|DECALS:||Two options per kit|
|NOTES:||Xtradecal 72203 utilized|
Such was the pace of aircraft development in the latter half of the 1930s that the Bristol Blenheim, which was the most modern aircraft in Britain when the Type 142 prototype first flew on April 12, 1935, was close to obsolete when called to war a mere four and a half years later. Indeed, sending unescorted Blenheims against German targets in daylight, which happened until 1942, could be seen as the World War II equivalent of sending pilots over the Western Front in 1916 in the B.E.2c.
The Blenheim was the result of Daily Mail owner Lord Rothermere, who had grown increasingly concerned that the British aviation industry was falling behind international standards, issuing a challenge in 1934 to develop a fast twin-engine aircraft which he could use as a personal transport. As it happened, Bristol’s chief designer, Frank Barnwell, had commenced development of a twin-engine passenger aircraft with a designed cruising speed of 250 mph - faster than every RAF fighter at the time - the previous year. The result was the Type 142 “Britain First,” a 6-passenger aircraft with a maximum speed of 307 mph. The Air Ministry was immediately interested after Lord Rothermere donated the Type 142 to the RAF. Barnwell had already foreseen the possibility of modifying the plane as a high speed light bomber, and the RAF ordered 150 before the bomber prototype had flown.
Named Blenheim in memory of the Duke of Marlborough’s defeat of the French at Blenheim, Bavaria in 1704, the Blenheim I had a crew of three: pilot, bomb aimer/navigator, and gunner, and could carry a 1,000 pound bombload at 282 mph. Handling was “fighter-like” and maneuverability was excellent. The first Blenheim Is arrived in service in March 1937.
In 1938, in answer to the need for a long range fighter capable of operating at night, the Blenheim Mk.IF appeared, modified with a package of four .303 machine guns bolted over the bomb bay doors below the cockpit. With the extra weight of guns and ammunition, top speed dropped to 260 mph.
Following the success of the Blenheim I, Bristol pursued further development of the basic airframe with a design originally called the Bolingbroke, in which the nose of the Blenheim I was extended forward 3 feet. With the windscreen that far from the pilot, visual distortion set in; a more conventional "stepped cockpit, with the glass nose scalloped directly ahead of the pilot to allow good downward visibility during landing, was developed. From the rear cockpit bulkhead aft, the airframe was essentially unchanged except for the installation of gas tanks in the outer wings for extended range. The final form was approved in the summer of 1938. Bristol and the other contractors building Blenheims in the "shadow factory" program were directed to change over to what was now called the Blenheim IV in late 1938. By the outbreak of war in September, 1939, 100 Blenheim IVs a month were being delivered to the RAF. Though the airplane was outclassed by its opposition, it would be the primary tactical day bomber of the RAF until replaced by the Mosquito in 1942.
The Blenheim in Combat:
Though Blenheims had seen combat from the first day of the war, being the first British bomber to raid Germany when one flew a reconnaissance flight over the German fleet at Wilhelmshaven two hours after the declaration of war on September 3, 1939, the Blenheim did not see widespread combat until the German invasion of France in May, 1940. From then until the fall of 1941, Blenheim crews would almost see too much action.
The experience of 82 Squadron in 1940 is exemplary of the other squadrons equipped with the Blenheim. The squadron made its first attack against the German invasion in Belgium on May 17, 1940, when 12 aircraft crossed the Channel to attack a German armored column in Gembloux, Belgium. They missed their rendezvous with the Hurricane squadron detailed to escort them, and pressed on regardless. Just before reaching Gembloux they were intercepted by 15 Bf 109s, which proceeded to shoot down all but one of the Blenheims. Thus began the crucifixion of the Blenheim crews in 2 Group. Basil Embry had lost 7 of 28 attacking the Maastricht bridges four days earlier. Between May 10 and the evacuation of the B.E.F from Dunkirk, the RAF lost 60 Blenheims with their crews to Luftwaffe fighters and deadly light flak no one had expected.
On August 13, 1940, 82 Squadron was ordered to attack the German airfield at Aalborg, Denmark. There was no prospect that the attack would meet with success, or that if it did it would have any effect on the air battles over England since the German aircraft using the field were not participating in these operations. Even Sir Charles Portal, Chief of the Air Staff, had told the Air Ministry, "It seems to me the height of folly to throw away the experienced crews on the bombing of aerodromes which, I think you will agree, shows the least result for loss of equipment expended on it." The attack was made in a cloudless sky. The lead crew included a navigator flying his first mission, whose inexperience showed when the formation made landfall on the southern coast of Denmark, rather than the northern tip. As they crossed the shoreline, a Sgt. Pilot who would later be court martialled for “Lacking Moral Fibre” aborted the mission. The eleven remaining flew the length of the country in clear skies at 8,000 feet, with the German defenses thoroughly alerted. As Lord Haw Haw later reported accurately, five were shot down by fighters and six by flak; 9 aircrew of 33 survived as prisoners.
Through the summer of 1940, 2 Group Blenheim squadrons made daylight attacks in formations of 4 6 aircraft against the invasion ports and the buildup of the German Army in northern France. 82 squadron had suffered 180 percent casualties by September 1, going through 3 commanders in one week alone. Life in a 2 Group Blenheim squadron during the summer of 1940 has been compared to that of an RFC squadron on the Somme in 1916, with aircrews being lost on operations before they had completed the process of signing in to the squadron and being issued their bedding. It was considered by aircrew during this period that an assignment to 2 Group was effectively a death sentence. (In the recent film “Mr. Holmes,” which I highly highly highly recommend - Sherlock Holmes is 93 in 1947 - the housekeeper tells her son with great bitterness that his father was trained as a gunner in the RAF and was “lost on his first mission in a Blenheim Mark 4.”)
The Air Staff was unwilling to admit that the RAF did not have a bomber capable of operating in the European air combat environment in daylight. 4-6 plane packets of Blenheims were shot down like ducks during season by the Luftwaffe. Even worse was the wastage of the pre war trained aircrews, almost none of whom would survive the war, with the overwhelming majority lost by the end of 1940 to no good purpose.
When the RAF decided to "lean forward into France" in early 1941, 6-8 Blenheims would be escorted by up to eight wings of Spitfires and Hurricanes providing cover in and out for raids against the airfields used by JG26 and JG2. Losses averaged two Blenheims per mission, with Germans like Adolph Galland diving through the escort to blast a Blenheim from the sky as they kept on diving out of range. Between March and June 1941, Galland himself scored 10 Blenheims this way, including two on one day.
Beginning in the summer of 1941, 2 Group's Blenheims were detailed to support Coastal Command in Channel shipping strikes. This usually involved 2 4 Blenheims going up against a convoy that always included at least one flak ship. A tour of shipping strike operations during this period lasted two weeks, with the squadron decimated by losses of 25 to 70 percent in those 14 days. The strikes were ordered by so that it could be shown Britain was still an island fortress that could strike the enemy.
Churchill minuted on August 29, 1941: "The loss of seven of seventeen in the daylight attack on merchant shipping and docks at Rotterdam is most severe. Such losses might be accepted in attacking the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, or Tirpitz, or a southbound Tripoli convoy, because, apart from the damage done, a first class strategic object is served. But they seem disproportionate to an attack on merchant shipping not engaged in vital supply work. While I greatly admire the bravery of the pilots, I do not want them pressed too hard." By that fall, a run of very bad weather and the reassignment of Air Marshal Donald "Butcher" Stevenson as AOC finally saved what was left of the Blenheims of 2 Group.
Wing Commander Hughie I. Edwards:
Born August 1, 1914 to Welsh immigrants in Fremantle, Australia, Hughie Edwards was forced by family circumstances to leave school at age 14, eventually becoming a trainer of race horses before joining the Australian Army at age 19 in 1933. In 1935 he won an appointment to the RAAF; after flight training, he received a short-term commission in the RAF and arrived in England in August 1936, where he was assigned to 15 Squadron flying Hawker Hinds. In March 1927 he was posted to 90 Squadron, one of the first to equip with the Blenheim I and was promoted to Flying Officer.
In August 1938, he ran into a storm south of the Scottish border. When the ailerons froze, Edwards ordered the navigator and rear gunner to bale out. At 700 feet, he made an effort to jump clear, but his parachute became entangled with the radio mast. He sustained head injuries and a badly broken leg in the crash, with his leg only saved after extensive surgery which left it shorter than the other. He was declared unfit for flying duties until April 1940, when he was posted to 139 Squadron and promoted to flight lieutenant on May 21, 1940.
Having survived the summer of 1940 and the “lean into France” in early 1941, that May Edwards assumed command of Officer of 105 Squadron replacing the previous CO who had been killed in an anti shipping raid on Stavanger. 105 was engaged in a series of daylight operations against Germany and the occupied countries, hitting enemy shipping, power installations, shipbuilding yards, locomotives, steelworks and marshalling yards. On June 15, promoted to Acting Wing Commander, Edwards led six Blenheims against a convoy of eight merchantmen anchored near The Hague. Attacking at low level, his bombs hit a 4,000 ton ship. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for this mission.
On July 4, 1941, Edwards led “Operation Wreckage,” a daylight attack against the port of Bremen, one of the most heavily defended targets in Germany. Approaching the German coast south of Heligoland in cloudless skies, the 12 Blenheims were spotted by enemy ships and surprise was lost. Edwards took the formation down to 50 feet and crossed 50 miles overland to the target, flying under high voltage power lines and pulling down phone lines before flying through a balloon barrage. The bombers successfully penetrated fierce anti aircraft fire with four of the Blenheims lost to flak over the port itself. Edwards brought the eight remaining aircraft home safely; all had been hit and his own Blenheim (D-Dog, serial V6028) had taken over 20 hits. For this mission, he was awarded the Victoria Cross.
Later that month Edwards took 105 to Malta, where they opertated against convoys until October when they were withdrawn to Britain. Sent on a goodwill tour to the US, Edwards was then assigned as chief instructor at an OTU before returning to 105 Squadron in August 1942 to lead them on the epic low-level raids they undertook across Europe following re-equipment with the Mosquito bomber. On December 6, 1942, Edwards led the daylight attack on the Philips Factory at Eindhoven. In spite of heavy opposition, the Mosquitos successfully damaged or destroyed their targets, with two gun posts being silenced. Edwards was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, becoming the first flier to receive the Victoria Cross, Distinguished Service Order and Distinguished Flying Cross in the Second World War, and thus becoming the most highly-decorated Australian of the war.
Following his departure from 105 in February 1943, Edwards assumed command of the bomber station at Binbrook, where he continued to fly difficult missions, inspiring his crews.
Edwards remained in the RAF after the war and was eventually promoted to Air Commodore and awarded a Companion of the Order of the Bath in the 1959 New Year Honoursl he was appointed as aide de camp to Queen Elizabeth II in March 1960. He retired to Australia in 1963 and was appointed Governor of Western Australia on January 7 1974,being knighted as a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) the following October.
Hughie Edwards died August 5, 1982. His Victoria Cross is on display at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. In November 2002 a life size bronze statue of Edwards in his flying gear was unveiled in Kings Square, Fremantle, where it can be seen today.
The Blenheim is immortal in the same way that the horses ridden in the charge of the Light Brigade are immortal. The airplane’s crews were far better than those who ordered them to try and accomplish the impossible.
Airfix’s Blenheim I and Blenheim IV replace the ancient (pre-Jurassic?) Frog Blenheim and Airfix Blenheim IV kits from the mid-60s. These are beautiful examples of “new Airfix.” Essentially they are the same from the rear cockpit bulkhead aft (as were the originals), with similar pilot/bombardier layouts inside the cockpit. The plexiglass parts are ingeniously designed and if you are careful in assembly, they fill the bill without problem.
The current kits are a Blenheim I bomber, and Blenheim IVF fighter; Airfix has announced the release in 2016 of a Blenheim IF - all this will have additional to what is originally in the box is the sprue tree with the under-fuselage gunpacks.
Each kit can be assembled with the bomb-bay opened and a pair of 500-lb bombs inside. The flaps can be assembled raised or lowered, though lowered is the default position that is easier.
The Blenheim I comes with decals for a Romanian Air Force aircraft and ther Blenheim flown by Squadron Leader Arthur Stewart Kingm VC, of No. 60 Squadron on his epic mission of 9 December 1941. The Blenheim IVF has decals for two RAF fighters in 1940 and 1941, one day fighter from 248 Coast Command Squadron and one night fighter from 68 Squadron flown by Wing Commander Max Aitken.
Xtradecals has released Sheer 72203, with markings for Blenheim I and Blenheim IV fighters and bombers, which is highly recommended.
“Blenheim Boffins” have made note of the fact that the kits have been done from the existing flyable Blenheim, which is actually a Bolingbroke airframe with different engine nacelles than the Blenhaim. Some modelers have attempted to reshape these with varying success. I suggest that 99.999 percent of modelers will never know the difference and 99.99999 percent of those who see them will not notice. Live with it.
As with all “new Airfix” kits, if you keep[ your wits about you during assembly there will be no problems. This includes being certain to clean up all parts completely, insuring no “sprue nubs” and scraping the edges of parts so there are no “extra edges.” The CAD designs have very precise fit and “close enough” is no longer good enough. If you do this, the models will assemble without putty or filler of any kind.
Hornby was nice enough to send both kits last spring when they were released, and I was able to note that the Blenheim IV kit had all the parts necessary to do either the bomber or fighter, including both the early shallow and later deeper gun housings and the early and late rear gun turret transparencies. I decided therefore to do the Blenheim I as a fighter and the Blenheim IV as a bomber, since I had the very nice Xtradecal sheet. I did, however, end up using decals from that sheet, plus serial numbers from another Xtradecal sheet and squadron codes from an old Microscale sheet, to create the Blenheim IV flown by Wing Commander Hughie Edwards on his epic mission of 4 July 1941, for which he was recognized with award of the Victoria Cross.
I decided to build both simultaneously. I began by painting all the interior parts with Tamiya “Cockpit Green” which is a close approximation of RAF cockpit green. I also painted the engines, landing gear, interiors of flaps, etc.
I began construction following the kit instructions, which are very good. Construction began with the wings, without full assembluy of the landing gear other than the base parts that only fit at initial assembly. I assembled the engines and attached them. I found that the cowling pieces were just a bit too loose in fit, but wrapping them with rubber bands while they set up squeezed everything together without difficulty.
I then assembled the cockpits, making certain to glue the control yokes pushed forward against the instrument panels since I was going to droop the elevators, and attached the cockpit glass per instructions. After assembling the rear fuselages, I attached those to the wings. I then attached the noses. Fit was a bit “iffy” here, but I found that if I wrapped rubber bands longitudinally from nose to tail to squeeze things together during set up that all worked fine.
I finished by attaching the horizontal stabiliezers, elevators and rudder, and the ailerons. I drooped the elevators and “kicked” the rudder on each kit to the side a very little bit.
|COLORS & MARKINGS|
Masking the nose glass for both kits was a chore, but there are no pre-cut masks available so once again, Live. With. It.
I painted the lower surfaces of the Blenheim I black and white surfaces and masked them off, then painted the lower surfaces of the Blenheim IV and masked them off. The upper surfaces were done with Tamiya “Flat Earth” which is good for RAF Dark Earth in this scale since it’s a bit lighter, and Tamiya RAF Dark Green. The Blenheim I was done in an “A” Scheme pattern and the Blenheim IV in a “B” scheme pattern.
I used the Xtradecals to do a Blenheim I of 29 Squadron that might have been flown by newly-commission Pilot Officer Guy Gibson when he was first assigned to 29 in the spring of 1940. As mentioned above, I used decals from different sheets to do Edwards’ VC airplane. I finished by giving each a coat of clear flat varnish.
I painted the exhaust collector rings and the exhausts with Tamiya “Bronze”, drybrushed with “Gunmetal.” I then unmasked the canopies, assembled and attached the landing gear, assembled and attached the gun turrets, and attached the props.
These are very nice kits of a significant aircraft that “carried on” when there was no alternative available, despite its obsolescence. As I said above, I think of Blenheims as the horses in The Charge of the Light Brigade. These are excellent kits and a bargain at their price for what is included. I hope Airfix will up-scale them to 1/48 as they have with their 1/72 Hurricane and Defiant. Recommended to anyone with a bit of experience with models.
Review kits thanks to Hornby America. Decals thanks to David Hannant.
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