Guest blogger: Robert Jackson of the 379th FS, 362nd FS

Robert Jackson’s widow Joan shared this story with me a few years ago. The military is a big thing, and also a small place! Here’s Jackson’s story, which he dictated many years ago:

 

During WWII we had an old UC-78 in the 362ndFG that we used for little things. If we ran out of bomb fuses we would have to go someplace and borrow some fuses from another outfit and we could do that in a UC-78, which could carry 100 bomb fuses. We couldn’t carry those a P-47, so it was a good little utility aircraft. I learned to fly it because it was a good Cessna product from home.

 

One morning, about 4 a.m., two guys, including Jim Ashford, whose home was Honolulu, Hawaii, came in and woke me up and said, “Come on, we got the UC-78 all loaded up with our stuff. We’re going home. But we have to have someone to fly it back from Paris.” They couldn’t fly it – they weren’t checked out in it. I had just my underwear on, so I pulled on my flying suit and went out and got in the airplane.

 

“Hey, we can’t fly this thing,” I said. “You’ve got it too loaded down with your stuff.”

 

“Dammit, new man, don’t worry about the load on it, just get in and fly it” was the response. So we flew it to Paris, landed at Villacoublay – a good landing – taxied in, and had to get it turned around to park it. We broke the tail wheel while turning around.

 

What did these guys do? Unload all their stuff. “Well, so long Jackson, have a good tour.  See you.” And they took off.

 

I waited around about till 8 o’clock and went into operations. The ops officer in there was a major navigator. I had never heard of a navigator ops officer before. So, I asked him if they had any parts for a UC-78 and he said no, since they did not have any assigned there.

 

“Do you know where they might have any parts?” I asked. He said that the UC-78 depot was at Cambrai, up in Belgium.

 

“Have you got any P-47s here?”

 

“Yeah, we have some war-weary ones.”

 

“What’s my chance of flying one up to Cambrai to get a tail wheel assembly for the UC-78, fly back here and fix the plane?” Well, he didn’t know about that. This navigator didn’t know anything about flying and didn’t know if he could loan me a P-47 or not. I was getting irritated at him. It was getting late and I had not had anything to eat. I didn’t have any identification, didn’t have any money – I was just supposed to fly Ashford and the other pilot there and fly right back. I went to the billeting office and they said they would fix me up with a razor, bar of soap etc. and allow me to spend the night at the billet.

 

There was an Officers’ Mess down at the billet.  “Do you have any clothes?” the clerk asked.

 

“No.”

 

“Oh, General Lee runs the place and he is a real stickler, and you have to have on a green blouse and pinks to get in the place.” Hell, I was hungry so I went anyway. I went into the mess and they wanted ID etc. There was a whole line of people behind me. The maître d’ asked if there was anyone who could identify me. No one from our group was there. The 362nd never got to places like this. The lt. colonel behind me said, “I’ll take care of this. You from the 362nd?”

 

“Yes sir.”

 

“I’m from the 9th. Who is your CO?”

 

“It’s Col. – uh – uh…” Hell! I couldn’t remember his name to save my neck. “Oh yeah-it’s Col. Laughlin.”

 

“What, Laughlin? Well, this young man is a member of the 362nd, let this man in.” The maître d’ said “Oh yes sir. Take that table way back there in the corner, lieutenant.” Which I did. The lt. colonel said he would pay for my dinner and see me when I got home.

 

The first course was soup and I had just started eating when I noticed a girl way over on the other side of the room sitting with about five other officers. She looked just like my cousin Maxine Patterson from Wisconsin in a nurses uniform. It couldn’t be! Well, I thought, I’ll finish the soup first before I go over there in case it isn’t Maxine and I get thrown out of this place. Well, it was Maxine and she was there with her boyfriend Bob Rouse, whom she later married. They took me back to St. Clue, 99th General Hospital and fixed me up with a uniform and found some lieutenant’s bars. Then I went back out to Villacoublay to try and get the airplane thing straightened out.

 

Finally the major navigator said, “you be sure and bring that airplane back here.” Hell, I had to get my airplane fixed in order to go home. This dumb navigator didn’t think I would come back. I checked the forms and it was okay except it was on a Red X – one time flight to the depot. The aircraft was to be dismantled. What the heck – I signed it off, jumped in and flew up to Cambrai.

 

Upon arrival, I asked the operations officer, “Hey, I’m looking for some parts to a UC-78.”

 

“What’s that?”

 

“One of your airplanes.”

 

“Don’t have any, all we have are P-51s and a few other planes. UC-78? Let me look this thing up in the log. Yeah, they have those things up in Holland at this place.”  I’ve forgotten now where in Holland this place was, but I went out to get in my P-47 and the crew chief said “Lieutenant, you’re not going to fly this airplane are you? This is on Red X for one-time flight to the depot in Burtonwood in England where they are going to tear it up. This is one of those war-weary ones that is about to fall apart.”

 

“Well, if I just take it this far…”

 

“Can’t let you do that, lieutenant!”

 

“Well, son of a gun, what type of airplanes do you have here?”

 

“Mostly P-51s.”

 

I go back in and talk to the operations officer in Cambrai and ask him if I can borrow one of his P-51s, go up to Holland and get a part for my airplane. “Sure!”

 

I took the P-51, flew up to Holland and they said “What’s a UC-78?” This is about 3 days now that have gone by. I asked them for their field phone so I could call Etain and the 362nd Fighter Group. I got Col. Laughlin on the line: “It’s a long story sir, I’ll explain when I get back.”

 

“You get back now.”

 

“But sir, I have this P-51 that I have to get back to Cambrai.”

 

“ Don’t worry about that Jackson, just fly it back here. You have missed about 2 missions!” I fly back to Etain, land and park the P-51 where they tell me to and about three days later the thing disappears. I don’t know where it went.

 

Now fast-forward 23 years to 1969. I get out to Hickham (Honolulu) and I run all the time out there. For some reason, this brigadier general named Favor saw me running one time and came up to me one day and said, “Jackson, you run about as slow as I do, do you mind if I run along with you?”

 

“Oh no sir, general. Go ahead.”

 

Everyday for about three months we ran together. Nothing was planned – if he wasn’t there I would go ahead and vice versa. He would never say a word except, “Ready to go, Jackson?’  “Yes sir!” and we would run, go to the scan room and take a steam bath and the general would say “Well, see you tomorrow Jackson.” That’s all the contact we ever had.

 

We were out there one day –the general and I – and I look up in front of me and I see this guy running. It’s Jim Ashford – the guy I took to Paris in the UC-78! I caught up with him, stuck out my foot and tripped him a little. Ashford looks around to say a few words and I asked him if he was Jim Ashford. He answered “Yes.”

 

“You son of a gun you left me at Villacoublay 25 years ago.”

 

“You’re Jackson, aren’t you?” Ashford was now the head of the Air National Guard in Hawaii, and he would come out there about once a week to run.  So, we all ran together and I introduced him to Gen. Favor, and then go back to the scan room for our steam bath. We were still talking when Jim says, “what in the hell ever happened anyway?”

 

“Well,” I said, “I was there at Villacoublay to get an airplane and this operations officer was a dumb navigator. Can you imagine a navigator being an ops officer?  He loaned me a P-47 to take up to Cambrai and this thing was on a one-time flight, so I borrowed a P-51 and went on up to Antwrep. Then I called Uncle Joe on the telephone and he said ‘get your ass home. Forget about your damned airplanes, we’ll take care of that later.’ So, I went on home.”

 

Jim said “Son of a gun, isn’t that something. I’ve got to get back to the office. I’ll see you later, Jackson.”  The general is still sitting there in the Scan room. And you know, everyone sat with a little distance between them. Finally, he comes over and sits right next to me. “What’s this?” I think. And he says “Jackson, that’s one of the funniest stories I have ever heard. Can you imagine meeting that guy 25 years later, 8000 miles from where he left you. By the way, do you remember me in the story?”

 

“Do you mean, about me and Ashford?”

 

“Yes, do you remember the dumb navigator Jackson?  WHERE IS MY P-47?”

 

 

Advertisements

Fairey Gannet AEW.3 Part 6: The finish, and the finish

When last we left off, the Gannet AEW.3 was ready for decals. But there was a catch: the markings in the kit for XL471 are for 1977 – after the plane had stopped flying from Ark Royal. The black and white stripes on the finlet are too few in number and the B-flight marking hugs the tail leading edge where it should not. I wanted the 1975 markings from the Gannet AEW.3’s last carrier deployment. Print Scale Decals’ sheet for the Gannet includes 1975-era markings, so I used them instead.

The decals are a bit thick, but they behave themselves once they’re on the model. Decalling was nearly drama-free with the exception of some of Sword’s beautiful data markings, which desperately wanted to fold over on themselves. I used photos of XL471 to place the markings appropriately – every one of these planes was marked differently, the photos show – and discarded some of Sword’s tiniest markings because they looked like scratches in the paint instead of stencils. I also used black decal trim film to create the non-skid walkways and the deicer boots on the leading edges of the wings.

Print Scale provided the outlines of the vertical fin and finlet deicers as decals – a nice touch, if you can deal with the stress of applying these thin decals. I also added a strip of black decal to the leading edge of the vertical fin.

All the major markings on the model, minus the leading edge de-icers.

With the decals in place, I applied a fresh coat of Future and, once it was dry, gave the model a sludge-wash with a mixture of dish soap and Payne’s gray watercolor paint. When the excess wash was removed, I added some small fluid leaks using a .005 rapidograph pen. I identified areas where fluid might leak and applied a few small dots at corners of panels or behind or below hinges. Before the ink dried, I smeared it backward with my fingertip. If the effect isn’t what you want, you can remove it with water on a cotton swab and try again. The key is to not over-do it – a few leaks are one thing, but consistent leaks over the entire model would indicate a poorly-maintained aircraft and would look wrong.

I flat-coated the model with two coats of heavily-thinned Testors Dullcote, which gave the model a mostly-flat appearance but kept a bit of shine, just as a well-maintained finish would show in real life. The leading edge de-icers and walkways were sprayed with a much less thinned mixture of Dullcote to totally deaden the shine in these areas.

The propellers were painted next. A note to the personnel of the Fleet Air Arm: could you have just painted these things in a standard way? Nearly every photo I found had different colors (white or yellow) applied in different places (stripes, tips) and in different widths. I settled on a combination of yellow tips for the front propeller and broader white stripes for the rear propeller. The painted props were brushed with Future and received their small decals from the Sword sheet. Take care to mount the props in the spinners first, though – the decals should be in the same place on each blade, but without the spinners you’ll miss the fact that much of the base of the rear props is contained in the spinner. The decal goes outside of that, and then you can use the rear propeller to line up the decals on the front propeller.

I painted the spinners, the tailhook and the front of one drop tank white, followed by yellow. The single drop tank was done for a reason: in my research, I discovered that Gannet AEW.3s would often fly with one tank and pylon, on the left side, because the tank would blank out the AN/APS-20. No tanks provided the best coverage but limited endurance, so many times the planes would fly with a single tank in a counter-clockwise orbit, keeping the tank facing the inside of the orbit (and the fleet).

Next came the step I dreaded the most: painting the spinner stripes. The sadists in “B” Flight, who clearly hated scale modelers, applied 11 concentric yellow and black stripes to the two spinners of their Gannets. Mustering my courage, I began applying strips of cut-down Tamiya tape for curves, carefully monitoring the distance between stripes. The top of the spinner was completely masked off, since it would all be black; the black tip and last yellow stripe would be dealt with last.

After several hours of masking, I airbrushed black as lightly as possible to minimize paint creeping under the tape. After it had dried a little, I started peeling stripe after stripe and was astonished to see it had all worked out! I masked off my work and put the tip of the spinner through the appropriate sized hole in a circle template, and painted the tip (and defined the last yellow stripe at the same time). My modeling nightmare turned out not to be as bad as I’d feared! After this, the tail hook and drop tank were a breeze.

The painted spinner, with propellers. You are getting sleepy… sleepy…

The canopy came from the Sword aftermarket kit. I cut the vacuformed canopy off the carrier sheet and removed the windscreen, then dipped it in Future and allowed it to dry. Later, I masked it, painted it black and then EDSG, and added the yellow “cut here” markings from the Sword decal sheet. It received a second dip and was set aside for final assembly. The Print Scale sheet also included two very thin parallel white line decals; I used them to replicate the seals around the windscreen panels. I could measure the perimeter of each pane and cut two identical pieces, which were transferred to the windscreen and then given a coat of Future to seal them in place (decals can’t grip bare transparent plastic very well). It took 10 tiny strips to finish the windscreen. Once they were dried, I used scenic glue to install the tiny photoetched windshield wiper included on the kit’s photoetched fret.

The white decal strips neatly replicated the windshield seal, and the wiper came from the kit.

Nothing from here could progress until the plane was on its landing gear. The main gear were notable for their lack of axles – there was nothing for the wheels to fit on to! I drilled holes into the main gear where the axles should be, and then used Albion Alloys tubing to make new axles – which I fit into the wheels. I found it easier to add the axles to the struts on the finished model than to slip the wheels onto the axles. The main mounts we cleaned up and I removed the anti-torque scissors with a motor tool. These were replaced by photo-etched parts from Eduard intended for the Gannet ASW.2. Photoetched brass tie-downs, painted solder brake lines, and other small details were added to the struts, which were finally outfitted with a small placard decal swiped from a Hasegawa weapons set.

One right, one left. The placards read, “if you can read this, put down my damn model!”

The nose gear was much more complex. I removed the single retraction strut and the anti-torque scissors and removed the mold lines by scraping them with a No. 11 blade. Then, I started adding bits from the Eduard set, including attachment points for the two retraction struts. These struts interfaced with the front hinges of the nose gear doors – so I had to fashion new hinges from strip styrene for the doors as well. The struts were made from two lengths of telescoping Albion Alloys brass tubing, which would allow me to adjust their lengths during final assembly. I also re-made the towing bracket on the front of the gear and added the shrink struts and other details to complete a rather complex set of landing gear.

The nose gear, before the application of paint.

The nose gear plugged into a nice hole in the nose well bay, but the mains fit poorly into odd box-shaped holes on the outer sides of the wheel bays. Their retraction struts also rested on a raised ledge on the forward walls of the bays. These two things made mounting the main gear a challenge, which was only overcome by patience and careful application of CA glue.

The right main gear installed, with the shrink strut added.

I painted the wheels and tires as I usually do, but I applied a lesson I learned building an Airfix M6 bomb service truck. After painting the tires an appropriate dark gray-brown, I applied pastels ranging from black to brown to them. This weathered the tires, but it also made them dead flat – exactly as worn rubber should appear. The wheels were joined to the struts – some adjustment was needed to the both nose wheels in contact with the ground – and with that the model was on its gear.

The nose wheel. with the retraction struts anchored to the door hinges.

Next, the various antennas were removed from the sprues, cleaned up, and CA-glued to a popsicle stick for painting. The CA adheres well enough for painting, but the parts can still be easily detached. They were then added using photos as a guide. The pitot sensor is not called out in the instructions – it goes below the outer left wing.

One of the sensors on the belly of the machine was revealed in photos to be a round, hollow cylinder with a tube inside of it; the kit part was much simplified, so I drilled it out and added the internal tube from a bit of solder. After it was painted and added, it’s barely visible – but it’s a neat detail!

The landing light bays were painted gray and fitted with an MV lens of the proper size. A small “wire” was added from fine solder, and the covers were cut from clear packing tape. These were cut slightly oversized and adhered on their own; any overlap of the painted areas was carefully brushed with Dullcote to eliminate its shine.

Gear doors came next. The mains were butt-joined to the lower wing at the edge of the wheel wells; the nose gear doors went into place and had the nose gear retraction struts extended to the front hinges. A painless process!

The pylons and tank were added next. I had to adjust the profile of the lower edge of the pylons to allow the tank to sit at the appropriate angle; they were then CA-glued to the wings. Since there were no attachment points, I was careful to get them aligned. The tailhook went into place with no fuss at all.

I un-masked the boarding ladder recess and set about making a ladder. The ladder cover folded over to form the lower rung of the ladder; the outer side of the ladder folded up and had an extension to reach the lower rung. The cover was made from .005 styrene, while the rest of the ladder was very carefully assembled from .020 by .020 styrene. The extension was made of wire. It was painted, assembled and added to the model with a shocking lack of hassle.

The boarding ladder is a small but colorful detail and was shockingly easy to make.

The AEW.3 had two different aerial arrangements, early and late. Naturally, the late arrangement was the weirdest. The antennas were suspended between the top of the tail and antenna masts on the fuselage spine by springs mounted on the inside of the finlets. I made mounting plates for the finlets from .005 styrene and drilled holes to mount tiny lengths of .006 acupuncture needles, which would double as my springs. I also drilled a hole in the tippy top of the leading edge of the vertical fin and added a small bit of metal rod as the mast. I tweezed a fiber from a pair of black panty hose and, using CA glue, tweezers and a lot of care, strung it from post to spring to tail to spring to post.

Asymmetrical installation. of UHF aerials, with the “springs” on the finlets clearly visible.

The radar observers’ doors came from the resin set for the radar compartment, but I found the interior detail lacking. It was sanded off and I replaced it with fine solder, styrene and photoetched bits. I also used Apoxy-Scuplt to mold the roll-up blinds used to blank off the windows in the daytime so the operators could see their screens; straps were made with flattened fine solder. After these were painted they were added to the top of the doors’ interiors.

The kit door windows are domed on the outside but are flat on the inside. Thoughtfully, Sword provided replacements in vacuformed plastic that are true domes inside and outside. Somehow, I managed to throw mine away after cutting the windscreen off the clear carrier and I found them only after going through my workshop trash can item by item, CSI-style. That was one problem solved. Then I had to cut these domes out and get their tiny circumferences round. Once that was done, I dropped one of them on the floor and spent 20 minutes trying to find it. Upon its location, it was immediately adhered to the window opening with Future, which sticks well and doesn’t mar clear parts.

Domes on, and handles yet to come. Here, the doors have nearly been crushed by a quarter.

Tiny bits of .020 styrene rod were placed on the inside and outside of the doors, and photoetched handles (sourced from random bits of photoetched sheets intended for P-51Ds!) were carefully added. The doors themselves were CA-glued in place, along with a brass support rod.

The radar observer’s compartment door, detailed and in place.

Next, I substituted .020 by .040 styrene strip for the four outer wing antenna provided in the kit as photoetched parts. I used Dullcote as the adhesive and left the plastic white to match the real items. These antennas seen to have been located strategically so future modelers could knock them off!

The final step was to apply that crazy propeller and spinner. And with that, it was done – what I hope is an attractive model of a rather homely airplane! I learned a lot building the Gannet AEW.3 – the Sword kit is good but leaves a lot of areas to the modeler to detail. If you have references and patience, you can fully flex your modeling skills on the AEW.3!

Fairey Gannet AEW.3 Part 5: Only Shades of Gray

When we left off on the Gannet back in January, the wings were on and we’d added the wing-tip lights and the leading-edge bays for the landing lights. In September, I finally picked the model up again (after spending time finishing a CF-100 building a Fokker Dr. I and doing a lot of work on a Firefly F.Mk. I – but these are totally different stories). Part of the delay was that I had lost the canopy/windscreen. I couldn’t find the darn thing anywhere, and an email to Sword vanished into the electronic ether with no response to be had. Months passed and I finally resigned myself to finding an alternative, the transparent part re-materialized on my desk. Perhaps I had confused it for the cockpit glass to a Firefly, or perhaps it just managed to elude my searches, but in any case I was back in business.

 

The first point of order was to get the horizontal tails on properly. There are no mounting points for the tails (which is weird, since the wings had them) and so their locations were suspect. It would be easy to get the horizontals too far forward or aft; studying drawings and photos was a must in placing the first one. I attached it with CA glue and had a minimal seam to address at the join. The other horizontal fit a little less well but the seam was handled with Mr. Surfacer 500. Alignment of the horizontals is a snap when the finlets are in place: hold the plane by the wing tips, looking at it from its blind spot below the tail, then rock the tail down. The winglets should touch the wings simultaneously on both sides.

Next came the windscreen. It was cut from the canopy with a cutoff wheel in a motor tool, and the trailing edge was sanded to shape and the whole thing was dipped in Future (or PFM, or whatever it’s called this week) and allowed to dry overnight under an overturned bowl for dust protection. The fit of the windscreen was pretty good, save for some minor gaps on the front left side which were eradicated with Mr. Surfacer. I masked the transparent panels with Parafilm M.

 

Next, I handled the jet exhausts, which were located just below the leading edges of the wings. The kit provided the exhaust shrouds in halves, with the exhausts themselves also in halves. I found the exhausts’ thickness to be all out of whack compared to photos, so I knew I’d have to make new ones. First, though, I had to get the shrouds built and installed symmetrically on the fuselage. The shrouds went together easily, with a little sanding needed at their seams and on the bottom edges to even them out, and then onto the fuselage they went. There’s an outline on the fuselage that gives a hint of where they should go. After a lot of test-fitting I went for it and CA-glued them into place; they fit with the merest of seams and Mr. Surfacer again came to the rescue.

 

As for the exhausts themselves, I first tried to bend brass tubing to shape. No dice – the odd semi-airfoil shape was impossible to impart on brass. Next, I tried stretching plastic rod, which was a tremendous waste of time. What could I have on hand that could fulfill the role? A visit to the kitchen’s junk drawer yielded three plastic drinking straws of various diameters. In Goldilocks style, one was too small, one was too big but the third was just right. I cut short segments to length and bent them carefully to shape, leaving them in the shrouds for several days preserve their new profiles. Then I pulled them out, airbrushed them with Testors metallizer burnt metal, and set them aside for final assembly.

 

Now it was time for real painting. First came black – I sprayed it over the windscreen as the interior color, and outlined the panel lines. This pre-shading in almost never really visible after the final paint job, which is just what I want. I masked the nose (to prevent paint getting into the open intakes) and prepared my first color.

 

Convention holds that you paint the light colors first. Convention is stupid. You paint the color that’s easiest to mask first. In this case, it was the extra dark sea gray (EDSG) on the top of the fuselage, the wings and the tail. I broke out the AeroMaster gunship gray that had served me so well with the Firefly FR.5 and applied a coat over the appropriate areas – including the wrap-around on the wing leading edge. This was important to get with the first color because of the inconvenient position of the exhaust shrouds.

 

Looks nice! But what is that gray?

The paint went down beautifully – but there was a problem. It didn’t really look like the color photos of Gannets in my references. Roy Sutherland said it wasn’t dark enough, and he was right. I started experimenting and came up with a formula that worked: 17 drops of ocean gray, 2 drops of dark sea blue, and 6 drops of PRU blue. The paint was sprayed on the model and worked perfectly; the model was clearly a dark gray in indoor light, but took on a blue tone in sunlight, just like the real airplane.

The right shade of EDSG makes a big difference…

Much Tamiya tape was harmed in the making of this model.

I masked the appropriate parts of the model – wings, lower leading edge, tail, and upper fuselage – with Tamiya tape. The demarcation on the fuselage was described with Tamiya’s tape for curves, which worked beautifully. Wedges of foam were placed in the radar observers’ compartment openings and the wheel wells and boarding ladder cutout were stuffed with wet tissue paper. Testors sky type S was loaded into the airbrush and I went to work on the bottom of the plane. For whatever reason, my Paasche VL would only spray a small bit of paint before stopping; repeated cleanings didn’t fix the issue. The fact that my gray shades worked wonderfully led me to the conclusion that the sky type S was causing the problem. I persisted – in fits and starts, the entire Gannet was treated to a neat coat of this weird gray-green color.

 

When the masking came off, the result was superb. There were five minor areas that needed touch-up: an area on one of the rudders where too much pre-shading was visible, the areas around the radar compartment doors, and the demarcation on the nose and tail on the left side. Matching the camouflage side to side can be tough, and I really fretted over getting this right. My research found two distinct demarkations on Gannet AEW.3s: one that broke down at the back of the canopy and then pinched toward the center of the nose and a second that lacked that break, continuing a straight line from where the paint curved up on the tail all the way to the pinch in the nose. The plane I was building, XL471, had the latter according to my photos.

 

My issue was that the EDSG wasn’t perfectly symmetric on the nose and on the tail. The right side was the least accurate, so I remasked the nose and the upward curve toward the tail and repainted. Success! All the touch-ups went without flaw and now, looking down on the model, the demarcation of the EDSG is identical from side to side.

The model was now ready for decals. But there’s a catch: the markings in the kit for XL471 are wrong. The black and white stripes on the finlet are too few in number and the B-flight marking hugs that tail leading edge where it should not. Replacements exist, but they are hard to find; there were two Model Art decal sheets with the markings, and AlleyCat’s spectacular sheet includes XL471. All of these are impossible to obtain. Fortunately, the very day of this minor crisis, Print Scale Decals’ sheet for the Gannet was released and I bought a set. I await their arrival!

 

Next time: decals, weathering and the landing gear.

On this date in 1944: Chuck Yeager’s easiest victory ever

On the 357th FG’s mission to Bremen on October 12, the 363rd FS was tasked as the rover squadron, ahead and to the right of the first box of bombers. Above Steinhuder Lake, 22 Bf 109s crossed directly in front of the squadron. “I was coming out of the sun and they were about 1 ½ miles away at the same level,” said Lt. Charles Yeager. Before he could open fire, two of the German pilots simply rolled over and bailed out! “I was the closest to the tail end of the enemy formation and no one but myself was in shooting range. I dropped my tanks and then closed up to the last Jerry and opened fire from 600 yards. I observed strikes all over the ship, particularly in the cockpit. He skidded off to the left and was smoking and streaming coolant and went into a slow diving turn to the left. I closed up on the next Bf 109 to 100 yards, skidded to the right and took a deflection shot of about 10 degrees. I gave about a three-second burst and the whole fuselage split open and blew up after we passed. Another Bf 109 to the right had cut his throttle and he was trying to get behind. I broke to the right and quickly rolled to the left on his tail. I got a lead from around 300 yards and gave him a short burst. There were hits on the wings and tail section. He snapped to the right three times and bailed out.”

“My element leader, Lt. Richard Roper, was shooting at two Bf 109s when I told him to break left into a Bf 109 that was coming in from 7 o’clock high,” said Lt. Frank Gailer. “Being about 300 yards behind, I tried to pull up under the enemy aircraft – I pulled up sharply, fired one burst and snapped onto my back as I went above the enemy aircraft. I saw him do a wingover and head down from 18,000 feet.” Roper scored two kills, giving the three pilots eight victories in all. In exchange, Oberstleutnant Josef “Pips” Priller of JG.26 bagged Lt. Herschel Pascoe; he ended up as a POW.

Second try’s the charm: Special Hobby’s Firefly F.I

I battled my way through Special Hobby’s Firefly FR.5 a few years ago, and found that it was missing details, the fit was rough and it had no useable ordnance. It was also missing the formation and landing lights, the landing gear had to be scratch-built, and the gear doors needed to be replaced and detailed. Also, the exhausts were easily knocked loose, the slipper tanks didn’t fit and the gun fairings needed to be replaced.

 

Other than that, this is a great kit! My FR.5 took a second at the 2017 IPMS/USA Nationals, which was a really pleasant surprise considering the amount of work it took to get it together.

The finished Firefly FR.5, wearing Royal Australian Navy markings.

So, what do you do to recover from such a model? You build another one!

 

Actually, that’s not true. I finished up the excellent Eduard 1:72 Fokker Dr.I and salvaged a shelf-of-doom Avro CF-100 Canuck first. But the memories of my first Firefly were fresh in my mind – so I figured I’d at least know when the rough spots were coming and have a better chance of avoiding them on my Firefly F.1.

 

The F.1 was the first Firefly in combat. Although it was never widely deployed during WWII, the Firefly was in on all of the Fleet Air Arm’s big actions in 1944 and 1945, most notably Operation Tungsten (the attack on the Tirpitz) and Operations Meridian 1 and 2 (the attack on oil refineries at Balikpapan in Borneo). The Fireflies were used primarily for flak suppression on those missions, but later demonstrated their ability as a fighter-bombers while ranging over Japan. The Firefly didn’t look like a classic fighter, but the Fireflies of 1770 Squadron shot down nine Japanese planes (four Ki-43s, four Ki-51s and a Ki-44), their 20mm cannons proving lethal.

 

The Special Hobby Firefly F.1 is less deadly than the FR.5. The FR.5 has wing-mounted radiators that impaired the wing-fuselage fit and those miserable slipper tanks, but the F.1 does not, so I expected the F.1 to be easier. I conveniently forgot the F.1 has a chin-mounted radiator and strange carburetor intake ducts, so the degree of difficulty is about the same.

 

However, I came to this fight armed with knowledge of the kit’s quirks. That helped a lot!

 

My first stop was, as usual, the cockpit. The resin and photoetched parts in the kit are rather nice, and I realized during this build that Special Hobby includes different details specific to the variant for the rear of the observer’s cockpit among its resin parts. These include the cockpit floor, the forward bulkhead and control panel bulkhead, the cockpit sidewalls, the cockpit rear bulkhead and seat, the forward bulkhead and radio shelves for the observer, the observer’s cockpit rear shelf and the observer’s rear bulkhead. These were all painted a very dark gray, then all except the instrument panel bulkhead were shot with British interior gray-green from the direction of the top of the part, which imparts a nice shadow effect. The F.1 had a green interior, while the FR.5 was primarily black – something I learned from the previous build.

All the detail parts were lightly glued to some spare chopsticks for ease of handling during painting.

With the basic colors in place, I applied a dark gray wash, then drybrushed the parts with a lightened shade of interior gray-green. That set me up to pick out the details; I started with the radios in the rear cockpit, which were carefully painted in slightly different shades of black, then detailed with switch and dial detail. Switches were picked out not with a brush but with the end of a fine wire; dials were detailed, then given a drop of Future to simulate a glass dial face.

The various radios in the observer’s compartment were detailed and lightly weathered – even though they’re hard to see once the models’ finished!

That basic approach was used on the sidewalls and the rear shelf. Once the detail was painted, I very carefully drybrushed these parts with a lighter gray, then gave them an even more careful drybrushing of aluminum to indicate chipping and wear.

 

The photoetched instrument panel was airbrushed a very dark gray and drybrushed with a lighter gray, and the acetate instruments had their backs painted white. I used the same wire for detail painting to add the colored bezels to three instruments: the red bezel around the boost pressure gauge, the blue bezel on the radiator temperature gauge, and the yellow bezel on the oil temperature gauge. I cut out the acetate and added it, adhering it with more Future.

The control panel is very small but still benefits from some detail painting.

The compass in the kit was a little lacking, so I substituted one from the Obscureco Tempest Mk. V detail set (when the sprues aren’t quite perfect, I set them aside – if you need one, let me know!). The compass was painted, the face was drybrushed and the clear lens was added with Future. Once dry, it was added to the bottom of the instrument panel.

The Obscureco compass looks at home below the instrument panel.

The Bakelite seats were painted using ModelMaster burnt sienna, then washed and weathered. The seatbelts were painted in a light tan color and the buckle hardware was carefully detailed with a dull metal color. Details behind the pilot, were painted green and blue, and the headrest was finished in a semi-gloss black color.

The cockpit, with its Bakelite seat and the detailed sidewall.

Next, I painted the tailwheel well and the exhausts. The previous build showed that the design of the exhausts was faulty: They had to be added before the fuselage halves were joined. That meant they were susceptible to being knocked loose in to the fuselage, resulting in a frustrating process of rattling the parts around until they poked through the slot and then carefully re-gluing them. This time, I got smart: I CA-glued styrene strips on the tops and bottoms of the exhausts from the inside, increasing the surface area for the CA to grab on to. Then, I added a rectangle of sheet styrene inside the fuselage over the exhausts, again adding more CA and more reinforcement.  I also added some styrene strip to sandwich the tailwheel well in place and prevent it from coming loose during construction.

 

The cockpit parts all fit into the fuselage reasonably well. The one weak spot is the sill of the observer’s compartment; in real life, it’s a single shaped piece, but the kit requires three resin parts to link together perfectly to form the sill. Instead, I added strips of .005 styrene to cover the joints and create a single-piece sill.

The observer’s seat and a few of the partial sill, which was replaced with strip styrene.

The radiator for the nose came in two resin pieces: a front, which included the bottom of the nose below the spinner, and the exhaust section. I painted these Interior gray-green, then masked and painted the radiator faces a steel color. The parts were carefully located in the nose and set in place with CA glue.

 

With the interior in place, I joined the fuselage halves, then added the cut-out section that housed the arrestor hook. The fit here was sloppy, but lining the cut-out with .005 styrene on the sides made the fit nice and snug and reduced the sanding and filling to a minimum.

 

The radiator scoop in the chin had a gruesome seam down the middle, and the usual techniques for sanding were useless. Instead, I made a .005 styrene shape that fit tightly into the nose and painted it interior gray green, too. After smoothing the inside of the intake as much as I could, I added the styrene shape with plenty of CA glue. Once dry, I trimmed any excess and then sanded the lip. Just like that, I had a seamless intake.

Seam in the chin intake? What seam in the chin intake?

The carburetor intakes are mostly included on the fuselage, but for some reason their openings are provided as small resin pieces. I used and engraving bit in my motor tool to open the openings, then used a curved microfile to clean up the interiors. These were added to the fuselage ducts with CA and smoothed with files. These intakes really should be oval, not half-circles, but the kit provides oval photoetched covers that should disguise the intakes’ true shapes.

The fuselage, joined up and described. The silver Sharpie ink on the top of the fuselage helps reveal unfilled seams.

Next came the clear parts. I knew the observer’s canopy would sit proud of the top of the fuselage, so I sanded the bottom of it carefully until the problem disappeared. Then, I used a cut-off disk in my motor tool to open the observer’s canopy, carefully cutting and then filing the edges to get a good, square opening. I also separated the sliding canopy from the windscreen. All the removed parts would be replaced by vacuformed parts later. The transparent parts were dipped in Future and placed under a bowl to dry in order to avoid dust settling on the still-wet parts.

The canopy was sanded down to ensure it fit without standing proud of the fuselage…

…And then a black Sharpie was run around the edges to provide the inner lip and to eliminate the strange reflective appearance of the clear parts where they glue on to the model.

The kit gunsight broke off somewhere during construction, so I replaced it with A Quickboost GM2. I cut a piece of the Quickboost-provided acetate and sanded it to have the correct round reflector glass. I carefully ran a black Sharpie pen around the reflector glass’ perimeter, creating a “frame.” The gunsight was added to the top of the instrument panel and painted and airbrushed in place, then the reflector was added to the gunsight with white glue.

The gunsight and reflector both in place atop the instrument panel.

The windscreen was added next in order to protect the gunsight. The observer’s canopy came next. Both were added with CA glue, and the fit required a lot of extra sanding; the canopies were polished back to clarity with several grades of fine sanding sticks and a final buffing with Blue Magic auto polish. A final brush-applied coat of Future completed the clear parts.

 

Next time: the wings and, wheel wells and the propeller!

Silencing “Slender Bertha:” the 377th FS vs. the gun that nearly killed Patton

As Third Army pushed its way across France, Gen. George S. Patton established his headquarters in the city of Nancy. Patton moved into a villa in the city, and his other senior officers established residences in other nearby grand houses.

 

German intelligence deduced this and, to disrupt the command of the army, it moved a 28cm railroad gun into place in the railway tunnel at Teterchen. The Germans made 22 of these guns, nicknamed Schlanke Bertha(“Slender Bertha”); they could throw a 255kg high-explosive projectile up to 39 miles. The weapon had to be aimed by using curves in the track to point the barrel at the target, then adjusting the size of the explosive charge and the barrel angle.

 

The guns started tossing rounds into Nancy on Oct. 5, but the first significant barrage took place in the early morning of Oct. 11. A dozen shells were fired at the city, one destroying a theatre just 50 meters from the command post of XII Corps.

 

Orders were issued to the flash and sound teams of the 7th, 14th and 286th Field Artillery Observation Battalions to detect the source of the shells through their sophisticated microphones and electronic ranging equipment.

 

Their efforts resulted in the silencing of other railroad guns, but the gun shelling Nancy remained undetected. On October 24, the Germans fired another 16 shells into the city, and one of them struck the house directly across the street from Patton’s residence. Patton himself helped to dig out two of the victims, and while he was doing so two more shells landed nearby, pelting Patton and his officers with flying debris. In letters home, Patton confessed that he had never been more frightened in his entire career than he had been that night.

 

By October 27, using sound-ranging analysis, intercepted wireless traffic, aerial reconnaissance and French civilian reports, Third Army intelligence concluded that the gun’s most likely hiding place was the tunnel at Teterchen. Orders went out to the XIX Tactical Air Command to bomb the tunnel, and the task was assigned to the 362nd Fighter Group.

 

The 377th Fighter Squadron drew the mission, scheduled for October 27. Bad weather pushed the mission back to the morning of Oct. 28. Four flights of four  P-47s took off for what the squadron’s journal called “another one of the bad-weather missions.” The group encountered no flak en route; upon reaching the area, the controller, Ripsaw One, directed them to the target.

 

“We could see the tunnel through about 8/10th clouds at 300 feet,” the squadron journal reported. “Red One and Two went down first while the rest of the squadron orbited above the cloud. We had 500-pounders with four-second delay fuses, so Red One and Two buzzbombed the west end of the first section of the tunnel, all four bombs entering the tunnel and exploding. The smoke poured out of a ventilator on top of the hill and out of the east end of the tunnel.

 

“As Red Three and Four came in to bomb the east end, One and Two strafed three flak cars and an ammunition car that was firing on the second element, silencing the guns and setting two on fire. All other flak positions in the vicinity, about four of which were firing at the time, ceased fire when the flak cars were strafed. Meanwhile Yellow flight came under the overcast by elements and bombed the tunnel, getting good hits on the entrance and inside.

 

“Red first element and Yellow first element then went to work on the locomotives in a marshalling yard just east of the tunnel, strafing 13 locomotives, about 15 cars, and a roundhouse. At this time Red leader was hit by flak and headed home. Yellow leader took over but had to head out immediately due to lack of gas. Red and Yellow flights had done the work on the tunnel, so Blue flight brought their bombs home. Red Leader and Red two came out on the deck with only one gun position firing at them, and that firing into one of their own towns. Uneventful return to base.”

 

The 377th caught the 28cm gun inside the tunnel and dumped two tons of bombs at each end. Of the eight bombs, seven actually entered the tunnel, damaging the gun and killing a dozen of its crew. On November 27, when the 95th Infantry Division occupied Teterchen, a corps artillery unit visiting the scene interviewed the Hargarten station master. He told them the killing bomb was skipped into the tunnel, where it burst just back of the gun, buckling the carriages and killing 12 of the men.

 

The group journal recorded this mission nonchalantly as “another tunnel-busting trip,” but Nancy was never shelled by the Germans again.

 

Local paper headlines: “Laurel Flyer Drops Bombs from Thunderbolt Down Gun Turret of Nazi Tiger Tank”

Robert Campbell was a member of the 378th FS, 379th FG. The contemporary press reports may not be chock full of accurate detail, but they are entertaining! This was from the April 3 issue of the Marshalltown Times Republican:

Flying his P-47 Thunderbolt fighter-bomber, “Peg of My Heart,” Lt. Robert W. Campbell recently dropped a 500 pound bomb down an open gun turret of a Nazi Tiger tank during an attack in which his flight of three Thunderbolts destroyed 40 vehicles and six tanks near Bitburg, Germany. An account of some of the missions in which the flier has participated was sent to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Campbell of Laurel by a public relations officer of the Ninth Air Force.

“We were on an armed reconnaissance in the area,” the release said, quoting Lieutenant Campbell. “I spotted a convoy of 50 trucks and tanks dispersed in a woods alongside a road. Peeling off in a steep dive, I aimed for five tanks near the edge of the road. One of my bombs went right down the middle of an open gun turret of a Tiger tank. As the bomb exploded inside, the tank seemed to jump right into the air. When it landed it was a burning mass of twisted steel.”

“I gained altitude quickly and came in on the deck at over 300 miles an hour strafing. I must have got 11 trucks on that first strafing pass for I could see my tracers hitting at least 20 vehicles. I circled and came back in knocking out six more trucks. German soldiers were running like mad for open foxholes in the woods and alongside the road.

When we left, my flight had destroyed 40 vehicles and six tanks in the attack that lasted about 20 minutes,” said Lt. Campbell.

Robert Campbell (left) and Roy Christian horse around on a captured 88. Christian would be KIA by flak, but Campbell completed his tour.

In another mission, Lt. Campbell dived out of the sun in his rocket-carrying Thunderbolt at over 350 miles an hour to attack and destroy a two story house used by the Germans as a command post, west of Bitburg, Germany.

“The ground controller called and told me the house was being used as a German command post.” said Lieutenant Campbell. “I went down to look it over for a good steep approach. Circling back up into the clouds, I rolled over on my wing with the sun behind me and dived 3,000 feet and fired two rockets that exploded in the house.

“It seemed to crumble in two and began burning. I released another rocket into the two story structure for good measure.”

Lieutenant Campbell shot up five armored vehicles and three gun positions several miles from the command post with one strafing pass on his way back to the base.

Flying barely 50 feet off the ground over American infantrymen advancing near Echternach, Germany, recently, Lieutenant Campbell led a squadron of Thunderbolts in pumping .50 caliber bullets into the German defenses less than a mile away despite adverse weather conditions.

“That day the weather was poor as we came in low over the heads of our boys who were less than a mile away from forward German positions,” described Lieutenant Campbell. “As they saw us the boys waved and two Yanks threw their helmets into the air.

Heavy small arms fire greeted us as we began firing into the Jerry positions. We made another strafing run and then attacked an enemy-held town and 12 vehicles. Climbing back up into the overcast we headed home.”

Lieutenant Campbell remembers well one particular day last August when his group was attacking Brest harbor where German light naval ships were attempting to evacuate German soldiers from the city of Brest. While dive-bombing the ships, word was received at his base that the lieutenant had become the father of a baby boy.

“When I landed and they told me the good news, I practically fainted,” grinned the Laurel high school graduate who helped sink five merchantmen and damaged a German cruiser in the harbor.