It was also the last combat action in which Zero

Type 21 was deployed as a carrier embarked airplane. In a devastating defeat Japanese lost more

than 600 aircraft and three carriers. The inadequate experience of the newly trained airmen

was on full display. Also contributing to the defeat

was the fact that many of the ships‘ commanding

officers were ten years younger in seniority than

their predecessors in 1942 battles. A large number of them also had no extensive flying experience.

The Philippines and the defense of Japan

Since early Fall 1944, the Japanese Army and Naval Air Forces faced air raids on the Philippines,

culminating in the landing in Leyte on October

20, 1944. At that time, the Japanese command

came to a difficult decision that had long been

discussed and was intended to help increase the

effectiveness of the fight against enemy vessels.

The first Kamikaze units were formed, whose

airmen were to sacrifice themselves by crashing

into enemy ships. All types of aircraft were used

for this purpose until the end of the war, including

the A6M2-K two seat trainers and A6M2 Model

21 fighters. Kamikaze units were formed from

both combat and training Kōkūtai units. Nearly

4,000 Japanese Army and Navy aviators sacrificed their lives in this manner. The Allies were

initially surprised by this tactics. Kamikaze pilots

caused approximately 80 % of Allied ship losses

in the last ten months of the war. They destroyed

aircraft carriers USS St. Lo, Ommaney Bay and Bismarck Sea, along with 14 destroyers and about

30 other vessels. Several hundred ships were

damaged, some beyond repair. Kamikaze attacks

cost the lives of 5,000 Allied crew members and

about the same number were injured. Even this

ultimate measure, however, did not prevent Japan‘s defeat.

When Allied troops occupied air bases in Japan

after the surrender, they still found among the

aircraft from combat units some A6M2 Model 21

fighters. One of these is documented at Kōkūtai

302 with the air victory symbol on the tail. After

four years of war in the Pacific, the “twenty-one”

faced far more modern enemy aircraft while it

kept same design as it had during Pearl Harbor


Aicraft carrier Ryūjō underway at sea in September 1938. At the beginning of the war in the Pacific, her fighter unit was still armed with A5M “Claude” fighters. But during the attack on the Aleutians the fighter unit already had Zeros and one of them fell into the hands of the Allies.

(Photo: U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)

An A6M2 aircraft from the Fighter Squadron of 22nd Kōkū Sentai with improvised camouflage at an airfield in French Indochina.

(Photo: AWM)


Fuchida M.: Midway: The Battle That Doomed Japan

Hata I., Izawa Y., Shores C.: Japanese Naval Fighter Aces

Herder B. L.: The Aleutians 1942 - 43

Lundstrom J. B.: The First Team: Pacific Naval Air

Combat from Pearl Harbor to Midway

Lundstrom J. B.: The First Team and the Guadalcanal Campaign: Naval Fighter Combat from August to November 1942

Mikesh R. C.: Zero - Combat & Development History of Japan's Legendary Mitsubishi A6m Zero


Model Art 378: Pearl Harbor

April 2022

Millman N.: A6M Zero-sen Aces 1940-42

Millman N.: Painting the Early Zero-Sen

Tillman B.: Clash of the Carriers: The True Story of

the Marianas Turkey Shoot of World War II

Werneth R: Beyond Pearl Harbor: The Untold Stories of Japan's Naval Airmen

Yoshimura A.: Zero Fighter



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