Eduard 1/48 F6F-5 Hellcat
KIT #: ?
DECALS: Five options
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver


             There are plenty of articles here on the site about the Hellcat for those who need the aircraft’s history.  This is part of my Air Group 15 project, and commemorates the story of the Navy’s youngest ace, Ensign Clarence “Spike” Borley of VF-15, who has been one of my major contributors to the history of Air Group 15 I am writing. 

Ensign Borley Survives a Typhoon: 

            Pearl Harbor found 17 year old “Spike” Borley working with his father on the “back 40" of the family ranch outside Yakima, Washington.  He only learned of Pearl Harbor that evening when a neighbor dropped by.  As he recalled, “I knew my life had changed forever, though I wasn’t sure how.  I knew I would be involved in this once I graduated from high school in the spring.”

            Borley was very interested in aviation. Having seen the movie “Dive Bomber” that fall when it played the local theater in town, he wanted to be involved in naval aviation.  At the time that meant having two years of college as a minimum, as he had discovered, and he didn’t see how he would get that in a war.  That spring, however, he heard that the Navy had a new program, and if an 18-year old high school graduate could pass the test high enough and demonstrate college-level knowledge, they could be accepted for flight training.  That July, after his 18th birthday, Spike took the bus to Seattle and took the test, which he passed.  The Navy wanted him for the V-5 program, and he was sent home to await orders.  “I waited and waited and waited, and finally they came the week before Thanksgiving, ordering me to report the first week of January.  I thought it was the best Christmas present ever.  Little did I know!”

            Borley went through flight training in 1943 at Corpus Christi, and later at Pensacola, where he qualified for fighters and was trained on the Hellcat.  In March 1944, he received orders to report to Air Group 15 for service in Fighting 15, which was then in Hawaii.  When he arrived, he found the unit had been removed from the carrier Hornet and sent to NAAS Puuneme, on the island of Maui.  “When I got there, I was surprised at the attitude in the squadron.  These guys were all acting like they were B’rer Rabbit and had been thrown in the briar patch.”  Indeed they had been.  Air Group 15 had been kicked off the Hornet by her captain, Miles Browning, “the most foul-tempered man in the Navy.”  LCDR David McCampbell, formerly the skipper of Fighting 15, was now the CAG, and the three squadrons trained six hours a day for six weeks.  In mid-April, McCampbell announced they had orders to join the USS Essex when she arrived in Hawaii at the end of April.  It would be a momentous pairing of ship and air group.

            Air Group 15 flew aboard Essex off Pearl Harbor the first week of May, and the task group arrived at Majuro Atoll, the forward base of the Fifth Fleet, on May 19.  A week later they were underway for an “out of town opening” with strikes against Marcus and Wake Islands.  The aircrews were awakened by the Mid-Watch at 0230 and called to their ready rooms before dawn on May 19, 1944; the target was Marcus Island.  Many, like Ensign Spike Borley, had been unable to sleep the night before as they contemplated the coming dawn when they would discover personally what air combat was about.  The pilots of Satan’s Playmates as VF-15 called itself, were the first to receive a combat briefing by Air Group Commander McCampbell.  Sixty-eight years later, Borley would recall that “you could cut the tension in the ready room with a knife that morning.  McCampbell stood up and told us the bluest joke I had ever heard in my life to that time.  It was dirty as could be and funny as hell, and just broke everyone up with laughter.  After that, the tension was gone and we were ready to listen. Those jokes became a tradition of pre-strike briefings for the rest of the cruise, and he never repeated himself.”

            Over the target, clouds obscured the island.  First in were the Hellcats, sweeping across the island at tree-top level as they strafed anti-aircraft positions.  In the last four-plane division, Spike Borley had such a rush of fear-driven adrenaline that he recalled it seemed they were flying over the spitting guns at only 100 m.p.h. rather than the near 400 m.p.h. his airspeed indicator told him he was really doing.  “The flak came up like big slow golf balls and then zipped past my canopy like little rockets.”  Only one plane, a Helldiver, was lost but AG-15 had now been “blooded.”

            On June 6, 1944, Task Force 58 stood out of Majuro, headed for the Marianas and a certain fleet action.  The first strikes came on June 11, with Essex’s task group headed to Iwo Jima on June 16 to put that base out of action and stop Japanese reinforcements.  They returned to the Marianas on June 18.  Word was out: the Japanese fleet was on the way.

            Borley flew his first air combat mission as #4 of McCampbell’s division on June 19, when the Hellcats were launched to meet the first of four Japanese raids that day that would become known as “The Marianas Turkey Shoot.”  VF-15 commander Brewer and three divisions were already involved in an all-out fight with the Japanese when McCampbell’s reinforcements arrived on the scene. McCampbell, who had already scored three victories in previous fights, demonstrated the skill that would make him the Navy’s Ace of Aces, when he attacked a formation of Aiichi D4Y Judy dive bombers, shooting down five through multiple passes to become the group’s first “ace in a day.”  Spike Borley was able to cling tenaciously to his leader, but he never fired his guns.  “I realized as we dove into the attack that I had forgotten to charge my guns!”  It was an elmentary mistake, and Borley expected the “fair and balanced” chewing out McCampbell was known for on their return.  “He asked me why I hadn’t fired, I told him, and he replied ‘That’s not going to happen again, is it?’ ‘No sir!’ I replied, and it never did.”

            Borley flew on as a junior wingman through the rest of the Marianas campaign and then through the Philippines rampage initiated by Admiral Halsey when he took the carriers to sea as the Third Fleet in September.  After decimating Japanese forces in the southern Philippines, Halsey was able to report that there were few Japanese forces on Mindanao and fewer on Leyte.  Rather than invade Mindanao at the end of October, it was decided to hit Leyte.  There was more softening up needed, to block the Japanese from bringing in more aerial support from the Home Islands.  Task Force 38 anchored in the new forward base at Ulithi on October 4, where they received new aircraft and replacement pilots.  Finally, there were enough F6F-5s in Fighting 15 to fly 4 plane flights of either F6F-3 or F6F-5 Hellcats; mixing the two had proven difficult when wingmen in war-weary Dash-3s tried to keep up with leaders in new Dash-5s. 

            On October 6, Third Fleet and Task Force 38 sortied from Ulithi.  Their target was the Ryukyu Islands, the first part of the Japanese home territory to be attacked by carrier aircraft.  Nothing was known about the islands, other than the main air bases were on the biggest island, Okinawa.  There was no information on where airfields were located on the island and no information on how many Japanese aircraft might be found, though it was known that Okinawa was a major stopping point for Japanese Army and Navy aircraft being funneled down to the Philippines from the Home Islands.  Task Force 38 was venturing into unknown territory.

            By this time, life was not as easy on the carriers as legend would have it. While the Navy is traditionally held to have the best food in the military, the ship had last taken aboard fresh food in Hawaii back in early May. Since the last of that had been consumed some six weeks after departing, most food aboard ship was canned. As Borley recalled, “In the wardroom, we were reduced to a breakfast of dehydrated reconstituted eggs, canned beets and canned asparagus.  We could also have toast, but there were weevils in the bread and it was hard.  You could tap it on your plate and watch the bugs fall out, which had a negative effect on your appetite.  Dinner was more beets and asparagus, with spam.  There are only so many ways to cook spam, and most of us were at the point where the only reason we were eating was to avoid hunger pangs.”

            The night of October 9, Task Force 38 began its run-in toward Okinawa.  The first strike was launched by Essex at 0530, with CAG McCampbell leading a sweep composed of fourteen VF-15 fighters headed by Jim Rigg, with 16 VF-19 Hellcats from Lexington, to hit Okinawa.  Two strikes by Helldivers and Avengers would follow almost immediately.  The fighters arrived over Yontan North Airfield in central Okinawa at dawn, where they caught twelve Japanese aircraft preparing to take off, and burned all.  Heading to Yontan South Airfield, they found the enemy aircraft still in their revetments.  Anti-aircraft fire was fierce but no one was shot down. 

            An hour later, the second strike went out, with Lieutenant Bert Morris leading twelve Essex Hellcats armed with bombs and rockets.  Finding no Japanese aircraft airborne, they attacked shipping off Naha Port, sinking one 8,000 ton freighter and three smaller freighters, two of which were moored together and went up in one spectacular explosion when ammunition in their cargo was hit.  As the Hellcats pulled off the target, Japanese fighters arrived.  Morris, known to moviegoers as the actor Wayne Morris, went after a Tony, shooting it into the water for his fifth victory; he was now the only real “Hollywood Ace.” Borley spotted five enemy aircraft below. He followed his Division Leader down and attacked one Zeke that banked sharply to the right; instead of breaking off, the Zeke pilot came around and attacked Borley head-on.  Firing several bursts, he set the enemy aircraft afire as it headed toward the water below for his first victory.

            By the end of the day, Task Force 38 claimed 100 Japanese aircraft shot down, with Fighting 15 scoring 23.  The Yontan airfield complex had been virtually annihilated, while four ships were sunk including the 10,000 ton submarine tender Jinggyo, thirteen torpedo boats, two midget submarines, and twenty-two other vessels.  American losses were 21 aircraft, but only five pilots and four aircrew. 

            Task Force 38 split apart as they departed the Ryukyus, with two task groups heading south to hit Aparri Airfield on northern Luzon, while Essex’s Task Group 38.3 refueled on October 11. The target on October 12 was Formosa.  As Spike Borley recalled the pre-dawn strike briefing, “The only intelligence material they had on Formosa was photographs taken by submarines, so there really wasn’t anything useful.  We were told there were as many as twenty-four enemy airfields and there could be more than 300 enemy aircraft on the island.”

            Borley had a bad feeling about the mission as he climbed aboard the dark blue F6F-5 Hellcat with the side number 24.  “It was as dark as midnight, there weren’t any lights, the sea was running pretty strong.  None of us had any night flying training, and we were going to have to go on instruments as soon as we were off the ship, then rendezvous in the darkness to go in and hit a target we knew nothing about. It felt like a real crap shoot to me.”   

            The Hellcats of the fighter sweep were launched as the task group steamed 150 miles northeast of Formosa, with sixteen Fighting 15 Hellcats led by Rigg set to rendezvous with sixteen Fighting 19 Hellcats from the Lexington.  Borley was able to join on his Section Leader and the two were able to join with Lieutenant Berree, their Division Leader.  All four were flying F6F-5 Hellcats, which equipped about one-third of Fighting 15 by then as Borley recalled. About twenty minutes after departure, Berree reported his fuel pump was failing and he aborted the mission, returning to Essex with his wingman.  Borley and his Section Leader decided to continue on as a two-ship section.  “I really wanted to find a mechanical fault with my airplane,” Borley recalled, “but unfortunately everything was working perfectly.”  Fighting 15 was headed toward the west coast of Formosa, with the port of Kaohsiung and the Pescadore Islands as their target.  As the sky got brighter, the weather was revealed as grim, with low clouds and a chop on the waves below (Unknown to the Americans, a typhoon was making its way across the East China Sea toward the island).  At 0645, the coast of Formosa appeared on the horizon.

            The Americans didn’t know where their targets really were, and were dodging in and out of heavy clouds and rain.  Air battles developed suddenly, with Japanese fighters diving out of the clouds.  The Americans were outnumbered, but the quality of the Japanese pilots was so poor that air supremacy was quickly established.  Borley and his Section Leader took part in strafing two airfields they discovered outside Kaohsiung. They then ran into a fight between several F6Fs and a large formation of Japanese fighters.  Borley described the fight thus:  “I did not get into any dogfights, but rather I was able to see and hit four different airplanes without engaging in a fight.”  In quick succession, the 20-year old pilot shot down a Zeke, a Tojo and two Oscars.   

            He was now an ace; in fact, he was the youngest American ace, having only turned 20 the previous July 27. The two pilots decided they’d had enough for one mission; spotting a group of Hellcats flying eastwards, they joined up for the flight home.  Things were far from over.  “Sixteen of us were returning to the ship when we saw Japanese aircraft taking off from an airfield and we went in to strafe them,” Borley remembered.  “I went after an anti-aircraft gun, but my Hellcat got hit in the engine and caught fire.  I was doing about 400 mph when the engine stopped, so I decided I would stretch my glide to the ocean, which was about four or five miles away.  I flew directly over Kaohsiung at an altitude under 2,000 feet, getting shot at all the time but they didn’t hit me, then I got out to sea. I was about half a mile from shore, setting up to ditch, when the airplane stalled at 135 mph and hit the water from an altitude of about 100 feet. It broke in half and sank immediately. By the time I managed to get out of the cockpit underwater and get to the surface, the tail was going down. I still had my parachute with my raft attached, but I was so close to shore I was afraid of being spotted, so I dropped my parachute and raft and stayed in the water with only my Mae West. Shrapnel from all the anti-aircraft guns ashore was coming down all around me like a hail storm.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I was also in the middle of a minefield.” 

            Over the next three days, while Task Force 38 fought the epic Battle of Formosa, Ensign Borley began an epic battle of survival against the enemy and the elements.  He realized the tide was drifting him toward shore, two miles distant, and began swimming toward the open sea. “About half an hour later, a sampan came out of the harbor, headed almost directly toward me.  After an hour, they came closer; they were probably Chinese fishermen.  They were so close I let the air out of my life preserver so they wouldn’t see me, but they ended up about 5-10 yards from me and I was sure they would spot me, so I pulled out my .38 and shot them - one fell overboard and the other fell onto the deck.  The sampan drifted off.”

            Throughout the day, strikes went in from the fleet.  A fourth strike went out at 1400 to hit Nikosho Airfield.  They also bombed and strafed several ships they found offshore, which was fortunate for Borley.  “Later in the afternoon, a Japanese patrol boat came out of the harbor.  It was attacked by four Hellcats that strafed it.  This was so close to me that I popped my dye marker so they would see me. The leader came around and dropped gear and flaps to slow down and opened his canopy and threw his raft down to me.  I managed to deploy it and get in and started paddling.”

            At dawn the next morning in his raft now five miles offshore, Borley watched American planes overhead, the first strike of the day from the Essex, led by his skipper, Jim Rigg. “I had managed to get offshore far enough that they weren’t looking for me, but now the current was working against me, carrying me along the coast.”  All day October 13, Borley drifted offshore, watching the numerous American air strikes.  He took stock of his supplies and decided to use as little water and eat as little of his emergency rations as possible.  He took out the fishing line from the emergency kit and trailed it over the side, but was unsuccessful in catching anything.  The next day, he watched 100 B-29s from China bomb Kaohsiung.  The wind got stronger.

            That night, Borley survived one of the most terrifying experiences possible at sea. “That night and the next day and night I went through a typhoon. I was tossed overboard, and when I got back into the raft, I discovered that the water and food were now missing.   I was thrown out of the raft several times but managed to get back in it each time. The waves got progressively larger as I got closer to the eye of the storm, and waves were coming from all directions. I would be halfway up one wave, holding on to go over the top into the lee, and would get hit by a wave coming from the side.  I went through the eye of the typhoon that night, thirty minutes of calm and then into the wind and waves on the other side.(As an aside, Yours Truly was once foolish enough at age 19 to disobey the order “Stand clear of the weather decks” while on a typhoon evasion, and went up to the signal bridge, the highest deck aboard ship.  My buddy and I stepped outside to see mountainous seas overhanging us as green water came over the bow, which was 70 feet above the waterline.  The wind nearly blew us overboard in the 30 seconds it took us to get back inside.  I cannot imagine what it would have been like to be in that ocean in a rubber raft; years later I was told by a weather scientist that I had been staring into the energy equivalent of the Hiroshima A-bomb.)

            So far as is known, Borley is the only individual to ever survive a typhoon in a rubber life raft.  By October 16, he was alone in the Taiwan Straits, out of sight of any land. He was now at what he believed was the end. “By that fifth day, I was hallucinating from lack of sleep in all this time and no food, and there was no land in the direction the storm had taken me.  I was afraid I would pass out and a passing Japanese ship might find me and capture me.  I had decided that I would not let myself be taken prisoner, since I knew about the coming invasion of the Philippines, when and where it would be.  In the middle of these hallucinations, I took out my gun and decided to kill myself.  I put the gun to my head, and then thought that it had been in the water and might misfire, so I should test it first.  I lowered the gun and shot it and it worked.  The sound of the shot brought me back to reality and I decided not to commit suicide.”

            Late that afternoon Borley looked out to see a dark shape on the horizon.  “As it got closer, I could tell it was a submarine.  I was sure it must be Japanese out in these waters, and then I was ready again to shoot it out and kill myself if necessary.  The submarine got closer, and as I brought my pistol up, I heard a very American voice through a megaphone tell me ‘Put down that gun!’ I threw the gun down and raised my hands.”  The submarine was USS Sawfish (SS-276), which had been assigned as one of the lifeguard submarines for the Formosa strikes. They had been searching for Borley, but in the wrong area, and had finally given up hope.  They had then been ordered to look for a B-29 crew, which had given incorrect coordinates when they went down, which brought the submarine into this part of the Formosa Strait.  Sawfish had been ten minutes from submerging and leaving the area when they had spotted Borley’s raft; the meeting at sea was entirely fortuitous since he had been blown 75 miles from his last reported position. “They came close alongside and put a cargo net over for me to climb up, but I was too weak and so a couple of sailors came down and got me and brought me aboard.  I was so badly sunburned that the captain, Commander Alan B. Banister, couldn’t tell I was an American and asked if I was Japanese.  I managed to croak I was American and pulled out my dog tags.  They took those and checked me out.  I was taken below and they gave me a little water and food and increased that over the next two days as I recovered. My head was so badly sunburned I could pull off the skin.”

            The usual procedure when rescuing an airman was for the submarine to rendezvous with surface forces and return the flier as soon as possible.  However, Task Force 38 had now left the area.  Sawfish was the lead boat of a three-submarine wolf pack that had just left Majuro two weeks previously.  The decision was made to keep Borley aboard and continue the patrol.  “Since they were just out of port, the food was really delicious, especially coming from the bad chow on the Essex,” he remembered. As a result of this decision, over the course of the next several weeks, Borley would see almost as much submarine combat as he had aerial combat.  Captain Banister believed there were no passengers aboard a submarine; as soon as Borley was recovered from his ordeal he learned to be a control room watch stander. “The second day I was aboard, the Sawfish attacked a Japanese convoy.  A Japanese destroyer depth-charged us for an hour.  I was sure I was finally going to die after surviving being shot down and the typhoon.  We were also depth-charged a second time a week later and it wasn’t any better.” On November 9, Sawfish put into Majuro and deposited Borley with Naval authorities.  Over the next two weeks, he hitchhiked and hop-scotched across the Western Pacific, arriving in Hawaii in time to meet Air Group 15 when they arrived home aboard the USS Bunker Hill.

            Ten years later, then-LCDR Borley was stationed on Formosa, working with the Nationalist Chinese Navy, and flying out of the same airfield he had strafed in October 1944.  “I could look out from the verandah of my house in Kaiohsiung, and see the very spot in the ocean offshore where I had ditched at sea that day.”


            For reviews of what is in the box and how this kit builds, check out this review. This is one of the easiest-assembling models there is, and the longest part of the process is putting all the really nice photo-etch detail into the cockpit.


             With the F6F-5 Hellcat, you can paint it any color you like, so long as that color is Glossy Sea Blue.  I used Gunze-Sangyo “Midnight Blue” for this model, and followed up with a coat of Xtracrylix Glear Gloss.

            I used some Micro-Scale decals for the national insignia, and white numbers off an Xtradecals sheet to do Number 24, the Hellcat Spike Borley was flying when he was shot down.  I had used the white stenciling on the earlier kit I did from this box, so left those off this model.  I followed up with a coat of Xtracrylix Clear Satin.

            I attached the landing gear, then mixed Xtrcrylix Clear Flat and Clear Satin 50-50 to get the kind of “semi-semigloss” finish that GSB Hellcats had after a few weeks of hard use at sea.  I then brush applied some grey paint for the exhaust.  I unmasked the canopy and windscreen and mounted it in the open position, and attached the prop.

            I’ve said it before and will say it again: Eduard’s Hellcat is a great kit, and an easy model that will give an outstanding representation of this classic Navy fighter.  It’s easy enough that any modeler of any ability can create a great model with this kit.  Highly recommended.

Tom Cleaver

November 2012

Review Kit courtesy of Eduard.

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

Back to the Main Page

Back to the Review Index Page