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Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vb

249 Sqn, Royal Air Force

RAF Krendi (Q’rendi),  Malta GC, 1943.

Airfix 1/72 with various markings

The history of Malta GC during WW2 is a favourite of many aircraft modellers, not least due to the variety of aircraft and colour schemes that could be found defending the island.  At its peak, during March-April 1942, the tonnage of bombs dropped on Malta was greater than that dropped on London during all 12 months of the Blitz, yet thanks to the resilience of the Maltese people and the  efforts of its defenders, on the ground and in the air, plus the regular and bloody resupply missions by the Royal Navy and Merchant convoys, Malta survived.

On 28 April 1943, Sqn Ldr Joseph Lynch, flying Spitfire EP829 of 249 Squadron based at Krendi was credited with the 1000th aircraft to be shot down by the Malta defenders.  Lynch, the Sqn CO, was an American flying with the RAF.

RAF Spitfires in Malta wore many colour schemes, but during the latter part of the battle when most combat took place over the sea, they settled on a dark blue, the exact nature of which is hotly debated.  Determining which blue is part of the fun of building Malta-based aircraft models.... and don't even ask about the colour of the side codes !

Building the (old) Airfix Spitfire Vb Kit:

The older Airfix Spitfire Vb kit was first released in 1974 and continued in production until around 2013.  Although quite simple in detail, it has a very good shape, is easy to buld, has no “deep trench” panel lines and was highly regarded for many years (but not to be confused with the equally long-lived Airfix Spitfire Mk.IX kit which is truly dreadful).

I had hoped that this would be a quick and easy addition to my Malta Air Battle project, since I had a spare Airfix Spitfire Vb, a set of Volkes filters and the Xtradecal markings for EP829 T@NT, the 249 Sqn aircraft credited with the 1,000th victory over Malta. Even better, it was an aircraft that bore the locally improvised toned down camouflage, with a dark grey or blue replacing the sand of its desert camouflage.  

Ha! simple build? - more fool me.  Despite being one of the more famous Malta Spitfires with several specific contemporary pictures easily available, just about every reference I could find disagreed on basic facts.  

Was it a Vb or a Vc? (I'm reasonably certain it was a Vb based on serial number, but RAF Malta often removed the 2nd set of guns on the Vcs, so it might be a Vc?)  Did it have the Volkes filter under the nose or not?  Were the undersides Sky or Azure blue?  Were the wings clipped or not?  What colour was the spinner? Was it a DeHavilland or Rotol propeller? Was the canopy armoured? What colour were the squadron codes?  And most difficult of all, was it actually camouflaged in dark earth and grey/blue uppers, or was it entirely grey/blue?  

Now, given regular non-standard camouflage changes in Malta, plus the general lack of resources, it is entirely possible that it went through several phases and changes during its time before the available photos.  The first aircraft on arrival were probably camouflaged in the standard desert scheme, which proved entirely unsuitable over the seas around Malta.  As a result, the Xtradecal markings and the Caruana profile just might be correct for an earlier (and possibly short) period of time.  However, most verifiable photos do seem to show a Vb, no Volkes filter, clipped wings with (possibly) red tips, a relatively consistent upper colour, and a DeHavilland propeller.

I did find one picture with camouflage and the full span wings fitted, but still no Volkes filter. The codes are a guess - yellow ones were definitely used by some aircraft, as were grey.  White seems to have been common on delivery, but not lasted long.

Of course, I found all this out after I had chopped off the lower engine cover to fit the Volkes filter. However, I am delighted to report that an Italeri kit's (can't remember which one) lower engine cover fits perfectly in the space!   Clipping the wings is a relatively easy task (out with the razor saw again).  The DH propeller was a little more difficult - I suspect my only spare one went on my earlier Malta Spitfire build, so I have robbed one from a newer Airfix Mk.1a kit.

Decision made and on with the show - EP829's later appearance as shown in the photos it is!

The older Airfix Spitfire kits (bar the dreadful Mk.IX) had a good reputation, although they are clearly products of their time.  This one was a starter kit that I picked up very cheaply.  Its a 2011 issue, but contains the 1974 mould inside, which seems to have suffered somewhat, as it did not fit together as well as I remembered. Detail is lightly raised - perhaps a little too lightly, but the shape is generally good.  I needed filler on the fuselage joints, the wing to fuselage joints, wing leading edges and wing lower rear trailing edge/fuselage joint; pretty much everywhere then!  Except the joint on my fitting of the replacement Italeri lower nose of course, which was fine ????

The blue paint is another subject of much discussion.  Theories range from US Navy paint (some aircraft were painted blue on USS WASP prior to flying off for Malta), special order British Dark Mediterranean Blue, borrowed RN vehicle paint, to a variety of non aero paints from dubious sources.  I went for Humbrol 104 Oxford Blue to start with, then toned it down with an overcoat of thinned extra dark sea grey, finally weathering with Humbrol 84 hemp to reflect either dirt or the original paint showing through.  I also decided to weather the aircraft quite heavily (based on photos), although it appears that 249 Sqn often polished up their blue Spitifres toward the end of the campaign to eke out that last knot of speed!

Part 2

September 2023 - Reggiane Re2000

September 2023

Supermarine Spitfire Vb

Reggiane Re.2000 Falco

Background picture: A Spitfire Vc in the hangar at the Malta Aviation Museum, T’Qali.

Markings being applied to Lynch’s machine on return from the 1000th victory.

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