Don Lee: During World War II, the Zero plane was a feared fighter

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 29, 2021

Editor’s note: Don Lee is taking a break from his column this week. This is representation of a piece from April 7, 2018.

Since I am an old guy who lived thru WWII, I am interested in those planes that flew in that time.

Our planes were not all that great, especially the fighters. In many respects, the Japanese Zeros were superior to our fighters.

Email newsletter signup

I was especially surprised to find that the range of the Zero. It was 1,929 miles while our P-40 had a range of only 650 miles.

Mitsubishi Industries also manufactured the Zero in large numbers –10,939.

It was powered by a 14-cylinder engine producing 940 horsepower. It had a service ceiling of 32,810 feet.

I remember my son-in-law’s father, Bill Stevens, telling about flying over Japan in a B-29 in WWII.

They were above the ceiling limit of the Zeros.

He could see them attempting to intercept the B-29s, but they would stall out and could not make it up to the B-29 altitude.

A friend of mine, who was in the army of occupation, had a job to destroy Mitsubishi’s ability to manufacture these Zeros.

He became an expert in explosives. He said that most of the machines he destroyed were made in the United States.

The Zeros were the fighter that helped destroy many of our Navy ships in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

It could carry two 136-pound bombs and outmaneuver all of our planes.

Most of the ships were destroyed by dive-bombers carrying armor piercing, 1,760-pound bombs.

I remember that date, but we did not know about it until late in the afternoon when we took my brother to catch the bus back to Purdue University.

The newsboys were out on the street hawking special editions of the local newspapers.

We had no electricity, since we lived out in the country and rural electrification had not been thought of at that time.

We had a radio, but the batteries were down.

Back in the days before transistors, the batteries did not last very long.

The next day at school, the principal assembled us in the gym to listen on the radio to President Frankin D. Roosevelt give his famous speech asking Congress to declare war on Japan. There was only one dissenting vote.

The P-40 pilots devised a way to try to shoot down the Zero.

They would fly side by side and, when the Zero would attack one of them, the other one would have a chance to turn and shoot the Zero in the tail.

They could sometimes score a victory. In the early years of the WWII, the Zero had a record of 12 victories to one loss of a Zero.

They were even a formidable opponent of their famed British Spitfire, since they could turn much quicker and could stay up longer. Another use of them was in Kamikaze attacks in later phases of the war.

They would carry a 551-pound bomb and the pilot would crash into a ship.

The only defense was to shoot them down as they came in to crash.

Don Lee, a pilot flying out of Lawrence County Airport since 1970, has been in charge of equipment and grounds maintenance for the last several years. He can be reached at