When speaking simply about quality of fighter planes, again it is difficult to single out any one characteristic and say that makes one plane superior to the other.
Agreed. AND YET PEOPLE DO EXACTLY THAT. Which is why many people will claim that the Zero was a substantially better plane than, say, the F4F or the P40. It was only substantially better at retaining energy in low-moderate speed fights. If all air combats had been fought at 250mph IAS, the idea that the Zero was a substantially better plane might have some merit. But such was not the case.
That said it is probably most accurate to compare the Hurricane, Buffalo and P-40 to the Oscar and the Zero to the Wildcat as they were the sorts of combat pairings you would most often see in the early days of the war. The Spitfire was not really a player in the pacific for the first several months.
Agreed. And based on early-war performance, the Oscar was a POS, the Buffalo was a POS, and the rest were pretty much a wash or slightly favored the allies with respect to capability. Yet capability only goes so far when one is way out at the end of an unreliable logistical pipe, fatigued, and cut off from reinforcement, rest & refit.
I think the battles over Rangoon and Burma were most characteristic of the early war fight between the Oscar and the Hurricanes and Buffalos. By all accounts the Oscar was as manueverable as the zero and difficult to dogfight.
At low speeds true. At higher speeds not true. And the Oscar was woefully underarmed. So why fixate on low-speed turning radius as the ONLY appropriate measure of a plane's worth?
RAF Pilots often reported having great difficulty turning the nimble Japanese fighters, which is they way they were trained to fight. So in the beginning the Hurricane and certainly the Buffalo, used the way the pilots were trained to use them, did not match up well with the Oscar and certainly not the Zero. Actually some of the commanders in the RAF were already aware of this problem at the outbreak of the war, but it took time to train the pilots on new tactics.
Yet despite all of that the loss rates at least for Hurricanes was roughly on par with the loss rates of Oscars. What the 'canes and Buffaloes lacked in Horsepower they made up in ability to sustain battle damage from Oscars. When you consider the positional advantages and superior numbers, as well as interior supply and the depth of preparation prior to the war, if the Japanese planes were truly better, and the Japanese pilots truly better, they ought to have achieved far more than they did and at less cost to themselves.
The historical result of the air combat over Burma, which is difficult to follow because claims on both sides were wildly exagerated, tended to favor a draw to a slight edge going to the RAF, but its primary opponent was often the Oscar.
Agreed. So why would anyone claim that the Oscar was a better plane flown by better pilots? After all, the Allied logistical situation in Burma made the Japanese look like logistical masters. Which they weren't by a long shot. But at the start of the war, the Japanese had necessary fuel, supplies, munitions, parts, and reserves where they were needed. The Allies did not. Likewise, the Japanese had secure areas for rest & refit. The Allies did not. Under the circumstances, the Japanese *ought* to have done far better, were it the case that both their a.c. and their pilots were substantially better.
Similar statements could be made when looking at a match up between either P-40s or Wildcats vs the Zero. The flight characteristics of the US fighters was nothing special. Speed, maneuverability and climb rates were simply adequate. Where the Wildcat stood out was its armor, or I have often thought a better way of putting this is that it stood out because it had so much armor and still had good flight characteristics. However, once again US pilots took it on the chin when they tried to turn with the nimble Japanese fighters.
Your data seems incomplete. The F4F had a better roll rate (which is one component of maneuverability) than the A6M at almost every air speed. Not so at speeds lower than something like 200 mph IAS, but that is below the cruising speed of most of the a.c. in the war and atypical of any combat. At IAS in excess of 320 mph, the F4F could actually out roll and out turn a Zero. In the interval from roughly 280 mph to 320, the two were so close in performance as to be substantially the same. The only edge the Zero had there was in level flight top speed. The Zero of course did not lose energy as quickly in a low-speed turn, which is why after the first major engagement (Coral Sea, an action in which F4Fs largely defeated the A6Ms), American F4F drivers were coached to keep their indicated airspeed high in combat. Didn't matter whether you were turning *as long as you were going 280+ mph when you were doing it*.
As a sidenote I would not include the P-39, it was nothing more than a stop gap and unless operating at low altitude was a poor fighter plane. It's historical record reflects this too.
At low altitude the P-39 was a match for any Zero, as long as the P-39 was not caught right after take-off or during landing. It's performance flaw was above about 12,000 feet. Below that it was substantially faster than any A6M in sustained level flight, and it had much better MGs. The 37mm of the P39 wasn't worth a toss against fighters, but against a bomber such as a Betty it was pretty devastating. Japanese pilots attacking PM lamented the fact that the American 39 drivers would not climb to their altitude to engage.. which is a reflection on the poor qualities of the P-39 at climbing to high altitude. Notably, however, the A6M drivers weren't enthusiastic about descending to the P-39s altitude to engage, because a P-30 moving in on you at 350 mph had every advantage over an A6M. The 39 was faster, more maneuverable, tougher, and better armed.
The only historical regret one should feel about the P-39 was her lack of a turbosupercharger. Had the USAAF left the dratted things in the production Airacobras, the P-39 would have been the best fighter of the war until the advent of the FW-190.
Show me a fellow who rejects statistical analysis a priori and I'll show you a fellow who has no knowledge of statistics.
Didn't we have this conversation already?