Hasegawa 1/32 FW-190A-4 (Conversion)

KIT #: 08169
PRICE: Approx. $70.00 MSRP
DECALS: Two options
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver
NOTES: Conversion of A-5 kit


            1942 could be called “the year of the Wurger.”  While only 224 Fw-190As had been accepted by the Luftwaffe by the end of 1941, 1,878 would be produced at three different factories during 1942, the third being the Fieseler plant at Kassel that began production in May 1942. (For those who worry about these things, the differing camouflage colors of the early Fw-190A airplanes through the Fw-190A-3 is due to the different factories not operating from a single standard until the summer of 1942). 

            The last of the early “short-nose” Focke-Wilf fighters, the Fw 190A‑4, introduced on the production lines over the summer of 1942.  This sub-type differed from the preceding Fw-190A-3 by being equipped with MW 50 power boost system to obtain additional power below the rated altitude of the BMW 801D-2 engine. By injecting a water‑methanol mixture into the cylinders, the engine could briefly sustain a compression over the redline and get a little more horsepower.  Beyond this, the only real difference from the A‑3, the A‑4 also added a short radio antenna atop the vertical fin. The Fw-190A-4 was the most-produced sub-type of the early Fw-190s.

JG 26 On The Channel Front:

            Following the end of the Battle of Britain, by early 1941 most of the fighter units of the Luftwaffe were left the Channel Front.  Over the course of the Spring of 1941, the Luftwaffe turned east, thus leaving JG 26 and JG 2 as the only  single‑engine fighter Geschwadern in France. For the next two years these two Geschwadern were the main adversaries to the RAF “Non-Stop Offensive” over Northern France.

            The RAF offensive that commenced in the Spring of 1941 was the brainchild of Air Marshal Sholto Douglas who had replaced Air Marshall Dowding as Commander-in-chief of Fighter Command, and Air Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory who had replaced Keith Park at OC 11 Group.  Both of these officers had spent the Battle of Britain opposing and undermining Dowding and Park with the goal of replacing them.  Their proposed strategies during the Battle of Britain would have lost the struggle - they were both believers in the concept of the “Big Wing” and forward interception, which would have opened Fighter Command to suffering crippling losses for no gain, as opposed to Dowding’s strategy of bleeding the Germans white while holding out until the invasion would be impossible due to weather.  Their “Non-Stop Offensive” was rightly named the “Nonsense Offensive” by the Germans, being little more than a recycling of the strategy used by the Royal flying Corps over the Somme in 1916. 

            The fact was that the RAF had no way to actually threaten the Germans over northwestern Europe, due to the short range of the Spitfire and the Hurricane, and the complete unsuitability of British bombers to protect themselves to any degree against fighters, requiring a massive commitment of fighter escorts and thus limiting the penetration of enemy air space to the range of these point-defense interceptors.  Thus, the RAF was incapable of mounting more than pinprick attacks against German fighter fields in extreme northwestern France and the western regions of the low countries.  Over half of Fighter Command had to be committed to 11 Group to provide the highly-complex fighter screens - with various three-squadron wings covering the raid inbound, over the target, and during withdrawal, while the bombers were usually a squadron (at maximum) of Blenheims dropping four 250-lb bombs each.  After awhile, the Germans didn’t even intercept these raids since the Blenheims were so ineffective.  By the fall of 1941, when the RAF began to occasionally substitute the obsolete Blenheims with early Stirling heavy bombers, these were attacked by then-new Fw-190s that had no problem knocking down the heavies.

            Throughout 1941 and most of 1942, the two German Geschwadern had no trouble maintaining air superiority against RAF Fighter Command over Occupied Europe, inflicting casualties on the RAF that on occasion were the equal of the bloody days of Bloody April, 1917.  All they had to do was keep Fighter Command’s losses at five percent per raid or more, and over time the RAF would be bled white as the Luftwaffe had been the previous summer over England. In June 1942, Fw-190s of JG 26 once shot down ten  Spitfires, including the Wing Commander, damaging the remaining ten, for no loss to themselves, such was the superiority of the German fighter over the Spitfire V.  This state of affairs only began to change in the fall of 1942 as RAF squadrons converted to the Spitfire IX, which only marginally closed the gap with the Fw-190 and was outclassed at high altitude by the new Bf-109G.  The re-equipment with the Spitfire IX proceeded so slowly that as late as the summer of 1943 RAF squadrons were still mounted on the Spitfire V, with the Spitfire IX not finally filling the ranks completely before that fall.

            During 1941, Adolf Galland's careful management of his aircraft resources and his astute tactical awareness resulted in JG 26 keeping losses to a minimum while inflicting maximum damage on the RAF. By the end of 1941 JG 26 claimed over 900 victories since September 1939, 400 since May 1941, for the loss of 95 pilots killed with 34 made POW in return.  Following the death of Werner Mölders in November 1941, Galland was promoted to General der Jagdflieger, and was replaced as Geschwader Kommodore by Gerhard Schöpfel that December.  Schöpfel would lead JG 26 through the momentous year of 1942.   

            Born December 19, 1912 at Erfurt in Thüringen, Gerhard “Gerd” Schöpfel transferred to the Luftwaffe in 1936 from service in the police. After his flying training, Schöpfel was assigned to I./JG 233 which became I./JG 135 and, finally, I./JG 51. In early 1939, Leutnant Schöpfel joined I./JG 26 and  commanded 9./JG 26 from its formation on September 23, 1939. Schöpfel scored his first victory during the Battle of France, shooting down a RAF Hurricane near Courtrai on May 19. He scored additional victories in fighting over Dunkirk and became very successful during the Battle of Britain, shooting down four Hurricanes on August 18, 1940 over Canterbury, England. Two of his victims were leading RAF fighter pilots - Donald McKay (20 confirmed), who baled out wounded, and Kenneth Lee (7 confirmed), who also baled out wounded, both of 501 Squadron. Hauptmann Schöpfel became Gruppenkommandeur of III./JG 26 when Göring promoted Adolf Galland Kommodore of JG 26 on August 22, 1940. Schöpfel was awarded the Ritterkreuz on on September 11 for scoring 20 victories.

            Schöpfel was promoted to Major on December 1, and on December 6, 1941, became Kommodore of JG 26.  His first big operation was Operation Cerberus, known as “The Channel Dash,” during which JG 26 provided the air support for the breakout of the German warships Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen through the English Channel from Brest to Kiel.

            Schöpfel continued to score as Kommodore during the rest of the spring and summer of 1942.  The high point of his command came on August 19, 1942 when he shot down two Spitfires over Dieppe for his 41st and 42nd victories during the “reconnaissance in force” by the Allies. The air operations in conjunction with Operation Jubilee saw some of the fiercest, most intense air battles since 1940. The RAF committed 51 squadrons of Spitfire and Typhoon fighters, eight squadrons of Hurricane fighter-bombers, four squadrons of Mustang reconnaissance fighters and seven squadrons of light bombers, with the aim of protecting the Allied naval and land forces and forcing the Luftwaffe into an battle of attrition on the Allies’ terms. Opposing this force were 115 operational fighters of JG 2 and JG 26, which were thus outnumbered by about three to one.  While the Luftwaffe was initially slow to respond to the raid, the fighters made their presence felt over the port as the day wore on. While the Allied fighters were moderately successful in protecting the ground and sea forces from aerial bombing, the RAF came off second best in air combat against the experienced German fliers. While Fighter Command claimed to have inflicted heavy casualties on the Luftwaffe the balance sheet showed the reverse:  Allied losses totaled 106, including 88 fighters - of which 70 were Spitfires - and 18 bombers.  The Luftwaffe lost a total of 48 aircraft lost, including in that total were 28 bombers, 14 of them Do-217s from KG 2. JG 2 lost 14 Fw-190s and eight pilots killed, while JG 26 lost six Fw 190s with their pilots. The Luftwaffe claimed 61 of the 106 RAF loses, with JG 2 claiming 40 while JG 26 claimed 21.

            Schöpfel left JG 26 on January 10, 1943, to become Operations Officer at Jafü Brittany. He served as Fighter Operations Officer Southern Italy between July-November 1943, then became Fighter Leader Norway. On June 1, 1944, he was appointed Kommodore of JG 4. On August 6, 1944 he was shot down in combat near Schwerin flying a Bf 109 G‑6 and baled out wounded. In November 1944, he was appointed Fighter Leader Hungary. In February 1945 he became commander of the Luftkreigsschule at Gatow. On April 10, 1945, he was became Kommodore of JG 6 in northern Czechoslovakia. Following surrender to the Soviets, he was a POW until he returned to Germany in December 1949. After his return, Schöpfel worked as a chauffeur, and later became a merchant.  In the early 1960s he became an executive of Air Lloyd in Bonn.


            The Fw-190A-5 kit is as close as Hasegawa has gotten to doing an early Wurger.  The kit is basically the Fw-190A-8, with different fuselage gun cowling, and different gear door covers, along with the bulged cannon cover on the lower wing for the MG-FF.  The kit has also been released as a virtually-similar Fw-190A-6.  Both releases have been “limited”, with the Fw-190A-5 release providing markings for three aircraft flown by Josef Priller, with the Fw-190a-6 kit providing the “checkerboard” cowling for JG 1.


             The A‑5 was virtually identical to the Fw-190A‑4, except that longer engine mounts added six inches to the length of the fuselage.  These additional panels are clearly shown on the kit, so the conversion is primarily one of “reverse-engineering” with a razor saw: cut off the forward fuselage on the panel lines. You then need to measure the interior dimensions of the part that was cut off to make braces for the fuselage; I used pieces of sprue for this.  I also used some Evergreen sheet to make tabs to glue into the forward fuselage and provide mounts for the engine cowling.  Past that, the only other modification needed is to fill in the MW 50 panel on the lower fuselage and rescribe one that is narrower in diameter by 1/8 inch.



             The model was pre-shaded and then painted in the standard 74/75/76 camouflage using Xtracrylix paints, with the yellow panel and rudder being hand-painted with Xtracrylix afterwards to simulate what those panels would have looked like applied on the original airplane the same way.


             Kit decals were used, other than getting the “solid” upper wing decals from a Bf-109 sheet in the decal dungeon.  Schöpfel used the traditional pre-war Luftwaffe “arrow” markings for a Kommodore, which were provided in the kit sheet.


             Photos of JG 26 airplanes during 1942 show they were very well-maintained and clean, so the only weathering I did was to give the overall BMW 801 dark exhaust with Tamiya “Smoke”.  I was able to use the second set of early wheels from the PCM kit, since the kit supplies the later “solid hub” wheels of the heavier airplanes.  Eduard photoetch seatbelts were added and the canopy posed open.  


             I really don’t understand why Hasegawa hasn’t done this “conversion” themselves, since it only involves changing two parts in the kit - the fuselage halves, and I am sure the kits would sell well.  Of course, this conversion will now be even easier, since Jerry Crandall is providing resin parts for the Pacific Coast Models Fw-190A-3, which will be released later this summer (or so) as an Fw-190A-4, complete with new decals.  It is fun, though, to do a “scratch conversion” and remind oneself what modeling was like before the Golden Age.  And with this kit, I now have all sub-types of the Fw-190 in 1/32, and can close the factory doors.  By the way, this kit and the other Fw-190 kits will be re-released in North America this summer by Hasegawa’s new distributor at the original prices.

 Review kit courtesy of my billfold.

June 2010

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