Category Archives: WW2

My Special Hobby P-40 Kittyhawk 1A

Next a look at my Kittyhawk. The P-40, later models of which became the RAF Kittyhawk (earlier ones were called Tomahawk by the RAF), played an important role in the RAF efforts in the Mediterranean. At first they were used to supplement the Hurricanes as air-superiority fighters – as the former were outclassed by the arrival of the Messerschmitt Bf 109F – plus it was easier to ship them direct from the US to Egypt than supply from the UK. Then as the Spitfires took on that role, they were used primarily as fighter-bombers. By 1943 they had become the RAF’s principal fighter-bomber, increasingly supplemented by Spitfires Vs, as the Luftwaffe retreated and the Spitfire VIIIs and IXs came into play.

The P-40 isn’t the most elegant of aircraft (US designers rarely did elegant, unlike their British and, less often, German counterparts). But it was robust and highly functional (which the US designers were unbeatable at, except maybe by the Russians), and especially suitable for this theatre and the fighter-bomber role. It was let down by its Allison engine, which performed well at low altitude, but not at the higher altitudes needed for escort and other mainline fighter roles. By 1943 the P-40F and L (RAF Kittyhawk IIs) were powered by Merlin engines – which did much better at altitude. Americans using these models as fighter escorts against Bf-109Gs got perfectly respectable results, especially as by this time the US pilots were better trained and rested than their opponents. But the Merlins were needed elsewhere – notably for Mustangs, a far better air-superiority machine – and the later Allison engines were fine for fighter-bombers, so later P-40s (the K, M and N) went back to these.

At the start of my project, in autumn 2020, I went on a buying spree for my models, anxious to beat full Brexit, which kicked in in January 2021. I chose this model from Special Hobby of the Kittyhawk IA to be my Kittyhawk. Alas for my research. The Kittyhawk 1A was the P-40E, which was obsolete by 1943, being replaced by the Kittyhawk II (the P-40F or L) or, mainly, III (the K or M – and apparently some of the Ls, though presumably re-engined). The later versions were chiefly distinguished by a lengthened fuselage, which set the tail back a bit from the tailplanes. I discovered my mistake quickly enough, but decided to press ahead. I decided to do the plane on the box art from 112 Squadron, with its distinctive shark’s teeth. This is a bit hackneyed and overexposed in artwork – other squadrons did not have these markings. But they really do work well on the P-40, so I thought I’d do it anyway. The plane is marked GA-Y, is from 1942, and was lost in May of that year. For some reason it has been by far the most popular to be portrayed on model aircraft. Here is a picture of it:

The Special Hobby kit proved to be a lovely one, in spite of being on the usual undercarriage down mode. The undercarriage doors fitted neatly into the recesses – the only problem is that one of them was very small, and I managed to lose it. This is the mark of a good quality, professionally-made model. The PJ pilot got in without too much trouble but it is a roomy cockpit compared to the Hurricane or Spitfire – or the Bf 109 or Fw-190 come to that. The only awkward bit was fitting the fuselage assembly onto the wing assembly. For some reason this often seems to be a problem (it was the case on both the other models too). I needed to be a bit more patient, and the fit isn’t quite right. Anyway, here is the result:

I used the US bomb from the kit – the RAF did use these (and the US used British bombs). It’s a bit skew though. Also the bomb dips a bit, probably because I didn’t get the pylons right. I have seen pictures of centrally mounted bombs dipping on Spitfires – but that doesn’t show on the picture above. I might try to correct this. I have already commented the errors on paint colours. Also the cockpit canopy suffered from some excess glue. The biggest problem was with the decals. Unfortunately the GAOY on the port side got displaced, as did the starboard serial number – and this escaped my final checks an so dried out of place. I decided that I could correct the worst of this by replacing the roundel (even though it wouldn’t then match the position on the other side). As I was searching stock for a new roundel, I found the decals for my original Airfix Kittyhawk kit from the 1970s. They were for the same aircraft. The big letters were a bit heavier than the Special Hobby ones (which are more realistic anyway), so I decided only to replace the roundel – though I needed to overpaint the yellow to hide a pale outer circle. The GA remains slightly skew. I was also able to replace the serial number, though the Airfix ones were also a bit heavy. The port serial in the kit has a dark background (which looks like an unsuccessful intervention from the censors!) – which is there in the original photo. I didn’t like this so I was happy to replace the serial on this side too.

And so there it is! Another 1942 model in dodgy colours. This can do service on the table, but I’m minded to do a Kittyhawk III as well. I’m also looking at a P-40L in US service, as flown by the Tuskegee Airmen, which would also have RAF camouflage colours.

My AZ Model Hurricane IID

AZ Model’s Box artwork for Hurricane IID

The obvious choices for my first RAF models for the 1943 project were a Spitfire V and a Kittyhawk. But I have always loved the Hurricane, and so I wanted one of those too – even though the type was on the way out in Tunisia, and does not seem to have played a significant role in the Sicily and Salerno battles. Hurricanes continued to be used until the end of the war in the Mediterranean, but apparently not in the major land campaigns.

I wanted to do the IID model, which featured two 40mm anti-tank guns underwing, and reduced machine-gun armament (down to two, firing tracer). One squadron of these was in operation in Tunisia (6 Squadron). This squadron played a significant role in supporting the advance of the Eighth Army into Tunisia, providing direct battlefield support by attacking tanks in particular, sweeping through in advance of the ground forces. This makes it particularly interesting from a tactical point of view – since mostly fighter-bombers were used for interdiction behind the lines. The IID was reported to be very effective in this role, and apparently referred to as the “can-opener”. There is actually quite a lot of controversy about how effective aircraft were at tank-busting in WW2 – extravagant claims by the crews are almost never corroborated by hard evidence (notably Typhoons in Normandy, using rockets rather than guns). There is no corroboration for the Hurricane pilots’ claims – though the psychological effect of air attack from tank crews should not be underestimated. The 40mm guns were awkward things, and hindered the aircraft’s manoeuvrability. The calibre (the same as 2 pdrs) was by then obsolete for ground use, but planes had the benefit of extra velocity coming from the aircraft, and the ability to attack from the side or top of the tank. They would have been useful enough against the Panzer IIIs that were the Germans’ main tank at the time. But after Tunisia the RAF used rockets for tank-busting. With battles in Sicily and Italy providing more cover for tanks, tank-busting went out of RAF repertoire. 6 Squadron swapped the guns for rockets, and used their Hurricanes against shipping – upgrading to Hurricane IVs in due course. The high-ups were always sceptical of using aircraft in close support, in spite of army pressure. Interestingly the Germans also used underwing guns of similar calibre, mounted on Stukas, in Russia. Extravagant claims of success were made for them too.

There seemed to be only one choice for for a 1/72 IID, from AZ Model, though a number of others manufacturers do other versions of the Hurricane II. Alas, I found that it was an poor model, especially compared to the Spitfire and Kittyhawk. It is now withdrawn. Starting again I would go for one of the other IIs, and try to model the underwing guns somehow – it is possible that one of the other kits has them, but doesn’t advertise it (there are often parts for other versions included). I have some guns from the Stuka, but I don’t know similar they are. The model often didn’t have proper pins or recesses for the parts to fit together in right place (the two halves of the fuselage had to be glued together free-form – a bit alarming); detailing was weak though perfectly adequate for my purposes. The fit of parts wasn’t great. It came undercarriage down, and without a pilot. The undercarriage doors needed a bit of work to fit into the recesses to model the up position – and I couldn’t make the side struts to the door work at all, so just plugged the gap with plasticine (I’m not stressing on the detail for these models). There were few resin parts, including the pilot’s seat and the radiator. It was very hard to get these off the sprue without damaging them. In fact I lost the seat in the attempt, and had to replace it with a spare from the Kittyhawk. The cockpit was too small for the PJ Productions model pilot I had (I have a stock of these) – so I used the Airfix one form the Spitfire, with a bit of filing, as this was a bit smaller, though not especially nice. The whole interior was quite hard to do. That didn’t matter too much because the cockpit canopy is quite small, and you can’t see much from the outside. I also managed to blur up some of the canopy interior with excess glue. Anyway, I pressed on, and here is the result:

It Is OK considering, apart from the colouring. The underside has been heavily weathered partly because I wasn’t very happy with the underlying paint colour – at once too chromatic and too light. In any case the undersides of the aircraft got pretty hammered from the dust airstrips – though I don’t have a good picture of what they actually looked like.

Here is a picture of the actual aircraft (apparently over El Alamein in 1942):

Could be worse! The decals weren’t that great – with lots of flash on the lettering and numbers. The tail flashes seemed too big compared to the box illustration – but seem to fit the photo OK. The exhaust stain should be much bigger. And if this aircraft survived all the way to Tunisia (doubtful), it would have looked even more weathered. In fact two of my supposed 1943 planes turn out to belong to 1942. This is in fact evident from the roundels and fin flashes, which were changed in July 1942. The above photo shows the newer version on the second nearest plane, which gives authenticity to the Alamein date (July to November 1942).

Unfortunately, the more I look at colours on this batch of models, the less I like them! This model will be fine to use on the wargames table, but less for display. But while I will consider doing another spitfire V and Kittyhawk, the hurricane is too minor a player for me to consider doing another one. Still, the model does look like a Hurricane – not particularly beautiful, but iconic.

Three British planes for 1943

My Spitfire, Hurricane and Kittyhawk

So this is my first post of 2022! I have spent a lot of time refining my Napoleonic big battle rules, but that is a hard thing to blog about while you are doing it. But earlier this month I returned to my modelling project on WW2 aircraft, based around my 1943 theme, featuring the Tunisia, Sicily and Italian campaigns. This is a return to aircraft modelling after a break of 35 years or so. I started with a single American P-47 Thunderbolt, a bit after 1943, but in Med colours. I then did a batch of three German aircraft for Tunisia. My next batch was three British Aircraft: – a spitfire VC, a hurricane IID and a Kittyhawk IA. Alas on a number of counts the results are rather flawed.

The idea is that I complete the models up to wargames standard. They need to look good from a distance, and have undercarriage up and pilots in place. They would not pass muster for keen aero-modellers, who would include much more close-up detailing. For this batch of aircraft I wanted to focus on the model-making and painting, so I decided to use the decals in the box, rather than the palaver of creating something different (which I did for the P-47 and two of the German planes).

Why are the results flawed? The biggest problem is that I got the colours wrong. The planes look as if they are carrying the early north European scheme of Dark Earth and Dark Green; only the blue underside (not very visible from the picture) gives the game away.. This is a sorry saga with a clear moral. Do your research first! I thought I had understood what was required as I mixed the colours for the airbrush. First I mixed the Azure Blue for the underside. I started with Azure Blue Rowney artist’s paint, dulled down with a bit of white and brown. Too much white: while this is consistent with what some artists show, photos show it to be quite dark. And then I thought it also looked too green – that may be as a result of the white, which causes a bit of a clockwise shift on the colour wheel for some reason (blue to turquoise, red to magenta, etc.). By then the Mid Stone had already gone on. I based this on the brown colour in the German tropical scheme, which I based on Raw Sienna. It should have been yellower, and actually lighter than the Azure Blue. Next I put on the Dark Earth, which I though should come out a bit redder than the Mid Stone. I mixed this based on Burnt Umber. I then looked at this colour photo of a plane in theatre:

Spitfire VBs over Tunisia, presumably in 1943

This shows a distinctly greenish hue to the Dark Earth (which intros picture is generally quite weathered – it fades in the sun quite quickly) and not the reddish one I had. I remixed, using adding in some green, and overpainted. Too much green – though I was probably being led astray by the Mid Stone being wrong. When done I actually thought it didn’t look too bad (it is easy to misjudge colours out of context). But I thought I would tweak with some glazes mixed from oil paints and linseed oil – to make the underside darker and bluer, and the topside paler and less red (which means a bit greener). It took a few days to be dry enough for decals. At this point I just pressed ahead. Alas the Mid Stone looks more like Dark Earth, and the dark Earth looks more like Dark Green! And the Azure is still too pale.

I will profile each individual model separately. But here are some notes on the general technique. I first assembled and painted the interiors and pilots. I then assembled the models apart from the cockpit canopies. I filed, fillered and sanded to smooth over the worst cracks while trying avoid damage to the panel detailing. Then I added the canopies and masked them. I did think about leaving this to later, but thought it was better this way. Apart from the Spitifire I did not attempt to leave the canopy struts unmasked – I would paint them later. But I struggled a little with this, and applied a bit too much superglue on the Hurricane and Kittyhawk – this meant that the canopy fuzzed bit on the inside. And by the time I discovered it the canopies were so secure that I didn’t dare to try and remove them.

After this I airbrushed with white primer. The plastic really needs this step. Then the saga with the paint started. This was my first attempt with RAF camouflage. I sprayed the all the upper surfaces Mid Stone. And then I used Blu Tac and magic putty to mask the Stone areas. This took literally hours to form the rather complicated shapes, and even then I made several mistakes. The magic putty is easier to apply and remove, but it flows – so can’t be left for long, and I needed it to last for days. So I couldn’t use it for the edges – just infill. I won’t do this masking again. After the masking came off and I realised my mistake on the colour, I decided to overpaint with a good old paint brush. I did this with many thin layers – not too hard as the acrylic paint dries fast, so I could do it all in one session. That worked fine – so in future I’m going to use the paint brush for the overpainting. After the paint I put on the oil glaze. the idea was to correct a colour imbalance. It did improve things, but it’s much better to take a bit of trouble to get the colour right in the first place. Ideally all the main colours need to be mixed at the same time and tested before application. I have relished the challenge of mixing my own colours – but my experiences shows how difficult this is – and I don’t think I’d recommend it to anybody isn’t an artist (and I’m not!).

I am making slow progress with airbrush technique – the critical thing being to get the paint consistency right. I have also learnt how to clean the brush more quickly, so I can do it more often. It produces a lovely, delicate finish, which looks really good on aircraft. But good conventional brush technique is just as fast and the results are pretty good. Actually I think the airbrush might come into its own on vehicles, where the smooth finish is not as important, but the nooks and crannies take forever to paint with a brush – and aren’t good for brush health either. So far I have not learned how to do fine work with the brush – so I have to mask – which is clearly an issue! This is partly because of the brush – which isn’t designed for fine work, but mainly its because I don’t think I have set the brush up properly. As for masking, Tamiya standard tape is lovely. I also have 2mm tape which is meant to do bends, but it’s no good for RAF camouflage patterns, and it doesn’t stick all that well after a few months.

After the glazing and detailing the canopies, I went on to the decals. I didn’t think the decal softener was working properly as they weren’t melding properly with the surface. But as they dried, it mostly worked very nicely. Unfortunately I managed to dislodge some of the carefully positioned decals on the Kittyhawk, which required some corrective action – which I’ll describe on my piece on that model. The only surface prep on the decals was using decal fluid, which blobbed a bit on the glazed surface. I didn’t seal the decals afterwards either, as I did on my first model.

After the decals were dry I used the oil paint patination technique of putting small blobs of paint on the surface, and brushing them in. This caused a near-death experience with my German aircraft – but I did not make the mistake of doing this on top of a layer of matt varnish this time. My technique is improving and this step was quick. It really helps integrate the decals, which can be a bit saturated and stark, as well s giving the aircraft a bit of a used look. The glaze left quite a glossy surface, so I applied layer of matt varnish after this. I used the LifeColor airbrush varnish for this, but applied it by conventional brush. This is quick on the smooth surfaces of an aircraft – and I did not want to mask the canopies again. I did not want a deep matt finish, so I didn’t think of using the Winsor and Newton aerosol. The varnish blobbed a bit, so it was a bit trickier than I thought it would be – just as well I didn’t try the airbrush, as the standard brush would have been needed anyway!

Finally I finished with a bit of powder scraped from pastels. This was mainly to create the exhaust stains. But I applied small quantities more generally to give a slightly dusty look. You can’t really tell from my picture above – but closer up pictures will be come with my later posts.

So disappointing. The RAF tropical scheme is hard to get right. I have seen many horrible-looking jobs on restored aircraft, models and artwork. There’s usually an error somewhere. The pre-mixed paints often don’t get it right either. Still my first attempt doesn’t measure up. I plan another batch of models in this scheme later – and I promise they will look much more like the picture above. I may also do another Spitfire V and Kittyhawk anyway, as these models aren’t quite right for other reasons – more later!

David Rowland’s The Stress of Battle – quantifying the human factor

This is an astonishing book, first published back in 2005, with a second edition in 2019, which recently came into the Caliver bookshop. Despite the subtitle the book is not aimed at hobby wargames – more the sort of thing armed forces would run. But there is a lot of interest for us hobbyists. Like a lot of highly insightful works, what it says is bloomin’ obvious once you have read it, but somehow it changes the way you think about things profoundly – in this case the behaviour of men in battle conditions.

The book describes a journey in what is called “Operational Research” in the context of analysing military combat. It started with trying to understand why the combat performance of weapons was so far below what went on in the firing rage, and to quantify this “degradation” and the various factors that affected it. It describes a journey of analysing progressively more complex situations, to get a better understanding of the components of weapon and human effectiveness.

The main journey started in the 1970s with trials using real (British Army) troops in staged battles using laser pulse devices mounted on guns and sensors on the vehicles and people to simulate fire without risk of injury. The first set were tank battles, and then there were a series of infantry battles with armoured support. The tank exercises revealed a number of interesting insights n how battles evolved, and quickly descended into mini-battles with just a few tanks on either side (or one to one) – this was staged in Germany in classic rolling terrain. The infantry exercises showed huge amounts of degradation – reduced weapon effectiveness compared with the effective maximum on shown on firing ranges. Rifle effectiveness was just 5%, and machine-guns 21%.

The next step was to look at historical data, using the trial data as the basis for estimating some of the variables (such as the relative effectiveness of rifles over machine-guns). They looked at the effectiveness of defence fire against an attack, starting with the simplest situation of attacks in the open. They used data going back to the US Civil War, on the basis that the dynamics of small arms fire have not changed much since the rifle replaced the musket. Still, later wars tended to provide more usable data, so WW2 tended to dominate. They progressively added complexities – preparatory bombardments, suppression fire from tanks, prepared defences and so on. They moved on to consider fighting in built-up areas, including the effects of rubble, and woods. Overall they found a further degradation compared to laser-simulation trials of 90%. In other words rifle fire was at just 0.5% of theoretical effectiveness (depending on various conditions), and machine-guns 2%.

The researchers were clear that this degradation had a lot to do with how individuals responded to danger. Two observers from WW2 were particularly on their minds. The first British Lt-Col Lionel Wigram, who went to Sicily in July 1943 to observe infantry behaviour:

His principal finding was that in every platoon there were “six gutful men who will go anywhere”, with “twelve ‘sheep’ who will follow that short distance behind if they are well led”. But there were also ‘”four to six who will run away”. It made uncomfortable reading and apparently General Montgomery suppressed it on the grounds that it would be bad for morale. In addition, Wigram himself lost his temporary rank and was posted to a battalion in Italy as a Major, only to be killed.

David Rowland’s Stress of Battle p61-62

Also quoted was Lt-Col SLA Marshall of the US Army who was commissioned study to infantry behaviour immediately after the war. He observed that only on average only 15% of men took an active part in battle with their weapons, and rarely more than 25% even under intense local pressure. The average was higher for heavy weapons. This was based on battles in NW Europe and the Pacific; he claimed the rate of participation was much higher in Korea. This analysis was pretty subjective but it clearly pointed to an important truth.

All this became clearer in the next phase of the research, when the team looked at battles involving armour. This started with looking at the effectiveness of anti-tank guns against tank attacks, as these data were easiest to make sense of. Their data came initially from encounters by British guns in the Western Desert and Tunisia. Unlike infantry battles, they were examining relatively small numbers of weapons, and the individual performance of weapons was more apparent. They saw that the results were heavily influenced by what they called “heroic behaviour”, which usually resulted in a gallantry award. This covered 20-30% of guns. To cut a long story short, they found support for a model closely approximating to Wigram’s observations for infantry. There were three groups of men: “heroes”, those with degraded performance, and those who took no part at all. The ratios were consistent with Wigram’s observation (18:55:27). Incidentally Wigram’s ratio of ‘gutful” is quite high; anti-tank crew performance tended to be led by the best performer in the group, who was usually at least sergeant rank – Marshall’s ratio of 15% would be typical of infantrymen. I think Wigram was following the British 78th Battleaxe division, who were veterans. There was some variation of performance within each group, but these were minor compared to the variation between the groups; there was no continuum of individual performance. The heroic group operated at a similar level to the soldiers in the non-lethal trials, the “followers” (my terminology) operated at about 30% of this level, and the “shirkers” did not participate in the battle at all. They picked out examples from the battles that they studied, of some guns killing over a dozen tanks, while other guns from the same unit were abandoned without firing a shot. Looking more closely at the heroes, they found that this correlated strongly with rank. A much higher proportion of NCOs than other ranks, and higher proportion of officers to NCOs. Doubtless the causality of this worked both ways.

The studies went on to look at progressively more complex situations in armour combats, and then to look at the effects of surprise and shock, but the three classes of behaviour was the critical finding. There were a number of other findings that will be of interest to wargamers. Two were very striking:

  • Defenders of urban areas proved to be at a substantial disadvantage to the attackers, usually suffering very heavy casualties. The most effective strategy for defence was to hold back forces in reserve and launch a counter-attack. This runs contrary to the expectations of those who aren’t infantrymen, but I think that experienced soldiers knew this. The Germans at Salerno seem to have understood this, for example, in their defence of Battapaglia. This does not apply if the built-up area has been reduced to rubble, which turns it into a more normal battlefield – though not if the bombardment is just before the attack, when the shock can have a major effect. Wargamers rarely understand this dynamic over built-up areas, suffering something of a Hougoumont complex – treating all built-up areas like the heroically defended farm complex at Waterloo (and its neighbour La Haye Sainte). It doesn’t help that in larger scale games a village is often represent by a single building model. While this result was derived mainly from WW2 data, I think it is timeless.
  • Anti-tank guns proved two to three times more effective than tanks at destroying tanks, in spite their lack of mobility and protection. Mobile anti-tank guns (portees and self-propelled guns) had similar performance to towed guns, and even the open-turreted M10 (generally highly disadvantaged in wargames) was more similar to its towed equivalent than tanks. The authors explanation is equally unexpected: it is because they had a higher proportion of “heroes” manning them, specifically they were more likely to have an officer or senior NCO in command, or an officer could easily move from gun to gun and exert influence (or actually take over the firing himself). They had no need to look for alternative explanations, though they were able to dream up a few.

For me the dog that didn’t bark was differences in troop quality. Of course the data was seldom good enough to produce different estimates for different types of troops. It was drawn overwhelmingly from battles between British, American and German troops. These men came from similar societal backgrounds, were trained in roughly similar ways, and they were mainly conscripts. So, although modern writers like to talk up the superior quality of German troops, it shouldn’t be so surprising that when you get down to platoon and company level the troops behaved similarly. On two occasions did the researchers try to distinguish elite units. When looking at troops defending rubble they noted that the defenders on several occasions were German paratroops (Monte Cassino loomed large, but there were other battles covering 40% of the data). Allowing for their greater allocation of machine-guns, the researchers found a slightly better performance for the paratroopers, but not a significant one. The also looked at the performance of Gurkha troops, and found a slightly higher proportion of gallantry awards, indicating a higher proportion ‘heroes”, and so better combat performance. The effects were not decisive.

The three types of behaviour in combat, and their rough proportions and linkage to seniority is timeless, I think – and much of the art of warfare is based on managing this fact, from the invention of the Greek phalanx onwards. I have often said that the relatively lacklustre performance of Austrian troops in Napoleonic times came down to a lower ratio of cadres in their large companies. When a period of campaigning had increased the cadre ratio (attrition affects the cadres less), they performed better, such as in 1800, when they nearly ended Napoleon’s career at Marengo. Elite units are created to increase the proportion of “heroes” and eliminate the shirkers – though possibly at a substantial cost to the rest of the army.

And for wargamers? In most games we use large figure scales and we can average out the effects. Even in WW2 games, where the figure ratios are often 1 to 1, we like to group people together in teams, so that the individual behaviour is averaged, and let the dice do the rest. But this works less well for armoured warfare, where we tend to assume all vehicles are crewed by heroes. This produces a better game, given that tank numbers tend be quite low, and so an only one in four chance of the tank being fully functional can easily take the fun away. Still the examples given of a single 6-pounder destroying multiple German tanks (mainly Panzer IIIs I think) could not happen if those tanks had been manned by fully functioning crews.

This book has been around for a bit, and it must have influenced some rules writing. I can see its influence on the Too Fat Lardies offerings, especially I Ain’t been Shot Mum and its Big Men. But generally our games work more like those non-lethal trials with laser-pulse weapons.

This book isn’t a particularly easy read. It uses a lot of technical language and even for someone like me that knows a bit about statistical analysis, it is quite to follow at times – the blurb suggests that its many charts help make things clear, but they didn’t for me. But you can skip through those bits – and I don’t hesitate to recommend this book for anybody who wants to understand land warfare better, especially WW2.

Two books on Sicily 1943

My 1943 project focuses on British troops in the Mediterranean that year. I started it as a teenager in the late 1970s, but suspended it, like so much else, when I left home in 1979. I have so far focused my research on two campaigns: Tunisia in January to May (and especially the First Army) and Salerno in September. Between these two comes the battle for Sicily in July to August, which I have neglected. I bought these two books to start to fill the gap.

The first is James Holland’s Sicily ’43. Mr Holland seems to be one of the most popular British historians of WW2 at the moment, but this is the first of his books that I have read. I am impressed. This is how history should be written for general consumption. Wargamers will find that it lacks detail, but it should offer inspiration for further research – or may put them off trying to recreate the combats on the tabletop altogether – more of that later.

The 38 day battle for Sicily (starting from the date of the invasion itself rather than the pre-campaign, as the cover of the other book does) has been somewhat neglected by historians – along with the rest of the subjects of my 1943 project. In between the battles of the Western Desert 1940 to 1942, and Normandy and north west Europe 1944 to 1945, and the Russian Front 1941 to 1945, Tunisia, Sicily ad Italy don’t get much of a look-in. Inasmuch as historians have dealt with it, they have tended to be very critical of the Allied command. They have suggested they were too cautious, and should not have let so many Germans and their equipment get out at the end. Mr Holland seeks to set the record straight.

In this he is mainly convincing. Only on one issue do I think he needed to say more – could the Allies have succeeded with a smaller invasion launched earlier? The Axis defence was in disarray at the start of the attack, and things would have been even worse if the attack had been conducted earlier. The key is the Etna area in the north east. This was very easy to defend, and the Germans managed to do so successfully with reinforcements sent in shortly after the invasion started – and most of all with airborne troops. The Allies would have had to get there very quickly to head this off, across terrain that made movement difficult. It probably was too risky, at a time when the Allies did not want defeats – but it would have been worth exploring this a bit more by looking at the resources available to both sides. Incidentally one of the interesting aspects of Sicily was the use of airborne forces. Theses were an innovation for both Allied powers, who learnt the hard way the difficulties of inserting them directly into enemy territory. There were disasters, especially for the British glider troops, and the shooting down of many American transports by friendly fire by the navy. The Germans showed that they had learned the lesson by using airborne forces for a rapid insertion behind their own lines, mostly landing the troops in airfields. It turned a rout into a hard-fought battle which bought time and cost the Allies many casualties.

Mr Holland’s style is to range from the top command to the front line, not neglecting the experience of civilians caught in the middle. He looks at all participants sympathetically – this is the best way to draw out telling insights. Too many histories just look at one participant (based on the sources most readily accessible to the author); this can be good for drama, but not so much for understanding what was happening and why. Another mistake is historians being too eager to criticise the decisions of participants. My rule of thumb when doing historical analysis (which I developed as a history student) is that unless you understand how you yourself could have taken a decision, especially a bad one, you have not understood why it was taken. That requires a sympathetic approach. It also makes more enjoyable reading – though that may just be down to my personal taste. Mr Holland scores well on both counts. It is fluently written too, another plus in an era when history writing is often badly edited. I found some clichés, such as the frequent use of “to say the least”, a bit annoying, but that’s small stuff.

The second book, which is shorter, and which I read first, is not so well-written: Eagles over Husky by Alexander Fitzgerald-Black. It concentrates on the air campaign, and plays to my increasing interest in the use of air power in support of military campaigns. It too seeks to set the record straight – as a number of authors criticised the Allied air effort in the campaign. The air forces were accused of fighting a private war and not supporting the armies well enough, and then letting the Germans get away at Messina. Mr Fitzgerald-Black has little difficulty in putting the counter-arguments. For my taste he overdoes it; Mr Holland comes to the same conclusions, but with much less argument. Mr Hamilton-Black feels it is necessary to take apart the criticism line by line, showing how it is not based on facts. This is a bit tiring for readers like me, as it just seems to give air time to nonsense.

That’s my only real criticism of this work though. It draws heavily from sources on all sides to give a convincing picture. Like Mr Holland he combines a strong strategic narrative with many vignettes of the action. He makes an interesting case that the Allies forced the Germans to make a similar commitment of resources to this theatre as the eastern front (while Kursk was going on) and the north (where the Allied strategic bombing had got going), but suffered vastly more losses than in either other theatre. The campaign was an important step in the breaking of the Luftwaffe across the whole continent. Perhaps that argument can be challenged – but I’m not the person to do it!

So what is in the Sicilian campaign for wargamers? There is quite a bit of interest at a strategic level – but his can only really be tackled in a board game (which I think has been done). A Rommel-style grand-tactical game may be feasible, most easily for the Axis counterattack against the Americans at Gela, where you even get to use a unit of Tigers. (Incidentally Tigers proved hard to use in the difficult terrain and primitive roads – they mostly broke down through being over-worked). The early battles are pretty unsatisfactory from a gaming point of view though, one or two episodes excepted. The defence was very disorganised; the Italians have little stomach for a fight, and the Germans lacked decent leadership; the main challenge for the Allies (and it was considerable) was logistics. Later the fighting got much tougher; a Rommel game would encounter the sorts of problems with mountain warfare that I described for Longstop Hill in Tunisia.

Tactical gaming is more promising, but a bit limited in a different way. There are a lot of important clashes at company and even platoon level, as it was hard to deploy larger formations in the terrain. The problem for the Allies was crossing open (but rough) terrain which exposed their troops to concealed weapons and indirect fire, while canalising them onto mined roads. Their trump card was plentiful artillery and air power. I don’t think this makes for a great tabletop game. There is much less of the Normandy-style fighting in close terrain. Still you can create a game with orchards, olive groves, farms and villages. It should really involve hills and rocks too. A battle for a hilltop village could be visually very attractive, if much harder to recreate than a bit of bocage country. You get to use German paratroops too.

As for air power the key is finding a game where the player chooses between air superiority, interdiction and close support – out of scope for a tactical game, but a possibility in an expanded Rommel-style game perhaps. Air superiority was settled very quickly though.

I have not settled on rules for my 1943 project. I have just bought a second-hand copy of Chain of Command, and this looks very promising. There are other good systems for one-to-one games (Battlegroup and I ain’t been shot Mum) which I’m a bit less convinced about. Rommel also looks quite exciting – but hard to use out of the box in this theatre. I would like something in between – Rapid Fire! and Fistful of TOWs nominally fill that space, but I’m not that happy with either. The long journey continues.

Hobby 2000 Junkers Ju-87 D1 Stuka in 1/72

And so to the last of my trio of Luftwaffe models for Tunisia. I wanted a Stuka as it was such an iconic aircraft, and it certainly did make its presence felt on the battlefield in early 1943. But by then the plane that symbolised the terror of Blitzkrieg was obsolete. It was vulnerable to enemy fighters, and not that effective against dispersed troops and moving vehicles. Latterly the pilots only look them up when there was a lot of cloud cover, which didn’t help to find their targets. It was withdrawn to be used only well away from Allied air cover. This model proved quite hard work, however. At pretty much every stage it took me more time than the two fighter models put together.

For this project I needed a model for the D, or Dora, which had come into service during 1942. Most models are of the B, which was in service at height of the aircraft’s career. There was not a great deal of choice. If manufacturers prefer the B, their next choice is the G, a similar aircraft which saw extensive service on the Russian front later in 1943 as a tank buster, with two underwing 37mm cannon. This is very similar to the D, which does not have the cannon, but does have dive brakes and bomb pylons. There was a Hobby Boss model of the D, and for once the undercarriage would not have been a problem, but this was really an adapted G without the dive brakes. Instead the best reviewed option was this one from Hobby 2000. This was in fact a reissue of a much older (1990s) Fujimi model. All things equal I would have preferred a later D5 version which had longer wings and 20mm cannon in place of the wing machine guns. But Hobby 2000 had an issue for the D1 specifically covering North Africa, including decals and colour scheme for a rather interesting one with a splinter camouflage scheme with desert sand, featured on the box art. I also bought an Eduard stencil for the cockpit frame; this is complicated and I wanted to give this method a try. In fact one of the improvements that Hobby 2000 have made is to include a stencil of their own, so I have one spare! The model includes all the parts for a G1, the version based on the D1 (and often converted from it). Hobby 2000 also have an issue for the G2, which has the longer wings of the D5. This would need to substitute the (separate) wing sprue from this model to be accurate. The model does not include crew, which I supplied from resin models bought separately (I actually used US crew as stocks of Luftwaffe ones were low).

This model is quite different to the two fighters (or the Hobby Boss P-47) that I had made previously. This is partly because it was never intended as a quick-build, and partly, I suspect, because it is much older. The build was much more complicated. This included drilling holes in the wings to accommodate the dive brakes and bomb pylons – which I didn’t discover until after I had glued the top and bottom together, and had to rapidly pull them apart as this needed to be done from the inside. Mistakes like this didn’t help, but a bigger problem was that I didn’t find the parts to be especially well-fitting. And many of the smaller parts didn’t have clear recesses to fit them into. There was quite a bit of “How is this meant to work?”. A couple of parts I left out altogether. Quite a bit of model putty and filing was needed to cover up the gaps.I suspect that this is an area where model manufacturing standards have progressed. Back in the day (by which I mean the 1970s) I remember using a lot of putty. So assembly took a lot longer than the other models. Of course it is bigger and more complicated anyway.

Unlike the other models I decided to use the scheme and decals in the box. This showed a rather unusual splinter scheme. The box art said that the three colours used should be the three Luftwaffe desert colours of sand, olive green and azure blue. I though that this was rather unlikely. These paints would have been applied in theatre and replicating the complicated factory patterns was not done. Instead the whole upper parts were usually covered in sand, with blotches of olive green on top of that. Instead what I thought had happened was that the ground crew had just used sand to overpaint the black-green of the standard three colour splinter scheme the aircraft would have arrived in (dark green and light blue were the other colours). This was because I noticed from the box art that it was the sand was where the black-green was on the aircraft in the standard scheme. I used the same sand as the two fighters, and mixed the other colours specially. For the blue I started with the bright blue that came with my airbrush order, in the hope that I would create an airbrush friendly paint. Alas this was much too bright. I added a lot of white and brown to cool it down. I didn’t really succeed, I ended up with far too much paint and something too dark and too blue – it was hard to distinguish from the separately mixed azure I made for the Bf-109. The dark green was hard to judge. Studying pictures the contrast with black-green is not that great, so I was quite happy that I had a reasonably authentic colour. But there was a very strong contrast with the sand, when I had been hoping for something much closer to the box art.

I then saw another interpretation of this aircraft (S7+EP) in the Osprey book on Mediterranean Stukas (which arrived too late) in just the standard scheme. I have only just now discovered the source picture (above) and looks as if Osprey has it right. Look how the yellow E stands out and the black S7 doesn’t. I also made a mistake in the positioning of the white fuselage stripe, which I put further forward than it should have been. This was entirely my mistake as the box art had this right – though a lot of Stukas did have it in this more forward position. So that leaves me with an irony; this is the only plane I have made so far which is based on an authentic aircraft rather than a generic one – and I’ve got it wrong! Researching aircraft colour schemes is all part of the fun, but I’m learning it the hard way.

The paint was mainly applied with the airbrush. I had similar difficulties as the other planes with the paint consistency, but apart from spraying a bit of the green on the undersurfaces by accident (I though it would be easier to use the airbrush on the undercarriage than it was) I did not need much correction using the paintbrush. I achieved the splinter by applying the green over the sand, using masking tape. The tape took a long time to put on, but the effect is stunning, however unrealistic. Here is the underside:

Apart from the swastika I used the decals that came with them model. These proved quite hard to move into position, regardless of using generous quantities of fluid – much harder than for the other models or for the 40+ year old ones from stock. The underwing crosses were especially tricky as the air brakes and bomb pylons got in the way. A little cutting was needed. Hobby 2000 supplied the stripes to be applied on top of the air brakes (so that the cross comes out from below); these were a bit fiddly but not quite as hard to put on as I feared, and do look good.

I did the patination after my near-death experience on the fighter models, and I was very hesitant, after all the time I had already lavished on this model. So the upper surfaces look quite fresh, rather than trying to get anywhere near the weathered look you can see on the photo (though in that picture we don’t know how long the plane had been left abandoned for). Still the patination helps to integrate the colours and decals.

Another job that took quite a while on this model was the canopy, as there were many panels on the stencil to first put on and then take off. The result is OK but not better than would be achieved using the old-fashioned paintbrush method – albeit that acrylic paint doesn’t stick that well to the acetate, so you need a primer.

A lot of effort resulted in a nice-looking but unrealistic model, which is only relevant for the first part of my period. But you can’t have a collection of WW2 Luftwaffe aircraft without a Stuka.

Hobby Boss Messerschmitt Bf-109G-2 Trop

And so to the next model in my trio of Luftwaffe Tunisia planes. The 109 was the workhouse German fighter arm throughout the war. They used no other fighter aircraft in the Mediterranean theatre, apart from the brief intervention from the Fw-190s of JG2. I wanted to go for one of the earlier G models. These are very similar to the F, whose introduction give the RAF such problems until the Spitfire V came along. The G had an engine upgrade, giving it superior performance; these early Gustavs appeared in mid-1942. Later ones (like the G-6) had an upgrade to the fuselage machine guns, which necessitated the characteristic blisters each side of the nose in front of the cockpit.

I chose the Hobby Boss kit because it was cheap and simple – just what I wanted when I was still learning how to do model aircraft. I had already bought the Airfix 109G-6, which is suitable for later in 1943. This is probably quite a good kit for my purposes but to represent the G2 would meant removing those blisters – which would be very hard to do cleanly. In fact Zvesda produce what is probably a more suitable model (actually of an F, as well as a later G). I had already experienced Hobby Boss with my P-47, so I knew what to expect. The big problem is that it does not have an undercarriage up option, in spite of the box art (which says it all in my view!). The model is simple and robust apart from that. It actually had more interior cockpit detail than Airfix, though it necessitates the amputation of the lower legs of the pilot. The join between the upper wings and the fuselage wasn’t seamless, and required filing, putty and sanding. The fit of the cockpit canopy wasn’t quite right either (which I failed to rectify). Otherwise my only complaints were that the scoring to denote control surfaces is a bit shallow (like the P-47) and it doesn’t come with a bomb.

I wanted to represent an aircraft in the classic Luftwaffe desert scheme (as per the box art) overpainted with Olive Green splodges, doubtless to fit better with winter in the greener environment of Tunisia. The model came with decals for such a plane – Yellow 13 from JG53. But this was the plane of an ace pilot (with victory marks on the tail), who was lost in Tunisia. I wanted something more generic. The simplest thing to have done would have been to use the same scheme with a different number (as I did with the Fw-190). But doing yellow number with a black outline looked a bit tricky at the time (in fact I managed it for the 190 without difficulty). I wanted to keep the Ace of Spades insignia for JG 53, so I went for different Gruppe and Staffel – black letters with a downward stroke after the fuselage cross and white band. I was inspired by a picture of Black 1 (see above – another ace, as well as staffel leader), with some aircraft in the background. Evidence for the actual schemes is pretty thin. I have seen Yellow 13 represented with and without the green splodges, and with different shaped ones. Black 1 is usually shown in a very mucky version of the sand and azure scheme without the olive green (a fair interpretation of the picture). It’s actually quite hard to tell on the planes in the background in the picture, especially if the olive green has a similar tonal value to the sand (as was the case for my 190 – but not pictures from earlier in the war), though it should still show up against he blue. I wanted the splodges (“dappling” is the correct term, I think), to help me develop technique for my next batch of German aircraft in the standard grey scheme, which have dappling on the fuselage. Some modellers show splodges on the fuselage and stripes on the wing. I went for splurges on the wing too, following one of the interpretations of Yellow 13.

As with the 190, I had to make decisions about the yellow and white markings. The JG53 109s clearly often had yellow rudders and under the nose. Black 1 had what looks like a yellow rudder – but it looked to me that this was to show off the pilot’s awards and kill marks; it wasn’t clear if the other planes in the background had it. I decided to leave out the yellow rudder, but, like the 190, to have yellow under the nose. I also had white wingtips underneath, following quite a few portrayals of 109s in the theatre. Desert 109s often had white wingtips; I think they were often left off the upper surface to make them less conspicuous on the ground, especially later on. Finally I decided to represent the plane in fighter-bomber mode. Unlike the 190s used by JG2, the 109s do seem to have been able to carry bombs. British soldiers often wrote of being attacked on the ground by “Messerschmitts”, and they were certainly used in this capacity in Sicily. The ID skills of British soldiers isn’t to be relied on though. I suspect a tendency to identify all single engined fighters as 109s, and there were fighter-bomber 190s in theatre (funnily enough aircrew often identified 109s as 190s, such was the reputation of the 190, rather as their army colleagues kept identifying Panzer IVs as Tigers). Anyway as my 190 was a pure fighter, I wanted the 109 as a fighter-bomber. More straightforwardly I put on underwing cannon too, though I don’t know if this staffel had them (though it does look like it from the picture). The early 109 is a bit under-armed, and I am speculating that the extra engine power of the Gustav gave pilots the confidence to take the performance hit of the extra armament.

And so to the build. The biggest problem by far was having the undercarriage in the up position. The wheel wells as modelled were very shallow, and the wheels needed a lot of filing down to fit in. The doors were a poor fit too. I actually found that the doors from the Airfix 109 (those for the down position – they had a different moulding for up) were closer and used them instead. It still took quite a bit of work. As I eventually did with the P-47, I set the doors in plasticine to ensure they were flush. I needed to provide a pilot – I used a resin one from PJ Productions. PJ seem to have this market to themselves, which I find amazing. They are nothing special, and have arms moulded separately, which are tricky to glue into place. Resin is very brittle for such small things. Considering how easy it would be to provide a pilot with the model (as well as undercarriage up), I find it amazing that so few people do it. Only Airfix and Zvesda in the models I have bought. It is even more surprising that Hobby Boss don’t, given that there is surely more demand for this at this end of the market. The cockpit interior, while modelled (an advance on Airfix, which just has the seat), is too shallow, like the wheel wells, which meant that the lower legs of the pilot had to be removed. I have already referred to issues on wing roots (which meant that some panel details were filed off) and cockpit canopy, which I’m sure I could have done a better job of. Incidentally I fixed the canopies in place before painting the exterior in all my models, as I wanted to putty the joins for the non-moveable bits. For this model I masked the whole canopy, apart from the edges, and painted in the frame later. I added a bomb from the Airfix model, which I indent to represent s a pure fighter. There was no means of anchoring it to the pylon though, and it ended up a bit skew.

For the paint job I used the same sand and olive green mixes as the Fw-190. I mixed an azure blue for the underside. I started with an Azure Blue from Daler Rowney, and added a bit of white and neutral grey (and maybe some brown – I can’t remember). The result was pretty much what I was looking for, but disappointingly similar to the standard Luftwaffe light blue I used for the Stuka – mixed by a totally different route. I had fewer problems with the airbrush on this model than I did with the Fw-190. I think this may be because the mixes made up from artists’ paints are a bit thick, though I used copious amounts of thinner for the brush. Anyway I have more to learn on that front. I applied the blue and sand that way. For the olive green dappling an experienced aero-modeller would have thought nothing about using an air brush too – but my skills are nowhere near that level. My first idea was to use cotton wool buds – but these are quite absorbent, using a fair amount of paint that never gets on the model, which then proceeds to dry. Instead I decided to do what I did back in the 1970s – create a stipple brush by cutting down an old paintbrush. This worked adequately, though on one side of the fuselage I got the paint a bit thick, which proved quite hard to undo and redo. The result is still a bit mucky (it’s the other side from the photo above) – though the for the scheme and theatre that’s not such a big deal.

For the decals I used a similar solution as for the Fw-190. The fuselage and lower wing crosses were from the kit (rather better quality than the Zvesda), but it came with the simplified upper wing crosses. I used old Almark decals for the upper wing crosses, the swastika and the number and stroke (which identifies the Gruppe). All pretty straightforward. The stroke came from a separate sheet from the numbers, and is in fact too thin, looking again at the photo. The kit came with Ace of Spades markings, but without the black outline which pretty much everybody shows they had. I had quite a few spares from the old Airfix 1970s 109 model. These broke up slightly and I lost part of the outline (on both sides). Looking at the photo, the border is in fact very thin and the ones with the kit may have been a better choice.

This model suffered much the same problems with the oil paint patination I have described on the 190, with the additional issue that I think I overdid the white on the upper surfaces. The model still looks slightly milky even after the frantic attempts at correction. Here is the underside:

Apart from the skew bomb (which doubtless I will correct at a later point), I was actually quite happy with the underside, unlike the Fw-190. That may just be because there is more going on, with the vents, cannon and exposed wheels, and the colour is more interesting. I wasn’t sure what colour to paint the bomb. I read that the Luftwaffe often painted them blue to fit in with the underside colour, so I chose this. I used my standard Luftwaffe blue mixed for the Stuka (also used for the Stuka’s main bomb) – you can see how little contrast there is. For the exhaust stain I used powdered artists’ pastel, a mix of dark grey and brown. Looking at the photo I could made it quite a bit bigger.

Overall I’m pretty pleased with this model. Incidentally I didn’t notice the white splodge on the nose when I took the picture. I don’t know what it is, but it came off quite easily. Next I will describe the final member of the trio, the Stuka.

My Zvesda Fw-190 model

And so to the first of my three recent models of German aircraft. The Focke-Wulf Fw-190 A4 is one of the earlier models of this classic fighter aircraft. The 190A is one of my favourite WW2 planes from an aesthetic point of view, up there with the Mosquito and Spitfire Mk VIII/IX.

I wanted to model one of the early variants, which were around in early 1943, in one of the Mediterranean camouflage schemes. These early planes were slightly shorter than the later ones (from the A5 on, and the F series of fighter-bombers), which had the engine pushed slightly forwards to shift the centre of gravity, to ease the carrying of bombs. To meet my aim meant going for one of the pure fighter planes in JG2. Some early fighter-bombers were deployed in Tunisia at this time, but they seem to have used the standard European grey colour scheme. This would have made them look very like the A5 fighter-bomber that I plan to make later on. Given this, the Zvesda kit pretty much chose itself. Most models, like the Airfix one, of the 190A are of the later A8, which belongs to 1944. And I wanted a simpler, cheaper model at this stage in my modelling journey.

The Zvesda kit was an excellent choice. It has an undercarriage-up option, and comes with a pilot. Better than that, the fit of the parts is excellent; it needed very little filler. How unlike the kits of my youth! And also better than the low-cost Hobby Boss models. It sells as a snap fit model, without the need for glue. I did use glue, but it was only actually needed it in one or two places. I have just one significant complaint – the Fw-190’s tail wheel partly retracts in flight – but on the model it is in the fully down position. It was a bit tricky to replicate the retracted version. The decals aren’t great either. The only other point to note is that there are no bomb racks included with this kit to make a fighter-bomber version (which would also require the removal of the outer wing cannon) – though not many of these entered service for the A4. Sometimes kits are supplied with extra parts to make different versions, even ones for which instructions and decals are not supplied – not this one. Based on this kit though, Zvesda are the ideal maker of 1/72 kits for wargames purposes. The shame is that they only have a limited range of models. It looks OK for Russian aircraft (unsurprisingly), but otherwise it’s thin. There is no later, or fighter-bomber, version of the Fw-190 – a bit strange given how big a role this aircraft played on the Russian front. But there are a couple of Bf 109s, and they might be a better source for these than the Airfix or Hobby Boss kits that I have bought.

II Group of JG2 (Staffels 4, 5 and 6) was sent to Tunisia in November 1942 as part of a general rush of German reinforcements to this theatre – the unit had been based on the English Channel (the aircraft in the Imperial War Museum that landed in England in 1942 by accident was from JG2). They stayed until February 1943, and were the only Fw-190 fighters to be deployed in the Mediterranean in the war, as opposed to fighter-bombers. Only 109s took up the fighter role for the rest of the war, in a demonstration of the economic principle of comparative advantage – the Fw-190 was generally thought to be a superior fighter to the 109, but the latter was a much inferior fighter-bomber. What colour scheme? The Luftwaffe Mediterranean schemes were always ad-hoc, and that applies even more to Tunisia; there was no manual. Tunisia itself in winter was quite green for the most part, meaning that many of the aircraft rushed in were not given a new paint job at all, like the Fw-190 fighter-bombers. However there is evidence that at least some of JG2’s were. Unfortunately there are very few photos, and even fewer of them are available on online searches, so I’m relying mainly on secondary interpretations. The kit comes with decals for White 14 from 5 Staffel in Tunisia. This appears to simply have blobs of overpainting on the conventional grey scheme (and with the white on the fuselage Balkenkreuz painted out). This wasn’t very interesting. Two other schemes come up in searches: a group staff plane (with black chevrons) in overall sand upper parts, and Yellow 1 from 6 Staffel, either shown in just sand, or in sand with broad olive green stripes. Yellow 1 (1 denoting staffel leader) was flown by fighter ace Erich Rudorffer. I wanted the sand and green scheme, which would give me practice for the similar British schemes (sand and brown stripes), but I didn’t want a famous ace, but something more generic. I decided to do one from the same staffel but with a different number (seven in the end) – fictional, perhaps, but the sort of generic thing suitable for the tabletop. Details on Yellow 1 vary on the illustrations. Sometimes it is shown with white wing stripes – markings which were apparently used by German planes in Vichy France, but these would not have appeared on planes in Tunisia. Also shown are white underwing tips, yellow under the engine cowling and a yellow rudder (as well as the white fuselage stripe which almost all Axis planes in the theatre had). All of these appear on German fighters in the theatre, but not universally. The yellow markings were also used by JG2 planes in their previous posting on the Channel. My speculation is that the upper parts of the planes were overpainted in sand and olive green, but the underparts were left in the pale blue-grey of the original scheme (rather than azure in the German Mediterranean set). Winter in Tunisia wasn’t particularly sunny (it rained a lot), so there was no good reason to overpaint the underside. Besides a large part of the use of aircraft camouflage schemes in this theatre was to make the planes less conspicuous on the ground, as the airfields were quite basic, and there was little cover. Even the Americans were forced to do this in 1944 when they stopped painting their aircraft at the factories. So, I reasoned, they would have overpainted the yellow rudder but left the yellow under the cowling. I wasn’t sure about the white wingtips, but these aren’t very conspicuous, so I left them out.

Here’s the finished model:

And underneath:

There’s not much to note on the build. It was very straightforward apart from the tail wheel. I used the airbrush to prime, but this time with LifeColor purpose made white primer. This went on more easily than standard paint, but there was still a slight tendency to bubble (even though the parts had been washed). The sand and olive green were mixed for use on this and the other models – the sand on all three models, and the green with the 109. The pale blue grey (“white-blue”) was mixed just for this model. I took the darker light blue I used for the Stuka and mixed some white into it. It should probably have been a bit greyer (on the Stuka too). The sand was Raw Siena with a bit of blue and white – and I am very happy with how that turned out. It’s a bit darker than it is often shown, but close to many representations of this aircraft. The olive green is usually shown as been noticeably darker than the sand (which comes out on may photos) but in this case I thought it would be tonally similar. One the one photo I have of Yellow 1 (showing just the nose) the stripes are nearly invisible. I started with Sap Green, mixed in some Yellow Oxide and white. That works well on this model.

I have already written of my traumas at the painting stage. I painted the whole upper surface in sand, and then over sprayed the green on top, using Science Putty for masking. I used this product as an alternative to the more expensive “Panzer Putty”, and it worked pretty well. However the problem with it is that it moves, so you can’t leave it on the model for long. Blue Tac is probably more appropriate. I had to top up a lot of the airbrushed green with a paintbrush. For the decals I used the Balkankreuz that came with the model for the fuselage and underwing, but they supplied the simplified cross for the overwing, which didn’t seem to be accurate. At this stage, and in this theatre, the Germans seemed to use the standard cross with a thinner white band. This, and ID markings and the swastika were all sourced from my brother’s stock of German markings from the 1970s (or even late 1960s), mainly from Almark. Almark still seem to be going, though Scalemates says they started in 1975, my brother’s main modelling activity in 1/72 was long before this, and I generally only needed the swastikas for my models at this time, so I don’t think I bought these. Zvesda do supply swastikas, but, doubtless for legal reasons, they are cut in pieces and a faff to put on. The old decals took a little while to free themselves from the backing paper, but then were fine to manipulate – actually easier than many of the modern ones. Using decal fluid the flash, a big problem back in the day, disappears – though it didn’t help that we usually applied them to matt enamel painted surfaces. For the ID markings I had to put on the yellow markings first, and then the black outlines over them. I am very pleased with how they turned out.

Overall I am very pleased with the result on the upper surfaces, in spite of the nightmare on the oil paint patination. The LifeColor matt varnish has left a faint sheen (or maybe it’s the oil coming through) which is just what I wanted. While American planes in the Olive drab scheme often appear in a very matt finish, this seems less true of Luftwaffe planes. Doubtless the crews kept the planes clean to extract every ounce of aerodynamic performance. The whole effect is cleaner than the P-47, but consistent with a recently-painted aircraft. The patination nevertheless helps to integrate the whole model, including decals, and give it more of a real-world feel. The underside is much less satisfactory. The main problem is that it is too monotonous. Some of the detail could have done with being brought out. The fit of the undercarriage doors is so good you can hardly see them! The patination effect is also much more visible and makes it look a bit mucky. That’s not unrealistic in itself, remembering that this is the bit that wasn’t overpainted, and the underside would have taken a pounding from dust on take-off and landing, but it still doesn’t look quite right. But after the traumas with the oil, I wanted to draw a line under the project, and had no wish to spend yet more time trying to fix it. The underside is not going to be that visible on the table after all.

My next batch of 1/72 WW2 Aircraft

So at last I have finished my latest project. These are three German planes from Tunisia at the winter of 1942/43: a Messerschmitt Bf-109G2, a Focke-Wulf Fw-190A4 and a Junkers Ju-87D1 Stuka. I want to describe each of these planes individually in separate posts, but before that there are a few things I want to say about the project as a whole.

The project was quite a late idea in my plans for an aircraft collection based on my 1943 theme. The P-47 was an interesting trial run, but I thought it would be a good idea to do some more practice on cheap models, before launching into some of the more sophisticated (and expensive) kits that I had bought. I was also a bit short of German aircraft (three from the original ten). This wasn’t so inappropriate given that the Germans rapidly lost air superiority in this period, but at the start air superiority was fully contested. Also I had planned to do the three German aircraft in the standard European grey scheme. But in the early period, in Tunisia, they used their desert colours as well, adding some more interest. And they also used Stukas, which I wanted to model, though increasing Allied air strength quickly drove them into a very minor role. So I bought cheap models of the early versions of Bf-109G and Fw-190A in use at this time, the former from Hobby Boss (£6.25), and the latter from Zvesda (£8.50). For the Stuka I went to Hobby 2000, which was substantially the 1990s model from Fukashima; this was a bit pricier (£11.80), but not in the same bracket as modern hobby models.

The project took a lot longer than I expected, and I had some more learning to do. This was mainly due to my daily routine, which only allows 2-3 hours in the afternoons for the hobby, and very often it proved not possible on that day. To improve my work rate I will have to do some morning time too – fortunately my other commitments are easing, so that should be doable (though there’s more to be done in the garden…). But there were other issues. I had the same problem with raised undercarriage with the Bf-109 as I did with the Hobby Boss P-47, and only the Zvesda model came with a pilot. The Stuka proved quite tricky to assemble. There were some fiddly parts, some of which I gave up on, but a bigger issue was that the fit of the parts wasn’t that great, especially when compared to the lovely fit of the Zvesda. Manufacturing standards have clearly improved. But the real problems came with painting and finishing.

I am still learning with the airbrush; it feels like one step back for every two forward. Partly this is because I mix my own colours. I quickly found this easiest with artists’ colours, rather than using hobby paints (a few Lifecolor ones came with the airbrush). But that gives quite a thick paint that needs to be thinned. Getting the consistency and pressure right was quite hard, especially as things seemed to change as the job progressed. It took longer than expected, and a lot of the green on the Fw-190 turned out to be too thin, and I had to top it up with an old fashioned brush. I would not advise people to take up an airbrush for aero-modelling unless they are quite happy to learn new skills. For wargames purpose I’m, sure you can get satisfactory results with a paint brush, provided the paint isn’t too thick, which may mean you use more than one coat.

The real problems came when I tried the oil paint patina technique for weathering the model – referred to as “dot filtering” in the blog I picked it up from, which isn’t very informative. This means putting small dots of oil paint on the model (such as white, brown and blue-grey) and then brushing them into a very thin patina, which I did after the decals in order to integrate these better. It softens contrasts, creates subtle changes of tone, and simulates some of the effects of fading and dirt. I found this not to hard on the P-47, especially as I could correct over enthusiasm with a bit of white spirit. On that model I applied the oils to a surface on old Humbrol enamel satin varnish. This time I thought it would be clever to to apply a coat of matt varnish first – using Winsor & Newton in an aerosol can. Bad idea. I tried with the Fw-190 first, and I found that the spreading of the paint on the matt surface was much harder and it was not possible to spread the paint thinly enough, which left heavy streaking. So I put a bit of white spirit on. That didn’t help because it reacted with the matt varnish to created a horrid claggy mess. By this time the disease had spread to the 109, as I tried a more restrained application of paint, but without success. This was getting desperate. The models were cheap but I’d invested quite a bit of time in them! I then tried oil paint medium (mainly linseed oil) to thin the paint, and this at last started to shift the streaks and help lift some of the clag off. On the 109, on the unrated areas I applied a layer of medium first, and put the dots onto this, with reasonable results. With a bit of work I got to a generally acceptable result on the two fighters, though close examination reveals areas of mess, especially on the 190. The big problem with this approach came later. The medium took days to dry, and finished in high gloss, rather than the rather nice faint sheen I got on the P-47, before putting on the matt varnish. I had been aiming for that light sheen rather than the heavy matt of the P-47. I had to apply matt varnish, but I didn’t want to use the W&N aerosol, partly because it meant re-masking the cockpits, and partly because I wasn’t looking for the extreme matt finish that this product gives. Instead I used Lifecolor varnish applied with a paint brush. Some of the medium clearly hadn’t quite dried, though, and the gloss finish kept bursting through. After this I had very little patience for further weathering, though I did apply pastel powder for some exhaust stains.

With this disaster unfolding on the 190 and 109, I realised I needed to do something different on the Stuka. I put a layer of Lifecolor gloss varnish onto the matt surface, and applied the oil paint to this. This worked much better, but in places I was still a little heavy-handed, so I put on a little oil medium to thin out. This worked, but I had the issue with it taking a long time to dry. I didn’t dare use the white spirit as the Lifecolor product wasn’t polyurethane (or that old Humbrol product), and I thought it might react in the same way as the matt varnish. Judging by how effective white spirit was on shifting dried varnish on a brush I forgot to clean, this was probably a good call. The patina effect on the Stuka was much more restrained, on the top surfaces anyway, than on the other models (including the P-47), as by this time my confidence had been badly dented.

Other points to note? The white fuselage stripes, and the yellow under the nose on the fighters, was painted on directly after the primer and then masked. On the P-47 I painted the yellow stripes over the main paint. Yellow and white are tricky to overpaint (it took several coats on the P-47), and I think this approach was better. I tried three different strategies for the cockpits. I bought a tailor made mask for the Stuka; frustratingly the model actually came with a mask so I didn’t have to do this – and I used the mask that came with the model. On the 190 I cut masking tape for each of the transparent panels leaving the frame exposed. On the 109 I masked the whole cockpit except the edges and painted the frames afterwards. Some modellers swear by masks, but I’m not sure – I don’t think the end result was any better than painting on, though on the Stuka it would have been much too hard to mask the panels by cutting tape. This is only practical on a much simpler canopy, such as that for the 190 (and P-47), where I was pleased with the result. The results on the 109 were fine for my purposes, though the acrylic surface doesn’t take paint that easily and needs a bit of priming (and the white primer needs toning down as it is visible from underneath). The canopy on the Bf 110 is going to be a real challenge, but I think I’ll take the same route as I did with the 109.

Overall I’m very pleased with these models, except on the undersides, which won’t be all that visible in use. I got away with the botching of the patination. A key learning is that, unlike a true aero-modeller, I am aiming for a good effect from a distance, and not to impress with close -up detailing. These models would be a bit of a disaster by the latter standards, especially the fighters, but they work very well for my purposes, as I think the photo shows. They do a good job of evoking Luftwaffe aircraft of that time and place. In particular fussing around with minor bits of detail, like bringing out panel lines, or showing scuffed paint, isn’t worth it. More comments when I review each model individually.

Olive drab

Readers familiar with my blogs may have noticed an omission from previous post on the P-47. I didn’t say anything about the paint colours. And I’m usually a bit obsessive about that. A lot of hobbyists are, but I take it in an unusual direction because I mix my own paints from artists’ pigments, separately for each project. I left the topic out because I had too much to say. It needed another post, which readers less obsessed with colours can skip, and this is it.

The predominant colour on this model is, of course, Olive Drab. The underside colour is Neutral Grey, a mix of black and white, the main question around which is how light it should be. I based my colour on an old artists’ Liquitex Neutral Grey I had lying around; if it hadn’t been there I would have mixed Mars Black and Titanium White. The Liquitex colour is probably 50:50 and turned out to be a bit dark, so I added some white to it. From photos I suspect that the USAAF grey is a bit darker than it is portrayed by most artists, as the tonal contrast between it and Olive Drab isn’t that great. But I went quite pale nevertheless; white with everything is my standard practice for miniatures painting after all. Other colours are yellow for the stripes and red for the nose. My main concern with these was to make them bright but not too bright. For the red I recycled some red from my previous project (French Napoleonic cavalry) that was still wet on the palette, though I found myself tweaking it a bit. Yellow is a bit of problem because pigments tend to be bodiless and thin. I like to use Yellow Ochre or Yellow Oxide (the Liquitex name, but much the same thing), as this is the best behaved, but it is a bit dull, do I used some of my other yellow pigments. First an old yellow (can’t remember the name, but its not on sale any more) that was horrid and thin, and then Cadmium Yellow that was better. A little white was in there of course. But the result was still thin. I painted the stripes (with a brush over masking tape) over the Olive Drab and Neutral Grey, which had been airbrushed on. I started with an undercoat of white, but it still took at least three coats of the yellow mix to get anything satisfactory. Maybe next time (the yellow stripes will probably feature on my A-36 too) I will paint them first and mask before airbrushing the main colours.

But the big interest is the Olive Drab. This was the standard US military colour, developed in WW1 and used on both vehicles and aircraft in WW2. It is a notoriously tricky colour to pin down. The US authorities were very pragmatic on colour standards, and did not care greatly whether the colour precisely matched the standard, and it weathered quite dramatically. The official formulation changed slightly from time to time, and eventually the Army and USAAF went for slightly different definitions. Different companies used different pigment combinations (and doubtless changed these over time), so even the weathering varied a great deal. The colour could vary a great deal across the same aircraft, depending on when that particular part was painted. Probably no two vehicles or planes were the same colour (apparently like modern Israeli tanks), because in wartime this just didn’t matter. This causes hobbyists – wargamers, modellers, collectors or re-enactors – a lot of angst. Modellers like their premixed paints, and often ask which one to use, to which the answer has to be a shrug; “several” is to them the wrong answer. Collectors either paint with something like the as-new shade (doubtless in a modern paint that is much more colour-fast than the old ones) or make up a lighter shade to simulate what they think it might have looked like in the field, but which tends to look too fresh and new.

Meanwhile we have not so much evidence for what planes and vehicles actually looked like. Colour photography wasn’t prevalent, and not especially accurate on colour either; colourised photos, increasingly popular, are just an interpretation. And as with all dull colours in the middle of the colour wheel, small differences to colour sensitivity and lighting can make a big difference to how it looks to the human eye. This website ( has a number of interesting pictures of aircraft, though (leading with one of a crashed P-47 in very similar scheme to my model), which shows how much variation there might be, even on the same plane.

So what colour is it? “Pig crap” is an early description of the dark, freshly painted version. Olive is just on the green side of yellow on the colour wheel, but the “drab” takes it a long way towards the middle, meaning that it is quite brown. To date I have tried simulating it with a mix of three pigments: Yellow Oxide (i.e. Yellow Ochre), Black and White. I have assumed the standard way of making it was combining yellow ochre with black, as these were two cheap pigments – just as the French did in the Napoleonic wars to make the olive green they used for artillery woodwork. Here is a picture of the sorts of result yI get:

On the left you have just black and yellow; this is as close as I could get in tone to the colour swatch I have, which show the colour as new. In fact the swatches were slightly greener – but more yellow would have made it a bit too light I though. Fresh Olive Drab is a very dark colour, something that caused me consternation when I applied authentic Humbrols too my models back in the day. Next has a bit of white and a bit more yellow (I was assuming that the black would fade faster than the yellow); it turns into something a bit greener. On the right I have mixed the yellow with Neutral Grey to give something lighter and browner. My model is painted in something between the right hand and centre pictures. If nothing else this exercise shows how challenging photography is in representing colour; they all look darker than they “really” are.

As another exercise in demonstrating the perils of photography: the following show the effects of different backgrounds. The red in particular makes the model look browner, while the green makes it look greener. I don’t really understand that!. The lighting conditions were slightly different for this photo than the other three though.

Comparing these photos with the ones on and my model is in the right zone, but looks a bit dark; it seems closest to the new Liberator bombers. But all the photos were taken in bright sunlight while I took my pictures on an overcast day, with a little artificial light to boost it a bit (and a lot more artificial light for the one against green cloth).

A further thought is that my idea that Olive Drab was often made using yellow ochre and black is probably off the mark. These may have been the appropriate pigments in the pre-industrial age, or even in Europe, where green pigments were in short supply, but 1940s America is another matter. The original formulation of the colour included raw umber, a dark brown. Chrome yellow was a standard primer, used in the interior of aircraft – this is brighter and greener than ochre. The greener hue of the colour swatches suggests it wasn’t ochre-black. It might be worth trying a different formulation, to produce something with a slightly greener hue. On the other hand the black-ochre combination produces a nice, opaque paint that is very easy to apply. A brief attempt to produce something using Raw Umber and Viridian was not nearly as good.

So where next? The issue will return when I do my batch of three US planes. The main issue is not the precise hue, but that fact that the colour is not standard. There should be a bit of variation between the planes and on the same aircraft. It is less of an issue for vehicles, since in 1943 most US vehicles used by the British were repainted. But if I move out into later war or US forces (and I’m thinking of just that in 1/300), the issue will return. This is a problem that will run and run.