Corgi AA33108 Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero, Petty Officer 1st Class Takashi Hirano, IJN Aircraft Carrier Akagi, 7th December 1941

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At the beginning of the Second World War, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter was considered to be the most capable carrier-based fighter in the world and was the envy of every naval air arm.  Possessing exceptional levels of manoeuvrability and capable of operating over long distances, the light and speedy Zero proved to be the ideal fighter aircraft to support Japanese naval actions in the Pacific region.  During early combat operations, Zero pilots were to enjoy spectacular successes, posting an almost unbelievable kill ratio of 12:1, as their aircraft proved to be the ultimate dogfighter, but this dominance was to be short lived.

As America produced more capable naval fighters and their airmen developed more effective air combat tactics, the limitations of the Zero design began to show themselves.  Avoiding the turning dogfight in favour of high speed slash and run attacks, US pilots found that the lightly armoured Zero offered little protection for either its pilots or its vulnerable fuel tanks and they began to take a withering toll of their once feared adversary.

As the Zero fighters from Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft Carrier Akagi took off on the morning of 7th December 1941, their mission instructions were clear – protect the strike aircraft from enemy fighters and destroy as many American aircraft on the ground as possible.  As the Pearl Harbor attack was taking place in advance of any formal declaration of war, the US fighter units based at Hawaii were not expecting an attack and many aircraft were parked in neat rows on their home airfields.  As Takashi Hirano approached Hickam Field in Mitsubishi Zero AI-I54, the lines of American aircraft made for easy targets and he raked them with machine gun bullets.  Appearing to become disorientated at this extremely low altitude, Hirano’s Zero struck the ground, ripping the belly tank from beneath the fuselage and causing the tips of the propeller to become damaged – struggling to gain height his damaged aircraft began to vibrate violently.

Unable to regain control, Hirano’s Zero struck a coconut tree and cartwheeled into buildings at Fort Kamehameha, killing him instantly, along with a group of men on the ground, who were unable to escape the impact.  Hirano’s aircraft was the first Japanese Mitsubishi Zero fighter to be brought down during the Pearl Harbor raid, even though it was by his own hand.

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