March 2022

A6M2b Zero

B5N2 Kate

D3A Val

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Mitsubishi A6M2b Reisen (Zero) 零 戦  

(Allied Reporting Name Zeke)

3rd Air Group 2020 Kokutai, Imperial Japanese Navy, Rabaul September 1942.

Airfix1/72 .

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The Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” is one of the best known Japanese aircraft of WW2, indeed of all time. Designed for exceptional speed and manoeuvrability and introduced in 1940 against a shroud of secrecy, its combat performance came as a great shock to the Allies, outpacing all of the Allied aircraft available at the start of WW2.  

The A6M2b Model 21 variant dominated the early war years, with 500 built by Mitsubishi and another 800 by Nakajima.  Armament was  2x20mm canons in the wings and two 0.303 machine guns in the engine cowling.  The outer wing sections folded to fit the smaller Japanese carriers.  It was widely considered the best fighter in the world until 1943, when more modern Allied aircraft arrived in-theatre.

202 Kokutai was an elite fighter-only group formed specifically to battle with the US. Mostly land-based, using the immense range of the zero to operate separately to the Japanese carriers, it fought in the Phillipines, Luzon, Dutch East Indies and took part in the massed raids on Port Darwin in Australia. It then moved to occupied Rabaul in Papua, but was effectively decimated in the high attrition fighting over Guadalcanal.  The 8 hour round-trip from Rabaul to Guadalcanal, about 1,120 miles (1,800 km), seriously hampered Japanese efforts to establish air superiority over Henderson Field.

Building the Airfix Zero Kit:

The “new tool” Airfix Zero first appeared in 2011 and has seen several re-issues since.  This is a very nice modern Airfix kit, with restrained engraved panel lines, superb parts fit and relatively easy construction from its 47 parts.  

This particular issue comes with markings for an aircraft in the early Amber Grey overall colour scheme. As with most Japanese aircraft, the decals are relatively simple with few maintenance stencils or unit markings.  As always, Japanese aircraft colours can be a minefield; Airfix recommend the use of their Humbrol 168 Satin Hemp paint for this one. I couldnt get hold of this, so mixed my own approximated colour from Revell Sky and Humbrol brown.  This is a little lighter than the Humbrol hemp, which seems to match the tones in pictures more accurately.  I may, of course be very wrong, but it looks OK to me :)

The kit comes with an adequately detailed cockpit for this scale (using a decal for instruments).  Airfix have regularly suppllied these for “make and paint” sessions at model shows,  and it is a good choice for this, being relatively easy to build, but also having good fit and good accuracy.  

For the decals, it is perhaps a little disappointing that they have chosen to ignore the many Japanese Navy units that fought against British forces and concentrate on those that fought the US.  I guess marketing has driven this, but either way, this is a nice kit that is recommended for all !


Nakajima B5N2 Kanko 九  七  式  艦  上  攻  撃  機   

(Allied Reporting Name Kate)

Shōkaku Air Group, Imperial Japanese Navy, Pearl Harbor/Indian Ocean 1941/42.

Airfix1/72 .

The B5N2 was the main Japanese Carrier Attack Aircraft at the start of WW2.  Capable of carrying a torpedo or a level bomb load, the Kate operated at sea and from the land.  Changing between bombs and torpedoes required replacement of the bomb racks, not a simple process and one that was to limit success during the Ceylon attacks and have dramatic consequences at Midway, both occasions when Japanese indecision over the correct weapon load was to count against them.  

Kates  operated in well practised and co-ordinated attacks, with the Val dive-bombers attacking first to suppress anti-aircraft fire before a Kate torpedo run or level bombing run.  

B5N2s from the carrier Shōkaku, led by Lt Cdr Shimazaki IJN, took part in the second wave of attacks against Pearl Harbor in December 1941, targeted at Hickam Field air base and inflicting extensive damage to facilities and to aircraft on the ground.  Four months later, in April 1942, Shimazaki participated in the Indian Ocean Raids , leading 18 Kates  in an attack on the port city and RN Base of Trincomalee.  He also led attacks in the battle of The Coral Sea, including the sinking of the carrier USS Lexington on 8 May 1942.  Shimazaki was killed in action in January 1945 near Taiwan.

Building the Airfix Kate Kit:

Because of my general enthusiasm for "nostalgia" kits, I haven't built that many of the new-generation Airfix offerings. Those that I have, like the Gnat, Vampire and Swift have proved good, but with minor flaws and shortcomings. However, on opening the box, this 2015 kit shows just how far Airfix have gone in the last 10 years.  It really is superb.

The lower wings come as a single piece, with a remarkably detailed cockpit built in. Not only does this make it easy to assemble, but it helps massively with painting, giving a stable and accessible work area to "do some magic".  Indeed, the interior of this kit is one of its strong points and makes it almost essential to build with the canopies open (I tried, but due to my ongoing issues with painting canopies, I reverted to the option of only the rear canopy open).

The kit is moulded in India, in the now-familiar very soft light grey Airfix plastic that allows some really superb, flash-free fine details which are easy to remove from the sprue (although my control column did snap, requiring some delicate imagination to repair). Generally though, parts click together in an almost Hasegawa-like manner and without the over tight tolerances that have afflicted some modern CAD-designed moulds.

You can probably tell that I like this kit!  

Attaching the wings identified a small issue, in that the trailing edges of the wing fillets would not close.  Some pressure and liquid glue helped, but a smidgeon of filler was needed to complete these.  Unfortunately the top of the fuselage in-between the cockpits opened up as I did this.  It was relatively easy to fix, but no longer as smooth as I wanted, so another smidgeon of filler was applied here too.  The ailerons and dropped flaps option are excellent (albeit that Airfix have missed the detailing on one flap).  I needed to trim the outer edge of the aileron very slightly to get it to fit.  The representation of the Nakajima Sakae radial engine is also superb and although the exhaust collector ring is perhaps a little over scale, it all fits together precisely and if you use the open cowling flap option, the engine can also be seen from the rear.

As with any Japanese WW2 model, colours do pose a bit of a conundrum.  The more you look, the more you doubt. My intention was to build the Pearl harbour scheme aircraft from the carrier Shokaku, not least because the same unit (although I don't know about this specific aircraft) conducted the (relatively) unsuccessful Indian Ocean Raid against the Royal Navy several months after Pearl.

Airfix suggest that the base colour should be the slightly brown/green IJN grey with green "snake" mottling, although several other sources show a silver base with green and brown mottling, whilst others show roughly applied green wings and very light mottling on the (grey) fuselage !  In the absence of any other evidence (but see the picture at the end of this section), I went with Airfix, whose modern-day research is generally good. As with the Zero above, paint was mixed "to taste" from Revell Sky with a little brown added and I attempted to make this one a little lighter and greener.

The last main assembly is the canopy, for which Airfix provide 3 options, closed, gunners position open and all hatches open.  Given the marvellous cockpit, this is very welcome.  Frames are well defined, helping with painting, but the folded canopy section is difficult to represent well, since some frames are internal.  

Several arming options are provided, ranging from small bombs, a mix of small and large bombs, a massive bomb and a torpedo.  An early decision is needed on these, since the relevant holes for their different mountings need to be drilled out before the wings are assembled (the first step).  I have also seen suggestions that the options are not correct for the Hickam Field raid.  The instructions, which are fully to Airfix's current superb standards, show exactly which holes match what and these are clearly marked by partial holes in the wing.

The decals in this issue cover the aircraft from the carrier Shokaku at Pearl Harbor, plus a later land-based unit. As with all modern Airfix kits, they are very nicely printed and easy to use.

Aichi D3A1 Kanbaku 艦  爆     

(Allied Reporting Name Val)

Akagi Air Group, Imperial Japanese Navy, Pearl Harbor/Indian Ocean 1941/42.

Airfix1/72 .

The Val dive-bomber entered service in 1939, operating over China. Bearing some design heritage from the Heinkel He-70 in its elipticla wings, it had a fixed spatted undercarriage and was capable of carrying a single 250kg bomb beneath its fuselage, plus two smaller 60kg wing mounted bombs.. Nearly 1,500 were built in two variants.

Vals led the attack on Pearl Harbor, opening the pacific War against the Allies. The D3A1 took part in all major Japanese carrier operations in the first 10 months of the war and achieved their first major success against the Royal Navy during the April 1942 Indian Ocean Raid against the British Eastern Fleet anchorages and ports in Ceylon.  

Operating off the coast of Ceylon, D3A1 dive bombers showing exceptional accuracy (80% of bombs hitting their targets) sinking HM Ships CORNWALL, DORSETSHIRE, HMAS VAMPIRE and the Aircraft Carrier HMS HERMES.   Unfortunately for japan, like the attack on Pearl Harbor,  the raids on Trincomalee and Colombo, whilst spectacular, missed their main targets, the British Carriers HMS FORMIDABLE, HMS INDOMITABLE and the battleship HMS WARSPITE, all of which had put to sea on warning of the Japanese raid.


Building the Airfix Val Kit:

For an aircraft that played such a key role in WW2, the Aichi Type 99 Model 11 D3A1 "Val" is remarkably difficult to model in 1/72 scale. After all, this is the aircraft that dealt a near fatal blow to the US Navy at Pearl Harbour, quickly followed up by a similarly decisive blow against the British Eastern Fleet during the Indian Ocean Raid. The "Val" sank more Allied ships during WW2 than any other Axis aircraft.

Nevertheless, kits are few and far between, of varying quality and often difficult to get hold of.  It probably doesn't help that the Fujimi 1/72 kit, probably the best option, has cornered the market, but seen very limited availability in Europe.

So here we are with the ancient Airfix kit, first issued in 1965.  Not surprisingly, it is a kit of its time with minimal detail (especially in the cockpit), oversize rivets and a slight vagueness over its exact type.  VERY different from the other two kits I have built this month.  That said, the moulds, old though they are, do seem to be in good condition even after 57 years.   This is the current (2022) issue, with decals matching the original artwork for an aircraft of the Imperial Japanese Navy carrier AKAGI, at Pearl Harbour on 7th December 1941. The markings are a little bit "iffy", as most pictures show the tail numbers in red, with a coloured fuselage band and the anti-glare black panel sweeping up to the cockpit from the lower fuselage.  The same unit played a key part in the Indian Ocean Raid against Ceylon, which fits well with my overarching Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm theme.

As this was a quick nostalgia build (actually I have never done one of these before), I have used the Airfix kit decals and scheme largely unchanged.  I mixed up the IJN green/grey paint myself once more.  Airfix in the current release suggest Hemp (168), which seems to have general approval amongst modellers, although they previously suggested beige (90) which is a lot more green.  I suspect the answer lies between the two.  With little detail in the kit cockpit, I modified the after seat and fitted a replacement forward seat, with paper seat belts and a mid-cockpit bulkhead, plus rear aiming sights and a few spurious details in lieu of an instrument panel. Apart from my ongoing struggle to paint neat canopy lines (my modelling target for this year is to get this aspect of my modelling back on track - I used to manage this, but the brush I used wore out), the only issue i encountered was the canopy.  The main section fits well, and although not very clear, it is OK. The inserts though are much too small, leaving large gaps when fitted, so I filled these with Krystal Klear PVA and overpainted. I also sanded down the many rivets to be less prominent.  Notwithstanding possible accuracy issues, the decals applied well, as you would expect from a current Airfix kit.

This is an old kit but, standfast the canopy, it builds well. Whilst it would not please the Val expert it is ideal for a quick nostalgia build and also I suggest, suitable for the beginner.