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.

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Midway +69 Model Display – the Photos

Yesterday, I was able to go aboard USS Hornet before museum hours and set up the Battle of Midway display. Here’s a “guided tour” of what’s in the case:

Here’s an overview of the display. All the cards have the name of the plane, the names of the crew and their unit, a description of what that crew did during the battle, and the technical specifications of the plane in question. (An aside – I was astonished at how much lighter the B5N2 and D3A1 were in comparison to the Devastator and Dauntless – they’re larger planes, but each is about 1000 pounds lighter than its counterpart!)

Azusa Ono built this terrific D3A1. You notice we didn’t call it a “Val” – since those names had yet to be introduced in 1942, we thought it best to use the comtemporary nomenclature.

Here’s my SBD-3, built as Clayton Fisher’s plane on June 4. He was Stanhope Ring’s wingman as Ring led Bombing 8 and Scouting 8 in the wrong direction, a decision that’s still controversial today.

Brian Sakai worked miracles to complete an MPM SB2U-3 Vindicator, flown by James Marmande. This familiar plane failed to return on the morning of June 4; it disappeared during the return flight to Midway after VSMB-241 attacked the battleship Haruna.

Daisuke Nakabayashi built the B5N2 commanded by Joichi Tomonaga, who led the torpedo attack on Yorktown. This plane was shot down by “Jimmy” Thach and it failed to score a hit, although two other Hiryu B5N2s did successfully torpedo the carrier.

Here’s the Zero that was well-documented in this blog. Iyozoh Fujita probably shot down four TBDs on June 4 before being downed himself by Japanese anti-aircraft fire.

 

Kevin James Bennett and Mark Schynert also build B5N2s; both of their planes – one from Kaga and one from Akagi – were present at the battle but never flew. They were aboard their carriers, being re-armed for the third time the morning of June 4 – when America dive bombers struck. They were destroyed along with their ships.

Controversy remains to this day about the role this E13A1 played in the Japanese fleet. Tone’s No. 4 scout was delayed on take-off by 30 minutes by a malfunctioning catapult, but poor navigation and messed-up timing may have actually helped it spot the Yorktown. Jim Priete built this Hasegawa kit.

Then we have the Wildcats – a mess of them, all built from the Hasegawa kit. Ed Ingersoll of Florida built Thach’s plane from the morning escort of VT-3 – he downed three Zeros, and later shot down a B5N2 during the torpedo attack on Yorktown.

Laramie Wright did Marion Carl’s F4F-3 using the Quickboost wing conversion.

I built Tom Cheek’s VF-3 Wildcat in 2002. Cheek scored one confirmed victories, and possibly two more, over the Japanese fleet, and may have been the only person to see all three Japanese carriers hit.

Mark Rezac built Bill Leonard’s VF-3 Wildcat; Leonard claimed a victory during the Japanese torpedo attack.

John Carr built “Pat” Mitchell’s F4F-4; Mitchell and his 10 fighters were victims of Ring’s navigation and all 10 had to ditch. Seven of the pilots were eventually rescued.

Here’s Beverly Reid’s VF-6 machine, built by Laramie Wright. Reid was another enlisted pilot who scored a kill during the battle.

Laramie also fought a battle to the death with Special Hobby’s F2A-3 Buffalo. His model depicts William Humberd’s VMF-211 plane; Humberd survived the fight between Japanese Zeroes and Buffalos over Midway, putting him among a select few.

And finally, two views of John Ferdico’s awesome Airfix TBD-1 Devastator. John built the plane of John Waldron, who broke away from the rest of the Hornet Air Group and attacked the Japanese carriers alone, losing every plane in the process.

The display is in the Doolittle Raid Room aboard Hornet – it’s much more impressive in person than in pictures!

Phantom Phollies: getting the F-4 to decals

I’m working on my F-4B Phantom II this week, and if I get the decals on her it’ll turn into a full-court press to completion (I’ll goof around on a build until the decals are on; then, it goes into overdrive until it’s all done). The plane I selected (okay, I actually let my wife pick it out) was the plane used by GarryWeigand and Bill Freckleton to shoot down a MiG-17 on March 6, 1972 (you can read about it – and see the plane as it exists today – here).

I had decals for that aircraft on an old SuperScale sheet, but my research revealed they were rather, er, SuperScaley. That is, the markings were a long way off from accurate and that’s led me to paint some of the markings in the model. The decal/painting integration may be tough, but it’ll be rewarding.

The sheet doesn’t include the sash that extends back from the rear cockpit sill to a point on the aircraft’s spine. I masked and painted red over the gull gray main color to replicate the sash; painting red trim is always a nerve-sharking experience. In my case, when I took the tape off the spine (a hard place to mask thanks to the little fairing behind the cockpit, another one of Hasegawa’s wonderfully over-engineered touches) there were some slightly frayed-looking edges. Not to worry – as my friend Ben Pada once showed me, such nasty edges are okay when your model’s trim has a cheat line. The Phantom has black cheat lines around its red trim, which I’ll replicate with strips of black decal; these will conveniently hide my ragged red edges.

Here’s something I did worry about: when I painted the red paint, I got red overspray on one of the wings outboard of the masking tape. Luckily, I missed the flaps, which are white; I was able to remove the overspray with a pencil eraser, believe it or not. The only sign of a problem is that those areas are now glossy, which won’t be a problem once the gloss coat goes on.

The next scary thing will be the tail; I really hope the Sundowners decal reaches out to the edges of the vertical fin. That’s a set of markings I do not want to paint.

I also get to paint a drop tank or two white, with a red nose. I know this will look great, and it looked great in real life… But boy, what a pain to paint. This kill was scored while in escort of an RA-5C, which will limit the load-out to AIM-9Ds (the plane’s radar was non-operative, so AIM-7s would be dead weight). But that’s a little down the road. First, I have to get all the decals on; I really can’t relax until the second gloss coat seals them down. Wish me luck.

FM-2 Deja vu: the feeling you’ve done something before, only easier

Two frustrating things about the FM-2 gear:

1. Getting all my scratchbuilt additions into the bay around the rest of the struts is a huge pain. At least the styrene rod flexes – I was able to squeeze the A-frame truss into the bay and only lost one easily-replaced strut in the process. Now, getting CA glue to the proper attachment points is the next big challenge – it’s not easy. I have three little struts to add, followed by some solder “hoses;” none of this is made easier by the dark sea blue color. It’s like a black hole in there. However, from the side, all these struts, wires and hoses will be readily visible, so I can’t just skip it

2. I’ve done this before – in 2002 with an F4F-4 – and I can’t remember how I did it! Ugh!

F4F-4 Wildcat - Hasegawa, 2002

Ohm, wait a second – I just discovered how by looking here at this build article. Turns out it was easy then. So, like so many things about the FM-2, it’s just innately harder than the Hasegawa kit. Sheesh.

(By the way, I like the 40mm barrels on the left;cropped right, they look like they’re in the foreground. The backdrop is a photo in the Ethell book on the USN, with the styrene deck section blocking off the stern end of the ship and its associated aircraft. The guns were impossible to place so they weren’t “in camera.” They look good – although the late Bill Surgi of VF-4 pointed out that they were anachronistic, since the plane went down with the Yorktown on June 6, 1942. Bill also pointed out the lack of tie-downs on deck – I don’t think Evergreen makes scribed stock with WWII-era carrier tie downs yet!)

I picked up some 1.5mm yellow-amber-red lenses for the belly signal lights at D&J last night – along with the Hunter FGA.9 from Revell Randy got me at Yanni’s. When that will be built is anyone’s guess…

Gear down, not locked

Well, the FM-2 has entered the landing gear phase of the build, with the three parts of the Hasegawa Wildcat’s gear cut out and cleaned up. Boy, there’s a lot to add to the gear that isn’t in the already busy kit gear – no wonder Matt Matsushita was the way he was! (20 years ago, Matt made a set of working 1:72 Wildcat gear… and was really never the same). It won’t be hard – styrene rod and some wire here and there are all that’s needed. That, and the factory drawing in the first “Detail & Scale” book on the FM-2 (but, oddly, not in the “improved” second edition. There was also plenty of flash on the Hasegawa parts, and they took some time to clean up. Hasegawa also leaves you quite a few lightening holes to drill on your own – but really, the kit builds up nicely out of the box. Surely, it’s better than the Sword FM-2 kit!

I also shot a mist coat of Varathane to seal the decals and slopped a “sludge wash” made from liquid dishwasher soap, a bit of water and Payne’s gray watercolor paint all over the model. Really, since the plane was dark sea blue, I only expected the wash to be visible over the white national insignia and in the joints of the control surfaces, and it was.

The wheels came from True Details. They make the only wheels in the world you can re-inflate by sanding. I sanded the flattened lower sidewalls, then airbrushed them with glossy sea blue paint. I made my own mix for the tire color – neutral gray, aircraft interior black and Model Master dark skin tone. This was carefully hand-brushed onto the tires.

So, actual progress was made! At this stage, I’m going to make up a list of what I need to do to finish the model and start crossing items off. Really, I’m not that far from the finish line…

 

Book Recommendation 1: Clash of Carriers

A lot of people’s heroes are dashing dudes who excel at sports, or world-famous figures whose actions evoke earth-shattering change. One of my heroes is an almost unknown bald, bespectacled guy who lives in Oregon and writes for a living.

I just finished Barrett Tillman’s Clash of the Carriers: The True Story of the Marianas Turkey Shoot of World War II, his book on the Battle of the Philippine Sea. This is really the first major book on this battle (Tillman did a monograph on it for Phalanx a while back), and it’s the kind of history everyone who’s into the subject can appreciate: the strategy’s here, but it doesn’t come at the expense of first-person narratives. Those narratives don’t interrupt the larger picture of the battle. It’s a thin rope to walk, but Tillman’s great at this. He can focus on individual stories in the midst of talking about huge battles, and they never feel like digressions – they’re just part of the story. It takes a special genius to do that.

Combine that with Barrett’s bottomless trove of resources (he’s been interviewing aviators for years, in the process preserving their stories), and the story of this massive battle can be told in exhaustive detail – from both the Japanese and American sides. Tillman draws character sketches of the various commanders – the overly-cautious Keen Harrill, the diametrically-opposed “Jocko” Clark, and the pilot-friendly Marc Mitscher, to name a few. The same goes for the pilots who flew during the “Marianas Turkey Shoot;” their exploits are front and center, and not just the fighter pilots like David McCampbell and Alex Vraciu, who each racked up big scores, but bomber pilots like Cook Cleland who flew on “the Mission Beyond Darkness” to strike the Japanese Mobile Fleet. One of the more remarkable incidents in the battle came as the carrier Hiyo was sinking; her captain remained on the bridge as she sank – only to be propelled to the surface – and safety – by an underwater explosion! This is perhaps the best fate a Japanese ship captain could have been granted during the war.

The book includes an exhaustive order of battle, kill claims, and other information. It’s a great read and a great reference – and a great way to get inspired to build a Hellcat, Dauntless, Avenger or Helldiver.