Gone West: Dwaine Thwing, 379th FS, 362nd FG

Last year, I spoke to Dwaine Thwing about a mission of the 379th Fighter Squadron, 362nd Fighter Group that was rather out of the ordinary. In a change of pace from the constant bombing and strafing missions of the previous weeks, the 379th flew a mission of mercy on December 9. The 90th Infantry Division had crossed the Moselle River, but had then been cut off by the Germans in a small woods shaped like a horseshoe, according to Lt. Robert Searl, and they were unable to move up supplies, most importantly much-needed blood plasma. Volunteers were requested from the 379th; four P-47s carried plasma and medical supplies in modified drop tanks, while a second flight provided cover. “The weather was lousy with barely enough visibility that our mercy mission leader, Capt. Charles Brokaw, could find the exact spot (for the drop) and we could keep each other in sight,” wrote Searl. “Brokaw led the blood plasma flight, which had to pinpoint their drops in the open end of the ‘U.’” Brokaw and his wingman, Lt. Brandon Nuttall, planned to go in first while Searl waited with his wingman, Lt. Charles Everett, just across the river with the cover flight. “The drop had to be made as close as possible to the tree line so that our infantrymen would have the least exposure while retrieving the medical supplies. Brokaw got his tanks right on target and (Nuttall’s) were just a little out from the forest edge.” After Red One and Two got back across the Moselle, the second element made its drop pass. “Obviously our infantrymen didn’t expect a second pass as my tanks almost hit some of them who had come out to get Red One and Two’s drop,” Searl said. “After release, we’d hug the ground and make a turn away. Luckily for us, the Germans did not have much anti-aircraft artillery to shoot at us. However, they began shooting up a barrage of mortar shells over the open field which we had to pass over on our way out of the drop zone. It looked like the field was a volcano erupting before us. My wingman’s tanks would not release when he pulled the lever, so we went back four or five times with no success. Brokaw and I knew from experience that it was almost certain they would never release, but (Lt. Everett) was so committed to getting those emergency supplies to the troops that we let him try at least 10 passes, still passing through mortar barrages, to no avail. The flight leaders were awarded distinguished flying crosses, and the wingmen the air medal for this mission.”

Officially, some confusion remains about this mission. A commendation sent by Major General J.A. Van Fleet, commander of the 90th Infantry Division, and further endorsed by Headquarter, Third U.S. Army, the 100th Fighter Wing and the 362 FG, to the Commanding Officer of the 379th FS lists the participants as Capt. Brokaw, Lt. Dwaine Thwing, Everett and Lt. James W. Nance. Undoubtedly, some of these men were in the cover flight.

I have the official report because Mr. Thwing was kind enough to send it to me. I’d sent him a note and he was kind enough to call me, out of the blue, several weeks later. We had a brief chat, and as it turned out, he lived in Paso Robles, California, not far from my in-laws. I thanked him, and planned to call him when my schedule permitted to further clarify the story of the Moselle plasma drop. At Christmastime, I even entertained the idea of paying him a visit when we went to visit the folks, but dismissed it to spend more time with Elizabeth’s family.

Yesterday, I received an e-mail from Fern Mann, the keeper, organizer and guardian angel of the 362nd FG Association. She’d received a note from Gene Martin that Dwaine had passed away.

My sympathies are with Dwayne’s family – losing a man who had been a presence in a family for so long can never be easy. In the meantime, I’m kicking myself for a missed opportunity. I could have called or visited Dwaine at any time in the last several months, but never got around to it. It makes me sick and disappointed in myself that I squandered this opportunity.

No more. I’m not going to quit my job and go at this stuff full time, but I am going to resolve to get these men on the record as soon as I am able. No more fitting things into my schedule when I have a chance – the priority list has changed.

Dwaine, I am sorry I missed a chance to have a longer conversation – but I thank you for your service and for your object lesson to me as a historian.

Mustang Aces Speak February 21

I just got the flyer for the next Northern California Friends of the Aces event, which is coming up very shortly – February 21. Whether I go may be the subject of some negotiation, since the IPMS/Santa Rosa contest is the day before in Petaluma and I am under orders not to turn entire weekends into all-airplane events.

Anyway, the guests at this Mustang Aces symposium are very interesting. They include:

Maj. Charles Hauver – 5 kills, with the 355th FG
Lt.Gen. George Loving, 5 kills with the 31st FG and author of the book Woodbine Red Leader , which I wrote about here.
Maj. Fred Ohr – 6 kills with the 52nd FG (and the only Korean-American ace!)
Capt. David Wilhelm – 5 kills with the 31st FG

There’s a big 15th Air Force presence here and a story you don’t hear nearly as often as the Eighth Air Force tales. The Mediterranean gets very little attention, even today.

The event’s at the Vacaville Performing Arts Theater, so I doubt we’ll do a model display. These events are always inspirational and give you a direct connection to history, and the organization always does a first-class job of presenting them. To get more information of the event, call (408) 725-8095 or e-mail ncf@hot-shot.com.

Cleanliness is next to Impossible… I mean, Godliness

You would never know it to look at most modeler’s workbenches, but scale modeling is a game of cleanliness. You want a degree of sharpness in your build – uniform panel lines, obliterated seams, consistent alignment, crystal clear transparent parts – but to get there you need to be clean, too. You need to keep your airbrush clean, for example, and your brushes. The dust needs to be kept down, lest it get below a layer of paint or a decal and cause a fatal problem. Your paint needs to be under control or it could end up as a fingerprint or a spot on a paint job. On and on it goes.

The irony is that most of our modeling desks are catastrophes – junk yards, save for a 10-inch square where we do our immediate work. I admit that mine is a mess, and last Friday that mess got me.

I was packing up to go to my local IPMS chapter when I accidentally tipped over a bottle of thin super glue. Because I was not observing the cleanliness rule, there was no lid on this bottle, and when it hit several drops of glue squirted out. And, also because I was in too big a hurry to clean up, they went right onto the side of my P-51D. The painted P-51D. In natural metal.

It was not a fatal blow – I sanded the offending drops off later, and I’ll rescribe the panel lines shortly, too. The drops landed on the rear fuselage, ahead of the tail – probably the most accessible area on the model for such clean-up. But it did not have to happen, and it delays the already-delayed Mustang’s completion. I had the model in a mostly assembled state (fuselage, wings and tail all together) as a display item for the Obscureco wing and P-51D-5 conversion back in Anaheim – which is three IPMS/USA Nationals ago. It should not take three years to build a 1:72 P-51, but when you do stuff like what I did Friday, it elongates the build process.

I’m going to put a little extra into keeping the workbench clean this week; I have a lot of models at a somewhat advanced stage, and the last thing I should be doing is adding problems to them. Hopefully, by this time next week, I can show you a photo of my work space – a clean work space. Now that I have thrown down the gauntlet to myself, I have some work to do…

65 Years Ago Today…

Although the collapse of the bulge signified the writing on the wall for the Germans on the western front, it would require an immense price to be paid by the allies to get the Germans to read it. Jan. 14, 1945 demonstrated that, as the 362nd Fighter Group lost two planes and one pilot, a contribution to the toll of victory.

Six missions pounded targets in support of III Corps that day. The haul was 68 trucks, 10 armored vehicles, nine horse drawn vehicles, eight field guns and four flak positions. The 378th’s first mission sent 11 planes north of Bastogne, where they destroyed four gun positions and 10 trucks and bombed the villages of Hamiville and Minchamps under the direction of Capt. Wilfred Crutchfield.

The railroad yards at Krettnich were hit by the 379th, and 10 tank cars and an ammunition car were left exploding. “After we had been in the target area for approximately 45 minutes and had already dropped our bomb load, Lt. (Russell T.) Kaufman called me and said he had a tank spotted and I told him to go down on it and I would follow him,” reported Lt. Leo Szarfinski. “Lt. Kaufman started down and I followed him and saw him fire, at which time I was able to see the tank. I saw Lt. Kaufman pull off the target and start to pull up through the overcast, which was low and thin. I continued the attack on the tank and when I pulled off and up through the overcast, I looked around for (Kaufman) and saw a P-47 75 yards behind me. This was the last pass Blue Flight made as Red Leader called and said he was setting course for the field. I did not miss Lt. Kaufman until Blue Flight had joined up on course. I called Blue Two (Kaufman) on the R/T and received no answer. Just as the squadron was leaving the target area a large explosion was seen to lift the top of the overcast in the vicinity that Lt. Kaufman was last seen. It is my opinion that this was probably his plane.”  P-47D-26 42-29267 had indeed crashed, but Kaufman was able to bail out; captured quickly, he spent the next 97 days in camps in Gerolstein, Prum, Limburg, Wetzlar, Frankfurt and eventually Stalag Luft XIII at Nuremburg.

Lt. Gordon McGrath of the 378th was also hit by flak while strafing enemy vehicles hidden in the woods. His flight was guided in by two reconnaissance F-6 Mustangs, and after strafing repeatedly Lt. Donald Stoddard, his flight leader, saw McGrath’s plane burst into flame from a direct hit of apparently large-caliber flak at between 200 and 500 feet which blew the rear third of the plane completely off. McGrath’s P-47D-22-RE 42-26296 turned into a ball of fire, rolled over and went straight in, killing him.

The joy of kits that fit

Some models I build are so rough and need so much work that it’s like hitting yourself in the face with a hammer because it feels so good when you stop. When you get into that sort of masochistic pattern, you need to build a really good-fitting kit.

Today, I built the wings for the FineMolds Zero. The way they molded the wheel wells, you have to attach the upper wings to the one-piece lower wing before you attach the lower wing to the fuselage. This gave me the heebie-jeebies – usually, doing this leaves you with a monster seam at one or the other wing root. But I followed the directions, and I was astonished to find that the wing now virtually snap-fits to the fuselage with a minimal need for filler. Tamiya kits seem clunky by comparison.

It’s been a long time since I built a model with such a good fit. The last two that stood out in this way were the Hasegawa Beaufighter and the Hasegawa A-1J Skyraider. These, like the Zero, fit together so beautifully that your progress is almost unsettlingly rapid. I had to do dumb stuff on those two to slow myself down – I built a full interior for the Beaufighter, and I ordered an engine for the Skyraider that became the hostage of a Canadian postal strike. Still, the feeling of making stride after stride on a project – and not sacrificing the detail and build quality – is tremendously exciting and recalls the old days when you could knock a model out in a weekend and be happy with the finished project.

After brawling with numerous MPM kits (the FH-1 Phantom, XF-85 Goblin and the P-40L Warhawk, most notably), rehabilitating old Monogram kits (the F7F-2 Tigercat), resuscitating old Airfix kits (the AW Seahawk, a real battle), and matching wills with Azur kits (Maryland, my Maryland), the Zero is a real bit of therapy. Instead of sanding joints, and then restoring panel lines and lost detail, I can plan my next steps. It requires much more thought than pure elbow grease, and that’s kind of the way I prefer it!

I am going to slow myself down a bit – I’m going to swap in an aftermarket Sakae engine – but I can build around this, right up to the point of adding the landing gear. I’m also going to add a Quickboost gunsight. But unlike some projects, which feel like uphill battles every step of the way, this model has a relaxed feeling to it, and it’s good for me and for my hobby.

Master plans: A-3 and P-47D-30

The last few weeks, I’ve focused my modeling attention on the A-3 Skywarrior in 1:72. I have long said I want to make a cockpit interior for this plane, and possibly folded wings. The wings will be tough – as will the dropped leading-edge slats – because the wing is so big. I don’t want to create a casting crisis with my partner in Obscureco. But the cockpit is do-able!

The tricky part is that the plane was around for so long that the cockpit changed radically. The major changes were in the right side of the control panel and the rear of the cockpit. So, for the A-3, there was a tail gunner’s remote control panel; for the KA-3B there was a shelf with a table; and the EKA-3B had a shelf with four “black boxes.” On the right side of the rear cockpit were an assortment of boxes and wiring on set of shelves, which differed from plane to plane.

It was a similar situation on the control panel. Flight controls stayed the same, but the right side varied from variant to variant.

So, here’s the strategy: the set will have three different control panels, and three different rear panels with different black boxes. And probably the most in-depth instructions I’ve had to write!

I used the kit parts for a structural base, and several parts from the Eduard set. Eduard gives you good extra details but leaves others out, and there was not much variance between versions. On top of this, I added switches, button and panels Eduard missed, improved on some messed-up details in the Eduard set, and built the panel essentially from scratch using styrene, wire and Reheat photoetched bezels.

I also made new seats, using the kit seats as a starting point and adding oxygen hoses, belts, blower equipment and other details.

It’s not finished; as it stands now, the control panel and rear bulkhead are awaiting casting (I’ll modify them for different versions) so they’re not totally complete. The rear bulkhead needs the jump seat belts, and the right side box is the EKA-3B arrangement, which will be removed or modified for the A-3 and KA-3 rear bulkhead masters. The cockpit lacks detail for the right side except for the oxygen regulator, which was common to all versions. I also have to make all the black boxes for the shelf on the right side and sidewall pieces, which will include the floodlights, hood for the navigator and canteens. Yes, canteens! At least I don’t have to scratch build those – I’ll just relieve some 1:72 figures of their spare gear.

Here are a couple of photos, with the parts just placed together:

Now, I’m switching gears and doing a cockpit master for the P-47D-30 for the 1:72 Tamiya kit. Yeah, I know, the Tamiya kit doesn’t need a new interior. Well, it does for the later Thunderbolts, which did away with the corrugated floor and had several interior equipment improvements. I’m using Tamiya’s ingenious jigsaw-puzzle-like engineering approach, which will allow modelers to use the rear bulkhead from the kit, keeping the price down and helping ensure a good fit. I’ll also include a panel for the lower wing with the landing light in the right place and some compressability flaps. I want to build Joe Laughlin’s “5 By 5” and do it well; sadly, I know more about P-47s than I did when I built a 1:48 Hasegawa Jug for Joe’s 85th birthday, so mine will be more accurate than his. This modeling is a real learning experience…