The Mitsubishi A6M Zero was a long range fighter aircraft operated by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service (IJNAS) from 1940 to 1945. The A6M was designated as the Mitsubishi Navy Type 0 Carrier Fighter (零式艦上戦闘機), and also designated as the Mitsubishi A6M Rei-sen and Mitsubishi Navy 12-shi Carrier Fighter. The A6M was usually referred to by the Allies as the "Zero", from the 'Navy Type 0 Carrier Fighter' designation. The official Allied reporting name was Zeke.
When it was introduced early in World War II, the Zero was the best carrier-based fighter in the world, combining excellent maneuverability and very long range. In early combat operations, the Zero gained a legendary reputation as a "dogfighter", achieving the outstanding kill ratio of 12 to 1, but by mid-1942 a combination of new tactics and the introduction of better equipment enabled the Allied pilots to engage the Zero on more equal terms. The IJNAS also frequently used the type as a land-based fighter.
By 1943, inherent design weaknesses and the increasing lack of more powerful aircraft engines meant that the Zero became less effective against newer enemy fighters that possessed greater firepower, armor, and speed, and approached the Zero's maneuverability. Although the Mitsubishi A6M was outdated by 1944, it was never totally supplanted by the newer Japanese aircraft types. During the final years of the War in the Pacific, the Zero was used in kamikaze operations. In the course of the war, more Zeros were built than any other Japanese aircraft.
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As Described In
Aces of the Pacific: The Mitsubishi A6M3 Zero entered service in early 1943. Called "Hamp" by the Allies, the A6M3 saw duty in New Guinea and the Solomons. The final mass produced version of the Zero was the A6M5, which reached the front in early 1944. Some armor protection was incorporated into the design, as well as a more powerful engine.
1942 Pacific Air War: The fuel tanks on the Reisen ("Zeke" or "Zero") are completely unprotected and are not self-sealing. As fighters go, these are sleek, fragile machines. The lack of armor is counterbalanced, however, by the Reisen’s excellent maneuverability and climb rate. If you come up against a Corsair, try to close with him, don’t let him have the initiative. Dogfighting close with the Wildcats is the preferred strategy. The Hellcats will try hit and run tactics; do not allow them to stand off at a distance, as they are quite deadly.