However, it lacked armour and other protective features and was not allowed to fly at speeds greater than 600 km/h due to structural stability.
The machine was inducted into the armament in 1940 and received the
official designation Rei shiki Kanjō sentōki (Type 0 carrier fighter), with
the “zero” being derived from the imperial year 2600 (1940). Japanese pilots usually abbreviated it as “Rei-Sen”. This is also the origin of the name
“Zero” often used by Allied pilots instead of the official code name, derived from the male name “Zeke”. As part of the Navy's aircraft designation
system, the new machine was given the type designation A6M, where A6
meant that it was the sixth type of carrier fighter to enter service, and M
stood for the Mitsubishi company name.
Zeros, specifically the A6M2 Model 11, had been successfully deployed on
the Chinese battlefield since the summer of 1940, but their existence eluded Western intelligence because no one wanted to believe reports from
China that suggested the Japanese had a world-class fighter. Further
modifications were made during 1941, the main one being folding wing tips
to enable easier handling on aircraft carriers. With the A6M2 Model 21
fighter modified in this way, Japan entered the war with the US and other
Western nations. Mitsubishi needed to produce other aircraft in addition
to the Zero, so the Nakajima company also began licensed production in
Zeros from the attack on Pearl Harbor
The colors of Japanese aircraft from the Second World War, and especially Zero fighters, has been the subject of long and complex research both
in Japan and abroad. Our main guide to the selection of decal colors and
recommended modeling paint shades is Nicholas Millman's publication
“Painting the Early Zero-Sen, A Primer for Modellers & Artists”. We highly
recommend everyone to read it. For example, it is a great guide to explaining the use of the J3 Ameirō paint that Zera was painted with, as well as
understanding its appearance in quite different shades.
For the shade of the hinomaru we chose a lighter variant of red than is
usual among kit manufacturers. The color did darken over time, but the
Zeros attacking Pearl Harbor were relatively new machines. We based
this on Millman's publication and also on the shade of red on parts of the
B5N bomber in the Arizona Memorial collections.
It is believed that the Zeroes involved in the attack on Pearl Harbor came
only from Mitsubishi production. The Nakajima company did not produce
its first licensed Zeros until November 1941, and the company's machines
did not reach combat units until the spring of 1942. Therefore, the colour
details are based on the specifics of the Mitsubishi Zeros as explained
by N. Millman. Nevertheless, we recommend that photographs of specific machines are also used, for example with regard to the design of
the warning stripes on the main landing gear covers. According to the
photographs of several machines involved in the Pearl Harbor raid (AI156, AII-159 and AII-168), it cannot be ruled out that the inner surface of the
main landing gear cover was painted with Aotake paint, not the grey paint
typical of Mitsubishi machines.
At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Zero fighters were marked with
colored stripes on the fuselage and code markings on the vertical tail surfaces. The letter in the code identified the order of the respective Kōkū
Sentai, while the Roman numeral indicated the order of the aircraft carrier
within that Kōkū Sentai.
Aircraft of the 1st Kōkū Sentai:
- Akagi: one red stripe on the fuselage, red AI code
- Kaga: two red stripes on the fuselage, red code AII
Aircraft of the 2. Kōkū Sentai
- Soryu: one blue stripe on the fuselage, red BI code
- Hiryū: two blue stripes on the fuselage, red BII code
Aircraft of the 5. Kōkū Sentai
- Shōkaku: one white stripe on fuselage, red EI code
- Zuikaku: two white stripes on fuselage, red EII code
For all Zeroes of aircraft carrier Shōkaku, it is likely that the white stripe
on the fuselage and the command stripes on the tail surfaces were outlined in red. Some photographs taken from a distance are not sharp enough to show the outlines clearly. The images are often from newsreels.
The command stripes on the tail surfaces depicted this functional classification:
- Three stripes: the Hikōtaichō, the Group Leader of the Air Group on
the aircraft carrier, under whom all squadrons with different types on
board could fall. Organizationally, he commanded all aviation personnel.
In combat action, he led the formation of the various types of aircraft of
the respective Kōkū Sentai. However, at the time of the attack on Pearl
INFO Eduard - December 2021
Photo: Shizuo Fukui
The Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carriers Zuikaku (in front), Kaga (on the right) and Akagi are heading
for Pearl Harbor in November 1941 before the official declaration of war with American forces.
Harbor, for example, the Akagi had its own Hikōtaichō for each of its three
- Two stripes: the Buntaichō, the Division Officer leading formation of six to
nine aircraft (Chútai). Larger aircraft carriers usually had two officers with
the Buntaichō function for one type of aircraft, senior and junior.
- One stripe: Shōtaichō, leader of the three-plane formation.
During the two waves of the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor, 21 US Navy
ships were sunk or damaged, but 18 were recovered or repaired and returned to service. For example, the badly damaged battleship USS Nevada
was combat deployed in October 1942.
The USS Enterprise, as one of the carriers that escaped the raid on Pearl
Harbor, fought in the Battle of Midway six months later and participated
in the sinking of four of the six carriers that participated in the attack on
In the early months of the war in the Pacific, the Americans and their allies
realized how much they had underestimated their Japanese adversaries.
One of the main symbols of this sobering realization was the Zero fighter,
which had developed a reputation as a nearly invincible adversary early
in the war.
Although many in the US feared that war with Japan might occur in late
1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise. As a result, the majority of
the population came to support U.S. involvement in the war, and American
soldiers fighting in the Pacific heard the words “Remember Pearl Harbor”
many times in the years to come.
Author would like to thank to Jan Kaše, Nick Millman and Ron Werneth for
their help in preparing this article.
FUCHIDA M.: Midway: The Battle That Doomed Japan, the Japanese Navy's
HATA I., IZAWA Y.: Japanese Naval Aces and Fighter Units in World War II
LUNDSTROM J. B.: The First Team: Pacific Naval Air Combat from Pearl
Harbor to Midway
LUNDSTROM J. B.: First Team and the Guadalcanal Campaign: Naval Fighter Combat from August to November 1942
MIKESH R.: Zero: Combat and Development History of Japan's Legendary
Mitsubishi A6M Zero Fighter
MILLMAN N.: A6M Zero-sen Aces 1940-42
MILLMAN N.: Painting the Early Zero-Sen
Model Art No 378: Pearl Harbor
SMITH C., LAURIER J.: Pearl Harbor 1941: The day of infamy
WERNETH R.: Beyond Pearl Harbor: The Untold Stories of Japan's Naval
YOSHIMURA A.: Zero Fighter