Checking back on my figures

I was so inspired by Barack Obama’s speech last night… I went and worked on a model! Actually, it’s a 1:72 figure, but it qualifies as a model, since it has two parts. The figure is the same guy seen standing in the cockpit of Roger Fabriconi’s model seen here (although, I gotta say, Mort Magoffin never would have allowed his plane to look so beat up, nor would he have looked so casual at any time! The sleeves rolled up are NOT a Magoffin look!). The figure’s more a of a Pacific Theatre twin-engine kind of guy – Mae West, garrison hat, duffle bag – he’s going somewhere over water, he’s holding some maps, but he doesn’t have a helmet on. I’m not sure how I’ll use him, but he’ll come in handy somewhere.

Figures are fun – you get to mix your own paints, and the heads and faces are real tests of your perception. In 1:72, some of the hardest things to do are ears and hair – often, you have not much to work with and careful painting can achieve a “tromp l’oeil” effect and make the viewer think the figure has ears when really it has little humps or spur-like nodules on the head. What works well for this is to give the figure small sideburns; that defines the ear area and your brain fills in the details. On this guy, I also experimented with a couple of small dots of black from a rapidograph pen, followed by a light coat of skin tone, right in the ear to suggest the folds inside.

Rapidograph pens are great. I have .005 pens in black and red that help me cheat in small areas – a little red in a hollow below the nose or lips, a little black for pupils and eyebrows – and they are hugely useful. This figure has sunglasses, which I drew in with a black rapidograph. I’ll do the same for the gear on his Mae West now that the yellow is largely done (although I still need to hit some high spots). I use the black to draw “placards” in 1:72 cockpits and other minute details that would be too difficult to paint with a brush. I just wish they made a .005 silver pen – that would really come in handy.

Cable enabled

Good news – my father gave me a spare cable for my old camera, so I can start getting photos up on the blog starting tomorrow. I apparently lost mine in Virginia Beach, or maybe it’s lost on my desk… I’m not sure which.

Anyway, there are photos of the landing gear on the FM-2 in there – before it was broken. The new version is okay, but since I built it in situ, I don’t actually know what it really looks like – it’s pretty dark in that wheel well.

Here’s a question for you all – is there anywhere one could get the Xtrakits Sea Vixen or Canberra PR.9 besides Hannants? I bagged my Meteor at the Orange County show, but I saw no sign of these kits in Virginia Beach. Have the Brits hogged them all for themselves?

Gone West: Howard Baugh

I got news today that Howard Baugh, one of the members of the 99th Fighter Squadron in World War II, had passed away. Howard flew a P-40L called “Connie Jeanne,” he knocked down an Fw 190 over Anzio, and he racked up more than 6000 hours before retiring from the Air Force.

He was also a Tuskegee Airman.

I say that because too often we treat the Tuskegee Airmen as sociological phenomena and forget that they were damned good pilots. That was the reason I was excited to write a combat history of the group – not only did it do credit to what they achieved in the air, but it was the book they wanted to read themselves!

That’s what I heard from my friend Woodie Spears, who, like Col. Baugh and Charles Dryden, also passed away this year. Woodie’s brother George followed in his brother’s footsteps and paid the ultimate price during the Korean War.

One of the down sides of writing these books is that so often your primary sources pass away so soon after you talk to them. Luckily, Woody and Chuck Dryden spoke to me while I was working on the book and their stories are saved. But how many stories are never saved?

If you know of an aviator who’s story has yet to be documented, sit down with him and get it down on tape – or call me! I’ll do it!

Reality bites

Well, the P-40’s way behind schedule – I’ll never finish it in time to have it ready for the 31st of August. Ugh. It’ll join the list of partially-finished models and plod along to completion. Depressing, really.

The good news is that the FM-2 is nearly done – and not just done enough for the nationals, but really done. I’ve obtained some Dragon wheels, the landing gear is rebuilt, the antenna aerial is rigged, and the prop is back in place. I have some minor touch-ups to do, and the canopy needs to be re-added and I’m replacing the machine gun barrels, but that’s a short 40-minute session of work. In the meantime, here’s a photo of the model as it appeared at the IPMS Nationals:

It’ll look much better shortly.

Another sign that I am failing to keep up with the times: I was excited to get Academy’s new 1:72 Me 262 last night, and I check for a review on-line to get a feel for what I’d bought. Apparently, this came out almost exactly a year ago! New, huh? What was I thinking…?

Meanwhile, the tourney to choose the next build subject continues. We have another interesting matchup – P-51D vs. B-17…

On this Date in 1944…

There’s a reason that “fighter-bomber” contains the word fighter. The 362nd Fighter Group destroyed 131 aircraft in the air, and several of them fell this day.

On the 378th’s second mission of the day, the squadron’s eight planes tangled with 12 Bf 109s and 20 Fw 190s, destroying six and damaging one. Lt. Joe Matte claimed four of these kills.

“I was flying as Firebrick Yellow Leader,” Matte reported, “which was acting as top cover for Red Flight.” We were vectored to Etampes, and then north to Paris. Red Flight shot up two trucks on the way to Paris at 1545. I was at 5000 feet covering Red Flight at 2000 feet and going down slowly, so I started to climb. Red three called eight (bogies) in to Red Leader and Red Leader acknowledged the call. Evidently, the planes, which were Bf 109s, did not see me as I climbed above them because every one of them was going after Red Flight. I tried to warn Red Leader but some controller cut me out on the R/T. Red Leader saw them in time to start turning to the left. The leader and his wingman wasted no time on Red One and Two, so I went down to break this attack up. The two Huns saw me and started to climb in a left turn with me in perfect position to shoot. As I fired at 200 yards, the No. 2 Hun went inside the turn of his leader. Every round seemed to hit him as he flipped to the right directly into his leader. Two explosions resulted and sent two Huns to earth. No one bailed out.

“I started another climbing turn to the left when I observed four Huns firing on another P-47, so I went down. The number two and three men broke to the right, the leader pulling up to the left in a steep climb. As he did a roll and ended up in my gunsight about 200 yards away, just a short burst blew him to pieces. I flew through the debris and picked up a little blood on my canopy.”

Matte looked to the left and saw a Bf 109 trying to make a deflection shot on him. “I pulled around straight into him, but I didn’t have enough time to shoot so I started to turning to the left with him. In three turns I was almost in position to shoot, so I fired a short burst behind him. This seemed to make him loosen up his turn so I easily pulled a deflection shot at him and let him have a short burst at 300 yards which cut off a part of his left wing. He flipped over on his back and bailed out immediately. The ship continued spinning upside down and one Bf 109 started after another P-47, so I started after him and he broke away to the right. I let him go so I could climb back for cover. My wingman was still with me at this time. As I reached 5000 feet, a 109 overshot me without firing, so I started after him in a slight dive. It was at this time that I spied 20 plus Fw 190s (from JG.26) coming down from approximately 10,000 feet. I then told my number two man to wait until I gave the signal to break. I continued chasing the 109 and was almost ready to fire when I looked around for my number two man and he was nowhere in sight. I looked too long for him, thus allowing the Fw 190s to catch me. When I hit 1000 feet, two Fw 190s were firing, one each from the left and the right. The on the right hit me in the accessory section, and the one on the left hit me in the left wing and tail. The both went under me at the same time and I can’t see how they got past me. The third ship that fired on me shot above but hit the prop and came above me, breaking to the left and up. I turned to the right and down and, as I made a 180-degree turn, I saw two large explosions on the ground, but I can’t claim this to be the two 190s because I didn’t have time to look. I headed for the deck and home and managed to get away from the Fw 190s, but I couldn’t find my wingman.”

Lt. Howard Kelgard saw three Bf 109s make a pass at him and his wingman, then turned away with the P-47s in hot pursuit. “Two 109s broke away,” he said. “The other headed for the deck when he realized I had got on his tail. I fired a 30 degree deflection shot. He started violent evasive actions headed for Paris proper. I closed to about 100 yards, giving a long burst and observing many strikes about the wings and fuselage. I expended my ammunition, then called to Red Four, who was right with me to take over, but his radio was faulty. Then I had to break away.”

Lt. Laurie Greenleaf was flying in the number four position in the cover flight. When the enemy planes were spotted, “We reversed our turn and started down to the left,” he reported. “I was about 200 yards behind my lead man and looking for enemy aircraft as we went down. The first Bf 109 I saw came by me about 25 yards off my right wing, bottom up, and at the same time I saw one high to the right. There were P-47s and Bf 109s going around in a Lufberry to the left. In the mix-up I was uncertain which was my lead man. I started to pull up and saw a Bf 109 come in and fire on a silver P-47 which looked like the one my lead man was flying. I started to fire on one of the 109s from about 1500 feet and 30 degrees. My bullets went behind at first, but I pulled my lead and got strikes around the cockpit and the Bf 109 broke left and seemed to glide. I broke with him and fired a short blast and he started to turn right. He at once broke left again in a near roll and I followed and fired a long burst at him at about 80 or 90 degrees. At first my bullets went behind him, but I pulled my lead up and saw strikes on both wings and either side of the cockpit. As he was in a vertical bank he then flipped to the right and started a long gliding left turn towards the ground with smoke pouring from the plane. I started to go in for another burst, but we were outnumbered and I thought I might be needed in the fight. I started back up looking for the others but could not see a single aircraft, friend or foe. I looked back at the ship I had hit and saw it had crashed to the ground and gone up in smoke.”

he final Bf 109 fell to Maj. Richard Harbeson, the group executive officer. The number two and three men from Matte’s flight went missing from this fight; the likely victors were 44-kill ace Oblt. Wilhelm Hoffman of 8/JG.26 and Lt. Hans Prager of 7/JG.26. The victims came from 4./JG77 and 5./JG77.

Olympics: I can’t watch them and the model at the same time!

I put most of my effort into the FM-2 this weekend, rebuilding the landing gear one strut at a time inside the wheel wells with .020 styrene rod and fashioning a new prop shaft. I also spent a lot of time on the rigging of the aerial, which has been no fun. First, I found that there were about three different layouts for FM-2 aerials – one from the leading edge of the vertical fin to the mast and a line running to an insulator on the left side of the fuselage behind the mast (which is what I chose), one from a mast on top of the rudder to the mast and down to the same insulator, and a third from the leading edge of the fin to the mast and then down to an insulator on the right side of the fuselage ahead of the mast! Egad! Then, when I rigged the mast, I had the excitement of a high-speed aerial mast breakaway caused by the tension of the panty hose thread pulling it off its CA-glue mooring. I finally got smart and drilled a hole in the base of the mast and another in the fuselage, then pinned the mast in place. I haven’t added the drop-down aerial yet, but it ought to be a breeze now that the mast is secure.

I also started afresh on the P-40E, sanding off the ammunition tray blisters on the lower wing. The kit had them protruding about a scale eight inches; the P-40E I saw in Virginia at the Fighter Factory had them, but they were almost flush. I’ll replace them with .050 styrene.

I’ve started the “tournament” to pick the next model I’ll work on – it’s a 128-bracket round-robin, with LOTS of first-round byes. This morning’s winners were the Trislander and the Spitfire. I’m looking forward to the possible second-round match-up of P-51B vs. P-51D. The winner of that looks strong to go to the final four. That’ll probably actually happen around March, so it’s in keeping with the rest of this madness!

Light the Fire, Check for Tires (in the mailbox)

I have a donor for my F4F-4 wheels, and they should soon be in my mitts. I’ll ask Bill Ferrante to make up several sets – not for Obscureco, but for my own long-term Wildcat ambitions. I once planned to do one Wildcat a year for a while, but those ambitions have fallen way behind schedule since 1993 when I started (I have three, now).

In other news, I realized I have two weeks to finish my P-40E for the Fighter Pilots Symposium. Can I do it? Well, I did a Hurricane in two weeks a few years ago, and I have spent a little time on it… We shall see. Actually, having the niece here has been rough on my modeling time, since Elizabeth has been keeping her on a busy social calendar – which, of course, also includes me. Tonight it’s the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art… Tomorrow’s a girls’ night out (clearing the way for me to go to the SVSM meeting, which at first was protested by the wife!). Anyhow, the race is on yet again. Am I ever not in a hurry? (Please don’t mention the Maryland, which I’ve been working on for six years…)

Wildcat Redux

The FM-2 competed in the nationals, and now it sits in a largely disassembled state: no prop, no prop shaft, no landing gear, no landing gear doors, and certainly no wheels. The trip back took such a toll on the gear I had to pull it completely out (the triangular truss was just rattling around inside the well, and the hose detail I added just plain fell out). The wheels, by True Details, are abominations, but a good Samaritan on Hyperscale’s going to send a Dragon F4F-4 wheel that I’d like to copy in resin to replace this wheel. The prop shaft never looked right and it needs to be replaced with something a little more convincing. Had it not been for the damage, I’d have left it alone; as it is now, I’ll get the parts that bugged me right, including the missing aerial antenna.

Will it ever be finished?

Another great IPMS national convention is in the book. I don’t want to repeat too much of what will end up in the IPMS Journal, so I’ll keep it to what happened specifically to me.

My FM-2 was finished, but Southwest Airline’s pilots seem to be shooting for the 1-wire on landing and, as a result, the landing gear was broken on both ends of the trip! Not a problem – I can fix it, and squeeze yet more modeling enjoyment out of the Sword FM-2. It won’t really be done until I locate another Dragon F4F-4 and cast the wheels from that kit – they’re far better than even the Hasegawa wheels (no ejector pin marks on the back sides) and make that kit worth snapping up even if you don’t wish to fold the wings.

I didn’t win anything yet again, but that’s okay. My wife was enraged, however, and demanded to know what was wrong with the judges. I told her that they were clearly encumbered by perfect eyesight and a thorough understanding of the judging rules.

What did I get? Well, I found the CMK landing lights I wanted (and some 1:72 heads and hands), and I got all the show specials – the HL-20, the ECM pod for missile simulators and the decals for the Oceana A-4s that flew with them – but not much else from my list. The Fine Molds A6M2 Type 21 was picked up, with its accompanying magazines, from Hobby Link Japan for about $26, and I got some neat resin stowage and an F-105 interior from Goffy. Warhorse now makes decals for the A-6B Mod 1, so I grabbed them since I can now actually use an Obscureco product. I also picked up some B-24 decals and a couple 5-figure 1:72 packages from Prieser, and that was about it.

Obscureco did great – we moved a lot of resin. I shipped back some inventory, but it shared space with stuff Ben Pada bought, and I essentially emptied one large box of merchandise. Several items sold out, so Bill Ferrante will be busy the next week or so!

The show was wonderfully organized, and Vladimir Yakubov’s winners presentation went flawlessly. Vlad shot something like 5000 images at the show, so we have much fodder for the Journal and for the SVSM Website.

More stories will come later…

Book Report: Max Hasting’s “Retribution”

If you want your history with some attitude attached, you need to read Max Hasting’s latest book, Retribution: the Battle for Japan 1944-45. Not only will it open your eyes to some remarkable events at the tail end of the war, it may dispel the illusions you may carry about the “great men” who led the Allies in the Pacific. Once Hastings gets done with them, it’s apparent that the only thing that distinguishes them from your idiot boss at work is that they have more resources to mis-manage.

It’s easier to list the figures Hastings admires; they boil down to Gen. William Slim, the British commander in Burma, and Adm. Raymond Spruance, who alternated command of the U.S. fleet with William Halsey. Halsey gets called out for the typhoon incident, for leaving the escort carriers untended off Samar in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, and for a general degree of recklessness that would have cost him his command had he acted the same way earlier in the war. Douglas MacArthur get a blistering treatment for his egomaniacal management style, his disdain for intelligence and his fanatical focus on freeing the Philippines, which had ceased to be strategically important by the time MacArthur waded ashore.

The entire nation of Australia takes it on the chin for, basically, bailing out of the war for the most part once the threat to the north evaporated. Did you know that the allied war effort was hampered by repeated dock strikes in Australia, or that the commander of Australia’s forces had been fired from a police job in 1938 for corruption? Neither did I; it’s a tribute to those men who fought in North Africa and with the RAF that their service has largely eclipsed the nation’s later failures.

Britain also takes a pasting, primarily because its fight for Burma was driven by a desire to re-establish its colonial mastery at a time when occupation had acquired a very bad name. Hastings performs a valuable service by recounting the fight in Burma, where the Japanese were actually able to make advances into 1944 before being inexorably driven back across the Irawaddy and into Thailand. The service of the Indian, East African, Gurkha and other commonwealth troops is given a spirited treatment – these, and their British counterparts, are surely the least heralded of all the troops to serve under the Union flag during the war.

China is discussed at length and with a thinly-veiled contempt. Essentially, Hastings demonstrates, the Japanese invaded a country that was too occupied with its own civil war to put up any capable resistance, even in 1944 and 1945 with tons of supplies being flown in over the Hump. Much of this material, he asserts, was diverted into the black market by Chiang Kai-Shek for his own enrichment. The rest of the material was not used against the Japanese, but was hoarded for the inevitable fight with Mao Tse-Tung’s forces once the Japanese had been beaten by the west. Instead of fighting the Japanese, both groups missed no opportunities to hide and husband their resources while the average Chinese suffered starvation, deprivation and worse at the hands of the Japanese. Hasting paints a picture in which it is hard to call anyone a Chinese patriot.

Is there any group that comes in for rougher treatment than China? Yes: Japan. The Japanese commanders are portrayed largely as petty martinets given to pursuing their own pleasures or hopelessly indecisive men whose actions are dictated purely by circumstance. A few are identified at real leaders, but most are shown as mis-managers who condemned their troops to needless death. The true villains – the military leaders in Tokyo who kept issuing impossible orders right until the end of the war – are also painted as bullies who live in a fantasy world. Their dithering delayed the inevitable and led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

The invasion of Manchuria reveals the Russians as anything but heroic as well. The Chinese saw the murderous Japanese expelled by a new army that was equally given to rape, robbery and murder, and the interviews with survivors drip with bitterness.

Surprisingly, Curtis LeMay gets a fairly neutral treatment – as horrifying as the B-29 fire raids were, they were effective. The accounts from the bomber crews and from survivors who were in Tokyo the night of the first fire raid show how effective they were militarily and how devastating they were psychologically. If Japan could have been shocked into surrender, the fire raids should have done it.

Hastings illustrates that the atomic bombs didn’t lead to the Japanese surrender – it was the bombs, the blockade, and the Russian entry into the war that jarred the Imperial staff from its fairyland and, more importantly, convinced Hirohito he had to take some action to avert utter annihilation of the country.

Hastings’ book illustrates that it is much easier to start a war than it is to end one. If you want a fresh take on the history of the end of the war in the Pacific – told with a truly unique and incisive voice – I urge you to read this book.