Great Wall Hobby 1/48 TBD-1 Devastator
KIT #: 48007
PRICE: $59.34 from Hobby Link Japan
DECALS: Two options
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver
NOTES: Yellow Wings Decals 48-050 “Aircraft of the Movie Dive Bomber


             From the beginning of carrier aviation, the torpedo had been seen as the best weapon for aircraft to use against warships, given the light explosive weight and inaccurate aiming of aerial bombs.  Due to the technology of the torpedo itself at the time, lacking speed and range and being relatively delicate for a weapon to be dropped into the sea and then operate, such aircraft were limited to low speeds at low altitudes when attacking warships, making them incredibly vulnerable to anti-aircraft defenses when they had to fly in close to launch their weapon.  The Japanese would resolve this problem by developing the Long-Lance torpedo, which had high speed and long range and was rugged enough to be dropped at high speed from a relatively high altitude.  Sadly, the U.S. Navy, traditional to the end, failed to develop such a weapon and instead created what was likely the worst torpedo used by any navy, the Mark XII, which had low speed, short range and an unreliable trigger.

             While the Bureau of Ordnance was busy screwing the pooch in the field of torpedo development, the naval aviators at the Bureau of Aeronautics were attempting to move heaven and earth to put forward specifications that would lead to the development of carrier based aircraft that were not hopelessly outclassed by their land-based contemporaries.  Their first breakthrough in this battle for modernization came in 1934 when the specifications included in the request for a modern torpedo bomber to replace the thoroughly-obsolete Martin T4M-1 biplane (also produced as the Great Lakes BT-1) that had equipped carrier-based torpedo squadrons since 1930, included increases in speed, range and operational capability.  While a monoplane wasn’t specified since such a demand would never make it past the conservatives who ran the Navy, the specification was such that a biplane would have difficulty in meeting the required performance. 

             Douglas Aircraft responded with a modern, all metal, low-wing monoplane design that was in advance of all other carrier-based aircraft anywhere in the world.  Ordered as the TBD-1, the XTBD-1 prototype first flew in 1935.  Powered by a 900 h.p. Pratt and Whitney R-1830, the clean three-seat aircraft had a then-phenomenal top speed of just over 200 mph.  Following thorough trials in 1936 that completely demonstrated its compatibility with all the Navy fleet carriers, 129 TBD-1 “Devastator” torpedo bombers were delivered to the fleet between 1937-39, equipping all six of the carrier air groups.

            Sadly, the development did not include use of the newer, more high-powered developments of the R-1830, which had reached 1,200 h.p. by 1938.  While the airplane was underpowered as a result, and sluggish in performance when mated to a 2,000-lb torpedo, Dick Best remembered it as a “nice-flying airplane” when not so burdened.  The torpedo squadrons were considered so important, and the cachet of flying the most modern carrier aircraft in the world was such that even such a skilled aviator as Best had to “settle for” an assignment to dive bombers in 1940.

             The revolution in aircraft design and subsequent performance that epitomized the decade before the outbreak of World War Two was such that - as with nearly every airplane ordered at the beginning of this period of increased creativity - the TBD that had been the cutting edge of naval aviation on first appearance was sadly obsolescent five years after it appeared on a carrier deck, when its time came to go to war.  Its replacement, the Grumman TBF, was already in prototype development at the time of US entry into the war.

             While today the TBD is remembered as mostly a “flying target” due to its performance at the Battle of Midway, the fact is that when it was used correctly, i.e., in coordinated attacks with high-altitude dive bombers and with proper fighter escort, the TBD was successful.  At the Battle of the Coral Sea where the aircraft was used correctly, Devastators from the carriers Lexington and Yorktown sank the Japanese light carrier Shoho and damaged both of the Pearl Harbor veterans Shokaku and Zuikaku such that they were unable to participate in the Battle of Midway.  The TBD was sent into battle at Midway without the diversion of dive bomber attacks and without fighter escort, allowing the defending Japanese fighters to go after them without competition.  That they would be slaughtered as a result was something that should not have surprised anyone.  Even the TBF that was the Devastator’s replacement lost 3 of 4 attacking aircraft in similar conditions during the battle.

             After Midway, the Navy had only 39 TBDs left. They  continued to serve briefly in the Atlantic Fleet, before being transferred to training squadrons where they were used until late 1943. The 21 TBDs left at the start of 1944 were mainly employed as stationary hulks for maintenance training, and all were gone by the end of that year.  There are two TBDs known to exist in the Kwajalein lagoon where they were shot down during raids in January 1942; sadly, the salt-water corrosion of the aluminum airframes is such that they can never be exposed to the atmosphere again.  Another Devastator is known to be on the ocean floor off Cape Hatteras, at an ocean depth deep enough to have preserved the airframe.  Sadly, the Navy has prevented this Devastator from being raised and restored.  At least five TBDs are known to have crashed into Lake Michigan as a result of accidents aboard the training carriers Wolverine and Sable; if these could be found they would be easy to restore, since there is no corrosion in a freshwater environment. 


Scott Van Aken did a very good review of what’s in the box.


            If you want to build your model with the wings folded, the canopy closed, and the bombardier doors open, you don’t really need to read further.  Just follow the instructions and your kit will fit, your model will be interesting, and you will be happy you bought it and did it that way.

            If, on the other hand, you are one of those obtuse hard-headed individuals whose demanding nature will likely mean the end of the hobby as we know it when the kit manufacturers stop releasing kits for all you ingrates, you may wish to read on, so that your experience of building the model will not be as negative as mine was, as I went skipping heedlessly down the path ahead of you and found all the minefields the hard way. (Ouch! Yow! Oooh Nooo!  Help!)  Follow these instructions and you will avoid the minefields and have almost as enjoyable time as those who build it the easy way (described above).

            If you want to build your model with the canopies open so you can see the nice detail in the cockpits, then get on the Internet and go to and order Squadron Products Vac Canopy SQ-9615 for $7.16.  This is the vacuform canopy for the Monogram TBD kit.  Don’t worry, when you cut it open, it will fit and look nice.  Sadly, the open canopy parts supplied in the kit are about twice as thick as they should be, with the result that those parts that should slide under others are too big, while those which should slide over others are too small.  Don’t believe me?  Cut the one-piece canopy off the sprue, turn it over, and look at the cross section of the plastic.  If you’re one of those cheap so-and-so’s, then your only option here is to use the one-piece canopy, as I did.  It fits and looks nice.  Oh, and throw away the canopy masks, they’re too big and not sticky enough to stay on through the painting process.  You are stuck with applying tape and cutting to shape for each of those many individual panes in the canopy (the panes will create pain), a tedious process but it looks good in the end.

            Proceeding onwards:

            If you want to build a model with the wings spread, then glue the two upper pieces of the wing together, reinforce the joint from inside with some Evergreen strip, and set it aside upside down (so it sets in the correct alignment).  If you want to build the model with the bombardier doors closed, then glue a .010 strip of plastic to the centerline edge of one of the doors, then glue them together without using the photoetch interior parts (which you won’t see anyway), and reinforce that joint from the inside with another bit of Evergreen strip.  Sand the centerline piece nice and smooth.  Set this sub-assembly aside with the wings 

            You can now proceed to paint and assemble the cockpit per the instructions.  If you choose to do a pre-war airplane, as I did, the cockpit should be aluminum lacquer overall, with gloss black switches, handles, etc.  Mr. U.S. Airplane Colors, aka Dana Bell, has recently discovered some directives about repainting the cockpits in Interior Green.  It was determined in 1940 that this was a good idea because the aluminum cockpit interiors were too reflective.  The repaint was to be done “as appropriate,” which probably meant when the airplane went in for some sort of major overhaul.  The most likely time this would have been done was when the pre-war paint scheme was removed and the airplane was painted overall light grey during 1941.  Thus, if you are building a wartime TBD, it most likely has an Interior Green cockpit, while a pre-war scheme most likely has an aluminum cockpit.  You should also remember that you do not want to use the photoetch shoulder harness.  The US Navy didn’t use shoulder restraints until after the Battle of Midway, so all TBDs would have lap belts only.

            Remember that if you are doing a pre-war airplane, or an airplane used anywhere but the Battle of Midway, that you only want the single machine gun at the rear, which can be slid inside the fuselage if you are doing the canopy closed.  If you are doing a Midway airplane with the twin gun mount, that could not be stowed and the gunner’s canopies were removed, leaving the position open.  If you aren’t using the vacuform canopy, you can take a razor saw to those last two sections of the closed canopy. 

            Cut the fuselage halves off the sprue and before you go further, cut some Evergreen sheet to fit inside those holes on the fuselage side.  They’re supposed to be steps with flush-fitting kick doors.  If you do this now, from the inside, you won’t make a mess of the very petite surface detail.

            Be sure to use a very sharp knife when taking parts off the trees since they are delicate and fragile.  I found it was good to cut closer to the sprue, then remove the stub when I could put the part completely on a hard surface.  Be sure to clean off all the sprue gates, because these parts are very precisely molded (this isn’t the Monogram kit), and won’t fit right otherwise.  If you do this, you won’t be using very much filler anywhere.

            Once you have the fuselage assembled, glue some Evergreen sheet into the rear lower fuselage, so there is something there to create a solid joint when you attach the lower wing center section. 

            Before you attach the lower wing center section, glue some Evergreen strip inside the open area of the bombardier doors, to create a “ledge” to glue the doors to.  Then carefully glue your closed bombardier doors into position, working the fit from inside to assure a nice smooth exterior.

            Now glue the wing center section in place. If you’re very careful, there will not be much of a seam along the lower fuselage to deal with; if you have a seam, you can cover it with surfacer and sand it down - there is little or no surface detail to loose there.

            Now glue the upper wing halves to the fuselage and the lower wing center section.  When that is done, glue the lower outer wing half into place.  If you are careful and pinch the leading edge together - but not too much! - you won’t have a seam to clean up and you won’t lose that nice detail of the wraparound corrugation.

            You can now attach the horizontal stabilizers.  If you test fit carefully, they will fit without you having to use any seam filler on the stabilizer-to-fuselage joint. 

            As to the engine, you aren’t going to see any of the rear detail of the engine, so just glue the exhaust ring in place, choose whether you want the flaps open or closed, assemble the engine, and attach it in position.  Then attach the cowling.

            If you didn’t buy the vacuform canopy, attach the closed canopy now.  Don’t put the telescopic sight in position now, you want to be able to mask off the clear areas.  I used Tamiya tape, cut with a sharp Number 11 X-Acto, to mask the canopy.  The whole process took about 45 minutes.

            You now have your model assembled and can proceed to paint it.


             If you are doing a Midway airplane of VT-8, these airplanes were pretty clean from available photographs.  They hadn’t seen a lot of operation, certainly nothing where they would have been sun-faded to any great extent.  I would suggest Xtracrylix “Blue-Grey” and “Light Gull Grey” for the colors.  The prop blades are overall black.  If you’re doing a VT-3 or VT-6 airplane, these were worn and faded.

             If you are doing a pre-war airplane, you’re likely using the Yellow Wings decals, and should follow those instructions.  For the VT-3 airplane on the “Aircraft of the movie Dive Bomber” sheet, I painted the tail gloss Tamiya white, as well as the upper wing, then painted the upper wing “Chrome Yellow”.  From study of the color photos of pre-war TBDs in the Life photo collection, I decided not to have such an intense “orange-yellow” as I have used on other Golden Wings-era models.  I mixed Tamiya “Flat Yellow” with Tamiya “Orange” about 5 yellow to 1 orange.  If you aren’t doing an airplane with a willow green nose, paint the cowling that color and mask it off - do realize that the cowling color ring is about 1/2 the distance from front edge to the cooling flaps.  I painted the rest of the airplane with Tamiya Flat Aluminum.  Once done, I unmasked the tail and wings and gave the model an overall coat of Xtracrylix Gloss, which makes the Tamiya Aluminum look like Aluminum lacquer; if you don’t apply a finish coat to the lower surface of the ailerons, that will look like the Aluminum dope they were painted.

            Follow the instructions for whatever decal sheet you are doing.  I couldn’t match the green section color with paint, so I used the extra wing chevrons in the Yellow Wings set and cut and pieced them together to make the cowl color ring.  I found it a good idea to use Solvaset on the wing stripes and wing insignia, so the decals would set down in the corrugations.  I used the kit decals for the wingwalks and discovered they were about a quarter-inch too short, so I used some extra black decal to cover that space.


             I attached the landing gear and the torpedo and prop and unmasked the canopy.  The photos don’t show this, but I did in fact attach the telescopic sight and the tail hook.


              At several points in this project, when I found negative things about the kit in a particularly hard way, I considered consigning this project to the Shelf of Doom, and several good friends can testify that I e-mailed them and warned them off the kit.  I still think that Great Wall has botched it on some details of this kit that should not have happened (like the canopies).  Most kits that have folding wings or dropped flaps or other items usually fit best when you do it that way, so I can’t castigate them for the problems with the bombardier’s doors or the wings. I proceeded with this review in hope that the rest of you can profit from my problems and give yourself a more enjoyable experience.

            There have been a lot of comments about the price of this new TBD kit compared with that of the Monogram kit.  While the MSRP is around $80, I have found that most (not all) Internet outlets are selling it for around $60.  That might still be stretching if for many.  However, the detail of this kit is much better than the old Monogram kit, and is far more petite.  The surface detail is superior.  The only place I found I needed filler was to fill in a gap between the lower outer wings and the center section, and the rear lower fuselage.  With the Monogram kit, you have to fill every seam and sand them down.  The final look of the Great Wall model is close to an Accurate Miniatures kit - it certainly looks good sitting next to my VB-3 SB2U-2 Vindicator and VF-3 F3F-2.  With the caveats described above regarding assembly, I can recommend the kit.  If you follow my instructions, your project will be trouble-free and you won’t get as upset as I did over all the negative discoveries.

            Yellow Wings Decals will be releasing 48-099 “Aircraft of the Battle of the Coral Sea” which has TBDs of both Yorktown and Lexington on the sheets.  It should be a good alternative for those who want something different.  Remember, these airplanes didn’t have the twin-gun rear mount.

Review kit courtesy of HobbyLink Japan.  Order yours at:

Yellow Wings decals courtesy Yellow Wings Decals.  Order yours at http://yellow‑

Tom Cleaver

February 2012

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