Hawaiian Air Depot B-17E Flying Fortresses, Part II

EPSON MFP image
41-2417 was named “MONKEY BIZZ-NESS”, this is a rather poor photo of her nose art before the lettering was applied in March of 1943. On the night of 22-23 March this Fortress performed one of the more unusual missions of the war, dropping two 2,000lb bombs into the Matupi Volcano in an attempt to cause an eruption and destroy the Japanese base at Rabaul.  The effort did not meet with success.
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A well-known picture of 41-2426 on New Caledonia, refitted with a ventral ball turret. She survived the war and was returned to the US for scrapping.
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Experts have debated whether 41-2428 “OLE” “SH’ASTA” wore a Hawaiian Air Depot scheme or not. She was in the right place at the right time, but no solid evidence.  Sometimes I’m a bit slow, even with the answer staring me right in the face.  I’m sure you guys will be a little faster than I was.
From this picture alone there is nothing conclusive offered either way. The starboard side of the nose is in a single color and there is no way to be certain exactly what color it is.  She is being fueled and armed with 100 pound bombs, and men from the armament section are busy fusing the bombs or adding shackles.  “Pith helmet guy” is inserting a nose fuse, as is the man in the foreground.  Note the position of the truck off the port wing, the fuel truck, and the bomb trailer in the lower right corner of the picture.

 

 

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The ordinanceman in the foreground of the previous picture now has both fuses in his bomb and is carrying it by the shackle to be loaded into the bomb bay of “OLE” “SH’ASTA”. The fuel line is on the ground.
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Now photographer Ralph Morse has shifted to the port side of the nose. “Pith helmet guy” is still inserting nose fuses, just as he was in the first picture.  The fuel line is in the foreground, bomb trailer in the background.  Looking at the port side of the nose of “OLE” “SH’ASTA” we have a clue – the area under the data block has been masked off and is in the factory Olive Drab, but the rest of the nose has been repainted a much lighter shade.  The data block also includes the aircraft serial number, unfortunately obscured here.
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Morse has shifted position again. The ordinanceman in the foreground of the last picture is moving his bomb to  be loaded, and “pith helmet guy” is now adding shackles to the bombs.  Now another clue is visible – the cowl flaps are in the factory standard OD/NG camo showing a previous engine replacement, which contrasts with the repainted cowling and nacelle.  Fueling is complete and the hose is being loaded back onto the truck.

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Two additional shots which show the same group of ordinancemen at work but do not include the aircraft.
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Finally, a distant shot showing a B-17 in a HAD scheme. The name is visible but not legible, and is consistent with the lettering on the nose of “OLE” “SH’ASTA”.  The bomb truck is visible in front of the starboard wing, the fuel truck has moved off, and the truck shown off the port wing in the first photograph is still in place.  41-2428 wore a Hawaiian Air Depot scheme!
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An additional picture in closing for today, showing the uncrating of a replacement engine. Several interesting details, but the one most relevant to the previous discussion is the factory colors on the cowl flaps.  Modelers and illustrators of HAD scheme Flying Fortresses take note!
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Hawaiian Air Depot B-17E Flying Fortresses, Part I

In the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack much of the American airpower in the Pacific lay wrecked, caught on the ground by the Japanese assault. Planes lined up in neat rows alongside airfields proved easy targets for bombers and strafing fighters.  Even worse, there were multiple instances of gunners on the ground firing on any aircraft within range regardless if it was American or Japanese.  To address these problems commanders ordered that aircraft were to be disbursed and camouflaged while on the ground, and additional national markings applied to aid recognition in the air.  The Hawaiian Air Depot (HAD) was tasked with making these changes.

The Hawaiian Air Depot scheme consisted of applying broad patches of colors from paint stocks on hand to break up the aircraft’s outline. Application appears to have been limited to medium and heavy bombers.  The exact colors were not documented nor were lists kept of which aircraft were repainted.  Fortunately there is surviving color film of four aircraft in HAD schemes, one B-18, one B-17C/D, and two B-17Es.  The Dark Olive Drab 41 upper surfaces were broken up with patches of what appear to be Sand 26, Neutral Gray 43, Rust Brown 34, and Interior Green.  There was no set pattern and not all colors may have been used on every aircraft.    Photographs of B-18s and B-17C/Ds show no uniformity, but the B-17Es follow a general concept with variation in the color boundaries.  In some photographs this color pattern “fingerprint” can permit the individual aircraft to be determined.  Data blocks were masked off before the new camouflage was applied which allows the original Olive Drab background to show through. The undersides were not repainted.  It is interesting to speculate if any of the B-17C/D or B-18 retained natural metal undersides.

National markings were augmented by applying additional insignia to the starboard upper and port lower wing surfaces bringing the total to six. Thirteen alternating red and white rudder stripes were also added, but without the vertical blue stripe of the pre-war marking convention.  The “U.S. ARMY” lettering remained on the underside of the wings as can be seen in several photographs.  Individual aircraft serial numbers were applied to the vertical stabilizers in Orange Yellow, but the size and shapes of the numerals varied so modelers must pay careful attention.

The application of the HAD scheme was short lived. The order was issued on 10DEC41, but when the 22nd Bomb Group B-26 Marauders arrived in Hawaii in February 1942 they received only tail stripes.  Three B-17Es also received tail stripes but no disruptive camouflage, serial numbers 41-2403, 41-2435, and 41-2446 – which is currently under restoration as  the famous “Swamp Ghost”.  However, tail stripes and red centers to the national insignia were being painted out by some units as early as April to avoid confusion with the Japanese Hinomaru, and this was formalized by ALNAV 97 on 06MAY42.

The HAD scheme Flying Fortresses are interesting not only due to their unique camouflage, but also due to the service records of the crews which flew them. They flew against long odds for a long time, in adverse conditions against a capable and determined enemy.  An excellent overview of their operations is provided by historian Steve Birdsall here:  http://www.historynet.com/pacific-tramps.htm

After digging into the subject, my opinion is seventeen B-17E, eight B-17C/D, and at least two B-18s received the full HAD scheme. There are likely more.  I have posted examples of the early “shark fin” B-17s and B-18s in previous blogs, and will now focus on examples of the B-17Es which I hope are of interest to modelers in future posts.  Any additional information is most welcome, as are any corrections or citations.

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Color screen captures from John Ford’s Battle of Midway documentary show the Hawaiian Air Depot scheme to good advantage. 41-2397 was the fifth B-17E built and originally carried the Sperry Model 645705-D remote sighted belly turret.  The top of the rudder appears to have been repaired and has a more reddish hue than the surrounding structures.
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This picture of the nose of 41-2397 reveals several interesting details. Under the last nose window is a small rectangular area of the factory Olive Drab finish – this is where the aircraft data block was masked off to preserve the stenciling prior to the application of the HAD camouflage.  Also note the natural metal cowl flaps on the inboard port engine.  Replacement engines were issued with cowl flaps in place.  On this engine the cowl flaps were not camouflaged, but more usually the flaps would be painted in the standard OD/NG colors.  Modelers should presume that a HAD ship which had seen extensive service would have cowl flaps which might not match the colors on the rest of the nacelle!
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41-2397 again, this time jacked up with coconut logs on Espiritu Santo in December 1942. She is missing her port outer wing panel, and has been refitted with a Sperry manned ball turret in her ventral station.  This aircraft was named JOE BFTSPLK after a jinxed comic strip character of the time.  (Ralph Morse photograph)
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A well-known picture of three Fortresses. 41-2403 in a standard OD/NG camouflage but with tail stripes, 41-2404 in a full HAD scheme, and B-17D 40-3060 in another HAD scheme variation. The camouflage pattern on the HAD B-17Es appear to follow a similar pattern with individual differences in the color boundaries, but the known pictures of B-17C/Ds are all different.
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Crew boarding 41-2404. Note the style of the serial number on the tail.  This aircraft was named “The Spider”.  Damaged by flak at the Battle of Midway, claimed (erroneously) to have scored hits on Kaga.   While operating from Espiritu Santo, she ran out of fuel and ditched on 12SEP42.  Two crew died of exposure, the remainder were rescued by a US Navy destroyer after seven days at sea.
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On the right is 41-2408 in APR42. She does not carry rudder stripes nor red centers on her insignia.  The Fortress on the left has been identified as 41-2421 but has not yet had her serial number applied to the tail.  She retains the early war insignia with red centers but also lacks the tail stripes.  Both aircraft carry the remote Sperry belly turrets.  De-icer boots were often missing from Pacific War Fortresses.
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41-2408 was one of four Fortresses used to evacuate MacArthur and his staff from Mindanao to Darwin. She carries the manned Sperry belly turret in this photograph.  Modelers note the paint wear on the back of the propeller blades, common to aircraft operating from sandy or dusty airfields.
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Another Fortress lacking serials, this is 41-2416. It was common for crews to increase the defensive armament of their Fortresses, here the radio operator has replaced his single .50 with twins.  This ship was named “San Antonio Rose” after the popular Bob Wills song, one of many American aircraft to carry the name.
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41-2416 again, this time with her serials. Compare the size and style of the numbers with 41-2404 above.  She survived combat, being written off at Brisbane on 31JAN44.  (USAAF photo from Pacific Wrecks)

ICM 1/72 Po-2 Nachthexen Night Bomber

This is a Po-2 night harassment bomber of the 46th “Taman” Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment. The pilots in this regiment were all female, and became known as the “Night Witches” or Nachthexen in German.   By the end of the war the 46th was one of the most decorated regiments in the Soviet Air Force with 23 members being awarded the Soviet Union’s highest decoration, the Hero of the Soviet Union.  Wikipedia entry here:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_Witches

The kit is from ICM in 1/72 scale. Detail and fit are outstanding, it went together quite well for a biplane.  I added wiring to the engine and rebuilt the rear gun.  Decals are from the kit and behaved themselves well.  The kit prop is pitched backwards and was replaced with a Quickboost resin prop.  Rigging is EZ Line.

Po-2_001

Po-2_002

The SB2U-3 Vindicators of VMSB-241 During the Battle of Midway

VMSB-241 was a US Marine dive bombing unit operating from Midway island, commanded by Major Lofton R. Henderson. Due to the urgency in building up Midway’s defenses men and aircraft were rapidly transferred in with little time form cohesive combat teams.  VMSB-241s inventory consisted of sixteen newly assigned SBU-2 Dauntless and twelve older SB2U-3 Vindicator dive bombers, but only three of the Marine pilots had any time logged in the Dauntless.  Ten of the other pilots had only joined the squadron a week prior to the battle and a shortage of aviation fuel on Midway severely limited opportunities for training.

The Marines made due with what they had and flew a total of three missions during the battle. The first strike launched early in the morning of 4 June was a maximum effort against the Japanese carriers consisting of sixteen Dauntless’ and eleven Vindicators.  The Dauntlesses attacked the carriers Hiryu  and Kaga while the Vindicators concentrated their attack against the battleship Haruna but achieved no results.  Eight of the Dauntlesses were lost , including Major Henderson’s, along with four of the Vindicators.  Almost all of the surviving aircraft returned damaged, but by evening enough had been repaired to launch a second mission to attack a carrier reported to be burning to the Northeast of the island.  Six SBD-2s and five SB2U-3s were launched but did not locate the target.  One of the Vindicators failed to return.  The final sortie was launched against the Japanese heavy cruiser Mikuma on the morning of 5 June. Twelve aircraft went out, evenly divided between the two types.  No hits were achieved.  The leader of the SB2U-3 element, Capt. Richard E. Fleming, was lost to anti-aircraft fire.

Vindicators in John Ford’s Documentary “The Battle of Midway”

The editing of Ford’s film implies that it depicts the launching of VMSB-241s first strike against the Japanese carriers which is known to have occurred between 0610 and 0620 on 4 June 1942. Because of the position of the sun in these shots I believe the film was actually shot prior to the strike against the carriers during one of the few opportunities available for training the new pilots.  In addition the pilot of one of the aircraft, 2LT Sumner Whitten, recalls that the Japanese were bombing Midway during the first launch on 4 June.

Seven Vindicators are visible in the film, five of which are identifiable. There are two distinct types of finishes visible, a very worn field-applied scheme with small national markings, and a depot scheme with larger markings and fresher paint.  VMSB-241 was not unique in mixing these styles, “SB2U Vindicator in Action” by Tom Doll has several photos of VS-9 Vindicators displaying both types while aboard the USS Charger (AVG-30).

In an interview for World War II magazine, Whitten explains the condition of VMSB-241s Vindicators their unique fuselage stripes:

“The vertical and horizontal stripes were actually 4-inch medical tape used to hold the fabric to the fuselage! These SB2U-3s were due for overhaul prior to being flown to Midway from MCAS Ewa. This overhaul would have included, of course, new fabric for the aft fuselage. Thus, to counteract the effects of heat, sunlight, salt air, etc., to hold the decaying fabric to the fuselage structure, medical tape, 4 inches wide, was wrapped around the fuselage and also along the fuselage longerons to keep it in place, and was then doped over. This was necessary because we had no facilities or fabric to properly replace the old fabric. Thus, you see, each SB2U-3 could have had slightly different stripes, depending on the condition of the aft fuselage fabric.”

The first seen taking off are a group of two, White 6 and White 9. White 6 was flown by 2LT James H. Marmande and PFC Edby M. Colvin and was lost during the first Midway mission.  Here are screen captures from Ford’s film and a well-known still shot which I believe was taken by the sailor visible in the film.

White6White9_2White6White9_3White6White9_4White6White9_5White6White9_1White6_2White6_1

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1/72 scale model of “White Six” from the Special Hobby kit.
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1/72 scale model of “White Six” from the Special Hobby kit.

Notes for White 6:

  1. General finish is a worn Blue Gray / Light Gray scheme with small national markings, modified in several respects. The Blue Gray has completely worn off the cowl allowing the Light Gray to show through.  Notice the small insignia located well aft on the fuselage.  The size of the national insignia for aircraft operating in the Hawaiian area was increased starting on 23DEC41, the small insignia still being carried on VMSB-241 aircraft are yet another indication of the lack of overhaul.
  2. The red and white rudder stripes have been painted out with a dark blue in compliance with ALNAV 97 of 06MAY42, this is common to all the VMSB-241 Vindicators pictured. This blue is lighter than Insignia Blue, but much darker than the Blue Gray upper surface camouflage color. Elliot includes chips for two darker shades of Blue Gray, possibly this color is one of those.
  3. The vertical stabilizer was also painted in the darker blue, but this over-zealous effort to eradicate the rudder stripes has been “corrected” by an overspray of white. This is clearly visible on all the Vindicators in the Ford film but to the best of my knowledge has never been depicted in profiles of the type.
  4. Note the high demarcation line between the Light Gray and the Blue Gray on the aft fuselage. This line varies on each aircraft.
  5. Three bands of the 4″ white medical tape described in Whitten’s interview are visible encircling the aft fuselage. This was a field expedient fabric repair, not a marking. The fuselage is darker around these bands, indicating cleaning, doping, and /or painting as part of the repair.  The forward band is incomplete, and the darkened area extends forward to the aircraft number.
  6. Similar horizontal fabric repairs are visible next to the gunner’s position. These do not display the darkened surroundings of the fuselage bands. The white horizontal tape here is narrower than the tape used on the aft fuselage, perhaps half as wide or less.
  7. The fuselage shows various tones, lighter in some areas and darker in others. This is the Light Gray showing through where the Blue Gray has faded or been rubbed off on the areas where the crew would enter and leave the aircraft. Likely there is a healthy layer of dust present as well.
  8. The underside of the outer wing panels are Light Gray, not Blue Gray as is sometimes depicted.
  9. The 500 pound bomb is yellow.

 

 

Notes for White 9:

  1. This aircraft also carries the worn Blue Gray over Light Gray scheme with small national markings, modified similarly to White 6.
  2. The vertical stabilizer also shows the white sprayed over the dark blue, the rudder is overpainted in a dark blue.
  3. The line between the Blue Gray / Light Gray on the aft fuselage is lower than seen on White 6.
  4. There are three dark bands visible on the underside of the aft fuselage, in locations consistent with the taped fabric repairs on the other aircraft. The area between the national insignia and the individual aircraft number is darker and more uniform. It appears that the fabric repairs were also performed on White 9 with the 4″ medical tape, then the tape and the entire aft fuselage was given a fresh coat of dark blue paint to strengthen and seal it.
  5. The Blue Gray on the cowl and forward fuselage have worn away showing the Light Gray underneath.
  6. The bomb is a dark color, black or Olive Drab.

7. This is another good shot of the underwing color and insignia.  Again, no Blue Gray on the undersurfaces.

 

The second group taking off in the film shows three aircraft. One is seen indistinctly in the distance, one is seen as a brief flash flying directly over the photographers (!), and one is clearly pictured.  This aircraft is White 2.  She returned from the 4 June mission, but was lost with her crew CAPT Richard E. Fleming and PFC George A. Toms during the 5 June strike against the Japanese cruiser Mikuma.  CAPT Fleming flew during all three of VMSB-241s missions during the battle and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions.  White 2 is therefore of much interest to modelers but is often portrayed incorrectly in a scheme similar to White 6.

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1/72 scale model of “White Two” from the Special Hobby kit.
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1/72 scale model of “White Two” from the Special Hobby kit.

Notes for White 2:

  1. White 2 is camouflaged in a Blue Gray / Light Gray scheme with a low demarcation on the aft fuselage. This aircraft displays a cleaner, fresher, and less weathered appearance than the others. The fuselage displays a large national insignia, located forward.  Compare the size of the underwing insignia shown here to that on White 6 & 9.  I believe both White 1 and White 2 had received depot overhauls.
  2. Rudder stripes are again painted out with a dark blue. The white overspray on the vertical tail is more even than the other aircraft, it is possible that the vertical tail was left in the original Blue Gray.
  3. No tape anywhere on the fuselage, and the paint color appears much more uniform throughout.
  4. Cowling color consistent with the rest of the aircraft.
  5. Light Gray wing outer panels on the underside again, not Blue Gray.
  6. Yellow bomb again.
  7. Wheel hubs are Blue Gray, not Light Gray as expected.

 

The last Vindicators shown launching in the film are a tight group of two, White 3 and White 1. Aircraft numbered “1” would traditionally be flown by the squadron commander, in this instance that would be the leader of the SB2U-3 unit, MAJ Benjamin W. Norris and his gunner, PFC Arthur B. Whittington.  If that is the case then both the crews in the screenshots below did not survive, as Norris and Whittington were lost on the evening mission which failed to locate the Japanese fleet.  White 3, crewed by 2LT Kenneth O. Campion and PVT Anthony J. Maday, did not return from the first strike.

White3_2White3White1_2White3White1_1Notes for White 3:

  1. Finish is the worn Blue Gray / Light Gray scheme with small national markings, similar to White 6. The Blue Gray appears much fresher than White 6 or 9, and the Light Gray is not showing through on the cowl. However the finish still appears more faded than White 1 behind it.
  2. Dark blue rudder. Vertical stabilizer also has a white overspray, but more evenly applied than either 6 or 9.
  3. Fabric repairs to the aft fuselage display yet another variation. This is particularly important as modelers and artists have generally portrayed these repairs as slight modifications of that seen on White 6, but these screenshots show three repaired aircraft with three different applications. In this case we see three very dark bands, each bordered on both sides by a strip of white.  My interpretation of this is three bands of the 4″ medical tape which was then overpainted with black, followed by additional bands of medical tape on either side.
  4. Small area of tape repairs adjacent to the gunner’s position.
  5. Yellow 500 pound bomb.

White 1:

It was difficult to get a clear screenshot showing all of White 1, the aircraft is only seen in partial views behind White 3 or indistinctly in the distance. Still, it makes for an interesting comparison of the two schemes in the same shot.  It is painted in the depot Blue Gray / Light Gray scheme with a low demarcation and large national insignia located forward on the fuselage.  From what can be seen, it is consistent with the details of White 2 noted above.

The battle of Midway is regarded as the turning point of the Pacific War. It was the only combat use of the SB2U-3 Vindicator dive bomber by US forces.  The Marines of VMSB-241 fought against an experienced enemy with determination and bravery.  Major Henderson received the Navy Cross and Henderson Field on Guadalcanal was named in his honor.  Major Fleming was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

 

Sources:

John Ford’s “The Battle of Midway” film.

VMSB-241 Action report.

World War II magazine interview with VMSB-241 pilot Sumner H. Whitten

SB2U Vindicator in Action by Tom Doll, Squadron / Signal Aircraft Number 122.

The Official Monogram US Navy & Marine Corps Aircraft Color Guide Vol. 2 1940-1949 by John M. Elliott.

Wikipedia entry for CAPT Richard E. Fleming, including his Medal of Honor Citation.

B-17E Nose Art, Espiritu Santo, Dec 1942

Photographer Ralph Morse documented several B-17E Flying Fortresses operating from Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides in December 1942. Two of these aircraft would be lost before the end of the month. Two others were shot down by the first night fighter ace of the Pacific War, Petty Officer Shigetoshi Kudo of the 251 Kokutai. Four were veterans of the Battle of Midway. At the time these aircraft were assigned to the 11th and 5th Bombardment Groups, but many had previously operated all across the Pacific. The following are a selection of named aircraft with their nose art and scoreboards at the time.

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41-2428 “Ole Shasta”, 11BG / 98BS. Participated in the Battle of Midway. Lost 28DEC42 while operating from Espiritu Santo.
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41-2463 “Yankee Doodle” 5BG / 394BS. Fought at the Battle of Midway. Crashed on takeoff from Espiritu Santo 02AUG43, 2 killed. Pilot was Gene Roddenberry of “Star Trek” fame.
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41-2523 “Goonie” 11BG / 98BS. Participated in the Battle of Midway. Bombed the Japanese carrier Akagi claiming (erroneously) one hit and one A6M2 destroyed. Hit by flak over Kahili Airfield, Bougainville, ditched off the Russell Islands 20MAY43, all crew rescued. Note the star for the Battle of Midway.
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41-2525 “Madame-X” 11 BG / 98BS. Participated in the Battle of Midway. Lost over Kahili Airfield. Note the star for the Battle of Midway.
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41-9059 “Boomerang” 5BG / 72BS. Living up to her name, she survived the Pacific War and was written Off 11JUN45.
 

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41-9128 “De-icer” 5BG / 23BS, shot down by Japanese J1N1 “Irving” night fighter 27JUL43 while bombing Kahili Airfield, Bougainville.
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41-9153 “Tokyo Taxi” 5BG / 23BS, shot down by Japanese J1N1 “Irving” night fighter 19JUL43 while bombing Kahili Airfield, Bougainville.
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41-9211 “Typhoon McGoon II” 11BG / 98BS, returned to the US after the war and written off. This aircraft was equipped with the SCR-521 ASV air-to-surface-vessel radar set. The large IJN flag denotes a credited kill against a flying boat.
 

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41-9215 “Galloping Gus” 11BG / 98BS. Written Off 15JUN44.
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41-9227 “Yankee Doodle Jr.” 11BG / 431 BS. Crashed on take off from Espiritu Santo on 31DEC42, all aboard were killed.
 

Tamiya’s 1/72 Scale Ki-61-Id Hien “Tony”

Kawasaki Ki-61-Id Hien, Allied code name “Tony”. The model depicts one of the aircraft flown by Major Teruhiko Kobayashi, Commanding Officer of the 244 Sentai in early 1945.  Kobayashi was credited with twelve victories, two Hellcats and ten B-29s, one of the B-29s by ramming.

This is the new 1/72 scale Tamiya kit finished out of the box. In my experience Tamiya kits have always represented the state of the mold-making art and this one is no exception.  The kit is flawless, fit is perfect.  I would have liked to have seen drop tanks and an option for an open canopy but those are the only things I’d change.

Ki-61_001

Ki-61_002

Mi-24 Hind in 1/72 Scale, Eduard Boxing of Zvezda Kits

These are my most recent completions, a pair of Eduard Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters in 1/72 scale. The plastic is actually Zvezda molds, Eduard boxes these as a Dual Combo.  Included in the box are two complete Zvezda Mi-24s, some resin bits, two frets of PE for each kit, a photo book with captions in Czech, and a Zvezda sprue with early Hind parts included for weapons.  The kit includes twelve marking options, mostly Czech schemes including some of Tiger Meet helos.

These are my first helicopters. I did not anticipate any particular differences from modeling fixed wing aircraft, but was surprised as they were a little more complex than I expected.  The kits provide for several variants and optional equipment configurations.  Here my unfamiliarity with the type worked against me.  Fit of the parts is generally good, but the canopies are over engineered and were a struggle to get on.  I also fought with colors on the Russian helo and I’m still not entirely convinced I got it right.

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Hind002

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