1/72 A-20 Havoc Comparison (Classic Kits)

REVIEWER: Brian Baker
NOTES: Comparison of Airfix, Revell and Matchbox kits.

HISTORY

In 1936, Douglas began working on a successor to the Armyís A-17 attack bomber.  Designed by the soon to be famous  Jack Northrop and Ed Heinemann,  the  initial Model  7A twin engine attack bomber was superseded by the Model 7B, which was the first to be built in prototype form. After flight tests, including the crash of the 7B prototype with a French observer aboard, the Army wanted something bigger and better, and the enlarged  DB-7 began tests in 1939. The DB-7 was an extensive redesign of the original 7B, and production began immediately on a French order.  After a number of DB-7Aís were produced, a higher powered variant, the DB-7B appeared. This was ordered by the French,  British, and  U.S. Army as the A-20.  Most of the French order eventually ended up with the British after the fall of France in 1940, and supercharged A-20ís began equipping American light bomber units by 1941, although the superchargers were later removed, and some were rebuilt at night fighters and reconnaissance types.

The Armyís A-20A corresponded almost exactly with the British Boston III, and these aircraft were used by  AAC squadrons at the beginning of the war.  Some were fitted with nose mounted .30 cal. Machine guns, featuring the characteristic bulges ahead of the cockpit.  A few A-20Bís were built,  but by 1941, the A-20C was being built in substantial numbers by Douglasís Santa Monica plant as well as Boeingís facility in Seattle, many of which were exported to Britain and the Soviet Union.  A number of experimental  models were developed, but the main production model was the A-20G, which had a power dorsal turret and provision for heavy armament in the nose, including combinations of four 20 mm cannon or six .50 cal. Machine guns.  The A-20J was essentially an A-20G with a glassed in nose position, and the A-20H and A-20K were more powerful variants of the same aircraft.   

The British used different variants of the Boston, as they called it for light bombing and night intruder duties,  including some interesting Turbinlite night fighter conversions. The night intruder was called Havoc, which also became the  American name for the aircraft, while the pure bomber  types remained Bostons.  An American development, modified from the original production A-20ís, was fitted with British AI Mk. IV radar and designated P-70.  Without superchargers, its performance was rather weak, and although a few were used  by the 6th NFS in the Southwest Pacific, their record was not really satisfactory, and they ended up primarily as trainers for crews which were to fly the P-61 Black Widow in combat.             

THE KITS

Several 1/72 scale kits depicting the Douglas A-20/DB-7  have been issued by various manufacturers over the years.  Airfix and Frog both produced kits during the sixties, while Revell and Matchbox kits appeared during the seventies and eighties. I recall that the Frog kit was pretty sad, and never got one.  Recently, MPM issued a new Boston III in RSAF and SAAF markings for a whopping $42.00 MSRP, and I have not seen this version, although I would assume that it is probably a better kit, according to the reviews.  However, I have built the Airfix, Revell, and Matchbox kits, and decided to do a review on those kits to compare them as an alternative to the pricier newer kit.  Besides, it was a challenge, and a test of modeling skills.  The Revell and Airfix kits were built last week, while the Matchbox kit, which first appeared in 1977, was done back in 1988 when it was a relatively new kit. Keep in mind that although I am a serious modeler, I donít measure things and check somebodyís drawing against the real article. In short, if it looks like an A-20 when Iím done, Iím satisfied.

CONSTRUCTION

The Airfix Kit

 The Airfix kit, originally marketed in the sixties as a Boston III, and retailing for an exorbitant 89 cents at the time, was typical of kits of its era. Mine was a U.S. Airfix product. Molded with protruding rivets and raised panel lines, the kit presents a respectable outline, but features moveable ailerons, elevators, and rudder. There is virtually no interior aside from seats in three positions, a floorboard in the cockpit, and an instrument panel which snaps into the forward bulkhead.  A control wheel is also included.  A gun mounting ring fits into the rear cockpit, and a pair of twin machine guns of some type is also provided. The engine nacelles are molded in two pieces, and the landing gear struts need to be put in place before the halves can be assembled. I thought this would be a problem as they might break off, but they are pretty robust, and it worked out fine.  The same goes for the nose gear strut, which has to be installed before the fuselage halves go together.  The one protrusion that did disappear during assembly was the small pitot tube that is molded into the vertical fin. I had to scratchbuild this later.  The engines are molded into the faces of the cowlings, and actually have quite a bit of detail, so a quick spray of grey paint, plus scraping some off to represent the pushrod housings, makes for an acceptable engine.  The props are totally wrong in shape, and I replaced them.  The mainwheels are good, but the nosewheel had some mold marks on one side that were difficult to remove. 

Assembly

 This model requires some serious sanding to get rid of the excessive surface detail.  Fine sandpaper did a good job, and I left just enough to make the surface look realistic.  The fuselage required some work in the cockpit area, as I put some detail in the sidewalls, added some goodies like an instrument panel face and a rebuilt seat that looked more like the one in the real airplane. A bit of filling and filing was needed to correct some sink marks, but this was nothing serious.  I didnít do anything with the bombardierís position in the nose, as I had originally intended to do an RAAF version that had this painted over, but after getting partway through assembly, I decided against this because the glass covering the nose position didnít fit, so I decided on a Western Desert model. My original intent was to fill the nose with lead shot extracted from shotgun shells, but since the nose position was now going to be visible, I could only put some shot under a floorboard I made.  Still, this was almost enough to balance the airplane, although for good measure, I filled the engine nacelles with shot to assure that the plane would not sit on its tail under any circumstance.

The major problem with this kit is the control surfaces, which were designed to be moveable.  Since these were originally intended for kids (before computers, IPODs, etc.) each control surface has little pins that fit into recesses in the stabilizers or wings.  They really look terrible, so I glued in a piece of strip plastic, smoothed down the surface, and glued them directly to their attachment points.  They donít look quite like the real thing, but they are certainly better than the original kit form.  The engine nacelles donít quite match up with the wing leading edges and cowling, so a little bit of trimming was needed.  Another problem is the propellers, which are even chord when they should be tapered towards the tips.  I donít think they can be salvaged for this model, but since I had four new props from a Matchbox PB4Y-2 kit that I did a year ago, these did the trick, and with a little trimming and replacing, they worked fine. The reason I had the extra props was that I did the Cobra Resin detail conversion PB4Y-2 kit, which has perfect props for that airplane. There are little clear disks that fit into the wing undersurfaces as landing lights, and these need some trimming. However, I just filled the little windows in the rear fuselage with Crystal Clear rather than using the little parts provided in the kit.

 Painting and Finishing

 I chose to do a Boston III of No. 12 squadron, Royal South African Air Force, which operated in the Western Desert during 1942.  There is a color profile in the second Squadron In-Action book, and a photo of the same airplane in the first edition. The only difference is that the drawing shows a black propeller hub, while the photo shows a silver one. The airplane is Dark Earth and Middle Stone over Azure Blue, which makes for a very colorful aircraft.  Markings came from the spare decals box, and I was very satisfied with the results.

Remember that this is a kit that has been around for nearly fifty years, and it certainly isnít state of the art, but with a little time and effort, an acceptable A-20/Boston model can be made, and you can spend what you would have spent on the expensive kit on wine, women, and song, in whichever order you prefer.  I didnít have a model of this particular variant when I began, but I do have one now, and Iím satisfied. It was fun, not too challenging, and looks good in the display case.

 The Revell Kit

 Coming out a bit later than the Airfix kit, this represents the next level of kit design technology.  The main improvement is the lack of separate control surfaces, with the join lines becoming much more realistic.  The surface detail is still a little overdone, and the cockpit detail is still minimal, with no detail at all in the rear cockpit. The plastic is fairly brittle, be shouldnít be a problem to an experienced modeler.

 Revell issued this kit in two distinct versions, an A-20A/Boston III combination and a P-70 night fighter model. The P-70 plans are dated 1975, so this is a fairly old kit. I built the A-20A kit back in 1996, and did this P-70 model  last week. My comments will apply to both models, as they differ somewhat in component parts.  Surface detail is still a bit heavy, and must be removed or subdued for realism.  Cockpit detail is minimal, and nothing at all is in the rear cockpit.  The props are a little better than the Airfix, but they are still the wrong shape and should be replaced.  The pitot tube is mounted on top of the vertical; stabilizer, and  this invariably gets knocked off during assembly and handling.  However, be careful here, as the kit instructions state that the low frequency radio antenna wire runs from  the mast  ahead of the windshield on the P-70, and  behind the cockpit on the A-20A directly to the pitot tube on the stabilizer.  These, according to photos, should connect on the leading edge of the vertical stabilizer about 2 scale feet down from the tube, and never to the pitot tube.   Somebody dropped the ball on this one.

 The A-20A kit comes with the glass nose, similar to the Airfix kit.  It fits marginally well, but is opaque enough that the interior details of the bombardierís position are somewhat difficult to see. I scratch built seats for everyone on this kit.  I donít recall exactly where I put the nose weights for balance, but they are in the nose somewhere.  Maybe they are behind the pilotís cockpit. I used the kit propellers on the A-20A kit.  I also simulated the little vents in the cowling with  decal strips.  These were deleted on later models.

 On the P-70, the nose is different, with no glass, an ideal place for nose weights.  On this kit, I replaced the props with the other two from the Matchbox conversion, and they look much better than the ones on the A-20A.  I detailed the cockpit interior, but didnít do much with the rear cockpit, as I had no information on its layout.  I would assume that the radar operator sat facing forward, but that is not a given.  The kit has three separate radar arrays, all of which are too thick.  On the left wing are four small radar antennas, two above and two below, which are marked on the inside of the wing by a little hole that you are supposed to hollow out before you join the wing tops and bottoms..  I drilled them out from the insides, mainly for marking holes. Then I just trimmed them off at the bases and glued them on to the wing during final assembly.  The  ďYagiĒ antennas go on the fuselage sides just ahead of the cockpit, and these are also too heavy.  The purist will want to rebuild the array using thinner wire to replace the plastic.  I used them straight from the box, but Iím not really satisfied with them.  The same goes for the little ďarrowĒ units on the nose.  They are too thick but are otherwise the right size. Both Revell kits make up into nice little models, and it is great  that they did both variants.  This saves a lot of conversion time.

 Painting and Finishing.

 The A-20A was done in standard OD over neutral grey.  The P-70 was overall black. I did the A-20A as one from the 3rd Bombardment Group as it was flown in the Louisiana Maneuvers in 1941.  There is a good photo of the plane in one of the In-Action books.  The P-70 is a model of the second production aircraft as it would have appeared at Wright Field during the 1942 test program. It may have operated later with the 6th NFS at Guadalcanal. Both kits can be made into acceptable models with only a little bit of effort.

 The Matchbox Kit

 The Matchbox kit is copyrighted 1977, and represents a late production A-20G with solid nose and six forward firing .50 cal. Machine guns and also a Boston Mk. IV (A-20H) with a glass nose.  Two similar guns were in a power dorsal turret, while another was mounted in a  ventral position.  Only four of the nose guns are visible, as the two guns in the side positions are not indicated on the kit.  Some photos show only four guns mounted, and some photos show two additional forward firing guns on the glass nose A-20H version. There is also a glass nose included for the H model.

 Cast in three colors, the kit is reasonably accurate in outline, although it suffers from the usual Matchbox ďtrench feverĒ with raised panel lines and recess ďtrenchĒ panel lines. Detail is minimal, but the overall effect is adequate.  The props are the best of the three kits, although the blades appear to be to be just a tad short.  Cockpit detail consists of a floor, generis seat, pilotís control wheel, and nothing else.  This kit years for detailing since the clear canopy allows some of the interior detail to be seen. There is no wheel well or gear door detail although the main wheels are nicely done.

 Assembly is very straightforward.  As with other kits, the main gear struts need to be in place before the nacelle halves can be joined, although the nose gear can be added later.  The choice of noses is a nice gesture, and allows a lot of variants to be done from this one kit. I built this kit over twenty  years ago,  so I donít recall some of the exact details, but I recall that it went together quite easily, and I canít see any seams in the join lines.  I did have to scratchbuild the bomb racks, as these were excluded.

 Painting and Finishing

 Even though the kit decals were colorful, I decided to do an A-20G-30-DO, 43-9710, 7X-G of the 645 BS, 410 BG, 9th AF, operating out of England just after D-Day in July, 1944. I wanted to do one with invasion stripes, as they really stand out, and these certainly do.  I used standard OD with medium green splotches on top, with neutral grey underneath. It took quite a bit of masking tape, but the results were well worth it.

CONCLUSIONS

If you are determined to do an early model A-20 or Boston, and want to save your money, Iíd recommend the Revell kit over the Airfix one, mainly because of the control surfaces, unless, of course, Airfix has reworked their molds to take care of the problem, as they have already done with some of their kits they have recently reissued. Both the A-20 and the P-70 are buildable, and with some detailing and extra effort, a good model can be made. The Matchbox kit can be made into either an A-20G or A-20H, and probably the later models also.  It also will take some work, but who said models should be made by shaking the box. This one is also worth a try before you shell out the big bucks.  All of these kits should be available at swap meets, and a lot of people have them ratholed away in their stashes.  Iíve even seen some Frog kits at swap meets,  but I havenít looked at one closely in years, so I canít comment on this kitís accuracy or quality.  But try one of the three.  You might be surprised.

 NOTE:  The photo of the props shows (top) Airfix, (bottom) Revell, (Left) unmodified Matchbox PB4Y-2, and (Right) modified Matchbox PB4Y-2.   

REFERENCES

There is a lot of material available on this aircraft.  Some sources include:

Squadron-Signal Aircraft Number 144  A-20 Havoc in Action

Squadron-Signal Aircraft Number 56  A-20 Havoc in Action

Profile Publications: Harry Gann, The Douglas A-20 (7A to Boston III)

WW2 Aircraft Fact Files:  William Green and Gordon Swanborough, U.S. Army Fighters Part 2.

In addition, there is information available in numerous ďcamouflage and markingsĒ books and other references that are readily available.  Therefore, it should be no problem to document the aircraft you wish to model. But check the photos carefully, as there are detail differences in  the  variants.

Brian Baker

September 2010

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

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