Zero-type fighters on warships(Reisen or Zerosen) were the mainstay fighters of the great Japanese navy. They drove away fighters of the Allies in the early stages of the Greater East Asia War, and brought fear to the U.S. Forces by mere mention of the name “Zero fighter”.
In September 1937, the navy showed a demand document to develop 12 trial type fighters for warships to MITSUBISHI and Nakajima Aircraft Industries.
MITSUBISHI’s Horikoshi was nominated as the design specialist and development began. Due to the China Incident, naval demands became so high that Horikoshi and other engineers commented, “It is like asking for the moon.”
Nakajima Aircraft Industries gave up development halfway through (because of its involvement with an army fighter), so only MITSUBISHI tackled the project. In April 1939, trial aircraft No.1 flew at Kakamigahara army airfield in Gifu Prefecture for the first time, and was adopted officially for production in July of 1940. MITSUBISHI met the harsh demands perfectly, though they were considered impossible at the beginning. The demands were: thorough weight saving, long flying range, installation of a 20mm machine gun (heavy power at that time), high turning abilities, an effective, rigid falling system, and so on. These specifications were superior to the first class fighters at that time, so the Zero fighter became the best in the world.
Mr.Chennault, the head of the Flying Tigers flight squadron, was the guidance teacher in China at the time and reported to the U.S. Information Bureau, “New and powerful fighters called Zero fighters made a shocking debut.” The air fight power between the U.S., U.K., Netherlands and Australia at the beginning of the war was no more. The U.S. Forces were so fearful that it declared, “Avoid a cumulonimbus and a Zero fighter.”
Regarding the production of Zero fighters at the beginning of the war in the south, persons related the U.S. Forces said in surprise, “When did Japan make these many hundreds, or a thousand of wonderful fighters?”