Book Report: the Kamikaze Hunters

My commute to and from work involves a 20-minute ferry ride, which gives me time to catch up on some reading. The first book I polished off was one that had been staring at me from the book store shelves until I finally succumbed to it Will Iredale’s the Kamikaze Hunters (2016, Pegasus Books).


The title’s a little deceptive – you might be inclined to think it was about U.S. Navy or Marine Corps pilots. Not so – this deals with a much less thoroughly covered area of World War II, the Royal Navy and Fleet Air Arm’s operations in the later years of the war.


And it doesn’t just cover the Pacific – combat starts with the Home Fleet’s attacks on the Tirpitz in European waters. But really, the book starts much earlier, with the training of a handful of men who would go on to fly Corsairs from British carrier decks. Iredale mixes in contemporary letters and recent interviews splendidly to paint fully realized portraits of these men. One trick he accomplishes is to avoid tipping his hand that one of these men doesn’t survive the war. Usually, authors telegraph someone’s demise by quoting only their letters or third-person versions of their stories; Iredale deftly avoids this so when the pilot is lost it’s a genuine surprise.


The attacks on the Sumatran oil fields are discussed in depth, as are the raids capping the Japanese special attack airfields. Iredale does an excellent job of explaining these raids; I’m building a Firefly FR.I that flew during them, and I was unaware their primary task, improvised on the spot, was to bust barrage balloons (which they were not great at!).


Of grim interest are the accounts of kamikaze attacks on the British Pacific Fleet and its armor-decked carriers, which were more resilient in shrugging off suicide planes than their American counterparts (but paid for it in carrying fewer aircraft). Just the same, the crews suffered horrible injuries and death the same as any men exposed aboard U.S. carriers.


The book also touches on the incredible aircraft attrition rate for the FAA – only about 15 percent of it suffered during air combat. The rest owed to deck accidents and kamikaze damage.


There are a couple of boo-boos – Iredale repeats the myth about the Japanese carries at Midway having packed flight decks when they were bombed, and at one point says the carrier crews overpainted their aircraft’s camouflage with blue paint (in reality, attrition and a change in painting specs turned FAA carrier units blue all on their own).


Corsairs take center stage, but there are also Hellcats. Avengers, Barracudas, Fireflies and Seafires – a virtual airshow of types. But it’s the brave young airmen who are the stars of this excellent and eminently readable book. Strongly recommended for students of the Pacific War.

Workbench update: Two done, two close to paint, four a long way off

Here’s an update on a few projects mentioned here in the blog over the last year or so: DSC_0375North American P-51D Mustang

This one was completed at the end of January in time for the Petaluma contest – and it came out pretty well. I won’t belabor the construction, since I wrote an article for the IPMS/Journal about it, but it’s the Tamiya Mustang with an Obscureco wing with dropped flaps, an Aires interior and wheels, and a vacuformed canopy. The plane is finished as Roscoe Brown’s “Bunny”/”Miss Kentucky State,” and the figure of Roscoe was made with a CMK body and a Prieser head. This model had plenty of frustrations, but it came out pretty well. Sparrowhawk glamor 4 Sparrowhawk glamour 1 Curtis F9C-2 Sparrowhawk

I never wrote about this here – I tried to get it done on deadline back in September and didn’t quite make it (it was finished in December). Another Journal article subject, I’ll give you the basics: Pegasus kit, with an Engines n’ Things R-975, scratch-built interior, skyhook, landing gear, and struts. The decals came from Starfighter and the CMR resin kit (which is pretty awful too). The rigging is made from acupuncture needles, cut to length and added to pre-cut holes. It won the Ralph Patino Award at the Silicon Valley Classic for the best model built from the worst kit! DSC_0273 Fairey Firefly Mk. V

Not exactly stalled – I did cut open the observer’s cockpit a couple of weeks ago – but not much closer to completion than it’s been for months. I suspect this will be one of the next two models I finish. DSC_0400 Republic P-47D-30 Thunderbolt

Here’s Gene Martin’s Thunderbolt, inching closer to completion. The red, black and olive drab parts of the model are done and masked, but my first pass of metallizer revealed some sloppy joints at the wing, so I had to sand it out and rescribe the panel lines. I am really looking forward to getting this one done using the Barracuda Studios decals. DSC_0404 Douglas KA-3B Skywarrior

Well, the fuselage is done and it rests on the workbench like a beached whale, appropriately enough.     DSC_0386 Martin B-26-1-MA Marauder

The wheels are done, the torpedo is finished, and the next step is the daunting reconstruction of the tail gun position. It can be done – but it’s a lot of work. I’ll have to scavenge the propeller spinners from an Airfix P-61, because the Lone Star Models spinners are totally unusable (different diameters? Really?). Lots of work ahead, but nothing revolutionary. DSC_0401DSC_0402 Mikoyan MiG-15

This one snuck into the build sequence because I needed something to do “brute force” modeling on while I was traveling. I never got that far, because cutting open the speed brakes and, in the process, converting a MiG-15 bis into a MiG-15, took a lot of cutting, drilling, filing, and cursing. I’m not sure I’d recommend the Brassin brakes – the instructions leave a lot to the imagination, and for surgery like this, instructions are important. The Brassin cockpit is nice, though, and that’s installed and painted. I was hoping to have this little machine glued together and ready for paint quickly, but taking my time on it will not hurt. The basic kit is rather nice and I suspect it’ll get finished pretty quickly. Convair F-106 Delta Dart I’ve stopped, hoping that Meng will make a new one.

A friendly Firefly assist from Mr. Sutherland

Roy Sutherland is a good friend of mine, and we’ve worked on a couple of projects together. I wrote some chunks of his book on modeling the deHavilland Mosquito and the history section of his book on the deHavilland Sea Vixen. He’s also a subcontractor and occasional pattermaker for Obscureco,  and I’m passing him research material for his decal line.

This relationship has its benefits. Last night, knowing I was working on the Special Hobby Firefly Mk. V, Roy gave me a disk filled with images of a restored Firefly AS.6 – and lots of them. The next book in his line of detailed volumes on little-known aircraft is going to be on the Firefly, or so plans say, and I can say it will be very, very useful for modelers. Hopefully, I’ll have a model finished to show just how useful the book can be!

Now, the photos didn’t clear up my questions about the Mk. V’s rear-seat radio arrangement; I still think the resin parts in the kit are a bit suspect, but until I have evidence to the contrary I’m going with them. Roy’s photos, though, add a lot of ideas for extra stuff in the cockpit – documents, details of the various fittings, how the observer’s window operates, and so on.

My plan is to build a Korean War Firefly V, and I’ll probably use the kit decals (gasp!) since they fit the bill. But it’s not an easy build – the kit really has short-run tendencies and I see lots of filling and re-scribing in my future.

And as for those photos: no, you can’t see them. Not yet. They’ll be yours in living color when Roy finally gets that book out!

This week’s focus: painting a pony

You can accuse me of having a short attention span; I rack it up to having too many models. In any event, the Zero and the Firefly were set aside in their early interior stages for some work on my Tamiya P-51D, which I’ve been working on for a long time. How long? Well, it was the test body for both the Obscureco P-51D wing (with dropped flaps) and the Obscureco P-51D-5-NA conversion, and so it was on display at the Obscureco table at the Orange County Nationals in 2007. For a 1:72 single-engine prop job, that’s pretty sad, frankly.

The good news is that I may be close to getting the natural metal finish on the model – and once that happens, decals aren’t far off. And when decals are on the model, it becomes my sole focus.

Over the weekend, I re-sprayed the anti-glare panel in olive drab 613 after cleaning up the windscreen join. Tamiya did not cover itself in glory when it came to the clear parts in this kit; the windscreen fit is indifferent, and the two-part sliding canopy is just silly. That will be replaced by a single vacuformed canopy, and the windscreen presented a big seam to fill – which I missed until it was painted. I filled, sanded and fairly well destroyed that coat of paint. Tamiya also added a bunch of very petite rivets to the windscreen, which I also had to replace on the left side, since filling the seam eradicated them. But, once that hard work was concluded, I masked and airbrushed a fresh coat of olive drab on the nose, and the next step is the reverse-masking of the nose in preparation for the natural metal paints.

Actually, let me be more precise: the natural metal paints go on the fuselage. The Mustang’s wings were painted in aluminum lacquer, which I’ll approximate with Testors non-buffable aluminum metallizer mixed with some gray paint. The real Mustang’s upper wings were all puttied and sanded to maximize the laminar-flow wing, so I did just that – I filled in the panel lines on the resin wing with CA glue, then sanded them flush. Of course, I left the ammunition tray doors alone; otherwise, I’d have to convert my model into a racer!

When I made the master of the wing, I debated removing the panel lines, but left them there because I suspected many people would balk at buying a smooth hunk of resin – we’re all too conditioned to expect surface detail. Luckily, the smoothing trick works with minimal effort – and next time I’ll do it before I stick the wing to the fuselage!

Anyhow, the Tamiya kit is nice, but at this stage mine has a Cooper Details interior, an Obscureco wing, an Obscureco tail, and will end up with some sort of resin 108-gallon pressed paper tanks, making this a much heavier model than your usual Mustang. Tamiya provides the prop, spinner, forward fuselage and scoop parts, landing gear… and that’s about it.

I’ll post photos of any progress achieved this week!

In Firefly news, I have the interior painted, but I’m a little suspicious about the resin “detail parts” in the kit. The radios in the back seat just seem a little hinckey to me – and I can’t locate a good reference to let me know if my hunch is correct or not. The plan is to build a Korean War-era Firefly, but my five references all ignore the observer’s position, and web references are fairly abysmal (not to mention the restorations are often not to stock). Eddie Kurdziel’s Firefly is a Mk. VI, so the rear is outfitted for anti-submarine warfare, so it’s not useful. Hopefully, my Mustang meandering will buy me time to get to the bottom of the backseat.

Random bits: Zero, Firefly, Liberator

As promised, here’s a photo of the Zero, which as yet does not have instrument faces and the instrument panel installed.


Note the masking tape at the front and rear of each fuselage half. That protects a coat of Aotake (a metallic blue-green), which will probably be utterly invisible when the model is assembled but which is there just the same. The plane’s seat is complete with painted and flat-coated seatbelts; next up will be the control panel, machine gun breeches and the instrument shelf still missing from the left side of the cockpit.


I also added the under-wing panels suited to the variant of Type 21 I am building; there are also wing leading-edge inserts that are subtype-specific. The inserts on the wing were a bit proud of the surface when I test-fit them, but a bit of sanding brought them right into line with the rest of the lower wings.


My other project (as-yet unphotographed) was the addition of the “flying six” panel (really, a “flying eight” panel) to the rest of the Firefly panel, which was then added to the resin instrument “shroud” piece. I have two of these kits and in both the gunsight was broken off the instrument shroud; I’ll do a little research on the sight and add something appropriate.


A final bit of news: I picked the subject of my B-24D build, and it really should have been obvious. I’ll be building “Brewery Wagon,” a tribute both to the heroic crew of this bomber and to Tom Meyers of Possumwerks Decals, who passed away last year just after getting his venture off the ground. The “Brewery Wagon” was the only B-24D in the 93rd Bomb Group to correctly press on to Ploesti when the rest of its group made a mistaken turn at Targoviste, meaning it pressed on to Ploesti alone. A flak hit shattered the nose, killing the bombardier and the navigator, and pilot John Palm lost one engine and found two on fire. He had virtually lost his right leg, too – it would be amputated after the battle. Still, he pressed on until a Bf 109 shot the bomber up further. Palm set the “Brewery Wagon” down in a field southwest of Ploesti, and co-pilot William Love triggered the fire extinguishers as he did to prevent a conflagration; eight of the 10 aboard the plane survived to become POWs.

How much blacker could a Firefly’s interior be? None. None more black.

In an effort to mix things up, I busted out the Special Hobby Fairey Firefly V this weekend and started work on its cockpit. The Firefly V had one interior color option straight from the dealer – basic black. However, there were some nice little color flourishes thrown in, and black is a fun challenge to paint and drybrush. A lot of people fear black – as an inside color or as an outside color – but I like it. That may be because I was an art student at one time – when I was 12 or 13, I began painting landscapes in oils and took a mess of lessons. When I was 17, I sold enough paintings to fund my way to Washington D.C. for a trip with a classmate and my social studies teacher, Helen Mineta; we stayed at her brother’s Norm house and I was there to see him and Daniel Inoyue testify at the hearings on reparations for the Japanese Americans interned during World War II.
Of course, that adventure has squat to do with painting a Firefly interior. You know what does, though? This page. Go to “Media Gallery,” then select “Search the Media Gallery!” and in the first three blocks enter “photo,” “detail” and “interior.” You’ll be rewarded with 10 shots of the inside of Eddie Kurdziel’s Firefly WB518, an immaculately-restored Firefly VI, which has a very stock-appearing cockpit (period covers are in place over modern instruments).
I had a lot of fun working on the instrument panel, with its red, yellow and blue bezels in certain spots. I airbrushed the photoetched kit panels with Testors’ aircraft interior black, then drybrushed them with panzer gray. The bezels were painted the appropriate bright colors, and then the acetate backs were added with Future floor polish as an adhesive – it creates its own clear lens over each instrument!
The rest of the interior will get a going-over next. It’ll be an exercise in drybrushing – the many resin parts are already painted a very dark gray, so a wash would be pointless. Picking out the various “black boxes,” however, is where the tricks will come in. Since these came from subcontractors, often there were minor variations in finish – some were more glossy than others, some more gray. Mixing aircraft interior black, flat black, glossy black and various shades of gray can give you many sheens and shades of black (okay, really, dark gray) and helps break up the “black hole” appearance. Fairey was also kind to us modelers by using a bright red-brown Bakelite seat in the cockpit, another colorful detail in a dark interior.
Stand by for photos…

Worst Kung-Fu Movie Title Ever: Enter the Firefly

The next model to move into my seven-at-a-time rotation: The Fairey Firefly. (Yes, John Heck, it did with the great multi-bracket round-robin computer solitaire tournament, defeating the P-51D in the final.) I’m not sure which Firefly I’ll do, although I lean toward a Korean War machine (And that would most likely be a Mk. V), and I have both the Special Hobby and Octopus kits… Does anyone have any suggestions for references and/or aftermarket parts to spruce up a 1:72 Firefly? I already have the “Sea Fury/Firefly/Venom In Australian Service” book, and the Grub Street publication “Sea Furies and Fireflies Over Korea.” (By the way, get a look at the price on this on Amazon. I’ll sell it to you for $33 less than that!) Any other Firefly-specific titles come to mind?

By the way, this blog post will be a neat way to calculate exactly how long it takes me to finish a model. The date of the initial commitment is now etched in stone/electrons. Please wait at least 18 months before starting with the taunts.