This entry in the versus series compares two aircraft with very different roles – the most famous Japanese fighter of the war in the Zero and the most successful American naval dive bomber of the war in the Douglas SPD. The Zero was the emblem of the early Japanese successes, sweeping early Allied aircraft from the skies as the Japanese achieved their remarkable run of victories, but the SPD played a crucial role in ending that phase of the war.
We start with a great deal of supporting material – sections on the aircraft designs, technical specifications, the training regime in the two rival services etc. Some of this is fairly familiar, and I don’t think splitting the ‘design and development’ and ‘technical specifications’ sections into two chapters works especially well – we end up swapping to and fro between the two aircraft rather distractingly. However the section on the aircrew training is interesting, looking at the two sides different approach to this key area.
I’m not sure I agree with the comments that the rear gunner on the SPD was well protected by armour plating – there may well have been a small armoured shield surrounding his guns, but otherwise he was sitting in an almost entirely open cockpit, unprotected to the sides and above!
It does take quite a long time to get to the actual clashes between the two aircraft, with that section not starting until page 56 when we leap into an account of the fighting over Pearl Harbor (emerged from an account of Japanese carrier defence tactics).
When we do reach the section on the direct clashes between the two types there are several areas to consider – most importantly how good was the Zero at stopping the SPD attacking its targets, followed by the effectiveness of the SPD’s defensive firepower at fighting off the Zero and finally the rarer direct clash where the SPD was actually attacking the Zero.
The first of these is clearly the most important, and also the area where the SPD performed best, playing a major role in the American victory at Midway, and during the battle of Guadalcanal. The balance between the two in air-to-air combat is rather harder to judge, mainly because of the chronic over claiming by both sides, but the author has done a good job of compensating for this, comparing the claims for individual days against known losses on the other side. Although the SPD was a significant American aircraft throughout 1942 and into 1943 there are actually a relatively small number of direct clashes between the two types, so it is possible to examine each of the main combats in some detail. As a result it is actually possible for the author to draw some firm conclusions about their relative performance, something that isn’t always the case in this series.
Design and Development
The Strategic Situation
Statistics and Analysis