Zero vs Corsair

Making a comparison between the Mitsubishi A6M Zero of the Imperial Japanese Navy and the Vought F4U Corsair of the US Navy is not difficult as one comes to the conclusion that the American industry and aviation engineering was ahead of the the Japanese, by 1942, with a lot more natural and human resourses. At the beginning of the war the Zero was the fastest and most maneuverable aircraft in the Pacific Theater as it could easily shoot down its American counterpart, the F4F Wildcat, up until 1942. Introduced in early 1943, the F6F Hellcat was not faster than the A6M, even though it was better armed and more resistant to enemy fire than the Japanese fighter. However, a month earlier, in December 1942, the F4U Corsair had just entered into service, both with the US Navy and Marine Corps; it would become the most lethal naval fighter aircraft in the skies over the Pacific Ocean.

Powered by one 2000 hp, Pratt & Whitney R-2800, radial engine, the version F4U-4 could reach a maximum speed of 453 mph (731 km/h), while the best variant of the Zero, the A6M-2, had a maximum speed of 410 mph (660 km/h). Although the Japanese fighter was very maneuverable, at higher altitudes, the Corsair easily outperformed the Zero. Not only was the American fighter faster than its Japanese counter part, but it had also more and better armament; six .50-caliber M2 Browning machine guns, or four 20mm cannons, plus rockets and bombs when used on the ground-attack role. The Corsair was built tough, with a rugged fuselage and self-sealing tanks in its inverted-gull wing, thus, being able to absorb a lot of enemy fire. On the other hand, the Zero had a fragile fuselage and was prone to catch fire, which was its weak point.

What an American pilot said about the fighting differences between the two fighters: “I learned quickly that altitude was paramount. Whoever had altitude dictated the terms of the battle, and there was nothing a Zero pilot could do to change that — we had him. The F4U could outperform a Zero in every aspect except slow speed manoeuvrability and slow speed rate of climb. Therefore you avoided getting slow when combating a Zero. It took time but eventually we developed tactics and deployed them very effectively… There were times, however, that I tangled with a Zero at slow speed, one on one. In these instances I considered myself fortunate to survive a battle. Of my 21 victories, 17 were against Zeros, and I lost five aircraft in combat. I was shot down three times and I crashed one that ploughed into the line back at base and wiped out another F4U…”

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Thor is Carlos Benito Camacho, the manager and writer of this blog.