The A6M Zero in 1/72: Akagi’s Zeros Prepare for Pearl Harbor Diorama, Part 2.1 – Prebuilt 1/72 Models

This is Part 2.1 of a series of posts on the construction of a diorama depicting the Zeros of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Akagi aircraft carrier preparing to take off as part of the first wave attack on Pearl Harbor. This post concerns only prebuilt 1/72 scale models depicting Zeros from the Akagi. To understand the concept of this diorama project, please refer to the previous two posts. 

Prebuilt 1/72 Scale Akagi Zeros

As I’ve indicated in the past, I lack the modeling skills to build the aircraft necessary for this diorama. Thus, I’ll be using nine prebuilt diecast 1/72 planes. To my knowledge, five manufacturers — AFV Club, Corgi, Dragon Wings, Forces of Valor, and Witty Wings — have tried their hand at producing models of the A6M2 Zero — the version of the Zero used at Pearl Harbor — specifically representing Zeros from the Akagi.*

The photo below shows the Akagi Zero models from the five aforementioned manufacturers, in alphabetical order from left to right. Note the difference in the base color, which reflects the continuing debate over the true color of the actual Zeros.Zero Fronts 3Below is an overhead shot of the five models. Note that the AFV Club and Dragon models have “inked” panel lines, burnt umber and black, respectively, which make the lines stand out. By contrast, the panel lines on the Witty, which are widely considered to be close to scale, are barely visible. My preference is the middle route taken by both Corgi and FOV — while their panel lines may be overscaled, the fact that they were not inked results in a Goldilocks look.Zero OverheadFinally, the lagniappe overhead shot below allows better comparison of dimensions. As is apparent from the photo, the difference in dimensions is de minimis (couldn’t resist the alliterative flourish). Ultimately, however, the reader can make that judgment.Zero Pentagon 1For purposes of the diorama, the plan is to use these five prebuilt models plus four duplicates to complete the nine Zeros in Akagi’s first wave. Since these manufacturers combined have produced only the AI-154 and AI-155, the project will require disguising the tail numbers so that they match the nine tail numbers used on the Akagi (see table in previous post). That is the subject of the next post. 

Again, thank you for your indulgence and I hope you enjoyed the post. If something looks amiss, please let me know. I would be delighted to correct inaccurate information so that this may be useful to other 1/72 scale collectors and wargamers. As always, comments, questions, corrections, and observations are welcome. As mentioned, stay tuned to see these Zeros with the nine new tail numbers in the next post.


* While Atlas Editions and Oxford Diecast also produced A6M2 Zeros for aircraft carriers, neither made an Akagi Zero. Atlas produced a model belonging to the Kaga aircraft carrier (AII-105). Using the same Atlas casting, Oxford Diecast later produced an A6M2 Zero model belonging to the Ryujo aircraft carrier (DI-108). In any case, the Atlas/Oxford models are wheels-up only (wheels are molded retracted into the lower fuselage), requiring a stand and making it difficult to pose them next to other models.

The A6M Zero in 1/72: Akagi’s Zeros Prepare for Pearl Harbor Diorama, Part 2 – The Tail Numbers

This is Part 2 of a series of posts on the construction of a diorama depicting the Zeros of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Akagi aircraft carrier preparing to take off as part of the first wave attack on Pearl Harbor. Providing the history of the Zero or its technical details is beyond the scope of this article. This post concerns only the tail numbers of the Zeros of Akagi’s first wave. To understand the concept of this diorama project, please refer to the previous post. 

The Akagi Zeros and Their Tail Numbers

As previously mentioned, the Akagi contributed nine Zeros and 27 Kates to the first wave attack. Below is a photo of the Zeros on the deck of the Akagi just prior to take-off.Akagi_Pearl_Harbor_Second_Wave_PrepTo create the diorama, it is necessary to determine what tail numbers were used in the first wave. In the aftermath of WWII, there was some controversy and confusion concerning the tail numbers of the various aircraft that participated in the attack and whether they Tamiya AI-101were in the first or second wave. Plastic model manufacturers, including Tamiya, even issued models of the AI-101 Zero with yellow command stripes. Photos later proved conclusively that the AI-101 did not carry the horizontal yellow command stripes on the tail and, in fact had participated in the second wave, not the first. Further research shed more light on the tail numbers and at this point the issue is mostly settled.

The table below provides context regarding where each of the Zeros fit within the organizational framework of Akagi’s aircraft. As in the past, I created the table for learners like me who want to visualize where a small piece fits into a larger whole. As I’ve previously made clear, I’m just an amateur enthusiast (redundancy intended) so please use the table at your own risk. I relied on a number of sources, particularly Peter Smith’s Mitsubishi Zero, photos of an Akagi display at the USS Arizona Memorial Museum, and bits and pieces from the internet. Note that the squadron was made up of three flights (shotai) of three aircraft each. The Zeros with horizontal yellow stripes led each three-plane flight. The two Zeros below each yellow-striped Zero belonged to the shotai’s wingmen, in order of rank. Akagi's Zeros JPEG from Excel (2) - CopyFor purposes of the diorama, I will be using nine prebuilt models made by AFV Club, Corgi, Dragon Wings, Forces of Valor, and Witty Wings. 

Again, thank you for your indulgence and I hope you enjoyed the post. If something looks amiss, please let me know. I would be delighted to correct inaccurate information so that this may be useful to other 1/72 scale collectors and wargamers. As always, comments, questions, corrections, and observations are welcome. Stay tuned for a photo overview of prebuilt 1/72 scale Zero models made specifically for the Akagi to be used in the diorama.

The A6M Zero in 1/72: Akagi’s Zeros Prepare for Pearl Harbor Diorama, Part 1 – The Concept

I derive more pleasure from my models when they’re combined with appropriate figures and placed in historically accurate settings — obviously within the limitations posed by 1/72 scale. Thus, I was eager to place the Zeros in my collection in a diorama recreating the scene on the Akagi aircraft carrier as its first wave prepared to take off for the attack on Pearl Harbor. This series of posts concerns the construction of such a diorama.

As mentioned in previous posts, the Akagi was the flagship — and one of six aircraft carriers — of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Kido Butai — the strike force that carried out the attack on Pearl Harbor. The attack was carried out in two waves, each comprising Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters, Nakajima B5N Kate torpedo and level bombers, and Aichi D3A Val dive bombers. The Akagi contributed nine Zeros and 27 Kate bombers to that first wave. (Akagi’s Val dive bombers participated in the second wave.)

The superb illustration below depicts the Akagi as it prepared to launch its aircraft at Pearl Harbor. Note the nine Zero fighters amidships, parallel to the island, followed by the 27 Kate bombers aft of the midships elevator reaching all the way back to the stern.Force Flagship Akagi 2 (3)(NB: I found the unsourced illustration above on the internet. While sourced illustrations of the Akagi abound, this particular one actually depicts the formation of the Zeros and Kates of the first wave as they prepared to take off for Pearl Harbor. I would appreciate information on its source, both so I may provide proper attribution to the artist and perhaps acquire the plate at higher resolution. If you know the source, please contact me.)

The Akagi measured 855 feet from bow to stern but its wooden flight deck was 817 feet. The goal is to represent the 140 feet of the flight deck delimited by the yellow rectangle shown in the illustration below (roughly 1/6 of the entire flight deck). Akagi Diagram 5The project will require nine A6M2 Zero fighters plus one B5N2 Kate — the lone representative of the 27 Kates of the Akagi in the first wave. That leading Kate is significant, however, as it belonged to Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, who was in overall command of all aircraft participating in the attack on Pearl Harbor. For those of us who grew up watching Tora! Tora! Tora! each year, who could forget Fuchida barking the codeword three times into his radio to indicate the Japanese had achieved complete surprise? 

The diorama will also require construction of the flight deck, the midships elevator, and the island superstructure. The enormous exhaust funnel on the starboard side, as well as the antiaircraft guns on either side of the carrier, are beyond the scope of this project as they’re located below the flight deck. (Forgive the funky orange outlined text. It was necessary to make the text stand out.)

This series of posts will cover the aircraft, pilots, deck crew, flight deck, and island superstructure. With any luck, the last post will bring all these elements together in a fairly straightforward diorama. Here’s the plan:

Part 1:      The Concept;

Part 2:      The Actual Zero Tail Numbers;
Part 2.1:   The Prebuilt Zero Models;
Part 2.2:   The Diorama Zeros;

Part 3:      The Actual Pilots;
Part 3.1:   IJN Pilots in 1/72 Scale;

Part 4:      The Deck Crew;

Part 5:      The Flight Deck;

Part 6:      The Island; and

Part 7:      The Diorama.

The lagniappe photo below of aircraft preparing to take off from the Akagi provides a good idea of the project.Akagi__class_PH2W_fullWhile I intend to complete this project in the next three months, please remember the following stanza from Robert Burns’ immortal Scottish poem Tae a Moose, later popularized in English by John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men:

“But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!”

Again, thank you for your indulgence and I hope you enjoyed the post. If something looks amiss, please let me know. I would be delighted to correct inaccurate information so that this may be useful to other 1/72 scale collectors and wargamers. As always, comments, questions, corrections, and observations are welcome. Please do contact me if you know the source of the illustration. Stay tuned for a synopsis of the Akagi’s first wave Zeros in the next post.

The A6M Zero in 1/72: Shigeru Itaya Leads the Zeros at Pearl Harbor, Part 4 – The Witty Wings Model

This is Part 4 of Shigeru Itaya Leads the Zeros at Pearl Harbor. It is a review of the Witty Wings 72-012-001 1/72 scale model of Itaya’s Zero at Pearl Harbor. For a brief biographical note on Shigeru Itaya and reviews of the Dragon Wings and Forces of Valor models of the same aircraft, please refer to the previous three posts. Relevant information on Itaya’s aircraft from those posts is repeated below to make this review self-contained. The reader may want to skip directly to the review of the Witty Wings model. 

Itaya’s A6M2 Zero, Tail No. AI-155

As discussed in Part 1, Itaya led the 43 Zeros from all carriers in the first wave of the attack on Pearl Harbor. In each wave the Zero planes 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. As the leader of the first wave of Zeros, Itaya was the first Japanese pilot airborne during the attack.

As noted previously, there is precious little information available on Itaya. This dearth of information extends to Itaya’s plane at Pearl Harbor, a Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero, tail no. AI-155. Although there are some references on the internet that Itaya’s Zero’s tail no. may have been something other than AI-155, the books I consulted consistently use that number. To my knowledge, there are no existing photos of the AI-155, though there are enough photos of other planes from the Akagi aircraft carrier to give us a reasonably accurate understanding of its colors and markings.

Below is a color profile from what is probably the most comprehensive source of information on the colors and markings of WWII Japanese aircraft, Eduardo Cea’s eight-volume treatise entitled Japanese Military Aircraft. I scanned this particular profile from Volume 2, The Air Force of the Japanese Imperial Navy: Carrier-Based Aircraft, 1922-1945 (I). While I’m aware that there are a number of errors in the English translation of the Spanish text that are somewhat distracting, the series is beautifully illustrated, incredibly informative, and inarguably comprehensive, and, being fluent in Spanish, I blithely overlooked the errors. :-) The profile is reproduced here for discussion purposes under the fair use exception to the copyright laws.1/72, 85032, A6M, AI-155, Akagi, FOV, Forces of Valor, IJN, Itaya, Japanese Navy, Pearl Harbor, Zeke, ZeroItaya’s Zero at Pearl Harbor has been released in 1/72 scale by three different manufacturers: Dragon Wings 50017; Forces of Valor 85032; and Witty Wings 72-012-001. This post concerns the Witty Wings model. The Dragon Wings and Forces of Valor models were reviewed in the previous two posts. 

The Witty Wings 72-012-001 Zero

Below is a portside view of the Witty model. Unlike the Dragon and FOV models, which are caramel and ivory, respectively, the Witty model is a pale gray that tends towards white. The photos below are equivalent to those of the Dragon and FOV model. I took them photos at the same time, alternating the model for each different shot, so as to control for lighting and angle. As is clear from the photos, the pale color of the Witty model does not photograph well or, more accurately, I lacked the skills to photograph the Witty model well.1/72, 72-012-001, A6M, AI-155, Akagi, IJN, Itaya, Japanese Navy, Pearl Harbor, Witty, Zeke, ZeroNote that the panel lines are faintly visible. The diminutive width of the lines is a feature of the Witty that pleased many collectors, as they appear to be more to scale than those of other manufacturers. In addition, unlike Dragon, Witty did not apply any type of wash to highlight the lines, making them appear even fainter. It is this combination of smaller size and lack of a wash that gives the impression that the panel lines are close to scale. While I understand the desire for accuracy in scale and respect the point of view, I find the Witty lines too faint. The Dragon panel lines may be too pronounced; the Witty lines, however, are not pronounced enough. Still, I suspect a very light inking of the Witty lines would result in Goldilocks panel lines.1/72, 72-012-001, A6M, AI-155, Akagi, IJN, Itaya, Japanese Navy, Pearl Harbor, Witty, Zeke, ZeroThe photo below provides an excellent view of the tail number “AI-155.” As mentioned in the Dragon and FOV reviews, the “AI” code was the designation for the Akagi aircraft carrier. In the three-digit number after “AI”, the first digit (“1”) indicates that it is a fighter plane. The last two digits (“55”) are simply the aircraft number within the unit. The tail numbers on Japanese carrier aircraft were usually red.

Note also the three horizontal yellow stripes on the tail that indicated command: three stripes for the group leader; two stripes for a squadron leader (9 aircraft); and one stripe for a flight leader (3 aircraft). Note also the “no step” rectangular area outlined in red at the rear of each wing next to the wing root.1/72, 72-012-001, A6M, AI-155, Akagi, IJN, Itaya, Japanese Navy, Pearl Harbor, Witty, Zeke, ZeroThe photo below provides an excellent view of the Hinomaru, which was carried on both sides of the fuselage aft of the wing and on both the upper surface and underside of each wing — six “circles of the sun” in total. The vertical red stripe on the fuselage is the identification mark for the aircraft carrier Akagi.

Note also the manufacturing plate stenciled just aft of the red stripe. The inset shows that the plate bears the number 1575, meaning it was the 1,575th Zero built. The “2-2-9” means it was built in the Japanese year 2602, second month, ninth day = February 9, 1942. (Yes, two months after Pearl Harbor. :-) Like FOV, Witty “borrowed” this particular stencil from a Zero recovered at Port Moresby in April 1942.) Incidentally, the A6M is called the “Zero” because it first entered service in the Japanese year 2600 (1940), the zero year of the new Japanese century. Please bear in mind that the entire plate is just 4mm wide (just over 1/8 inch). Though the manufacturing plate on the Witty is not as crisp as those on the Dragon and FOV models, Witty should still be commended for the effort.1/72, 72-012-001, A6M, AI-155, Akagi, IJN, Itaya, Japanese Navy, Pearl Harbor, Witty, Zeke, ZeroBelow is a shot of the starboard side. Note the absence of the manufacturing plate, which was only stenciled on the port side.1/72, 72-012-001, A6M, AI-155, Akagi, IJN, Itaya, Japanese Navy, Pearl Harbor, Witty, Zeke, ZeroIn the photo below, note the polished natural metal propeller. Note also the two red warning stripes on the tips of the blades that created two neat red circles when the propeller was spinning. As is the case with the vast majority of 1/72 scale prebuilt models, the propeller spins freely.

Note the outlets for the 20mm cannons on the leading edges of the wings just above the landing struts. Also on the leading edge of the portside wing, note the pitot tube (shadow on floor), which cannot be taken for granted. The Corgi Zeros, for example, do not have one.1/72, 72-012-001, A6M, AI-155, Akagi, IJN, Itaya, Japanese Navy, Pearl Harbor, Witty, Zeke, ZeroAs with the Dragon and FOV models, the photo below shows that the landing strut covers on the Witty also have the “55” that matches the last two digits of the tail number. Note that unlike Dragon and FOV, Witty omitted the oval-shaped fasteners on the cowling. Note also the metal drop tank that gave the Zero an extra 73 imperial gallons of fuel (87 US gallons), significantly increasing its range. Later drop tanks were made of wood and had a slightly different shape. Note also that, like FOV, Witty included a pilot.1/72, 72-012-001, A6M, AI-155, Akagi, IJN, Itaya, Japanese Navy, Pearl Harbor, Witty, Zeke, Zero

The Rub 

Well, no, not really a rub — more of a quibble. As previously mentioned, Witty inexplicably omitted the oval-shaped fasteners on the cowling, resulting in a generic-looking cowling. I initially assumed that Witty intentionally omitted the fasteners in order to use the same cowling on its three different Zero models (A6M2, A6M3, and A6M5). However, upon taking a closer look, I realized that the cowling was indeed that for an A6M2 — sans fasteners.

The photo triptych below of three different Witty Zero models demonstrates that Witty crafted a different cowling for each of their three models. The cowling on the A6M2 is wider and shorter than that on the A6M3, reflecting the different engines used on each, and has a scoop that runs the length of the cowling. The A6M2 cowling also lacks the individual exhaust pipes that protrude from the cowling flaps on the A6M5. Zero Triptych

The lagniappe photo below shows that while Witty neglected the fasteners, it offset the lapse somewhat by including the aircraft number “55” on the underside of the cowling as was done on the strut covers — a trivial detail perhaps, but pleasing nonetheless. While other manufacturers included the number on the landing strut covers, Witty alone included the number on the cowling.034 (3)

The Upshot

The Witty 72-012-001 Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero is a beautiful model that closely resembles the original. The excellent casting shows no perceptible problems in its proportions. The panel lines, though faint, are the closest to scale. The cowling, propeller, and undercarriage are all well executed, with no apparent issues other than the missing cowling fasteners. The markings are accurate and crisp and the aircraft number on the underside of the cowling is a neat detail. All Witty Zeros come in wheels down version only, which, although not ideal, still gives the collector the option to display the models on their stands or use them without the stands in dioramas. Matchbox, for example, made its Zeros in wheels up mode only, making it nearly impossible to use in dioramas. While Witty included no features such as a sliding canopy like Dragon or a removable cowling like FOV, their absence does not detract from the model. In short, the Witty A6M2 Zero is a terrific little model — a proud replica of the real thing — and even a cursory review of model aircraft forums reveals that it is a favorite among Zero collectors.

Again, thank you for your indulgence and I hope you enjoyed the post. 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. Stay tuned for a simple diorama of Itaya’s aircraft preparing to take off from the Akagi aircraft carrier at Pearl Harbor in the next post.

The A6M Zero in 1/72: Shigeru Itaya Leads the Zeros at Pearl Harbor, Part 3 – The Forces of Valor Model

This is Part 3 of Shigeru Itaya Leads the Zeros at Pearl Harbor. It is a review of the Forces of Valor 85032 1/72 scale model of Itaya’s Zero at Pearl Harbor. For a brief biographical note on Shigeru Itaya and a review of the Dragon Wings model of the same aircraft, please refer to the previous two posts. Relevant information on Itaya’s aircraft from those posts is repeated below to make this review self-contained. The reader may want to skip directly to the review of the FOV model. 

Itaya’s A6M2 Zero, Tail No. AI-155

As discussed in Part 1, Itaya led the 43 Zeros from all carriers in the first wave of the attack on Pearl Harbor. In each wave the Zero planes 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. As the leader of the first wave of Zeros, Itaya was the first Japanese pilot airborne during the attack.

As noted previously, there is precious little information available on Itaya. This dearth of information extends to Itaya’s plane at Pearl Harbor, a Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero, tail no. AI-155. Although there are some references on the internet that Itaya’s Zero’s tail no. may have been something other than AI-155, the books I consulted consistently use that number. To my knowledge, there are no existing photos of the AI-155, though there are enough photos of other planes from the Akagi aircraft carrier to give us a reasonably accurate understanding of its colors and markings.

Below is a color profile from what is probably the most comprehensive source of information on the colors and markings of WWII Japanese aircraft, Eduardo Cea’s eight-volume treatise entitled Japanese Military Aircraft. I scanned this particular profile from Volume 2, The Air Force of the Japanese Imperial Navy: Carrier-Based Aircraft, 1922-1945 (I). While I’m aware that there are a number of errors in the English translation of the Spanish text that are somewhat distracting, the series is beautifully illustrated, incredibly informative, and inarguably comprehensive, and, being fluent in Spanish, I blithely overlooked the errors. :-) The profile is reproduced here for discussion purposes under the fair use exception to the copyright laws.1/72, 85032, A6M, AI-155, Akagi, FOV, Forces of Valor, IJN, Itaya, Japanese Navy, Pearl Harbor, Zeke, ZeroItaya’s Zero at Pearl Harbor has been released in 1/72 scale by three different manufacturers: Dragon Wings 50017; Forces of Valor 85032; and Witty Wings 72-012-001. This post concerns the Forces of Valor (FOV) model. The Dragon Wings model was reviewed in the previous post. A review of the Witty Wings model will follow shortly in a separate post, with equivalent photos to the other two for ease of comparison.

The Forces of Valor 85032 Zero

Below is a portside view of the FOV model. Unlike the Dragon model, the FOV model does not have the caramel “ameiro” finish. Its tone is not gray, either; instead, it’s more of a light ivory.1/72, 85032, A6M, AI-155, Akagi, FOV, Forces of Valor, IJN, Itaya, Japanese Navy, Pearl Harbor, Zeke, ZeroIn the photo below, note the somewhat deep panel lines throughout the model. Though they are clearly overscaled — about as pronounced as Dragon’s — they do not necessarily detract from the model because, unlike Dragon, FOV did not highlight them with a black wash.1/72, 85032, A6M, AI-155, Akagi, FOV, Forces of Valor, IJN, Itaya, Japanese Navy, Pearl Harbor, Zeke, ZeroThe photo below provides an excellent view of the tail no. “AI-155.” As mentioned in the Dragon review, the “AI” code was the designation for the Akagi aircraft carrier. In the three-digit number after “AI”, the first digit (“1”) indicates that it is a fighter plane. The last two digits (“55”) are simply the aircraft number within the unit. The tail numbers on Japanese carrier aircraft were usually red.

Note also the three horizontal yellow stripes on the tail that indicated command: three stripes for the group leader; two stripes for a squadron leader (9 aircraft); and one stripe for a flight leader (3 aircraft). Note also the “no step” rectangular area outlined in red at the rear of each wing next to the wing root.1/72, 85032, A6M, AI-155, Akagi, FOV, Forces of Valor, IJN, Itaya, Japanese Navy, Pearl Harbor, Zeke, ZeroThe photo below provides an excellent view of the Hinomaru, which was carried on both sides of the fuselage aft of the wing and on both the upper surface and underside of each wing — six “circles of the sun” in total. The vertical red stripe is the identification mark for the aircraft carrier Akagi.

Note also the manufacturing plate stenciled just aft of the red stripe. The inset shows that the plate bears the number 1575, meaning it was the 1,575th Zero built. The “2-2-9” means it was built in the Japanese year 2602, second month, ninth day = February 9, 1942. (Yes, two months after Pearl Harbor. :-) Forces of Valor “borrowed” this particular stencil from a Zero recovered at Port Moresby in April 1942.) Incidentally, the A6M is called the “Zero” because it first entered service in the Japanese year 2600 (1940), the zero year of the new Japanese century. Please bear in mind that the entire plate is just 4mm wide (just over 1/8 inch). Though the manufacturing plate is not as crisp as Dragon’s, FOV should still be commended for the effort.dragon-zero-port-w-inset-2Below is a shot of the starboard side. Note the absence of the manufacturing plate, which was only stenciled on the port side.1/72, 85032, A6M, AI-155, Akagi, FOV, Forces of Valor, IJN, Itaya, Japanese Navy, Pearl Harbor, Zeke, ZeroIn the photo below, note that FOV incorrectly painted the propeller white. The propeller should have been polished natural metal, like the Dragon’s. Note also the two red warning stripes on the tips of the blades that created two neat red circles when the propeller was spinning. As is the case with the vast majority of 1/72 scale prebuilt models, the propeller spins freely.

Note the outlets for the 20mm cannons on the leading edges of the wings just above the landing struts. Also on the leading edge of the portside wing, note the pitot tube, which cannot be taken for granted. The Corgi Zeros, for example, do not have one.1/72, 85032, A6M, AI-155, Akagi, FOV, Forces of Valor, IJN, Itaya, Japanese Navy, Pearl Harbor, Zeke, ZeroThe photo below shows that the landing strut covers on the FOV model, like the Dragon’s, also have the “55” that matches the last two digits of the tail number. The FOV also has the correct A6M2 cowling, which had four oval-shaped fasteners on each side of the matte black cowling, one on the front part of the cowling and three on the sides. Note also the metal drop tank that gave the Zero an extra 73 imperial gallons of fuel (87 US gallons), significantly increasing its range. Later drop tanks were made of wood and had a slightly different shape.1/72, 85032, A6M, AI-155, Akagi, FOV, Forces of Valor, IJN, Itaya, Japanese Navy, Pearl Harbor, Zeke, ZeroThe Feature

It was a welcome surprise that the cowling on the FOV Zero is a separate, removable piece that reveals a Sakae two-row 14-cylinder radial engine. The basic motor is unlikely to make any collector salivate, as it lacks detail, but it looks the part, particularly without magnification. As I’ve pointed out in the past, special features often come at the expense of accuracy, as with the opening canopy on the Dragon model. However, the removable cowling on the FOV is a simple feature accomplished without loss of accuracy that opens up diorama possibilities. The one quibble would be the white wash to highlight the fasteners, which can be easily remedied with a simple black wash. Note also that, unlike Dragon, FOV included a pilot.1/72, 85032, A6M, AI-155, Akagi, FOV, Forces of Valor, IJN, Itaya, Japanese Navy, Pearl Harbor, Zeke, ZeroThe Rub

Some collectors were critical of the unsightly screw holes on the underside of the wings and fuselage, as can be seen in the lagniappe photo below, used to secure the model to the packaging. While they’re noticeable and unattractive when you flip the model on its back, it is somewhat of a consolation that they’re on the underside of the model and, at least for me, were not a deal-breaker. Still, it may be a consideration for more serious collectors.1/72, 85032, A6M, AI-155, Akagi, FOV, Forces of Valor, IJN, Itaya, Japanese Navy, Pearl Harbor, Zeke, ZeroThe Upshot

The Forces of Valor 85032 Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero is an attractive model that resembles the original fairly well.  The excellent casting shows no perceptible problems in its proportions. The cowling, propeller, and undercarriage are all well executed, with no apparent accuracy issues. The markings are accurate, though not as crisp as those on the Dragon. The removable cowling is a welcome feature for those who build dioramas. The FOV 85032 Zero, released under the enthusiast series, was also released as a 95032 regular issue. The only difference between the two releases is that the 85032 has both wheels up and wheels down options, while the less expensive 95032 only has a wheels down option. I have both versions and there appears to be no difference in the finish or weathering. In my opinion, the FOV Zero is a great little model that compares favorably with Zero models of most other manufacturers. 

Again, thank you for your indulgence and I hope you enjoyed the post. 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. Stay tuned for a review of the Witty Wings model of the very same aircraft in the next post.

The A6M Zero in 1/72: Shigeru Itaya Leads the Zeros at Pearl Harbor, Part 2 – The Dragon Model

This is Part 2 of Shigeru Itaya Leads the Zeros at Pearl Harbor. It is a review of the Dragon Wings 50017 1/72 scale model of Itaya’s Zero at Pearl Harbor. For a brief biographical note on Shigeru Itaya, please refer to the previous post. Today, December 7, 2016, on the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, let us remember the men who died that day.

Itaya’s A6M2 Zero, Tail No. AI-155

As discussed in Part 1, Itaya led the 43 Zeros from all carriers in the first wave of the attack on Pearl Harbor. In each wave the Zero planes 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. As the leader of the first wave of Zeros, Itaya was the first Japanese pilot airborne during the attack.

As noted previously, there is precious little information available on Itaya. This dearth of information extends to Itaya’s plane at Pearl Harbor, a Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero, tail no. AI-155. Although there are some references on the internet that Itaya’s Zero’s tail no. may have been something other than AI-155, the books I consulted consistently use that number. To my knowledge, there are no existing photos of the AI-155, though there are enough photos of other planes from the Akagi aircraft carrier to give us a reasonably accurate understanding of its colors and markings.

Below is a color profile from what is probably the most comprehensive source of information on the colors and markings of WWII Japanese aircraft, Eduardo Cea’s eight-volume treatise entitled Japanese Military Aircraft. I scanned this particular profile from Volume 2, The Air Force of the Japanese Imperial Navy: Carrier-Based Aircraft, 1922-1945 (I). While I’m aware that there are a number of errors in the English translation of the Spanish text that are somewhat distracting, the series is beautifully illustrated, incredibly informative, and inarguably comprehensive, and, being fluent in Spanish, I blithely overlooked the errors. :-) The profile is reproduced here for discussion purposes under the fair use exception to the copyright laws.1/72, 50017, A6M, AI-155, Akagi, Eduardo Cea, Dragon, IJN, Itaya, Japanese Navy, Pearl Harbor, Zeke, ZeroItaya’s Zero at Pearl Harbor has been released in 1/72 scale by three different manufacturers: Dragon Wings 50017; Forces of Valor 85032; and Witty Wings 72-012-001. This post concerns the Dragon Wings 50017. Reviews of the other two will follow shortly in separate posts, with equivalent photos of each of the three models for ease of comparison.

The Dragon Wings 50017 Zero

Below is a portside view of the Dragon model. Immediately apparent is the beautiful caramel finish. Putting aside the continuing debate about whether the caramel color was the effect of a protective layer of varnish or the natural result of the aging of the pigments, the fact remains that the Zeros had an “ameiro” tone, which means “caramel-colored” in Japanese. Upon review of Zeros in my collection from a dozen different manufacturers, I’m convinced that Dragon is the only manufacturer that got it right (though Hobby Master produced some terrific “ameiro” D3A1 Vals). If nothing else, the Dragon finish matches the description and color plates in Cea’s eight-volume set on Japanese planes.1/72, 50017, A6M, AI-155, Akagi, Dragon, IJN, Itaya, Japanese Navy, Pearl Harbor, Zeke, ZeroIn the photo below, note the pronounced panel lines, which disappointed some collectors. In my view, however, it is not so much that the lines are significantly overscaled as the fact that Dragon inexplicably “inked” them — for lack of a better term — as one would highlight the crevices on a tank with an umber wash to make them stand out better. It is this combination of overscaling and “inking” that gives the impression that the panel lines are deeper and wider than they actually are.1/72, 50017, A6M, AI-155, Akagi, Dragon, IJN, Itaya, Japanese Navy, Pearl Harbor, Zeke, Zero

The photo below provides an excellent view of the tail no. “AI-155.” The “AI” code was the designation for the Akagi aircraft carrier. In the three-digit number after “AI”, the first digit (“1”) indicates that it is a fighter plane. The last two digits (“55”) are simply the aircraft number within the unit. The tail numbers on Japanese carrier aircraft were usually red except on two carriers (Zuiho and Hosho) whose tails were already red. The identification numbers on aircraft from those two carriers were white so as to make them stand out against the red tails. 

Note also the three horizontal yellow stripes on the tail that indicated command: three stripes for the group leader; two stripes for a squadron leader (9 aircraft); and one stripe for a flight leader (3 aircraft). Note also the “no step” rectangular area outlined in red at the rear of each wing next to the wing root.1/72, 50017, A6M, AI-155, Akagi, Dragon, IJN, Itaya, Japanese Navy, Pearl Harbor, Zeke, Zero

The photo below provides an excellent view of the Hinomaru, which was carried on both sides of the fuselage aft of the wing and on both the upper surface and underside of each wing — six “circles of the sun” in total. The vertical red stripe is the identification mark for the aircraft carrier Akagi.

Note also the manufacturing plate stenciled just aft of the red stripe. The inset shows that the plate bears the number 7702, meaning it was the 7,702nd Zero built. The “2-3-30” means it was built in the Japanese year 2602, third month, thirtieth day = March 30, 1942. (Yes, more than three months after Pearl Harbor. :-) ) Incidentally, the A6M is called the “Zero” because it first entered service in the Japanese year 2600 (1940), the zero year of the new Japanese century. Please bear in mind that the entire plate is just 4mm wide (just over 1/8 inch). Again, Dragon’s attention to detail is remarkable.1/72, 50017, A6M, AI-155, Akagi, Dragon, IJN, Itaya, Japanese Navy, Pearl Harbor, Zeke, ZeroBelow is a shot of the starboard side. Note the absence of the manufacturing plate, which was only stenciled on the port side.1/72, 50017, A6M, AI-155, Akagi, Dragon, IJN, Itaya, Japanese Navy, Pearl Harbor, Zeke, ZeroIn the photo below, note the polished natural metal propeller with the two red warning stripes on the tips of the blades. As is the case with the vast majority of 1/72 scale prebuilt models, the propeller spins freely. Note the outlets on the leading edges of the wings just above the landing struts for the 20mm cannons. Also on the leading edge of the portside wing, note the pitot tube.1/72, 50017, A6M, AI-155, Akagi, Dragon, IJN, Itaya, Japanese Navy, Pearl Harbor, Zeke, ZeroThe photo below shows the aircraft’s number “55” on the landing strut cover, which matches the last two digits of the tail number. Note the correct cowling for an A6M2, which had four oval-shaped fasteners on each side of the matte black cowling, one on the front part of the cowling and three on the sides. Note also the metal drop tank that gave the Zero an extra 73 imperial gallons of fuel (87 US gallons), significantly increasing its range. Later drop tanks were made of wood and had a slightly different shape.1/72, 50017, A6M, AI-155, Akagi, Dragon, IJN, Itaya, Japanese Navy, Pearl Harbor, Zeke, Zero

The Feature and the Rub

In the close-up below, note that the canopy slides back — an interesting feature of the Dragon model. While some collectors were critical of the noticeable gap on the rear bottom part of the canopy necessary to allow the front canopy to slide back, some of us applauded this precise feature as it opens up significant diorama possibilities. Quite obviously, the gap is overscaled. As I’ve pointed out in the past, added features often come at the expense of accuracy. Still, in this particular instance, the gap looks fine when the canopy is open. Please bear in mind that close-up photos greatly amplify defects.1/72, 50017, A6M, AI-155, Akagi, Dragon, IJN, Itaya, Japanese Navy, Pearl Harbor, Zeke, Zero

The Interior 

The lagniappe close-up photo below provides a good view of the interior of the canopy. Note the superbly detailed instrument panel and the handle of the control column. To my knowledge, Dragon is the only manufacturer that produced a prebuilt model with an opening cockpit and, therefore, with a detailed instrument panel. Unfortunately, Dragon did not include a pilot.1/72, 50017, A6M, AI-155, Akagi, Dragon, IJN, Itaya, Japanese Navy, Pearl Harbor, Zeke, Zero

The Upshot

The Dragon Wings 50017 Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero is a superb model that closely resembles the original. The excellent casting shows no perceptible problems in its proportions. The cowling, propeller, and undercarriage are all well executed, with no apparent accuracy issues. The “ameiro” finish is beautiful, though, admittedly, the “inked” panel lines detract from the overall effect. The markings are accurate and crisp throughout. The sliding canopy is a welcome feature, at least for those of us who build dioramas. All Dragon Zeros came with wheels up and wheels down options and, in addition, this particular Dragon Zero issue included a diorama deck and display case. In my humble opinion, it’s a terrific little model that compares favorably with Zero models of most other manufacturers. 

Again, thank you for your indulgence and I hope you enjoyed the post. 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. Stay tuned for a review of the Forces of Valor model of the very same aircraft in the next post.

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.  :-)

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 he was the first 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. Keeping 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 weekend Pearl Harbor-style 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.