One Downed Japanese Zero Saved American Lives in WW2

The captured plane helped American forces dominate the skies over the Pacific
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 11, 2022 2:09 PM CDT
How 'Koga's Zero' Helped America Win WW2
The Akutan Zero is inspected by US Navy personnel on Akutan Island on July 11, 1942.   (US Navy - Photographer's mate Arthur W. Bauman)

Early in World War II, Japan’s Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters ruled the Pacific skies, outmaneuvering and outfighting their Allied counterparts. The balance gradually shifted, however, and historian David Reamer credits the capture of the “Akutan Zero,” also known as “Koga’s Zero” after the pilot who died at its controls. As Reamer writes in the Anchorage Daily News, it happened early in the Aleutian Islands campaign, where American and Canadian forces fought for over a year to dislodge a small but tenacious Japanese invasion force. On June 4, 1942, the second day of the invasion, Japanese pilot Tadayoshi Koga was hit by ground fire during a strafing run over Dutch Harbor. He went down in a bog on nearby Akutan Island; the crash killed him instantly but left the plane in reasonably good condition.

American personnel later located and recovered the wreckage, and it was shipped to San Diego for repairs. Months later, US Navy pilot Eddie Sanders took the reconditioned Zero for its first test flight, and he quickly identified the plane’s weaknesses. It was not as maneuverable at high speeds, it stalled during steep dives, and it rolled easier to the left than to the right. Reamer says that information had an immediate impact, enabling American pilots to adapt their tactics and turn the tables. Marine ace Kenneth Walsh, credited with destroying 21 Zeros, later said, “Knowing what to do with a Zero on my tail—information that came from Koga’s Zero—saved my life several times.” Read this and other stories by Reamer here. (Read more World War II stories.)

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