An extremely rare opportunity to own and preserve a piece of the rarest Japanese Zero model, with well-preserved early-war (Pearl Harbor period) Navy gray, and Aotake translucent green, paint!
Paired with Ron Cole's original artwork of this specific aircraft (serial number 3145/3148), this wall-hanging display measures 8.5x11 inches. It includes a full history of this aircraft, the units it served with, and the 'Ace' pilot who flew it in combat.
Signed and numbered - only ONE OF SIX - the aluminum part from this aircraft was piece of the canopy rail. It was coated in Aotake green at the Mitsubishi factory before being overpainted in the extremely rare gray/brown gloss paint used early in the war - and virtually no examples of it exist today. The Aotake green is a uniquely-Japanese wartime anti-corrosive coating only found on aircraft of this period.
These parts were obtained in 2015 from Legend Flyers in Washington, where this aircraft, salvaged from Taroa in 1992, is being restored.
Service history of this aircraft:
In September 1942 a Zero fighter to replace the venerable A6M2 model (which had scorched Pacific skies since Pearl Harbor) rolled off of Mitsubishi's assembly lines and took an ox cart ride to its nearest aerodrome. This version of the Zero, the A6M3 Model 32, was a big deal from the perspective of the designers and the Navy. It had a more powerful engine, and it employed some modifications to make production easier and cheaper. When it came to the folding wingtips of the previous model, for example, Mitsubishi cut them off and stuck an aluminum fairing at each wing tip. Japanese pilots were not happy with such 'efficiency' measures and grumbled their displeasure across the Pacific. Allied intelligence contemplated the significance of the clipped wings, theorizing that they might improve low altitude performance. The Japanese wished! But the Model 32 was merely a stop-gap machine - a slight improvement over its predecessor until the 'real' replacement was ready to enter production. That aircraft, the A6M5, would boast an even more powerful engine and an entirely redesigned wing. Thus Mitsubishi only produced 343 Model 32 aircraft, all from their same production line.
But our little plane that rolled out of the factory in September (and depicted above) was nevertheless destined for a unique life. Her official name was just a number: 3148. Whether her sponsors knew her by another, possibly more endearing name, is quite probable but lost to history. 3148's construction was paid for by funds raised by the Manchurian Secondary Schools, and was 'gifted' by schoolchildren to the Japanese Navy. There would have been a ceremony at the time, with various VIPs from both the Navy and Mitsubishi present, as well as a Shinto priest on hand to bless the aircraft. A series of ceremonial bowls would have been given to the school and to other key participants in the sponsorship. The aircraft was adorned with special markings on its fuselage - behind the hinomaru insignia - denoting it as a sponsored aircraft and by whom. Thus 3148 was a loved and appreciated machine of the sky from the very start.
Just as an enlisted man's life changes after going off to sea, so did the life of 3148. She was assigned, without any fanfare this time, to the 252nd Kokutai (Navy Air Group) and sent off to the remote Marshall Island airfield of Taroa. As assignments go, Taroa was regarded at the time as a key outpost that guarded the outermost defensive line of Japan's Pacific empire, but it was also largely ignored by the belligerents until 1944. Therefore, at a time when brand new Zeros were arriving at the front just in time to be destroyed in fierce, increasingly one-sided, battles - 3148 of the Manchurian Middle Schools was living a somewhat charmed life. Even the Japanese Navy personnel at Taroa came to like the place at that time. They cared for 3148, and the other aircraft at Taroa, much as fireman do their fire engines during downtime.
But the war did come. On April 18, 1943, for example, it was very likely Zero fighters from Taroa (and quite possibly 3148) that stumbled upon a lone B-24D and shot it so full of holes that it never flew again, though it miraculously made it back to its base. Unknown to the Japanese they'd shot up the aircraft of USAAF Lt. Louis Zamperini, an American Olympian who would go on to be the subject of a best selling book, 'Unbroken', and in 2014 a Hollywood film of the same name.
As the war in the Pacific increasingly encroached upon Taroa, the life of 3148 became more hazardous. By then one of Japan's best fighter pilots, Isamu Miyazaki, was flying out of the field. He almost certainly flew 3148 himself at various times in combat. Taroa was bombed. Taroa was strafed by carrier-born Hellcat fighters. The respite that the tiny field had enjoyed came to an end. In the case of Zero 3148, donated by schoolchildren at considerable expense and sacrifice and sent away to war with blessings and to shouts of 'Banzai!' - she was mortally wounded, not in aerial combat, but by bomb splinters that damaged her on the ground and wrecked her vitals beyond that which could be repaired locally.
Though Taroa was never invaded by the Allies, it was cut off from resupply and all of her aircraft were rendered unserviceable. The war ended, and Taroa was forgotten.
This aircraft was recovered from Taroa in 1992 by John Sterling, and is currently being restored by Legend Flyers in Washington.
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