Mitsubishi A6M-5c and J2M-3
The 352nd Flying Group was apparently activated in Japan on 1 August 1944 as a day and night fighter group, and operated from Omura Air Base in Japan until the end of the war. They used the A6M5 Zeke 52, N1K2-J George, and J2M3 Jack in the interceptor role. Apparently, their aircraft were marked with distinctive tail codes denoting their unit, and Hasegawa has seen fit to issue a “two-in-one” kit of two of the three types they operated. I was able to find very little information on the unit history, and none is provided in the kit instructions or box art. Thorpe’s book on Japanese Navy Camouflage and Markings only provides the dates and types operated. Osprey’s Imperial Japanese Navy Aces, 1937-1945, mentions the unit as having operated defending the Sasebo, Nagasaki, and Omura areas, but not too successfully against high flying B-29’s.
Decals are provided for three Zekes, those of Lt. Naoshi Sugisaki (352-177), and two additional aircraft, 352-112, and 352-157. Decals are also included for two Jacks, one flown by Lt. J.G. Yoshihiro Aoki (352-20), and another aircraft, 352-50. Aoki’s Jack was decorated with large yellow flashes on the fuselage sides, and decals for this marking are included.
Nearly all modelers are familiar with the Japanese A6M Zero fighter, so there is no need to review the aircraft’s history. However, the version this model depicts, the A6M-5c, is a bit unusual in that it has only one machine gun mounted in the cowling and two 20 mm cannon in each wing, along with a .50 caliber machine gun. These are faithfully reproduced in the kit.
This is a different approach to kit marketing, providing models of two different aircraft types from the same unit, although I’ve seen the “Dogfight Double” concept before. However, it is entirely valid, and you come out with models of different types with similar markings. Thorpe’s book states that the 352nd also operated N1K2-J’s, although I’ve never seen a photo or drawing showing the type in those markings. There are certainly enough extra decals in this offering to do one if it could be documented. I’ll have to check that one out.
Both of these kits have been around for a while, but the Zeke is one that was retooled several years ago, and I just discovered that Hasegawa also issued a retooled A6M3 Type 32 “Hamp” fighter. I had one in my stash for several years, not knowing that it was the retooled version. Actually, the old issue from the sixties or seventies wasn’t all that bad, even though it had raised panel lines and a minimum of cockpit detail. There were four different versions, and the old kit even had a lot of extra parts, including engines and cowlings, and the cockpit could be detailed, even though the canopy was molded in one piece. The extra parts came in handy when I needed an extra cowl or engine for some conversion I was doing. But the new tool is much better in terms of the recess panel lines and more detailed cockpit and engine. The negatives include the prop which had to be assembled from 5 pieces, and the fact that the engine does not have the pushrod housings that the original kit engine had. There are 49 parts to the kit that can be used, plus a few extras designed for other variants. Two complete sets of prop blades are included, but I honestly couldn’t tell how they were different. There was a little bit of flash on some parts. Also, the cockpit interior includes a seat, floor, control stick, instrument panel, a rear bulkhead, the breech of the machine gun, and a clear armored glass behind the pilot’s head. If you want to be totally accurate, you will want to drill holes in the seat to simulate the lightening holes that show in photos of captured Zekes. Wheel well detail is much better than in the older kit, although the wheels have mold marks on the tires that are difficult to remove. In addition, the tailhook was not installed, as by this stage in the war these were strictly land-based aircraft (a funny thing happened to Ozawa’s Japanese carrier fleet on the way to the Philippines…), so the hole needs to be filled in as the instructions dictate.
Assembly of the Zeke is easy, and it goes together without much effort, although there are a couple of dicey spots that aren’t really explained in the instructions. The exhaust system consists of three parts, plus several stacks molded to the firewall. These should be painted before assembly, and the stacks go on before the firewall. Then the engine pops into place, followed by the two-piece cowling. It’s not difficult to do this assembly, but it must be done in the proper sequence. And be sure to keep track of the large exhaust stack units, as they are NOT interchangeable. Incidentally, the Zeke A6M-5c had one .50 cal MG in the right side of the cowling, plus 2 .50’s in the wings outboard of the 20 mm cannon, and these are all included in the kit.
Once the canopy is in place, it can be masked, and painting can be accomplished. I used model Master Japanese Navy Green, which is rather bright and certainly glossy, for the top, and the same brand of Japanese Navy Sky Grey for the undersides. The decals were a snap and did not require trimming or decal solutions. The radio mast, however, doesn’t go on until after the window masking is removed, so save that for last.
The Mitsubishi J2M was intended to be a successor to the A6M series. Japanese fighter pilots requested more power, heavier armament, armor and fuel tank protection, and higher performance. Although design studies began in 1938, delays and concentration on A6M development set back the timetables, and design work did not begin until 1939. Development problems took time to solve, and the first flight of the prototype did not taken place until February, 1942. Engine and airframe problems plagued the project, and the J2M2 was finally accepted for production in October, 1942. Even the production aircraft were beset with various technical problems, and the J2M3 became the standard production model, entering service in the middle of 1944. As a result, the Navy decided on the Kawanishi N1K1-J and N1K2-J fighters as its standard interceptors, keeping the J2M3 in limited production until the later Mitsubishi A7M Reppu could enter production, which it never did. As a result, only about 500 J2M’s were produced, and aside from a few that were sent to the Philippines, most were used for home defense against B-29 raids. One feature of the Jack was its large diameter engine, which meant that the cockpit was quite large by Japanese standards. Maybe the Japanese pilots unfastened their seat belts and ran around inside the cockpit when they were attacked by American fighters. The only known survivor is a Jack held by the Planes of Fame Museum at Chino, CA.
The Mitsubishi J2M3 is merely a reissue of the Jack that Hasegawa released at least thirty years ago. It has recessed panel lines, about as much interior detail as the new A6M5 kit, and no wheel well detail. Outline is accurate, and the kit has some flash. Two props are provided, with one broader chord one listed as “high performance,” but there is no indication of which one to use. The landing gear covers need to be cut apart.
The instructions are fairly clear, and the detailed assembly drawings are good. The color guide is useful, except for several colors, which are listed as Green (Mitsubishi), Dark Green (Mitsubishi), Cockpit Color (Mitsubishi), “Cowling Color”, and “Propeller Color.” I assume that the prop color is brown, while the cowling color is black, although this is not stated. A sprue diagram is provided, and the only thing I found missing was a front view that would illustrate the landing gear and door positions, but a three-view from a reference provided that. The guns and pitot tube are cast on the wing leading edges, which requires care that you don’t knock them off and lose them. In addition, it is impossible to drill out the gun muzzles. The small oil cooler intake under the cowling needs to be built up with putty where it joins the wing, since the rear section is much too small.
Otherwise, assembly is quick and easy, and very little filler is needed. The canopy is large and very transparent, so I’d suggest doing some detailing of the cockpit. Once the airframe is painted, decals are easy to apply, although there are a couple of wing “don’t walk” markings, #22 and #23, whose locations are unclear. On both kits, tail markings are provided in both white and yellow, although the instructions say to use the white markings.
There recently has been another J2M3 kit issued by Sword, and from the reviews I’ve read, it looks like a good one. However, at about $30.00, it is way more expensive than the older Hasegawa kit, and unless you can’t find a Hasegawa kit or have just won the lottery, I don’t know why someone would go for the high priced spread.
These are good basic kits with very useful decal sheets. They are worth getting, either together or as individual kits. They’re fun, and a quick build. Go for it.
Thanks to Hasegawa, Hobbico, and IPMS/USA for the review kit.