1/72 Morane MS.406s

KIT #:

Heller:  #213, Hasegawa:  #AP19  Maquette: #MQ7238 Hobby Boss:  #80235

PRICE:  $
DECALS:  
REVIEWER: Brian Baker
NOTES: Four readily available kits of this aircraft are compared and contrasted.
HISTORY

Basically considered to be a contemporary of the Hurricane I and Messerschmitt Bf-109B, the Morane Saulnier MS-405 prototype first appeared in 1935, and a few pre-production examples were built through 1938  After evaluation and after some minor changes, the aircraft was eventually put into large scale production in 1938 as the MS-406C-1, powered by an 860 hp. Hispano Suiza 12Y-31 liquid cooled engine.  Armament was a single engine-mounted 20 mm. cannon with 60 rounds and two 7.5 mm. MAC-1934 machine guns with 300 rounds each.  By the outbreak of war in 1939, the MS-406C-1 equipped the majority of French fighter units, with a total of just over 1,000 being produced when production was halted in 1940.

The MS-406 was a mediocre fighter at best, and although a few improvements were made, basically to improve reliability and protection,  the production model never received a power increase, meaning that improved versions of its chief adversary, the Messerschmitt Bf-109E, were much better in all respects.  In addition, nationalization of the French aircraft industry didn’t help things any, and two factories were used to produce the fighter.  In addition, export models were produced for Poland ( 160 ordered but none delivered), Turkey (45 delivered), Lithuania (12 ordered  but none delivered),  China (13 ordered and shipped, all taken over by the French in Indo China),  and Finland (30 delivered, and 57 later acquired from Germany from captured French stocks).  Later, an undetermined number of captured French aircraft went to the Croatians. The Luftwaffe also operated a few of them at fighter training schools mainly in France, but these were later passed on to new owners. The Swiss received 2 aircraft initially, and later acquired a production license,  and built 82 slightly modified  MS-406’s, designated D-3800.  Later, 207 D-3801’s were built, with 1,000 hp engines and non-retractable radiators.    The Finns used the aircraft most successfully, and most surviving MS-406’s were later converted to “Morko-Moranes”  by installing captured Russian Klimov M-105P engines rated at 1,100 hp.  This greatly improved the performance of the aircraft, and these remained in Finnish service until well after the end of the war.

THE KITS & CONSTRUCTION

Five kits have been produced of this famous aircraft. The first was Frog, #157P and F157,  which probably appeared in the early fifties, and this kit was typical of  kits of this period, lacking detail and accuracy.  It is now a collectors’ item, and should not be considered by the serious modeler. Next came the Heller kit, No. 213, which was state-of-the-art for its time.  Following this in about 1993 came the Hasegawa kit.  And finally, a Russian firm, Maquette, produced a “Morko Morane” kit, which included a new fuselage, spinner, and tailwheel, along with the old Frog wings, tail unit, and landing gear. I will describe each of these kits in detail, except for the Frog kit, which I built many years ago, but which also lives on in part in the Maquette kit. The most recent version of this aircraft has been issued by the Chinese Hobby Boss firm, and although it is a very basic kit, as all of their kits are, it is certainly worth considering.

The Heller Kit.  #213.  (1970’s) (France)

Molded in crisp, light grey styrene, this kit features mostly raised panel lines and generally good surface detail. On the kit I built, the rear fuselage was warped, but this was probably because I have had the kit in storage for at least 25 years rather than a defect in the kit itself.  The interior is rather sparse, with a strange “ribbed” seat, and no floor, stick, or instrument panel.  A “pilot” is included. The external outline appears to be accurate, and this is the only kit that has the raised ribs that show in actual photos of the aircraft.  Other kits show these as recessed panel lines, but they are pretty apparent in photos.  The landing gear is detailed, but the inside struts are over detailed and too large. There is no wheel well detail.  The radiator is designed to be raised or lowered, but has no strut bracing, which has to be added.  The canopy is clear, and is provided in two sections, although it is too thick to be installed in the open position. Closed, its fit is marginal.  The exhaust stacks are slightly too large, but they look good on the completed model. The clear landing light is shown in the kit instructions, but it was not on the sprue of the kit I had.  A drop of white glue in the little hole solved that problem. The propeller and spinner are very nice.

The instructions, in French , English, and German, are clear, and the exploded drawings clearly show how the model is to be assembled.  Decals are included for one aircraft, No. 252, of the  lst Escadrille,  of GC 1/3, 1939 or 1940. These were too badly dried out to use, so I used other decals.

Overall, the Heller kit is a good kit, and still stands up well with its later competitors.  While the surface detail is somewhat heavy, the final result is a good kit of the MS-406. I have built four of them so far.

The Maquette Kit   #MQ7238 (Pre-1990) ( Decals printed 2002) (England- Russia)

This kit is next in the series chronologically, but it is also a mixture of the old Frog kit with new details. It depicts the “Morko Morane”, the Finnish conversion with the 1,100 hp. Russian M-105P engines. These can be built with the World War II swastika insignia, or the postwar blue and white roundels.

Basically, Maquette made new castings for the fuselage, spinner, and tailwheel, and combined these with the old Frog parts, including the wings, tail units, canopy, landing gear, and propeller.  And that is its weakness. For starters, the prop rotates in the wrong direction, and needs to be replaced. The spinner needs to be hollowed out, but since I replaced the prop with one from a scrapped Heller kit, it didn’t fit no matter how much I trimmed it, so I wound up using the Heller spinner, which is slightly too small. The elevators and horizontals were too small and of the wrong shape, so I ended up scratch building new units from scrap units.  The wings were basically correct, except for a lack of  any surface detail, but did not line up correctly with the fuselage, requiring a lot of filler to get them right. I ended up filling in the separate ailerons after gluing them in position, and then rescribing them to the correct outline. The radiator consisted of a couple of flat surfaces cast into the fuselage, and would take quite a bit of surgery to hollow them out. I just painted them black.  The canopy is relatively clear, but doesn’t fit the fuselage correctly.  Some filler is required.  The interior consisted of a standard Frog airline type seat, a floor, and that’s all. I added the rest of the details.  I had to scratchbuild the inner struts of the landing gear, and no rear strut was provided at all.  The kit tailwheel  is correct in outline, but too thin. I replaced it with one from the spares box. Small items such as the rear bracing struts, radio masts, and gunsight, were scratchbuilt. The exhaust stacks are unlike the French versions, and are reasonably accurate.

There were no instructions included with this kit, but the decals were nicely done.  These depicted two Finnish aircraft, MS-632 and MS-624, one with swastikas and one with roundels.  As the instructions were not included in the kit, I had no indication of what the camouflage pattern should have been. The box art showed a different airplane, MS-640, with postwar roundels and no other markings. The serial numbers in the decals were partially green and partially black, obviously intended to be located on a very precise camouflage pattern. I ended up using decals from a letter sheet for the serials. The swastikas worked out fine.  My model is of MSv-631, Yellow “1” of 1/HLeLv 28, operated in Finland during 1944. 

Overall, this isn’t much of a kit.  I built it because I had it, and wanted to see the results. If I were to do it over again, I think I would use a Heller, Hobby Boss, or Hasegawa kit and make a conversion, as the engine, nose, and propeller are the only major differences on this version. The conversion would probably be easier than building this kit straight from the box.

The Hasegawa Kit.   #AP-19 (1993) (Japan)

This kit appeared as part of a series of World War II fighters issued by Hasegawa during this time period, and is of the consistent quality expected of Hasegawa kits.  Molding is crisp, details and finely done, and accuracy is excellent.  Fit is very good, with very little filler required.  The cockpit detail includes a floor, rudder pedals, stick, seat, rear cockpit detail and decking, and headrest armor. There is no sidewall detail, but then, none of these kits has any.  The instrument panel is very well done, with a multi-color decal that is one of the best I’ve seen.  The exhaust stacks are the right size, and include holes which look very realistic. On the airplane, they are elongated, which would make drilling them out a real problem.  Landing gear detail is good, although the retraction struts are somewhat basic.  There is no gear well detail at all. The propeller is excellent, and the silver prop hubs show through the spinner, very much like an FW-190A.  The only problem with the prop is that it just has to be inserted in through the nose cowling. It is not going to turn without some innovative surgery.  The nose intake is cast separately, and this makes painting easier. The radiator is well done, and is merely glued to a recession in the bottom of the fuselage. The tailskid is very petite, and frankly, weak. Most of the details are very fragile, but then, they are quite realistic when installed. One problem I encountered was that the wings were very thin, and one of the mounting holes was so deep than when I applied glue, the glue melted the plastic and ran through the hole to the outer surface of the wing, requiring refinishing of that portion of the wing upper surface.

The instructions are typical Hasegawa, clearly done with excellent exploded drawings.  The novice modeler should have little problem with these.  Paint schemes are provided for three aircraft, but the color guides do not tell what the interior or detail colors are, and some colors are coded in the drawings that are now shown in the color listings.  Decals are provided for three aircraft, GCII/3/4 Escadrille, GCIII/7, 6th Escadrille, and Vichy Air Force 2 Escadrille, which turns out to be one of the MS-406’s shipped to China, but taken over by the French in Indo China, and later operated by that unit at the beginning of the war.

The decals, while not that old, had deteriorated to the point that they needed to be coated with decal film to be rendered useable.  They were of basically good quality, and even though the Vichy French red and yellow markings were provided, I opted for painting and masking, as I did not think that the flat decals would adhere to the rounded surfaces they were intended to cover. The large white numbers under the wings disintegrated even with decal film, and they were applied only with great difficulty.   I was able to salvage the tail markings and some of the roundels, but the other markings were improvised.

Overall, this is a good kit, and well worth building. It is a slight improvement over the Heller kit in some respects, but does lack the wing rib detail of the Heller kit. I would rate it only slightly better than the Heller kit in many  respects.

The Hobby Boss Kit  #80235.  (2007 or 2008) (China)

This is the most recent issue of the MS-406C-1, and is typical of the “easy assembly” kits offered by Hobby Boss.  These are aimed at young, inexperienced modelers, but should not be discounted on that score, because they can wind up being perfectly acceptable models, even to experienced modelers. The molding is of very high quality, and the outline appears to be quite accurate. Only a little filler is required, and mold lines are easily dealt with. Fit is good, and the kit is actually intended to be a “snap together” model.  Panel lines are recessed, and surface detail is generally good. They missed out on the raised wing rib stiffeners, like Hasegawa also did.  Radiator detail is excellent, and the exhausts are nicely done.  The prop is correctly shaped, although my kit did not have the little metal shaft they usually include to allow the prop to turn freely. I made a plastic unit, and it works OK. The exhaust stacks are nicely done, and the front intakes have indentations that can be painted to look realistic. The landing gear is a little basic, with the rear strut missing, but the tailskid is quite robust. The machine gun mounting fairings are accurately portrayed, although brass tubing would be better than the plastic sticks provided. The interior details are rather basic, but they have abandoned the “tub” approach, and included a seat-floor combination that allows more detailing than on previous kits. No landing light is included.

Instructions are typical Hobby Boss, with a folded sheet showing a built model with some Chinese and English decal instructions, a sprue diagram, two exploded assembly drawings, and a rear page with four view drawings of two different aircraft, for which decals are provided.  Strangely, although the MS-406 is a French aircraft, there are no French decals included.  One set of decals is for a British (RAF) marked airplane, listed as MS-406, No. 826 (AX674), Haiffa, September, 1940.  The French markings are apparently overpainted, and I would assume that it was one of the French aircraft in Syria flown by a defector to British territory, most likely Palestine, and later operated by a Free French unit there.  I have never seen this marking, although there is reference to it on a modeling website, and this includes the color side view painting of the aircraft. I would tend to doubt the accuracy of this drawing, as it shows the aircraft in the three color white, silver, and black undersides typical of 1939 RAF aircraft in England, while the upper surfaces appear to be in standard French camouflage. I’d like to see some verification and documentation on this one, as it is a most interesting color scheme.

The second set of markings is for a Finnish Air Force aircraft, “White 7”, MS-31?.  This carries a “sharknose” marking  with eyes on the cowling, and is apparently an accurate marking. It would make a very colorful model, but I doubt whether the sharkmouth nose decal would conform to the roundness of the forward cowling.  I opted for “White 9”, MS-327, operated by 2/LeLv 28, in Finland during November, 1941.

The Hobby Boss kit makes an acceptable model. It is cheap, relatively accurate, and somewhat detailed. A serious modeler could superdetail it with little trouble, and a first class model would be the result.  And it was fun to build, with none of the frustrations that are often encountered with older kits.

CONCLUSIONS

The Morane-Saulnier MS-406 is a fighter that should be well represented in any collection of World War II fighters. Aside from the Maquette kit, any of the three other described kits can be used to create a good replica of one of these aircraft. Each kit has its advantages and disadvantages, but you could build a dozen of them and not get them all.  Try one of each.  Go for it.

Brian Baker

March 2009

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