By James Lansdale
Four different A6M2 Zeros are alleged to have been flown by Saburo SAKAI and documented by Henry SAKAIDA in his biography of SAKAI, "Winged Samurai." According to SAKAIDA, SAKAI san has flown A6M2 model 21s carrying Tainan ku tail codes as follows: [V-103, V-107, V-128, and V-172]. Of these four aircraft, only two are known by serial number. Mitsubishi built A6M2 model 21, s/n 3647 [V-103], constructed on 3 March 1942, and A6M2 model 21, s/n 5784 [V-172 according to SAKAI], constructed during May 1942.
No one knows for certain which Zero SAKAI san flew on 10 December 1941 in his attack on Capt. Colin KELLY's B-17. However, we do know its color! According to 2nd Lt. Joe M. BEAN, navigator on the ill-fated B-17, in his eyewitness account at the time, the attacking Zeros, "were painted a soft, pale green" [Walter D. EDMONDS, They Fought With What They Had (Boston: Little, Brown and Co, 1951, 128-129)]. A U.S.A.A.F aircraft intelligence report for August 1942 also noted that these Japanese aircraft were a "light greenish-grey."
In 1993, a Mitsubishi built A6M2 model 21 s/n 3647 coded [V-103] was recovered from a swamp on Gudalacanal with crew remains on board. While the crew remains are still unknown, the aircraft has been identified as one of those flown by SAKAI san. It may or may not be the one flown on his eventful mission of 7 August 1942. From its manufacture date (3 March 1942) we do know that it was not one of his early mounts.
John CHOTU, a Honiaru, Guadalcanal resident and American Charles HAGEN, examined and documented the aircraft remains of A6M2 s/n 3647 as follows:
"Overall scheme was a severely weathered flat, pale gray. Pieces, which were protected by overlying coats of paint or overlapping pieces of metal, were dirty light olive or gray-green."
Fragments from this aircraft, after rubbing with an abrasive compound (toothpaste!) were matched to FS-26350 six years after the recovery date. These fragmentswere recovered by CHOTU from a pile at Honiaru International Airport from what little fragments remain of this historic aircraft.
"The diagonal fuselage stripe was red and located a few centimeters behind the fuselage (hinomaru) and was approximately 15 cm in width. The fuselage was largely destroyed in the crash and an accurate measurement of the fuselage stripe width was not possible."
"The (fin) markings were (V-1 on one side and 03 on the other), painted black , and there were remnants of a horizontal stripe, 10 cm wide, about 3-cm above the V-1 marking on the left side. The paint from the stripe had worn off, however some white flakes remained. The underlying paint was darker and more light olive or dirty gray in color."
If this report is accurate and this aircraft was indeed one flown by SAKAI san, then we now have a basis for a more accurate rendering of one of his mounts.
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