For a start, I wish to acknowledge the research carried out by Peter Lewis; much of the information presented here is based n his work, which first appeared in the Journal of the Aviation Historical Society of New Zealand in June 1985, and in "Zero", published by AHSNZ the same year for the Auckland Institute and Museum. A tentative unit "tie-up" came from James Lansdale's research on JNAF unit prefixes, within the j-aircraft website.
Firstly, the name of the Museum where our Zero is housed, is not the "Domain Museum" as listed in the section on surviving Japanese aircraft. Its correct title: Auckland War Memorial Museum, Its address: The Domain, Auckland, New Zealand. The Zero is displayed in "Scars on the Heart", which portrays the wars and their effects in which New Zealanders have participated during the past two centuries. The Spitfire Mk.XVI TE456 is also displayed in this Gallery, and is one of very few survivors of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadrons.
The Zero's story: the aircraft on display in the Auckland War Memorial Museum is an A6M3 Model 22 (Zeke-22), with the serial: Mitsubishi No. 3844.
This aircraft may have belonged to the 3rd Hikotai (Squadron) of the 582nd Kokutai (Group), 25th Koku Sentai (Air Flotilla) based on Rabaul during 1943. It was flown to Bougainville and was caught on the ground there and seriously damaged in the bombing which accompanied the Allied landings in November of that year. It was hidden at the Kara airstrip for eighteen months, until a decision was made to return it tto airworthy condition as a morale-boosting exercise for the 60-to-70 Japanese personnel in the area.
This was achieved quite quickly, helped by the presence of other damaged aircraft which provided a ready source of parts. At the end of July 1945, Petty Officer Sekizen Shibayama, a young Japanese Navy pilot, was flown over from Rabaul in a "Jake" floatplane, his duties being to test-fly the Zero and ferry it back to Rabaul. However these intentions were overtaken by the tide of war, and the aircraft remained on the ground at Kara. Allied air supremacy was such that apart from the occasional Japanese floatplane courier flights, no enemy aircraft had been seen near Bougainville since March 1944. Rumors of the Zero's existence had come to the attention of Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) intelligence officers, and Kara airstrip was visited by personnel from the RNZAF base at Piva on 14 September. The Japanese ran-up the engine for the New Zealanders, who satisfied themselves that the aircraft was airworthy. It was originally proposed that Shibayama should fly the Zero to Piva but this was vetoed by the Surrender Commission, perhaps fearful of a frustrated Kamikaze pilot flying it to the Torokina Anchorage and diving on the largest ship in sight. They further instructed that nobody was to fly the aircraft. Transporting it to Piva would have involved dismantling it, then transporting it over rough roads to the coast, and thence by barge, and there was no pressing official reason for the aircraft to be salvaged. Had it been left up to the authorities, the Zero would have been abandoned to rot at Kara.
But this was not an option for Wing Commander W.R. (Bill) Kofoed, who wanted to inspect, then fly the aircraft despite the official instruction. On the morning of 15 September he and Engineer Officer C.D. Kingsford flew to Kara in a Wirraway of No.5 Sqdn Royal Australian Air Force. Kofoed and Kingsford inspected the aircraft and the Japanese pilot answered their questions as best he could. The repairs had been well done and all equipment appeared well-made and serviceable. Kofoed decided to fly the Zero to Piva. Two 200-litre drums of fuel were produced and hand-pumped into the aircraft; and after a further tune-up, he took off and made the 32-minute flight north-west to Piva without incident, but with undercarriage locked down for the entire flight.
Most of the RNZAF personnel at Piva had not seen any Japanese aircraft, even at a distance, so the Zero was the center of considerable interest on its arrival. One of the first to try the cockpit for size was Air Commodore G.N. (later Sir Geoffrey) Roberts, Commander of the New Zealand Air Task Force in the Solomons. Subsequently the General Manager of Tasman Empire Airways Ltd from 1946 he is regarded as the "Father of Air New Zealand". He recalled later: "Kofoed had to be 'matted' for disobeying orders but with that formality over, I took him to my quarters, gave him a couple of whiskies and congratulated him for being so bloody stupid".
This was not the only Japanese aircraft surrendered to the New Zealanders; three days after Kofoed's flight four aircraft, flown by Japanese pilots and escorted by RNZAF Corsairs, were flown into the base at Jacquinot Bay, New Britain. These were: three A6M5 Model 52s, two of which were serial no.s 3479 and 4043, an a Ki-46-II no. 2783 "Dinah" which suffered damage to its undercarriage on landing. The "Zekes" remained flyable; two were presented to the Australians and the third was sometimes flown by RNZAF personnel. An Aichi E13A1 "Jake" floatplane landed on 14 October and remained moored in the harbor until a leak developed in one of its floats and it sank. The "Zeke" and "Dinah" were simply abandoned due to official disinterest and a lack of shipping space, and were to be seen there for many years after the War.
Although its engine was run-up several times the "Zeke-22" was not flown again while at Piva, it was simply an item of curiosity parked in a corner of the servicing area while the men and materials were departing for their return home. The inter-island ferry steamer "Wahine" was chartered to repatriate RNZAF personnel from the Pacific and made three return trips. The Zero was transported to New Zealand on the second of these, which left Bougainville on 15 October 1945. Responsible for it while onboard ship was Warrant Officer E.C. (Charlie) Calcinai, known throughout the Air Force as "Pop". Its propeller and tail plane were removed for the journey, and it still wore the white surrender scheme, with green crosses above and below the main planes, and on the fuselage sides. The "Wahine" arrived in Auckland on Saturday 20 October 1945 after which the Zero was unloaded and taken by barge to RNZAF Station Hobsonville, on the upper reaches of the Waiteata Harbor.
Instructions were issued to carry out a 90-hour inspection and make the aircraft serviceable, and prepare a provisional maintenance schedule for a proposed period of exhibition flying. The engine and airframe were found to be in good condition, though the brakes were very weak and there was corrosion pitting in port main-wheel and tail-wheel bearings, port tyre in poor condition, and instrument panel shock absorbers in bad shape. But spares were non-existent; attempts were made, without success, to obtain suitable parts via RNZAF personnel in Japan, and a group of Japanese POWs about to leave New Zealand were taken under escort to see the Zero in the hope that they might be able to decipher the labels and servicing instructions on the aircraft. But again without success, as they were not aviation personnel and though cooperative, could not translate the specialized lettering. Air Department ordered Hobsonville to allocate the serial NZ6000 and apply RNZAF insignia, but this did not happen.
Early in December, Wing Commander A.E. Willis, Officer Commanding RNZAF Station Hobsonville, carried out taxiing trials, and around 12 December 1945, authorized himself a ten-minute flight, noting that "The aircraft was quite pleasant to fly, being rather like a Harvard. It appeared to have no unusual traits in the ten minutes I was flying".
On 18 December Air Commodore S.G. Wallingford, Air Member for Supply, reported to the Minister of Defense: "The Zero is now serviceable and will be flight tested within two or three days. It is proposed to allot the aircraft to the Central Fighter Establishment at Ardmore, where it will be used for tactical training of fighter pilots". But it was not to be; no test flying was authorized, and a subsequent proposal to allot the Zero to the Central Flying School at Wigram (at Christchurch) also came to nothing.
By this time, the Zero was obsolete, and an aircraft limited to "straight and level" flying would have been of little use for any training purposes. Faced with a lack of spares and servicing instructions, enthusiasm began to wane. On 6 May 1946 Air Department notified Hobsonville that the Zero was to be permanently ground, the airframe and engine to be converted to instructional category and used for demonstration and exhibition only. With effect 8 May the airframe was allotted the serial INST113, and the engine B172, but the aircraft remained in storage and was not transferred to No.1 Technical Training School, also Hobsonville-based, until February the following year. But the Zero was never used for instructional purposes by the TTS, simply gathering dust and taking up space in a corner of their hangar. By August 1947 patience was beginning to run out and it was proposed to offer the aircraft for disposal. Realizing that it might have some historic value, the Air Member for Supply, Group Captain C.E. Kay, asked the Department of Internal Affairs if it would be suitable for museum display.
It was suggested that a museum outside Auckland would present problems of transport and the Auckland War Memorial Museum was contacted. The Curator, Dr G.E. Archey, accepted but asked that the Zero remain at Hobsonville until suitable space could be found for it. The Zero was gifted to the Museum by the Air Force, with the promise that they would deliver and assemble the aircraft when space became available to house it.
By the early 1950s the Zero was in open storage, suffering the ravages of weather, children and souvenir-hunters, along with other unwanted aircraft, including a Seafire XV, and several Sunderlands and Catalinas. In April 1953 the Government Stores Board proposed that the Zero be included in the sale of surplus material held at Hobsonville, provided the aircraft was in fact surplus. By sheer chance, someone remembered that it had been promised to the Auckland War Memorial Museum, though the relevant file could not be found. A second approach was made to the Museum, reminding it of its possession, but space to house it was still not available.
About this time the Zero was repainted, and there are recollections of it wearing a blue or blue-green upper-surface, and it was put on display at the Auckland Easter Shows of 1954 and 1957, after which it was finally stored indoors. Partially dismantled, it was placed in No.8 Hangar at Ardmore, a wartime fighter base south of Auckland where Air Force equipment was stored for some years after the War. A large air-show and display was held at RNZAF Station Ohakea, near Palmerston North, on 1 April 1958 to celebrate 21st Anniversary of the Royal New Zealand Air Force. One of the officers planning the display recalled the Zero from his time at Hobsonville and dispatched a group of airmen with instructions not to return without it.
They arrived back at Ohakea with the Zero just a few days before the display was to open; the aircraft was hurriedly refurbished and repainted in yet another inaccurate color-scheme before being put on show; suspended in a flying pose within one of the big hangars.
Stored at Ohakea after the display, it was transported back to Auckland on 30 November 1959, where further refurbishment was carried out at RNZAF Station Whenuapai (near Hobsonville). Twelve years after the original offer, and in much worse condition than in 1947, the Zero was delivered to the Auckland War Memorial Museum and assembled there by RNZAF personnel, this honoring the original promise.
The Zero remained on display at the Museum for many years in its spurious paint-job, with other material from New Zealand's participation in the Solomons Campaign, and a German V-1 "Doodle Bug" (also less politely known as a "Blastard") Flying Bomb nearby. In 1995 the Zero, along with the Museum's Spitfire, were removed from display and underwent extensive refurbishment by Aircraft Component Engineering (ACE) on Auckland's North Shore in preparation for display in "Scars nn the Heart", which was opened in 1997. Much of the work on both aircraft was carried out on public view within the Museum, taking the form of a "live restoration".
For the Zero, the work included cleaning, and reconnection of some controls, along with conservation and protection procedures for all surfaces, inside and out.
The original paint-scheme was revealed and faithfully reproduced. This is the post-July 1943 IJN color-scheme of Dark Green upper surfaces, with Light Grey below, with Black engine cowling and natural metal propeller spinner. A subtle mottling was applied to all upper surfaces, recalled by Shiro Imazawa, who worked on the aircraft at Kara, as "green and gray spots here and there". The national insignia (Himomaru) are not outlined, though Yellow panels were applied to the wing leading-egos as a standard recognition feature. The aircraft identification data block is marked in Black on the rear fuselage, and the unit identifier 2-182 is painted in Yellow, which was often (but by no means always) the color used to denote the third Chutai (squadron) within a Kokutai (Group). In this application, the unit-code of the time (for 582 Kokutai) was 2-1, the 1 indicated a fighter role, and the "last two" identified the aircraft within the Kokutai, in this instance, 82. Land-based units operating from Rabaul, under the control of the 25th Koku Sentai in November 1943, and the unit identifiers is use at the time were:
It should be noted Kokutai could be attached to other Koku Sentai at various times; 204 and 582 Kokutai within 26 Koku Sentai, and 251 Kokutai within 21 and 24 Koku Sentai. It should be noted that many other "tail-codes" were worn by these Kokutai during the period of their existence During the restoration, some interesting facets of the aircraft's "previous life" were uncovered such as poems, found beneath the port gun-panel, written by the Japanese who had worked on it at Kara.
Whilst the aircraft's serial no. is given as 3844, being the identity of the original airframe, this aircraft is a composite, many of its components used in the repairs had been sourced from other Zero aircraft, serial no.s of which include:
The power plant is the 1130-hp Nakajima NK1F Sakae 21, standard for the Model 22, and not the Sakae 12 as recorded in the RNZAF report. The propeller spinner is that of an A6M2. This aircraft has the inset rudder trim-tab of late-production Type 22s, adjustable in- flight from the cockpit. Repairs to bomb-damage are still quite visible internally, and some panels are evidence of more recent work, probably in preparation for the 1958 Ohakea display. The pitot- head is of British origin. No radio equipment, nor the antennae, were recorded as being fitted at the time of its acquisition by the RNZAF; during those closing months of the war, with overwhelming Allied air supremacy, a Japanese pilot would have had few people to talk to!
Once again I would acknowledge the research of Peter Lewis (visit his Zero-Sen website at http://mitsubishi_zero.tripod.com) and James Lansdale; useful references include:
The attached images: I took the color-photographs on 29 January 1999, when in Auckland to attend our eldest daughter's Wedding. I was so bemused by the standard of restoration as compared with the last time I had seen the aircraft that I quite forgot to move further along the gallery and photograph its data-block and tail-code. Also, my thoughts were of my father, who served throughout the Solomons Campaign as Transport Officer in the 35th Infantry Battalion, 14th Brigade, 3rd Division, New Zealand Army. He told me once of one of his first introductions to war; he and his friends were standing on a beach on Guadalcanal, watching an aerial dog-fight overhead. "This is what it must have been like in the Battle of Britain!" they told each other. All very exciting until one of the Japanese pilots dis-engaged from the battle, swooped down and strafed the very beach they were standing on, making them run for the cover of the trees. Very embarrassing, and a thought-provoking comment on the Zero; that a skilled pilot could dis-engage from combat at will.
For a time my father was responsible for part of the perimeter defenses of Henderson Field; his "opposite number" was Major John Golden, US Army. I still have (and wear) the Ray-Ban G15 "aviators' glasses" which he gave to my father. I appreciate you already have goo-quality detail photographs of the Zero at the Auckland War Memorial Museum, however I hope these will be of interest. Use them as you see fit, though Id appreciate acknowledgement (Robert E. Montgomery). The black/white photo of the Zero shows it upon arrival at Piva; the man with his arm on the cockpit canopy is Wg Cdr Bill Kofoed, the man to the right (with peaked cap) is Air Cdre Geoffrey Roberts. Please acknowledge this: RNZAF Photo, via Robert E. Montgomery.
Click to Enlarge Photos
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