Roden 1/32 Siemens-Schuckert D. III (late)

KIT #: 610
PRICE: $69.99 SRP
DECALS: Three options
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver
NOTES:  Loon Models corrected resin horizontal stabilizer used; Techmod lozenge decals used; Airscale instrument decals used


            Considered by many of the pilots who flew it to be the best fighter to see action during the war, the Siemens-Schuckert D.III reached service too late and was produced in too few numbers to have any effect on the war effort.

            Siemens-Schuckert, which had originally produced the R.I heavy bomber, entered fighter production with an almost-exact copy of the French Nieuport 17, known as the Siemens-Schuckert D.I, 95 of which were produced in 1916 and relegated to use as trainers, due to the unavailability of the Oberursel Ur.II rotary in a useful timeframe.

            To solve the engine problem, Siemens‑Halske began work on newer rotary engine designs that would not be outdated before entering service.  The 1560 horsepower Siemens‑Halske Sh.III was eventually created.  A high-powered rotary would normally lead to terrible handling problems due to the high torque, but the design team came up with a clever solution: the engine's major interior mechanisms - crankshaft, connecting rods and pistons - rotated in a clockwise direction as seen from "nose‑on", while the crankcase and a very large propeller spun in a counterclockwise direction, reducing torque to a large degree. A 2:1 ratio set of bevel gears at the rear of the crankcase allowed the engine to run at 1,800 rpm while the propeller spun at 900 rpm, which allowed use of a much larger and more efficient propeller. 

            With the Sh.III, all of SSW's existing designs were re‑engined for testing, with the D.I leading to three prototypes, the D.II, D.IIa and D.IIb. The major difference with the original D.I was a much rounder and wider front fuselage to hold the larger engine.  Pilots called the stubby‑ looking aircraft “the flying beer barrel.”  Flight tests in June 1917, revealed a climb rate higher than any other aircraft. 

            On the basis of these tests, three more prototypes were ordered - two D.IIc's with shorter and longer span wings, and the D.IIe with the original-span wings.  By October 1917 the design proved to be worth producing, and an order for twenty long‑span D.IIc's with a smaller 4‑bladed propeller that allowed for shorter landing gear legs was made in December. Renamed the D.III, the first 20 started delivery in January and were followed by an order for 30 more in February. 

            All 50 were sent to Jagdgruppe II in May, 1918, where they proved popular, with Jasta 15 taking on several, one of which was flown by newly-arrived Leutnant Oliver von Beaulieu-Marconnay to score his first two victories.  Unfortunately, after only about 10 hours' service,  the engines began overheating and eventually seizing. Siemens blamed the problem on the Voltol‑based oil used to replace scarce castor oil, but the airplanes were withdrawn from service and replaced by Fokker D.VII's.  Rudolf Berthold, commander of Jagdgeschwader II, said that “the Siemens fighter should be made available for front‑line use as quickly as possible for it is likely to be become one of our most useful fighter aircraft.” 

            A modified version of the Sh.III passed a 40‑hour endurance test in June and the D.III was cleared to return to service in July.  They were modified  with a new rudder, balanced ailerons and a cut‑away cowling for better cooling. It is also reported that the original engines were replaced with the improved 200 h.p. Sh.IIIa engine.  30 new aircraft with these features were also built; all 80 soon entered service, primarily in home defense units where their climb rate made them excellent interceptors.

            Although the short landing gear and limited propeller clearance made for tricky landing, the D.III was otherwise easy to fly, with a very short take‑off run; at altitudes above 13,100 ft, it was faster and more maneuverable than the Fokker D.VII, which was considered to be the best aircraft flying. Its most notable feature was its phenomenal rate of climb and extremely high service ceiling, being able to reach 19,700 ft in less than 14½ minutes, with a maximum ceiling of 26,246 ft.  Top speed was 112 mph.

            Ernst Udet, commander of Jasta 4, was issued a D.III in September, 1918, but it is unknown if he ever flew it in combat.  Though no photographs exist of the airplane, it was said to be marked similarly to his Fokker D.VII, and has become the best-known of this relatively rare fighter. 

            Because the victorious Allies considered the aeronautically advanced SSW D.III a “potential threat,” almost all D.III and D.IV aircraft were broken up in 1919, other than a small number of D.IV airplanes that were purchased by Switzerland, which needed an airplane with such performance to fly in its high mountainous valleys.


            Roden has released a 1/72 scale kit of this airplane several years ago, and Eduard released a 1/48 kit in the early 1990s as one of their first very limited-run kits.  This kit by Roden was released two years ago and is the only kit of this airplane in this scale.  Markings are provided for three airplanes, including that allegedly flown by Udet, along with one-piece lozenge sheets for upper and lower surfaces of the wings.

            It is alleged that the larger elevator supplied in the kit is incorrect, and a smaller version in resin was released by Loon Models.  There are not that many photos of the airplane that show the tail, though there are drawings that show both.  The larger elevator may be associated with the very-similar SSW D.IV.  I opted to use the replacement stabilizer to see how it works.

             With Roden's decals not always up to acceptable standards, I was glad that Techmod has released 1/32 4-color lozenge decals.

            As is always the case with Roden, the fabric surface detail of the wings and control surfaces is highly accurate without a lot of “hills and valleys.” 


            Construction of the kit is straightforward.  The best guess is that the interior was varnished natural wood, so I painted the interior that way.  I used Airscale World War I instrument decals and Eduard photoetch seatbelts to dress up the cockpit. 

             The fit of the various parts for the fuselage is not that good and required a lot of test fitting to get the front panels on with a fit close enough I would not have to lose all the molded-on detail closing up gaps.  I used cyanoacrylate glue and Tamiya Surfacer to get rid of the centerline seam and to get rid of the gaps around the horizontal stabilizer after it was installed.

             Loon provides a two-part late cowling which did not seem like much of an improvement over the one-piece kit part, which I elected to use.  The Siemens-Halske Sh.III engine is a model in its own right, and looks good when it's painted.  I attached the engine and then the cowl before painting the fuselage, after painting the cowling interior and the framework with Tamiya “Aluminum.”


             There are no known photos of the Udet airplane, so pretty much any choice a modeler makes will be right.  While many German airplanes with red paint had it painted over the underlying camouflage or surface color in a thin coat (see the review of Manfred von Richtofen's Fokker Dr.I here for a discussion of this), due to red paint being in short supply, it has also been said that Udet used his influence to get red paint from the civilian market for his Fokker D.VII, which was a much brighter red than other airplanes.  If that is true, I surmised he would have done the same here, if indeed this airplane was in fact painted as the D.VII.  Thus, I first painted the lower panels, and the landing gear and cabane struts with Talon “Aluminum,” then masked off that area and the open parts of the cowling with tissue paper stuffed inside, then painted the model overall Flat White.  I then painted the fuselage, tail, cowling and interplane struts with Gunze-Sangyo “Red Madder,” a bright scarlet red.  When all was dry, I gave the entire model a coat of Xtracrylix Gloss Varnish. 

            I opted to use the Techmod decals because they looked to be more accurate in terms of color than the kit decals and likely better in production quality.  The Techmod sheet does not have separate strips, which made doing the upper wing with its fabric strips applied at an angle a much easier affair than would be the case with individual strips applied side by side.  The lozenge on the lower wing was applied in one continuous strip span-wise, which was also easy.  When the upper and lower decals had set, I used the colored rib tapes to do light blue on the upper surfaces and pink on the lower surfaces.  Photos show these airplanes with both colored tapes and lozenge tapes.

            The Roden kit decals used for Udet's personal marking and the national insignia did indeed cause trouble.  They separated into pieces after being soaked, and had to be carefully applied and pieced together.  They also resisted Micro-Sol and eventually only went down under several applications of Solvaset.  Once they were set, I had to over-paint them to cover the broken areas.  I washed the model then and gave it a coat of Xtracrylix Satin varnish.


            I attached the interplane and cabane struts, attached the wings, and then attached the separate ailerons in a “dynamic” pose. 

            Though it is unknown if Udet ever flew this airplane in combat, I decided to finish it as it might have looked if he had.  The oil used on rotary engines got sprayed everywhere over the airframe, so I made a very liberal application of Tamiya “smoke” over the wings and fuselage.  I also “muddied” the wheels and gear legs, as the original airplane would have looked operating from a frontline airfield during the rainy Autumn of 1918 (three of the last eight weeks of the war saw no flying on the Western Front due to heavy rains).  The simple rigging was done with .008 wire, painted black.


            The Siemens-Schuckert D.III is a very interesting-looking fighter, and it's not likely Wingnut Wings will be doing a kit of it anytime soon, making this Roden kit the only game in town.  The kit is relatively simple to assemble, though it needs care for fit and “some modeling skills required” to get a good finish.  For the biplane-challenged, the rigging is simple.  The end result looks very nice indeed sitting next to my Wingnut Wings Roland D.VI and Pfalz D.IIIa models.  Roden has nothing to apologize for with the final result of their models.  Highly recommended to World War I fans.

Tom Cleaver

June 2011

Review kit courtesy of Roden. Techmod decals courtesy of HobbyLink Japan.  Airscale decals courtesy Airscale.  Eduard photoetch courtesy Eduard. Loon conversion courtesy your editor/Roll Models.

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