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Book Review
Wildcat vs Zero
F4F Wildcat vs A6M Zero-sen, Pacific Theater 1942, Duel 54
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by: Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]

Originally published on:

F4F Wildcat vs A6M Zero-sen, Pacific Theater 1942
Series & No.: Duel 54
Author: Edward M. Young
Artists: Jim Laurier; Gareth Hector
Formats: Paperback, eBook, PDF
Length: 80 pages
Mfg. ID: ISBN: 9781780963228

F4F Wildcat vs A6M Zero-sen, Pacific Theater 1942 is the 54th title of Osprey's series Duel. It is an in-depth examination of these two arch rivals of the first year of the Pacific War.

Contrasting the global air war in 1942 with an astronomical euphemism, the air war over the Pacific in 1942 was more like a shooting star than a European comet. Small numbers of aircraft predominately fought on-again off-again yet extremely intense clashes until the Allied invasion of Guadalcanal. It was over that island that the United States Navy (USN) and Marine Corps (USMC) met the Imperial Japanese Naval Air Force (IJNAF) in the type of fight the Japanese planned for, trained for, and eagerly sought: a campaign to slaughter the Allies into exhaustion.

Japan planned to exhaust the West with a grueling campaign featuring a cadre of superbly trained warriors equipped with world-class weapons. Fighter pilots in the IJN Kōkū Kantai (Air Fleet) and Kōkū Sentais (Air Flotillas) vanguard were equipped with a secret superfighter, the Mitsubishi A6M Type 0 reisen, the Zero-sen. Those fighter pilots probably were the most thoroughly screened and tested pilots in history, assigned to an air unit only after a viciously rigorous training regiment unconscionable to Western societies. The survivors then learned on-the-job against the Chinese. Some IJNAF aviators arrived over Pearl Harbor with hundreds of hours of combat flying behind them. Many historians agree that the IJNAF Zero pilots of 1942 were the most formidable air superiority force in the world.

Against them flew Allied air forces of a polyglot of experience, tactics, training, and airplanes. Despite receiving some bloody noses, IJNAF Zero pilots swept the skies of opposition and established a legend (and myth) that reigns today. However, a few USN aviators took heed of an intelligence report sent to America by retired and discounted Army Air Corps (USAAC) fighter pilot Claire Chennault, commander of the Chinese Air Force. Chennault observed and accurately reported IJNAF activity, and even examined a captured Zero. While his warnings about the incredible A6M were met with dismissive disdain by most American air commanders, USN fighter pilot Lt Cdr John Thach took it to heart and, with great concern, began cogitating how to counter the reisen. His weapon was the Grumman F4F Wildcat, a competent fighter although lacking the performance of the A6M.

While USAAF (United States Army Air Force) fighter pilots suffered against the reisen in a protracted campaign from the Philippines to New Guinea, USN VF (fighters) first met the dreaded Zero-sen over the Coral Seas in May, 1942. There the legendary VF leader Lt Cdr James Flatley came away with lessons-learned and confidence in the F4F. A month later near Midway Lt Cdr Thach successfully demonstrated his Beam Defense Position - "The Thach Weave", although Thach lost confidence in the F4F. Yet in just two battles the F4F was shown that it could, properly employed by trained pilots, handle the A6M. Those lessons and tactics would mean life or death for hundreds of carrier and land based USMC and USN Wildcat squadrons in the sustained battle for Guadalcanal.

Author Edward M. Young delivers that epic clash in F4F Wildcat vs A6M Zero-sen, Pacific Theater 1942 through 11 chapters and section in 80 pages:
    Design and Development
    Technical Specifications
    The Strategic Situation
    The Combatants
    Statistics and Analysis

How the pilots of these two fighters dueled over the Pacific is generally known yet this book reveals in depth how and why the aircraft became the fighters they were, how their characteristics helped or hindered them, and how their pilots used or misused them. Where and why the Grummans and Mitsubishis clashed is related in an overview of 1942.

You can understand the amount of detail invested in the development of these two fighters by Mr. Young as he spends the first 43 pages presenting the information. Each fighter is examined from concept to prototypes and testing, through development of different versions and variants in peace and in combat. Gizmologists will be fascinated by the series of engines and powerplant appliances fitted to these fighters. Except for an intermediate sub-model of Wildcat, both were equipped with two-speed two-stage ("high-altitude") superchargers. Historians of Japanese aircraft will be satisfied to have the mystery of model numbers deciphered, i.e., A6M2 Model 11 and Model 21; A6M3 Model 22 and Model 32. Fighters are only fighters because the are designed to aggressively bring guns to bear against targets. The quality of the gun battery is critical as to whether a fighter is a killer or just malevolently annoying. Each aircrafts' weapons are reviewed as is controversial decision to change the F4F's armament.

The difference between training of American VF and Imperial Japanese VF pilots is explored in surprising detail. Superbly honed as IJNAF Zero pilots were, they were up against the extraordinary pre-war US pilots known as "The First Team". A specific difference in fighter training is attributed to the success of the Wildcat against the superior performance of the Zero.

Composition of IJNAF Kokutai and USN fighter squadrons is compared, as is the basic fighting elements: shotai for the Japanese, element for the Americans. Zero shotai were similar to unsuccessful European ideas yet reisen pilots improved it into a formidable flight.

Finally, the combat record of these two iconic opponents is brought to life in almost 30 pages recounting the first clash over the Coral Seas through the critical phase of Guadalcanal. These accounts are peppered with pilot reports and quotes. Here we learn of the real world strengths and weaknesses of two contemporaries. In just two carrier duels the Zero found the Wildcat a tough nut to crack while the Wildcat learned that Zeros were superior yet not invincible. Over Guadalcanal the relatively sluggish F4F demonstrated that using proven tactics, the Wildcat could effectively counter the Zero. In fact, a leading USMC VF leader aggressively ordered his pilots, "When you see Zeros, dogfight 'em!" Zero pilots, hamstrung by awful operating conditions, found their fighter was still a dominating fighter. Most of the top US aces were shot at least once and many F4F pilots learned how the Grumman performed as a glider, courtesy of the Mitsubishi! Yet the US had in the F4F something the IJNAF lacked - a fighter that could keep a pilot alive if shot up.

Two pilots are profile: USMC top ace Joe Foss and IJNAF ace Yoshiro Hashiguchi.

The book concludes by comparing wartime propaganda to post-war records of known losses verse claims of both sides. The results are surprising. The author wraps it up with an analysis of the overall effectiveness of the Zero and Wildcat, their longevity, and successors.

The text is well organized and easy to read. However, there are some typos (Joe Foss' Zero kills don't match in different parts of the book; rounds downrange don't match the stated rate of fire for the number of guns.) and, to me, some odd commentaries.

photos, Art and other graphics
Two artists, Jim Laurier and Gareth Hector, support the text with high quality original artwork. Numerous black-and-white photos bolster the text. Many will be familiar to you who have studied the Pacific War for a while, yet there are several that are new to me. Most are sharply focused while a few were obviously shot by amateurs.

Art includes:
    a. F4F-4 Wildcat 3-view: BuNo 02100 "black 13" of Capt Marion Carl, VMF-223.
    b. A6M2 Zero-sen Model 21 3-view: 3rd Kokutai, Rabual.
    c. F4F-4 Wildcat Macine Guns: cutaway.
    d. A6M2 Zero-sen Model 21 Cowl/Wing Guns: cutaway.
    e. F4F-4 Wildcat Cockpit with 50 keyed items.
    f. A6M2 Zero-sen Cockpit with 54 keyed items.
    g. Cover from a 1942 US Navy gunnery training manual.
    h. IJNAF basic fighter formation: shotai
    i. "Thach Weave" diagrammed.
    j. "Thach Weave" aircraft positions.
    k. Two-page "in-action" scene of Lt Cdr Thach of VF-3 shooting a Zero off the tail of Esn Dibb, Midway.
    l. Map: battle ground of the Solomons
    m. Engaging the Enemy: pilot's view from a Wildcat shooting down a Zero in pursuit of another F4F.

Charts and tables include:
    1. F4F-4 Wildcat and A6M2 Type O Carrier Fighter Model 21 Comparison Specifications.
    2. Leading A6M Type O Killers in 1942

Modelers, you can find a wealth of Wildcat and Zero detail in this book!

When I first saw this title I thought What could be new? I finished the book saying What a great read! This book covers two well known fighters, the A6M Zero and the F4F Wildcat. It covers the fighter fights of two well documented carrier battles and the epic Guadalcanal campaign. Yet it does so with a very well balanced presentation of aircraft development, pilot training, tactics, and operations. I learned new aspects and details of the F4F and the Zero; pilots and tactics; new research revealing combat results.

Artwork and photographic support is, typical of Osprey, excellent. Modelers can find a wealth of Wildcat and Zero detail in this book!

However, there are some typos and, to me, some odd commentaries. Those detract from the body of the work and can cause confusion for new readers.

I am very impressed with this title. It expands the knowledge base available of the A6M and F4F fighters. I certainly recommend it.

Other thoughts
Even though I have been reading about the 1942 carrier battles and the campaign for Guadalcanal for over 40 years, I found this book to be very satisfying and informative. It answered technical questions not asked or forgotten. It provided new quotes from the pilots involved. It provided a wealth of development information about the aircraft. Further, it provides new analytic data that sheds light on the air war which further expands our knowledge about the subject.

While beyond the scope of this book, the combat record of the Zero against the Wildcat presents some interesting insight. One can extrapolate the results of F4F vs A6M combat into understanding of other air combat debates. For instance, there is still debate about authentication of massive Luftwaffe scores on the Russian Front and elsewhere. One need only ponder that Joe Foss, Joe Bauer, John Smith, Marion Carl and others ran up high scores in a very short time even though flying an inferior flying fighter against some of the world’s best fighter pilots; their opportunities for combat were “only” daily while some pilots in other theaters would fly multiple missions each day. One can only surmise what personal scores could have been run up had target-rich environments been available with multiple sorties per day.

At the same time, the lessons of 1942 for the IJNAF can be considered a present day warning against relying on a handful of superb pilots flying extraordinary superfighters. One bad day of lucky shots by the bad guys could defeat one’s ability to contest the air war.
Highs: Artwork and photographic support is, typical of Osprey, excellent. Well balanced presentation of aircraft development, pilot training, tactics, and operations.
Lows: Typos
Verdict: I am very impressed with this title. It expands the knowledge base available of the A6M and F4F fighters. I certainly recommend it.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: N/A
  Mfg. ID: ISBN: 9781780963228
  Suggested Retail: £12.99 $18.95
  Related Link: 
  PUBLISHED: Nov 16, 2013

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About Frederick Boucher (JPTRR)

I'm a professional pilot with a degree in art. My first model was an AMT semi dump truck. Then Monogram's Lunar Lander right after the lunar landing. Next, Revell's 1/32 Bf-109G...cried havoc and released the dogs of modeling! My interests--if built before 1900, or after 1955, then I proba...

Copyright ©2021 text by Frederick Boucher [ JPTRR ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of ModelGeek. All rights reserved.


Thank you for this great review. Looks like a really good read.
NOV 16, 2013 - 03:17 AM
Apaprently one of the overlooked reasons for high German scores is a Soviet practice of allowing only the flight leader to communicate with their subordinates (or other flight leaders): The fighters below each flight leaders had radios that could only receive!: This feature I know for a fact carried on for Soviet tank platoons at least until the 1980s... German aces described fighting the Soviet fighter formations as fighting an "apparatus": You shot down the forwardmost aircraft of the formation first: Then the others milled about in confusion and were easily shot down: They could not even warn one another... Sounds incredible to me, but is apparently true... Gaston
NOV 16, 2013 - 04:52 PM
Hi Gaston Ironically, Ulrich Steinhilper made a similar criticism about the Luftwaffe's limited use of radios in fighters at the time of the Battle of Britain in his autobiography "Spitfire On My Tail". All the best Rowan
NOV 16, 2013 - 08:29 PM
Interesting! I did not know that. Ironically II, in the book Clashes: Air Combat Over North Vietnam, it was identified that USAF stuck with a strict finger-four that only allowed the flight leader to shoot, thereby reducing a Phantom flight's firepower by 3/4; USN used Loose-deuce and allowed both pilots to shoot if they had a shot; USN had better air-to-air results throughout the war. Gaston, that boggled my mind when I first read that most Soviet tanks had no radios. I recall that when a leader was knocked out, the rest would just stop while waiting for runners to restore a command structure, or they would mill around aimlessly; always fearful that doing something not in the "playbook" would bring the wrath of a Commissar down upon them. War On The Eastern Front 1941-1945 : The German Soldier in Russia by James Lucas, absolutely flabbergasted me as to how rigid Soviet practices were.
NOV 18, 2013 - 01:57 AM
Interesting (II). I need to go back and re-read some books. I would swear that I read of Jagdflieger receiving warning calls from their schwarm wingmen. I do recall learning from Horrido!: Fighter Aces of the Luftwaffe by Raymond Toliver, that the leader was the only one with 'a right to shoot' except when a wingman had to run off an attacker but I do not recall ever reading that Luftwaffe wingmens' R/T were "R"-only. That would defeat the ability of the wingman to warn his leader; also since pilots did not always get to fly "their" aircraft, it is difficult to believe that half of all Bf 109s couldn't transmit.
NOV 18, 2013 - 03:47 AM

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