Curtiss XSB2C-1 Helldiver Prototype Color Photographs

Here is a nice selection of original color photographs of the Curtiss XSB2C-1 Helldiver prototype, Navy Bureau Number 1758.  These are from the NASM Archives, Rudy Arnold Collection.

BuNo 1758 was completed on 13DEC40 in time to wear the Navy’s colorful Yellow Wing scheme.  Foreshadowing a troubled program, the prototype suffered three crashes.  On 09FEB41 the prototype sustained minor damage due to an engine failure but was repaired, only to be damaged again due to landing gear failure May.  The aircraft was rebuilt at this point to reduce engine overheating and stability problems.  The forward fuselage was lengthened by one foot (30 cm) in an effort to improve stability.  When this proved insufficient the vertical tail surface was enlarged.  Cooling flaps and propeller cuffs were installed and an oil cooler scoop was added under the cowl.  The prototype was lost to structural failure during dive tests on 21DEC41.

Although some sources claim these pictures were taken during the aircraft’s maiden flight, the modifications noted above are present fixing the date as AUG41 at the earliest.  The Curtiss-Wright test pilot seen here is Robert Fausel.  Interestingly, earlier Fausel was credited with destroying a Japanese bomber over China as a civilian Curtiss factory representative.

More color Helldiver photographs here:

Hasegawa Messerschmitt Bf 109 G-6 of Wilhelm Lemke in 1/72 Scale

Messerschmitt Bf 109 G-6 of Hauptmann Wilhelm Lemke, 9. / JG 3 Bad Wörishofen Germany,  August 1943.  Hasegawa kit.

Wilhelm Lemke scored steadily against the Soviets for the first two years after Operation Barbarossa, amassing 125 victories.  Increasing pressure from American heavy bombers then forced the transfer of JG 3 back to Germany to defend the Reich.  He flew this unusually marked Messerschmitt as Staffelkapitän of 9./JG 3 on 17AUG43 when he claimed two USAAF P-47 Thunderbolts for his first victories in the West.  The Eighth Air Force was a much different opponent than the VVS, Lemke was only able to bring his tally to 131 before he was shot down and killed by P-47s of the 352nd Fighter Group on 04DEC43.









Israeli A-4 Skyhawk Units in Combat Book Review



Israeli A-4 Skyhawk Units in Combat

By Shlomo Aloni, illustrated by Jim Laurier

Osprey Combat Aircraft Series Book 81

Paperback, 96 pages, heavily illustrated, 24 color profiles

Published by Osprey Publishing November 2009

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1846034302

ISBN-13: 978-1846034305

Dimensions: 7.2 x 0.2 x 9.9 inches

The Douglas A-4 Skyhawk is one of the classics of aeronautical engineering.  It was developed as a carrier-borne light attack aircraft for the U.S. Navy.  It was designed by Ed Heinemann and exceeded its design expectations in every respect – it was lighter, smaller, faster, and cheaper than specified.  It was also loved by both pilots and ground crews, it was easy to fly, simple to maintain, and could absorb significant punishment.  Almost 3,000 were produced.

In addition to the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps the Skyhawk was exported to several other air arms, Israel was the largest export customer.  The A-4 was intended to replace both the French Mystere and Ourangan in IDF service.  This book details the political maneuvering and negotiations which resulted in the initial acquisition of the A-4 in 1965 using first-hand accounts from the participants.  I found this process fascinating, and the “What If” crowd will certainly enjoy reading about the multiple aircraft types in consideration for the contract.

The A-4 saw considerable combat while in Israeli service, and these actions are covered well here using pilot interviews and mission summaries.  The factors which lead to changes in tactics and adaptations of the aircraft are interesting.  There is discussion of the organizational structure of the Israeli Air Force and the evolving mission tasking of the Skyhawk force.  It was surprising to see how suddenly the shifts in personnel were conducted, in many cases squadron Commanding Officers were shifted overnight.

The book covers Skyhawk service in the IDF through several major conflicts – the War of Attrition and the Yom Kippur War, along with more limited actions against the PLA and in Lebanon.  This is an interesting narrative which did not get bogged down in dry mission statistics but struck a good balance between first hand accounts and keeping the larger strategic picture in focus.  One of the better volumes in Osprey’s Combat Aircraft Series.



North American P-51D Mustang Comparison Build, Hasegawa, Airfix and Tamiya Kits in 1/72 Scale Part I

Mustang kits are a perennial favorite of both modelers and kit manufactures.  In this post I will be comparing the offerings of Hasegawa, Airfix, and Tamiya in 1/72 scale.  On first impression, the kits are quite similar in detail and engineering.  Here are the fuselage halves from Hasegawa, Airfix (light blue plastic), and Tamiya, top to bottom.  All three have engraved panel lines, and yes, those on the Airfix kit are deeper and wider than the other two.  Airfix gives you a separate rudder.  Both of the Japanese manufacturers give you a choice of two types of exhausts, on the Hasegawa kit you must make the choice early as the exhausts are fitted from the inside of the fuselage.
This shot shows the cockpit sidewall detail, with an aftermarket resin wall from Airies for comparison.  Detail on all three kits appears too shallow to my eye, with the older Hasegawa details being the faintest.  There is enough to hold paint on the Airfix and Tamiya kits, which was close enough for me this time.  All three kits could be improved either by aftermarket parts or some scratchbuilding.
The wing undersides show several differences, and again an Aeries resin wheelwell piece is shown at the top for comparison.  All three kits treat the wheelwells differently, and note that all three openings have slightly different shapes.  Starting at the top, the Hasegawa wells are extremely shallow, there is not even enough room for the doors, let alone the wheels.  Not an issue for some builders, but it bugs the heck out of me.  The forward curve of the well extends a bit too close to the leading edge of the wing as well.
On the Airfix kit the inner surface of the wheelwell is molded into the upper surface of the wing.  The big thing Airfix did right here is the back of the well extends aft to the main spar, just as it does on the real aircraft.  The lower wing surface panels are a little thick, but that can be addressed with minimal effort.  The other big win here for Airfix is they have provided two sets of separate flaps, both raised and lowered.  Yay!  On a Mustang when the engine stops the hydraulic pressure drops and the flaps and inner wheel well doors lower, so it is most welcome to have a kit which provides for the standard appearance right out of the box.
The Tamiya wells are quite detailed, but they only go back to the rear of the well opening, not the spar.  They are deep though, and I considered leaving them alone given they are on the underside where they don’t stand out.
Here are the cockpit components, again with Aeries resin parts at the top for comparison.  Hasegawa is the less detailed of the three and is missing rudder pedals along with the prominent console on the port side.  Airfix extends the cockpit floor to give you a roof for the tail wheelwell and a very nice pilot figure.  The control stick is a bad combination of a thin part and soft plastic though, I broke mine during painting.  On any future builds I will go with a wire stick right from the start.  Tamiya’s cockpit is nicely done, particularly the seat and instrument panel.
Here the fuselage halves are taped up for comparison of component alignment.  Top to bottom they are Tamiya to Airfix, Airfix to Hasegawa, and Hasegawa to Tamiya.  As you can see, everything lines up pretty well on the top of the fuselage.
On the bottom of the fuselage we can see some differences in the way things line up.  Hasegawa (top half, center) appears to have the tail well slightly short and everything else moved aft a bit, but most of these debates come down to whose drawings one likes best.  In the end, I decided not to cut plastic here and just build the kits as they were molded.  There’s the comparison of the major components, I’ll show assembly and improvements next.

Part II here:

Monogram Boeing F4B-4 in 1/72 Scale, VB-5

Another build of Monogram’s venerable F4B-4 kit.  This is one of the easiest biplane kits to build, the landing gear legs and fuselage struts are molded as part of the fuselage which results in a strong assembly and proper alignment.  If you struggle with biplane kits you will be pleased with this one, it is a joy to build.  The markings here came from Yellow Wings sheet 72-011 and represent an aircraft operated by VB-5 from the USS Ranger (CV-4).









Boeing YB-40 Flying Fortress Escort Bomber

The Boeing YB-40 Escort Bomber or “Bomber-Fighter” was a B-17 with additional defensive armament, armor, and ammunition built in an attempt to provide defense for B-17 formations over Europe. This is the prototype XB-40, converted from the second production B-17F-1-BO serial number 41-24341 by Lockheed-Vega. Note the second dorsal turret mounted in the radio room and how the upper fairing extends to the turret.

Another photograph of the XB-40 prototype 41-24341. By this time the dorsal fairing has been abruptly truncated which increased drag but improved the fields of fire for the second turret. This would become the standard for the subsequent YB-40 series. If you look closely you can see some artwork on the fuselage side ….

… and here is a close-up. Mickey Mouse was a popular subject for aircraft artwork, and not just among American aircrews. Notice how the bars and red surround added to the national insignia have been applied over the artwork.

A total of twenty-five B-17F were modified to YB-40 or TB-40 (gunnery trainer) standard. Here is a photograph of 42-5732 through 42-5745 which were delivered to the modification center at Tulsa in October and November of 1942 receiving their modifications. The work to install the powered turret in the radio compartment is underway.

A well-known photograph showing the increased firepower of the YB-40 with eight of the fourteen .50 caliber machine guns visible. Several different armament configurations were proposed, including 40 mm or 20 mm cannon, and reportedly one with a total of thirty .50 caliber guns.

A nice external view of the port waist gun position showing the twin .50 calibers mounted there. Note the wind deflector forward of the opening and that the twin guns are mounted at the center of the window, not more forward as was standard for the single-gun installation.

A view from inside the YB-40 looking forward, showing the improved dual waist gun installation. The YB-40 introduced the staggered waist gun layout to the Flying Fortress design, this picture shows a modification to improve the ammunition feed to the guns. Note the large quantity of ammunition carried for these guns and the effort to shift the weight forward.

A major innovation was the installation a Bendix remote turret under the Bombardier’s position to improve forward firepower. Both German and Japanese pilots quickly discovered the relative weakness of frontal firepower of the Flying Fortress and concentrated their attacks from the nose whenever possible. This installation proved a success prompting Douglass to install Bendix chin turrets on the final eighty-six B-17Fs they produced, the Bendix turrets became standard at all three manufacturers with the B-17G model. This YB-40 does not yet carry cheek guns for the Navigator, although these would be added later.

YB40_08_42-5743_Woolaroc_42-5741_Chicago_ 92BG
Twelve YB-40s were assigned to the 92nd Bomb Group / 327th Bomb Squadron for combat trials where they flew missions from May through July 1943. This is 42-5743 “Woolaroc” and 42-5741 “Chicago” which operated from RAF Alconbury. The port cheek guns have been fitted on both these aircraft.

YB40_09_42-5736 -Tampa Tornado 92nd BG 327th BS
42-5736 “Tampa Tornado” at RAF Kimbolton during an open house for local schoolchildren. The subdued national insignia is apparent, Neutral Gray was substituted for the more usual Insignia White.

The Tampa Tornado again with two sisterships at Alconbury. The YB-40 experiment was not deemed a success. While firepower was improved it was still not sufficient to deter the Jagdwaffe. The YB-40 contributed nothing to the total bombs on target, and the weight of the additional guns and ammunition made it difficult for the YB-40s to keep up with a B-17 formation, especially after they had released their bomb loads.

The YB-40s were withdrawn from the European Theater and redesignated as TB-40s where they served Stateside in the gunnery training role. Here is 42-5925 along with four Bell P-63 King Cobras on a training flight.

Here is 42-5741 Chicago again, likely at RFC Ontario at the end of her service life. Note the lack of armament and the large training “buzz number”. Upon her return to the States she was renamed “Guardian Angel”. All of the YB-40s were scrapped after the war, none survive today. In the final assessment the YB-40 program contributed improvements to the defensive armament of standard Flying Fortresses, primarily the staggered waist gun positions and the Bendix chin turret in the nose.

YB-40 missions log from Wikipedia:

29 May 1943 – attacked submarine pens and locks at Saint-Nazaire. Smaller strikes were made at Rennes naval depot and U-boat yards at La Pallice. In the attack, seven YB-40s were dispatched to Saint-Nazaire; they were unable to keep up with B-17s on their return from the target and modification of the waist and tail gun feeds and ammunition supplies was found to be needed. The YB-40s were sent to Technical Service Command at the Abbots Ripton 2nd Strategic Air Depot for modifications.

15 June 1943 – four YB-40s were dispatched from Alconbury in a raid on Le Mans after completion of additional modifications.

22 June 1943 – attack on the I.G. Farben Industrie Chemische Werke synthetic rubber plant at Hüls. The plant, representing a large percentage of the Germany’s synthetic rubber producing capacity, was severely damaged. In the raid, 11 YB-40s were dispatched; aircraft 42-5735 was lost, being first damaged by flak and later shot down by Uffz. Bernhard Kunze in a Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-2 of JG 1 over Pont, Germany. The 10 crew members survived and were taken prisoner.

25 June 1943 – attack on Blohm & Voss sub shops at Oldenburg. This was the secondary target, as the primary at Hamburg was obscured by clouds. In this raid, seven YB-40s were dispatched, of which two aborted. Two German aircraft were claimed as destroyed.

26 June 1943 – scheduled but aborted participation in attack on the Luftwaffe air depot at Villacoublay, France (primary target) and also the Luftwaffe airfield at Poissy, France. The five YB-40s assigned to the attack were unable to form up with the bombing squadron, and returned to base.

28 June 1943 – attack on the U-boat pens at Saint-Nazaire. In the raid, the only serviceable lock entrance to the pens was destroyed. In this attack, six YB-40s were dispatched, and one German aircraft was claimed as destroyed.

29 June 1943 – scheduled participation in attack on the Luftwaffe air depot at Villacoublay, but aircraft returned to Alconbury due to clouds obscuring the target. In the raid, two YB-40s dispatched, one aborted.

4 July 1943 – attacks on aircraft factories at Nantes and Le Mans, France. In these raids, two YB-40s were dispatched to Nantes and one to Le Mans.

10 July 1943 – attack on Caen/Carpiquet airfield. In this raid, five YB-40s were dispatched.

14 July 1943 – attacked Luftwaffe air depot at Villacoublay. In this raid, five YB-40s were dispatched.

17 July 1943 – YB-40s recalled from a raid on Hannover due to bad weather. In this raid, two YB-40s were dispatched.

24 July 1943 – YB-40s recalled from an attack on Bergen, Norway due to cloud cover. In this raid, one YB-40 was dispatched.

28 July 1943 – attack on the Fieseler aircraft factory at Kassel. In this raid, two YB-40s were dispatched.

29 July 1943 – attack on U-boat yards at Kiel. In this raid, two YB-40s were dispatched.

Altogether of the 59 aircraft dispatched, 48 sorties were credited. Five German fighter kills and two probables were claimed, and one YB-40 was lost, shot down on 22 June mission to Hüls, Germany. Tactics were revised on the final five missions by placing a pair of YB-40s in the lead element of the strike to protect the mission commander.

Serials from Freeman:

41-24341 XB-40 prototype


42-5733 Peoria Prowler

42-5734 Seymore Angel, later renamed Red Balloon, Old Ironsides

42-5735 Wango Wango, lost on Hüls raid 22JUN43

42-5736 Tampa Tornado

42-5737 Dakota Demon

42-5738 Boston Tea Party

42-5739 Lufkin Ruffian

42-5740 Monticello

42-5741 Chicago, later renamed Guardian Angel

42-5742 Plain Dealing Express

42-5743 Woolaroc

42-5744 Dollie Madison










42-5833 TB-40 crew trainer

42-5834 TB-40 crew trainer

42-5872 TB-40 crew trainer

B-17 “Dreamboat” conversion here:

Eduard Focke Wulf Fw 190A-8/R8 of Willi Unger in 1/72 Scale

Focke Wulf Fw 190A-8/R8 of Unteroffizer Willi Unger, 12./JG 3, Barth Germany, 20 May 1944.  Built from the Eduard kit.

Fw 190A-8/R8 of Unteroffizer Willi Unger, 12./JG 3, Barth Germany, 20 May 1944.  Ungar achieved 24 victories, 21 of them heavy bombers.  He survived the war.  This aircraft is fitted with the unusual Krebs Gerät (crab device), a 21cm mortar which was designed to fire backwards as the fighter passed through an Allied bomber formation.  It was quickly withdrawn from service as being impractical to aim accurately.  Markings are from EagleCals #8.









Marine Tank Battles In The Pacific Book Review


Marine Tank Battles In The Pacific

By Oscar E. Gilbert

Hardcover in dustjacket, 356 pages, illustrated

Published by Da Capo Press January 2001

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1580970508

ISBN-13: 978-1580970501

Dimensions: 6.0 x 1.2 x 9.0 inches

This book follows the use of tanks in the United States Marine Corps during the Second World War.  For the Marines, the war in the Pacific against the Japanese brought a set of unique obstacles.  The first which would have to be overcome is the US in general and the USMC in particular lacked armor, especially effective tanks of modern design.  This was exasperated by the lack of the sealift capacity to land them quickly and in sufficient numbers to support the infantry.  When (or in some cases if) they could be brought ashore the Pacific islands were not ideal tank country and many were unsuitable is various ways; Guadalcanal was a muddy jungle; Tarawa drowned tanks in shell craters; Cape Gloucester was a swamp; Peleliu was an oven with no water; the black sands of Iwo Jima bogged the tanks down.

The tenacity of the Japanese defenders was legendary.  What they lacked in dedicated anti-tank weaponry they more than made up for in bravery.  Mines disabled many tanks, these were planted in likely approach areas or hand delivered by infantry who perished as the mines detonated.  Marine tankers quickly learned to operate in groups for mutual support while also being supported by infantry to prevent being swarmed.  The Japanese would employ 47 mm anti-tank guns from concealed bunkers, when fired from close range these were quite capable of penetrating the armor of the Sherman medium tank.  Many garrisons were also equipped with 75 mm anti-aircraft guns which were capable of penetrating the frontal armor of the Sherman at most ranges.  Japanese tanks consisted of the Type 95 Ha-Go and Type 97 Chi-Ha series.  In the few tank on tank battles these proved inferior to U.S. armor and were vulnerable to the Marines Infantry’s 37 mm anti-tank guns and bazookas.

This book is well-researched and depends on numerous first-hand accounts to convey what each campaign was like.  The Marines pull no punches in their accounts which are often detailed and graphic.  There are numerous action photographs presented which should have been a highlight of this volume but unfortunately these are not reproduced well, suffering from overly dark tones with little contrast on plain paper.  In several cases the captions call out interesting details for the reader which are invisible due to the poor presentation of the photograph.

Still this book is valuable, being a detailed and well-researched history of one of the more neglected aspects of the Pacific War.  If a subsequent printing corrected the issues with the presentation of the photographs it would also be useful as a modeling reference.  In spite of the problems with the photographs I can recommend this book for the quality of the research and presentation of first-hand narratives.