Accurate Miniatures 1/48 SB2U-3 'Vindicator'

KIT #:
PRICE: $37.95 SRP
DECALS: One option
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver


          The SB2U-1 and SB2U-2 was the first monoplane dive bomber accepted into service by the U.S. Navy.  From the beginning, the airplane was not a success as a dive bomber, since Vought was unable to come up with a way of braking the airplane’s speed in a 70-degree dive.  The tactic of extending the landing gear did not sufficiently slow the airplane.  The Northrop BT-1 - with its perforated dive flaps that allowed speed to be kept to under 270 knots in a dive, which allowed the pilot to accurately aim the airplane at the target - showed much more potential, and was ultimately to appear as the SBD Dauntless, the best dive bomber of the Second World War.

          Nevertheless, in 1940 Vought proposed a “long range” scout/dive bomber development of the design with increased armament and armor, which the Navy accepted as the SB2U-3. Originally developed as a floatplane, the performance of the XSB2U-3 on floats was so poor that the concept was abandoned and the 57 SB2u-3s ordered were produced as land planes and handed over to the Marines, since the Navy didn’t want them.  The SB2U-3, which had the same powerplant as the earlier airplanes, with additional weight from four 50 caliber guns in the wings and increased fuel supply, had an even poorer performance than its forebears.  VMSB-1 and VMSB-2 were equipped with airplane, now known as the “Vindicator” in the summer of 1941. 

The Vindicator at Midway:

          VMSB-1, the “east coast” Marine Scout-Dive Bomber unit, was renumbered VMSB-231 in October 1941 and sent to the west coast as war clouds gathered in the Pacific.  In November, the unit was sent on to MCAS Ewa at Pearl Harbor.  During the first week of December, 18 of the unit’s 24 Vindicators were loaded aboard the “Saratoga”, for shipment on to Midway.  Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, which happened before “Saratoga” could send the Vindicators on to Midway Island, the carrier was recalled to Pearl Harbor, where the Marines found the Vindicators left behind at Ewa had been destroyed in the Japanese attack.  On December 23, 1941, 18 SB2U-3s, accompanied by a PBY for navigation, demonstrated their long-range capability when they made the 1,135 mile flight from Oahu to Midway in 9 hours and 45 minutes.  At Midway, the squadron joined the F2A-3s of VMF-221 as Marine Air Group 22, the westernmost American unit in the Pacific, following the surrender of Wake Island the week before.

          Discovered in 1859 and annexed by the United States in August 1867, Midway Atoll consists of Sand and Eastern islands, surrounded by a coral reef less than six miles in diameter. The atoll was used as a cable station and airport for Pan American Airways’ China Clipper until March 1941, when the U.S. Navy began construction of a naval air station. Completed in August 1941, Midway NAS included a 5,300-foot runway on Eastern Island.  Midway entered the war on December 7 when the Japanese destroyers Sazanami and Ushio shelled the airfield.  With the outbreak of war, Midway became vitally important, though at the time none of its personnel could have imagined how important.

          At the time of their departure for Midway, the SB2U-3s of VMSB-231 were due for an overhaul that would have included replacing the wing and fuselage fabric.  Suffering from heat, sunlight, and salt air on Midway, the fuselage fabric went from bad to worse, and the squadron was reduced to wrapping 4-inch medical tape over the worst areas to keep the fabric in place, which was then doped over, resulting in all the dirt on the airplane at the moment being preserved. under the dope.  These were the famous “white stripes” seen in photos.  No two airplanes had similar taping.

          Through the first five months of 1942, the Vindicators would take off at 0400 for a morning anti-submarine patrol, with an evening patrol taking off at 1730.  As one squadron member recalled, “In between, we’d practice bombing during the day. There was a barge out in the lagoon, but we got no practice in hitting a moving ship. Meanwhile, Japanese submarines were watching us - they knew what we had. Every Friday night the Japanese shelled us, but the three or four rounds they fired were not too effective considering that the island was no more than 4 feet above sea level. We’d sit on top of our dugout on Friday night, wondering where the shells would come from and where they would go. Most went right over the island and into the lagoon. They sometimes hit, making a hole 15 feet long, and we’d just fill it in.”

          In February 1942, several VMSB-231 personnel were sent back to MCAS Ewa to form new squadrons, and on March 1, 1942, the squadron was redesignated VMSB-241, the “Sons of Satan.”

          At the end of May., 1942, the pilots were informed the war was coming to them, with the main Japanese fleet set to hit Midway and invade it within a week. The squadron received 16 SBD-1 and SBD-2 airplanes a day later, to supplement the tired old SB2U-3sw

          On June 4, 1942, the squadron was ordered to take off at 0700 and attack the Japanese fleet.  Major Benjamin W. Norris led 12 SB2Us, though one had to drop out with mechanical problems. Japanese carrier planes were attacking Midway as they took off with bombs falling on the island. They were to rendezvous 40 miles east of the island, but when the SB2Us got there the SBDs were long gone.  The Vindicators headed out, climbing at 200-300 feet per minute until they reached 8,000 feet, just above the clouds. 

          The weather over Midway on June 4 was clear, with scattered clouds. As they proceeded northwest toward the Japanese fleet the cloud cover became more complete. By the time they were 25 miles from the projected attack point, the cloud cover was solid to broken, with heavy clouds extending up to 8,000 feet. Between breaks in the overcast they could see elements of the Japanese fleet.

          The SB2U-3s were in three four-plane sections, in a step-down formation when the Japanese Combat Air Patrol found them and attacked.  Several gunners were killed before the little formation got to the fleet.

          Over the Japanese fleet, the Vindicators dove n column formation through cloud breaks, still under attack by Zeros.  They emerged into clear air at about 3,500-4,000 feet, in the vicinity of a battleship, which Norris ordered them to attack; going after the carriers would have meant flying across the entire fleet while under attack.

          Two SB2Us, crewed by Lt. Andrew Campion and Private Anthony J. Maday and 2nd Lt. James H. Marmande and Pfc Edby M. Colvin, failed to return. Second Lieutenant Allan H. Ringblom ran out of fuel, and had to ditch.  He and his gunner, Private E.L. Webb, were rescued by PT-26. Lt. Cummings also had to ditch a few miles short of Midway, and was rescued by PT-20.

          The survivors of the morning strike were refueled and rearmed.  They spent until 1900 waiting to go out, at which time they were ordered to find and attack two burning Japanese carriers.

          The SBDs, now led by Captain Marshall A. Tyler following the death of squadron CO Major Henderson in the morning attack, went out on their own. Major Norris led five SB2U-3s in a V formation.  The weather was bad, and they never found a target. In the darkness the formation fell apart. Major Norris’ plane never came back, but everyone else did.

On June 5 VMSB-231 took off at 0430 to attack two enemy cruisers, the Mogami and Mikuma, which had collided during the night.  The six SBDs were failed to finish off Mogami, but the six SB2Us, led by Captain Fleming, got a couple of hits on Mikuma, one a solid hit forward, and another a bouncer off the stern. Fleming’s SB2U was hit by anti-aircraft fire early in the attack and burst into flames;  he flew his plane into the ship, killing himself and his gunner, PFC George A. Toms. The executive officer of Mikuma, who survived the battle, said he thought Fleming was a very brave man because he hit the after turret and put it out of action. He also caused a fire that was sucked into Mikuma’s starboard air intakes, suffocating her engineers.

          VMSB-231 remained on Midway until September 1943, when they returned to Pearl Harbor. Among the aircraft they left behind were three surviving SB2U-3s, by that time they were the last Vindicators being used by any American unit anywhere.

          For carrying on his attack at cost of his life and insuring that VMSB-241's attack on the Japanese fleet was successful, Captain Richard A. Fleming was recognized with the posthumous award of the Medal of Honor.


          The SB2U-3 kit was released in 2005.  As with all those kits in the first release, the fuselage halves were short-shot which created problems.  Later releases had fuselages without this problem.  Fortunately, this kit was one of those.


          While the earlier SB2U-3 I did had the cockpit painted in aluminum, later research demonstrated they were green, with most assuming that to be Interior Green, which was the information I used in painting this cockpit.  Of course, a week after it was completed, Dana Bell discovered the fact that the SB2U-3s were delivered from the factory with the cockpits painted entirely in Dull Dark Green.  Oh, well.

           The canopies are too thick to get the rear canopy completely inside the main canopy and still leave room for the rear cone.  I managed to sand down the sliding section and put it inside, with the cone completely inside in its proper location.  This meant leaving off most of the instruments and the ring antenna, which can’t be seen through all that plastic anyway.  Doing this looks fine if you do not have the Falcon vacuform canopy available, which can be completely mounted correctly.


          Once the model is constructed, the big part of the work is still ahead for a modeler who wants to do one of the VMSB-241 Vindicators at Midway.  As related, the conditions at Midway were primitive, with the airplanes subject to sun, high humidity and saltwater air, without benefit of being hangared at any time from their arrival at Midway until the battle in June.  These conditions are death on paint, and what few photos of these airplanes survive show the paint badly weathered and sun-faded.

          When the SB2U-3s were originally delivered in 1941, they were in a factory-applied scheme of overall Non-Specular Light Grey.  Some people think this color is the modern Light Gull Grey, while others think it is something closer to the pre-war Navy color of “Aircraft Grey” which had been used on the metal surfaces of Navy airplanes like the F4B-4 prior to the adoption of aluminum lacquer on metal surfaces.  I spent an afternoon watching “Dive Bomber” in glorious Technicolor, freeze-framing all the shots of overall-grey airplanes, and I think the color is something close to Light Gull Grey, which I ended up using, progressively lightened with white to give a multi-hue color.  This was applied over the entire model.

          The Vindicators were given a field-applied camouflage of Blue-Grey over the upper surfaces.  The Navy SB2U-1s and -2s were camouflaged with this color on the lower surfaces of the folding wings, as camouflage when the airplanes had their wings folded aboard a carrier (which is why the Corsair has a similar camouflage). However, the Marine SB2U-3s were never going to be used from carriers operationally.  From looking at the few pictures of VMSB-241 SB2U-3s, I think the Blue Grey camouflage was only applied to the upper surfaces, and not to the outer lower surfaces of the wings.  This is the result of a lot of staring at pictures and comparing tonal values, as well as looking at the color footage taken by John Ford at Midway, where the color of the lower surface appears lighter than the very-faded upper surface.  This could be wrong, but it is “in character” with a field-applied camouflage of airplanes at a period when the rules of what to paint were not entirely clear.

          Painting the upper surface started with a very thin coat of Xtracrylix “Blue Grey,” applied so there were “holidays” in the paint over the metal areas of the airframe, since it is reported that these areas showed a lot of grey. This would be the case for field-applied paint wearing off over a proper factory-applied paint in the conditions the airplanes experienced. 

          I then lightened the Xtracrylix “Blue Grey” and applied that to the fabric areas, and also used it to go over the metal areas, to start fading the darker color.  I then applied a little light grey to this paint, and went over the surfaces again, fading them in patches.  This was followed with an addition of white to the paint, and I went over the model again.  When the paint looked sufficiently ravaged by sun, humidity and salt air, I set the model aside to dry overnight.  When all was dry, I gave the model an overall coat of Xtracrylix Gloss varnish.

          The first thing I did was apply the medical tape, using some white stripe decals that were the proper scale 4-inch width.  I decided to do Vindicator #2, the airplane flown by Captain fleming, which only had the tape wrapped completely around the fuselage just aft of the cockpit as shown in Ford’s documentary.  Unfortunately, there are no photos of the left side of the airplane, so I guessed that this was all.  When these decals had set, I airbrushed them with Tamiya “Smoke”, since the photos show a dark area around all the tape, where they were doped over dirty surfaces.

          While the earlier release of this kit had the pre-war 60-inch national insignia, this release had the more accurate 40-inch roundels, which I used.  I also added the red centers, then overpainted them with white as the Marines had done with the originals, leaving them so they could still be seen through the paint.     All of the serials are provided for the VMSB-241 Vindicators, so a modeler can do every one of them if you want.


           When the decals had set up, I airbrushed Tamiya “Smoke” for the exhaust and “dinged” the airframe with aluminum paint applied with a 0000 brush.  I then gave the model a coat of Xtracrylix Satin Varnish, followed by a coat of Xtracrylix Flat varnish, with Tamiya Flat Base added to get a dead-flat finish to the model.

           The kit provides the 1,000-lb bomb, which is not accurate for the Midway missions, since the Marines had found the performance of the airplane suffered too much with this load.  However, I did not have a 500-lb bomb at hand and was working to a deadline, so I used the kit bomb, painted dark grey as Navy bombs were at the time.


           The SB2U-3 when finished is a fitting memorial to a group of brave men who, as 2nd Lieutenant Sumner Whitten said, “did what we could with what we had.”

Tom Cleaver

February 1013

Review kit courtesy of my client.

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