Hasegawa 1/32 P-40E 'Aleutian Tiger'

KIT #: 08211
PRICE: 3,680 yen at HobbyLink Japan
DECALS: Three options
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver
NOTES: Limited release kit


            Six days after the Pearl Harbor attack, on December 13, 1941, Major John Chennault left Selfridge Field, Michigan, headed for McClellan Army Air Depot in Sacramento, California, at the head of 24 Army Air Forces would-be fighter pilots.  Their orders were to pick up Curtiss P-40Es and head for Alaska to join the 18th Pursuit Squadron and provide air defense for the territory.  At McClellan, they found half the P-40Es were still “pickled.”  After raising hell, the technicians at the air depot worked around the clock to ready the Warhawks, and by the first week in January 1942, they were ready.  As Chennault later recalled, “We started out in January, 1942, and the situation was like this: my three flight commanders each had less than eight months’ experience since graduating flight school; 18 of my younger pilots averaged less than 8 hours apiece on the P-40, the others had less than three.”

            Two of the P-40s were out of action before the group got out of California, with five more lost enroute to their destination at Fairbanks, Alaska.  Once there, they found conditions were worse than “primitive.”  “This was the first time modern fighters had operated in Alaska and the airfields were nothing but cleared spaces in the wilderness.  We fueled our planes from drums with pumps, slept in crude huts and froze all the time.”

             By June 3, 1942, the pilots had come to understand that flying conditions were terrible throughout Alaska, a part of the world that could lay claim to some of the worst weather conditions anywhere: dense fogs that arrived without warning and “williwaws,” high winds that arrived with intense winter cold.  Mechanical items showed unusual behavior at 40 degrees below zero. Oil became almost solid, metal and rubber became brittle and fractured easily. The “airfields” were little more than muddy clearings, while the long distances between rudimentary air bases coupled with the complete absence of aerial navigation aids made what flying was possible nearly impossible and certainly dangerous at all times.

             In April 1942, Life Magazine published a major publicity article by Claire Boothe Luce about the “Flying Tigers,” the American Volunteer Group commanded by John Chennault’s father.  As a result, the 11th Pursuit Squadron decided to call themselves the “Aleutian Tigers,” and a distinctive tiger design was created as their insignia, worn on the noses of the P-40Es.  As with the Tiger markings of the AVG, no two of these were exactly the same.

             As part of the attack on Midway Island, a carrier-based Japanese task force centered around the light carriers Junyo and Ryujo was sent to attack Alaska and invade two islands in the Aleutian chain, Attu and Kiska.  On June 3, 1942, attacked Fort Mears and Dutch Harbor.  P-40S were scrambled from Fort Randall, but the Japanese were gone by the time they reached Dutch Harbor.  On June 4, the Japanese again hit Dutch Harbor, but the P-40s were ready and one bomber was shot down.  Unknown at the time, the anti-aircraft fire also holed the gas tank of one of the escorting Zeros, which would crash land on Akutan Island to become one of the most valuable prizes of the war when it was discovered and brought to the United States to be exhaustively test-flown.

             The Attu-Kiska Campaign now began as the Japanese occupied these two islands on June 7, 1942.  It would last more than a year before the Japanese were expelled from the two most westerly islands in the Aleutian archipelago, their only conquests of American territory.

             Air raids against the main base on Kiska began in July, 1942.  Operations were difficult, due to the extreme weather in the Aleutians, and many missions were scrubbed or aborted due to weather throughout the campaign.  On August 30th, US Army troops landed on Adak in a howling gale.  By September 10, a PSP runway had been constructed and the fighter force, by now expanded from the 95 P-40s on hand June 4 to include a squadron of P-39s and another of P-38s, began moving forward to bring Attu and Kiska within range.  The first raid, a strafing attack by P-38s, P-39s and P-40s led by Major Chennault, hit Attu on September 11, 1942.

             On September 25, 1942, nine B‑24 Liberators, 12 P‑39 Airacobras and 20 P‑40 Warhawks attacked Kiska. Four of the P‑40s were flown by RCAF pilots from 111 (Fighter) Squadron, RCAF, in company with the 16 P-40s of the 11th Fighter Squadron (as the 11th PS had been renamed in May), now part of the newly-formed 343rd Fighter Group.

             Taking off from the forward airstrip in Adak Island just before noon, the raiders attacked gun positions, ships, a radar installation and the main camp, with the P-39s using their heavy armament for strafing.

             Two A6M2-N “Rufe” floatplane fighters attempted to attack the P-40 escorts.  RCAF Squadron Leader Ken Boomer attacked the leader and shot it down in flames, the only “home” victory scored by an RCAF pilot outside of the European and Mediterranean Theaters.  Major Chennault shot down the wingman a moment later.  For his action, Squadron Leader Boomer was awarded the U.S. Air Medal and the British DFC.

             In January 1943, Amchitka Island was occupied and a new air base constructed, which allowed attacks against Kiska to begin that February.

            Eventually, on May 11, 1943, an American invasion force of 12,000 troops attacked Attu and faced fanatic Japanese resistance in an 18 day battle in which the Japanese lost 2,380 dead and 28 taken prisoner. American losses were 552 dead and 1,140 wounded.  The costly victory boded ill for the final invasion of Kiska.  On July 27, 1943. A USN battleship task force began softening up the fog-shrouded target.  When a force of 34,000 U.S. and Canadian troop finally landed on August 15, they discovered the Japanese had abandoned the island, evacuating 5,000 troops under cover of darkness on July 28.

             The 343rd Fighter Group and its component squadrons were inactivated in August 1944, with the Japanese no longer a threat to Alaska.


             Hasegawa has done a good job of releasing kits of the Allison P-40s.  This limited release P-40E provides the separate parts to create an early P-40E.  The major visual clue is the lack of protruding gun tubes in the wings.  The kit also replaces the incorrect windscreen of the first P-40E releases with the correct windscreen.  With the parts in this kit, any P-40E, P-40E-1, P-40E-5, P-40K-1 or P-40K-5 can be done.  The decals provide “Aleutian Tiger” markings for three different aircraft of the 11th Fighter Squadron in 1942.


            All the Hasegawa P-40s go together similarly.  I find that it’s best to attach the tails to the fuselage halves before gluing the halves together, since you can work on them from both sides to get a good smooth joint.  You have to make that seam disappear, so getting it right at the beginning makes everything a lot easier.  Ditto the rear canopy glass. I paint the interior piece the exterior camouflage color, then glue it in position, then glue that half of the glass.  Again, you have a seam around the lower rear and the aft joints that has to disappear, and doing it this way also allows for a good joint to start with.  I used Tamiya “Mr. Surfacer for these joints and get them to disappear before gluing the fuselage halves together.  It can take a couple applications and sandings, and you have to be very careful you have gotten the seams to disappear, because they show up really obviously under a coat of paint.  I rescribe the panel lines and then rescribe the rivet lines with a pounce wheel.

             While all that is setting up, I assemble the wing.  Again, it’s good to take your time getting the gun plug to fit right in the leading edge of the wing, because you have to make that disappear.  Once they’re set, I sand down those plugs, then use the Tamiya surfacer and then sand them down again until they are gone.  They make you look stupid if they reappear.

             I also attach the various cowling panels at this point.  For this early P-40, you want to make the forward plug just ahead of the exhausts disappear, so do the same thing you did with all those other fershlugginah seams, You then rescribe the two main panel lines above and below the exhaust outlets all the way to the nose.

             Once all this was done, I inserted the radiator assembly in the nose and glues it in position, then glues the fuselage halves together without the cockpit.  I then took care of the doggone centerline seams, same way as the others.

             While all that was setting up, I assembled the cockpit.  I did some “weathering” with dry-brushed Tamiya Flat Aluminum, Tamiya “Smoke,” and then “muddied” the cockpit floor with the Tamiya weathering set.  Hey, it’s an airplane that was likely parked in a muddy bog, so it will get dirty inside and out.

             The cockpit will snap into place, after which I attached the wing.  I find these kits always need some Tamiya surfacer on the upper wing-fuselage joint.  With that done, I attached the horizontal stabs, the rudder, and the cockpit windscreen, which I painted flat black inside.


            After pre-shading the model along panel lines with airbrushed flat black, I painted the lower surfaces with Tamiya “Neutral Grey.”  The upper surfaces called for some additional effort.

            These P-40s were done in the pre-war Olive Drab, which is a green-base paint.  I have seen “Glacier Girl” up close, an airplane that was restored in paint matched to the original colors it was found with.  This is a green color very close to British RAF Dark Green, with a bit more dark olive cast.  I gave the model a preliminary coat of Tamiya “Olive Drab,” then went over it and blotched it with Tamiya RAF Dark Green.  I then thinned the RAF Dark Green and went over the whole upper surfaces.  These airplanes didn’t fade (there wasn’t any sun) but they did get weathered and from the few photos I have seen they look pretty beat up.  I then applied some light grey to the paint and went over the fabric control surfaces.  When all was dry, I gave the model an overall coat of Xtracrylix Clear Gloss.

            I used the kit decals.  These are thick and I needed several coats of Solvaset to put them in place.  I think if I did this again, I would use this kit (since it has the correct small details), and get Roy Sutherland’s P-40 decal sheet that has these markings, since those decals are thinner and better.  In the end, after a lot of effort, the decals looked OK.


            I gave the model several coats of Xtracrylix Flat coat to get a dead flat finish, which is what the photos of airplanes in this unit show they looked like after a few months of being out in the Alaskan weather.  I “dinged” the airframe with Tamiya “Flat Aluminum,” and then applied exhaust and oil stains with Tamiya “Smoke.”  I also “muddied” the wheels and the wheel wells with the Tamiya weathering set.  After that, I attached the exhaust stacks, the wheels and gear doors, and the prop.  I unmasked the canopy and posed it open.


             The “Aleutian Tiger” is a very distinctive-looking model when finished. Kudos to Hasegawa for checking the few photos available and doing their research to get things like the gun tubes and the exhausts right for a very early P-40E.  While the kit decals are acceptable, I would definitely recommend the Barracuda Decals set.  Using this particular limited-release kit, it would also be possible to do such other early P-40Es as that flown by Boyd “Buzz” Wagner in the Philippines, who became America’s first official “ace” of World War II.  I wish Hasegawa would do the Merlin P-40s on their own, but with the Greymatter Conversion set, and with limited-release kits like this and the P-40K, it is possible to do the complete line of P-40 Kittyhawk/Warhawk sub-types.  Highly recommended for P-40 fans.

Tom Cleaver

August 2011

 Review kit courtesy of HobbyLink Japan.  Order yours from the link.

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