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A brief history of A6M3 Model 22 'Zero' NZ6000.
This aircraft had been rebuilt at Kara Airstrip on Southern Bougainville by the Japanese after it had suffered damage from bombing by American aircraft in November 1943 during the landings at Empress Augusta Bay.
Apparently several airframes were used to affect the repairs, carried out as a morale boosting exercise for the Japanese troops cut off in the area by the US landings further to the North. A young Imperial Navy pilot had even been flown out from Rabaul during July 1945 to fly the now airworthy aircraft, and was to ferry it back to Rabaul. Due to circumstances, this was never to happen, and the plane was hidden in the Jungle off the side of the strip.
In September 1945, RNZAF Intelligence became aware of it's existence, and after several recce trips, Wing Commander Bill Kofoed and Engineer Officer C.D. Kingsford borrowed a 5 Squadron (RAAF) Wirraway and flew in to inspect it for airworthiness. After questioning the Japanese personnel, they were satisfied with it's condition, and Wing Commander Kofoed decided to fly it to Piva himself, as permission for the Japanese pilot to carry out the task had been refused by higher authority ( due to their fears of a kamikaze action against the shipping at Torokina). Fuel was obtained and after several run-ups, The flight was carried out, Wing Commander Koefod landing at Piva 30 minutes later after a wheels down and uneventful flight. The arrival, of course, caused quite a stir as few of the allied troops present had seen an enemy aircraft, let alone one in flight!
Air Commodore J.N. Roberts (Air Officer Commanding, New Zealand Air Task Force) was there to greet it, and was soon airborne to try it out for himself. No other flights were apparently carried out at Piva, although the engine was regularly run up.
A decision had been made to return the aircraft to New Zealand, and on October 15th, the Zero was loaded onto the Union Steamship Companies' interisland ferry Wahine which had been chartered to repatriate servicemen back home. The tailplane and prop being removed for ease of stowage as deck cargo. On October 20th, on arrival in Auckland, the aircraft was off-loaded to a barge, and delivered to RNZAF base Hobsonville where the instructions were to make it serviceable for a program of demonstration flights. The RNZAF serial NZ6000 was allocated to the aircraft.
Several taxiing trials were carried out after a 90 hr inspection had been done, but due to the poor condition of one of the tires (a spare being unavailable), and pitting of the tail wheel bearings, no flights were carried out until Wing Commander A.E. Willis, the C.O. at Hobsonville, authorised himself to carry out a ten minute flight around the 12th of December (the exact date not being recorded). His comments on the handling of the aircraft were that " it was quite pleasant to fly, being rather like a Harvard. It appeared to have no unusual traits in the ten minutes I was flying".
After a lack of interest was apparent for using it for tactical training at the Central Fighter Establishment at Ardmore, it was grounded, and converted to instructional status as INST113 in May 1946, and allocated to the Technical Training School at Hobsonville in February 1947. It was never used for this purpose, and was stored in the corner of the TTS hanger until due to a lack of space, in August 1947, it was decided to dispose of it.
As a War Prize, it was offered to the Auckland War Memorial Museum, but due to their lack of space to store it, it was agreed that the Air Force would retain it until the Museum could take up the offer. It was then stored out in the open, along with several other surplus aircraft, a Seafire XV, the Sunderland III's and some Catalinas. Vandals, souvenir hunters and the weather took a heavy toll, and in April 1953, the Government Stores Board once again decided to dispose of these aircraft. Luckily, someone remembered the offer made earlier to the museum, but they were still unable to take possession until the completion of the new wing being added to their building.
After further outdoor storage at Hobsonville, and display at the Auckland Easter Show in 1954 and 1957 (the aircraft being repainted at this time, although the fuselage data panel was masked off and retained in original condition) the Zero was then partially dismantled and stored at Ardmore.
For the 21st anniversary of the RNZAF, in March 1958, the aircraft was liberated from Ardmore, and taken to Ohakea Air Force Base where it was patched up and a spurious colour scheme was added to became the 'Star' of the display.
In November 1959 it was returned to Whenuapai for further work, and then in December taken to the War Memorial Museum and reassembled in the upstairs floor of the newly finished addition. it was of course in a far worse state than when first offered to the museum twelve years earlier, and still retaining the spurious Green and Grey colour scheme in which it has remained until it's repaint in 1999.
Notes on colours, markings and identity:
When taken over by the RNZAF on Bougainville, it was in the IJN Dark Green/Light Grey scheme with the standard Blue/Black engine cowl. One of the Japanese personnel who helped with the rebuild on Bougainville has stated that it also had some blotching added in Green and Grey. White surrender paint in an unusual pattern had been applied as per the photos above. The tail codes at the time were 2-182.
After several repaints in New Zealand, firstly a Dark Green over Light Grey (No black cowl) when displayed at the Easter shows, and the spurious disruptive Green and Grey (probably standard RNZAF paints of the era) paint job for the Ohakea display, the current scheme is back to the original (minus the surrender White), and has been matched as close as possible to the original colours. At no time has the interior been repainted, so retains it's 'as constructed' colours.
During work in 1985 by two members of the RAAF team who were rebuilding the Australian War Memorial Museums' Zero (also built up from several airframes), several differing ID plates were located proving that our aircraft was indeed made up from at least two airframes. The front section was from an A6M3 late production model, const.no.3835, and the rear section (from the transport joint back) was also from an late production aircraft, const.no.3844 (as per the rear data panel - unfortunately corrupted during one of the repaints). ID Plates from other components also show several other aircraft (3278, 3616, 3217 and 3616) contributed to the rebuild on Bougainville.
Historical notes adapted from the booklet 'Zero A Biography of Mitsubishi A6M3 NZ6000' produced by the Aviation Historical Society of New Zealand (Inc) on behalf of the Auckland Institute and Museum. By P.V.Lewis.
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