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: 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.