01 June, 2017

PROFILE 126: IN PROGRESS - A6M2-21 Zero flown by...who?!

Just so you know, 'this' all starts with the scratch of graphite on paper.  The picture above is my pencil-work of a Mitsubishi A6M2-21 "Zero-sen" fighter aircraft, circa June, 1942.

Hold that thought.

The picture below is a cheesy auto-generated image from my t-shirt retailer, "Redbubble."  Click here if you want to know more.  But regardless, look past the nameless model's sultry awesomeness and focus on the message...


Want one?  Click here.

It's a phrase that I first-heard from a Vietnam War veteran who offered it up as a rationale as to why he wrote his memoirs.  Since then, it's become a brand-statement of sorts, telegraphing the motivation that drives me to "interview old guys and draw their airplanes." A Generation is only as good as the education they've received...and the lives of Old Men and Old Women are indeed "Libraries" that can provide the necessary knowledge and wisdom to build the future.

But, like any physical Library, the Library of one's life is useless unless its volumes are (metaphorically speaking), "checked-out."

So, back to the Zero.

Me, drawing, "filmed" for your amusement.  All-told, this one took me about 5 minutes.  I also used my 1/72 scale Corgi® die-cast Zero display model as a reference.  And as a tax deduction, too. 

Zero's are easy to draw.  In fact, if we ever meet, challenge me to sketch one; I guarantee you'll have a respectable rendering in less than sixty seconds!   But this particular specimen has been an exercise in hardship as the markings are impossible to verify.  Specifically, I'm trying to figure out an A6M2-21 that would have absolutely attacked VT-8* as it zeroed-in on the Japanese fleet on 4 June, 1942.

This means...

A. What carrier?  Why?  Because the fuselage stripes changed depending upon which IJN carrier the squadron was assigned.

B. What status was the pilot?  Why?  Because the stripes on the tail corresponded with the pilot's status as flight leader, squadron leader...**

C. What was the aircraft number?  Why?  Because "this" is ultimately the identifier of a specific airplane's moment in history.

And, more specific to the moment...

D.  What specific Zero pilots flew CAP (Combat Air Patrol) over the IJN fleet?  Why?  Because four IJN carriers had planes in the air on 4 June, 1942.  Some went to attack Midway Atoll, some were CAP and some where still on the carriers.

E.  Which Zero CAP pilots were flying at the time VT-8 made its run on the carriers?  Why?  Well, this helps me narrow it down all-the-more.

Typically, these kinds of questions aren't that difficult to figure out. Militaries tend to keep decent records and being war and all, the eyewitnesses tend to be plentiful and engaged.  Of course, there's room for dispute—after all, we're dealing with the enemy (right?). But, in this particular case, the definitive answers to my questions are impossible to answer as the eyewitnesses are dead and any physical evidence is lying on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

Hmmm.  I do have this though...

This is the only substantive bit of flight ops for IJN Zeros on 4 June, 1942.
Dan King, author of the book "The Last Zero Fighter" translated it for me and it brought some
fascinating information to light.  I'll share what he discovered in the next post.
Graphic courtesy of Alvaro César Lino

Anyway, 75 years later, it sometimes seems that the only people who care about these things are  history-nerd-types who, at times, are willing to resurrect the war itself with arguments over one detail or another. Yet, if you're going to start WWII all-over-again (this time over a beer instead of a battlefield), 4 June, 1942 is a terrific place to start.   Why?  Because it's all-about The Battle of Midway (BoM).  As a refresher, BoM was the turning-point of the Pacific Theater in WWII.

For those that don't quite have a grasp on what it means to be a "turning point,"think about it this way:  if the BoM would have not happened as it did, WWII would have been prolonged.***

It doesn't look like much but it reflects about 25 hours of fussing around and in the end?  I'm starting over.

And, when wars are prolonged, the toll rises, costs increase and the pain continues.  Playing, "What if?", what if WWII would have gone on another day?  Another month?  Another year?  You—especially if you've got Pacific G.I. in your family line, might not even be here!

"Real life" Historians hate this game of "What if?"  So, to honor the "real life historians" that suffer through this blog, I'll stop.  At least for a month or two.  But nevertheless, you won't find a time in history so chock-full of miracle moments, mystifying circumstances, ridiculous leadership, heroic action and teachable treasures like The Battle of Midway.

Now, back to figuring out how to rebuild the long-burned-out library of at least one old man who's last chapter of life still speaks volumes today...

Same model, different shirt.
Want one?  Click here.

*I'm referring to the TBD-1 Devastators of the USS Hornet's VT-8.  True History Geeks will know that VT-8 was actually deployed in two elements with the second flying TBFs from the island base on Midway Atoll.

**This bit of information is potentially useless as maybe a Leader's particular airplane would be undergoing maintenance and another aircraft actually flown during the telling sortie.

***Ok.  Got me.  We don't know for certain if an alternate history of the BoM would have prolonged WWII.  But it's a pretty good guess.  And even if the lengthening were just one more day, isn't that extra day significant enough?  Ha!  The Red Herrings are schooling madly but at the very least, it makes you think, eh?