Armour Collection B11E069 Imperial Japanese Navy Nakajima A6M2-N "Rufe" Floatplane - 5th Air Wing, Aleutians Campaign, 1942 (1:48 Scale)
"I believe that in the future, whoever holds Alaska will hold the world. I think it is the most important strategic place in the world."
- General Billy Mitchell's statement to Congress, 1935
Recognizing the possibility of a war with the United States, the Imperial Japanese Navy, in the autumn of 1940, saw the need for providing fighter cover for amphibious landings in situations where carriers would not be available. They also knew that the Japanese Army's Corps of Engineers was small and not up to the task of swiftly building airstrips on remote islands and that the IJN itself lacked the equivalent of the US Navy's Seabees construction battalions. As a result, a specification was issued for a fighter to be mounted on floats.
Kawanishi received the contract for an advanced floatplane fighter which became the N1K1 Kyofu ("Mighty Wind"), but it soon became obvious that this ambitious aircraft would not be ready in time for the upcoming war with the US. The Japanese therefore decided on a temporary measure whereby a floatplane fighter was to be created from the highly successful A6M2 Zero.
The IJN assigned development of the floatplane Zero to Nakajima which also performed second-source production of the Zero. Interestingly, Nakajima ended up building more Zeros than Mitsubishi, producing over 6,500 Zeros to Mitsubishi's 4,000 by war's end. The floatplane was given the designation A6M2-N or "Type 2 Floatplane Fighter Model 11" (the N does not stand for Nakajima but for floatplane fighter). The floatplane was basically a standard A6M2 with the undercarriage replaced by a centerline float, plus an outrigger float on each wing. A larger vertical tailplane was provided as was a small "strake" underneath the tail to compensate for aerodynamic interference of the float system. Although it couldn't carry a centerline drop tank, an additional fuel tank was installed in the central float itself.
The first prototype A6M2-N was flown on December 7th, 1941, the first day of the Pacific War and the first production A6M2-N was delivered in April 1942. The A6M2-N was given the Allied code name "Rufe" under Capt Frank McCoy's system of assigning hillbilly names to Japanese aircraft. It first appeared in combat in the Solomons and was initially deployed to Tulagi, but the floatplanes were caught in the raids leading up to the American landings on Guadalcanal. Although they inflicted some serious damage on the B-17s of the 11th Bombardment Group, the A6M2-Ns were soon destroyed by enemy attacks.
The A6M2-N was also used in the Aleutians campaign. In spite of the weight and drag of the float, the A6M2-N was actually quite fast and maneuverable, retaining many of the Zero's characteristics, and could deliver a nasty surprise to many Allied fighters if they were unwise enough to try and dog-fight with this floatplane.
Pictured here is a 1:48 scale replica of a Nakajima A6M2-N floatplane fighter which was flown by the Imperial Japanese Navy's 5th Air Wing during the Aleutians Campaign of 1942.
Wingspan: 9 inches
Length: 7-1/4 inches
Historical Account: "The Forgotten Battle" - The Aleutian Islands campaign was a struggle over the Aleutian Islands, part of Alaska, in the Pacific campaign of World War II. A small Japanese force occupied the islands of Attu and Kiska, but the remoteness of the islands and the difficulties of weather and terrain meant that it took nearly a year for a large U.S. force to eject them. The islands' strategic value is their ability to control Pacific Great Circle routes. Current air flights between Los Angeles and Tokyo pass the Aleutians. This control of the Pacific transportation routes is why General Billy Mitchell stated to Congress in 1935 "I believe that in the future, whoever holds Alaska will hold the world. I think it is the most important strategic place in the world." The Japanese reasoned that control of the Aleutians would prevent a possible U.S. attack across the Northern Pacific. Similarly, the U.S. feared that the islands would be used as bases from which to launch aerial assaults against the West Coast.
The battle is known as the "Forgotten Battle," due to being overshadowed by the simultaneous Guadalcanal campaign. In the past most western military historians believed it was a diversionary or feint attack during the Battle of Midway meant to draw out the US Pacific Fleet from Pearl Harbor, and was in fact launched simultaneously under the same overall commander, Isoroku Yamamoto. However, historians Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully have made an argument against this interpretation, stating that the Japanese invaded the Aleutians to protect the northern flank of their empire and did not intend it as a diversion.