Built by Mitsubishi during middle of June 1942. Assigned to and unknown Kokutai. Painted overall gray with a black cowling. Delivered to the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN). Assigned to an unknown Kokutai.
The precise wartime history of this Zero is unknown. There are two likely possibilities for its arrival at Rabaul. Possibly, it was one of twenty early A6M3 Model 32 Zeros that were disassembled and loaded aboard Nisshin Maru No. 2 as crated cargo then transported to Rabaul arriving July 29, 1942 and reassembled over the next several days. Alternately, this Zero was loaded aboard the Yawata Maru as an assembled aircraft and delivered to Lakunai Airfield near Rabaul on August 6, 1942. This Zero was likely assigned to either the Tainan Kokutai or 2nd Kokutai as one of the first A6M3 Model 32 Zeros operating from Rabaul.
This Zero ditched or crash landed upside down in Simpson Harbor off the western end of Lakunai Airfield south of Rabaul.
This Zero is intact upside down in mud, with bullet holes and damage visible on the fuselage. On November 29, 2010 this Zero was first observed on side scan sonar by Rodney Pearce. On December 10, 2010 Rodney Pearce made the first dive on the aircraft.
Rodney Pearce adds:
"The tail plane in buried in volcanic mud and wont be able to get this later. The a/c is on the inside on the harbor just off the airfield about .20 of a mile in 18 meters. This is on the inside of Simpson Harbor. The a/c has square wing tips so is a model 32. The aircraft has a lot of battle damage 20mm and 50 mostly around the cockpit area. The cockpit is covered with silt and the Zero is upside down in 18 meters of water. Have not got into cockpit yet as it is filled with mud. Have found the Japanese insignia on the wings in good condition. I discovered a component dataplate from under tail plane with "5864" and the date "2-5-15" (May 15, 1942)."
Jim Long adds:
"The component number 5864 is compatible with Mitsubishi manufacture numbers. It may have been on a nameplate on one of the horizontal tail members. Those nameplates are on the underside of the horizontal tail members, near the inner end, easy to spot. A painted stencil of the airframe MN should have been near it. The number indicates that the component was the 864th such piece made by Mitsubishi. It would not be inconsistent to find the 864th tail unit on the 13th A6M3 which was the 819th A6M airframe build by the company. "
Production figures of the Mitsubishi/Nakajima A6M Zero by Jim Long
Thanks to Rodney Pearce and Jim Long for additional information
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April 24, 2018