68 years ago: the 357th FG reduces the Bf 109 population

On 29 July, the 363rd’s Red Flight found a large airfield near Mersberg and dropped down to attack it. “As we did, a Bf 109 dove on us slightly to our right,” reported Lt. William Overstreet. “I turned into him as soon as I was across the field and he was fairly close. He turned right also, leaving me right behind him. I fired (with) about 30 degrees deflection and got hits. I closed in, still firing, and hit his coolant. He dropped down right on the ground and as my wing was in the grass I had to pull up. Pieces of the 109 made holes in my canopy.” Don Bochkay also dropped an enemy plane over the field.

About 20 miles west of Merseburg, the 362nd found a group of Bf 109s trying to organize themselves for an attack. Lt. Gilbert O’Brien jumped a Bf 109 and shot it down. Lt Paul E. Holmberg “came in from the left and began firing at the same ship,” O’Brien reported. “Suddenly, his P-51 exploded and disintegrated. There was not the usual flame and smoke when fuel tanks explode, so I presume that his ammunition box was responsible. There is not the slightest chance that he got out alive.” The 362nd’s Capt. “Kit” Carson, Lt. Harvey Mace and Lt. Thomas Martinek also scored kills, but Lt. Daniel Finley was lost as the result of a mechanical failure. Finley survived only to die as a POW. Lt. Rollin Carter also became a POW.

The next day, the group flew a profitable sweep around Paris, and Maj. Thomas Gates, Lt. Alden Smith and Maj. Ed Hiro each destroyed a German fighter. This time, all planes returned to Lieston safely.


68 years ago: the 362nd’s Richard Cline downs a 190

Armed reconnaissance missions continued for the 362nd Fighter Group on July 28, 1944. The 378th was sent to the Domfront-Alencon-Laval area and attacked two railroad bridges, scoring 14 near-misses. The 379th bombed and strafed in the same area, claiming seven boxcars destroyed and 70 more damaged, along with a damaged locomotive. Another 378th mission saw Red Flight knock out two trucks and damage 10 more. Yellow Flight scored hits on two self-propelled guns and five trucks, and Blue Flight destroyed a pair of trucks and strafed a tank, an armored car and five trucks. The 377th flew an armed recce, strafing and destroying eight trucks and a staff car. The 378th returned again, flying a similar mission, destroying 10 trucks, an armored car and six tanks, but luck was not with was. Robert Piper of the 378th, on his first mission. Flying wing for Red Leader, Piper was about 200 yards behind him in P-47D 43-25592 when the lead’s bombs dropped on the road near Cherence-le-Heron. “Red Leader’s bombs exploded directly in front of Lt. Piper’s plane,” reported Lt. Stan Stepnitz, the No. 4 man in the flight. “The ship flew through the bomb blast and about a quarter of a mile beyond before it rolled over on its back and crashed to the ground.” Piper did not survive the impact.

As the Red Flight of the 378thwas climbing after bombing a road junction, the flight’s leader, Capt. Richard Cline, saw two Bf 109s break through the overcast at about 3000 feet. “(They) saw our squadron and pulled back into the clouds,” Cline reported. “At that time, four Fw 190s broke through directly in front of us, three of which turned sharply to the right and pulled back into the clouds. The fourth, apparently the leader, remained slightly below the clouds at approximately 200 yards. I opened fire at 5 degrees deflection and observed strikes along the wing and canopy. The right gear was seen to come down as he pulled into the overcast. My No. 3 and I hosed the clouds where he was just disappearing. From the strikes observed, I believe the enemy aircraft to be seriously damaged.”

The 379th was next in the area, destroying five trucks and cutting rail lines. The 378th then launched a dive-bombing mission to the Brehal-Hombye-Villedieu area, cutting four rail junctions and destroying a tank and a command car. The 379th returned to this area later, destroying 15 trucks and 25 boxcars. Finally, the 377thflew another recce, destroying eight motorcycles, four trucks, five tanks and some horse-drawn artillery.

68 Years Ago: The 362nd FG kicks open the door during Operation Cobra

July 25, 1944 was slated as the date of Operation Cobra, the breakout from the Normandy area. Although it was now 49 days after the landings, allied troops were only to where planners had envisioned they would be five days after D-Day. As a result, allied air power would be tasked with blasting a hole in German defenses to allow the allies to use their mobile forces to throw the Germans off balance. For the 362nd, that meant 34 planes were loaded with 250-pound fragmentation clusters and 100-pound white phosphorus bombs; these followed other group’s planes and dropped on a narrow strip of enemy defenses. More missions followed; the 377th bombed a German officers’ quarters with fair results, then the 378th bombed a road junction in an effort to disrupt communications wires there (they missed a small house being used as a communications center). The 379th bombed the reported location of an ammunition dump, with no observable results. The 378th returned to the communications center and pelted it with 500-pounders, one of which was seen to go through the house before exploding. The 379th went after a group of German holdouts west of St. Lo; the target was well marked and the bombing was accurate. The 378th finally was dispatched to attack a small town that contained the command post and ammunition dump of the German 14thFallschrimjager Regiment. They were rewarded with at least two good secondary explosions. All bombing was done at a very low level.

The next day, the German lines of resistance began to collapse, and attention turned to blocking the Wehrmacht’s escape routes. The 378th dive-bombed a railroad bridge with poor results after being forced to abandon its primary target, the railroad bridge at St. Hilles, because of bad visibility. The same weather kept the 379th from striking its assigned target, a troop concentration, so it bombed targets of opportunity, destroying 20 boxcars and a road junction. The 377thalso missed the troop concentration and destroyed a railroad bridge and a power house. In the afternoon, the group sent out several squadron-size missions to dive-bomb road junctions with six-hour delay fuses to disrupt German movements at night.


68 years ago: Ed Fisher of the 362nd FG becomes an ace

A dive-bombing mission by the 362nd Fighter Group on July 13, 1944 to the marshalling yards at Montargis destroyed 12 boxcars and a railroad bridge, plus 20 to 30 boxcars damaged by strafing. On the way home, the group ran across four Fw 190s; Col. Morton Magoffin destroyed two and the 377th’s Capt. Edwin Fisher got the other two, making him an ace. The victims were Ogfr. Helmut Merten and Uffz. Hermann Grad of 4./JG26, Ofhr. Ruthart von Richtofen of 10./JG2, and an unidentified member of II./JG1. Only Grad survived his downing.



Battle of the 1:72 A6M5s: Tamiya vs. FineMolds

It’s not often that two top-flight scale model companies release kits of the same subject – a subject native to their headquarters nation, to boot – within a little less than 12 months of each other, but that’s what has sparked our fourth head-to-head kit battle. In February and March, 2011, FineMolds put out its 1:72 A6M5 Type 52 Zero fighter as part of a promotion with Model Graphix magazine, a similar scheme as what it did for its A6M2 and a little later its A6M3. Then, in February 2012, Tamiya came out with its own A6M5 Type 52. There it is – two Japanese heavy-hitters, with 1:72 kits of the later version of Japan’s lightweight fighter. This calls for a head to head battle!

Before we get started, let’s set the ground rules for this far-eastern fight! This will be a 12-round contest, scored on a modified 10-point must system. The winner of each round gets 10 points, with second scoring 9, except in the event of a knockdown. A knockdown is any area where a model truly excels in detail or accuracy, or where one falls down badly in those same areas. A KO may come if a model has a terminal problem – an error or omission that would require serious surgery to fix – but the pundits say that, based on past history, neither of these pugilists is likely to hit the canvas.

Your judges for this evening’s bout are… Hailing from Alameda, California, a 1:72 scale specialists whose model is, “scale modelers do it with tiny tools”… me!

Let’s meet tonight’s contestants. In this corner, out of the great nation of Japan, FineMolds! And its Nipponese neighbor, from Shizuoka, is Tamiya!

And now, レッツランブルに準備をする! (That’s “let’s get ready to rumble” in Japanese, gaijin!).

Round 1. Box

Here’s where the FineMolds/Model Graphix gimmick hurts. The parts come in two boxes, with the parts divided into three bags. You get the wings, clear parts and a few other details in one box and the fuselage, decals and engine and cockpit parts in the other box. While the sturdy boxes protect the parts nicely, this is a pain during construction (as I found during my A6M2b build) because it’s really tough to collect all the parts between build sessions in these odd boxes, which open in the center and have small compartments that only really fit half of the parts. Meanwhile, Tamiya has a conventional box, with a painting of an A6M5 from the Junyo Air Group flyiong placidly through a cloudy sky. Offbeat is good sometimes, but in the practical area of boxes, the tried and true is that way for a reason. Round goes to Tamiya!

Round 2. Surface detail

If this were a race, this round would be a photo finish. Both models have fine recessed panel lines, and among the nicest I’ve ever seen. They also replicate all of the same panel lines, which is itself remarkable; in past head-to-head battles, we’ve seen manufacturers pick and choose small details to replicate or omit. These two foes go toe to toe in the panel department, Ultimately, the judges find that the Tamiya kit has slightly more refined panel lines, so the round goes to Tamiya by a hair.

Round 3. Fidelity of outline

Both models capture the contours of the Zero effectively, and it comes down to nit-picking to determine a winner here. Tamiya captures the tail cone more effectively, but the way this area is engineered that detail could easily be eradicated during construction. Tamiya’s upper wings include slightly raised doors above the wing-mounted 20mm cannons; a search of photos found only a single photo that suggested these doors stood proud of the wing. FineMolds lacks the raised doors; that’s enough to make round 3 a tie.

Round 4. Ordnance

There’s not much in the way of underwing stores in these Zero kits; both accurately capture the later-style tank as a two-part unit. Both models provide the cannon barrels with flash hiders, and neither has the barrels drilled out. The machine guns on the fuselage deck ahead of the windscreen are also both well captured, but the Tamiya machine guns are slightly better. By a hair, the round goes to Tamiya!

Round 5. Wheel wells and landing gear

The wheel wells are one of the few spots where there’s a distinct difference. Both kits use similar engineering: detail on the inside of the top wing, with a boxed bay and rib detail on the lower wings. Here’s the thing: the FineMolds kit has four ribs, while the Tamiya kit has five. Checking the references, the correct number is five – giving Tamiya a big edge! The wheels in the Tamiya kit more closely resemble the reference photos, Then FineMolds struts are very nice, as are the gear doors and their hinge details, but Tamiya is just that much better. In this round, it’s no contest – Tamiya comes away the clear winner here.

Round 6. Cockpit

Let’s just run down the components in each kit, starting with Tamiya. There’s a seat (which needs its lightening holes to be drilled out and have belts added), a single-piece mount for the seat, a rear bulkhead frame (which has its lightening holes drilled out). A backing piece for the instrument panel holds a blank instrument panel that gets two sets of decal instrument clusters are complemented by two machine gun bodies. A separate seat adjustment lever fits to the right of the seat against the bulkhead. This is combined with a very nice floor piece that has a stick, a separate left-side console and a convincing control column.

In the FineMolds kit, there’s a seat (which needs the lightening holes to be drilled out), a four-part mount for the seats, and a rear bulkhead (which needs its lightening holes to be drilled out). A backing piece for the instrument panel holds a panel with recesses for every instrument; the instruments are all catered to with decals. Two machine gun bodies go atop the panel. A separate seat adjustment lever fits to the right of the seat against the rear bulkhead. This is combined with a very nice floor piece that includes fine rivets and a separate rudder bar; the control column is convincing, and there’s a left-side panel that gets a couple of its own instrument decals.

It seems pretty even – but FineMolds gives all the radios, boxes, compass and trim wheel as separate parts. This allows you to paint them separately before installing them into the cockpit. Tamiya provides some of these details as separate boxes, with slightly raised relief on the fuselage sides; FineMolds provides stringer and former detail, plus all the boxes. It’s close – but FineMolds is the winner.

Round 7. Engines

Tamiya’s engine is two banks of cylinders, the front one with push rods, with a separate crankcase. This attaches to a firewall/cowl flap combination, and the distinctive exhaust pipes affix to the rear of the firewall. It’s a nice approach. FineMolds has a slightly more refined combination of cylinder banks and a crankcase that also includes the inner part of the ignition harness. It also has a full set of collector pipes for the rear of the engine, and the distinctive exhausts attach to the back of the engine. This is a nice detail – especially as FineMolds give you the option of open cowl flaps, so you can see the detail around the back of the engine. Round goes to FineMolds!

Round 8. Propellers, spinner and cowling

The props are very similar – Tamiya’s may be a bit thicker in the blade – and the spinners are the right shape and size. Often the prop is an overlooked area. Not so here. However, the FineMolds cowling seems a very tiny bit undersized, while Tamiya has the proper taper and looks to be just the right size. Because of this issue, this round goes to Tamiya.

Round 9. Clear Parts

FineMolds gives you a single-piece canopy, plus a separate windscreen, rear canopy and sliding canopy. It also gives you a clear gunsight and wingtip light covers. Tamiya gives you a windscreen and a combined closed sliding canopy and rear canopy and an opened rear canopy and sliding canopy, plus wingtip light covers and gunsights. Clarity is excellent in both cases. Here’s what it came down to: FineMolds has the wingtip light covers molded into the wings, to use the clear light covers, you’ll have to sand the notches open. Tamiya give you notches in the lower wings – but, oddly, not in the top wings. You’ll have to sand the notch, and you’ll have to use the clear light covers. For this odd omission, I’m giving this one to FineMolds.

Round 10. Instructions

Again, the gimmicky packaging of the FineMolds kit hurts it. Instructions are broken up over two issues of the magazine; there’s also a nice step-by-step build article with photos that helps. But it’s all in Japanese, and it’s tough to know when to switch issues to keep building. Tamiya has its usual beautiful and clear decal sheet, which leaves no doubts as to what you should be doing. The FineMolds instructions also disappoint by having no English translation on the decal options page; you’ll have to do some Googling to figure out what your scheme of choice represents. Round goes to Tamiya!

Round 11. Decals

Like I said, FineMolds’ instructions don’t give you an English version of the history of the subjects. All three are green-over-gray with a black cowling. First up is a plane from the 653rd Kokutai, September 1944 at Oita Naval Training Air Base; this plane had white surrounds on the hinomarus on the wings and fuselage. The second plane is from the 221st Kokutai operating out of the Philippines in 1944 This aircraft also has white surrounds on the hinomarus on wings and fuselage sides. Finally, there’s a plane from the 261st Kokutai based at Saipan during the Battle of the Philippine Sea; this plane has black surrounds on the hinomarus on the wings and fuselage.

Tamiya’s markings are for three planes as well. There’s a pair of Nakajima-manufactured A6M5s – a plane from the 652nd Kokutai aboard the carrier Junyo at the Battle of the Philippine Sea and a plane from the 653rd Kokutai in Oita Prefecture in 1944 – and a Mitsubishi-built A6M5 from the Rabaul Air Group in 1943-44.  All the options have black surrounds on the hinomarus on the wings and fuselage.

The major markings are all very nice; FineMolds almost gets an edge because of the data decals, which are very complete. But in reality, this round has to be scored a draw. 10-10!

Round 12. Extras

The FineMolds DF loop is better than the Tamiya version, and FineMolds’ treatment of decking below the rear canopy and the headrest is much more modeler-friendly – you won’t lose any details during seam-sanding the way they’ve engineered this section. The external aileron counterweights are a bit finer in the Tamiya kit than they are in the FineMolds kit. Tamiya handles the scoop below the cowling a little better. That said, this round will go to FineMolds

And there’s the bell! Let’s go to the cards!

As predicted, no one hit the canvas in this fight – both models are eminently buildable and look like wonderful ways to invest your time in a model. The final score is 116-114 Tamiya, making it a clear winner – but, had FineMolds sold their kit through more conventional channels and with a bit more awareness of the international appeal of their kits, it would have been much closer.

The next battle comes between modelers – it’s not the kit that makes the model a winner, it’s the builder, and both of these kits will build into an outstanding replica of this classic late-war fighter.

68 years ago: the 4th FG’s Bill Gillette scores two

A few years ago, I gave a talk on my then-new book on the 4th Fighter Group at the Villages, a retirement community near San Jose, California. To my surprise, in the audience was Willard “Bill” Gillette, who flew with the 4th! I joked then – as I do now – that Bill and the others in the audience at this Aviation Club meeting should be the ones doing the talking, while I sat and listened!

Bill’s big day was 68 years ago. On 7 July, 1944, Lt. Shelton Monroe led an escort to Aschersleben/Benburg, and in the process the group engaged a mass of fighters preparing to attack the heavies near Nordhausen. Charging into a gaggle of about 70 single-engine fighters, Capt. Thomas Joyce and Lt. Gillette each shot down a Bf 109, while Lt. Monroe damaged an Fw 190.

Soon, about 75 twin-engined German fighters started lining up as if to attack the bombers but did not make a move against them. Capt. Joyce made a pass on them and felled his second German plane of the day, with Lt. Jack McFadden getting some shots into the same plane as the pilot was bailing out. Meanwhile, Lt. Charles Evans made an attack on an Me 410. from high and behind. “Another P-51 (piloted by Lt. John Scally) came in behind the twin-engined aircraft as I was going down,” said Evans. “His port wing hit the starboard wing of the enemy aircraft. The P-51 immediately began spinning with one wing gone, and the enemy aircraft started a flat spin to the starboard.” Lt. Scally became a POW.

Lt. Preston Hardy, climbing up from this engagement, bounced 14 Bf 109s and shot down two while damaging a third. Lt. Gillette jumped his own group of Bf 109s near Blankenburg, destroying one of them. Lt. Gerald Chapman destroyed an Fw 190 and Lt. John Goodwyn jumped 30 Me 410s preparing to attack the B-24s and downed one of them as well.