The Mitsubishi A6M Zero Was Nowhere Near The Plane You Think It Was

A Mitsubishi A6m Zero replica, based on a T-6 Texan
A Mitsubishi A6m Zero replica, based on a T-6 Texan
Photo: Jordi Paya on Flickr

Most living Americans tend to think of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero as the Japanese plane that walloped the Americans at Pearl Harbor. Okay, well, it did do that. But it wasn’t the fearsome fighter that Hollywood movies have portrayed. While it had some initial advantages, it was deeply flawed.


The Zero was not only meant to be lightweight, it was also built to be cheap. A lack of mass is exceptionally helpful at maintaining low wing loading, while aiding both the ability to turn and accelerate. Early Western carrier-based fighters, like the United States Navy’s Brewster Buffalo and the F4F Wildcat, were woeful against the Zero.

The flip side of that meant that it didn’t have some features that later Western fighters had, like self-sealing fuel tanks. A self-sealing fuel tank might be a problem in your road car, but in your fighter plane? With bullets and shells whizzing around? All that leaking fuel could become a big problem, quickly. As this video from the ever-so-cromulent Real Engineering channel on Youtube explains, the Zero even had problems like a complete lack of armor, and a lack of maneuverability at high speeds:

The Allies quickly learned of the Zero’s fatal flaws – especially with the help of the Akutan Zero – and were able to make quick work of the Zero later in World War II.

Deputy Editor, Jalopnik. 2002 Lexus IS300 Sportcross.



I think everyone with a modicum of knowledge about ww2 aircraft development is aware of the Zero fighter’s later shortcomings. However in the early phase of the war it was indeed a superb fighter. The Allies had several advantages in all theatres of war.

1. They had more manpower so they could replace pilots more easily.

2. They had larger industrial bases so they could build more aircraft.

3. Their industrial bases were less damaged by bombing so they could continue to accelerate the development of new aircraft while the axis could barely maintain current levels.

4. Allied aircraft designers were indeed excellent but more than anything they were directed properly to build aircraft that could maximise allied industrial capability. This meant the allied advantage kept accelerating through the war.

So back to the Zero, why did it fail? Because Japan never had the industrial capability to defeat the US and it lost the Pacific war the moment it dropped the first bomb on Pearl Harbor.