Japanese A6M3 Mod. 32 Zero (3148) Cockpit Relic Display - NEW
Very limited edition Japanese Zero aircraft cockpit relic display (1 of 4). This framed wall-hanging display includes an authentic cockpit part from this specific aircraft (the master cylinder support bracket), Ron Cole's painting of this specific aircraft (during its involvement with the interception of Lt. Louis Zamerini's B-24 in April 1943), and a cockpit photo. Signed and numbered by the artist.
History of this aircraft:
In September 1942, within the confines of a dark factory floor, Mitsubishi factory workers in jika-tabi spit-toe sandals were busily applying a thick coat of high-gloss gray paint to their latest pride and joy: one Type O Model 32 'Zero' fighter. At a time when their factory put out an average of only one of these pristine machines per-day, the completion of every Zero was still regarded as very special, even a moment of religious significance, among all of the Japanese who'd played a part in the aircraft's construction. Some of them had even etched Shinto blessings into its duraluminum structure, or had added an exhortation of best wishes or good luck to its eventual pilot.
At that moment this particular aircraft was known officially by only a number, 3148, but as its overall paint was being polished to the highest sheen, another skilled craftsman was hand-painting black characters on its fuselage that would set 3148 apart as an even more esteemed Zero than its other factory brethren. They announced that 3148 had been built and gifted to the Navy by the young school children of the Middle Schools of Manchuria.
When 3148 was formally accepted by the Navy, after its formal test flight, there was a ceremony. A Shinto priest blessed the aircraft. Representatives of the Manchurian Middle Schools, the Navy, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries were present. Ceremonial bowls were provided to the dignitaries.
Then 3148 went to war.
Such pomp and splendor was still practical in the Japan of 1942, but that was already starting to change. Japan's Naval Air Force had adopted a risky strategy before the war, namely to build a very small elite air arm provided with the best equipment the nation could procure. Its pilot training programs were so selective that they graduated fewer by percentage than modern American SEALS or French Legionnaires. Their aircraft were built by hand and contained more than three times the number of parts in relation to the comparable machines being produced by other nations at the time - Zeros were literally built like Swiss watches. All in all it was an admirable accomplishment, especially by a country that had been a feudal global backwater scarcely a century before. But it was a strategy doomed to failure, and Zero 3148 was in fact one of the first signs that the Japanese had already begun to realize it.
3148 was a Model 32, A6M3. That set it apart from earlier models of the Zero, the A6M2 variants, in several ways that were not always appreciated by the pilots who flew them. Its engineers had introduced changes intended to speed production. It had fewer parts. The graceful French curves of the A6M2's folding wing tips were gone, for example, replaced by an ignominious stump of a shroud that gave the aircraft a clipped-wing look. The Americans who first encountered the Model 32 thought it a completely new machine and even gave it a new name: "Hamp". To the Japanese, however, it was little more than a reminder that their aircraft didn't need folding wings anymore because their carriers had been sunk. The A6M3 did have the advantage of a more powerful engine, but many Zero pilots would nevertheless continue to prefer the earlier A6M2s until the end of the war.
ABOVE: Data plate from A6M3 Model 32 'Zero' serial number 3148. Only Mitsubishi Heavy Industries built this model of the Zero fighter, the rarest of all production models. Only 343 were built.
Just as an enlisted man's life changes after going off to sea, so did the life of 3148. She was assigned, without any fanfare this time, to the 252nd Kokutai (Navy Air Group) and sent off to the remote Marshall Island airfield of Taroa. As assignments go, Taroa was regarded at the time as a key outpost that guarded the outermost defensive line of Japan's Pacific empire, but it was also largely ignored by the belligerents until 1944. Therefore, at a time when brand new Zeros were arriving at the front just in time to be destroyed in fierce, increasingly one-sided, battles - 3148 of the Manchurian Middle Schools was living a somewhat charmed life. Even the Japanese Navy personnel at Taroa came to like the place at that time. They cared for 3148, and the other aircraft at Taroa, much as fireman do their fire engines during downtime.
But the war did come. On April 18, 1943, for example, it was very likely Zero fighters from Taroa (and quite possibly 3148) that stumbled upon a lone B-24D and shot it so full of holes that it never flew again, though it miraculously made it back to its base. Unknown to the Japanese they'd shot up the aircraft of USAAF Lt. Louis Zamperini, an American Olympian who would go on to be the subject of a best selling book, 'Unbroken', and in 2014 a Hollywood film of the same name.
As the war in the Pacific increasingly encroached upon Taroa, the life of 3148 became more hazardous. Its once pristine overall gray finish was over-painted with a dull green on its upper surfaces to help it remain hidden in the bush. By then one of Japan's best fighter pilots, Isamu Miyazaki, was flying out of the field. He almost certainly flew 3148 himself at various times in combat (according to his own testimony, prior to his death in April of 2012). Taroa was bombed. Taroa was strafed by carrier-born Hellcat fighters. The respite that the tiny field had enjoyed came to an end. In the case of Zero 3148, donated by schoolchildren at considerable expense and sacrifice and sent away to war with blessings and to shouts of 'Banzai!' - she was mortally wounded, not in aerial combat, but by bomb splinters that damaged her on the ground and wrecked her vitals beyond that which could be repaired locally.
More information on this aircraft can be found via the following links: http://colesaircraft.blogspot.com
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