HobbyBoss 1/48 F6F-3 Hellcat

KIT #: 20359
PRICE: 2400 yen at www.hlj.com 
DECALS: Two options
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver
NOTES: Kitbash with Eduard Hellcat to correct fatal mistakes of the Hobby Boss kit; Eduard decals used


 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.

           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-15 - “Satan's Playmates”:

            Fighting Fifteen “stood up” for commissioning at NAS Norfolk on September 1, 1943.  The commanding officer was LCDR David McCampbell, Annapolis ‘33, who had been one of the top aviation gunnery competition winners in the Atlantic Fleet in 1940, before assignment that fall as Landing Signal Officer aboard USS Wasp (CV-7) where he had served until that carrier was sunk by the Japanese submarine I-19 on September 15, 1942. As with all new Navy fighter squadrons, VF-15 was equipped with the new fleet defense fighter, the Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat.

            None of the 45 pilots assigned to VF-15 had air combat experience.  McCampbell had returned from the South Pacific to head up the Navy's Landing Signal Officer school at NAS Jacksonville, from which he extricated himself after a six month campaign to return to a flying assignment.  The XO was LCDR Charles W. Brewer, who had been a fighter pilot since graduating from Pensacola in 1939.  Senior Division Commander was LT James F. Rigg, who came out of Training Command.  LT George C. Duncan, Annapolis ‘39, had been a turret officer aboard the battleship USS West Virginia when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and had completed flight training six months previously.  LT John Strane came aboard from two years' instructor duty at Pensacola.  LT (jg) Bert Morris had probably worked harder than anyone to get into the squadron; a genuine Hollywood movie star who had joined the Naval Reserve two years earlier after becoming a licensed pilot, Morris had completed Navy flight training after Pearl Harbor and was then assigned as a flight instructor, where his duties seemed to involve more personal appearances at recruiting drives than actual flying and instructing. ENS Ralph Foltz had recently completed training in photo reconnaissance. LT(jg) Roy Rushing also came from Training Command, where he had been a gunnery instructor.

            Strane, whose background included 100 hours in the F4F-4 Wildcat as an advanced fighter tactics instructor, echoed many squadron mates in his assessment of their new mount, the Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat:  "My initial impression of the Hellcat was that I was in a completely different ballpark than that of the SNJ or the Wildcat. The tremendous power, the comfort of the cockpit, the ease of handling the plane throughout its entire flight envelope was unbelievable."

            While the Navy gave far more importance to aerial gunnery than did the Army Air Forces, it was not a service-wide policy but rather the decision of individual unit commanding officers as to how much emphasis would be placed on gunnery.  VF-15 was lucky that the former gunnery champion who commanded them considered skill with the fighter's primary weapon to be of primary importance.  ENS Clarence “Spike” Borley, who joined the squadron just before their tour in the Western Pacific, recalled that McCampbell placed gunnery above everything else, with the pilots doing an hour of aerial gunnery every day in Hawaii before they deployed; officers were given assignments in the squadron based on their scores as aerial marksmen.  As part of his effort to build unit morale, McCampbell came up with the squadron nickname, “Satan's Playmates.”

            Air Group 15, of which VF-15 was a part, was originally destined for service aboard the new USS Hornet (CV-12).  Hornet at the time was under the command of CAPT Miles Browning, a Naval Aviator whose experience went back to the original USS Langley 20 years previously and who was one of those naval aviators responsible for the development of the policies and strategies in the 1920s and 1930s that were used by Naval Aviation during the war.  He had recently served as Chief of Staff to Admiral William “Bull” Halsey during the first six months of the war and had performed the same role for Spruance at Midway.  Browning was perhaps the most irascible officer in the US Navy, a man who had as many personal enemies as he had professional admirers, and was generally considered a “holy terror” by those who served under him.  Eventually, he managed to make a personal enemy out of Frank Knox, the Secretary of the Navy; this would result in his professional sidelining for the remainder of the war in May 1944, when he was relieved of command of Hornet and sent to command the Naval War College.  But before that could happen, Air Group 15 went aboard Hornet for a momentous shakedown cruise that ended at Pearl Harbor.

            Commander William Dew, the Commander of Air Group 15, was to suffer the personal and professional mortification of having Browning tell Admiral Nimitz that Air Group 15 was not ready for combat upon their arrival at Pearl Harbor in February 1944.  Air Group 15 was removed from Hornet and replaced by Air Group 2, while Dew was relieved of command and  replaced by Dave McCampbell with XO Brewer taking command of Fighting 15.  While all senior officers in the group were mortified by this turn of events, it turned out to be the best possible thing that could happen to them.  Without Miles Browning throwing them into the briar patch, Air Group 15 would likely never have had the career it did.  Under McCampbell, the group trained hard in Hawaii and passed their Operational Readiness Inspection in early April.  Their luck continued when they were assigned as the new air group aboard USS Essex (CV-9) when that ship arrived in Pearl Harbor in late April following overhaul at Bremerton Shipyard after her first tour in the Western Pacific.  Essex was commanded by CAPT Ralph Oftsie, who knew and respected McCampbell from their mutual time in the South Pacific in 1942.  Essex's previous air group, Air Group Nine, had been the first to take the Hellcat into combat and had established themselves as the most successful air group in the Navy when their tour ended after the first Truk raids in February, 1944.  Air Group 15 would have some mighty big shoes to fill.  After becoming CAG, McCampbell also came up with the name that would define the group and its mission: “Fabled Fifteen.”  Spike Borley realized shortly after he reported aboard in Hawaii that he had a lot of catching up to do with these pilots who had now trained together for the past seven months.

            Essex departed for the Western Pacific on May 3, 1944, accompanied by USS Wasp (CV-18), headed for the new fleet anchorage at Majuro Atoll in the Carolines, where they arrived on May 8.  On May 15, in company with USS San Jacinto (CVL-30) as part of Task Group 58.4 under the command of RADM W.K. Harrill, Air Group 15 prepared for combat.

            On May 19-20, the task group hit Marcus Island, by then the “traditional” first strike for a carrier group headed into combat.  Marcus had been repeatedly hit over the previous nine months, but still offered danger.  Air Group 15 lost two fighters and two bombers on these missions, while claiming 50 Japanese aircraft destroyed or damaged on the ground.

            The war became real for “Fabled Fifteen” on June 11, 1944, when the task group struck Iwo Jima for a day before turning south to participate in Operation Forager, the invasion of the Marianas Islands; the task group was enlarged by the addition of a third carrier, USS Cowpens (CVL-25).

            McCampbell gave a pre-mission briefing at 0230 June 12, 1944, for the pilots who would fly the dawn fighter sweep over Saipan. As Spike Borley would recall, “You could cut the tension in the ready room with a knife.  We all knew we were going to see combat, nobody knew what to expect, and we were all thinking the worst.  Commander McCampbell led the briefing, and he ended it by telling one of the bluest and funniest jokes I had ever heard in my young life to that time.  Everybody broke up over it, and when we'd recovered, the tension was gone and we were ready to go.  That became a tradition; he never told the same joke twice, and they always put us in the right mood for what was to come.”

            McCampbell led 16 Hellcats on the dawn strike, eight of which carried a 250-lb bomb each; Brewer led the second section of 16.  After diving on the designated airfield and bombing the AA positions, the fighters swept back over the field strafing everything in sight.  Borley recalled that he felt like he was flying at 100 miles an hour and had to look at his air speed indicator to know they were doing 350 mph.  “That flak was really heavy, even with the bombing.”

            Over Marpi Point, squadron CO Brewer and his wingman ENS R.E. Fowler, Jr., spotted a Kawanishi “Emily” flying boat and attacked it. Brewer hit the two starboard engines while Fowler's bullets shattered the cockpit canopy.  Twenty seconds later, the big flying boat rolled over and dove straight into the water below, for Fighting-15's first aerial victory.

            While Brewer's division was killing the Emily, McCampbell and the rest of the squadron ran into a flight of Zeros.  As McCampbell recalled later, “This was our first encounter as an air group with enemy aircraft. We had heard a great deal about the Zero fighter. I was pleased to note that the F6F could stay with the Zero in turns, climbs and dives, particularly at altitudes above 12,000 feet, where most of the air action took place. I noted two deficiencies of the Zero: its lack of armor and its unprotected gas tanks. All but one of the Zeros I saw shot down that day went down in flames.”  McCampbell returned to Essex with two Zeros shot down.

            Over the next week, Air Group 15 provided support for the invasion of Saipan while Task Force 58 awaited the arrival of the Japanese fleet, which had sortied from bases in the Philippines to challenge the invasion.  By the time the Japanese were able to initiate what would become known as the First Battle of the Philippine Sea, their ranks had been thinned by the sinking of the new carrier Taiho and the Pearl Harbor veteran Shokaku by U.S. submarines.

            Spike Borley remembered June 19, 1944 as the day he first entered air combat, to no avail.  “I was on the dawn CAP, 0500-0900.  At 0815 we were recalled to the carrier.  They told us the Japanese were on the way and we were to intercept them.  I took off as a division of six led by McCampbell.  I had jumped into a different airplane than what I had been in, and I didn't realize until we made our first pass on them that I had forgotten to charge my guns!” 

            Ralph Foltz was another of that sextet.  As McCampbell dove through the escorting Zeros on his way to hit the formation of D4Y “Judy” dive bombers, Foltz hit and flamed a Zero.  McCampbell latched onto the trailing Judy and worked his way up the line, shooting down three in succession.  In a second mission that day, he scored two more Judys for a total of five in the day, while Foltz also scored a Judy and McCampbell's wingman Roy Rushing scored a Zero and a Judy. 

            “Satan's Playmates” set their reputation in this day's fighting, which would become known as “The Marianas Turkey Shoot,” the greatest day of air combat in US Navy history.  When dusk fell over the American fleet, Fighting 15 had shot down 69 enemy aircraft, a one-day record that would never be equaled by any other American fighter squadron.  McCampbell's emphasis on gunnery training had paid dividends.

            Among their losses was the squadron commander, Charles Brewer, who disappeared in air combat on June 20, 1944, after scoring 6.5 aerial victories.  XO James Rigg fleeted up to command the squadron for the remainder of its tour.

            During one interception west of Saipan, Lt. Baynard Milton demonstrated the strength of the Hellcat.  Hit by a Zero, Milton's right landing gear was completely shot away, leaving a hole in the wing big enough for a man to fall through.  Additionally, the right flap was partially destroyed and he had limited aileron control, while hydraulic fluid leaked into the cockpit.  He found he could maintain level flight by holding full-up right aileron and full right rudder; when he relaxed the controls, the Hellcat would begin a sharp left turn.  Milton fought  cramps in his arm and leg as he flew back 100 miles to the ship and was thankful when he got back to see that the "Prep Charlie" landing pattern meant turning left. With one gear down and minimal control, the Hellcat crash‑landed aboard Essex; the right gear collapsed on contact with the deck and the fighter slid down the deck to narrowly miss hitting the after 5-inch mounts and the island. After he climbed out, the deck crew took only a minute to determine the Hellcat was done for and promptly pushed it over the side.   

            Following his return to the United States in December 1944, Milton went home on leave. Sitting in his hometown movie theater in January 1945, he saw his landing on the Fox Movietone News.  Every aviation fan has seen this particular event many times in the past 65 years, since it has become a classic part of any footage dealing with carrier aviation.

            Following their support of the invasions of Tinian and Guam in July and early August, “Satan's Playmates” went on to participate Halsey's rampage across the Pacific under the task group command of Admiral Forrest Sherman, McCampbell's old CO in the first Wasp.  The air strikes against Okinawa and Formosa in August and September broke the back of Japanese land-based aviation in the region. Attention then turned to  the Philippines in October, 1944, where Air Group 15 solidified their reputation in the Battles of Leyte Gulf October 24-25, 1944, known as the Second Battle of the Philippine Sea, the largest naval battle in history.  The Avengers of Torpedo 15 were credited with the fatal hits that sank the super-battleship Musashi in the Sibuyan Sea on October 24, while the Helldivers of Bombing 15 were credited with the hits that sank the carrier Zuikaku, last survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack, in the Battle off Cape Engano on October 25.  The tour ended on November 7, 1944, following strikes on Manila Bay.

            Between June 11 and November 7, 1944, “Satan's Playmates” shot down 313 enemy planes in the air and destroyed another 313 on the ground, a score unmatched by any other American fighter unit - Navy, Marine or Air Force - for number destroyed in a similar time period.  Dave McCampbell himself became the Navy's Ace of Aces with 34 victories, while his wingman Roy Rushing scored 13 to become the high-scoring “wingman ace” of the war.  Spike Borley's score of five before his 20th birthday made him the youngest ace in the Navy and one of a total of 24 VF-15 pilots who became aces during the unit's tour, the second-highest total after VF-2 during their tour on Hornet, where 26 became aces.


            Ever since Hobby Boss appeared on the scene, there has been a question of what the relationship is between Hobby Boss and Trumpeter, given that many of the kits released by Hobby Boss are of subjects previously released by Trumpeter in another, usually larger, scale.  What I have noticed is there is a close correlation between the earlier Trumpeter kit and the later Hobby Boss kit.  Where the Trumpeter kit “got it right,” the Hobby Boss kit is also “right”, and with kits where Trumpeter “got it wrong” Hobby Boss also gets it wrong and in exactly the same way.  A good example is the botched Spitfire V.  Trumpeter had so many outline inaccuracies in their 1/24 Spitfire V that I considered it possibly the worst Spitfire kit ever released.  Not only was the profile wrong, but they botched the fuselage cross section, making it too round and too fat throughout.  The godawful Hobby Boss 1/32 Spitfire V kit makes all of the same unfixably-wrong mistakes.  Basically, the relationship of Trumpeter and Hobby Boss is when Trumpeter sneezes, Hobby Boss comes down with a cold.

            This is not the case for everything Hobby Boss does.  Almost all of the releases that are “original” with Hobby Boss are generally acceptable.  Some purists cannot stand the way the radiator is on the Ta-152C kit, but for the overwhelming majority of those who buy and build the kit, it is just fine as an example of an airplane of which only four were ever made.  The F3H-2 Demon kit is superior to the release from Grand Phoenix.  There's a whole list of other original kits that are just fine.

            Sadly, the F6F Hellcat series is not one of those.  It is as badly botched as the original 1/32 release by Trumpeter, and just as really unfixably wrong.  When I did the two 1/32 kits, I managed to make the fuselage sort of look like what it should, but no matter what I did, in the end it was wrong, and it was obviously so.  The fuselage was too wide and was completely wrong in cross section at all stations from firewall aft to the vertical fin leading edge.  The same is true here.  And in this scale you can't do the industrial-strength pushing and shoving and bending I did in the Trumpeter projects.  The fuselage is just bad and there isn't a damn thing that can be done about it.

            However, not all of the kit is awful.  The wings are quite good.  There is a very nice wing-folded option for those who might like to pose their model in that particular configuration.  Comparing that wing to the Eduard kit, the fabric detail of the flaps and ailerons is far better, as is the fit of those items to the wing.  The same is true of the horizontal stabilizer and elevators.  If you cut the rudder parts off the fuselage halves, you can make a better rudder.  The landing gear is more detailed and the wheel well is far more accurate.  The cowling is fine if you only want the late-production version, and it has open cowl flaps, something you can only get otherwise with the long out of production Cutting Edge resin cowling to correct the Hasegawa Hellcat.  The wheels are right as to overall size and also their cross-section as regards their thickness.

             It's just that the fuselage is god-bloody-awful, which makes the cockpit terrible and the canopy into a bad joke.  Because of this, the kit is so bad, that I cannot recommend anyone buy it to build as a stand-alone model.

            So what do you do if you already have it and you just read what I wrote above?


             I happened to have an Eduard dual-combo Hellcat kit, for which my enthusiasm for the second kit had departed.  The Eduard fuselage is correct in size and shape and cross-section.  A bit of test-fitting demonstrates that all the good things of the Hobby Boss kit can be combined with the Eduard fuselage to get a nice final product. Given that the Dangerboy wings-folded resin conversion is only intermittently available now from Lone Star Models, and is more expensive than the Hobby Boss kit, not to mention it only fits the Hasegawa kit, if you want a Hellcat with the wings folded, doing this mish-mash is a viable option on cost and difficulty of conversion. 

            I started by cutting the Eduard fuselage parts so that the one-piece Hobby Boss lower wing section can be attached.  This mostly involved eye-balling things and then cutting straight with a razor saw.  I taped the Eduard fuselage halves together, then taped the upper inner wings to the lower wing of the Hobby Boss kit, and then test fitted.  There is a gap on top, and it is enough that the easy thing to do is use some Evergreen strip attached to the wing and then shaped to fit the Eduard fuselage.  Once I saw that, it was easy to see that all that would be needed was some cyanoacrylate glue to fill in the gap, followed by some putty and finished with some Tamiya surfacer.  I also needed to fill in the rear area of the Eduard fuselage where their wing fit since the Hobby Boss flaps couldn't fill that area.  I did that with Squadron Green Stuff.  So far, nothing that “some modeling skill required” couldn't deal with.

            I painted and assembled the cockpit and put it in the fuselage.  While all that was setting up, I assembled the Hobby Boss wing with the wing-fold option, following instructions.  I attached the Evergreen strip to the inner wing joint and sanded it to fit the Eduard fuselage.  I then glued the wing and fuselage sub-assemblies together, following that with applications of putty, more sanding, and Tamiya surfacer, and more sanding.

            The Hobby Boss horizontal stabilizer was easy to attach to the Eduard kit after I cut off the tabs of the Hobby Boss parts and butt-fitted them to the Eduard fuselage.  I then realized I had gotten rid of the Hobby Boss fuselage without realizing I would want the rudder, so I used the Eduard rudder.

            I had to cut down the engine mount on the Eduard fuselage so I could use the better-looking Hobby Boss engine, which I assembled and painted and then attached.  I finished that off by attaching the cowling, which fit perfectly. The end of initial assembly was to assemble and attach the very nice Hobby Boss landing gear.

            I also used the Eduard drop tank since it is better shaped.  I used Evergreen strip for the bracing straps.


             I first “pre-shaded” the model with flat black airbrushed along the panel lines.  The lower color was done with Tamiya “Flat White” with a small brushful of blue in it to tone down the white.  Applying thin coats so the pre-shading can be seen resulted in a slightly-worn look which is what I was going for.  The upper surface camouflage was done with Tamiya “Medium Blue” which is Intermediate Blue, and the upper surfaces were painted with Tamiya “Field Blue” which looks very much like faced Sea Blue for the tri-color camouflage scheme.  Each of the upper surface colors was post-shaded by applying a brushful of light grey to the paint mix and going over the various panels to get the Central Pacific sun-faded look.

            I used the Eduard decals to do an otherwise-anonymous F6F-3 of VF-15 as it would have appeared shortly after the Marianas Turkey Shoot.  As my good friend Spike Borley - one of two VF-15 pilots who is still with us - told me, the only people in the air group who had their own airplanes with individual markings were McCampbell and the three squadron commanders. Everyone else flew what was ready to go on deck, which varied from mission to mission, with airplanes carrying Japanese flag stickers to signify victories won in the airplane, though often by different pilots.


             I weathered the model with exhaust and gunfire stains, and some minor chipping, following some photos I had of carrier-based Hellcats of the period.  Remember that airplanes at sea were not left chipped, since exposing the bare aluminum to the salt water environment would lead quickly to major corrosion. I finished off with a “dead flat” finish done with Xtracrylix Clear Flat with a brushful of Tamiya “Flat Base” mixed in.

            I unmasked the canopy and windshield and attached the canopy in the open position.  I then attached the main wheels and prop, and finished off by attaching the outer wings in the folded position.


            You could probably do this conversion using a Hasegawa Hellcat kit more easily, since you would not have to cut up the fuselage so the wing could fit.  Since Hobby Boss makes an F6F-5 kit, you could use that as well.  As I said, the price of the Hobby Boss kit is less than the Dangerboy wing-folded conversion, assuming you can find it in stock at Lone Star.  The end result looks good and is not difficult to accomplish.  I mostly did this because I wanted to do an Air Group 15 Hellcat since I am in the middle of writing “Fabled Fifteen: Air Group 15 in the Pacific War” which will be published later this spring as an e-book. (Your editor notes the blatant plug! ;) )

 Tom Cleaver

January 2012

Review kit courtesy HobbyLink Japan.  Get yours here.

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