June 2021


Part 4 - Strike Carrier

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De Havilland Sea Vixen FAW.2

893 Sqn, HMS HERMES, 1968

Xtrakit 1/72 , with kit, Model Art  and generic markings.

The Sea Vixen represented the end of De Havilland's highly successful twin boom family; sadly it will always be remembered for the horrific crash into the crowd of the DH110 prototype at the 1952 SBAC Farnborough Airshow, which led directly to the strict SBAC air show safety rules against flying over the crowd line, that still apply to all public air shows in the UK..  Nevertheless, it gave the Fleet Air Arm its first modern carrier-based supersonic jet (in a dive) that was a good match for most potential adversaries.

The more advanced FAW2 added "saddle" fuel tanks over the twin booms and swapped the first generation Firestreak air to air missile for the much more capable Red Top.  They could also carry ground attack bombs and rocket pods or a single WE177 tactical nuclear bomb. The Observer's hatch was modified with a frangible perspex canopy allowing him to eject through the canopy if needed (sadly, Sea Vixens suffered from a very high rate of fatal accidents).  Sea Vixens were operated by 700Y, 766, 890, 892, 893 and 899 Naval Air Squadrons.

Although a capable and effective aircraft, it was retired prematurely as a result of the UK Government's austerity decision in the late 1960s to withdraw forces from "East of Suez".  The Sea Vixen was never tested in combat, although Sea Vixens operated from all of the RN’s 1960s carrier, EAGLE, VICTORIOUS, ARK ROYAL, CENTAUR and HERMES and saw active operations during the 1961 Kuwait crisis, the Tanganyika mutiny, Radfan rebellion, withdrawal from Aden and the Beira Patrol blockade of Rhodesia.

© IWM A 35089 - HERMES and Victorious off Aden.

Back to Part 1 - Sea Harriers - First and Last

Back to Part 2 - Falklands 1982

Back to Part 3 - Cyprus Emergency 1974

During her 11 years as a conventional Strike Carrier from 1959 to 1970, HMS HERMES operated some of the most advanced strike and fighter aircraft in the world, with her combined air group forming a force equal to or exceeding most of the world’s air forces.

The first jet aircraft to land on was a trials Sea Hawk of 700 Sqn on 10 May 1960, quickly followed at the end of the month by her first full air group, with Supermarine Scimitars of 804 Sqn, Sea Vixen FAW.1s of 890 Sqn, Fairey Gannets of 849 Sqn C Flight and Westland Whirlwind helicopters of 814 Sqn.  By 1962, 804 Sqn had been replaced by 803, 890 Sqn by 892, 849 C Flight by B Flight and 814 had swapped its Whirlwinds for the new Wessex.

In 1964 a major refit added a larger catapult, removal of the ship’s guns and their replacement by Sea Cat surface to air missiles and full air conditioning throughout the ship. For her third commission in 1966, she embarked new Blackburn Buccaneer strike aircraft from 809 Sqn, new Sea Vixen FAW.2s of 892 Sqn, 849 B Flight Gannet AEW.3s and 826 Sqn Wessex Mk.1 helicopters.

HERMES’ last  commission as a conventional carrier ran from 1968 to 1970, with much of her time spent, as before, in the Far East and Mediterranean.  HERMES last conventional air group consisted of 801 Sqn Buccaneers, 893 Sqn Sea Vixens, 849 A Flight Gannet AEW.3s and 814 Sqn with the new Wessex 3 ASW Helicopter.

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Images and text © www.gengriz.co.uk unless otherwise noted

#Scimitar #Buccaneer

Building the Xtrakit / MPM Sea Vixen Kit:

This is the Hannants Xtrakit issue of this kit as an FAW.2, with MPM also issuing an FAW.1 version.  Both kits are light years ahead of the old FROG kit (also issued by Revell), but as relatively short run kits, they do have a number of buildability challenges, some strange errors and omissions and have generally received a bad press as a wasted opportunity when they were first issued in 2008.   They are NOT as difficult to build as some would have you believe, but are not for the inexperienced and they do require a lot of preparation and a few modifications, depending on how much the inaccuracies bother you.  Of note, many of those errors and buildability issues are also seen in the entirely separate Dragon/Cyberhobby mould (currently available from Revell) , which is an easy build, but adds a few more mistakes and at least one very obvious shape error to boot! (the intakes are too large) .  

Apart from decals, I built this kit mostly out the box with no major shape changes. I substituted the ridiculously small (1/100th?) resin pilot’s ejector seat for one in 1/72 scale (although I used the provided observers seat) and added the intake vanes from plastic strip.  Areas of build difficulty to look out for include joining the upper and lower wings, joining the inner and outer wings, attaching the booms and fitting the saddle fuel tanks over those booms.  The booms are definitely too long - if I had known beforehand I would have lopped off about 5mm at their leading edge - I don’t think this would have affected the fit, but would have largely corrected this shortfall.   

The canopy is also an incorrect shape - the forward part is too steep and the rear part isn’t bulged enough.  If you leave it open as I have done, this is not particularly obvious, but in the closed position it just looks wrong.  The Observer’s window is also too low - I have seen others fill it in, paint black,  apply one of the supplied masks and paint around it - I will do this on my FAW.1 kit

No weapons are provided - these are spare FROG Red Tops. I used a mix of the kit decals where I could, with Model Art for the squadron markings (and for those red engine cover decals that I messed up), plus some generic Xtrakit numbers and even some original FROG Sea Vixen transfers !

Paint, as always, is hand brushed Humbrol enamel (123 and 130), with a Windsor & Newton acrylic matt varnish coat to finish.

© IWM HU 101345 - A slightly earlier image of Scimitars and Sea Vixen FAW.1s on HERMES fwd deck.

Hawker Siddeley Buccaneer S.2    Link to original build

801 Naval Air Squadron, HMS HERMES, Mediterranean 1968

FROG 1/72  with Xtradecal markings

As the smallest of the RN’s modernised carriers, HMS HERMES was never able to operate the F-4 and could only carry a limited air group of Buccaneers and Sea Vixens.  Once the Sea Vixen became obsolete, her days as a conventional fixed wing carrier were numbered, cost outnumbering her operational usefulness, but she remained a modern and reliable ship, even though her keel had first been laid down in 1944.

HERMES’ saw 3 Buccaneer squadrons during the brief period that she carried them - firstly 809 Sqn then 801, with 803 joining for  a short period in the far east to prove the feasibility of deploying a Squadron directly from the UK to the ship.  

The Buccaneer S.2 currently on display at  the FAA Museum at Yeovilton is  painted in the colours it wore whilst part of HERMES’ air group.

… and finally, some older HERMES builds from my collection:

Designed as a fighter, but employed as a strike aircraft armed with rockets and missiles or a nuclear free fall bomb, Scimitars served for a comparatively short time, as technology was moving forward at a rapid pace and the complexity of newer weapons was creating too high a workload for single seat attack aircraft.

The aircraft also introduced a great deal of new (and unreliable) technology, such that at one stage it was reputed to require 1000 hrs of maintenance for each flying hour. After seeing active service during the threatened invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in 1961, Scimitars finished their days as buddy-buddy tankers for the Buccaneers and Sea Vixens and with the Fleet Requirements Unit (FRU).

Supermarine Scimitar F.1    Link to build of Xtrakit Scimitar

803 Naval Air Squadron, HMS HERMES, 1962

Contrail Vacform 1/72

With one of the marvellous Coastal Kits deck sections.

Above and below - Sea Vixen FAW.2 XP924 at the Yeovilton airshow before the unfortunate 2017 wheels up landing that has probably now grounded her permanently

© IWM HU 129858 -  HERMES in 1970.

#LUSH #1981 #SeaKing #Wessex #Vixen #Buccaneer #14

Click on the thumbnails to take you to each HERMES/VIRAAT model:

#251 #1987 #Vixen