Breathtaking maneuverability made the Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” in the Pacific Theater a formidable foe through early 1942, but the plane had hidden flaws: it could not take much punishment—there were several points which, if damaged, could cripple or collapse the frame—and it lacked the structure to accept improvements. These factors would doom it against both improving US fighters and heavily-armed US bombers.
The Zero was designed by Jiro Horikoshi to meet a 1937 requirement from the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) for a new carrier- borne fighter. The specifications called for a maximum speed of more than 310 miles per hour, the ability to climb to 10,000 feet in less than three minutes and thirty seconds, and six hours’ endurance cruising at 10,000 feet. Above all, the plane had to be highly maneuverable.
The requirements indicated sharp disagreement between naval officers over the new plane, Lt. Cdr. Minoru Genda, commander of a naval fighter group, argued the value of a fighter depended on whether it could win a dogfight. For that it needed maneuverability, toughness, and firepower. Lt. Cdr. Takeo Shibata, chief of staff of the fighter section of the navy’s Aeronautical establishment, countered that while dogfighting was a fighter’s “first importance,” range and speed were equally important.