The Type O carrier borne fighter had its origins in 1937, with the development by Jiro Horikoshi of a light carrier fighter for Mitsubishi Jukogyo Kaisha. The prototype was first flown on April 1, 1939, and the type sunbsequently accepted for naval service on September 14th. The aircraft went into production in 1940, with around 10,400 eventually being built by Mitsubishi and Nakajima. Eight models (11, 21, 22, 32, 52, 53, 63, 64) were developed with improvements including the upgrading of the engine from the 950hp Sakae-12 to the 1,130hp Sakae-21, and various modifications to the wing form. A seaplane version (A6M2-N 'Rufe') and a dual trainer were also produced.
The A6M3-22 (as pictured below), went into service in early 1943. It is similar to the A6M3-32, but has the original wingform, rather than the clipped wing of the 'Hamp'. The aircraft's connection with New Zealand comes in its role as an opponent to the RNZAF aircrew who served in the Pacific. RNZAF pilots shot down 99 Japanese aircraft, (and many were in turn shot down).
The RNZAF has operated one aircraft of this type (illustrated below), which was recovered from Kara on Bougainville in September 1945. This particular aircraft was probably built in 1943, and found its way to Bougainville by November of that year - when it was damaged in bombing. It appears that repairs were not attempted due to lack of appropriate parts until early 1945. The aircraft had been repaired around August 1945, and a pilot flown in from Rabaul for flight testing when the surrender occured. The aircraft was shipped to New Zealand aboard the SS Wahine, arriving on October 20, 1945.
Serialled NZ6000, It was officially flown twice by RNZAF personnel- once by W/Co Kofoed to its shipping point at Piva, and once at RNZAF Base Hobsonville by the base commander W/Co Willis. Although there were plans to use the aircraft for training, restrictions on manouvres and a lack of spares meant this was not practical. Used as an instructional airframe (INST113), the aircraft was put into storage after being offered to the Auckland Museum (who had a lack of space). The aircraft was displayed at the Auckland Easter show in 1954 and 1957, although it was not in good condition. Refurbished (in a non-authentic paint scheme) for display at the RNZAF's 21st Birthday celebrations in 1958, the aircraft was then installed for display at the Auckland Museum.
In 1997 the aircraft was refurbished (along with the Museum's Spitfire XVI) in readiness for moving to new display areas. Interestingly, the work on the aircraft was carried out in a public gallery. The aircraft was dismantled, and the work included cleaning, reconnection of some controls, and internal conservation/ protection procedures. The work brought some interesting aspects to light, such as poems written by the original repirers which were found under the port gun panel. The refurbishment also revealed the original carrier paint scheme. At the end of the war the aircraft had been overpainted in white with green surrender crosses. When painted for display in 1958, a disruptive grey and green scheme was applied (as illustrated below). the aircraft now appears in the dark green upper/light grey lower carrier scheme (as illustrated below).
The refurbishment has also raised questions about the aircraft's identity. The museum now believes (according to the display boards) that the fuselage, which had been thought to be a composite belongs to a single aircraft - 3844 (coded 2-182). Investigations by Peter Lewis of the Aviation Historical Society of New Zealand in the mid 1980's suggest the fuselage cames from two aircraft (3835 and 3844) with other parts from a variety of sources. A copy of Peter's findings, originally published in the AHSNZ Journal in June 1985 can be found on his website here, which includes a history of the aircraft and numerous photos (well worth a look!).
Last Update:- 29 June, 1999
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