Eduard 1/48 F6F-3 Hellcat

KIT: Eduard 1/48 F6F-3 Hellcat
KIT #: 8221
PRICE: $34.95  MSRP
DECALS: Five options
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver


     The F6F‑3/5 Hellcat is the most successful naval fighter series ever built.  With pilots of moderate training levels, the airplane could more than hold its own against its opponents, while it was tractable enough that the same moderately‑trained pilot could bring a damaged one back and get aboard his carrier, a point of no small importance in naval warfare.  It is the only fighter of the Second World War to remain essentially unchanged in basic design from its introduction to service to its post‑war withdrawal, with the main difference between the two production variants being engine power.

 The Myth of the Hellcat:

      To straighten out the myth of the airplane, the Hellcat was not produced "in answer" to the Japanese Zero, which would be its major wartime opponent; it would have been impossible to design an airplane starting in 1942 (following the discovery of the Zero in the Aleutians that August) that would have had any hope of getting into production in the required timescale.  The Hellcat was already in preliminary design stages well before the outbreak of the Pacific War, and first flew about the time of the Battle of Midway.  What was indeed fortunate was that both Grumman and the "Fighter Desk" of the U.S. Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics had paid attention to what was going on in Europe with regards to air combat.  They guessed right in giving the Hellcat the biggest wing of any Second World War fighter for maneuverability, and the largest ammunition capacity, to improve its ability as a fleet defense fighter.  They were fortunate that the airframe was amenable to initial change from the underpowered R‑2600 to the far‑superior R‑2800, the finest radial piston engine ever built. With this engine, the airplane had sufficient power to outfly its opposition.

     The Hellcat first entered combat in the fall of 1943, as the Navy was beginning the Central Pacific Offensive, with squadrons based aboard both the big "Essex" class fleet carriers, and the "Independence" class light carriers which were based on cruiser hulls.  The U.S. Navy was the only air force of the Second World War to insure its fighter pilots went into combat knowing what to do both with their airplanes and their weapons.  With this superior gunnery training, many Hellcat pilots became an “ace in a day" in the swirling air battles that began over Truk in early 1944, and then moved on across the Central Pacific with the invasions of the Marshalls and Marianas later that year. (To be fair and balanced, it should be mentioned that the quality of Japanese training by this time of the war was substantially inferior and the quality of most pilots met by US airmen was equally as substandard. One cannot denigrate the bravery of Japanese pilots of the time, just their experience and training. Ed)

     Striking across the breadth of the Pacific against Okinawa, Formosa, Indochina and the Philippines during the summer and fall of 1944, Hellcats shot down everything they ran across.  From their first introduction into combat in the summer of 1943 through August 15, 1945, U.S. Navy Hellcats shot down over 5,000 enemy aircraft, and over 300 Hellcat pilots achieved ace status while flying the airplane.  Truly, it was an "ace maker".   

VF-27 At Leyte Gulf: 

     The only organization more encrusted with the barnacles of seniority than the United States Navy is the Royal Navy.  During the Second World War, there was a definite “pecking order” within carrier aviation: the fleet carriers and their associated squadrons; the light carriers and their associated squadrons; the escort carriers and their associated squadrons.

      The light fleet carriers were looked down on from the flight decks of the “Essex” fleet carriers as “jury rigs.”  All squadrons were commanded by “ring knockers” - Naval Academy Graduates - and all command positions above Division Leader were reserved for the Academy boys, regardless of whether the Reservists they commanded were (generally) more experienced pilots, and higher scorers.  This was particularly true by 1944.  This sort of snobbery was maintained in the assignments to various squadrons, with those assigned to the CVLs being commanded by Academy graduates who were lower on the pecking order with regard to seniority - from standing in their graduating class to date of promotion.

      Given this state of affairs, it is interesting that one of the most successful Navy fighter squadrons was VF-27, which flew from the U.S.S. Princeton.  One of the first CVLs to enter combat, Princeton had operated with USS Essex from the first fast carrier raids against Wake Island in August 1943, participating in the November 11 1943 raid on Rabaul, the Gilberts campaign, the Truk Raids, the Marshalls campaign, the “Marianas Turkey Shoot” during the invasion of the Marianas, the Central Pacific raids and the Formosa raids before taking part in her final operation, the invasion of the Philippines and the Battle of Leyte Gul.

     VF-27, formed in Hawaii in early 1944, was commanded by LCDR Fred Bardshar.  Among the experienced pilots assigned as cadre to the new squadron was Lt. (jg) Richard E. Stambrook, who had flown at the Battle of the Eastern Solomons with VS-3 aboard Saratoga, moving on to flying Wildcats and later Hellcats with VF-3 where he was trained by LCDR Edward O. “Butch” O'Hare; VF-3 became VF-6 aboard USS Intrepid.  Stambrook came to VF-27 with a score of 2 accomplished during the first Truk raid in January 1944.

      Bardshar was something of an eccentric among Academy grads.  He was not a totally “by the book” leader.  When he found out that one of his Naval Reservists pilots, Lt (jg) Robert Burnell, was an accomplished artist, he asked Burnell to come up with a distinctive squadron marking (a definite no-no on the big fleet carrier squadrons), as a way of promoting unit morale.  Burnell came up with a play on the airplane's name: Hell Cat, with bloodshot eyes and dripping fangs in a blood red mouth.  When VF-27 arrived aboard Princeton in late August 1944, just before the Formosa raids that would lead to the Philippines invasion, VF-27 was flying the most distinctively-marked Hellcats to ever go aboard a Navy carrier.

      The unit quickly demonstrated the value of Bardshar's emphasis on gunnery training in swirling combats over Formosa and northern Luzon in September and early October, 1944.  By October 18, 1944, when he downed a “Nick,” Dick Stambrook was the unit's leading ace with 11 kills.

      October 24, 1944 was both the high and the low of VF-27's career. Princeton was operating with Essex, Lexington, and Langley as Task Group 38.3 under command of RADM Forrest Sherman.  Lexington was additionally the flagship of VADM Marc Mitscher, commanding Task Force 38.

      Two VF-27 flights - one commanded by “Red” Shirley and the other by Carl Brown - were launched just before dawn, as the task force radars showed much enemy aerial activity over the gulf and the island of Leyte.  Essex, Lexington and Langley also launched all available fighters to meet the threat. 

     First Shirley's and then Brown's divisions were vectored to intercept snoopers, which turned out to be “Nicks” and were quickly dispatched.  As dawn broke fully over Leyte Gulf, the two divisions were vectored onto a large enemy formation inbound.  Shirley's division was first to spot them.  Shirley reported: “Tally-ho.  80 Japs.  Better send help.”

      In a swirling dogfight, the eight “Hell Cats” shot down a total of 34 of 36 Japanese aircraft - 14 by Shirley's division and the remainder by Brown's.  Out of ammo and low on fuel, the eight Hellcats returned to Princeton to refuel and rearm.

      The deck crews scrambled to refuel and rearm their defenders. Brown's division was finished first and launched. Stambook's division was brought up from the hangar on the after elevator while the deck crew turned to Shirley's division, pushing them into position for launch.

      At 0939, just as the second Hellcat was spotted for launch, a lone Judy dive bomber appeared out of the clouds and dropped a 250-kg bomb, striking Princeton on the flight deck just aft of amidships. 

      The bomb penetrated the unarmored flight deck and exploded in the crew's galley after passing through the hangar.  Six TBM bombers, each with full gasoline tanks and a torpedo were in the hangar awaiting movement to the flight deck for launch, and one was struck by the bomb and immediately caught fire.  The firefighting sprinklers failed to activate and the entire hangar was quickly engulfed in fire, while smoke penetrated the compartments below.

      At 1002 a heavy explosion rocked the after part of the hangar, followed by three more internal explosions which destroyed the flight deck, blew out both aircraft elevators and spread fire throughout Princeton.

      Disaster now piled atop disaster.  Princeton now had only  emergency generator power gone, and many of the crew were in the water, forced to abandon ship to get away from the fires.  USS Morrison (DD-560), came alongside to help fight fires. The flight deck overhang was now a deadly weapon as Princeton wallowed, helpless.  Morrison became entangled in the overhang and her forward superstructure was seriously damaged.  She was forced to break off rescue attempts as another enemy raid was reported inbound.  At this point, after nearly three hours work, the fires were nearly under control on Princeton.

      In the second raid, Princeton was hit again.  This time, the fires heated a bomb storage space in the aft hangar. As the surviving Japanese were chased off by the defending CAP, the light cruiser USS Birmingham (CL-62) came alongside to provide fire fighting capability and to take off the remaining survivors.  At 1523, the bombs in storage  detonated violently, blowing off Princeton's stern and showering Birmingham with fragments.  229 Princeton survivors being treated on the open decks, as well as crewmen of Birmingham, were killed in the catastrophe, along with 420 wounded, a greater loss of life than resulted from the original attack on Princeton.

      There was now no hope of saving Princeton. Her remaining crew were taken off and USS Irwin attempted to scuttle her with torpedoes and gunfire without success. Finally, the light cruiser USS Reno was ordered to finish the job. One of her torpedoes hit near the forward bomb magazine.  A fireball rose 1,000 feet above the sea and Princeton disappeared in a tremendous explosion at 1803.  She was the only American fleet carrier sunk by enemy action after the Battle of Santa Cruz, in which the first Hornet was lost. 10 officers and 98 enlisted men had been lost, but 1,361 crewmen survived.

     After his launch from Princeton, Carl Brown and his division became involved in another swirling fight to save the task force.  Brown ended the fight pursued by four Zekes, badly wounded.  He managed to out-dive the enemy and returned to the task force.  His Hellcat, “Paper Doll,” was later found to have been hit 184 times. Brown managed to land “Paper Doll” aboard Essex after being refused by Lexington and Langley which were both afraid of him fouling their decks.  A Navy photographer caught “Paper Doll” at the moment of touchdown on Essex, with the burning Princeton in the background, which became one of the most famous photos of the war.

       A total of nine VF-27 Hellcats had been airborne when Princeton was hit, and all landed aboard Essex. That night, the nine Hell Cats were press-ganged into VF-15.  After a night with paint brushes, the Hell Cats were once again merely Hellcats.  VF-27 ceased to exist. In just over seven weeks of operations, the squadron had scored 200 victories, making it the top-scoring CVL fighter squadron of the war. 


      There have been several 1/48 scale F6F Hellcats released over the past 50 years, starting with one from Lindbergh and one from Aurora in the mid-1950s, while Monogram released one in about 1963 that was more toy than model, with provision for folding wings.  In 1971, Otaki released a Hellcat that was basically a mid-production F6F-3, that was light years ahead of its contemporaries and still can be made up into a very credible model as both an F6F-3 or an F6F-5 with suitable modification.  Hasegawa released the F6F-3 and F6F-5 about ten years ago, which provided a nice cockpit that was difficult to see since the canopy could only be accurately posed in the open position if the modeler used a Falcon vacuform canopy, though the kit was marred by a cowling of incorrect profile shape.

      Many modelers wondered why Eduard would do a Hellcat when two different good models were already available.  After studying this kit, I can say that they did it for the same reason they released a series of Fw-190s in 1/48: their product is superior.

      The kit has surface detail that is superior to either the Otaki or Hasegawa kits, with very petite engraved rivet detail along panel lines, and separate control surfaces that can be posed dynamically.  The kit includes a nicely-detailed cockpit in plastic, which is accompanied by very good pre-painted photo-etch detail for the cockpit that is up to Eduard's usual standards.  Cowlings for the early-production, mid-production, and late-production F6F-3 are provided.  Decals are provided for no less than five F6F-3s, including “Gadget,” flown by aces Alex Vraciu of VF-6, and the “Hell Cat” of LT Richard Stambook of VF-27.

      There has been the usual  brew-ha-ha regarding the release of this kit among those with too much time on their hands over at The Other Place, regarding the accuracy of the kit in general and the “grin” in particular.  In his comprehensive review of the kit, Brett Green points out that of the available Hellcat cowlings - both those from kits and those from aftermarket producers - none is entirely accurate, though some are moreso than others, concluding that the Eduard cowling is overall the most accurate.  This is also the conclusion that has been drawn after copious study of photo comparisons between actual Hellcats and the kit, from those participating in the commentary Over There.

      There has also been comment about the rivet detail on the kit.  While I generally side with those who believe rivet detail in 1/48 is likely to be overdone and therefore best not done, the rivet detail here is as petite as that which appears on the Eduard Fw-190s.  It is also a nice representation of the rivet detail I have seen on the 1:1 Hellcats that live out at Planes of Fame.

      I particularly like that the canopies are thin enough that they can be posed in the open position, since this is likely the best-detailed cockpit of any Hellcat kit, including the aftermarket resin cockpits that have been released over the years.

     There is some deserved criticism of the kit regarding the landing gear.  The wheels do appear to be too narrow in cross section to be right for anything other than the very early production version.  This can be solved be either buying some resin wheels, or gluing some 15-mil sheet styrene between the wheel halves and wielding a sanding stick for a few minutes.  Also, the gear legs to appear to be a bit long - not inaccurately, but rather they are too high for an airplane with a full load of gas and ammo.  Those who want to worry about this can easily trim down the oleo leg with a very modest application of “some modeling skill required.”

     The decals are very nice, with the insignias the proper size and dimensions and color.  The white numbers appear to be sufficiently opaque that they will go over the blue colors without problem.


     The Hellcat is basically a simple model to build overall, in any kit from any manufacturer, and the Eduard kit is no exception. 

      As designed, the separate control surfaces are not posable, though they do provide separation of these surfaces from the main airframe.  Other than that, I cannot see why the kit was designed this way, particularly since the Hellcat had a spring-loaded stick, so that the controls were never “dynamically posed” while the airplane was on the ground to begin with. 

      I assembled the wings and tail surfaces and then attached them to the fuselage halves before assembling the fuselage, because this allowed me to work the connections from inside and out and get them fully seated, which I think is necessary given the design for attaching the wings and tail.  Personally, I think Hasegawa got it right with a one-piece lower wing that attached to the fuselage along panel lines, which insured getting the proper dihedral to the wing.

      The cockpit is perhaps the simplest Hellcat cockpit I have seen from any kit since the Otaki release.  That said, with the use of the photoetch, what one sees in the end with the fuselage assembled and the cockpit closed up is quite acceptable; much of the detail of the more-detailed Hasegawa kit cockpit, or the True Details resin cockpit, isn't all that visible in the final result.

      I needed to run some cyanoacrylate glue along the fuselage centerline seam, but that was the only place the kit needed help.

      The engine assembles easily and looks right once it is inside the cowling.  The cowling parts fit perfectly, and I only needed some cyanoacrylate glue along the lower center seam to smooth that out. 

     Overall, assembly of the model occupied less than two hours, including time spent waiting for the paint to dry - I did pre-paint the cockpit parts interior green and the cowling interior light grey, using the Aerohobby Acrylics which go on easily since they are pre-mixed thin enough to airbrush out of the container without additional thinning.  I painted the engine cylinders Tamiya Flat Aluminum, then hand-painted with Tamiya “Smoke” to pop out detail. 



      This time, given the colors I was going to paint the model, I did the “pre-shading” with Tamiya Dark Grey rather than Flat Black, since it wouldn't take so much of the final colors to go over it.  I wanted to be sure to use only a thin coat of paint overall to keep the very nice surface detail visible.  The tri-color scheme was done with Gunze paints: Gunze “Navy White” for the lower surfaces (a slightly off-white color), Intermediate Blue and Navy Blue. 


      I finally decided to do Jim Stambrook's “Hell Cat” from VF-27 after thinking about doing the well-known “Gadget” since I have met Alex Vraciu.  However, I finally concluded that Eduard had finally come up with the best “face” decals for a VF-27 F6F-3 (when the face was more detailed than on the later F6F-5s).  I will likely do “Gadget” at some point in the future. The Eduard decals went down without problem, using Micro-Sol to soften them.


      Navy airplanes at sea do not have a lot of metallic “dings” because they cannot survive in a saltwater environment if they are left in that condition.  So my weathering was limited to getting the upper surfaces really flat, so it looked like the airplane had been under the tropic sun and in a saltwater environment for several months as it had by October 1944.  It is said that the upper color paints in the tri-color scheme were so prone to sun-fading and saltwater corrosion that by the end of a West Pad cruise the paint looked like chalk on the airplanes; this is why the Navy went to Glossy Sea Blue.  After getting a really flat finish by mixing in some Tamiya “Flat Base” to the Xtracrylix “Flat” varnish, I applied some strong exhaust staining and some gun residue staining, since photos of Hellcats show both to have been present nearly all the time. I then attached the landing gear and prop and attached the canopy in the open position. 


     So, how good is the Eduard Hellcat?  Those modelers who have Otaki or Hasegawa kits in their stash certainly have no more need of throwing them away in the face of this newer release than did the owners of Tamiya, DML or Hasegawa Fw-190s when those newer Eduard kits were released.

      On a personal level, I like the Eduard kit's surface detail the best, closely followed by that of the old Otaki kit and last by Hasegawa.  The Otaki kit has the worst design for attaching the wings to the fuselage of the three. The Otaki and Hasegawa kits have better props.  The Hasegawa kit has a better cockpit straight out of the box, unless one is set on having the Eduard photoetch instrument panel or uses the more complete Eduard cockpit interior photoetch fret available separately, though the Hasegawa instrument panel decal is fine to me.  Both the Hasegawa and Otaki kits need the Squadron/Falcon vacuform canopies if the canopy is to be posed open, while the Eduard kit doesn't.  The Otaki kit needs the True details cockpit, while the Hasegawa kit needs the Obscureco resin cowling. Both need a separate decal sheet.

      However, those in search of the Seven Cities of Cibola, El Dorado's gold, Captain Kidd's treasure, the Amber Room, or the perfect model kit will continue to be disappointed.  The Eduard Hellcat does not signify the arrival of Modeler's Nirvana.

      All that said, while the Otaki and Hasegawa Hellcats are good kits that can form the basis of nice models, any modeler who wants to “get it right” will have to purchase aftermarket decals and various resin bits as listed above.  The Eduard Hellcat gives a modeler everything they need: the different cowlings for the different production versions, a detailed-enough cockpit, and interesting, well-produced decals.  The Hellcat is one of my favorite Navy fighters, and this kit provides a very good basis for the creation of an excellent model.  Highly recommended.

 Thanks for Eduard for the review kit.  

Tom Cleaver

July 2008

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