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Date added: 30/03/2018 The Wildcat F4 and A6M Zero.

 

This week we had a customer ask us to recommend some model kits for a Chaplin Schools program. The request included some information about the kits to place the models in some context for the kids.

 

We selected the new Airfix Kits of the F4 Wildcat and the A6M Mitsubishi Zero, both excellent kits and wouldn’t disappoint. I began to research the Wildcat pilot Capt. Marian E. Carl, finding myself in Wikipedia…..generally a good reference!

 

As I read and followed the various links I came across Janichi Sasai a famous Japanese Zero pilot, who went into combat against Capt. Marion E. Carl. The story of these two pilots became the focus of my research and the context for the models.

 

I thought I would share it with you.

 

Often, we live our lives without much thought about how we got to be able to live the way we do. Our lives today are safe and relatively secure, but what we take for granted hasn’t always been. Our grandparents or great grandparents lived through a period when times weren’t quite the same. It was a time when the world was at war.


From 1935 until 1940 countries across Europe and Asia were in a deadly conflict in which millions lost their lives, and which ultimately shaped how we live today. We watch the old soldiers stand quietly on Anzac Day, lost in their own thoughts of long lost friends - who remain forever young. This is a story of two such men.


The models that we are building today come from both sides of that conflict. Both aircraft flown by young men, who were doing what they thought was their duty. Their paths crossed many miles from their homes and families, in deadly combat with fateful consequences.


Captain Marian E. Carl was a young man who came from a small community called Hubbard which is in Oregon, USA. The Carl family worked a small farm just outside the town. As a young man he had always been drawn to aircraft and flying. Marian learned to fly whilst still at college and was a natural pilot. He studied engineering at university and graduated a lieutenant in the army reserve.


Not long after graduating Marian resigned his commission, to train as a fighter pilot for the United States Marine Corps (USMC). Being a trained and experienced flyer, he was quickly promoted to a flying instructor.


In 1941, Pearl Harbour, the main US Naval base in the Pacific, was attacked by the Japanese. Many American sailors were killed, and several major battleships sunk. This brought the US and Japan to war, and Marian, now a Captain, became a combat pilot stationed at the Midway Atoll in the Pacific.


One of his first major battles occurred on the 4 June 1942, the Island of Midway in the Pacific, when the Japanese attacked the airfield on the Island. The Japanese strategy was to occupy the Pacific Islands to form a defensive ring around Japan and the occupied territories, and to launch air attacks on the US state of Hawaii. So, the Island of Midway was strategically important to both sides. The Japanese were counting on the advantage of surprise to take on the US Forces, but unbeknown to them, the Americans had deciphered their secret communication codes, and were prepared for an attack.


During one the first attacks on the Island Marian’s squadron of F4F-4 Wildcats suffered heavily in the battle, with major losses to the swift and effective Japanese Zero’s. Marian survived, with his skill as a pilot proving effective, he managed to down one of the Japanese Zero’s.


The battle raged for 3 days with the Americans holding the Island of Midway and inflicting another significant defeat on the Japanese navy.   The Japanese losses in men and ships was significant with over 2500 men killed, and the loss of 4 aircraft carriers, a battle cruiser and 292 aircraft.


Following the Battle of Midway, Marian was assigned to another Squadron, VMF-223, stationed at Henderson Airfield, located on the Pacific Island of Guadalcanal, which was the subject of another deadly battle. It was over Henderson airfield on the Island of Guadalcanal that Marian met the second character in this story.


Junichi Sasai was a young man who was born in Tokyo in 1918. His father was a senior officer in the Japanese Navy and Junichi was destined to follow his father into the Navy. As a child Junichi was slight and often sickly, however with strong physical activity like judo and a good diet he became a fit and healthy young man. He trained at the Japanese Naval Academy and was popular with his classmates for his stamina and enjoyment of life. After graduating from the Academy in 1939 Junichi trained to become a naval fighter pilot. In 1941 Junichi qualified as a Naval Fighter pilot, and joined the premier Naval Fighter group, the Tainan Air Group. This group fought in the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia).


Junichi was a popular officer with his men as he didn’t accept the strict caste system in the navy which was dominated by officers who did not respect the lower ranked pilots or sailors. Junichi was also a skilled and aggressive pilot and was nick named the Flying Tiger because of his aggression. and a tiger head belt buckle that his father gave him. Junichi’s aggression and skills as a pilot led him to quickly accumulate the downing of 27 enemy aircraft as the Japanese forces swept south through Asia to New Guinea.


In August 1942 Junichi was stationed at the Japanese airfield in Rabaul on the north coast of New Guinea. It was from here that the Japanese could provide air support for the Japanese forces fighting in the Solomon Islands, including Guadalcanal. It was August 26 when Junichi found himself flying escort to Japanese bombers targeting Henderson field.


When the bombers arrived the American F4 Wild Cat were flying in a defensive formation over the airfield, waiting for the Japanese bombers. As the bombers approached Henderson field, Junichi led his Squadron in the attack, diving steeply into the aircraft flying in a defensive pattern, he singled out one of the Wildcats.


Marian was flying his Wildcat in a defensive pattern over Henderson airfield on the morning of August 26, in anticipation of another attack by the Japanese bombers. He knew that each time the bombers came, the fighters attacked first to disrupt the defence of airfield.


Scanning the sky for the fighters, Marian’s concentration was broken as he felt his Wildcat shudder, as the shells from Junichi’s zero struck home. Knowing he had been caught off guard in the lightning attack, Marian banked his aircraft sharply, away from the stream of deadly fire, and down towards the airfield’s anti-aircraft guns, avoiding the Zeros blazing guns. He knew that the pursuing Zero would not follow him down through the deadly hail of anti-aircraft fire which would be directed at the Zero. The disruption of Junichi’s attack was complete, as he sped past above Marian’s Wildcat. Marian knew that his reactions would be critical as he anticipated that the Zero had pulled out of his diving attack and would be over head. He pulled hard on the control column of the Wildcat, feeling himself being pushed back into the seat. The heavy aircraft pulled up in a tight arc as Marian quickly increased the power to pull the aircraft’s nose back into the fight. He fired just as he saw Junichi’s Zero flash overhead. Without the time to aim he instinctively hit the firing button on the Wildcat’s control column, firing a long burst, knowing that the Zero would fly through his stream of tracer bullets. 


Junichi knew the game was up. He knew that if he followed the Wildcat down through the anti-aircraft guns it was certain destruction. All he could do was slam the throttle lever forward, increasing the speed of the Zero, and hope that he would avoid the Wildcat, as it pulled back up into the fight.


Suddenly the aircraft slowed, and to Junichi’s right he saw the top of the starboard wing of the zero disintegrate.  As the tracer bullets ripped though the thin skin of the Zero’s wing, fuel streamed from the ripped fuel tanks. A split second later the Zero erupted into a ball of flames as it was ripped apart by the exploding fuel.


The zero had been designed before the war, and was built for speed and manoeuvrability. It lacked self-sealing fuel tanks, and heavy armour to protect its pilot. The Wildcat was big and powerful, it had the speed, the armour and weapons to easily match the Zero’s speed and agility.


Capt. Marion E. Carl survived the war and became a test pilot serving until retirement in 1973. He accumulated over 13,000 flying hours by the time he retired.

 

Comments

*****

Great work Simon,
For some of us the research done for the hobbies is just as interesting as building the kits. As it gives us a history and knowledge of the kit that we are building.

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