Why The Fearsome A6M Zero Was Really A Tiger With A Glass Jaw
One of the war’s deadliest fighter planes was just too good for its own good.
Kaizen is a philosophy that encourages continuous and incremental improvement, which is probably why the Japanese are the most orderly and disciplined people in the world.
Unfortunately, Japanese engineering did not catch up with the Kaizen way of life during the fast-paced production of the Empire’s war machines. The whole array of the armed forces were too advanced for their time, which meant little to no improvement in the face of a fast-paced war.
The most telling proof? The AM6 Zero and their pilots, which were the lord of the war’s earlier skies before their self-inflicted fall.
Agile Yet Fragile
The Japanese Pilots that ravaged Pearl Harbor logged 600 hours of air experience and proved to be a perfect match for the relentless speed of the Zero.
Aside from the huge discrepancy between flying experience, they also held a clear advantage in tactics: The American Pilots clung to their outdated multi-disciplined training while their Japanese counterparts were trained as highly-specialized pilots.
This was evident in Japan’s advantage in close knife fights where the Zero excelled.
But this also spelled the downfall of the Zero.
The Pearl Harbor’s wipeout was a stinging wake-up call for the USAAF, which accelerated its pilot training programs and provided new equipment and squadrons. On the other hand, the battle-hardened Japanese pilots who engaged in prolonged battles of attrition were not available to pass their aerial expertise in Joint Aviation Trainings.
Moreover, the absence of advanced carrier training groups resulted in an influx of rookie pilots. When the Japanese Fleet sustained losses, the able pilots were already in short supply, and there are no remaining pilots who are combat ready.
An Acrobat Disguised As A Fighter
In an interview, Japanese Ace Pilot Minoru Honda revealed that the Zero’s light frame was more appropriate for aerial acrobatics, not war. He also added that the Zero easily caught fire when hit by tracer ammunition.
To make things worse, The absence of hydraulic flaps and rudder made the Zero impossible to maneuver at high speeds. The 1000 hp engine was weak. It never developed a bulletproof glass, let alone reliable armor protection.
In contrast, the Allied Fighters were closing in on the Zero’s level of agility, as exhibited by the Grumman F6F Hellcat and RAF’s Hawker Tempest. These warbirds ended up in the pantheon of Aerial Warfare.
Lao Tzu said it best:
What is malleable is always superior to that which is immovable. This is the principle of controlling things by going along with them, of mastery through adaptation.