ICM 1/48 Spitfire VIII




$16.95 MSRP


Three options


Tom Cleaver


Cutting Edge cockpit
Superscale 48-840 decals


     The arrival of the Focke-Wulf Fw-190 on the Channel Front in late 1941 spelled the end of whatever margin of ascendancy the RAF might have had in the air war over northeastern France.  When an Fw-190A-3 finally fell into British hands six months later, it was found to be so superior to the Spitfire V that the Germans had derated the engine some 200 h.p. to limit wear and tear!  The only maneuver where the Spitfire held superiority over the Focke-Wulf fighter was in turning; as Wing Commander Al Deere put it, "turning doesn't win battles."

      The answer was the Merlin-60 series Spitfire, which would have additional power and keep it at higher altitudes where the Fw-190 began to run out of steam.  The "definitive" Merlin-60 series Spitfire fighter was to be the Mk. VIII, with the airframe strengthened to take the additional power, better ailerons, and additional fuel tankage.  In the event, due to the force of circumstances and the need to get a better-performing Spitfire into combat as soon as possible, the Spitfire IX - which was an "interim" conversion from the Spitfire V which was itself an "interim" conversion from the Spitfire I - entered service a year prior to the Spitfire VIII becoming available in the summer of 1943, with the result being that only some 1,700 examples of the Spitfire VIII would be produced. This despite the fact that the Spitfire VIII really was the technically-superior version.

 Uncle Sam's Spitfires:

      When the Eighth Air Force began arriving in England in 1942, it was initially planned that what fighter units would be assigned to it would utilize the P-38 for high-altitude, long-range fighter escort, while the P-39 would provide escort for the medium bombers that were coming.  The first P-39 unit to arrive in England was the 31st Fighter Group - the first unit to have taken the Airacobra operational the previous year - though they arrived before their aircraft.  In the interim, they were equipped with the Spitfire V.  By the time the similarly-equipped 52nd Fighter Group arrived, the RAF had been able to convince the Americans of the unsuitability of the P-39 for aerial combat in western Europe.  Both groups were equipped with Spitfire Vs, as a result.  During the summer of 1942, the 307th and 308th Fighter Squadrons of the 31st Fighter Group went to Biggin Hill and Kenley respectively for temporary attachment to RAF fighter wings where they could receive an introduction to combat.  The 309th FS went to Westhampnett, and by August 5, all three units were operational.  Their baptism of fire came on August 19, when they flew air support for the Dieppe Raid, where they lost 8 Spitfires and seven damaged, with one pilot killed and another made prisoner; two Fw-190s were claimed destroyed, with three probables and two damaged. With this, the 31st was considered blooded, and was reunited as a group at Westhampnett, while the 2nd and 4th Fighter Squadrons of the 52nd Fighter Group took their places at Biggin and Kenley.

      Before either group could have more effect, they were transferred to the XII Air Force that September, as the North African invasion loomed; by late September, both units had left England to enter combat in the mediterranean.  During the invasion, Major Harrison Thyng, CO of the 308th FS, shot down two Vichy D.520s to open the unit's score in the Mediterranean Theater.  In December and January, the 52nd Fighter Group entered combat in defense of the port of Bone; on January 13, 1943, 1st Lt. Norman Bolle shot down 114-victory experte Leutnant Wilhelm Crinius of II/JG-2.  On February 4th, 12 Spitfires of the 4th FS escorting ground-strafing P-39s were hit by Kurt Buhligen and Erich Rudorffer of II/JG2, the two experten taking down 3 of the Spitfires for no losses. Throughout this period the Americans found themselves frequently outclassed by the experten of JG2 and JG77, sent to counter the North African invasion. By March 21, the Americans had adopted the more aggressive tactics of the RAF's Western Desert Air Force, and 36 Spitfires of the 31st FG ran across 17 Ju-87D-3s of III/St.G.3, escorted by Bf-109s and Fw-190s of JG77 and JG2.  While the 307th FS held off the fighters, the 309th shot down 4 Stukas and claimed another 4 as probables, for one loss; the following day the 52nd FG claimed 5 Bf-109s, 2 Fw-190s and 2 Ju-88s for one loss - a crash-landing due to flak damage.  The two Spitfire units had come into their own.  During April 1943, Captains Norman MacDonald and Arthur Vinson of the 52nd FG became the first USAAF Spitfire aces, though Vinson was lost immediately after shooting down his 7th victim. By the time of the Axis surrender in Africa on May 13, the 52nd FG claimed 86 victories and had added a third ace - Lt. Sylvan Field - while the 31st FG claimed 61, and two aces, LCOL Thyng and Major Frank Hill (who would become the top US Spitfire ace of the war with 7 victories).

      In August 1943, the 308th FS of the 31st FG - the group's most successful squadron - became the first USAAF unit to operate the Spitfire VIII, the group having had some Mk. IXs in limited operation since the previous April, with enough in each squadron to provide a high cover flight for the Spitfire Vb's.  The new Spitfires first saw combat over Palermo, Sicily, on August 8, 1943,  when 20 Bf-109s were encountered, of which 3 were shot down.  On August 11, the 308th claimed two Fw-190s and a Macchi C.205.  There would be additional combat over Italy in late September during the Salerno invasion, and then things quieted down.

      By December 1943, the groups were flying bomber escort in Southern Italy.  In January, 1944, 1st Lt. Leland P. Molland, a recent arrival, made the first two of his eventual five scores in the Spitfire VIII, in combat with Fw-190s intercepting American B-25s escorted by the Spitfires. The Anzio invasion on January 22, 1944, brought the Luftwaffe out in force once again, and the 31st FG scored against 18 Fw-190 fighter bombers over the beachhead.  That evening, Spitfires of the 2nd FS, which had moved to Corsica with the rest of the 52nd FG, intercepted 50-60 He-111 torpedo bombers of KG26 bound from Marseilles to attack the invasion fleet off Anzio, and forced most of the German bombers to drop their torpedos, while shooting down seven Heinkels and damaging three Ju-88s.  The next day, the 4th FS intercepted six Do-217s equipped with Fritz-X bombs and shot down two, scattering the others. Through the rest of January, both units engaged in numerous combats over the beachhead and as far inland as Rome. On February 6, 308th FS CO Maj. Virgil Fields was shot down and killed.  Lt. Molland, who became an ace with his fifth kill in the fight in which Fields was lost, moved up to command the squadron.  By March 21st, the 308th had raised its total score to 62, with 1st Lt. Richard F. Hurd becoming the second highest-scoring US Spitfire ace with 6 victories.      On March 11, 1944, the 31st FG had received their first P-51B Mustang. On March 24, the unit was taken off operations to handle full conversion to the Mustang, despite the feelings of many of the pilots that they were being asked to take an inferior airplane to their Spitfire VIIIs and IXs.  On March 26, 1944, the 31st flew their last Spitfire mission, with four Spitfire VIIIs of the 308th FS finding 20 Fw-190G fighter bombers, of which they claimed one destroyed and three probables for the group's last victories in the Spitfire.  The following month, the 52nd Fighter Group followed the 31st into the Mustang and on to the new 15th Air Force, with the last US Spitfire victories being 3 Bf-109Gs shot down of 6 that attacked the Spitfire IXs of the 5th FS of the 52nd FG during a bomber escort to Orvieto, Italy.

      Uncle Sam's Spitfires had written a little-known chapter in US fighter history.  Though the USAAF used over 600 Spitfires during the war, it was never given a US designation, and little publicity was given to the exploits of the 31st and 52nd Fighter Groups - nothing like what they would get in the summer of 1944 during the wild air battles over Ploesti when they flew Mustangs. This is most likely a good example of the US military's overall dislike of having to admit to using "NIH" equipment (Not Invented Here).  During their time in Spitfires, the 31st FG claimed 194.5 confirmed, 39 probables and 124 damaged; the 52nd claimed 152.33 confirmed, 22 probables and 71 damaged. Thirteen pilots became aces on the Spitfire.  Leland Molland went on to score another 6 victories in the summer of 1944 in the P-51 to bring his score to 11.  Harrison Thyng added 5 more victories to his 5.5 as CO of the 4th FIW in Korea, while Royal N. Baker, who scored 3.5 in Spitfires added another 13 in Korea.



     For information on what is found in an ICM Spitfire kit, please visit the preview.

      This is the third of the "new production" ICM Spitfires I have built.  While it is still subject to sinkage in the mold and lots of flash, this is nothing compared to the early releases.


     Since I had a Cutting Edge Spitfire V resin cockpit available (and since it is very hard in 1/48 for even a serious "Spit boffin" to tell the difference between a Mk.V and a Mk.VIII cockpit), and since there is no resin cockpit made for the ICM kit, I decided to use this to replace the poor kit cockpit.  This could not have been accomplished without my Dremel tool, since there is a lot of excess resin that needs to be ground away to get the Cutting Edge cockpit to fit inside the ICM kit.  I found the same problem doing this with a True Details cockpit I used in my ICM Spitfire XVI earlier this year.  The end result looks vastly superior to the kit-supplied cockpit, and I am surprised some enterprising aftermarket company has not come up with a resin cockpit for this kit, since it is the most overall-accurate Merlin-60 series Spitfire kit available.

      Once the cockpit was in the fuselage, I added a narrow V-shaped insert to the upper fuselage immediately aft of the cockpit, to widen it to the correct cross-section.  Remember to sand down and re-size the engine firewall, since it is way too wide for the fuselage, and is needed to provide internal stiffening to the nose when you don't put the oversized engine in and try to assemble the cowling around it.

      Assembling the wings means sanding down the outer wing mating surfaces before assembly, so they will fit to the wingtips without an annoying "step" that will require putty and sanding otherwise.  Attaching the wing to the fuselage meant more Dremeling of the lower part of the resin cockpit, as well as use of cyanoacrylate glue and accelerator to get the "gull" section of the lower wing surface to fit to the fuselage, as well as to get the  upper wing/fuselage joint right to provide proper dihedral.  Once that was puttied and sanded, assembling the radiators and attaching the horizontal stabilizers was easy.  I decided to replace the kit-supplied tail wheel - which is right for the non-retractable Mk.IX tailwheel - with a retractable tailwheel from a Hasegawa Spitfire kit that I'd kept in the spares box.   

      I had dipped a Falcon Spitfire canopy in Future to begin with. With the model assembled, I cut apart the vac canopy and attached the windshield and rear glass at this point prior to painting.



      I have an old (like 1972) issue of "Air Combat" which has the well-known photos of Molland's Spitfire VIII published in their original color, and used this as a guide to painting.

      After pre-shading the model, I applied the lower Azure Blue color - which I mixed to match the color in the photographs - then freehanded the upper camo, using Gunze Sangyo "Middle Stone" and "Dark Earth."  With the photos, I was able to do the "non-standard pattern" on the nose, which has the upper camo wrapped around the nose with the exception of a narrow strip of underside blue immediately forward of the Vokes filter intake.

      After "fading" the upper colors by adding in white to the paints after getting the original pattern painted, I gave the model a coat of Future.


      I used SuperScale 48-840, which has Molland's "Fargo Express" and William J. Skinner's "Lonesome Polecat" Spitfire VIIIs and Robert Conner's Spitfire IX as the markings options.  They went on without problem.


      I attached the landing gear, after shortening the extended oleo 1/16" so that the model sits at the right angle, then applied Tamiya "Smoke" for the exhaust and oil staining.  Then I gave the model a final coat of Future, followed by some "dinging" of the finish, though not much - the photos show these as very well-maintained airplanes.  This was followed by two coats of thinned Dullcote, after which I unmasked the canopy glass and attached the hood in the open position.


      Doing a Spitfire in American markings gives a different look to the latest acquisition in my Spitfire collection. I think, however, that I have now done the last of these ICM Spitfires.  Any further acquisition of Merlin-60 Spits will await either Hasegawa correcting theirs (I'm not holding my breath) or someone doing one right with good production design and quality control.

Tom Cleaver

September 2003

 Kit courtesy of my wallet.

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