Beep-ing in the New Year: WC-52 in 1:72 scale

This last week of 2010 I’ve been working not on an aircraft but on a 1:72 WC-52 ¾-ton truck. The kit is the downright lousy Esci effort from many years ago, since re-popped by Italeri. Here’s a photo of where the vehicle stands right now:

Thus far, I’ve gotten the basics of the vehicle together, but in doing so I removed all the detail from the tops of the sides and had to replace it with sheet styrene, flattened solder and bits of brass. Eduard’s set for the WC-54 ambulance has been virtually priceless for this build. Thus far, I’ve replaced the rear bumpers and signals and the cab floor with etched metal; next come the clutch, gas and brake pedals. The brass will provide the pioneer tools on the rear gate, the chain on the gate, the instrument cluster, the radiator cap, the running boards, the headlight/radiator guard, and the fuel cap. I’ve also blanked off the wheel wells with styrene sheet, and replaced the radiator with a brass section from a P-51 set (while waiting to get the WC-54 set!). And the wheels.

Oh, the wheels in this kit are brutal. The halves don’t fit, there are knockout pins – they’re just horrendous. I used the wheels from the Academy WC-54 as masters for replacements in resin (hence their color in the photos).

This project would be intolerable except for Chris Davis’ wonderful photo essay on restoring one of these beauties . Basically, up to a point, I’m making a model of Chris’ restoration. The model will not get the canvas top (the kit’s canvas top is kind of a joke, and I figured a vehicle like this on an airfield would have no top just to facilitate loading and unloading of supplies). The final step will be to give the vehicle markings appropriate to the 362nd Fighter Group, or, depending on what stage the possible Tuskegee Airmen Museum project the William “Bill” Campbell Chapter is at when I get close to completion, the 332nd Fighter Group.

The WC-51 and WC-52 were often called “Beeps,” short for “Big Jeeps.” Here’s a shot with my Academy 1:72 Jeep to give you an idea of why it acquired that name.

66 Years Ago: The 362nd Fighter Group, Busy Around Bastogne

On an especially busy day, the 362nd Fighter Group launched 10 missions totaling 107 sorties on December 23, 1944. Lt. Albert C. Bruce of the 377th Fighter Squadron suffered an engine failure and bailed out in enemy territory, coming to earth a wood near the castle of Ansembourg while his plane slammed to earth not far from the village of Nospelt. Bruce landed safely, evaded capture and returned to the group. The haul of vehicles was particularly high, with 84 trucks, 12 armored vehicles, and 12 gun positions destroyed or damaged. The 377th hit the bridge at Echternach with rockets and napalm. The 379th by itself destroyed 45 trucks filled with troops headed north on the road between St. Hubert and Recogne; the pilots reported that the German troops anxiously abandoned the trucks when the Thunderbolts arrived on scene. “The Germans were good at camouflage, and when it snowed they were even harder to spot,” said Lt. Gene Martin. That advantage betrayed them when they attempted to move and the wheels and tracks of their vehicles turned the pure white snow into a brown slush, which made it much easier to pick out vehicles on the move against the winter landscape.

Later, the 379th hit a second column between Houffalize and Bourcy, knocking out 10 tanks and 28 trucks. The 378th escorted C-47s bringing supplies to Bastogne, but brought bombs with them, knocking out two tanks and eight trucks in a German bivouac area north of the city. Blue Flight made three passes at a column of tanks, dropping M-76 clusters on them. “On pulling out of the last pass, Lt. (William) Foster called that his prop was out,” said Lt. Richard Law. “A very short time later he called and said that everything was OK.” About two minutes later, however, he was forced to belly land “Street Cleaner,” P-47D-20 42-76437, in the snow. Law and his flight leader, Cliff Saari, saw Foster jump from his plane and wave. Although he ran for some woods, Foster was soon taken prisoner. But the effect of the attacks had been shattering; the planned attack on Houffalize by the 26th Volksgrenadiers Division was postponed until after dark for fear on the havoc that the P-47s could wreak.

The Charles Hughes story, headed for Flight Journal

I’m quite pleased to say that I’ll be able to take my long-form interview with Charles Hughes, a pilot with the 44th Bomb Group who flew with the “Flying Eight Balls” on the famous low-level 1943 Ploesti Mission, and turn it into a full-length article for Flight Journal magazine. Charles passed away in October, but his daughter Sandy has been a big help in passing on photos of her dad during his career. Here’s a shot of him in the right seat of a B-24:

This photo was labelled “B-29?” One of the weird things about being a modeler is that you can recognize parts of planes; that framing was a dead giveaway that the plane he’s pictured in is a B-24. Hughes flew over 40 types during his career, so it’s totally understandable that it would be hard to identify the plane for an average person. I feel like I’ve already helped the family a little in making sense of their remarkable treasury of artifacts.

I’m also working on a B-24 in 1:72 to represent the aircraft he flew on the Operation Tidal Wave mission, “Flossie Flirt.” That’s leading me to create some masters for new Obscureco products to bring the Hasegawa B-24D up to snuff in terms of accuracy. It’s weird how cyclical all this ends up being!

Stay tuned — as I dig up more about Hughes and the Ploesti mission (and his subsequent escape from internment in Turkey), and my travails with the Hasegawa B-24D, I’ll share it here on the blog.

The 357th FG cleans house over Berlin

On December 5, 1944, Berlin was the Eighth Air Force’s target, and the 357th Fighter Group was in on the escort. “Bud” Anderson was leading Green Flight of the 363rd Fighter Squadron, and his flight headed north to break up any attacks forming there. “We intercepted about 20 Fw 190s,” he reported. “We crossed over them and dropped tanks. They broke around and I picked one out and closed the K-14 sight around him, firing a burst and getting good hits all over. He rolled over and I did not follow as there were too many enemy aircraft around.” Anderson’s wingman, Lt. James Sloan, said he saw Anderson score hits on the fuselage between the cockpit and the vertical stabilizer, and when last seen “the aircraft went into a spin, appearing completely out of control and emitting light gray smoke,” Sloan said. “I do not believe the enemy aircraft ever recovered from this spin as the pilot was either killed or the controls shot away.”

The other element, made up of Lt. James Crump and Lt. George Rice, broke after another Fw 190. “I was covering his tail when I saw another Fw 190 following us. Lt. Crump’s Jerry appeared to be pretty well clobbered. He rolled over and started for the deck, apparently out of control just as I called for Lt. Crump to break. I turned into the Fw 190 following us and came around behind him; he started making tight diving and climbing turns as I closed the distance between us. I pulled up to about 1000 yards but was pulling so many G’s I couldn’t see the sight. I fired a short burst anyhow and broke out of the turn a bit, then got on him again. I closed to about 50 yards and fired a good burst, saw many strikes in the fuselage and cockpit area. I started overshooting and as I pulled up beside him he jettisoned the canopy and bailed out.”

Anderson began stalking another Fw 190, but his cockpit frosted over and he had to break off the pursuit until it cleared. When it did, he spotted four more Fw 190s which kept darting in and out of some haze. “I kept track of them and closed on one,” he said. “I fired and they all broke left and I latched on to the No. 4 man, firing a ling burst at close range and getting good hits all over the cockpit. The canopy blew off, among various pieces, and fire belched from the cockpit as it spun straight down into a broken overcast. I then closed on the No. 3 man, fired at good range and more good hits occurred in the cockpit region. This ship spun down, smoking, out of control, and went through a broken overcast at about 1000 feet, going straight down. We went under a haze layer and Bf 109s started coming through singly, and I picked one who had his wheels down. He made a right climbing turn and pulled inside, and I fired about 10 rounds and my guns quit. I broke my attack and my wingman and I climbed back to the bombers and continued the escort.”

Lt. James Browning spotted two Bf 109s ahead of him; “I was coming practically head-on when they saw me and dropped their belly tanks,” Browning said. “I made a turn to the left to get on their tails and they broke into us. I took the second and with the K-14 made quite a deflection shot. I observed hits on the engine and cockpit. He went into a spin and the pilot bailed out.”

As the bombers reached the target and began to bomb, a new gaggle of fighters rose to challenge them from their 9 o’clock position. The 362nd was in position to intercept. “We turned into them and dropped our tanks,” said Capt. “Kit” Carson. “Two ships at the very front of their formation were the first to break. I broke with them and fired on the leader, getting several strikes on his fuselage. He made a dive for the clouds; I chased him but inside of the clouds I couldn’t see him. I broke out into the open and a few seconds later tracers were breaking around my ship. I broke to the right as hard as I could. The Jerry was right behind me, but quite a distance back. I managed to get into a scissoring turn, making several head-on passes. He finally reversed his turn and I tagged onto him, firing another burst at about 200 yards, closing fast and getting strikes on the fuselage. Then in a tight spiral, the Bf 109 went down through the overcast. I went beneath the overcast and saw the burning wreckage. The pilot did not get out.”

Major Joseph Broadhead was leading the group this day; he spotted 10 to 15 enemy planes below a thin layer of cirrus cloud and led the jump. “I attacked an  Fw 190, which went into a very steep dive,” said Broadhead. “I got within 100 yards of him when I started firing. I observed strikes on his left wing and fuselage. As soon as I started hitting hi, the 190 pushed his nose completely under and I was unable to follow him any longer. I pulled up and turned around just in time to see him go through the undercast.” Broadhead lost sight of his victim, but his wingman, Lt. Myron Becraft, saw the Fw 190 go straight into the ground and explode.

Blue Flight of the 362nd dove, and Lt. John Kirla picked out one enemy craft, opening fire at about 700 yards but closing in a hurry, “getting strikes at his wing roots and on his fuselage,” Kirla said. “The plane began streaming smoke and pieces flew off as I closed to 50 yards, getting more strikes. I believe the pilot was killed, for the Bf 109 went straight down in a dive at terrific speed and did not recover, but hit the ground and exploded.

“After I had destroyed the Bf 109, Lt. Sublett and I stooged around the deck, looking for more enemy planes. We spotted a lone Fw 190 on the deck and gave chase, catching him in two or three minutes. I got on his tail and fired a long burst from 700 yards, getting strikes on the fuselage and tail. Suddenly, the pilot rolled his ship over and bailed out. I watched the plane crash and then took pictured of the wreckage and the pilot in his chute.”

Unfortunately, Walter Perry of the 362nd did not return to celebrate the day’s haul. While flying “Toolin’ Fool’s Revenge,” P-51K 44-1689, his plane suffered a wing failure and Perry was killed when the plane crashed to earth.