Greymatter 1/32 Spitfire XVIII (Conversion)
KIT #:  
PRICE: $120 for donor kit and conversion parts
DECALS: See review
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver
NOTES: Xtradecals 32013 and 32020. Greymatter 3202 seat and 3214 FR.XVIII conversion.


            It's a strange but interesting fact that the only Spitfire "built for that specific powerplant" to achieve a large production run was the Mk.I  While there were several other Marks specifically designed to make maximum benefit of the additional power of later Merlins and then the Griffons, in each case the "interim" type cobbled together to bring the additional performance operational as soon as possible was the version that saw the most widespread production.  This began with the Mk.V, which was essentially a beefed‑up Mk.I/II airframe to take advantage of the Merlin 45's additional 400 h.p., which was followed by the Mk.IX, a beefed‑up Mk.V to take advantage of the Merlin 60-series while the Mk.VIII was being designed to take maximum advantage of this engine; finally, the Mk.XIV was a beefed‑up Mk.VIII airframe to use the Griffon.

      The Type 394 Spitfire Mk. XVIII bears the same relationship to the Spitfire XIV that the Spitfire VIII bore to the Spitfire IX: designed to use the particular engine to best advantage, yet not produced in numbers approaching the "interim" type.  This type introduced a new wing which was specific for the "E" type armament, rather than the "universal" wing used since the Spitfire Vc. Originally, the aircraft used the same Griffon 65 as the Spitfire XIV, but the Griffon 67 ‑ which offered an additional 300 h.p. ‑ was quickly introduced. 

            The Spitfire XVIII appeared just too late for use in the Second World War, with the first delivered to the RAF on May 28, 1945; as a result, only 300 F. Mk. XVIIIs and 200 F.R. XVIIIs were produced.  The majority of the pure fighter variants were delivered to maintenance units and never saw operations, while the F.R. XVIII was delivered to two squadrons in the Middle East (32 and 208 Squadrons) and two squadrons in the Far East (28 and 60 Squadrons).  The Spitfires of 32 and 208 Squadrons saw considerable action in the unstable immediate post‑war years in the Middle East involving the end of the British Mandate and the Israeli War of Independence in 1948.  Beginning in 1949 in Malaya, 28 and 60 Squadrons flew combat operations against communist terrorists in the colony, with the last operational combat strike by a Spitfire being flown by 60 Squadron on January 1, 1951. 

      The F.R. XVIII had to be handled with respect by its pilot on takeoff, as was common with all Griffon‑powered Spitfires with the 5‑blade prop; even with full rudder applied, it was not possible to hold the aircraft straight with full power applied.  Once airborne, the automatic throttle and boost setting control made aerobatics easy, and the Spitfire XVIII was completely viceless.

60 Squadron and Operation Firedog: 

            60 Squadron, originally equipped with Bristol Blenheims, was sent to Burma in February 1941, as part of the attempt to reinforce British forces in southeast Asia.  When war came, the squadron was thrown into battle without proper escort, flying missions of 2-4 aircraft, and suffered heavily at the hands of the advancing Japanese forces.  Retreating into India by the end of February 1942, the squadron was declared non‑operational. During 1943, 60 Squadron began to fly Hawker Hurricane fighter‑ bombers, which were used until May 1945.  The squadron transferred to American Thunderbolt fighter-bombers that month, and flew them in the final battles in Southeast Asia.

            In September 1945. after the Japanese surrender, 60 Squadron moved to Java in what was still known as the Netherlands East Indies and was soon in action against Indonesian independence fighters.  In 1946, the unit was withdrawn to Singapore, at which point they gave up their Lend-Lease Thunderbolts, and converted to the Supermarine Spitfire FR. XVIII.  Beginning in 1948, the Squadron was employed in Operation Firedog, also known as "The Malayan emergency," using their Spitfires until the end of 1950.

            The now little-known Malayan Emergency was a guerrilla war fought between Commonwealth armed forces and the Malayan National Liberation Army  (MNLA), the military arm of the Malayan Communist Party, from 1948 to 1960.  The colonial government called the action "The Malayan Emergency" under pressure from the rubber plantations and tin mining industries which pushed for use of the term "emergency" since their losses would not have been covered by Lloyd's insurers if it had been termed a "war." The MNLA termed it the Anti‑British National Liberation War.

            In the early 1960s, the Malayan Emergency was held up as proof that a counterinsurgency operation against Communist guerillas could be successful, and was frequently used by Americans as an example of how to fight and win in Vietnam.  In fact, the Malayan Emergency had little in common with such insurgencies as the Vietnam War, the primary difference being that the guerillas in this struggle were not considered "indigenous" to the region.  They were primarily Chinese, and were seen by the native Malays as a foreign force.  The "Overseas Chinese" who migrated throughout Southeast Asia in the Nineteenth Century were disliked by the natives of the countries they settled as much as the Europeans were, due to their inward-looking community, and the fact that Chinese businessmen were enormously successful under the hated European colonial governments.  In fact, though, the overwhelming majority of the overseas Chinese were desperately poor peasants who had been recruited by the British because they were considered better workers than the native Malays. 

            The withdrawal of Japan at the end of World War II left Malaya in dire economic straits. Problems including unemployment, low wages, and scarce and expensive food led to labor unrest and an increasing number of strikes in 1946 through 1948. The British colonial administration saw this unrest as disrupting their effort to revive Malaya's economy quickly, especially as revenue from the tin and rubber industries was important to British post‑war recovery.  Protesters were dealt with harshly, including arrests and deportations, which led to increasing militance. On June 16, 1948, the armed struggle began when three European plantation managers were killed at Sungai Siput.

            The Colonial administration responded by outlawing the Malayan Communist Party and other leftist parties, while the police were given the power to imprison without trial communists and those suspected of assisting communists. The communists, led by Chin Peng, retreated to the rural areas, and formed the MNLA, which began a guerrilla campaign, targeting the colonial resource extraction industries, the tin mines and rubber plantations.

            The British found themselves fighting people they knew, since the MNLA was a re‑formation of the Malayan People's Anti‑Japanese Army, the communist‑led guerrilla force which had led the principal resistance in Malaya to the Japanese occupation (The Malays were happy to see the Japanese kick out the Europeans, while the Chinese saw the struggle as an extension of the war against Japan in China). The British had secretly trained and armed the MPAJA during the later stages of World War II.

            Support for the MNLA came from approximately 500,000 of the 3.12 million ethnic Chinese then in Malaya. The MNLA gained support of the Chinese because they were denied the right to vote in elections, and had no land rights under the British colonial laws.  The British responded to this by separating the guerillas from their supporters.  "New Villages" were established, and 500,000 rural Malayans, including 400,000 Chinese, were forcibly relocated from squatter communities on the fringes of the forests into these guarded camps. This was the same strategy the British had employed during the Boer War to separate the Boer insurgents from the population.   

            The outbreak of the Korean War allowed the British to paint the struggle not as one of a colonial power resisting a popular movement (it wasn't so much an independence movement as a movement to obtain social justice), but rather as one more front against the "international Communist conspiracy," in the same way the French were able to do with their struggle against the Viet Minh.  This was important for the British, because until they made the struggle one against international communism, they could not use any of the MDAP supplies they received from the United States.  To beat the revels, the British had to pay attention to the claims of Malay nationalists who were campaigning against the "hated foreigners" as a way to win outright independence.  While the British did gather more support, that support was predicated on an independent Malaya being created in return for such support.

            Finally, driven deeper into the forests during the late 1950s, the guerillas eventually faded away by 1960.  The war was won not by large units and traditional maneuvering, but rather by patrols at the platoon and company level, utilizing information from the local population, who saw cooperating with the British as the way to achieve independence.

            The outcome, however, of the fanning of anti-Chinese sentiment meant that the Malaysian Federation that was founded would break up by 1963, with the Chinese majority in Singapore breaking away from the Malay-dominated Malaysia to form the separate city-state of Singapore in order to protect their interests.


            There is no injection-molded 1/32 Griffon Spitfire kit, other than the 1/32 Spitfire 22/24 originally released by Matchbox, which has been re-released by Revell.  The only way a modeler can create a Griffon Spitfire is by use of aftermarket resin sets. 

             Greymatter Figures has recently acquired the Warbirds line of aftermarket accessories, and is releasing conversion sets that allow a modeler to create the Spitfire XII, Spitfire XIV and XIVe, the Spitfire XVIII and the photo-recon Spitfire XIX.  Additionally, there are sets that can be used to create a Seafire III, Seafire XV and Seafire XVII.  These sets are based on using the 1/32 Hasegawa Spitfire Vb or the Revell Spitfire I/II (a derivative of the Hasegawa kit).  Since all these marks use a "C" wing as opposed to the very-different "B" wing of the Hasegawa kit, there is also a set of wings to do the "C" wing and the Seafire folding wing; these can be off-putting to some modelers, since their use involves hacking the wings off the Hasegawa kit. (Your editor recently completed the Spit XIV after a long slog).

             There is, however, an easier solution, which is what I used here.  That is to base the conversion on the Pacific Coast Models Spitfire IX kit.  This kit has the "C" wing, and since it too is based on the Hasegawa kit, the parts from the conversion sets fit it as they do the other kit.

             The Greymatter Spitfire F.R. XVIII conversion set includes:  nose, spinner, props, radiators, carb intake, 3 part rudder, tail wheel, bubble hood fuselage spine, 4 spoke wheels, cannon, exhausts, wing bulges and elevators with enlarged horn balance.

            While I could have used the excellent decal sheet provided in the PCM Spitfire IXe kit I based this on, I decided to use the even-better Xtradecals 32-020 sheet for the Tamiya Spitfire IX, which includes the late-war/post-war upper wing "C" roundel.  I also used the Xtradecal letters and numbers sheet 32-013 for the serial numbers. 


            This is a project where construction does not start with the cockpit.  Greymatter provides a good instruction sheet that shows what major surgery needs to be done to the fuselage.  I cut off the nose, the upper rear spine, the area around the vertical fin, and the area for the retractable tail wheel.  I glued the fuselage together, and used some sprue trees to create internal braces that would keep what was left of the fuselage in the proper positions. 

            The lowered rear spine part needs to be measured and cut, since it is also used for other conversions that do not use the enlarged vertical fin.  I glued it into position, then glued the vertical fin in position.  I made sure the tail wheel well would fit into the cutout, then set it aside.  I finished by attaching the large, solid resin nose. This made the model so nose heavy that I threw in some fishweights to the rear fuselage to get better balance.  When the parts were glued in position, I liberally applied Squadron Green Stuff putty and set it aside to dry.

            The lower wing has to be modified so the larger radiator housings will fit.  This means filling in the attachment area for the kit radiator housings, which I did with more Green Stuff.  Additionally, the outer 1/4 inch of the ailerons need to be filled in and a new aileron scribed to show the shorter-span aileron associated with the Mk.VIII wing.

            Once the putty had set up, I proceeded to get everything sanded smooth.  When this was accomplished, I gave liberal applications of Mr. Surfacer to the joints and sanded them smooth when dry.  At this point, I attached the radiators.  Fortunately, the photoetch radiator faces from the kit fit better with these radiators than they do with the smaller ones.  I also attached the horizontal stabilizers to the fuselage, so they could be fitted properly and sanded smooth where needed.

            At this point, I assembled the kit cockpit.  Fortunately, I had the Greymatter seat, which is much better than the too-large seat the kit provides, which is based on the oversized Hasegawa original.  I needed to test fit the fore and aft bulkheads to insure smooth fit, then assembled the very nice resin cockpit after painting it, and slipped it into position.

            With the two major sub-assemblies of wing and fuselage finished, I attached the wing to the fuselage.  There are some "fit issues" with the PCM kit about the wing and fuselage, so I ended up using quite a bit of Green Stuff and Mr. Surfacer to get the wing-fuselage joint smooth. I also attached the carb intake, which required a lot of filling to get it smooth to the wing and lower nose.

            Once all the sanding was accomplished, the model was rescribed where necessary.  I had drilled out the holes for the windows in the camera compartment. It was at this point that my research showed that the majority of F.R. XVIII airplanes were not used in the tactical reconnaissance role, and had those windows covered.  I then used a plug from sprue, glued it in, sanded smooth, and got rid of the windows.

            I found I had to drill the spinner in order to get holes deep enough for the prop blades to fit.

            I also scratchbuilt a Mark 14 gyro sight, since the kit only supplies the earlier sight.

            I finished the assembly by inserting the tail wheel well with its attached gear doors into position and gluing it.

            I used the bomb rack and braces left over from the Tamiya kit to the underwing ordnance. The F.R. XVIII had zero-length launcher stubs for three RPs under each outer wing, but I couldn't find an acceptable substitute in the spares box, so this will be a later addition in the future.



            I first "pre-shaded" the model with flat black along the panel lines. I then painted the leading edges of the wings with Tamiya Flat Yellow, and painted the fuselage stripe; I found that Tamiya "Japanese Army Grey" was closer in color to the "sky" used in the decals.  The nose stripes were done with the black originally applied masked over, then Yellow over the black. Once dry, all these areas were masked off.

            The model was painted in the standard Temperate Day Scheme of Ocean Grey and Dark Green uppers, with Medium Sea Grey lowers, using Xtracrylix paints applied freehand with my Paasche-H airbrush.  The spinner was hand painted (after airbrushing with white paint) with Xtracrylix "German Blue" and "Red Arrows Red."

            When dry, the model was unmasked and two coats of Xtracrylix Gloss Varnish were applied.


            While the serials were "fiddly", being applied individually, the decals went on without problem otherwise.  The Squadron crest is not really the 60 Squadron crest, but merely one that was in the decal dungeon; hopefully no one will ever look closely.  When all was set, the model was washed, and several coats of Xtracrylix Flat Varnish were applied.


            I had a bit of a problem with the landing gear, since the Greymatter 4-spoke wheels were intended to be attached to the Hasegawa gear legs, which have the flat plate of the inner side of the hub attached to the leg. I used leftover bits from the Tamiya kit to fix that, and also used the extra "bulged" gear doors that came with that kit (never throw away anything!).  There is also the fact that the gear legs are "fully extended" and thus about 1/16 inch too long.  Given the weight of this model, I decided to live with the slight uptilt of "sit" in return for gear legs strong enough to support the model.  I attached the cockpit flap and then set the vacuformed canopy in the open position. I attached the very nice exhaust stacks - they are molded with "open tips" - after applying exhaust staining with Tamiya "Smoke."


            This looks as nice as the 1/48 Falcon vacuform of the "Super-Spit" as the F. XVIII was termed during its development, and certainly makes up into the most accurate Griffon-powered Spitfire other than the Falcon kit or the Airfix Spitfire 22/24 .  I personally think the later Griffon Spitfires with their cut-down fuselages and bubble canopies evoke the Spitfire's racing heritage and are the "fastest" looking piston engine fighters ever.

            Yes, $70 bucks for the basic kit, and another $50 or so for the conversion set is expensive, but the result is worth the price in terms of fun creating a one-off model, and the beautiful airplane that sits next to my other Spitfires.  I'm definitely ready to do more of these Greymatter conversions.  Highly recommended.

PCM kit courtesy of my wallet.  Greymatter conversion set courtesy of Greymatter Figures.  Get yours at:  

Tom Cleaver

July 2010

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