Christmas, coming early…

In the mail yesterday, I received this –

It’s a Christmas card from Gene Martin, showing the Rareybird flying over the USAF Memorial in Washington, D.C. On the same day, I also received the 362nd FG Association Newsletter and a disk with the logbook of the 379th FS’s Bill Moore from his very generous son, Stan. I haven’t had time to look at it yet, but it promises to fill in many of the blanks about the 379th’s operations in late 1944 – those records were lost by the Air Force, so there is no “official” history.

The best part about doing this kind of research is that you meet people like Gene, and Stan, and Fern Mann – the kind of people we all need more of in our lives. Merry Christmas to all my sources, and all my readers!

The benefits of taking a break…

One hazard of working on multiple projects at the same time is that it becomes difficult to remember where you left off. That befell me the last two weeks, which I had envisioned as tome in which I’d get my P-51D-5 ready for deals and, perhaps, a last push that would result in my fourth finished model of the year. Unfortunately, it took about a week to get the wings painted, because the application of paint spotlighted some rather significant blemishes left when I removed all the panel lines last year. I talked about why I did that here.

There were some small areas I missed when I filled the panels, and they resurfaced under paint as what looked like pits or pinholes. These were re-filled and filed back, but that imparted a slight bit of waviness to the wing that was visible once it was painted, so I wend back and filed the wings down again. This removed the black ID stripes, so I painted the wing and then re-masked and sprayed the black bands.

Once the upper wing was done, I turned the model over and shot Testors buffable aluminum metalizer over the lower fuselage. Guess what? I spotted more goofed-up areas that need attention!

At this stage I set the model aside and consciously took a break. In his case, a break is helpful: I know what to do next, but it will help my attitude to work on something else for a few days. In this case, that’s the A-3 Skywarrior interior I’ve had in the works since August. It’s amazing how building tiny consoles can seem calming after fistfighting with the finish of a 1:72 fighter!

The A-3 cockpit is coming along, but there’s a lot to it, and I’m probably going to provide an EKA-3B basic interior with advice and alternate parts to make other versions. The cockpit of the A-3 changed a lot over its years of service, so the instructions should be a blast to write (he said sarcastically). At present, I have the floor, rear bulkhead and seats all finished, and I have to detail the side consoles and control panel. It will be my most elaborate set yet. And, for some reason, it’s completely relaxing to make. Go figure!

On this day, 65 years ago

My article on the 362nd Fighter Group is in the current issue of Flight Journal; the group’s participation in the battle was merely a continuation of the war they had been fighting for months. For example, on Dec. 12, 1944, the 362nd flew five missions in support of XII Corps and armed recces around Homburg before weather closed things down at 1600 hours. During takeoff for one mission, Lt. McKendree Long of the 377th crashed, but was unhurt; when his rescuers reached the wreck, Long drawled, “Somebody get this damn airplane off my arm!” The marshalling yards at Molsheim were bombed by one squadron, resulting in major explosions. The total claims for the day were two locomotives, 68 rail cars, 25 trucks and a tank destroyed or damaged.

The 379th was working a close support mission near Sarreguemines under a 2500-foot ceiling that afternoon; “Red Leader (Capt. Raymond A. Mitchell) said over the R/T that we would go in while Yellow and Blue Flights circled,” said Lt. Marvin Swofford. “We were to go in fast, see what we could find, bomb, hit the deck and get out. Flak was intense accurate, light and heavy. I dropped my bomb on a small village and hit the deck. When I crossed our lines, I pulled up and looked back and saw Red Leader going straight up and burning. He went into the clouds and I thought he was bailing out. He came back through the clouds straight at the ground.” Hit by flak from an SS anti-aircraft unit on just his fourth mission, Mitchell and his plane “Dickie Boy,” P-47D-26-RA 42-28394, crashed to earth near Reinheim Habkirchen.

The 378th’s mission for the day sent 15 planes to the Worms area, where they knocked out one locomotive and four trucks.

Miscellaneous model musings

Last Sunday I took the P-47, the P-40 and the F-4B to the Silver Wings contest in Sacramento and got skunked. My wife’s comment: “well, you should have expected that – they hate you up there!” I don’t think that’s totally accurate, but it was funny, and since I really didn’t care whether I won anything it did make me laugh.

I never do well at that show; part of it’s because the judging is administered in a somewhat loosey-goosey manner when it comes to applying the IPMS criteria, so the results are less than predictable. I was trying to do something about that as regional coordinator (one of my roles within the International Plastic Modelers Society), but then it was made abundantly clear that the powers that be were not committed to the idea of the criteria being used at the local level on a consistent basis. In Region 9, which is Northern California and Nevada, we’ve stuck to the criteria and the result is very few disputes over contest results. But that’s been a region-driven thing – we have almost no clubs who assume they know better than the rest of us.

To keep things consistent, the F-4B broke again – this time, a nose wheel fell off – but this was an easy fix this time. I picked up the Quickboost set of Japanese type 98 gunsights (which will soon be appearing in my A6M2b) and won a Hasegawa P-40E in the raffle, which will probably become a donor kit in a P-40L build someday.

I also got the Supercale sheet with “The Prodigal Son” on it; I already have the AeroMaster sheet. The differences are striking – on one, the nose art is black with a thick red surround, while on the other the art is red with a narrow black surround. On one the digits in the serial are close together, and they’re farther apart on the other. Luckily, I have a photo of this plane, from Steve Blake’s The Pioneer Mustang Group: the 354th Fighter Group in World War II. For this Mustang, here’s the verdict: AeroMaster’s nose art gets the shape of the nose art correct to a far greater degree than the SuperScale sheet. The codes on the SuperScale sheet have the stencil breaks on the wrong side of the “A” in the squadron code; the AeroMaster codes are a little skinny, but not by much. I feel very reassured than my Mustang will be as accurate as it could reasonably be – once it’s built.

When I came home from the contest, I went to work on the P-51D, and found that my work to remove the panel lines on the wings had not been totally complete. There were some small pits – actually, small stretches of panel lines that had not been filled – and I addressed them, then shot some non-buffing aluminum mixed with a bit of flat gray on the wing. That color replicates the aluminum lacquer paint used on Mustang wings. It kept revealing glue marks, blemishes and surface irregularities; I have the problems now isolated to the quarter inch at each wing root, but I’ll probably strip the whole wing in the process of cleaning things up.

More than half of the planes I’ve built in the last four years have been natural metal jobs. It really is a hassle to get these things prepped for painting, and my choice of schemes does not help. The Zero, with its one-color non-metal scheme, is looking more and more attractive all the time…

B-24D plans change thanks to a chance meeting…

Of all the operations in World War II, the one which always stuck me as the best candidate for a great movie was Operation Tidal Wave, the low-level attack on Ploesti on August 1, 1943. Of course, getting the B-24s and then flying them at low level would have made for difficulties, but the story itself is almost cinematic. It includes the shock of the men at the mission, the elaborate plan, the sequence of things that went wrong, and the heroism of the men who managed to make the mission a success in spite of heavy losses. Now, with CGI technology, I hope that someone takes a stab at this story.

Last month, I had a chance to sit down with Charles Hughes, who flew as part of the 44th Bomb Group during the Ploesti mission. He gave me an hour-long interview about the mission, his crew’s internment in Turkey and their subsequent escape to Cyprus. It’ll show up in the form of an article somewhere, but now I’m hunting for a photo of the plane he flew on the mission, 42-40777 “Flossie Flirt.” Charles flew that aircraft for the one and only time that day, and it absorbed terrible damage; flak shells went through the wings without detonating (they did not have time for the fuses to arm) and he recalled seeing chunks of self-sealing fuel tanks dripping out of them. The plane landed intact in Turkey with all its crewmen alive.

There’s no photo of this plane in Michael Hill’s excellent Black Sunday: Ploesti (loaned to me by the always helpful Mark MacDonald), and I can’t find any images of it in my other references on the B-24. Hopefully, I can run an image down that provides me with enough information to build a model of Hughes’ airplane from that day.