Mitsubishi A6M2 Model 21 Zero Fighter Aircraft : Japanese Navy Air Force

Unit Imperial Japanese Army Air Force
Accession Number REL/08378
Collection type Technology
Object type Aircraft
Physical description Duralium or Duralimin
Location Main Bld: Aircraft Hall: Main Hall: Jap Airpwr
Place made Japan
Date made 1942
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945

Mitsubishi A6M2 single engine, single seat, cantilever low wing monoplane fighter aircraft of all metal construction. The tail control surfaces are fabric covered. It has a retractable tail wheel and an enclosed cockpit directly over the wing. The wingtips fold for stowage aboard an aircraft carrier.

History / Summary

This aircraft was flown by the fourth ranking Japanese air ace, Saburo Sakai. He used this machine while serving with the Rabaul-based Tainan Flying Group (Tainan Kokutai) in June-July 1942.

It was probably while flying this aircraft over Buna, New Guinea, on 22 July 1942 that Sakai shot down a Lockheed Hudson Mk IIIA A16–201 flown by Pilot Officer Warren Cowan, Pilot Officer David Taylor, Sergeant Russell Polack and Sergeant Lauri Sheard. A16–201 was spotted over Buna by nine Mitsubishi A6M2 Zeroes of the Tainan Kaigun Kokutai, led by Sakai. Rather than attempt to evade the Zeroes, the Hudson made a very sharp U turn, and came straight at the Zeros with all guns blazing. For the next 10 minutes Cowan and his crew fought a turning dogfight, one against nine. Years later Sakai recollected that “I saw the gunner throw his hands up and collapse. Without the interfering stream of bullets from the turret, I closed in to 20 yards and held the gun trigger down, aiming for the right wing. Seconds later, flames streamed out and spread to the left wing.” The aircraft caught fire and crashed in jungle near the coastal village of Popogo. Many years after the war's end, Sakai asked Australian researchers to help him identify the then unknown Australian pilot and crew.

In 1997, Sakai wrote to the Australian government, recommending that Cowan be "posthumously awarded your country's highest military decoration". The suggestion was rejected on the grounds that all such recommendations had been closed at the war's end.

At an as-yet unknown date, the aircraft was damaged, and abandoned on the airfield at Gasmata Island. In 1976 it was shipped to Australia and subsequently acquired by the Australian War Memorial. It was restored on behalf of the Memorial by the apprentice school at RAAF Forest Hill, Wagga over a five year period and returned to the AWM in 1986. Its first public display was at the Bicentennial Airshow at RAAF Richmond, New South Wales (NSW), in 1988.