Eagles of Mitsubishi - The Story of the Zero Fighter

Published: October 28th, 2011     
Product Image
Author: Jiro Horikoshi
Reviewed by: David Goudie - IPMS# 6340
ISBN #: 978-0295971681
Other Publication Information: Hardcover, 160-pp, plus author and translator’s prefaces, contains maps, photos and drawings
Price: $60.00
Product provided by: David Goudie

Note: While this book has been out of print since approximately 1992 it can still be found at Amazon.com. A softcover was released in 1992, priced at $15.00. The original was published in Japan by Kobunsha Co., Ltd., in 1970.

While unpacking my book collection from 6-year old moving boxes, I came across a treasure trove of books long forgotten. "Eagles of Mitsubishi...." came out of the box and, after taking a look, I decided that this was worthy of a review.

"Eagles of Mitsubishi...." is written by Jiro Horikoshi, Chief Designer of the Zero-sen fighter. The Zero-sen was the premier fighter for the Japanese Navy during throughout WW II. Much like the Messerschmitt Bf-109, the Zero went through upgrade iterations, starting with the original design stemming from the Imperial Navy's design requirement released in October of 1937. Much like the Bf-109, the airplane was forced to soldier (sailor?) on throughout the war as the prime fighter for the air services.

The requirement was titled "Planning Requirements for the Prototype 12 Carrier Based Fighter". In May of that year, Mitsubishi released a preliminary planning document in response. Mr. Horikoshi describes the requirements in detail and "I could not believe my eyes" because the document describes a pilot's wish list which would make this design superior to anything at that time.

The rest of the book covers the author's life as the designer, from the original design process through building the prototypes and testing. He then goes on to describe the first combat usage and results without the blow-by-blow accounts of action reports. Technical descriptions of the Zero are compared to competitors on the Allied side; some of the aircraft include the P-4, F4-F, F6-F, F4U Corsair, P-38, Spitfire, and Hurricane.

This was in itself fascinating because in these descriptions you will see how the Allied forces' fighters evolved quickly throughout the war while "poor management of technical policy created the situation where we had no other choice but to rely on Zeros from the beginning of the war to the end."

The testing program of the original designs was of particular interest to me with the description of the first test flights. These included rippling of the wing skins at high speed, correcting elevator response, eliminating deadly "flutter" which caused the loss of a test airplane and the death of the pilot, the change from a 2-bladed propeller to the 3-bladed propeller, and other problems discovered as the airplane took to the flight test program.

Although written by an engineer and designer, this book is eminently readable and a truly fascinating look into the design process and personal mindset of the author. He intersperses the engineering/design of the aircraft with insights into his own personal biography, starting with his education. For example, the author describes his deep feelings at the loss of the pilot in the above crash and his apology given. He also describes his feelings of great sadness at the loss of so many lives in the war, including the use of the Zero in Kamikaze Special Attack Forces in the last desperate hours as the war drew to a close.

The book ends with descriptions of B-29 bombings and the author's feelings as he was subjected to a bombing raid of the Mitsubishi factory he was at, a final short chapter covering August 1945 and the surrender, followed by an epilogue of sorts.

This book is extremely interesting and well written. The translation is excellent and even adds information to clarify a few points made by the author. Translator, Mr. Wantiez, is an engineer and this, combined with his command of the Japanese language, makes this a fine read and catches the nuances of the Japanese wartime mindset.

  • Sample drawing
    Sample drawing
  • Wind tunnel airflow study model
    Wind tunnel airflow study model

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