This Zero revolutionized how our Aviators were able to master the dogfighting skills necessary to get the upper hand against one of the finest fighters of World War 2.
Most people don't know about the diversion set up to distract the US Navy at midway prior to the attack, but to those who have studied this battle know that the Japaneses sent two carriers( Ryujo and Junyo) with 82 warplanes in their belly, escorted by to heavy cruisers(Takao and Maya),and 3 destroyers. Also included in this task force were transporters holding 2,500 troops, 5 I-class submarines, and 1 tanker. This Task force was carrying out plan AO, which was to destroy Dutch Harbor Alaska, and occupy the islands of Attu, Kiska, and Adak. Commanded by Adm. Kakuta the task force bombed Dutch Harbor on June 3rd and 4th of 1942, trying to pull the Pacific fleet from Pearl Harbor, so on the 4th of June Adm. Yamamoto's southern fleet would attack Midway. The attack on the 3rd was minimal, and on the 4th at 5:55 pm Tadayoshi Koga, a 19-year-old flight petty officer, attacked Dutch Harbor and ended up changing the pacific theater.
Koga's Zero was hit by small arms fire from a 50 caliber on the ground, he was hit in several spots on his Zero, but the fatal shot severed oil return line. Bringing his speed down to keep the engine from seizing, he flew east with his two wing men Chief Petty Officer Makoto Endo and Petty Officer Tsuguo Shikada. One of the 5 I-class submarines was called on to help pick up Koga, once he landed. The pilots spotted an Island and they made a couple of passes and decided to bring it down on a grassy field. Koga, not knowing what fields are like in the Aleutians, dropped his landing gear and hit the marshy ground, which flipped his Zero, Killing him instantly with a broken neck. The ground is called Muskeg, which is a boggy grass marsh found all over Alaska. Koga's wing- men had orders to destroy the crashed Zero, however having a friendship with Koga and certain he wasn't dead, decided not to and returned to the carrier Ryujo. The submarine searched for Koga but was finally chased away by the USS Williamson . The Island he crashed on was 25 miles east of Dutch Harbor, called Akutan.
About a month later an American PBY Catalina piloted by Lieutenant William "Bill" Thies, and his crew were on a routine patrol but ended up getting lost. Finding some islands he was able to determine where he was, and decided to fly over some of the Islands on the way back to Dutch Harbor. Flying over Akutan Machinist Mate- Wall, a gunner, announced that there was a plane on the ground. Thies passed over the wreckage, and then flew back to the Dutch Harbor to report his find and ask for permission for a return trip to salvage the wreckage. Thies and others armed to the teeth returned to Akutan on a converted fishing boat called the Mary Anne YP-151 to a patrol boat. He noticed that there was no danger, and so they started to examine the the Zero, which was in pretty good shape. Some of the crew lifted the tail of the Zero and they retrieved Koga's body and found a life jacket and raft, no sword. They buried him a couple of yards from the plane. They returned again to Dutch Harbor, and discussed the retrieval of Koga's Zero. A larger team returned with lots of plywood, a tractor, and bulldozer with a winch. They pulled the Zero out of boggy ground and placed it on right side up on a barge and returned to Dutch Harbor to be cleaned and then shipped down to Seattle on the USS St. Mihiel and then transported by barge to Naval Air Station North Island near San Diego. There it was repaired and painted in US colors and was up in the air again on Sept. 20th
Lieutenant Commander Eddie R. Sanders took the Akutan Zero up for its first test flight. He would make 24 test flights between September 20 and October 15. According to Sanders:
"These flights covered performance tests such as we do on planes undergoing Navy tests. The very first flight exposed weaknesses of the Zero which our pilots could exploit with proper tactics ... immediately apparent was the fact that the ailerons froze up at speeds above 200 knots so that rolling maneuvers at those speeds were slow and required much force on the control stick. It rolled to the left much easier than to the right. Also, its engine cut out under negative acceleration due to its float-type carburetor. We now had the answer for our pilots who were being outmaneuvered and unable to escape a pursuing Zero. Go into a vertical power dive, using negative acceleration if possible to open the range while the Zero's engine was stopped by the acceleration. At about 200 knots, roll hard right before the Zero pilot could get his sights lined up."
This and much more vital intel, helped prepare the Allies Aviators on how to dogfight with the Zero. They also tested and compared Koga's Zero to the P-38F Lightning, P-39D-1 Airacobra, P-51 Mustang, P-40F Warhawk, F4F-4 Wildcat, and the F4U-1 Corsair. The findings are pretty amazing and will be willing to let you know if you have a question.
Koga's Zero came to end in February 1945,while the Zero was taxiing for a take-off, a SB2C Helldiver lost control and rammed into it. The Helldiver's propeller sliced the Zero into pieces. Some of the planes gauges and other items were saved and our in three different Museums, one of which is my favorite the Alaskan Aviation Museum.
Thought I would share with you all how much one Zero had on the outcome of the Pacific theater. I also included some pictures of Koga, his Zero, recovery, and his aircraft carrier Ryujo