Key point: The Zero reached its peak in 1942.
The psychological and military shock that the Allies experienced when they first encountered Mitsubishi’s legendary A6M2 Zero fighter plane at the beginning of the Pacific War may be difficult to understand today. The Zero, while being a revolutionary design in itself, had in fact been flying and fighting in China for nearly two full years before the Western air forces encountered it in open combat in late 1941 and early 1942.
‘Made in Japan’ Can’t Be Any Good, Can It?
Reports of its exceptional performance and handling capabilities had been streaming in but were ignored by intelligence experts, who refused to believe that Japan could design or produce an aircraft even approaching American or European standards. It was not until a nearly intact example of the machine was recovered in the Aleutian Islands during the Midway campaign that aircraft designers and military experts were able to study the Zero closely and put it through a series of tests against the best designs the Allies had to offer.