|Wings of War | Published 07 May 2009|
In each of the previous looks at the first wave of World War II miniatures for Wings of War we have looked at one of the new planes from this series and at a battle that made that plane famous. To read the previous articles, you can follow these links: our first preview was on the Supermarine Spitfire and the Battle of Britain; our second preview was on the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and the bombing of Guernica; and our third preview looked at the Grumman F4F Wildcat and the Battle of Midway. Now, with our final article, we present the Mitsubishi A6M2 (FFG Product Code WW17j-l), otherwise known as the "Zero", and the "date which will live in infamy": the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7th, 1941.
At the time of its introduction, the Mitsubishi A6M2 was, comparing a number of factors, the best carrier-based fighter craft in the world. The A6M gets its nickname of "Zero" from its official Imperial Japanese Navy designation of "Type 0 Carrier Fighter" - the "0" deriving from the last digit of the year it was introduced, Imperial year 2600 (1940). The Zero was designed by Mitsubishi's Jiro Horikoshi to meet the specifications of the Imperial Japanese Navy, namely: long range, high speed, and high maneuverability. These specifications were achieved by making the Zero as light as possible. The plane was constructed from an aluminum alloy developed specifically for the Zero - lighter and stronger than normal aluminum, but also more brittle. In addition, the Zero was almost completely unarmored with non-self-sealing fuel tanks that could cause the Zero to catch fire or explode when hit by enemy fire.
Even with its seeming fragility, the Zero was among the deadliest planes of the early stages of the war, if only because it could easily outmaneuver and outrace most of its opponents. Although it had difficulty at high altitudes, it was still better than any of the Allied planes at the same high altitudes, and at lower altitudes, it was nearly unstoppable. It would not be until later in the war when new tactics such as the "Thach Weave" would be developed to engage the Zero, and later still, as the war progressed, more powerful Allied planes (such as the F6F Hellcat) would be engineered to outmatch the Zero.
Before World War II started, the pilots of the Imperial Japanese Navy were among the most strenuously-trained pilots in the world. Many of the IJN's pilots had also seen action in the Japanese war with China in the 1930's. As such, the Imperial Japanese Navy was well-prepared when it made its surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on the Island of Oahu, Hawaii, home base of the US Navy's Pacific Fleet.
Below: Zeros taking off from the Japanese carrier Shokaku.
After the fall of France to the German Blitzkrieg in 1940, Japan pushed into France's territories in Southeast Asia (now Vietnam), in an effort to blockade China, and extend its own influence and territories in Asia. This led to an embargo on oil exports to Japan from the United States. As Japan required oil for its expansion efforts (80% of its oil came from the US), this led to the planning of an invasion of the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), a vital source of oil and other natural resources. Part of extending Japan's influence in Asia also included invading the Philippines, at the time a United States Commonwealth. The attack on Pearl Harbor was therefore seen by the Japanese as a preemptive strike to swiftly eliminate the means of American resistance to Japanese expansion in the Pacific. The attack was also meant as a means of demoralizing the US into suing for peace, allowing Japan to continue its expansion in Asia without interference.
Early in the morning on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, nearly 400 Japanese planes launched in two waves from aircraft carriers Northwest of Oahu to strike directly at the Pacific Fleet and quickly eliminate as much of it as possible. The principle targets were the US Navy's capital ships - the aircraft carriers and battleships - that formed the greater part of the US Navy's combat capability. The Japanese bombers (mostly Nakajima B5Ns) were to strike at these high-value targets, as well as destroyers and cruisers, while dive bombers (Aichi D3As) and fighter planes (the Zeros) - would attack ground targets and maintain air superiority. The Zeros, in particular, strafed parked aircraft, in order to insure a weak US air response. As such, only a handful of US planes were able to take off and oppose the Imperial Japanese planes. Even then, the US planes were not able to mount an effective defense against the high-speed, highly-maneuverable Zeros.
The attack on Pearl Harbor cost nearly 2400 lives, with approximately 1100 wounded, and was over in about ninety minutes. The ground-based anti-aircraft fire managed to destroy a small fraction of the Japanese planes, but on the whole, the US Navy was devastated after the attack with five battleships and two destroyers sunk, many more ships damaged, and almost four hundred aircraft destroyed or damaged. The two waves of attacks on Pearl Harbor achieved the Japanese objectives of destroying many of the capital ships of the Pacific Fleet.
Right: the attack on Pearl Harbor as seen from a Japanese bomber.
A planned third wave of attacks which would have targeted more of the Pacific Fleet's infrastructure - the fuel, maintenance, dry dock facilities, and ammunition storage - was called off, as the IJN believed that by this point, the US Navy had had enough time to mount a defense with its land-based aircraft and anti-aircraft guns. Had the third wave proceeded, the Pacific Fleet might have been set back even further, thus keeping it out of the Pacific theater and allowing Japan's expansion to continue without a response for a longer period of time. As it was, none of the US Navy's aircraft carriers were touched during the attack and, six months later at the Battle of Midway, the US Navy would launch a surprise attack in return at the IJN. This time, with the benefit of surprise and employing tactics that would put American Wildcats on relatively even footing with the Japanese Zeros, the Imperial Japanese Navy would suffer heavy losses of its highly-trained and experienced pilots, as well as several sunken ships. Both of which, pilots and materiel, Japan would have a great deal of difficulty replacing for the rest of the war.
Although the attack on Pearl harbor was a stunning blow to the US Navy, it became a rallying point for the United States. Far from demoralizing the US, the attack on Pearl Harbor drew the United States out of its position of isolationism and into World War II in the Pacific and in Europe. The manner in which the attack was perpetrated, as a surprise attack against a country that it had not officially declared war on, only served to harden the United States' position against Japan, where formerly relations were strained but remained diplomatic.
In his speech delivered the day after the attack, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared December 7th, 1941 "a date which will live in infamy" and went on to state:
|" Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory. ... [I] assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again. Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger. With confidence in our armed forces - with the unbounded determination of our people - we will gain the inevitable triumph[.]"|
Immediately after the attacks, President Roosevelt and the United States Congress declared war on Japan, determined that "all measures be taken for our defense". It would not be until September 1945 that the war with Japan would officially end.
Thank you for reading this series of articles and we hope you have enjoyed these looks at the rich history that underpins the innovative design and gameplay of Wings of War. The first wave of Wings of War World War II miniatures will be arriving at your Friendly Local Game Store this Summer. Watch this space for more news and previews of this exciting addition to the Wings of War aerial combat game!
With help from Sr. VP and WWII specialist John Grams.
Wings of War is an innovative card game that realistically simulates aerial combat in both World War I and World War II. Wings of War miniatures are three-dimensional accessories for Wings of War that couple the same revolutionary game play with beautifully-sculpted and historically-accurate models.
Geat treatment of ww2 air combat! The planes 'fly differently to the wood and canvas planes
I am really digging these articles! Keep up the good work.
Another good read is "Zero!" by Martin Caiden.
A good read on the perspective from a Zero pilots point of view is SAMURAI! by Saburo Sakai.
It is also interesting to note that Claire Chennault employed extremely successful air combat tactics against the Japanese Air Force, and against the Zero in particular, in China well before the U.S. entered the war.
U.S. Army air doctrine at the time the U.S. entered the war was so disasterous in great part due to it's attempt to combat the Zero by challenging the Zero's greatest strength, it's maneuverability. U.S. Army P-40s & P-39s suffered terrible losses to the Zeros early in the U.S. involvement in the war primarily due to the inability of the U.S. Army to employ propper tactics against the Zero, as Claire Chenault had in China.
It is widely recognized today that in ACM, you employ tactics that favor the strengths of your own aircraft, and avoid situations in which the opposing aircraft is better suited than your own. U.S. pilots flying F4U Corsairs and F6F Hellcats later in the war learned from experience to exploit the weaknesses of the Zero by using their superior diving speed and armor to execute diving attacks almost at will against the Zeros. These were the same tactics Claire Chennault used years earlier with his P-40s in China.
As the British learned in the Battle of Britian against the German flyers, the tactics employed in air combat were just as important as the aircraft and pilots themselves.