Don Gentile’s North American P-51B Mustang “Shangri-La” Color Photographs

P-51 B/C Mustang kits in 1/72 scale all have had some nagging inaccuracies, usually in the cowling and / or leading edge of the wings. Modelers have long awaited an accurate kit, and now Arma from Poland has announced a new tool offering. Given their previous releases and the CAD renders, hopes are high that their kit will fill the void. In anticipation, I have begun researching the high-backed Mustangs. One of the more interesting and better documented subjects is Don Gentile’s “Shangri-La”.
Major Dominic “Don” Salvatore Gentile was one of the leading American aces in the European Theater. Ground kills were credited to a pilot’s totals in the ETO.  Including those some sources credit Gentile with thirty victories. Here Gentile poses for the press in his cockpit, Shangri-La displays twenty-one victory symbols.
Crew chief John Ferra helps Gentile with his seat harness straps. Several details are visible in this photograph. Gentile’s P-51B was serial number 43-6913, coded VF-T. Gentile volunteered for the RCAF and flew Spitfires the RAF’s Eagle Squadron, scoring his first two victories during Operation Jubilee.
Photographs from the starboard side are comparatively rare, the press preferring to include the artwork and scoreboard painted on the port side. Note the white recognition stripe on the wing, and the unpainted edge of the flap. The flaps and inner wheelwell doors on the P-51 were held in position with hydraulic pressure. When the engine was off the hydraulic pump was off and the pressure in the system dropped, causing the flaps and wheel covers to droop when the aircraft was parked.
Gentile poses by the nose. The ragged edge of the red paint on the spinner presents a quandary for modelers – an accurate depiction can be mistaken for sloppy modeling. Fortunately there is a way to avoid the issue in this case as the spinner was later painted entirely red as can be seen in the first photograph.
Gentile with his wingman John Godfrey. An ace in his own right, Godfrey named his Mustang “Reggie’s Reply” and was credited with 16.33 victories.
Another view from the same series of photographs, this one showing the identification stripe on the wheel cover and the red wheel hub.
Gentile_08_P-51 B Don Gentile
A beautiful color profile of 43-6913 by aviation artist Claes Sundin. If you are not familiar with Sundin’s work, you may view samples and order his books here:
The Press were very interested in Gentile’s accomplishments, and he played up the swashbuckling fighter pilot image. Returning to Debden from the last scheduled mission of his combat tour on 13APR44 the Press were waiting and Gentile put on a show, making several low passes for the photographers gathered below.
Gentile miscalculated his height and his propeller struck the ground. Shangri-La was destroyed, but Gentile walked away. 4th Fighter Group CO Colonel Don Blakeslee grounded Gentile on the spot.
Back in the U.S. the public affairs types were not yet finished with Gentile. He received a new “Shangri-La”, this time a P-51D, and went on a War Bonds tour. This aircraft displayed a wrap-around checkerboard on the nose and thirty victories.
Gentile in his dress uniform poses with his P-51D. Gentile survived the war but was killed in January 1951 while flying a T-33 Shooting Star trainer.

Vought OS2U Kingfisher Color Photographs Part III

A beautiful photograph of Kingfishers in the “three tone” graded camouflage. The barred insignia with blue outline was in use from August 1943 through the end of the war. (NASM Rudy Arnold collection)
A Kingfisher aboard the portside catapult on the fantail of the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) during her work-ups in the Atlantic, August 1944. The crew appears to be conducting an abandon ship drill. Note the main float of the OS2U is painted Intermediate Blue while the wingtip floats are in Sea Blue.
Another Kingfisher aboard Missouri’s catapult, this example has the individual aircraft number 6 painted on the tip of the float. Missouri’s decks do not yet have their camouflage stain applied.
An excellent view of Missouri’s crane as a Kingfisher is recovered. The gun director tub for the portside 40 mm mount on the fantail is painted with the number “16”.
A Kingfisher is launched from Missouri’s starboard catapult. The catapults could be trained through a wide arc (even across the deck) in order to optimize the wind for launch. The Officer of the Deck was required to calculate the true wind and then determine the proper ship’s course and speed to optimize the relative wind for launching the aircraft.
At the end of the mission the aircraft is hoisted back aboard. Crewmen use steadying lines to keep the aircraft from rotating as it is suspended from the crane.
A well-worn Kingfisher is being rigged to the hoist for recovery. This evolution would present an obvious hazard to the aircrew in rough weather. Note that the wingtips and tail surfaces are painted in a lighter shade of blue, perhaps Blue Gray replacements?
An OS2U approaching the recovery sled towed behind the recovery ship. A hook on the underside of the Kingfisher’s float engaged netting on the sled, allowing crewmen aboard the ship to wench the aircraft into the optimum position for hooking up with the crane.  Practice bomb dispensers are under each wing. 
With the hoist secured the aircraft is ready to be brought back aboard. The sailor in the center of the photograph is maneuvering a boom into position to help steady the aircraft and prevent it from swinging.
A Kingfisher at the moment of launch in early-war markings. Note the position of the observer in the rear cockpit as he braces against the acceleration of the catapult.
A forlorn sight repeated around the world at the end of WWII. Among the types relegated to this boneyard are several surplus Kingfishers, their services no longer needed. Within the next five years advances in jet engine and helicopter technology would render the majority of even the most advanced WWII era aircraft designs obsolete in their intended roles.

Vought OS2U Kingfisher Color Photographs Part II

A training Kingfisher being refueled at NAS Corpus Christy while the pilot waits to board. The uppersurfaces of this Kingfisher have been camouflaged in Blue Gray but the float is Aluminum. Also unusual is the absence of fuselage insignia.  A pair of Consolidated P2Ys are on the water in the background.
Ground crew wait beside a Kingfisher in the pre-war Yellow Wings scheme which was Aluminum Dope overall with Orange Yellow upper wing surfaces. They wear immersion suits to protect them from hypothermia.
Another OS2U in the Yellow Wings scheme. Note that the aircraft number 32 is repeated on the cowling and on the fuselage. It is hard to imagine much of a conversation over the roar of the engine.
Even in the middle of the war, many Kingfishers assigned to training duties had their upper wing surfaces painted Orange Yellow to make them more visible in case of emergency. This could be vital in the event of an aircraft downed at sea, as the fuselage and float color seen here demonstrate the effectiveness of the Blue Gray camouflage.
A section of Kingfishers warm up their engines in preparation for a training sortie. Diorama builders should note the various designs of boarding ladders in these photographs.
A beautiful study of a Kingfisher with beaching gear, which are detachable wheels which allowed an OS2U on floats to be hauled up a ramp onto shore. This aircraft wore camouflage but carried Orange Yellow upper wing surfaces, as can also be seen displayed on the aircraft in the background.
A section of three taxiing for a water take-off. The weight of these aircraft is carried by the center float, the stabilizing floats on the wings are all clear of the water.
The graded camouflage scheme was introduced in January 1943 and consisted of Sea Blue upper surfaces, Intermediate Blue sides, and White undersurfaces.
A beautiful shot of two Kingfishers in early war markings preparing for patrol. This picture gives an excellent view of the beaching gear and bomb shackles under each wing.
A Kingfisher heads down to the water from a Marston mat ramp in the Aleutians. The red outline to the national insignia was only authorized for a short time during the summer of 1943. This aircraft, like many in the Aleutians, carried non-standard insignia as the markings on the upper starboard wing were directed to have been removed several months earlier. The white stripes on the tail surfaces are theater markings.
Instrument panel and cockpit details of a museum aircraft. Note the size and color of the pilot’s lap belt.

Vought OS2U Kingfisher Color Photographs Part I

A beautiful photograph of a formation of OS2U Kingfishers assigned to the USS Mississippi (BB-41). Like most USN floatplane types of the period, the floats of Kingfisher could be easily replaced by conventional fixed landing gear for operations ashore. The aircraft are BuNo 1714, 1715, and 1716. (NASM Rudy Arnold collection)
Another aspect of one of Mississippi’s Kingfishers, showing off details of the Yellow Wings scheme. The blue tail indicates assignment to Battleship Division Three (BATDIV Three), the aircraft are from VO-3. The solid white nose indicating the lead aircraft of the second section. The Squadron’s insignia is visible on the fuselage just behind the pilot, “Oswald the Luck Rabbit” riding a bomb. (NASM Rudy Arnold collection)
Here is a rather worn looking Kingfisher in the Blue Gray over Light Gray scheme and the enhanced national markings authorized from 23DEC41 to 06MAY42. Modelers note the oil streaking on the cowling and the wear to the paint on the forward float strut. The side markings indicate an inshore patrol squadron.
An officer walks between rows of Kingfishers in the wheeled configuration in early 1942. The white blocks on the vertical tails cover the Bureau Numbers of the aircraft, this is likely a security measure – either tape before the picture was taken or the actions of a censor afterwards. (NASM Hans Groenhoff collection)
This Kingfisher is maneuvering alongside a battleship to be recovered. The side code 5-O-7 allows for identification of the aircraft’s squadron and ship assignment. The code identifies Squadron (5), Type (O for Observation, and aircraft number. Observation Squadron Five was assigned to BATDIV Five, aircraft 5-O-7, 5-O-8, and 5-O-9 were assigned to the USS Texas, BB-35. (LIFE magazine photograph)
Another Texas Kingfisher comes alongside. Note the individual aircraft number repeated on the upper wing surface. This was common among Navy aircraft to aid in spotting aircraft. (LIFE magazine photograph)
This Kingfisher carries the national insignia style in use from August 1943. The pilot and observer are watching the aircraft’s approach to a recovery sled, which was a canvas panel towed behind the ship. The Kingfisher had a hook protruding from under the main float which would engage the sled allowing the aircraft to be hauled into the proper position and winched back aboard.
The fantail of the Baltimore-class heavy cruiser USS Quincy (CA-71) with two of her Kingfishers warming their engines on their catapults. Quincy spent most of the war in the Atlantic Fleet, including supporting the invasion of Southern France and embarking President Roosevelt for a summit.
Kingfisher_09_ IowaBB61
Sailors posed in a 40 mm gun director tub on the fantail of the USS Iowa (BB-61) with one of the ship’s Kingfishers on the catapult behind. The Iowa class battleships typically carried two Kingfishers on the catapults ready for launch.
A fine study of one of Texas’ Kingfishers. Considerable spray could be generated even in calm seas. The colorful markings were changed in May 1942, eliminating all red to avoid confusion with the Japanese Hinomaru.
The observer leans out of his cockpit as a Kingfisher comes alongside for recovery. One of the observer’s duties was to climb out onto the wing and secure the crane hook to the aircraft so it could be hoisted aboard.

New York City Vintage Photographs Part III

A flight of Boeing Y1B-17 Flying Fortresses banks in to fly over Manhattan on 28 March 1937. The bombers were assigned to the 96th Bombardment Squadron, which had twelve Y1B-17s on strength. At the time these were the only heavy bombers in the USAAC inventory. (NASM Rudy Arnold collection)

The Royal Mail Ship Queen Elizabeth pulls into the pier with the skyscrapers of New York in the background. The Queen Elizabeth was a huge ship even by today’s standards – 1,031 feet in length and displacing 83,000 tons.

Here is the RMS Queen Mary in her gray warpaint. She served as a troop transport during World War Two and was capable of carrying as many as 15,000 troops at a time. Because of her high speed she was thought to be immune to attacks by German U-boats and made the majority of her trans-Atlantic crossings unescorted. She is pictured returning U.S. servicemen home on 20JUN45. Currently Queen Mary is preserved as a museum in Long Beach, California. She is reputed to be haunted.

The French battleship Richelieu on her way to the Brooklyn Naval Yard on 18FEB43 for repairs and modernization. While under Vichy control she was hit by the British battleship HMS Barnham and suffered an internal explosion in her number seven 15” (380 mm) gun in turret two. After her defection to the Free French she was outfitted for service in the Pacific.

The Dornier Do-X makes an eye-level pass along New York’s skyline on 7 August 1931. The largest aircraft of her time, the Do-X was powered by twelve 524 horsepower Bristol Jupiter engines which can be clearly seen in this view.

A Swedish Airlines DC-4 seen over Manhattan in 1946. It did not take long after World War Two for the international airline industry to establish regular routes between major cities around the world.

Three U.S. Coast Guard Grumman JRF-2 Goose (Geese?) fly formation over New York on 10 April 1940. (NASM Rudy Arnold collection)

Another Coast Guard amphibian in pre-war livery, this time it is a Hall Aluminum PH-3. This photograph was taken on 21 February 1940. (NASM Rudy Arnold collection)

The USS Nautilus (SSN-571) enters New York harbor on 13 May 1956. The Nautilus was the world’s first nuclear powered submarine, and the first to travel to the North Pole under the ice sheet.

The aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CV-4) travels up the Hudson River in 1939.  Considered too slow for combat in the Pacific she operated in the Atlantic for the majority of the war.  She supported the landings in North Africa on 8 November 1942, where her fighters engaged Vichy French aircraft and her dive bombers hit the French Battleship Jean Bart.

B-17E Color Photographs Part II

This is one of the first B-17Es assigned to the Eighth Air Force, 41-2578 “Butcher Shop”, seen at Bovington. Lead bomber of the first 8th AF B-17 bombing mission on 17 August 1942, she was flown by Paul Tibbits. She was the oldest Boeing B-17 in the 8th AF at the end of the war. Note the subdued national insignia on the fuselage.

This Fortress was later named “Tugboat Annie” and fought in the Pacific assigned to the 19th Bomb Group. She was hit by flak over Rabaul on the night of 16JAN43, ditching off Buna. All of the crew survived and was rescued. (NASM, Rudy Arnold collection)

Another view of 41-2599 with Mount Rainier in the background.

A fine study of 41-2600, “Esmerelda”. She served in the continental United States throughout the war.

Three Fortresses in a V formation, the basic building block of the box formation used over Europe. These Forts are 41-9055 “Miss Nippon”, 41-2567, and 41-2543 “Snoozy”.

41-9131 wears the standard U.S. camouflage Olive Drab over Neutral Gray, but the nearer Fortress 41-9141 wears Royal Air Force colors and fin flash. The RAF was programmed to receive forty-five B-17Es but many, including this one, were delivered to the USAAC after completion. (NASM, Rudy Arnold collection)

Another view of the same pair of Fortresses, but this time with less color shift in the negative.

Boeing B-17E
A rather tattered photograph of a B-17E at Wright Field. Note the wear to the paint on the propeller blades.

Mechanics service an engine on a B-17E in Panama. The B-17s assigned to protect the canal saw no combat, but carried a unique white mottling on their undersides and edges of the tail surfaces and wings.

New York City Vintage Photographs Part II

Pilot Howard Hughes and navigator Thomas Thurlow in their Lockheed Model 14-N2 Super Electra over New York City in 1938. They were in the process of setting the world’s record for circumnavigating the globe with a time of 91 hours. Thurlow was a USAAC officer on loan to operate a “robot navigator”, an experimental device used to plot the aircraft’s position.

The Pan American Airways “American Clipper” over New York in 1931. She was one of three Sikorsky S-40 amphibians and could carry a total of thirty-eight passengers.

The USS Santa Ana was a passenger ship taken over by the US Navy and used as a troop transport in the First World War. Here she is seen entering port in NYC in 1919, one of four trips she completed bringing US Army troops home from France at the end of the war.

October 27, 1945 was Navy Day in New York City. Forty-seven US Navy ships anchored in the Hudson River while over 1,200 Naval aircraft passed overhead. The fleet was reviewed by President Truman, and included the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) where the Japanese had signed the instrument of surrender almost two months before. At the bottom of the photograph is the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6), the only carrier to fight through the entire Pacific War and survive.

US Army Air Corps Keystone bombers pass over the passenger liner piers in an impressive display of airpower for the early 1930’s. The Keystones were ultimately replaced by the Martin B-10 but were the largest US Army Air Corps bombers for their time.

After World War Two the era of safe and reliable commercial air travel had arrived. One of the mainstays was the Douglas DC-6, 704 were built between 1946 and 1958. Here an American Airlines DC-6 is seen over Manhattan.

The USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42) was a Midway-class aircraft carrier. Commissioned on Navy Day, 27OCT45 at the New York Naval Shipyard she was too late to see service in WWII. Here she is seen moving down the East River.

Historisk bilde av Manhattan sett fra lufta
A Pitcairn PCA-2 autogyro poses for the camera over Manhattan. Autogyros generate lift with a rotating wing. While they cannot take off vertically like a helicopter, they are capable of taking off in very short distances.

The US Navy rigid airship USS Akron (ZRS-4) over Manhattan in the early 1930s. The Akron was designed to act as a scout for the battlefleet and could carry up to three F9C Sparrowhawk fighters in internal hanger bays. She would be lost in a storm off the coast of New Jersey on 04APR33.

The Akron’s sistership USS Macon (ZRS-5) has her turn at a publicity photo over Manhattan in 1933. She was lost off the coast of California on 12FEB35, the result of structural failure. Macon had a slightly different structure and could carry up to five Sparrowhawks, four internally.

B-17E Color Photographs Part I

Boeing B-17E
This is the first B-17E which was delivered to Wright Field on 03OCT41. It is wearing the Olive Drab over Neutral Gray camouflage scheme and the prescribed set of USAAC markings for the time. Her serial number, 41-2393 has not yet been applied to the vertical tail. The first 112 aircraft carried the Sperry remote turret in the belly position, which is just visible below the fuselage insignia in this photograph. This aircraft did not see combat, it was lost in Newfoundland on 09JAN42.

This is B-17E 41-2397, seen just prior to the Battle of Midway in this screen grab from John Ford’s film. This Fortress is one of only nineteen B-17Es repainted in the Hawaiian Air Depot camouflage scheme. She survived combat and was written off at the end of October 1944.

Here is 41-2405 seen warming up her engines in the pre-dawn twilight on 25JUN42. This Fortress was assigned to various fields in the continental United States for the duration of the war. (NASM Archive, Hans Groenhoff collection)

Another photograph of 41-2405, with armorers loading bombs.

41-2407 was one of two aircraft (along with 41-2399) named “Nemesis of Aeroembolism”. Armament was removed from these aircraft.  Each carried different nose art designs.  She was assigned to the Air Material Command at Wright Field.

Another view of 41-2407. Aeroembolism is commonly known as decompression sickness, where changes in pressure can form bubbles in the blood.

Here is another B-17E in the Hawaiian Air Depot scheme as captured by Ford on Midway Island immediately prior to the battle. This is 41-2437, her red and white tail strips having been painted over the month before. Visible under the fuselage is the Sperry remote turret and sighting dome. She survived her combat tour.

A fine study of 41-2509 and one of the best B-17E color portraits. A crew member can be seen observing the photographer’s aircraft through the fuselage window in the radio compartment.

Another excellent photograph of 41-2509. Modelers should note the black wing walkway stripes and that the wear to the paint indicates that these have been ignored by the ground crew, along with the differences in the Olive Drab finish seen on the canvas control surfaces.

Details of the underside can be seen in this picture of 41-2567, including the large “U.S. ARMY” lettering carried under the wings. The Sperry ball turret was a vast improvement over the remote turret but was cramped, the gunner generally being the shortest member of the crew. (NASM, Rudy Arnold Collection)

New York City Vintage Photographs Part I

In May of 1935 the French liner S.S. Normandie set the world’s record for the fastest trans-Atlantic crossing of 4 days, 3 hours, and 2 minutes. At the beginning of the Second World War the French Line kept the Normandy berthed in Manhattan, fearing German U-boats. After the attack on Pearl Harbor the U.S. took possession of the ship, renaming her the USS Lafayette.

The US intended to use the Lafayette as a troopship and began conversion work. Shipyard welding started a fire which quickly got out of control. Efforts to extinguish the fire eventually flooded enough of the ship to capsize her, and she sank at her moorings at Pier 88.

The hulk of the USS Lafayette was stripped and re-floated, but she proved to be beyond economical repair and was eventually scrapped in 1946. Here a US Coast Guard Grumman J4F Widgeon is seen above the wreck in late 1943.

The battleship USS Arizona (BB-39) was built at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Here she is seen on the East River in New York City returning from sea trials on Christmas Day, 25 December 1916.

A beautiful photograph of the battleship USS Colorado (BB-45) off Manhattan in 1932. Colorado was the lead ship of her class, her sister ships were USS Maryland (BB-46), and USS West Virginia (BB-48). The USS Washington (BB-47) was cancelled while under construction under the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty and sunk as a target. The Colorados had turbo-electric propulsion and were armed with eight 16”/45 main guns.

Sisterships USS New York (BB-34) and USS Texas (BB-35) light up the night sky with their searchlights while visiting New York City for the World’s Fair, 03 May 1939. The Empire State Building can be seen in the background to the right.

A fine study of the Dornier Do-X transferring passengers in New York Harbor, 1931. The Do-X arrived in New York on 27 August 1931 after several mishaps and a ten-month journey. She was to remain in New York for another nine months while her engines were overhauled.

The airship Hindenburg passing over Manhattan on May 6, 1937 on her way to Lakehurst Naval Air Station, shortly before the disaster. Her explosion was captured by several news photographers sent to document her docking after crossing the Atlantic. Remarkably, 62 of the 97 people on board survived the fire and crash of the Hindenburg.

Two Boeing Y1B-17 Flying Fortresses of the 96th Bombardment Squadron seen over New York, 28 March 1937. The US Army Air Corps operated thirteen Y1B-17s, for a time they were the only heavy bombers in the USAAC inventory.

The US Navy airship USS Los Angeles (ZR-3) seen over Battery Park in 1930. She was built as reparations for the First World War at Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH in Germany. She served the US Navy from 1924 to 1932 when she was decommissioned.

USS Choctaw, Civil War Ironclad Ram


The USS Choctaw was built at New Albany, Indiana in 1856, originally as a merchant steamer for trade along the Mississippi River. She was purchased by the U.S. Army in 1862 and converted into an ironclad ram. In 1863 she entered service with the U.S. Navy for action against the Confederacy along the Mississippi and its tributaries. A very fine photograph given the era, note the crew’s laundry drying on the lines forward.

The Choctaw was large for a river steamer, with a length of 260 feet (79 meters) and displacing 1,004 tons. Propulsion was via a steam engine which drove two side wheels. This gave her an unusual profile and a blistering maximum speed of two knots.

Choctaw was given iron armor and a ram on her bow. She carried six guns – one 100 pound rifle, two 30 pound rifles, and three nine inch cannon. Some depictions show an additional gun on her deck in a carriage mount.

At the end of April 1863 Choctaw saw her first combat, a diversionary attack on Confederate positions around Haynes’ Bluff, Mississippi. She was hit by Confederate artillery 53 times during this action, some of these hits penetrating her iron armor. Fortunately casualties among her crew were light. She continued to operate in the area, burning Confederate shipping and yard works there in May.

On 06-07 June she, along with the gunboat USS Lexington, supported Union troops during the battle of Milliken’s Bend. Confederate troops of Walker’s Texas Division (“Walker’s Greyhounds”) were attempting to relieve the siege of Vicksburg. Union forces of the USCT African Brigade and 23rd Iowa Infantry, supported by the gunboats, defeated the Confederates, the Choctaw rescuing many Confederate prisoners from the Mississippi. This was the first major engagement fought by a black brigade during the Civil War. Comparing this to photographs, this is a very detailed and accurate engraving.

In May of 1864 Choctaw participated in the capture of Fort DeRussy along the Red River in Louisiana. It was her last major action of the war. She was decommissioned at Algiers Louisiana on 20 July 1865 and sold to a civilian buyer. This engraving is not nearly as reliable as the previous example, the artist has omitted significant details and has combined features of the Choctaw and USS Lafayette, which had a similar general appearance.

Her profile was dominated by the armored housings for her twin side wheels and low freeboard. Photographs often show her being assisted by river tugs, her low speed and river currents undoubtedly made her difficult to maneuver.

An interesting Tom Freeman painting which shows the deck layout and details of the stays and rigging. The Choctaw’s color has been interpreted in various ways, while Freeman has chosen a dark blue overall here, others have opted for black or gray with wooden decks.

Here is a contemporary photograph, an atmospheric view with a small house on the riverbank in the foreground. Note again the tug assisting aft.


Two views of the crew. Compliment was 106 officers and men.