TALE OF A TIGER
From The Diary Of Robert T. Smith, Flying Tiger

Part Three


R.T. Smith


There has recently been a great deal of debate as to whether or not the AVG ever encountered the A6M "Zero" during their during their seven month tenure. On April 28th, 1942, Robert T. Smith made an entry into his diary about an air battle with what he described as type "0" fighters. After spending a great deal of time searching various source documents and records, I have not found the existence of any A6M fighters deployed to Burma or China on, or around the date the event was recorded. The only group of "Zero" fighters, essentially pre-production aircraft, were withdrawn from China in late September 1941. I can find no record of their return prior to Fall 1943.


A6M2 "Zero"


Therefore, one must wonder what type of aircraft did Smith and Greene do battle with that day in April. Perhaps they were Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa Army fighters. Certainly, the fighters encountered must have had retractable landing gear. Otherwise, Smith would have quickly recognized them as Ki-27 "Nates" or "Abduls" as they were more commonly called in China-Burma theater, circa mid 1942.


Ki-43 Hayabusa ("Oscar")


Ki-27 "Nate" or "Abdul"


Unless future research can uncover the presence of Navy A6M Type "0" fighters, we might conclude that Smith misidentified the Japanese aircraft which he and Paul Greene had engaged.

Yet, the fact that so many of the AVG pilots continued to refer to "Zeros" in their post-war writings, and certainly they have seen a great many photos of the A6M, this is perplexing to me. Some of these pilots remained in the CBI theater flying for the USAAF. Smith almost certainly had seen the A6M while flying P-51 Mustangs and commanding a B-25 Squadron. One would certainly believe that when he published his diary, errors of aircraft identification would have been corrected. However, R.T. consistantly refers to "Zeros" in the commentary he prepared to accompany the diary. First published in 1986, R.T. still used the designation "Zero". Yet, he used the proper designation of every other type he encountered. Did Smith and many of the other Flying Tiger pilots mis-identify the Ki-43 as a type "0"? Perhaps, but in light of the volume of such claims, they cannot be dismissed lightly. Perhaps the Japanese records are incomplete, or in an effort to save face, maybe they were altered.

Nonetheless, be they A6M Zero's or Ki-43's they were both very dangerous fighters, and their success in shooting down one apiece and escaping the rest by diving away clearly shows that the AVG had a far better tactical grasp on how to defeat the Japanese than did their counterparts in the USAAF and U.S. Navy in the early months of the war.


Hell's Angels on patrol



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All text and images Copyright Robert T. Smith 1986.
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