The A6M Zero in 1/72: Shigeru Itaya Leads the Zeros at Pearl Harbor, Part 1 – The Pilot

I had been contemplating doing a series on the A6M Zero, the Japanese Imperial Navy’s legendary fighter, for quite some time. However, I found the task daunting as there were several different versions of the Zero and, by my count, 15 different manufacturers who have tried their hand at producing prebuilt 1/72 scale models of Japan’s iconic fighter. Together, they have released more than 50 prebuilt Zeros in 1/72 scale. A6M2s, A6M3s, A6M5s, clipped wings, floatplanes, carrier-based, land-based — I was completely at a loss about where to begin. Then I had an epiphany: Start at the Beginning — literally.¬† ūüôā

The United States entered WWII following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. That attack occurred in two waves of aircraft taking off from Japanese carriers, each wave comprising Zero fighters, torpedo bombers, and dive bombers. In each wave, the Zeros were the first airborne,¬†both because they needed the least runway to take off and in order to protect the slower, less maneuverable torpedo and dive bombers that followed. The pilot who led the Zeros in the first wave and the first to take off from a Japanese carrier was Shigeru Itaya, flying his A6M2 off the flagship carrier Akagi. Thus, one can reasonably argue that Itaya’s Zero was¬†the first Japanese aircraft¬†to take an aggressive action against the United States, in essence beginning the Pacific War.

Shigeru Itaya

This site is dedicated to 1/72 scale models and presumes general knowledge of WWII on the part of the reader. Thus, I’m ordinarily¬†reticent to regurgitate historical information, as there are plenty of sources on the internet accessible to any reader. If I can readily find information, so can others.¬†1/72, A6M, AI-155, Akagi, IJN, Itaya, Japan, Japanese Navy, Pearl Harbor, Zeke, ZeroHowever, I found such precious little information on¬†Lieutenant Commander Shigeru Itaya, other than the oft-repeated fact that his Zero was the first plane airborne during the attack on Pearl Harbor, that I reasoned some readers would be interested in my amateur research. I found scant¬†references to him in the books available to me and the dearth of information extended to the internet, where, despite diligent efforts, a search yielded only dribs and drabs of information.

On a¬†hunch that Itaya might¬†be better known in Japan, I searched Japanese sites and stumbled upon Japanese Wikipedia, where I found that Itaya¬†had his own entry. Unfortunately, the entry was skeletal, with not much more information than that available in English. Still, it was more information than I had. Bearing¬†in mind that I know no Japanese and had to resort to imperfect searches on Japanese websites using Google Translate, below is what little information I could gather from various sources. Itaya’s career highlights may prove somewhat tedious so the casual reader may want to skip to the next post, a review of the 1/72 scale models of Itaya’s Zero.

1. Beginnings

Itaya was born July 10, 1909, and graduated from the Naval Academy in 1929. He was a veteran of the China War and by 1937 is listed as a division officer¬†on the Ryujo aircraft carrier. By 1940, he is listed as group leader on the Hiryu aircraft carrier. By April 1941, Lieutenant Commander Itaya had been named group leader on the Akagi,¬†the flagship of the Japanese Imperial Navy’s First Fleet.

2. Pearl Harbor

According to Jim Rearden in Cracking the Zero Mystery, Itaya himself trained the Zero pilots for the Pearl Harbor raid. He was in overall command of the 43 Zero fighters in the first wave from all six carriers, including the nine from the Akagi, Itaya’s carrier. He was¬†the first to take off, guiding the other 42 Zeros to their destination. Once in Hawaii, Itaya and the eight other pilots of the Akagi attacked Hickam Field, Ewa Air Control, and Ford Island, while the Zeros of the five other carriers had different assigned targets. According to Peter Smith in Mitsubishi Zero, Itaya and his two wingmen shot down an unsuspecting B-17 bomber at Hickam Field that had at that precise moment improvidentially flown in from California. The B-17 crew managed to land the crippled bomber and run for cover, though one unfortunate member was killed in the ensuing strafing by the Japanese Zeros.

3. Port Darwin

Two months later, on February 19, 1941, in an aerial surprise attack that¬†has been called Australia’s “Pearl Harbor,”¬†Itaya led the 36 Zero fighters — nine from each of four carriers — in¬†the bombing of¬†Port Darwin, according to Peter Smith in Mitsubishi Zero. Considered the single most destructive raid in Australian history by a foreign power, the raid on Port Darwin was massive,¬†with more bombs dropped than at Pearl Harbor, though loss of life — at 236 — was one tenth that at Pearl Harbor. Incidentally, the four carriers at Port Darwin had all participated at¬†Pearl Harbor and were the same four subsequently sunk at Midway.

4. Ceylon

Itaya appears again on April 5, 1942, during the surprise “Easter Sunday Raid” on Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). As at Pearl Harbor and Port Darwin, Itaya led Zero fighters — this time 36 — that escorted bombers from five¬†Japanese carriers whose targets were British warships, harbor installations, and air bases in an attempt to destroy the British Easter Fleet. Although the day before a PBY Catalina pilot spotted the five Japanese carriers and radioed in their position before it was shot down, the Japanese still achieved surprise in yet another Pearl Harbor-style weekend attack. The attack resulted in the sinking of a British carrier and several other warships and cost the lives of 424 British subjects.¬†However, as at Pearl Harbor, most of the British Eastern Fleet was away from the port, thereby reducing potential damage.

5. Midway

Volumes have been written about the Battle of Midway in June 1942 and anyone reading this is likely familiar with the battle. Thus, I will not repeat that information here. Suffice it to say that, according to Peter Smith in Mitsubishi Zero, Itaya once again was in charge of all the Zero fighters at Midway and, in particular, led the attack on the 15 ill-fated TBD Devastators from the USS Hornet, killing 29 men (only Ensign George Gay survived). Once the Akagi was sunk, its pilots ditched their planes near other Japanese warships and Itaya and others pilots were rescued by the escorting ships.

6. Staff Officer

My admittedly faulty understanding of the Google translation of the Japanese Wikipedia indicates that Itaya became chief of staff for 23 Air Corps in October 1942 and chief of staff of 54 Air Corps in July 1944. Despite checking the indices of numerous books, I found no information on Itaya covering the two-year period between those two appointments. However, logic indicates that like many other highly skilled veteran pilots who survived Midway, he would have been used by the Japanese Navy to train the thousands of new pilots required to restore the staggering losses suffered during Midway and elsewhere as the tide turned against Japan. Still, if anyone has more information, please post a comment.

7. Kuril Islands

On July 24, 1944, just after his 35th birthday, while flying on a Mitsubishi G3M aircraft in the Kuril Islands, Itaya’s plane was accidentally shot down by friendly fire. Although his death is listed as an accident on lists of WWII Japanese pilots, it’s unclear to me whether he was shot down by ground anti-aircraft fire or by a¬†Japanese Army plane. Either way, the G3M bomber¬†went down and Itaya was killed in the crash. It is an interesting coincidence and perhaps a fitting end that a man who had dedicated his entire career to serving Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy, who was also killed when his G3M aircraft was shot down, would meet his fate the same way.

8. Was Itaya an Ace?

I found a couple of references on the internet stating that Itaya had made ace during the China War but these statements¬†were unsourced. On the other hand, I could not find Itaya¬†on the lists of Japanese aces I consulted, including Osprey’s Imperial Japanese Navy Aces 1937-45 by Henry Sakaida and Stackpole’s Japanese Naval Fighter Aces: 1932-45 by Ikuhiko Hata et al. It is something of a conundrum¬†that a fighter pilot who graduated from the Naval Academy in 1929 and died in 1944 would have failed to¬†shoot down five planes during his 15-year career, particularly since Itaya was presumably a highly skilled pilot,¬†as evidenced by his position and rank. It is even more perplexing when one considers that from 1937 to 1944 he witnessed seven years of continuous combat firsthand.¬†Furthermore, Itaya would have had¬†many opportunities available during the early years of the Sino-Japanese War, when the Zero reigned supreme over the inferior Russian-made aircraft used by the Chinese, and during the Battle of Midway, where 150 American aircraft were shot down. Perhaps more information will surface in the future that will confirm his status one way or the other.

9. Conclusion

To summarize, the highlights of Itaya’s career parallel that of the Akagi. The Akagi’s victories were essentially Itaya’s victories and the Akagi’s bitter loss at Midway effectively ended Itaya’s career as a pilot. While it is ironic that¬†a pilot who survived countless aerial¬†encounters was ultimately shot down by friendly fire, it is hardly surprising that Itaya did not survive the war, for only a handful of the elite Japanese Zero pilots at Pearl Harbor managed to do so.¬†What is¬†surprising is that there is no evidence that Itaya made ace during his 15-year career as a pilot during one of the most tumultuous and target-rich periods in aerial warfare.

Below are two lagniappe group photos from the Hiryu and Akagi aircraft carriers. The photo at left¬†is from Itaya’s time on the Hiryu, scanned from¬†Hata et al’s Japanese Naval Aces and Fighter Units (1989¬†version translated by Don Gorham). The photo at right is¬†from Itaya’s time on the Akagi, scanned from¬†Hata et al’s Japanese Naval Fighter Aces (2011 version translated by Christopher Shores). The content and photos of the two versions of Hata et al’s book differ somewhat.

itaya-hiryu    itaya-akagi

Again, thank you for your indulgence. I hope you enjoyed the post, or at least found it informative. I will continue to update this post as I come across more information or photos on Itaya.¬†If something looks amiss, please let me know. I would be delighted to correct inaccurate information so that this may be useful for other 1/72 scale collectors and wargamers. As always, comments, questions, corrections, and observations are welcome, particularly in this case where so little information on Itaya is available. Please stay tuned for reviews of prebuilt 1/72 scale models of Itaya’s Zero in the next three posts.

The Sherman in 1/72: A Firefly Named “Carole” in Normandy, Part 2 – “Brewing Up”

This is Part 2 of A Firefly Named “Carole” in Normandy. For a description of ¬†the actual tank and a review of the Dragon model, please refer to the previous post.

The Crew of the “Carole”¬†in Normandy

I was intrigued by the photo of the four young members of “Carole’s” crew in front of their vehicle “brewing up” at Gosport just before leaving England on their way to Normandy. The human interest value of the photo is immense, as we know the fate of at least two of these young men — Commander Fred Scamp perished soon thereafter, while Gunner Douglas Kay survived into old age. This type of photo where you¬†look into the faces of men who will soon face their fate is always touching to me, whether the soldiers are American, British, Russian, German, Japanese, or any other nationality.

At any rate, I wanted to recreate the aforementioned photo, or something that evinced its feel.¬†However, the fact that the photo was taken while “Carole” still had the wading trunk made it a non-starter as the Dragon model is of “Carole” after the trunk was removed. In addition, recreating anything that even looked like the background in the scene was¬†beyond my meager modeling capabilities. The only avenue available to me was to depict the scene¬†after “Carole” and its crew arrived in Normandy.

The aforementioned photo is on the left in the triptych below. (See previous post for a larger, uncropped view of this photo.) The middle photo shows “Carole” in Normandy.¬†Note the high grass, the stone wall behind the tank, and the destroyed buildings behind that wall. The photo on the right shows a similar scene of a British tank crew with their Sherman. An interesting feature of the¬†photo is that it includes tankers wearing different clothing. Click on the photo to enlarge it.carole-triptych-blue-lineThe Diorama

The diorama below is a composite of those three photos. The modest effort depicts the¬†crew taking a break in front of their tank somewhere in Normandy. Note the tall¬†grass and stone fence present in some photos taken during the Normandy campaign. I’m not unaware that the stone fence is inexplicably intact while the building is in ruins and the tree next to it is completely charred. Still, I concluded that carving rocks out of the wall to simulate damage would not be worthwhile as it could not¬†match the picture in my head anyway.1-008-best-bwBelow is the same photo in color. Ever the philistine, I’m convinced that color photos are infinitely better than black & white photos. To me, continuing to film in B&W in this day and age, as was done in¬†The Good German, which is actually an excellent film, is as silly as would be continuing to film silent movies even though we’ve mastered sound.

Note that the six tankers sport different uniforms, with the 1st, 4th, and 6th (from left) wearing standard British battledress serge while the 2nd and 3rd figures wear denim overalls. The 5th figure is dressed more casually, reflecting the motley nature of clothing in units throughout the war. These Milicast figures are nothing short of cromulent*. Click on the photo to embiggen* it.1-008-bestNote that all the men wear a black beret, the hallmark of a WWII British tanker. According to Military Modelling Vol.30 No.11, the design of the distinctive black beret was inspired by French berets used during WWI. The unstiffened crown allowed it to be easily stowed in the tight spaces within the tank while the dark color helped hide grime and stains inherent in working inside a tank.

This is not an idle observation as knowing that Brit tankers wore a black beret and Brit paras a red one would greatly enhance the casual viewer’s enjoyment of a A Bridge Too Far,¬†as a red beret would immediately signal that the action is taking place at Arnhem. ūüôā By the same token, recognizing the “Screaming Eagles” patch versus the “All American” patch immediately reveals whether the action is taking place at Eindhoven or Nijmegen.3-032Note that the animals move from photo to photo. The tan horse with a white blaze, in particular, had trouble staying on its four legs so every time it tipped over I placed it somewhere else. ūüôā The photo below is my favorite out of the dozens I took of this diorama, though I’m uncertain why.4-030

“Everyone has a backstory and deserves a guess in the absence of facts,” Ara Hagopian.

For the first time in writing these posts I had an urge to create a backstory for the cat I whimsically placed just behind the turret number. Do my fellow German bloggers, who seem to be cat lovers, or any other readers have any ideas? 5-015The cattle and horses are Preiser HO scale prepainted figures, which at first blush appeared to me to be the same size as the horses and cattle in the unpainted Preiser 1/72 scale 72511 Horses, Cows, and Sheep set. 

An indolent man at heart, I opted for the prepainted figures to avoid: 1) clipping the 72511 figures from the sprue; 2) cleaning the flash and seams; 3) gluing the two halves of each figure together; 4) priming them to ensure the paint adheres; 5) painting them; 6) detailing them; and 7) being disappointed with the results. I learned afterwards, upon actually placing the two sets side by side, that¬†the 1/72 scale figures were proportionately larger than the HO scale figures. Alas,¬†Preiser is a German company, after all.6-066Note the tarps and blanket rolls on the rear hull of the tank. These are Value Gear pieces and they are superb.¬†The stone fence is a Pegasus product that surprisingly looked the part with a simple black wash.¬†7-060Below is a fairly clear shot of the ruined building, which I had trouble bringing¬†into focus at the same time as the tank and crew. Again, a photographer I am not. The realistic building is from the PMA Stalingrad set. PMA diorama pieces are really quite nice, though difficult to find.8-067“Brewing Up”

Much has been written about the British soldier’s expectation of regular tea breaks to the detriment of achieving the objective. Some have offered explanations of this phenomenon cloaked in scholarly terms. Nonsense. The Brits may love their tea, but as their opponents have found out throughout history, they certainly achieve their objectives.british-drinking-teaFor those of us non-British subjects, the 1977 film A Bridge Too Far was in some respects a formative reference on the peculiarly British affinity for drinking tea. The star-studded film has two important tea-related scenes that left an indelible impression on this blogger.¬†

The first scene, with Sean Connery, perfectly encapsulates how the British perceive drinking tea:

Major General Urquhart:

“Hancock, I’ve got lunatics laughing at me from the woods. My original plan has been scuppered now that the jeeps haven’t arrived. My communications are completely broken down. Do you really believe any of that can be helped by a cup of tea?”

Corporal Hancock:

“Couldn’t hurt, sir,” as he hands Urquhart a cup of tea.

YouTube link:¬† second — this time heated — exchange features Robert Redford, and is more a reflection of¬†how Americans perceive the British love affair with tea:

American Officer:

“I don’t understand, why aren’t you moving, what’s the matter with you guys? Those are British troops at Arnhem. They’re hurt, bad. You’re not going to stop, not now.”

British Tank Officer:

“I’m sorry, we have our orders.”

American Officer:

“We busted our asses getting here. Half my men are killed. And you’re just gonna stop . . . ¬†and . . . drink tea?¬†“

YouTube link:

At the risk of belaboring the point, I believe ABTF was simply propagating an incorrect — yet widely held — belief among American soldiers that tea time was fairly important to the British. Still, at least in this case, let’s not blame Hollywood as this was a joint British/American production. ABTF was written by Cornelius Ryan, an Irishman; the screenplay was written by William Goldman, an American; and¬†the film was directed by Richard Attenborough, an Englishman.

(Incidentally, what a cast! Laurence Olivier, Sean Connery, Ryan O’Neal, Anthony Hopkins, Robert Redford, Michael Caine, Gene Hackman, Dirk Bogarde, Edward Fox, Elliot Gould, and James Caan, just to name the Allies. Only Is Paris Burning?,¬†Tora, Tora, Tora,¬†and Midway¬†come close. Also, those were real C-47 Skytrains/Dakotas in the film — eleven of them in total, borrowed from various countries, including Denmark, Djibouti, Finland, and Portugal. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. ūüôā )

Irrespective of how it came to be, or whether it’s a fair or accurate characterization, it is undeniable that¬†tankers-teaBritish tankers are now firmly entrenched in the modeler’s psyche as soldiers with a strong love affair with tea. Thus, regardless of the scale, they are often depicted “brewing up” with a “cuppa” in hand. The photo triptych at left, showing tanker figures in different scales, makes the point clearly. At left is the Milicast 1/76 figure used in the diorama; at center is a Dartmoor 1/48 figure; and at right is a Dragon 1/6 figure. The first two photos are from their respective manufacturer’s websites; the third I scanned from an article in the French magazine¬†Steel Masters #58.

List of Diorama Pieces

For those interested, below is the source of each piece:

  • Tank: Dragon 60250 Firefly Vc, 13th/18th Royal Hussars, 27th Armoured Brigade, Normandy 1944;
  • Tarp and Blanket rolls on hull:¬†Value Gear Allied Tents, Tarps, and Crates;
  • Crew: Milicast 061 British Squaddies and Milicast 054 British Troops;
  • Animals: Various Preiser HO and 1/72 sets;
  • Trees:¬†Various¬†Woodland Scenics;
  • Building: Precision Model Art PMA P0204 Stalingrad;
  • Stone¬†Fence: Pegasus Hobbies 5202 Stone Walls;
  • Spoked Wheel: Hat 8260 WWI German Field Wagon;
  • Meadow: Woodland Scenics Grass Mat;
  • Tufts of Grass: Noch¬†Scenemaster, Spring Grass Tufts; and
  • Backdrop: Silk poster ordered on Amazon from China.

I hope you enjoyed this simple¬†diorama of “Carole” and its crew. Again, if something looks amiss, please let me know. I would be delighted to correct inaccurate information so that this may be useful for other 1/72 scale collectors and wargamers.¬†As always, comments, questions, corrections, observations, and backstories for the cat are welcome.


Once again, I’d like to thank my friend and fellow collector J. Buccellato of NY for his incredible skill and patience in painting the Milicast figures. He’s the sine qua non in creating these dioramas. His “therapy” is my joy. *For those not familiar with the two neologisms in this post, I highly recommend Season 7, Episode 16 of the Simpsons on the episode’s 20th anniversary.¬†ūüôā