Slow But Difficult: 1:72 Hasegawa Dauntless

The SBD-3 Dauntless is now occupying center stage on the workbench.  It has a due date of June 1, meaning I have less than 30 days to knock it out. However, while the A6M2b was a breeze of a kit, the Dauntless is not. Let me explain.

First off, the Hasegawa SBD-3 had a rudimentary cockpit. The kit originally came out around 2003, which is apparently about the time Hasegawa fired the guy who made their interior parts. No problem – I’ll just go aftermarket. The True Details interior is easily available, but the detail is really mushy. I picked up the photoetched set by Part, but it has such confusing instructions that folding together an entire cockpit seemed like it would take 30 days by itself. I bagged a Jaguar interior set on eBay, and that’s going to form the basis for the build – but even that has issues.

So here’s what I’m doing: I’m grafting some Part parts (ugh!) to the Jaguar set, and scratch-building additional stuff. For instance, the Jaguar radio operator’s floor looks awful, but Part nailed it. I cut the Part floor away from the cockpit floor, CA-glued it into place (a perfect fit, BTW) and sanded the soft brass to match the resin part. After painting, you’d never guess it wasn’t a part of the Jaguar floor.

The Part control panel is being added to the Jaguar forward bulkhead, which was somewhat lacking. I especially disliked the fact that it was blanked off just behind the control panel, with a couple of rudder pedals stuck on. I carefully sanded the back of the part until the blanked-off area was see-through thin, then punched it out with an X-Acto knife. The rudder pedals were replaced with the SBD-3 specific Part examples.

Jaguar’s set is missing some wiring and levers present in the real plane, but those are easy enough to make and add on my own. Ditto for the recovery cable – this was a braided steel cable that ran around the pilot’s compartment that would allow ditched SBDs to be hauled up by a crane.

I’ll use lots of Part’s details for the rear gun mount, but I’ll use the Jaguar guns themselves and dress them up.

Other work already done: the propeller’s painted, the wheels are finished, the kit engine has been wired and detailed, and the dive brakes have already been cut out and will receive Part dive brakes. Part’s set has all the interior detail of the actuators, which are actually visible through the leading-edge set of dive brake perforations.

So, 30 days. The race is on. Hopefully, at the end of May, SBD will stand for “slow, but done.”

67 years ago: MacLean and Magoffin score for the 362nd

While providing withdrawal support on April 24, 1944 for heavies returning from southern Germany in the area around Kaiserlauten, Red Flight of the 377th  Fighter Squadron spotted a pair of Bf 109Gs below them in a narrow valley at dived to attack. “(Col. Morton Magoffin) took the one on the right, but he gained too much speed and overshot,” said Lt. Ed MacLean. “I hadn’t accelerated as much and found myself in good position to fire at the other enemy aircraft. My first burst was wide, my second got hits on the left wing near the cockpit, and the third caught him directly in the tail and made pieces fly off. By this time we were on the deck and, since the country was very mountainous, there was a hill directly ahead. As my diving speed carried me past the 109 I noticed that his canopy was open and that it was rolling over to the right, nose down. I looked back when I got over the hill, but the enemy aircraft did not come over and I didn’t see him again. In front of me, the colonel was being chased by a 109, which was followed by another P-47. I think this was Lt. (John E.) Hayden, the flight’s No. 3, but it may have been Lt. George Kelly, the No. 4. As I flew after them, the colonel made a sharp turn and, at the same time, I am pretty sure I saw hits on the enemy aircraft made by the other P-47. After his climb, the colonel came down on the 109 and pursued it until it crashed into a hillside. Meanwhile, the other P-47 started toward the southeast after another 109, with the colonel after it and me after the colonel. He pursued the 109 up hills and down valleys when we finally caught up with him over a small town. (The 109 ) was in a tight Lufberry with the P-47. I tried to enter this but my speed carried me past. My second attempt was successful, although I couldn’t get enough lead to fire at the 109. This was the last time I saw the P-47, and I do not know what happened to him after this. I made two more turns with the 109 and, on the third turn, he came in at 90 degrees with his guns firing but I received no hits. The colonel told me that I was losing ground and ordered me to straighten out so that he could get on the 109. I obeyed him and almost immediately I got a hit in my left wing and elevator. The colonel succeeded in chasing it off and then, since we were low on gas and far into enemy territory, said that we should go home.”

Magoffin and McLean each received credit for a Bf 109, but Lts. Kelly, in P-47D-15-RE 42-76167, and Hayden, who’d been in Joe Laughlin’s former mount, P-47D-4-RA 42-22775, were shot down in exchange by Ofw. Herbert Kaiser of VII/JG.1 and Uffz. Fritz Rathofer of III/JG.1. Kelly was wounded and became a POW, but Hayden was seen to crash into the side of the valley and was killed.

Fujita’s Fighter Finished: FineMolds A6M2b is Finito

Well, it’s finished – the FineMolds 1:72 A6M2b “Zero” fighter (or kansen, in Japanese parlance). This was without a doubt the nicest model I’ve ever built; the fit of everything except the cowling-to-the-fuselage was without incident, and any problems were entirely of my own creation.

The little details added were the engine, the aerial, the cockpit and the brake lines. The cockpit also received a Quickboost Type 98 reflector gunsight. The clear parts are so perfectly transparent that the gunsight is actually visible, justifying the amount of work it took to get the two reflector panes aligned.

Finishing up was a matter of building a list and whittling through it. The list had to be organized carefully, with things like the wingtips, pitot, gear position pegs and mass balances last, because they were sure to get knocked off otherwise. Somehow, in the course of finishing the model, I didn’t undo done things through my clumsiness. I did manage to CA-glue the landing gear struts in backwards, however, resulting in a lot of undue work to remove them drill out the mounting holes and then drill and pin the struts. It’s always something…

So, I started it two years ago, finished it today, and its next destination is the USS Hornet for our Midway display. I think it may be the best model I’ve built. Now, on to the SBD!

67 years ago: losses as the 362nd FG works over the railroads

The rail tour continued  for the 362nd Fighter Group on April 22, 1944; this time, they attacked rail targets around the French town of Malines. The 378th Fighter Squadron used a variety of approaches and altitudes to throw off the flak gunners, scoring seven direct hits on the western-most engine shed. The 379th dived from 10,000 feet and pressed their releases to 2,500 feet, scoring six hits on an engine shed. “After the bomb run, I broke left for reform and saw a P-47 to my left and at about 6500 feet, throwing flame from the supercharger bucket,” reported Capt. Bill Flavin, the leader of Blue Flight. It was Lt. Vernon P. Ligon, who was flying as a spare the flight, but had followed the squadron in; light flak damaged his P-47D-10-RE 42-75041 as he was pulling off of the target. “The ship was evidently under control and the pilot tried to extinguish the fire by violent dives and zooms. Finally, the ship turned over and the pilot bailed out approximately three to five miles from the target.”  Ligon was seen running on the ground northeast of Brussels, but he soon became a prisoner of war. Ligon, who was flying his 26thmission, was sent to a camp but later escaped for a short period before being recaptured and interned in Moosburg. Ligon had the dubious distinction of also being held as a POW for five years during the Vietnam War.

In the afternoon, the group flew a sweep of the area around Lingen as part of a diversion for a larger raid on Germany, shooting up rail traffic. Col. Morton Magoffin destroyed a locomotive, and Lt. Robert McKee claimed another one in Gutersloh. Lt. George Rarey’s plane, “Archie and Mehatibel,” was damaged by flak during the attack. Red Flight of the 377th has a guest, Major Gene Arth of the 406thFighter Group, flying a familiarization mission. “I saw a train running south on the track from Meppen to Lingen and took Red Flight down to strafe,” said Capt. Tom Beeson, who had Arth on his wing. “We made one attack from west to east and encountered no ground fire whatsoever. The train stopped and we turned back and strafed again, this time from east to west, and destroyed the locomotive. I encountered no ground fire on this second attack, but as I pulled up to the left I saw bursts of 20mm flak over the target area. At the same time, I saw a ship dive, crash into the yard of a farmhouse and explode. Then my Number Three man (Lt. Edwin Fisher) called that my number two man, Maj. Arth, had crashed. Nobody in the flight saw a parachute, and Number Three noted Maj. Arth’s closed canopy as he went down. I do not believe there is any possibility of his having lived through the crash.” Arth was indeed killed in the crash of P-47D-11-RE 42-75596.

66 Years Ago: the 357th FG’s Last Victories against Me 262s

Lt. Col Tommy Hayes took his squadron to Ruzyne ahead of the bombers again on April 20, clamping a lid on the jet base. Again, almost fatalistically, the Me 262s started taking off in pairs, hoping to evade the Mustangs. Hayes’ flight bounced two of them; Hayes got strikes on the element leader, who turned left, headed for the deck at full power and shrieked across the Danube. The Me 262 went behind a tower on the east shore of the river, and as Hayes cleared the tower he was rewarded with the sight of the Me 262 crashing, its flaming wreckage sliding into a building.

Meanwhile, Red Flight “circled in the area and my element leader spotted a 262 in a slight dive to the left,” reported Lt. Carroll Ofsthun. “As we dropped tanks we went into a dive in pursuit of the jet I saw another Me 262 pass beneath me, flying 90 degrees to my left. I did a wing-over to my left and got on the tail of this jet as he was heading for the deck in a slight turn to the left. I fired a short burst at 500 yards and saw many hits in the cockpit. I closed fast and saw him go into the ground and burst into flames as I passed over him.”

Lt. Paul Bowles fired off a desperation shot as an Me 262 started to out-distance him; his rounds found their target and the jet turned left as if to return back to the field. Bowles and wingman Gifford Miller closed in to 600 yards and opened fire at the Me 262, which was just above tree-top level; the plane shuddered, then nosed over into the ground, where it exploded. “It was scattered all over hell’s half acre and I hardly believe the pilot got out,” Bowles said.

Capt. Robert Fifeld, already a jet killer, was leading White Flight at 16,000 feet when he spotted an Me 262 about three miles from the field. Diving and accelerating, he quickly closed in. “I started firing when I got in range and continued until I overran him,” he reported. “ He started burining in the left jet unit, pulled up and did a half roll and went straight in and exploded.”

67 Years Ago: the 357th Fighter Group in action over Eschwage

During the 357th Fighter Group’s escort to Eschwage on 19 April, 1944, just after the lead box of bombers hit the target, the Luftwaffe struck another box farther back in the stream. “We made a 180-degree turn and found this box under attack by approximately 20 Fw 190s and Bf 109s,” said Capt. Glendon Davis, “with other P-51s engaging them. I saw two Fw 190s shoot down a B-17 and then get on the tail of a lone red-nosed P-51,” probably a member of the 4th Fighter Group. As Davis led the flight down, Lt. Morris Stanley spotted two Fw 190s making an attack on his leader from 9 o’clock. “I turned into the two Fw 190s and they started a steep turn to the left,” Stanley said. “I fired across the noses of both, and the 190 on the right started a fast roll to the right; he seemed to stall and half-snap to the right and hit the trees and then went into the ground and exploded.”

Unaware of the action behind him, Davis chased down the two Fw 190s menacing the 4th Fighter Group Mustang. “We caught them at about 5000 feet and I got in a good burst in one of them, seeing strikes all over him. They chased the lone P-51 down to the deck, where we got them off his tail. I got a short head-on burst on my man as he was trying to get on my wingman, Lt. (Morris) Harris’, tail. I immediately reversed my turn to find the two 190s straightened out. I called to Lt. Harris to take the left and I would take the right. Just as I was getting into firing position, (my Fw 90) made a perfect peel-off and went straight into the ground from 50 feet, exploding and burning.” Harris finished off his Fw 190 as well.

The lead flight of the 364th, led by Maj. Tommy Hayes, also turned and went after these fighters. “I found seven Bf 109s lined up abreast for a tail attack from below,” Hayes reported. “I was unable to prevent an attack where one B-17 caught fire, but did drive off the attack. We chased them and after several turns they started for the deck from 23,000 feet. The seven split into four and three. At 15,000 feet the four I was pursuing at 700 to 800 yards split; three went to the right. My sights set on the one going straight, I continued after him. At 250 yards my bursts cut his entire tail assembly away.” John Carder also scored a kill.

66 Years ago: a double for Ken Bullock of the 378th Fighter Squadron

The 362nd Fighter Group launched 14 eight-plane missions in support of XII Corps on April 12. Controllers guided the planes to attack German strongholds in Kohla, Rudolstadt, Kronach, Reinda and Kulmbach, where they bombed the castle and the town. At Reinda, the 378th Fighter Squadron destroyed three tanks, and two other tanks were dispatched during other missions in addition to a large volume of road transportation. The 378th’s last mission of the day saw it bomb some woods on a controller’s direction, then drop their tanks on it and strafe. Lt. Ken Bullock of the 378th became separated from the other planes in his flight in a thunderstorm and was attacked by eight Bf 109s over a German airfield, near Plauen. The Bf 109s broke into pairs and dove on the P-47 from out of the sun; as one pair dove past him, Bullock squeezed off short bursts, starting one of the Bf 109s smoking. Bullock lost sight of the first six Bf 109s, but he spotted the two he had fired on lining up to land at the airfield, apparently low on fuel. “I did a sharp turn to the left, then to the right and dove down on the field and met them head-on just as they were making their final approach,” he said. “I hit the one that was smoking first and then the one that flew his wing coming into the field. I had excess speed and my burst was short, but I hit both planes with one pass and I came around again and observed that both planes had landed and were burning.” Bullock orbited to take pictures of the wrecks on the ground. Small-arms fire, including one round that hit his windscreen, drove him off, and Bullock returned to base, landing at Etain in a rainstorm.

Meanwhile, the 379th made a strafing attack at the airfield at Orlamunden, destroying a Ju 52, a Fi 156 and an unidentified biplane. Afterward the Thunderbolts shot up four trucks and two cars on the nearby roads,