Roden 1/32 Albatros D.III (OAW)

KIT #: 608
PRICE: $64.99 MSRP
DECALS: Four options
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver
NOTES: Eduard Photoetch set used.

HISTORY

      The Albatros series of fighters were the most advanced fighters in the world at the time the D.I and D.II were introduced on the Somme Front in the fall of 1916, setting the parameters for the next 20 years: two 30 caliber machine guns, a high speed, good maneuverability.  The airplanes were so advanced in comparison to their British opponents that they transformed the air war on the Western Front. 

     Unfortunately, Idflieg, the German Air Force high command, had been taken by the success of the French Nieuport series of sesquiplanes that had ended the “Fokker Scourge” in early 1916.  As a result, all German aircraft manufacturers were instructed to produce sesquiplanes, no matter the fact that the design really only worked with a low-powered, lightly-loaded airplane.  This was just what the Albatros wasn’t, but the company proceeded to convert their very successful, heavy, highly-loaded, fast biplane to a sesquiplane.  This crippled the design for the rest of its service through to the end of the war.   

     In response to Idflieg, Albatros began work on the prototype D.III in late July or early August 1916, with the first flight of the prototype most likely occurring in September 1916.  The D.III used the same semi-monocoque plywood skinned fuselage of the D.I and D.II.  The D.III adopted a sesquiplane wing design with an extended upper wing, while the lower wing was reduced in chord with a single main spar.  After a Typenprüfung on September 26, 1916, Idflieg ordered 400 D.IIIs, at the time the largest German production contract.

      The first D.IIIs entered squadron service in December 1916 with “Jasta Boelke.”  Early aircraft had a centrally-mounted radiator that could scald the pilot if it was hit, which was changed after the production of 290 D.IIIs.  More seriously, the weakness of the wing was soon apparent.  While suspicion centered on the strength of the wing, the truth was that the spar was too far aft, which induced aerodynamic twisting under aerodynamic loads.  This was unknown throughout the production of the D.III and the later D.V, which meant that pilots were forced to handle their airplanes with restraint - exactly what isn’t wanted in a fighter.  The situation was so bad in January 1917 that the D.IIIs were grounded until Albatros could produce a specially strengthened wing (which didn’t solve the problem since the basic design was wrong). 

      The D.III was reinstated as being airworthy just in time to become the killer of “Bloody April.”  The Allies were still using the Nieuport 17 and SPAD VII and Sopwith Pup, which were excellent fighters when introduced in 1916 but were already considered due for replacement.  Almost the only Allied fighter that could oppose the Albatros without restriction was the Sopwith Triplane and outside of a few of these equipped with two guns (with a degradation of performance as a result) even the Tripehound was not fully equal to the Albatros “V-Strutter” as D.III was known to the RFC. Fortunately for the allies, good as it was, the D.III could always be outfought by an Allied fighter whose pilot wasn’t afraid to throw the controls around.  Due to this aerodynamic problem, pilots like Manfred von Richtofen created what would become the really effective style of air combat: rather than dogfighting the opponent and giving him an even chance, they learned to ambush the enemy, taking him out with a surprise attack from above, diving away immediately, which didn’t put the Albatros at risk of structural failure.  “Beware the Hun in the sun!”

      Albatros built 500 D.IIIs at the Johannistal factory before transferring all D.III production to their subsidiary, the Ostdeutsche Albatros Werke, where the D.III remained in production until December 1917.  OAW had a reputation for quality work, and it was generally conceded that the D.III (OAW) was superior to the original product, and was the best German fighter prior to the introduction of the Fokker D.VII.

      The OAW-built D.III was so good that as of August 31, 1918, there were still 54 of them in front line service on the Western Front. 

THE KIT

     As Kyle Bodily said in his original review of the Roden 1/32 Albatros D.III, it was only a matter of time before the D.I, the D.II and the D.III (OAW) appeared.  The D.I showed up two months ago, here now is the D.III (OAW). Can the D.II be far behind?

      This kit differs from the original D.III kit primarily in having only one upper wing, with the offset radiator, and the larger rounded rudder that visually distinguished the D.III (OAW).  Decals for four aircraft are provided, including the boxart airplane that is alleged to have been flown by Ltn. Josef Loeser on the Italian Front, surely one of the most colorful German fighters of the entire war.

      People have complained that the Roden kits have doubled in price in the past couple of years.  I queried Roden about this, and was informed that we in the West should be aware that at the time of the orange Revolution, the Russians - who supply all the oil and natural gas energy used in Ukraine - more than doubled the price they had been charging for these energy essentials.  This price increase has filtered through the entire Ukrainian economy, and has been felt most especially in plastics, where the increase in cost for the basic materials, for the production materials, and for transportation, are all highly reactive to such a price increase.

CONSTRUCTION

      As Kyle Bodily described it so well, the Albatros D.III is a “fiddly” kit to assemble. 

      I found it advisable to assemble the interior structure with cyanoacrylate glue, to insure proper positioning of the parts and solid structure.  Other than that, taking the time to assemble things carefully will insure good results.  I regret not having photos of the interior, but it turned out I needed to replace the camera batteries, as I discovered when the photos taken of the early process didn’t turn out when downloaded.  I also found the Eduard photoetch set, with its pre-painted seatbelts and instrument faces, made an improvement on the interior.

      Getting the fuselage seam completely filled after assembling the fuselage halves is extremely important since any remainder of the seam will be obvious when one does a natural wood finish to the fuselage exterior.  I have concluded the best way to fill seams on limited-run kits (and while they are well-produced, the Roden kits are closer to limited-run kits when it comes to assembly than they are to Tamigawa kits) is to use cyanoacrylate glue and let it dry on its own, resulting in a smooth surface that needs only a minimum of sanding afterwards to get a smooth finish.

     Once the fuselage was assembled, the rest of the assembly was easy.  I attached the horizontal stabilizer and lower wing, then proceeded with painting.

COLORS & MARKINGS

 Painting:

      I created a “wood color” by mixing Gunze “Medium Wood” with Gunze “Orange-Yellow” to get a honey-brown color.  I applied that to the interior before assembly, followed with a coat of Tamiya “Clear Yellow” for the varnish.  I did the same with the exterior, with the addition of dry-brushing thinned Tamiya “Hull Red” for the “wood grain effect” I wanted. I painted the wings and horizontal stabilizer and the metal cowling, masking them off before painting the wood effect on the fuselage.  I used Tamiya “Purple” and “Dark Green” for the upper camouflage colors, and Tamiya “Light Blue” for the lower surfaces.  I mixed some Tamiya “RLM Grey” with “Sky Grey” and “White” to get the “greenish-grey color that was used on the Albatros, which was painted on the cowling, the various inspection panels, the struts and landing gear.  The model was then given a coat of Future overall.

 Decals:

      I had planned to do the Albatros flown by Erich Lowenhardt, but just after applying the fuselage insignia and the “snake”, the youngest feline jumped on the workbench, and as I grabbed at the model to be sure it didn’t bounce off the workbench from her arrival, I grabbed the fuselage right over the setting decals, thus creating a worse disaster than what I was attempting to prevent.  Fortunately, the other decals for the unknown “Green Dinosaur” airplane were still available.  Other than the self-induced operator error, the decals went down without problem and the white areas are opaque enough to remain white over darker surfaces without problem.  When the decals were set, I washed the model and then gave it an overall coat of Xtracrylix “Satin” varnish.

FINAL CONSTRUCTION

      I attached the landing gear, then the cabane and interplane struts, with cyanoacrylate glue.  I attached the upper wing, and then proceeded to rig the model with .010 wire.  The rigging was useful in making the model “solid” since the landing gear and struts are thin, which makes them a bit weak on a large 1/32 scale model without additional bracing, which the wire provided.

CONCLUSIONS

      For those World War I modelers who want a kit that can produce a great model out of the box, or provide the basis for a real show-stopper without that much extra effort, these Roden 1/32 World War I kits are great.  They are simple enough that a modeler who hasn’t done a World War I modeler before can approach them with confidence of producing a successful model if they take their time, while providing excellent, accurate detail.  I have always thought that 1/32 was the perfect scale for World War I models, and these kits prove me right.  The Albatros series are some of the best-looking airplanes of the First World War and this kit doesn’t disappoint. Highly recommended.

 Review kit courtesy of Roden.

Tom Cleaver

September 2008

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