Spitfire vs. Zero


Spitfire vs. Zero - by Anonymous

I think your memory serves well ... the Spits DID get their clocks cleaned the first few times until they discovered the Zero could out-turn them. After that, they stayed at higher speeds and did OK, as I recall, though the Spitfires were not a major factor in the Pacific anywhere.

I suppose a real comparison would be difficult at this late date, but I feel the Spitfire would have been a very good mount versus the Zero if the pilot knew both the Spit and the Zero's weaknesses. Certainly, the Spitfire's armament was good and it was an excellent gun platform. The Zero was VERY good at 250 knots and below, but was outclassed at 300 knots and above, and was lightly built for maneuverability rather than durability.

Stay fast and kick butt if you fight a zero.

Conversely, the Zero pilots wanted nothing more than a classic 180 to 250 knot dogfight where THEY had all the advantage. I'd say in 1942 - 1943, the Japanese had better pilots in their theater than the Spitfire pilots. By late 1944 - 1945, the tides had turned and the Japanese pilots were green replacements flying an obsolescent mount.

Improvement for the Zero would have been much easier had higher horsepower engines been available in a size that would fit into the airframe. As it was, the Zero soldiered on with a low-power radial (never more than about 1,000 to 1,100 HP) while the Allied fighters had 1,500 to 2,000 HP engines. Late-model Spitfires had 2,100 HP Griffons in them. Tough to complete with twice the HP!

The Super-Zero was probably the Ki-100, a radial-engined version of the Ki-61 Hein. It was absolutely a top-class fighter, but arrived in too small numbers too late to really affect the outcome of the war. The Ki-84 Frank was ALSO a top-class fighter that could hold its own against any Allied fighter, P-51 included.

Wonder what would have happened if the Ki-84's and Ki-100's were available in 1943? Same for the Re-2005 in Italy and the Ta-152 series in Germany. Had they been available in significant numbers as little as one year earlier, the outcome might well have been affected enough to prolong the war or to force a settlement without defeat. Who can say?

On the Allied side, wonder what might have been if the Grumman F8F were available in 1943? Or the Sea Fury?

The what ifs are interesting to consider, but cannot be answered with any authority since they never happened. Might make a good novel ... 7 31 2489 7.1060930052

Spitfire vs. Zero - by Greg_P

Here is an original WII report from Clive "Killer" Caldwell about this very subject:

Section 1: Fighter Tactics

Tactics of Japanese "Tony" Type Fighter
1. The 80th Fighter Squadron has twice encountered "Tony" type fighters in combat, both times in the vicinity of Bogadjin. The first time was on 21 Jul 43 and the second time was on 23 Jul 43.
2. From these experiences with this type fighter not much information has been brought to light. However, pilots have reported speeds up to 400 mph indicated air speed in this type fighter.
3. One pilot reported having followed one of this type fighter from eighteen thousand feet to sic or seven thousand feet. A shallow spane was maintained all the way with the P38 indicating 400 mph, and during this time the P38 was unable to gain on the enemy. At this time another P38, indicating close to 500 mph, spaned from above and succeeded in shooting the enemy plane down after a long accurate burst. Another indication of the speed of this type of fighter may be derived from combat on 21 Jul 43 when a P38 found the enemy fighter behind him. The P38 went into a shallow spane and was unable to lose the enemy when indicating 400 mph at low altitude. This "Tony" was finally chased away by another P38 who spaned from above firing a burst at long range.
4. In combat in this squadron there has been no indication as to the maneuverability of the enemy fighter. However, the "Tony" has, on one or two occasions, shown no inclination to get into a steep spane when that action would seem to be advantageous to him. In each case where P38s have been on the tail of a "Tony" the only action taken by the enemy has consisted of maintaining a gradual spane with speed building up to 400 mph.
5. There are further indications that the "Tony" is not as apt to catch fire as are the "Zeke" and "Oscar". Although they have been shot down in flames in several cases, a long accurate burst was necessary to accomplish this destruction and they did not show a tendency to explode which has been characteristic of the Japanese fighter airplanes

Tactical Trials Between Japanese S.S.F. Type "0" Mark II "Hap" and Spitfire V.C.
1. Comparative performance trials were not carried out at the time and these performance figures will be supplied at a later date.
2. Both aircraft were flown at normal combat weight minus belly tanks.
3. Brief Particulars of Hap:
a. Take-off run - 900' using 2600 rpm and 30" MP.
b. Approach speed, wheels and flaps fully down - 75 knots.
c. Stalling speed, landing condition - 53 knots.
d. Rated altitude - 16,000'.
e. Combat ceiling - 32,500'.
f. Maximum speed at rated altitude - 335 mph, 2600 rpm, 40" MP.
g. Armament - 2 x 7.7 synchronized machine guns, 600 rounds per gun (Identical with Vickers). British .303 ammunition may be used - 2 x 20 mm cannons, 100 rounds per gun Identical to Oerlikon).
h. Figures shown in b, c, and f are approximate. Air speed indicator had not been calibrated.

4. Flying Characteristics of Hap
a. No tendency to swing in take off or landing. However, a tail wheel locking device was incorporated since the brakes were inoperative.
b. Short take off and landing runs.
c. Good visibility.
d. Stick loadings normally not light and increasing with speed. This is more evident with right stick.
e. Movement of elevator trim extremely stiff.
f. Rudder loading normal but tiring in climb due to absence of rudder trim.
g. Very stable stalling characteristics. No tendency to spin even in high speed stalls.
h. Extremely maneuverable at low speeds, rolling off the top of loops can be executed at 180 knots.
i. Boost gauge calibrated in centimeters.
j. Seating position cramped, rudder position to suit short legged pilots only.

Test No. 1 - Commencing at 17,000 feet:
1. Spitfire and Hap to approach head on and maneuver, without loss of altitude, until one aircraft gets on the other's tail.

Both aircraft passed at about 50 yards. Spitfire executed steep climbing turn. Hap steep turned and was on Spitfire's tail within 21/2 turns.
2. Hap on Spitfire's Tail. Spitfire to complete 4 steep turns to left. Reform position and carry out 4 steep turns to right.
Hap was able to turn easily inside Spitfire. However, jinking was necessary to watch Spitfire and check on deflection allowance. Hap did not steep turn as easily to right as to left.
3. Spitfire on Hap's Tail. Steep turns to left and right as in previous test.

Hap commenced steep turning at 220 mph IAS. Spitfire was unable to turn with Hap., either in left or right hand turns, for more than 3/4 turn by which time Spitfire was close to stall.
4. a. Hap on Spitfire's Tail. Spitfire to perform loop.
b. Spitfire on Hap's Tail. Hap to perform loop.

a. Spitfire commenced looping at 300 mph IAS with speed of 140 mph IAS on top. Hap had no trouble in following Spitfire.
b. Hap commenced lop at 220 knots IAS and completed two loops in succession. Spitfire endeavored to follow Hap and stalled at top of first loop and fell out. Hap finished on Spitfire's tail.
5. Hap on Spitfire's tail. Spitfire to shake Hap off.

Spitfire commenced evasive action by executing spaning aileron rolls to right. Hap had difficulty in following this maneuver and was unable to get into firing position. Spitfire then did a high speed vertical climbing turn which Hap was just able to follow. Hap was able to comfortably follow all other maneuvers which were not carried out above 250 mph.

1. Hap considerably more maneuverable than Spitfire at low speeds.
2. Hap stalling speeds considerably lower than Spitfire.
3. Hap able to turn and loop in much smaller radius.
4. Hap able to carry out any aerobatic maneuver at a much lower speed than Spitfire, e.g., roll off the top of loop - Hap 205 mph, Spitfire 250 mph.
5. Hap experienced considerable difficulty in following Spitfire in High-G, High-Speed maneuvers, especially to right.
6. At medium and low levels Hap easily able to evade Spitfire and turn the tables.


1. Do not attempt to dogfight the Hap, especially at low airspeeds.
2. If you have a height advantage, use excess speed obtained in your spaning attack to climb vertically thus retaining your height advantage.
3. High Speed - High G tactics will considerably alter the disparity in maneuverability.
4. Keep your speed high. Don't stagger through the sky.

Test No. 2 - Commenced at 27,000 Feet:

The results obtained in Test No. 1 were confirmed and the following additional conclusions were reached.

1. Spitfire had an approximate advantage of 25 mph at 26,000 feet.
2. Spitfire had a slight advantage in rate of climb at 26,000 feet.
3. Spitfire initially gained speed slightly faster in a vertical spane.
4. The Spitfire's advantage in 2 and 3 are not sufficient to evade the Hap's fire.
5. At altitudes over 20,00 feet with a height advantage of approximately 3,000 - 4,000 feet, the Spitfire can spane and attack the Hap with impunity. The breakaway would be made in a vertical climb, thus maintaining height advantage.

Tests No. 3 and 4 - Commenced at 17,000 and 32,000 Feet Respectively:

1. No appreciable differences were noted at 17,000 and 27,000 feet.
2. A special Spitfire was used for these trials.
3. All maneuvers were carried out at high speed and high "G".

Hap commenced tests on Spitfire's tail:
1. In high speed flight, Spitfire was able to loop in a smaller radius. Hap pilot blacked out endeavoring to follow.
2. Spitfire carried 3 loops in succession at high speed and finished in firing position on Hap's tail.
3. Spitfire carried out roll off top of loop. Hap was unable to follow in same radius and lost considerable distance.
4. Spitfire executed a series of high speed, tight spaning turns to right; Hap pilot unable to follow and was on verge of graying out.

5. Spitfire executed a 1/2 roll to right from 45° spane at 280 mph IAS and 330 mph IAS and pulled out abruptly into vertical climb. Hap pilot unable to follow this maneuver either at 280 or 320 mph and finished up in both instances approximately 1000 feet below Spitfire and some distance behind.

1. Spitfire was able to evade and outmaneuver Hap by combining high speed and High "G".
2. Spitfire required a minimum speed of 250 mph to retain maneuverability advantage.
3. Hap was able to evade and outmaneuver Spitfire by maneuvering at low speeds.
4. Stresses placed upon both aircraft during tests were not measured. However, the Hap pilot considers his tolerance in reference to blacking out to be above average.

Spitfire vs. Zero
Report of Combat - 2/3/43
Duration of engagement was approximately eight (8) minutes from the time of first attack on enemy formation, which was well enough disposed for its purposes. The enemy tactics employed in this first instance were, I consider, unsound and based on false premises, and/or lack of experience.

When first sighted the enemy were flying in 3 sections as follows.
No. 1 E/A section comprised of 3 single engined L.E with a close escort of 3 Zekes at a height of approximately 10,000 feet. No. 2 E?A section comprising 4 Zekes about 400 yards on the port beam of No. 1 E/A section and approximately 2,000 feet above them. No. 3 E/A section comprising 5 Zekes about 800 yards on starboard beam of No. 1 E/A section and approximately 5,000 feet above them.
The positions of my own formations of 6 Spitfires flying in 3 sections of 2 aircraft in line astern, section abreast, was at this time approaching from slight astern of the starboard beam of the enemy formation, height slightly above the No. 2 E/A section , at an IAS of 230 mph.
The enemy made no attempt to alter the disposition of their aircraft though our approach must have been observed, but continued to fly as before at approximately 190 mph IAS (estimation).

From what took place subsequently it was obvious that the enemy considered we would not place ourselves beneath the Zeros, but attempt in the first place either climb away for height in order to engage the top or No. 3 E/S section, which would then no doubt have climber also, or alternatively, if failing to observe the top cover to move across and engage the No. 1 E/A section, thus leaving ourselves open to attack in the rear by No. 3 section E/A above.
My own tactics were governed primarily by our pressing shortage of petrol.

We had been airborne at this stage approximately one hour fifteen minutes mostly at altitudes in excess of 20,000 feet under fighter sector control.
My own tanks showed less than 30 gallons, which as leader would exceed that of any of the other 5 Spitfires. We were now 40 or more miles from our base on a vector and at a height instructed by 5 fighter sector, and a Spitfire at combat revs and boost uses petrol at a rate between 70 and 90 gallons per hour. Therefore it was impractical waste time and petrol in attempting to climb after the top cover or No. 3 section of the E/A section. To attack No. 2 section on our left, in view of the position of No. 3 section, or to attack No. 1 E/A section from astern, in view of the respective positions of No. 2 and No. 3 E/A sections would have been inadvisable in the extreme.

I therefore flew my formation directly under the No. 3 E/A section and some 3,000 feet below, where any attack from them must be preceded by such maneuvers as to give us sufficient warning to meet it. That is the Zekes directly above must either turn on their backs and attack vertically downwards, a difficult shot and easily avoided; loop fully as they are credited with doing so freely, thus going behind us, or losing height to turn onto out tails, in either case giving us sufficient warning. When abreast of No. 1 section E/A, I dived to attack at a steep angle from full beam breaking to the rear in a wide climbing turn to port and was followed into the attack by the rest of my formation. No. 3 section of the enemy, the top cover, appeared slow to appreciate the significance of the move and failed to get position behind us in time to be dangerous.

No. 1 E/A section moved herein to intercept us directly, but were not successful in doing so, and the break to the rear gave us enough clear air momentarily, to sustain the altered position, and at the end of the zoom I found I was well up in height in relation to the Zekes which had lost height after us. A diving head-on attack was refused by a Zeke who broke downward before coming to range. This was repeated in the case of another Zeke a few minutes later. I observed several Zekes firing on me and took momentary action, others not seem may have fired, but the shooting was bad despite liberal use of tracer, and the attempts at correcting aim were poor. Engaging in turns with a Zeke at about 180 mph IAS and pulling my aircraft as tight as possible, the Zeke did not dangerously close, until the speed began to drop, about the completion of the second turn. Breaking severely downward to the inside of the turn I experienced no difficulty in losing the Zeke. My engine cut momentarily in this maneuver. I observed Zekes to loop, to half roll and fire while on their backs, which, though interesting as a spectacle seemed profitless in dogfighting.

During the engagement I saw a Spitfire diving away with a Zeke on its tail. The Spitfire appeared to be gaining distance.
When leaving the combat area, I dived steeply away and was followed down in a dive by a Zeke. At a speed in excess of 400 mph IAS the Zeke did not close the distance and gave up quickly, though supported by several of his kind. The Zekes appeared to be armed with M.G. and 30 mm cannon.
To summarize, in view of the whole circumstances surrounding the brief engagement, and despite the fact that both height and numbers favored the Zekes, I regard the Spitfire as a superior aircraft generally, though less maneuverable at low speeds. In straight and level flight and in dives the Spitfire appears faster.
Though the angle of climb of the Zeke is steeper, the actual gaining of height seems much the same, the Spitfire going up at a lesser angle but at greater forward speed - an advantage. No difficulty was experienced in keeping height with the Zekes during combat. I believe that at altitudes above 20,000 feet the Spitfire, in relation to the Zekes will prove an even more superior aircraft in general performance.

It must be remembered however, that the Japanese pilots had been airborne for a very long period and their efficiency must necessarily be impaired by consideration of fuel conservation and fatigue.

(Signed) a. (?) h. or k. Caldwell,
Wing Commander,
Wing Commander flying,
No. 1 Fighter Wing,
R.A.A.F Darwin