09 December, 2017

Profile 126 - A6M2-21 Zero as flown by Kaname Harada, IJN Soryu

"Rivet counters."

For the most part, the term is a pejorative, intending to mock those who over-analyze to the point of pointlessness.  Within the sphere of aviation art, RC's can be especially challenging because, once they find a flaw, the end product is so pointedly 'pointed-out,' it's shot full of holes.

So, out of respect for my delicate ego, let me take the first six potshots, 'k?

Did you notice too that the poor sign above was hit on both sides?!  Hope not at the same time!

(Checks to see the range is clear, puts on ear protection, loads criticism, aims...)

1.  The color may be too green.  Or maybe not brown enough.

2.  The tail code is probably (possibly?) wrong.

3.  The yellow band on the tail is either altogether wrong or wrong in placing and/or color.

4.  The blue bands on the fuselage are probably too thick.  Or too narrow.

5.  In the descriptor, the IJN Carrier "Soryu" doesn't match the blue band squadron identifier (which technically may or may not belong to airplanes from the IJN Carrier, "Horyu."


6.  The listed pilot, Lt(jg) Kaname Harada, only possibly flew the (likely) nonexistent aircraft depicted above.

But y'know?  I wouldn't have made it this far if it weren't for RCs driving the process of creating accurate art, forward.  So, a toast to the critical, the nit-picky, the "anal"...because you (you know who you are) advance the cause of History in a fantastic way—you demand the practice be done right.  Even when it's impossible.

Impossible?  Sure.  In this particular case, every record surrounding the above Zero is burned, buried or under miles of ocean.  Every witness is dead.  Thus, impossible.

Kaname Harada 0.jpg
Kaname Harada, 1916-2016, c. 1943
Regular readers know that, for the most part, every airplane I draw is connected with a living person.  I've also found that "former enemies" are among the most fascinating people to meet as they represent a clearly defined break in cultural connection—what's that old saying, "If all of us are thinking the same way, one of us is wrong?"

Anyways, interviewing a bona fide WWII Japanese pilot has always been on my list.  Sadly, the practicalities of human frailties have forced me to scratch it off as not-gonna-happen.  Thankfully someone else has been able to do so—writer and Japanese cultural scholar, Dan King.  I was introduced to Dan's work a few years ago when Ricky Chen of the Commemorative Air Force's "SoCAL Wing" gave me an outstanding tour of their A6M5 Zero.  

Ricky reinforced the fact that 'learning' is best taught when applied with experience.  It's one thing to read in a book that the Zero was this or that but to see it up close, functioning, I was able to connect the dots and effectively understand why the airplane was engineered the way it was.  Impressed with Chen's practical knowledge, when he insisted I read King's book, "The Last Zero Fighter," I reacted positively.

Ricky Chen explains the engineering of the A6M5 while I stare dorkily at the camera...

You can too. (click here).  However, it's always interesting how seemingly unconnected moments end up intersecting in the future; while reading the book, I noticed that Harada claimed to have attacked Torpedo 8 on their fateful bombing run at the start of the Battle of Midway.  When time came to start production on our OGTA episode featuring LtCDR John C. Waldron (Torpedo 8's skipper), Dan was on the top of the list for insight.

Initially, I hoped to connect with Harada personally.  But as it turned out, I was too late.  Harada died in 2016 at the age of 99.  The New York Times gave the Japanese ace a nice obit; you can read that here.  However, my next-best opportunity to talk to Harada was via Dan; he'd interviewed the Japanese pilot at his home, at Pearl Harbor and even to Midway Atoll.  

Though I'm not in Dan's league of writers, we agree on one thing—the best interviews are those that come from long term conversations that go beyond the perfunctory. In other words, really getting to know a guy as opposed to merely answering questions.  It's one thing to ask, say a Vet, their service record and high points.  It's another to know them as humans.

Dan King meets old-friend Kaname Harada c. 2010
Like this.

In learning History, there's a thing I call "NDP."  It stands for "Names, Dates and Places" and comprises what most of us learn in school.  Example, "Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen hundred ninety two..."  Or on a Middle Schooler's history test, "What year was the first Continental Congress and who was there?"  

The NDP surrounding Harada is pretty amazing.

Joining the Japanese Navy in 1933, the man experienced the breadth of WWII.  He flew during the opening volley against the USS Panay in 1937, flew Zeros on December 7's attack on Pearl Harbor, flew during the Battle of Midway, trained student pilots on the Japanese version of the Messerschmitt "Komet" rocket fighter...and ended the war with (perhaps) 19 aerial victories against American, Australian, Australian and British fighters. After the war, he started a Kindergarten. 

Hmmm.  Interesting, eh?

Another doodle I did while working on "South Dakota Warrior"  Probably not historically accurate.
(But we'll never know, will we!)

However, Dan asked another question about Harada's mount, "What was it like to fly?"

"It was a beautiful plane that flew itself,"  Harada explained.  "It was fast, agile and in the hands of a seasoned pilot, was unstoppable."

Hmmm.  Interesting, eh?

Harada's feelings certainly take us beyond the NDP, but, if I've learned anything from talking to old pilots, 'they all say that' about their favorite airplane.  I've heard the same about Spitfires, Hellcats, F-86 Sabres, B-17s, B-52s...even certain MiGs.  There's nothing inherently new in this sentiment other than reinforcement of the idea that some machines engender devotion.

Yet, history—if you're really going to study it—demands an ironic attention to details beyond the NDP and surface emotion.

So, back to Harada's quote about flying the Zero, did you catch the word, "...unstoppable"?

The IJN Carrier Hiryu, burning at Midway.  After this?  It was all over 'cept for 3+ more years of death and destruction.

Clearly the Zero, as a tool of war, was indeed stopped.  The death-clock on the aircraft's supremacy started ticking the moment the Imperial Japanese Navy's carrier Hiryu, was scuttled on 5 June, 1942 during the Battle of Midway.  If you need to know more about how the IJN's carrier fleet, the Battle of Midway and the Zero's fate are connected, that's a topic worthy of your time and you can start by reading here.

But what did "unstoppable" mean to Harada?  I mean, the dude wasn't crazy.  He was aware that the Japanese lost the war and all.  To this end, Harada went on to provide King a fascinating look at why the Japanese Zero (and everything else they had) was so decisively stopped in WWII.

"The Americans beat us because they quickly learned from their mistakes, identified our strong and weak points and made continuous progress in aircraft development, production and pilot training."


Take a breath and re-read Harada's statement again: The Americans beat us because they quickly learned from their mistakes, identified our strong and weak points and made continuous progress in aircraft development, production and pilot training."

Kaname Harada, c.2012ish, ©http://sensou.suzaka.jp

Hmmmm.  Now, if you're like me, that's really interesting!  I mean, Harada just laid out, in one sentence, his case against actions that cost millions of lives and added countless moments of suffering to an already imperfect world.

break break.

Last week, I got to spend a little time with Wendell Hanson.  He flew B-25s with the 22nd BS in China.  Wendell is 97, still sharp as a tack (as they say) and eager to discuss WWII, old friends, B-25s, ancient religions, modern culture and why he never shed a tear when his wife of nearly 70 years died (More on that later).  Yet, Wendell made a statement that is particularly appropriate now.

He squinted as if considering something of tremendous importance before stating calmly, deliberately, "History is so important.  So important.  It is our way to learn.  That phrase about 'not learning from the past so you have to repeat it?  It's true."  And he shook his head slowly as if mourning a loss.


I bet there are plenty of historians that can shoot a hundred holes in Harada's statement.  Maybe a few hundred more in my own interpretation.  But I think Wendell's restatement of the oft-stated idea that, "Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it" is bulletproof.

And Harada's closing statement to King on WWII?  "We never should have started that war."

Care to take a shot on whether future generations have been listening?

PS - I've also made mental note of Harada's more positive corollary on his country's military failings.

1. Learn from mistakes
2. Understand one's limitations
3.  Continuously improve

Have another look at my Zero.  It's wildly imperfect, full of errors, but I did my best with what I had.   Judging by the huge to-do list of other airplanes to draw, I'll definitely have more opportunity to do them better.

Harada would like that.