January 24, 2017 — The A6M2-N “Rufe” fighter was a single-crew seaplane based on the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. Constructed as an interceptor and fighter-bomber by the Nakajima company, the Rufe was hastily built as an interim aircraft while designs for a more competent floatplane (the Kawanishi N1K1 Kyofu) were perfected.
Japan had understood that if they wanted to push forward with their territorial expansion through the Pacific, they would need sea-bearing planes to deal with the lack of runways and air bases on the numerous islands. This absence of functional runways meant there could be no air cover for the IJNAF bombers, and although the Japanese had aircraft carriers, they knew they wouldn’t be nearly enough to support every offensive action.
To quickly build the A6M2-N, Nakajima mounted a float under the fuselage and simply removed the landing gear of the original A6M2. In addition, a pair of stabilizing floats were added under the wings. Unfortunately, the bulky geometry of those float-additions created an immense amount of drag, making the plane difficult to fly and reduced top-speed.
The first prototype of the A6M2-N was flown on the same say that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Codenamed “Rufe” by the Allies, the final version of the plane was issued to the Yokohama Air Group (Kokutai) and deployed to Tulagi in the Solomon Islands where it was used to harass American PT boats at night. The IJNAF also deployed flares to illuminate the PTs which were vulnerable to destroyer gunfire. It is also likely the Rufes came up against RAF and RAAF aircraft during the invasion of Malaya.
The A6M2-N Rufes that took part in the Aleutian campaign when the Japanese occupied the islands of Kiska and Attu, fared better, but still suffered against the Americans.
In the last year of the war, the A6M2-Ns were used as interceptors to defend against attacks on Japan by American heavy bombers. The planes fared badly and most were wiped out. Production of the Rufe stopped in September 1943, after 327 had been built and sent into battle.