GWH 1/48 TBD-1 Devastator 'Midway 1942'
KIT #: L4807
PRICE: £43.99 (approx. $70.99)
DECALS: Two options
REVIEWER: Ken Freundt
NOTES: Long awaited upgrade from the Monogram kit.


 The TBD was the Douglas response to a 1934 U.S. Navy Bureau of Aeronautics call for a new torpedo plane to replace the Great Lakes TG-2 and Martin BM-1 biplanes then in service. Hall Aluminum Company submitted a twin engine high wing twin float design wholly unsuitable for carrier use and Great Lakes submitted an improved biplane design. The Douglas design was an all aluminum monoplane design with fully enclosed cockpit, retractable landing gear and hydraulic operated folding wings. After extensive testing and with some modifications of the prototype (BuNo 9750), the Navy would order 114 TBD-1s (BuNo 0268 through 0381) with the first one being ready for trials in June 1937. Attrition would result in another order of 15 TBD-1s (BuNo 1505 through 1519) with final delivery in November 1937.  When entering service the TBD would be popular with pilots and the 1939 graduating class at Pensacola would overwhelmingly select it as their preferred choice of types to fly. The Devastator would not be without its vices however. The hydraulic wing fold mechanism was underpowered and on windy carrier decks manual assistance from deckhands would be required to fold or unfold them before going below to the hanger deck. Pilots on occasion neglected to engage the locking pins, an instance that resulted in fatalities.

For its flying qualities it was not the most powerful aircraft. But perhaps the biggest factor against the TBD was its principal armament. The TBD was a multi task aircraft and had fittings to carry up to a 1500 lb. load of bombs but the Bliss-Leavitt Mk. XIII torpedo was prone to failure. The prototype TBD would become a workhorse for improvements of the Mk. XIII but it would never achieve satisfactory performance and Grumman’s TBF Avenger (the TBD’s replacement) would perform its missions with bombs more often that with torpedoes. And at the pace of aircraft development went in the years leading up to the Second World War, the Devastator would be outclassed by the opposition. Following the decimation of the TBD air fleet at Midway, some 35 surviving Devastators would soldier on as advanced trainers with the exception of eight which served anti-submarine patrol duties with Torpedo 4 on U.S.S. Ranger. They would be withdrawn from front line service in August 1942. But for its brief front line service the TBD served crews well in the early carrier raids in 1942 as well as at the Battle of Coral Sea. In the end, all would be scrapped by November 1944 and the only remaining examples are silently corroding away in the ocean around Florida and far flung islands in the south Pacific.


 Monogram released their 1/48 scale TBD-1 Devastator in 1974 and it was a pretty respectable model in the day. The toy-like features were minimalized with just the operating folding wings and it featured a relatively well detailed cockpit. But the kit has a few inaccuracies and the molds did not hold up well over time. It also has wing fit issues and one of the biggest factors in making the kit a perennial closet sitter is dealing with the gaps as well as the leading edges. It was a subject that was coming due for a rework by a kit manufacturer and I had hopes that it would be a subject Accurate Miniatures would tackle in time. I don’t know if they ever considered it but as we know it would have never come to fruition anyway. The announcement by Great Wall Hobby that they were following up their P-61 kit with a TBD came as a surprise to me  and it didn’t feel like it took them long to develop the kit before it went to market.

The difference between the kits is night & day. GWH not only took care of the fit issues but cleaned up some of the inaccuracies with the Monogram kit as well. And the level of detailing is comparable to the latest releases we modelers have come to expect. Much of the detailing is provided by 2 photo etch frets and the wing fold hinges (which I chose to do without), although oversized, are cast in white metal which would resolve any strength issues. However, the kit is not without its inaccuracies. Others have noted the raised ribs on the horizontal tail surfaces are too long (which I did not address on this build). And on an initial examination of the parts the foot steps on the fuselage are an easily noted flaw. The TBD had spring loaded hinged covers here and they should not be represented by holes. The canopy had a quite notable “pinch” at the top where the peak should be rounder as noted in photos of the aircraft taken from astern. The landing gear legs are also an issue. GWH molded them based on where they sit when fully extended and if left uncorrected the plane would sit on the ground way too high. It is nice if the modeler wants to build the kit in flight with gear retracted (instructions provide for this) or on final approach but I suspect that won’t happen too often. Another issue I came across is related to this. The Midway plane used plywood “boxes” on the Mk. XIII to correct directional instability and in dry fitting this with the gear legs corrected the model sat on the fins instead of the 3 points of the landing gear.


 Having built about a dozen of the Monogram kits in recent years (and with more than 50 left in the stash) I looked forward to tackling this. It came to me in the midst of my Build All the Japanese Aircraft in the Stash theme build so it didn’t get the lion’s share of the attention it deserved on the bench. It was my intent to build the kit straight out of the box with all the issues intact, but as it went I couldn’t help but make a few corrections along the way. This build began as unusual with correcting the fuselage sides. I used strip styrene to fill the holes for the footsteps and in doing this, it was not my intent to cover the holes instead of filling them. The covers should still be there without sanding & filling to make them go away altogether. THEN work started on the cockpit. I started as I typically do with painting the parts on the sprue. Color photos of the interior green used on the 1500 block TBDs show a rather oily looking dark green and I mixed up a home brew of this with Model Master FS34095 and adding black until I got the look I wanted. Much of the photo etch is used in the interior and this includes brass seats and lap belts. Be aware that the shoulder harness didn’t come into widespread use in the fleet until after Midway (the F4F-4 was fitted with them and many were retrofitted) after overwhelming complaints from pilots with blood streaming down their foreheads about catching a deck wire without them. The Navy’s response was concern about the pilot being trapped after a faulty launch and hence the delay in fitting them. There isn’t conclusive evidence that the TBD was fitted with them. These will fit nicely in the spares box for a future build. One of the anomalies with the lit is the bombardier doors. They were good enough to provide detailing for the inside in brass but they only apply to the 1500 block TBDs. The earlier ones had lightening holes in them. Also, the model is supposed to depict TBDs at Midway, when the torpedo was used and the bombardier wasn’t assigned to the mission. Also note that the doors do not clear the torpedo and would not be depicted open when armed. It wasn’t long into this build when I found the sprue gates leading to the smaller parts were too big and it was a simple thing to shatter the part when taking the part off. The twin gun mount in particular caused some teeth gnashing as it shattered into three parts. So to sum up, take care. Know it will be an issue going into the build and if it looks like it might be an issue, act accordingly. One thing of note is the mount on the gun ring. It goes on such a way that it doesn’t need to be glued to the ring and when you get to final assembly you can move it into a position that best fits the twin gun mount. And since these were not retrofitted for long (likely for a week or less) there were no stowage doors and the canopy was not closed over them. Another nice thing about the kit is the instrument gauges are represented by individual decals, making for a very nice finished panel. Another correction to the instructions would be the DF ring. They were half black, half white with the break being vertical.

  Once I finished up the interior and buttoned up the fuselage, I went right into the wings. The kit is designed more for folded wings than extended wings and my personal preference is extended. Some of the interior wing fold detailing had to be sanded down to make the fit. The GWH kit does not have the gap issues the Monogram kit does but they didn’t entirely resolve the bigger issues of the Monogram kit: Sanding the leading edge. It was my hope that a new molding of this kit would be done in such a way to move the seam below the leading edge as sanding on the relative flat surface would be an easier proposition than directly on the peak of it. However, the molding is crisp and the seam is a much tighter one than the Monogram kit and after working with the older kit for so long, this one was a relative breeze to sand. Having tried all the tricks I could imagine to do this, I found an answer in using a sanding block with self adhesive sandpaper on it. Lynn Ritger suggests a flat toothpick would do the job and I have no doubt it would. I have been fortunate enough in having Gary Uhl send me aluminum sanding blocks he made at work and one of them had a side on it that fits near perfectly between the ribs on the leading edges. It takes time and is fiddly work as one slip rips that raised rib off, so take care and be careful here as well. I have tried cutting sandpaper to width and sanding the seam flat but the finished result “dips” between the ribs and looks for all the world like tissue paper stretched between the ribs on a stick & tissue balsa plane. 

 Once the wings were done and fitted I built the very nice representation of the engine. Be sure to ensure that all the exhaust connections are good as any deviation here could result in the engine sitting crooked in the cowl. The cowl and external details went on after this. The oil cooler was one of the bright spots in the build as the Monogram kit depicts this as too narrow and it’s a distinct feature of the TBD. I left off the tail hook and propeller for after paint. I also dealt with the landing gear issue at this time. As afore mentioned it’s molded too long and to resolve this I took about ¾ of the inner compression shock off, reinforced it with a piece of straight pin and glued it back together. It’s still a bit too long for a torpedo load perhaps, but it looks a lot closer than without modification. While on the subject of landing gear, the “flattened” tires GWH provides are incorrect. U.S.N. carrier aircraft tires are filled to high pressures to withstand the shock of carrier landings and unless a tire got shot out, it wouldn’t be flattened under load or otherwise. Flat spotted is more correct here than bulged. I also made the canopy ready at this point. I resolved the problem with the peaked top of the canopy as simply as I could-I used a Monogram canopy. The three sections behind the sliding hood are GWH with the extra material cut off with a razor saw but the hood, windscreen and gunner’s canopies are Monogram. And happily enough, they fit without modification. Also be aware that the “masks” provided in the kit will best serve you in the trash bin. Not a single one fits and the odd layered paper-like material that they are cut from makes the idea of using the star stencils on the corrugated wings inconceivable. They will never conform. And the canopy masks themselves are too long and too narrow. Even cutting them to fit doesn’t work. I used an old Black Magic mask set for this build and was pleasantly surprised to find the vinyl didn’t shrink over time.


  And it’s off to the paint shop (such as it is…). Once I discovered White Ensign Models Colourcoats paint line I started switching over from Model Master and I haven’t looked back. In enamels, it’s the only one that I have found currently available that represents the color seen on color photographs taken at the time. I painted this one in a few stages. I started by spraying the lower outer wings and rudder in the Blue-Gray out of the tin. After some dry time (my only complaint of WEM paints) I masked them off and painted the bottom with their USN Aircraft Light Gray. After unmasking the bottom of the outer wings, I added a dash of white to the Blue Gray to depict fade and age and sprayed the rest of the plane. The TBDs of Torpedo 8 did not see the service other Devastators of the Pacific fleet did and they didn’t show an excess of wear and tear. This is clear in photos taken just before Midway. The 13 red & white stripes on the rudder would have been recently painted out, and since they spent their time below decks when not in immediate use, I did not depict fading on the lower wings. A coat of Testors lacquer glosscoat and it was on with the decals.

 The decals provided were quite nice and gave me no issues. GWH provides decals for both George Gay’s and John Waldron’s aircraft and in all the time I’ve spent building Devastator models I’ve never build George’s aircraft. So it became my topic of choice. Something to be aware of with Waldron’s aircraft is that it was a spare. Waldron injured his back wrecking his usual ride just days before Midway and BuNo 1506 was pulled down from the ceiling in the hanger deck to serve him on 4 June 1942. Color photos of the spares aircraft pressed into service before Midway show that the red center in the insignia was still on the lower wings; they were hung with wings folded and the painters simply could not get at them while they hung there. There’s a real possibility that he flew T-16 into combat with the “meatball” still there. Regardless, I modeled George Gay’s plane with the decals provided, which brings up another anomaly. The front line aircraft serving on the fleet all had the squadron codes painted out immediately after Coral Sea. Again, color photos of Torpedo 8 Devastators show this to be the case and in spite of all the representations by decal manufacturers, this certainly would have been the case with T-14as well. I represented this by painting out the “8” with unaltered Blue Gray paint after the decal was applied. It seems the codes are a bit too big, but I’ll live with that. This time. Following this was a coat of Testors lacquer Dullcoat and unmasking.


 Final assembly went rather quickly, beyond the issues with the twin gun mount mentioned earlier. It would be nice if a resin aftermarket manufacturer out there would make up a set like this, as it would give the scale modeler more (and likely more desirable options) for that old Monogram kit. And while I’m at it, the bulge fitted to clear .50 forward firing machine guns retrofitted to pre-war Devastators would be nice too. But to the build, the canopies went on along with the detailing under the pilot’s canopy. The photo etch for the torpedo sight (not the scope) was terribly fiddly and I ended up using bits from the Eduard photo etch set to finish it. I was hoping to add an aerial wire to it but the mast on the cowl is so delicate (it broke off while I was painting the lane) and my decision was between having a sagging wire, bowed mast or leaving it off entirely. The landing light is from the Monogram kit as this is molded onto the housing on the GWH kit. I just sanded it off flat and glued the Monogram piece on. The detail on the pitot tube gave me trouble and it still shows. The torpedo is not the correct one for Midway but as I fitted it with a tacky glue instead of styrene cement, it’s something I can resolve later. And I’ve yet to find a satisfactory way to paint tail hooks. This one broke while I was masking it and that made for some frustration. I still want to do a bit of exhaust streaking on this, but as it is I’m rather happy with it.


 It was my original intent to do a simultaneous build for this review; this kit against the Monogram kit. But in the process, the Monogram kit became the center of frustration and the holdup with finishing this build. I still want to write up a “How To” regarding the old Monogram kit to address some of the issues with getting one from your stash to your display shelf. However, this kit makes it a moot point if you don’t have a 1/48 TBD in the stash yet. My main source of Monogram TBDs has been eBay and it’s easily purchased for $20 shipped. Add to that $17 for the Eduard photo etch set, $12 for a decal set (as the Monogram decals are invariably garbage) and any other aftermarket bits like engine and torpedo to improve the kit parts and the money invested comes out close to the price for this kit. And with the fit and the detailing of this kit being light years ahead of the venerable Monogram kit, this one wins hands down. The issues I have found with this build are far easier to contend with and for the beginner/average/typical modeler I recommend this one. Be aware that it is not a box shaker and some of the issues like the canopy shape are not  corrected with the kit parts but in the end I did enjoy the build and when they come out with a Yellow Wings boxing (if they do) I’ll certainly build another.

 Thanks go out to “Holmes”, the prolific ARCer for sending me the kit out of his own goodness. He proves that there are still good people in the world, around the world, and most of them are scale modelers ;) Props out as well to the long lost Gary Uhl for inspiring me long ago to write up a review dealing with corrugated leading edges and for sending me the “surfboard” sanding block. And last but never least when it comes to Douglas’ TBD-1 Devastator, Lynn Ritger, fellow TBD nut. His research has saved us Devastator modelers a WORLD of work and has been invaluable for me in my scale modeling subject matter of choice.


Naval Fighters #71 Douglas TBD-1 Devastator, Steve Ginter (probably the only reference book you will need for the TBD)

 Aero Series #23 Douglas TBD-1 “Devastator”, B.R. Jackson and T.E. Doll

Profile Publications #71 The Douglas TBD Devastator, George Falkner & Sons Ltd. (no author noted)

 In Action #27 TBD Devastator, Al Adcock 

Lynn Ritger’s The Douglas TBD-1 Devastator

Ken Freundt

February 2013

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