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  A6M2 Model 21 Zero Manufacture Number 5784 Tail V-173
IJN
Tainan Kōkūtai

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Ray Fairfield 1967

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Charles Darby 1973

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PNG Museum 1974

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Barry Flood
1977

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1988

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Daniel Leahy 2002

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Justin Taylan 2006

Aircraft History
Built by Mitsubishi at Nagoya, estimated date of assembly May 1942. At the factory, painted in overall gray with a black cowl. Delivered to the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) as Type 0 Carrier Fighter / A6M2 Model 21 Zero manufacture number 5784.

Wartime History
During June 1942 assigned to the Tainan Kōkūtai at Rabaul. Tail code V-173. The fuselage had a blue diagonal stripe indicating the aircraft was assigned to a shotai leader. Between June 1942 until July 1942, one of the aircraft flown by Saburo Sakai. Afterwards, possibly assigned to the 204 Kokutai (204 Air Group). During the middle of 1942 or later, this Zero was disabled at Gasmata Airfield and abandoned.

Wreckage
Until 1974, this Zero remained in situ near the side of the runway at Gasmata Airfield. By 1967, the canopy was bent backwards but present and the fuselage Hinomaru markings were still clearly visible.

Ray Fairfield adds:
"The original photos show it on the other side of the strip, only yards back from the strip, although fairly overgrown. Had the prop blades and instruments removed, otherwise as left after bomb damage. In fact, there was an unexploded bomb, maybe a 50lb lying under it. The photos you saw were after the local Kiap took it to the other side of the strip, recovered the rudder, and wither straightened out the canopy frame or found a better one. There was quite a bit of what I only registered as "junk" along the north side of the strip - where the Zero was originally."

Recovery
A group of salvagers removed the wreck in early 1973, shipping the wreckage from Gasmata by landing craft; that went next to Buna, to recover two tanks and artillery from Buna Battlefield.  All items were then taken aboard the HMAS Melbourne, and shipped back to Port Moresby.

Pacific Aircraft Wrecks by Charles Darby page 58:
"...these photos were taken in December 1972. A few months later a group of people dismantled the aircraft with gas torches and carried it away for restoration, much to the indignation of the local islanders who had salvaged the fighter in the first place but apparently without settling the ownership question before doing so! Confusion regarding salvage right generally, plus the administrative difficulties involved, were largely responsible for the total clamp down on the export of war relics imposed by the Papua New Guinea Government in 1974, all such material now being classed as 'national cultural property'... the wreck was eventually taken to the RAAF Museum at Point Cook, Vic in 1977 with the hope of rebuilding it with parts of other Zekes."

Douglas Hubbard, Jr. then worked for Nimitz Museum instead states:
“I personally acquired title to this aircraft from the PNG government in the middle of 1973 and supervised the legal title transfer to the RAAF. It was formally deeded to the Australian people as a gesture of goodwill and appreciation for the assistance provided in recovery of the D3A2 Val 3105 I recommended that the Zero be donated to AWM, and was instructed to effect the transfer, which I did via the senior RAAF officer at Murray Barracks.  He elected not to take the Zero out at the time when shipped the Val, preferring he said, Their air frame fitters disassembled the plane and flew it out of Gasmata via RAAF Caribou.”

Denied Export
The recoveries were contested by the local people of Gasmata, who claimed the wrecks were stolen from them. The Zero was denied export, and languished at Jackson Airport. The wreckage languishing at the airport in a pile from 1974 - 1977.

Restoration
Finally exported to the RAAF Museum at Point Cook for storage. Next, taken to RAAF Waga Waga for restoration. The restoration contains parts from two other Zeros: A6M2 3618 and A6M5 4043. The restoration was competed in 1988. Also, another three Zeros wrecks they recovered components off from other wrecks in the Rabaul area. The pilot tube was donated by Brian Bennett.

Display
This Zero is displayed at Australian War Memorial (AWM) in the Aircraft Hall suspended from the ceiling with the landing gear raised.

Resources
Pacific Aircraft Wrecks page 58 (upper, middle) page 71 (upper, middle photos)

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Last Updated
September 8, 2020

 

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