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Zeros over China, 1941-1942

Here's a neat bit of research by Ben Schapiro, who was trying to reconcile two opposing facts: 1) that all Zero units were withdrawn from China in the late summer of 1941, meaning that all "Zero" sightings by the AVG Flying Tigers were actually cases of mistaken identity; and 2) that a German-born refugee named Gerhard Neumann actually assembled an airworthy Zero from parts found in China. (Also see the letter that follows)


This post picks up from the one about Dick Bueschel's listing of Zero units and their operations. As I mentioned earlier Gerhard Neumann's recollection of Chennault's claim that several Zeros were shot, forced or landed with in the nine months prior to October 1942 (Jan. - Sept. 1942) just doesn't match with the historical record.

However I could not simply dismiss the evidence that there may have been several Zeros used to supply parts for the Teitsan Zero Neumann rebuilt. Several of his passages struck me as corresponding with known events involving Zeros and China. Comments such as : 1) "we've got hold of a pretty good Zero captured by Chinese farmers on the Japanese-occupied beach opposite Hainan. They took it apart and dragged the pieces inland." 2) "that these planes had not been mass-produced--an important fact for our intelligence operation. Most components required filling before they finally all fit together. " 3) "We were unable to recover any original tires--which the Chinese farmers had cut up for shoe soles; "

I really feel that Mr. Neumann's recollections could comfortably be reconciled with the historical record. Several bits of information were lacking. Mainly histories of the IJNAF units that operated in and around China that could provide dates and aeas of IJNAF operations. Purchasing Hata and Izawa's JAPANESE NAVAL ACES AND FIGHTER UNITS IN WORLD WAR II and reviewing some of the other works on China air operations filled in the gaps.

The key missing piece is the origin and mission of the found/restored Tainan Kokutai Zero. What was a Zero doing in the area north of Hainan Island. This is supplied by Hata/Izawa: On November 22 a composite fighter squadron attached to the 22nd Air Flotilla HQ was created to support the Singapore operation. Fourteen A6M2s (model 21) of the Tainan Air Group and another 13 A6M2 (21) of the 3rd Air Group departed Tainan and Takao airfields for Saigon via Hainan Island on November 26 and 27. They arrived at Soc Trang, about 150 miles south of Saigon on December 1, 1941. 'En route to their destination, however, two Zero fighters had to make emergency landings on Luichow Peninsula because of foul weather, and two pilots were missing in action.' Page 143-144 of Hata/Izawa.

Now the Luichow Peninsula is the bit that sticks out towards Hainan Island and is due south from Kweilin by about 150-200 miles. The peninsula was not held by the Japanese in 1940-1941, they occupied it during the Ichi-Go operation to drive out the bombers at Kweilin. I still don't know where Teitsan is as it's not on any of my old maps, but from Neumann's own words it must be near the beach opposite Hainan Island on the Luichow peninsula.

There are alot of matches between this story in Hata/Izawa, the info in Mikesh on 1940-1941 Zero operations in China, and in Neumann's story. Right IJNAF air group is involved - Tainan. Which we know from the picture of the Zero being re-reconstucted at Kweilin in Mikesh. Right model - A6M2 model 21. The folding wing tips are seen in the Kweilin picture and others. The Serial number (3372) checks out to a A6M2 model 21. Right area - in proximity to Kweilin. Hata/Izawa and Neumann agree on this point. Mikesh might too if I could find Teitsan on a map. Right kind of landing to produce a relatively undamaged airplane. Hata/Izawa state two A6M2s made a forced landing, Neumann gives more detail adding they or it landed on a beach opposite Hainan. The photo in Mikesh of the Zero at Kweilin shows an undamaged drop tank attached to the rack so I doubt the plane landed wheels up.

More than one airplane is involved so Neumann would have extra parts to file. Hata/Izawa report two missing Zeros not the "MANY ZEROS" cited, but I will return to this point later. Not exactly the right date according to my memory of the post on 'Prizes of War' (Phil Butler) - On or just before December 1, 1941 according to Hata/Izawa not Feb. 1, 1941, from Butler but the quote of Butler, if accruate, contains other errors. The December 1941 date certainly puts the Zeros on the ground and abandoned long enough for the locals to cut up the tires and the planes to become unservicable.

Neither aircraft was lost to enemy action - no AVG shooting down Zeros here. The unit was on a ferry flight to French Indo-China and not involved in operations over China. Which fits with what we know of the historical record. What about the comment attributed to Chennault about the 5-6 Zeros shot down over the last 6-9 months prior to October 1942? What, then about the 'MANY ZEROS' used in the reconstruction and the reference to the aircraft not being mass produced and parts needing filing to fit?

The Japanese lost three planes (Hata/Izawa say 3 or 4) to ground fire in China by September 1941. One, the Chendgu Zero, shot down in May? 1941 must have been in pretty good shape for the Chinese made some good drawings of the plane (absent the tail, which was absent). This same plane was the source of an analysis by the US Naval Attache. These three (or 4) were part of the pre-production group of 15 sent to China for combat tests. These were not mass produced airframes. Now you have five possibly six Zeros to incorporate into the rebuild. Three maybe four of which were shot down, by AA. It may be impossible to completely disprove, but so far I do not see any evidence that proves the AVG shot down A6M2s or otherwise encountered them in combat over China prior to October 1942.

Ben Schapiro (schapiro@notis.com)


From: nathan sturman (nate@tg.rim.or.jp)
To: danford@concentric.net
Subject: Zero absence

Mr Ford,

I have found through a bit of research in the Japanese language accounts here (Akimoto and others' articles) that you are right. In fact, in "the Zero in Mainland China" section of the Maru Mekanik Zero edition (not handy now) it is stated that the first Zero unit back into China was based at Haikou in Hainan in Oct 43, together with some Kates, for air defense, with another unit arriving at Sanai, Hainan, in feb 44. Some airfcraft were detached to the lower Yangzi for collective air defense. And a unit was based at Shanghai's Longhua airport at about that time. The account starts with "although the Zero was absent from Chinese airspace during the first part of the war...."

Thought you would like to know, I'll send the pagination if you haven't yet seen it.

Your work is very good...and interesting. Check on the bit about CAMCO's having built the Hawk IIIs and IIs, I suspect they outfitted the ships and repaired them only. Very few new aircraft were successfully built in China at that time. (The Fuxing stand almost alone.) The factory was bombed before the CW fighter could go into production, one of many clever schemes that went sour on the Chinese. As for Soviet AF in China, they hit Hsinch'u, Taiwan, and were very important for awhile. They left in disgust I understand.

Yours Sincerely,
Nate Sturman
Gunma, Japan

Later:

This replaces what I wrote yesterday, which was off the top of my head: Here is what Akimoto Minoru writes in Maru Meka Zero book:

China mainland:

The Zero wasn't very active here duing the first part of the war, after the navy moved out. But in may of 1943, due to allied air raids, 9 Zeros were depatched to San Ya, Hainan island. These flew cooperative air defense in the Hainan/Canton area. Then on the Oct 1st, 1943 the 254th Wing was formed for air defense activities in the Hainan-Canton vicinity, and based at Haikou, Hainan Island. It was comprised of 24 Zeros and four Carrier Attack planes. (Kates). A detachment of its aircraft were posted to the Yangzi area to participate in joint air defense.

In February of 1944, the 256th (Air Defense) Unit was formed at Shanghai Longhua Airfield, with 24 Zeros and 8 Carrier Attack planes, (probably Kates).

And still later:

The account about the Zeros moving back into the Chinese area in late 43/early44 is in Gunyou Ki Meka Siriiz Vol. 5, Zero Sen, Hardcover, in English, listed as Mechanic of World Aircraft, Kojinsha, Tokyo (Tel 03-3265-1864, don't dial that first zero from abroad).