Grumman Hellcat Mk.I, FN427, 1839 Sqn FAA, HMS Indomitable, February 1945.
RN East Indies Fleet Hellcats
Hellcats in Fleet Air Arm service had a less stellar career record than their US Navy counterparts. Some sources (Zbiegniewski, Kagero) blames faulty doctrine for that (but that author is deeply anti-British); others show that the real cause was probably the lack of targets: the Royal Navy was never involved in a carrier battle in open seas, and when RN Hellcats did engage the enemy they were as effective as those in American hands, being responsible of 52 out of 455 total RN aerial victories. HMS Indomitable was the only “Hellcat Fleet Carrier”, embarking the 5th Naval Fighter Wing, comprising 1839th and 1844th Sqns.; the carrier fighting the entire campaign with the BEIF and BPF (British Pacific Fleet) right to the end of the war.
A “personal history”, however provisional due to the facts that will be disclosed later, can also be made of FN427. What we know for sure is that BuNo 65969 was turned over to the RN, serialed FN427 and it is consigned as sliding over the side of HMS Indomitable when landing, date unknown (Sturtivant, Baugher). Is this the machine that Andrew Thomas (“Royal Navy Aces of WW II”, Osprey Publications) points out, picture included, as the mount of Lt. Cdr Shotten when he made two claims on January 24th, 1945, and later by Lt. Mackie when he shot down a Ki-43 on 29th? Possibly. More on this later.
Hellcats were anything but in short supply in kit form, in any scale. In the “gentlemen’s scale”, I can consign a Frog rendition, both bagged (Mk.I, FAA markings) and boxed (-5, Aeronavale), with a skinny, flat fuselage sides; an Airfix, horribly bloated and covered in gimmicks and rivets, but with interesting FAA markings; a Matchbox, plenty of coloured plastic and trench-like panels, but also sporting interesting FAA markings (the first contact with BPF insignia many of us ever had); a completely unremarkable, raised-panelled Hasegawa and one from Academy, a honest kit with a correct shape (exception made of the tip of the fin, and the infamous cowling “smile”), sunken panel lines of near adequate proportions and an intention at engine and cockpit detail. Replacing these (the cowling would be an overkill) and adding some aftermarket decals to replace the unimaginative ones provided, a good model can be made out of them. Eduard’s kit is in a different league: both shape and detail are superb through and through. In the all-plastic “Weekend” boxings fine detail might be a bit short; but the Profipack renditions include almost all the detail a modeller could wish. The only thing I added was a vacuformed hood, to properly display it opened.
The kit I used was #7076, depicting a US Navy F6F-3. However, I wanted to depict a RN Hellcat I, using some Frog decals I had retrieved from a garbage box. It must be said that Frog decals stand high in my appreciation in the Heroic Age of modelling; the 1/72nd Eduard kit, on the other side, comes with the plastic needed to build any version, -3, -5 or -5N. I also grabbed some generic Eduard Sutton harness.
|COLORS & MARKINGS|
Trying to get an environmentally healthy workstation, I started using Xtracrilyxs paints sometime ago; main problem is that they are a bit fragile and tend to peel off under stress. That made masking a tough proposition, both with tape and liquid mask. I solved the problem getting most of the tack out of the Tamiya tape, and washing the liquid mask dissolving it with water. I worked; only some small spots peeled off. Colours were standard British EDSG/DSG over Sky, Grumman employed “equivalent” colours closely patterned after the MAP ones (from their early times as a British Purchase Commission contractor). Some weathering and the manufacturer’s own interpretation of the colour would account for any difference. The instruction show Black anti-slip walkways, but in pictures I found no trace of them. Xtracrylix Gloss varnish was applied with a wide flat brush in preparation for decals, a single coat produces a high sheen. I used most of the decals for FN430, “6-R” in the twin RN Hellcat boxing, #7078, as roundels and fin flashes looked better proportioned and coloured and would perform better –actually flawlessly- anyway. The serial were carefully deprived of the last two digits, which were replaced by some in the SAMI BPF decal sheet (the font is the same size but just a bit thinner; the decals are thin but not that good and ended up showing a little silvering). I used the “5s” and the “A”s from the old Frog sheet; they performed admirably, but they are much thicker than modern decals; several gloss varnish coats and some sanding helped the “step” go down a bit. Stencils are provided in moderate quantities; but there are no instructions as where to place them, except the manufacturer’s logo in the prop blades! I tried to follow the instructions in the #7078 kit, with partial success.
An extremely high quality kit, an easy build, a well-shaped and proportioned resulting model and an interesting research. All a modeller may wish for. For the price, it is a bargain; it tempts you to build quite a collection of them.
- “Royal Navy Aces of WW II”, Andrew Thomas, Osprey Publications;
- “Model Aircraft Monthly” 2005-8, SAMI Publications;
- “Fleet Air Arm Aircraft, 1939-1945”, Ray Sturtivant and others, Air Britain Publications;
- “Grumman F6F Hellcat”, Andre Zbiegniewski, Monographs n° 10, Kagero Publications;
- Joe Baugher website.
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