M6 Bomb Service Truck and M5 Bomb Trailer: A 362nd FG diorama from Airfix’s 1:72 USAAF Support Set

Airfix’s USAAF Bomber Resupply Set comes packaged with box art placing its contents next to a B-17, but at least one of the vehicles in the set was a crucial tool for USAAF fighter units, too – especially Ninth Air Force P-47 Thunderbolt units. The M6 Bomb Service Truck, a Chevrolet-produced vehicle developed from the 1940 Chevrolet 1 ½-ton truck, served a critical ron moving ordnance around bases across England and later the European continent. The Ninth Air Force dropped 225,799 tons of bombs during WWII, and most of that was moved from storage to the aircraft by the M6.

In the background, note one of the 362nd FG’s M6 Bomb Service Trucks.

About 7000 M6s were manufactured between 1942 and September 1944, when production halted in favor of the M27, a six-by-six bomb service truck based on the highly successful GMC CCKW. As a truck, it was not impressive, with an 83-horsepower engine burning fuel at an environmentalist-alarming rate of 2.6 miles per gallon. But it was a workhorse – the hoist on the back deck could lift 4,000 pounds, and the truck could tow up to five M5 bomb trailers, each capable of carrying 5,000 pounds of bombs. That means each M6 could move 12 ½ tons of bombs on each trip.

The M6 could also accommodate four passengers, one in the cab next to the driver and three on a bench seat on the rear deck in a very “unsafe at any speed” arrangement. It also had room for ammunition back there.

I was considering ways to scratch-build a 1:72 M6 when Airfix dropped this kit in the autumn of 2016. The model itself is very nice, but there are always ways to improve upon the kit (and drag the build time out). I think I identified most of those opportunities during my build!

Construction starts with the frame and associated components. There were significant mold marks around the frame components, almost all of them on a flat surface, which made clean-up fairly easy. The suspension springs went on next, and Airfix provided much-appreciated positive location points for these. In many 1:72 truck kits, the springs have hard-to-spot location points; get them off, and your vehicle only rests of three wheels!

The frame assembled neatly and removal of flash was quick and easy.

 

The wheels are a little simplified, but the mounts are not pins but rather large ball socket-like things that insert into the backs of the wheels. The tires slide on over the outside of the wheels, meaning they can be painted separately and added at the end, but they can also be pressed in place to check alignment of the suspension.

The fenders went on neatly, but I took care to make sure they were level up front. The left fender wanted to ride higher than the right one, and I assumed this would have cause problems when the hood was added, so I forced it into place. The placement of the rear deck and driver’s compartment floor was a little iffy, so I built and installed the firewall and dashboard first to provide a point of reference. The gear shift handle broke while I was trying to clean it up, so I made a new one from wire and glued it into the sawed-off mount, then used white glue to form a knob on the top of it. I fashioned clutch, brake and gas pedals from styrene card, and added them to the driver’s side floor. The seats were painted a light olive-tan mixture and set aside for installation later.

The hood, firewall, driver’s compartment and rear deck all in their places.

At this point, I shot the model with its first coat of field drab. I find multiple coats are mandatory for small-scale military models – not because I want a deep finish, but because they have so many angles and recesses that if you wait to paint, it’s easy to find yourself with unpainted areas you can no longer get to!

Sprayed with field drab – coat one of many!

The hood and front end sides were assembled and added to the firewall. Next should have come the grille, but Airfix provided it as a solid item with raised bar detail. That was a letdown after my WC-51 and CCKW-335, with their photoetched grilles. Since the was no photoetched set available, I decided to make my own with lead foil, styrene strip and stiff wire. A surplus Eduard radiator front went in front of the engine, followed by my pretty-good-but-not-perfect grille. About three days later, Eduard came out with its detail set for this kit. You’re welcome.

Isn’t that cute – he tried to make his own grille. It was almost good, too.

In the meantime, I added the toolbox behind the seating area and started work on the hoist assembly. It consists of a U-shaped support and the “trolley,” the bent I-bar that the hoist runs on. These push together at the joint – push hard, because getting them square is critical for alignment later. The assembly fits neatly into the deck – again, the fit is excellent. A hoist crank with gears fits onto a peg on the trolley, making a perfectly nice hoist.

A good view of the hoist and trolley, also showing some of the Eduard details in place.

To complicate matters, Chevrolet threw a bench on the back of the truck, hanging from the trolley. The kit provides this as three parts: a bench, the bench back and the bent metal framework that connected them. The metal framework was out of scale according to my photos, so I made replacements from bent wire. Bending four identical frames was not fun, but once done it looked much more like the real thing.

There’s also a bar at the top of the bench back provided as a separate piece. This drove me crazy – the attachment point wasn’t secure, it was hard to get it aligned in all axes, and it was really easy to knock it off. Part B05 was my least favorite part of the model.

About this time, the Eduard set arrived. My scratch-built grille went in the trash, and the Eduard grille took its place. Eduard’s bumped, with tow hooks, went on the front of the truck in place of the kit part, and non-skid plates went on all the running boards. A new floor for the driver and passenger slipped neatly over my scratch-built gear shifter; Eduard provided a hand brake and winch control handle. All the tool boxes received tiny padlocks. The rear of the truck got a new rear plate, tow points and a reflector. A new winch head meant carefully sawing the end of the hoist away and replacing it with photoetched parts. All that work was totally worth it.

That’s more like it: Eduard’s photoetched grille’s worth the cost of the whole set, but the other details are great too.

The model was given another coat of field drab, and then the tiny details started to be added. The rear frame for the roof was painted and added, and then I sanded the molded-on windshield wipers from the clear windshield, which was then polished back into clarity, masked and painted. The steering wheel was set into place, and I made armrests from wire for each seat, then glued the completed seats into their spots in the cab. The vertical supports for the roof were a bit thick, so I replaced them with thick lead solder, bent to shape and CA-glued in place.

The canvas roof itself was painted using Testors ModelMaster beige and was set aside until final assembly. I painted the clear headlight bullets silver at their backs, then field drab, leaving the fronts clear to simulate lenses. These were carefully glued to the fenders behind the new photoetched headlight guards.

Now it was time for the final coat of paint, followed by a brush-applied layer of Future as a gloss coat for the decals. I used most of the very good kit decals, supplementing them with bumper markings for the 362nd Fighter Group, 379th Fighter Squadron. I still had a few that Norm Filer had made for my Jeep project more than 10 years ago. I also jumbled the numbers on the hood, making sure they stayed in the ranges assigned to M6s – I found that information on-line on a vehicle restoration website. When the decals were all down, I applied a heavy wash to the model and the flat coated the model, then gave the decals what I call a “fade coat” of heavily-thinned field drab, which reduces the brightness of the white markings

After decals, the stars and other markings looked too bright, so they received a “fade coat” of very thin field drab paint.

Mostly assembled – missing only the side supports for the roof.

Little details came next. Very carefully, I wrapped some braided silver thread around the hoist drum, using tweezers. Only five or six turns were needed to simulate the cable on the reel. The other end was stretched over the winch’s roller and head, measured, carefully, and cut to length. A photoetched hook purloined from an ancient Verlinden F6F set (it was a catapult hook in an earlier life) was CA-glued not to the cable but to the bumper – this hook was often attached to the rear bumper. Once the hook was in place, the cable was trimmed, then carefully CA-glued to the hook.

The windshield and canvas top were added, followed by the addition of Eduard’s very fine windshield wipers. The final addition was the tires. I’d become weary of unrealistic looking tires on 1:72 vehicles, so I scoured the web to find well-rendered tires on 1:35 models to learn some of the secrets. Let me just say this: pastels. Not only do they replicate the wear and weathering seen on tires but they impart a dead-flat quality that even flat coats can’t deliver. Once the pastels were applied in a satisfactory way, I added them to the wheels and ran a little thin CA glue into the joint from the back of the wheels, taking care to get alignment correct.

The M6 was finished at this point, but one of the clubs I’m a member of has build meetings and I needed something to work on, so I started the M5 bomb trailer included in the set. This is a remarkably quick and easy build – I had the trailer together in an hour or so, and after two hours had added the details, applied a coat of paint and prepped it for decals. The tires were given the same treatment as those on the M6 and added at the very end of the process. (I’ve since found a photo of an M5 with a V-1 on it – another great diorama possibility!)

Now, I needed a base. The 362nd saw a lot of combat during the winter of 1944/45, and I’d thought about doing a snow scene for a long time. This would be a good opportunity to learn a new technique. I selected an appropriate-sized base in the form of a left-over trophy from Silicon Valley Scale Modelers’ “Pimp My Model” contest (from 2008, maybe?) and popped off the resin plates on its front. I masked off the edges and applied a layer of scenic glue, then sprinkled on a layer of Woodland Scenics fine cinders ballast. The reason for this nearly-black base? I figure the vehicles would chew up the snow and get down to the frozen mud below; the black ballast would work well for this.

Doing some research on the ways railroad modelers do snow, I found a great article that identified six ways railroaders make snow, from simply painting the terrain white to various mixes of baby powder and baking soda with PVA glue to what the author said was his favorite: mixing Woodland Scenics soft flake snow with water effects. This looked like cold, wet snow, so I decided to try it.

The water effects material isn’t cheap – a bottle costs around $20. The good news is that in 1:72, it’ll handle four or five dioramas easily! This was poured into a bowl, followed by an equal amount of the soft flake snow, and the two were mixed as best as possible. The result is a nightmare to work with – fluffy, sticky and prone to adhere better to itself than to the base. I ended up frosting the base like a cake, leaving an area in the center for a pathway. The pathway received PVA glue mixed with the soft flake snow – I wanted it to look slushier and more travelled than the edges.

I added a few details to the mix: several 55-gallon drums and a spare drop tank on one side, and a few tufts of Silflor grass on the other. A little extra snow was added to the drums, and a bit more soft flake snow was sprinkled on for good measure. When everything looked even, I lightly misted a coat of water over the base to smooth things out even more.

The M6 benefits from little details in the cab and on the hoist, like the cable attached to the bumper.

The slushy pathway was worked over with a pencil repeatedly as it dried to give it a little texture. Ultimately, that worked pretty well; I had to work hard to ensure that truck and trailer had places for their wheels to go so they all contacted the ground!

The trailer received two bombs I’d prepared for future P-47 builds – they came from the Tamiya kit. They were assembled, sanded smooth, painted and then had their bands applied by chucking the fins in a motor tool and applying yellow stripes with a fine brush. Further weathering with pastels made them look as though they’d been in a field dump awaiting their turn to be dropped on the Germans.

A good overview of the figures in place in the diorama.

The figures came from CMK’s U.S. Army truck drivers set. They went together reasonably well, and they had the right cold-weather gear as seen in my photos. The heads were separate pieces, so I could position them looking skyward, as though they were awaiting the return of their squadron’s planes. (One viewer of the diorama was startled to see figures seemingly looking up at him!)

Hey, you up there! Did you really have to stick us in the snow?!?

 

The elements were all place on the diorama and that was that! Project finished. In the future, with the snow effects, I will plan ay areas that should be fresh snow white before applying it; the snow flake/water effects mixture kept becoming more translucent and more dirty-looking over the next two weeks. Lesson learned for my next Battle of the Bulge-era diorama!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Beep reaches its conclusion…

After a knock-down, dragged-out battle, the WC-52 Beep was completed yesterday, ready for today’s contest in Petaluma.

It did well in the contest, taking second. Sadly, it was not considered for the silk purse from a sow’s ear award; the basic kit was so terrible and badly shaped (and fit so poorly) it should have been in the running.

The decals came from the kit, the Academy Dragon Wagon and the Academy 2 1/2-ton truck. They were coerced into conforming to the surface with Solvaset.

The final touches were the windshield (scratch-built), the winch (with a home-made tow cable of braided steel wire) and the dash and steering wheel (made from various bits and bobs, including a spare data plate from a color photoetched set).

It’s finished as a vehicle used by the 379th Fighter Squadron, 362nd Fighter Group (using decals left over from my Jeep build, made by Norm Filer). Its final destination will be a diorama, I expect – but what that diorama will look like is not yet know to me. All I do know is that it will contain only one WC-52!

WC-52 tear-down and re-build (already!)

Remember last week when I had that WC-52 mostly assembled and was working on the detail, and I said I had that awesome reference site to work from? Well, when I finally bothered to look at the references, I discovered a whole bunch of stuff I needed to fix. Thus, 24 hours after that blog post, the WC-52 had lost its wheels, suspension, bed, bumperettes, and was stripped back to the basics.

A hard honest look revealed some things.

1. The kit suspension has the truck’s ride too high. A real WC-52 had the wheels tucked into their wells reasonably closely (for a four-wheel-drive vehicle). My model stood on tippy-toes. I took off the axle/differentials and sanded down the attachment points on the leaf springs, and after I re-attached the axles the model sat better.

2. The detail I replaced was wrong, wrong, wrong. Italeri’s detail – which I replicated faithfully – was weird. One set of side compartment covers looked as if Italeri had taken the real thing and flipped it over so the inside was on the outside. The kit also had weird oval-shaped things on the front on the cargo box. My detail was sanded off and replaced by simple .005 styrene rectangles, fore and aft, to more closely match the real deal.

3. The bumperettes were knocked off. Once the bed was re-done and attached, the bumperettes were re-attached.

4. The front of the vehicle is just off. The hood was more pointed in overall geometry and more rounded at the hood edges than the one in the kit, and the hood’s break line behind the radiator was farther back than on the kit. I filled in this panel line, sanded back the center hinge and re-scribed the line, and rounded off the hood with a flexible file. It’s still not exactly right, but it’s way better than it was.

I also added the fuel filler cap, and I have to work on one of the front bumpers (it broke off and I have to sand the joint. It does look much more like the real vehicle now, and once I add a new radiator cap (the original was obliterated in modifying the hood) I’ll shoot the model with olive drab, and we’ll really see how good the little Dodge looks!

I also found another useful site for the WC-52 here. It has detail photos of the cargo bed, plus drawings – very handy if you’re accurizing a model.

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.

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…

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.