Airfix 1/48 Spitfire XII
KIT #: 5117
PRICE: 1,920 Yen (US$23.00) at HobbyLink Japan
DECALS: Two options (both units that flew it)
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver


Almost all of the developmental history of the Spitfire during the Second World War revolved around attempts to outperform the Focke‑Wulf Fw‑190. In addition to the development of the Spitfire IX, the need to combat the German fighter in its low‑level fighter‑bomber version led directly to the creation of the Spitfire XII, the first of the Griffon‑powered Spitfires.

      In 1942, with the Luftwaffe’s bomber force largely engaged on the Eastern Front, and most of the other bomber units not on the Eastern Front committed to the Mediterranean, there was almost no offensive capability left among the units stationed on the Channel Front. The arrival of the Fw‑190A‑4/U4 Jagdbomber “Jabos” gave JG‑26 and JG‑2 the capability of mounting low‑level raids on southern England as far inshore as London. Each unit had a Jabostaffel, giving a total of 24 aircraft between them for attacking England. These  few airplanes gave the RAF fits, since their tactic was to cross the Channel at wave‑top height, under the radar, and hit various towns and other targets in southeastern England with two to four aircraft per mission.  After dropping their bomb, each Wurger would dive back to wave‑top height and skedaddle at full‑throttle back to northern France. They were called "tip and run" raids. While they did little real damage, the raiders gave the RAF a major headache because of the public outcry over the raids, which forced the RAF to employ a much larger force in an attempt to stop the Jabos.

      Given the short response time between spotting the raiders inbound and their retreat to France, the only defense was to mount standing patrols over southern England.  This required a much larger force of aircraft on these duties than the Germans were using for the attacks. The Spitfire V ‑ the main equipment of Fighter Command at the time ‑ was no match for the Fw‑190 in conventional combat, and was nowhere near fast enough to catch its opponent at low level. In 1942, the Hawker Typhoon was the only RAF fighter with any chance of catching up to the Fw‑190s in a low‑level stern chase once the German fighter was free of its bomb, and even then this only worked if the controllers had positioned them well. Something better was needed, and needed fast. 

      The Rolls‑Royce Griffon II engine with single‑stage two-speed supercharger had become available in late 1940, offering a considerable increase in power over the Merlin at low altitudes. The Spitfire IV (Type 337) ‑ later renumbered the Spitfire XX after the arrival of the photo‑recon P.R.IV series ‑ had been developed to use this power plant, with first flight of the prototype DP485 in 1941. Further development was desultory until the arrival of the German Jabos. With the focus on a low‑altitude fighter capable of chasing and catching the Focke‑Wulf, the Type 366 Spitfire XII quickly appeared, this being a Mark Vc airframe powered by a Griffon II. The airplane’s top speed at 5,000 feet was 393 m.p.h., which was fast enough to catch the Fw‑190s. One hundred Spitfire XIIs were eventually built, based on the Mk.V and Mk.VIII airframes.  Originally, these were visually distinguished by having either a fixed (Mk. V) or retractable (Mk.VIII) tail wheel, though all were modified to have the retractable unit during the course of 1943, as well as eventually being equipped with the later horizontal stabilizer with enlarged elevator horns.  The wings were clipped to improve the rate of roll at lower altitude.

      In February 1943, 41 Squadron exchanged its Spitfire Vbs for Spitfire XIIs. For the pilots, the primary difference was that the Griffon rotated in the opposite direction to the Merlin, giving a strong swing to the right on takeoff rather than the previous left swing. The unit was declared operational in April 1943 and moved to Hawkinge in southeastern England. Their first victory was a Ju‑88 shot down off Calais on April 17. That same month, 91 Squadron began their conversion, joining 41 at Hawkinge in May.

      The worst problem the pilots faced at the outset was convincing the Typhoon pilots that the Spitfire XII, which had clipped wingtips, was not a Bf‑109. If the Spitfire pilot spotted the diving Typhoon in time, they could just outrun the big Hawker fighter. 

      On May 25, 1943, six Spitfire XIIs of 91 Squadron intercepted a force of Focke‑Wulf Jabos attacking Folkestone and claimed six in the cross‑Channel chase that ensued, two being claimed by the OC, Squadron Leader Ray Harries. By August, Harries had become the first pilot to score more than five victories in the Mk. XII and was promoted to Wing Commander to lead the two squadrons.

      The Wing fought its most successful action on October 20, 1943, when the two squadrons mounted a fighter sweep over northern France. Near Rouen, they were attacked by 25 Fw‑190s and Bf‑109Gs of JG26. In the battle that followed, the Mk. XII pilots claimed eight Germans for no losses to themselves.  Shortly thereafter, 91 Squadron converted back to the Spitfire Vb and then to the Spitfire IX, leaving the limited number of Spitfire XIIs available as replacements for 41 Squadron now that the “tip and run” raids had been stopped. 

      The Mk. XII remained in service with 41 Squadron through the summer of 1944, when it was used against the V‑1 "buzz bombs." The unit converted on to the Spitfire XIV in late August/early September before moving to the Continent that fall.


            Over the years, there have been several conversion sets made to allow a modeler to put a Spitfire XII in the collection.  This being one of my favorite marks of Spitfire, I have done them all: the hack-and-glue conversion using a Hobbycraft Seafire XV and the Classic Airframes set with replacement nose and outer wings in resin - both used with the

Tamiya Spitfire Vb - and the Aeroclub full-fuselage conversion for use with the Hasegawa Spitfire IX kit.  When I participated in developing the Victory Productions decal sheet “Spitfire: Aces of the Empire,” we made sure to include two Spitfire XIIs.  I am even now preparing to do the 1/32 conversion with the Greymatter nose and wings, and a Hasegawa Spitfire Vb kit. 

            While there have been several announcements over the past few years of a coming injection-molded Spitfire XII from differing companies, this new kit is the first time any manufacturer has actually made good on the threat.  After going on the ropes in the past few years and nearly being given up for dead, Airfix has returned over the past year since their acquisition by Hornsby, with some interesting new releases of varying quality levels.  While this new Spitfire is not up to the sublime heights achieved by the Spitfire 22/24 and Seafire 46/47 kits from 1995, it is head and shoulders above every other 1/48 Spitfire kit Airfix has ever released otherwise.

            The kit comes on two sprues of light grey plastic, with a nicely-detailed cockpit - not as detailed as that found in the Hasegawa Spitfire IX, it is certainly the next-best to that, and more than adequate in this scale.  One needs only to get a set of 1/48 photoetch seatbelts to “seal the deal.”  Unfortunately, the kit does not include an instrument panel decal, its one failing; fortunately, I have an Eduard photoetch panel, which will be put to use here.  Both tail wheel alternatives - fixed and retractable - are catered for here. All control surfaces are separate, allowing them to be posed dynamically, while the elevators are connected to insure proper alignment.  Fabric detail on the rudder and elevators looks very appropriate.  Do be aware that while the flaps can be posed down, any Spitfire pilot who did not immediately retract the flaps on touchdown was liable to a 50-Pound fine (not insubstantial when the monthly pay of a Pilot Officer was 70 Pounds).

            For some reason, the elusive shapes of Griffon prop spinners have frequently eluded manufacturers, but Airfix got this one right, as they also did with the even more elusive shape of the Spitfire XII prop blades.  

            The clear canopy parts are very clear and quite thin.  Airfix has done something clever for the open canopy alternative, molding the rear cockpit glass integrally with the canopy, so it can be seen, while not resulting in the canopy sitting too high as is frequently the case with injection-molded parts.

            While the engraved panel surface detail is less petite than on the Spitfire 22/24 and Seafire 46/47, it is not so bad as was the case with the Godawful Seafire III kit, and looks like all will be well under the proverbial “coat of paint” from what I have seen so far of built-up models from this kit.

            The decals provide markings for the Spitfire XII flown by Squadron Leader Ray Harries of 91 Squadron, the top-scoring pilot on the type, which has the early fixed tail wheel, and the much-photographed EB-B of 41 Squadron, which uses the later retractable tail wheel.


Construction is very straightforward.  The cockpit is not super-detailed, but when completed it looks “good enough” in this scale.  Those who need to “gild the lily” have plenty of resin cockpits to choose from, all of which will likely fit, though they really aren’t necessary.  I did use Eduard photoetch seatbelts, which really did make things look good.

            After painting the cockpit and before proceeding to assemble it, I assembled the wing.  I attached both the flaps in the up position, and the ailerons in neutral, to the lower half before gluing the upper parts.  This allowed a good bond from inside, that didn’t fill the gaps so totally as would have been the case attaching these after assembling the wing.  This is definitely necessary if you are raising the flaps, since there are no positioning tabs on these parts, and getting them right once the wing is assembled will be difficult; this way you can work on them from inside and outside.

            Once the cockpit was assembled and I had cut out the area of the rear fuselage for the retractable tailwheel, I glued the fuselage together and then attached the wing.  I only needed a very little bit of filler on the inner wing leading edge to smooth out that joint, and to fill a very narrow gap at the lower rear of the wing subassembly between it and the rear fuselage.  The wing has “positive alignment,” since you will know you have it right when it “clicks” into position with the fuselage.  This was one of the first Spitfire kits ever that didn’t need even a little gap filler for the upper wing-fuselage joint.

            After examining the cockpit parts, I decided that the “molded in” open part was not as good as claimed, since I could obtain a better fit of both the rear glass and the sliding canopy with just a little thinning of the rear edge of the sliding canopy to get a very realistic final look.  Of course, a Squadron/Falcon vac canopy (use the one for the Hasegawa Spitfire IX) will look even better and I would have used one if I had one, but the kit canopy will look acceptable here with just a bit of thinning of the edges of the sliding portion and the windscreen.

            With all that, assembly was complete and it was time to proceed to the paint shop.


            After reading about 41 Squadron in the Osprey “Griffon Spitfire Aces” book, I thought it would be interesting to do EB-B as she likely looked toward the end of her time on operations, when she scored the final victories for the type against the Luftwaffe that September, 1944, with D-Day stripes on the lower rear fuselage, and a “dinged” paint scheme, rather than nice and new as she appeared in the famous Charles Brown photos.  This was what I proceeded to do. 

            I first “pre-shaded” the model with Tamiya flat black airbrushed on the panel lines, then masked off the black D-Day stripes and painted the white stripes.  While that was setting up, I painted the yellow wing leading edges.  When these areas were dry, I masked them off.

            I painted the Temperate Land Scheme using Tamiya’s new “Sea Grey Medium” (“RAF Light Grey” on the bottle) and Tamiya “Light Grey” XF-66, which is “Ocean Grey.” After “after-shading” both colors once applied (using the “RAF Light Grey” to lighten the XF-66 Light Grey just a bit), I then airbrushed Xtracrylix “RAF Dark Green” and then “after-shaded” by lightening the color with white.  When all was dry I unmasked the model and applied a coat of Future.

            The decals went on easily with Micro-Sol.  When set and dry, I washed off the model and applied another coat of Future.


            I “dinged” the airframe with Tamiya “Flat Aluminum” along panel lines and walk ways, then used Tamiya “Smoke” for the exhaust stains on the fuselage side and the oil stains on the wing underside.  I then gave the model an overall coat of Xtracrylix Flat Varnish.

            I attached the landing gear and props, unmasked the canopy and attached the sliding section in the “open” position.


             I do believe one can say “Airfix is back!”  As someone who built his first Airfix Spitfire waaaaaaaay back in 1958, this is good news.  It may not compare totally with the Spitfire 22/24 and Seafire 47, but it certainly can go toe-to-toe with the F.1 Lightning series, the last really good Airfix kits.

            The model is easy to assemble and looks very good sitting next to the last good Airfix Spitfires, not to mention the (corrected) Hasegawa and ICM kits.  With any luck they’ll bring out a Spitfire XIV of equal quality.  Highly recommended for anyone past “beginner.”

Tom Cleaver

March 2011

Review Kit courtesy of HobbyLink Japan.  Get yours today.

Just a quick editorial note. Every company that has been purchased by Hornby (as has Airfix), has always returned to profitability and a better company that what it was before. I'm sure we all appreciate the efforts Hornby have put into Airfix as not only are they producing nice, new kits, but they are producing them at a price we can afford. Ed

If you would like your product reviewed fairly and quickly, please contact me or see other details in the Note to Contributors.

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