle components in the green plastic are from Fine Molds, an outstanding kit in every respect. At the bottom Tamiya’s Zeros, are some of the best kits ever produced in 1/72 scale.

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The lower wing parts are finely engraved and feature recessed panel lines on all three kits. The Hasegawa offering at the top has shallow wheel wells molded into the part, the other two have deep wells which go all the way to the upper wing part. Note the cut-outs on the Fine Molds wing in the center which allow for variations.

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The lines of FM and Tamiya’s A6M2’s are a very close match, with just a few differences in engineering. Here is a shot of the FM (near) fuselage taped up with the Hasegawa. The vertical stabilizer is a bit too broad on the Hasegawa Zero, but this is easy enough to correct.

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To update the Hasegawa kits, I decided to substitute castings of superior components from the other two. Here are the wheelwells cut from the Fine Molds kit and prepared for casting.

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The borrowed components are ready for the pouring of RTV rubber molding material. The frames are made from Lego blocks, with masking tape underneath. The masking tape seals the bottom of the molds, and allows the masters to be fixed in place. I mainly used FM parts because the cockpit floors were slightly narrower than those in the Tamiya kit, which fit the Hasegawa fuselage better. The Tamiya kit parts would also work. The white assembly in the upper left corner is made from Evergreen stock, and will fit behind the horseshoe-shaped frame aft of the pilot’s seat. When the castings are completed I will have the parts needed to update the Hasegawa kits, and add a little more detail to the visible area behind the pilot’s seat on all the builds.

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Once the RTV molds have cured, the actual casting doesn’t take much time. Pour, wait, pop, repeat. In between pours, stringer detail and other details can be made from 0.010″ square Plastistruct and added. Here is a shot of the progress on a Hasegawa, Fine Molds, and Tamiya cockpits, from top to bottom. The Hasegawa kits will get a whole new cockpit, the others get a few enhancements.

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Here are the basic colors in place, which allows some of the detail to show. The interiors were first primed with Alclad black. The Aotake translucent protective coating could vary in shade from blues to greens, mine is a 50 / 50 mix of Alclad transparent green and transparent blue over Aluminum. I used Model Master Interior Green FS 34151 for the Mitsubishi cockpit green. This was misted down over the black primer to leave a shadow effect in the nooks and crannies. Two additional lighter mixes were sprayed from directly above to enhance the highlights.

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Here’s all seven cockpits in the basic colors, no washes or detail painting have been added at this point. These assemblies are about 1.25 inches long (32 mm), much smaller than shown in the picture. The cockpit in the upper left was painted with mixes of Model Master Interior Green, Light Gull Gray, and Radome Tan to represent the early Nakajima color. From above, the effect of misting the color layers on to leave the black shadowing is more subtle, but still provides the definition needed to show detail.

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I have added pads for the seats, painted as either canvas or leather. Seat belts are Eduard PE, and Eduard provides different style belts for each manufacturer. Most of the wire detail was added with 32 gauge beading wire from the craft store, levers are 0.010″ & 0.015″ Plastistruct rod. Instrument decals are from the kits and the spares box, Fine Molds provided the most comprehensive decal sheet of the three.

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This is a tub posed with the sidewalls from a Hasegawa kit. Everything was sealed with Future (Kleer), then given a wash of thin black enamel. Switches were drybrushed with silver to bring out details.

Winged Samurai Book Review

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Winged Samurai: Saburo Sakai and the Zero Fighter Pilots

By Henry Sakaida

Softcover, 159 pages, heavily illustrated

Published by Champlin Fighter Museum, August 1985

Language: English

ISBN-10: 091217305X

ISBN-13: 978-0912173054

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! 

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Shigetoshi Kudo, the First Nightfighter Ace of the Pacific War

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.

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Chief Petty Officer Shigetoshi Kudo poses with his Mitsubishi C5M “Babs” reconnaissance plane. On August 29, 1942 Kudo intercepted a formation of eight B-17s attacking Rabaul. He flew above the formation and dropped air-to-air bombs, reporting claims for one destroyed and one probable. American records did not show any losses.

 

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251 NAG commanding officer CDR Yasuna Kozono on the left, CPO Shigetoshi Kudo on the right at Rabaul. Kudo holds a presentation sword inscribed “For Conspicuous Military Valor”, Kozono ordered the modification of the J1N1 Gekko to carry the oblique cannons.

 

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A J1N1 Gekko “Irving” nightfighter showing the 20mm cannon installations above and below the fuselage. This aircraft carries an overall black or dark green finish and the tail codes of the Yokosuka Naval Air Group. The Gekko flown by Kudo over Rabaul was camouflaged in dark green over light gray-green and carried the tail codes UI-13.

 

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On May 21, 1943 Kudo claimed his first night victories in the J1N1, both B-17Es. The first was 41-9244 “Honi Kuu Okole”, the second an unnamed Fortress, 41-9011. Neither aircraft was seen to go down, the Americans attributing their losses to a mid-air collision. Only seven crewmen of the twenty carried by the two aircraft survived the crashes. Six were executed by the Japanese at Rabaul, bombardier Gordon Manual evaded capture with the help of natives and was eventually rescued by the submarine USS Gato (SS-212) eight months later. Honi Kuu Okole was originally requisitioned from a Royal Air Force order and was one of four Fortresses in the Pacific camouflaged in the RAF Temperate Sea scheme. Model of Honi Kuu Okole here: https://inchhighguy.wordpress.com/2020/10/08/airfix-boeing-b-17e-conversion-honi-kuu-okole-in-1-72-scale/

 

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B-17F “Georgia Peach” 41-24454 was downed by Kudo on June 13, 1943. One of eighteen B17s attacking the airfield at Vunakanau, her loss was attributed to anti-aircraft fire by the Americans. Two of her crew survived the crash, Navigator Philip Bek was executed at Rabaul, Bombardier Jack Wisener survived the war as a POW.

 

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Seen here taking off from Townville, Australia is B-17E “Naughty But Nice” serial number 41-2430. Kudo shot her down on June 26, 1943, her loss again being attributed by the Americans to flak. 41-2430 was finished in the Hawaiian Air Depot camouflage scheme.

 

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The nose art of “Naughty But Nice” is currently on display at the Kokopo War Museum at Rabaul, New Britain. The remains of the Fortress and her crew were discovered in 1982 by a team including the sole survivor of her crash, Navigator Jose Holguin, who returned the remains of his crewmates to the United States.

 

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Kudo’s second victim on the night of June 26, 1943 was B-17F “Taxpayers Pride”, serial number 41-24448. Waist gunner Joel Griffin was the sole survivor from the crew of ten, he survived the war as a POW. (Australian War Memorial photograph)

 

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B-17F “Pluto II” serial number 41-24543 was claimed by Kudo on June 30, 1943, his sixth Flying Fortress. All ten members of her crew were lost, including Australian William MacKay who was sent to operate a new radar set. Kudo also put in claims for a B-24 but American records only show one B-24 loss on that date, B-24D 42-40254 which was sent on a weather reconnaissance mission and never checked in. Other sources credit another J1N1 nightfighter pilot, LTJG Satoru Ono, with her destruction.
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Kudo’s final victory was a Lockheed Hudson of the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s No. 3 Squadron, NZ 2033 serial number 3856 operating from Guadalcanal. She was lost with all four of her crew on 13 July 1943 on flare dropping mission. Pictured is another No. 3 Squadron Hudson, NZ 2035.