The model giveth, the modeler taketh away (and replaces with sheet styrene)

Most of my effort over the past few days has been devoted to completing my book for Osprey on the 357th Fighter Group, but I have snuck in some work on my 1:72 WC-52. The basic body components and frame are all assembled; I broke down and had Roy Sutherland copy some Academy WC-54 wheels to replace the wretched examples in the Italeri WC-51.

I also found the fit of the rear bed section of the Italeri kit to be absolutely heinous, so much so that I sanded off all the detail on each in an effort to obscure the seams. Not that many years ago, I never would have considered such a thing. Now, I just thought to myself, “oh, nuts! I’ll have to cut some .005 plastic sheet and superglue it where this detail went…”

Some people look at this as a symptom of AMS. It’s surely a sign of an advanced modeler of some kind, but really, modelers have been doing this kind of thing for years. I’ll make those details, put them on the model with CA glue, hit the whole thing with a coat of olive drab and there will never be any sign of the erased and replaced detail – it’ll just look like the original model. I’m very pleased that I no longer really care about such inconveniences – I’m now along far enough in my scale modeling that this sort of work is not only not intimidating but somewhat commonplace. Only I will know it’s there.

On 1:72 vehicles, there’s a lot of that. Most of them lack things like gas, brake and clutch pedals – stuff we who drive cars take for granted. If they’re missing it’s a howler. If they’re there – well, that’s just as it should be.

The intention with this model is to leave the rear open so it can fill a variety of roles on aircraft dioramas. That’s no excuse to make it a full model in its own right.

Now it’s back to the book…

66 Years ago: the 362nd’s Unexpected Tourists in France

On June 17, despite a low ceiling between 1500 and 3000 feet, the 362nd Fighter Group flew a series of armed reconnaissance missions from Cherbourg to Laval, landing at the advance field A-6 after the first mission and flying three further squadron-sized missions. The 378th Fighter Squadron attacked a causeway at Buoneville, docks, warehouses, trucks and horse-drawn carts loaded with ammunition. The 379th Fighter Squadron flew three missions, including a 12-plane mission that destroyed five trucks during their patrol; Bob McKee caught a truck full of troops and splintered it with a strafing attack. A second mission led by Lt. Bill Flavin destroyed three more trucks. Four planes pilots were lost during the day. Lt. Richard Gordon was shot down by flak in P-47D-22 42-26117, and Frank Lee simply ran out of fuel and was forced to bail out; his P-47D-20-RE 42-25304 was seen to plummet to earth and impact in a cloud of dust. The two 379th FS pilots were helped to safety by the French underground, but their escape experience was such that they were transferred out of theatre. A third 379th pilot, Lt. William R. Fredenberg, went down in P-47D-11 42-75593, but he also returned in August after the Allies had taken the area where he had been hiding with the assistance of the French Underground.

The 378th was not immune to losses, either. Blue Flight was on an armed reconnaissance mission and had just broken below the overcast south of Rouen on the Seine when German gunners “laid an accurate barrage,” reported Lt. Howard Kelgard. “Blue Leader took us to the left of the town (Mantes-Gassicourt). Blue Three and Four were ahead of Blue Leader because of the flak. Through the overcast came a flight of 16 fighters, heading out. I called them in at two o’clock, then they started to break in on our rear. I told Blue Leader we’d better break into them. Blue Three (Lt. Frank Glover) was in the lead; he broke and I latched onto his wing. The Jerries’ flight had strung out considerably in an arc, for as we turned into one or two, they were in a position to shoot us from the rear. On the second Lufbery turn, I saw a P-47 heading for the deck in a 70-degree dive. The wings were level, but it never pulled out. It exploded when it hit. There was no chute seen.” This was Glover’s plane, P-47D-22 42-26548, German fire ignited the fragmentation bombs on his right pylon. Glover was burned but he jumped just before the P-47 exploded in mid-air. On the way down, German infantrymen fired at him with their rifles, but missed; Glover used his compass and the maps provided for just such an occasion to head for friendly lines. Some French farmers provided hiding places and food; others were not so eager to aid the American pilot. Eventually, Glover ran into some American troops who greeted him by leveling their carbines and Thompson submachineguns at him. These wary troops were from the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, and their S-2 officer made sure Glover was on a C-47 back to Headcorn the next day.

At the day’s end, Lt. Robert Day damaged P-47D 42-75042 in a landing accident at Headcorn.

“Prodigal Son” has almost returned…

I described by struggles with the decals on my P-51D last week. This week, things are looking up. Here’s where the model stands right now:

Note the absence of most of the panel lines on the wings. I filled and sanded them, as on the original – this was done to enhance the laminar flow across the wing. Of course, the ammunition trays were left open, so there is still a bit of visual interest.

The nose art and kill markings are from that much-despised AeroMaster sheet; the codes came from the SuperScale Sheet, and I’m applying small data markings from a new Xtradecals sheet. The anti-glare panel, ID bands and nose are all masked; underneath is the olive drab, black and blue that the plane will wear in the end.

I have yet to paint the flaps, gear doors and canopy, so the model’s completion is still a week or two away. But, since the decals actually seem to be sticking to the model now, it’s looking much better than just a couple of weeks ago.

Shifting gears to a ground-pounder…

While I put the small decals on my Mustang, I’m amusing myself by putting together a bit of support equipment, this time a Dodge WC-52. It’s being built from Italeri’s 1:72 WC-51 kit, which is a re-pop of the old Esci kit. The kit actually builds into a WC-52 out of the box; you’d have to remove the bumper-mounted winch and make a new bumper to make a WC-51 out of it.

The WC-51/52 series was a three-quarter ton four-wheel drive truck that replaced previous half-ton models. Those vehicles had been adapted from civilian pick-up trucks, and they proved to be too lightly built for wartime work. The WC-51/52 was redesigned from the ground up; it was made more rugged and at the same time simpler for ease of maintenance. The rear body was much wider than the half-ton bodies to accommodate more cargo, and there were fold-down troop seats along the back for passengers.

It was an open-cab vehicle, with no doors (two jerry cans sat on the right running board and the spare tire was on the left) and often had a canvas cover. The pioneer tools were carried on a rack on the tailgate. The WC-52 boasted a Braden 5,000-pound power take-off driven winch mounted behind the front bumper.

I’m not sure when I bought this kit, but I know I looked at it and put it away with some disdain. I even assembled one wheel and attempted to clean up the seam and ejection pin marks in it. I’m sure I then defaulted to an Academy vehicle (I’ve built the GMC CCKW-353 2 ½ ton truck, which was excellent, the Harley-Davidson WLA motorcycle from the M4 halftrack kit, which was nice, and one of their Ford GPW Jeeps, which was pretty rotten).

There are other vehicles I’ve seen in photos of airfields – notable the 2 ½ ton and 1 ½ ton bomb service trucks, which I plan on converting, and the Ford/GMC C15, which IBG makes in several flavors but not the long bed version, which is the one I really want. Academy also makes the ubiquitous WC-54 ambulance, from which I could have probably stolen the chassis and wheels for my WC-51, now that I think about it.

Anyway, the Esci/Italeri kit is a virtual celebration of all that can go wrong in molding. There are lots of knockout pin marks (three on each tire!), flash, mold shifts and other delights. The cab’s seats each have huge sink craters in them. The molded canvas covers are fairly useless, with ejection pin marks on the outside surfaces. All in all, it’s a fairly rough model.

But, so far, I have the chassis, suspension and power train together. The wheels are assembled and need some clean-up, but like I said earlier, I might just swap out some resin copies of Academy’s WC-54 wheels. Much of the rest of the model can benefit from Eduard’s photoetched details for the Academy six-by-six – things like clutch, brake and gas pedals, the radiator facing (the kit’s plastic one has a huge sink mark in it), and pioneer tools. If I’m lucky, the brushguards are also interchangeable.

Ultimately, though, these vehicles are intended as diorama accessories – even though I don’t yet have any diorama plans in mind. At some stage, it would be real fun to place all my 362nd Fighter Group Thunderbolts on display on a single base with ground support gear including figures, vehicles and maybe even buildings or tents – but that has as much to do with real estate as it does with anything else. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to develop my menagerie of 1:72 softskin vehicles – and my knowledge of these important but unsung machines.

The Day after D-Day for the 362nd Fighter Group

Although D-Day resulted in no combat for the 362nd, June 7 was a completely different story. In the morning, 13 planes of the 379th under Capt. Bill Flavin escorted glider-towing C-47s to the Carentan area; Lt. William Hamlin crashed on takeoff in P-47D 42-75632, smashing his Thunderbolt into a nearby barn, but although injured escaped with his life. Three of the C-47s were seen to be hit by flak and crash, one north of St. Maire Eglise and two west of Carentan.

In the afternoon, the group was assigned to bomb three sections of railroad lines in the regions of Alencon, Argentan and Vire. Little traffic was seen and the bombs were dropped to cut the lines. The 379th also caught a locomotive in the open and shot it up. The mission was an all-out bombing mission with no top cover, and this misguided tactic cost the group dearly.

One flight from the 378th and another from the 379th were bounced by fighters from I/JG.26. The German planes spotted Green Flight of the 379th, which had just finished bombing railroad tracks and was headed home in line abreast formation, then dove below the clouds, pulling up to emerge from the undercast in the P-47’s six o’clock low position to make their attack. “I called Capt. (Clough) Gee (the assistant group S-3 flying P-47D-21-RE 42-25339) and told him to break,” said Lt. Art Wilcke. “At the same time, I broke into the two that were on Green One and Two’s tails. Looking left, I saw Green Four start to break, but he was hit by the Fw behind him. He broke right and down and continued to roll out in a 270-degree turn away from the Fw that was firing at me. I saw fire from his fuselage and under the cockpit, but he still had control of the aircraft and I believe evaded the Fw on his tail.”

Wilcke continued to pursue the Fw-190s stalking Lt. Ted Jensen (in P-47D-20 42-76573) and Lt. Madison Putnam. “By this time, they had broken off their attack and started climbing to the right through a clearing in the clouds,” Wilcke continued. “I followed them up above until they turned left and over me. I pulled back and shot a long burst out of range until my speed fell off; (I) rolled over and went down through a cloud. Looking from the rest of the flight, I dove beneath a cloud and met six Fw 190s head-on at about 150 yards. A few fired, but before they or I could get our sights on each other I passed between the number four and number five men on the right. I pulled up into the cloud and turned 180 degrees, but did not see any when I came out of the cloud. I called Green Four and Green Leader, but I did not get any reply. I broke out into another clearing and saw Green Leader (Gee) and started to join him, when we were bounced by two more Fw 190s. We broke again into the clouds, and that was the last I saw of Green Leader.” Gee was shot down and killed.

After emerging from yet another cloud, Wilcke spotted Putnam by himself in Green Two – for by now Jensen had also been shot down and killed – and tried to join up, but again they were bounced. “Green Two went into a cloud, and I climbed up after two FWs, but could not close. Above the clouds I saw four more FWs. I broke down into the clouds again. I called Green Two and he said he was heading out. The cloud layer was about five miles from the coast. Southwest of LeHavre, I broke out of the clouds and saw four Fw 190s at six o’clock from me, so I went 180 degrees back into the clouds, making a 360-dgree turn and coming out again. I saw eight FWs this time, but they were out of range. I hit the deck and headed out. They followed for a short time, but gave up the chase. I climbed back up and joined with Green Two, who was with the rest of our squadron.”

Putnam claimed an Fw 190A-8, either Uffz. Hans-Georg Becker or Uffz. Helmut Huttig of I/JG.26, who were both lost in this area.

Meanwhile, Green Flight of the 378th was approaching its target. As they “approached the bombing area, and with bombs still attached, tracers were seen coming up, apparently from the ground,” reported Lt. Harry Stroh, but when he looked back three German fighters were on their tail. “The enemy aircraft apparently dove through a break in the clouds, flew along the trees, and then pulled up, fired and returned into the clouds.” He immediately ordered a break; as he turned, he jettisoned his bombs and noticed a big explosion – this was not caused by his bombs, but by P-47D-15 42-75267 of Lt. Craig Gilbert of the 378th; Gilbert’s plane was hit by fire from a pursuing German fighter, dove into the ground and exploded seven miles west of Esouche. He died the next day in a German field hospital. The other three Thunderbolts in the flight were all damaged.

A fourth pilot, Lt. Robert Day of the 377th, ditched in the channel but was rescued. The German victors were Hptm. Hermann Staiger, who scored two kills (the 55th and 56th for the 63-kill ace), Oblt. Max Groth and Lt. Waldemar Soffing.

Decal dilemma for my Mustang

This week, with my airbrush back at peak efficiency, I painted my P-51D-5, a model that’s been in the works for at least four years. It has the Obscureco wing and P-51D-5 conversion, so it will be a neat little show piece for our products when it’s done.
The painting went with few dramas. I’ve found that when you have a real issue with a natural metal scheme, you can sand out the offending area, mask it and spray a slightly less reflective area in that panel. It makes the flaw much less apparent if not totally invisible.
So, with the model painted, I applied the decals I’ve long been planning to use, AeroMaster 72-006’s markings for Bart Tenore’s “the Prodigal Son” from the 354th Fighter Group. I put the decals down using MicroSet and MicroSol, as usual; in most cases, MicroSol gets the markings to settle into all the panel lines and give the decal that painted-on effect. The first try didn’t get it done – the decals were stiff as a board after the first application. The national insignia tented over the stiffener on the wing, the nose art remained proud of the many panel lines on the nose, and the only decals that seemed OK were the kill markings and the data block – which were on flat stretches, with no panel lines.
Another application of MicroSol did nothing. So did a third. A fourth had some effect – the serial numbers on the tail and the codes started to curl up and pull away from the surface! Then I went to Solvaset, the nuclear option for decals. Application one? No effect. Two? Same deal. I then ran an X-Acto across all the panel lines and applied more Solvaset. It had some effect, but not much.
Meanwhile, I had to remove the codes and the serial on the tail. They were curling so badly there was no way to get them to settle back down.
Why did this happen? It’s got to be the decals. They’re not exactly new, and they were from early in AeroMaster’s history; there’s no printer’s information on the sheet, and I can only assume they were just a bad batch.
How do I fix it? Well, SuperScale did a sheet with “the Prodigal Son” on it, although much of it is absolutely wrong. The nose art is the wrong shape and color, and the “A” in the codes has its stencil break on the wrong side of the “A.” So I’ll use the serial and the codes – and try to get the “A”to stick upside down (thus putting the break in the stencil on the right side). And I’ll hope that the nose art currently on the model hangs on until I get a coat of metallizer sealer over this model.
The good news is that the model looks pretty great – the nose art is very big and very colorful, and the model itself looks good and is in alignment (at least now, before the gear goes on!). If I can get past this problem, this should be a rewarding model.
In the meantime, I’m taking a break by trying to whip Italeri’s 1:72 WC-53 weapons carrier into shape. Not a great model itself – but I’m sure it’ll be less frustrating when it gets to decal time!