BY RICHARD MADDOX
IN 1999 IWM ACQUIRED THE REMAINS OF AN IMPERIAL JAPANESE NAVY MITSUBISHI A6M3 ‘ZERO’ FIGHTER, the sort of aircraft that was launched from aircraft carriers to attack Pearl Harbor and which fought so tenaciously in later battles.
Placed in store at IWM Duxford it would wait until IWM London reopened after modernisation in 2014 before it was put on public display in the Second World War Gallery at IWM London almost (except for some conservation work on its fragile frame) as it was found. (1)
Built around May 1943 this example was served as assigned to Naval Air Group 252 at Taroa airfield on Maloelap Atoll in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific where the Air Group were based between February and July 1943. (2)
Damaged in combat – repair patches can be seen on the fuselage around the lower cockpit area – it was finally decided that the aircraft was beyond repair given the resources available at the time and so it was probably stripped of usable parts and then dumped at the edge of the jungle. (3)
Forgotten after the Islands fell to the Americans and with the jungle camouflaging it better than any human hand ever could, that should have been the end of the story.
But of course it wasn’t.
The airframe was recovered by John and Tom Sterling and their team in 1991, along with several other Japanese aircraft. Some of these were used to rebuild another Zero (A6M3 3148) which was placed on public display at the Evergreen Aviation Museum, Oregon before being sold on. (4) (5)
Interestingly while the IWM airframe was being conserved at Duxford the dried remains of a Lotus flower – a Buddhist symbol of enlightenment – were found in the cockpit.(6)
That together with a British bullet lodged in the forward part of the airframe (7) point to a fascinating and as yet incomplete story.