The Mitsubishi A6M, known universally by the American codename Zero, was a light-weight, carrier-based fighter aircraft employed by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service from 1940 to 1945. A combination of excellent maneuverability and very long range made it one of the finest fighters of its era. In early combat operations, the Zero gained a legendary reputation, outclassing its contemporaries. Later, design weaknesses and the increasing scarcity of more powerful aircraft engines meant that the Zero became less effective against newer fighters.
As 1942 ended and 1943 began, the Navy began stationing Zeros at land bases in both Hawaii and the South Pacific, attaching bombs to their underbelly to assist in anti-submarine operations as the American submarine problem began to grow worse.
When the US Navy returned to Hawaii in the spring of 1943, the Zero no longer dominated the skies, and the US Navy's Hellcat proved vastly superior to the Japanese fighter in every way. Because of the Zero's lack of armor and self-sealing fuel tanks, the fighter quickly became a death trap to its pilots.