Italeri 1/72 Sunderland I

KIT #: 1302
PRICE: £39-99
DECALS: Six options
REVIEWER: Frank Reynolds
NOTES: Eduard Masks CX 343


The Short Sunderland represents the zenith of development of the British military flying boat. It embodied the constructional and aerodynamic features of its predecessor, the commercial C class boat from the same factory and was the first RAF flying boat to have power operated turrets in the nose and tail. It was a typical British design for a typically British purpose, intended to range far over the oceans in support of a Navy that served a World-wide  Empire and be sufficiently self-contained that it could represent British interests if the navy was not present. Such was the thinking that still prevailed when the Sunderland commenced trials in 1938.

Having been developed from a civil airliner design there was ample room in the bulbous hull for the all the equipment associated with its military role, to the extent of having unusual weapons racks that could be winched out under the inner wings for the delivery of bombs or depth charges. Defensive armament initially consisted of a single .303 machine gun in the bow turret, single hand-held .303s in each of the beam gun positions and four .303s in the tail turret.

The first production model the Mk.1 was powered by four Bristol Pegasus XXII supercharged engines of 1,010 HP each. The typical cruising speed was 170mph with a combat range of  1,750 miles. It was introduced into service with No 230 squadron in 1938 at Singapore, and 210 squadron at Pembroke Dock, Wales, swiftly followed by Nos 204 and 228 Squadrons. The Sunderland was being rapidly introduced into service at the outbreak of World War 2, with No 95, 101 and 270 squadrons. The aircraft first came to public prominence in September 1939 when two aircraft from No 228 and 204 Squadrons rescued the entire crew of a torpedoed merchant ship, the Kensington Court. On January 30 1940, the Sunderland obtained its first U boat kill when an enemy vessel was scuttled after attack by one of No 228 Squadron’s aircraft.

Seventy five Sunderland Is were built, before giving way on the production line to the Mk.II, which flew in August 1941. The Sunderland was not a mass production aircraft; it was hand built, often, and by the end of World War 2 a remarkable 721 had been manufactured, the last leaving Short Brothers’ Belfast factory in June 1946. 250 of the 721 had been built by Blackburn, the last leaving their Dumbarton factory in November 1945. By then the developed and refined Mk.V incorporated all of the modifications and improvements drawn from the experience of six years of intense conflict. 

The Sunderland was an outstanding machine of its time, rugged, reliable and spacious. It could be operated independently for long periods of time and it had a good record in suppressing and killing enemy submarines. It was not the fastest or the best flying boat of World War 2, but it ranks among them.

A Sunderland is preserved as a walk through exhibit in the Royal Air Force Museum at Hendon, London. Although it is late war Mk V, it general layout is typical of the breed and it demonstrates the fundamental differences between a flying boat and land based maritime aircraft of the same period. The RAF Museum has neatly arranged a tour that begins with access through the door in the side of the forward hull portside and exits through the starboard side towards the tail. Essence of shipping appears everywhere; there is an anchor, windlass, mooring bollards and boat hooks. Much of the flooring consists of pierced metal grilles. The crew has a galley and rest bunks. The midships bomb room is remarkable for the fact that the bombs are suspended over the crew rest area. There is a small workshop area with a bench and vice. The whole nose turret and fairing is retracted to demonstrate how the crew can moor up to a buoy. It is a brilliant, dramatic and evocative exhibit and the inspiration for this build.


Italeri’s offering is supplied in a glossy top opening box with a traditional illustration of a Sunderland over a foaming sea and an exploding enemy submarine. There are five parts frames in grey plastic, reasonably crisply moulded and one of clear offering all of the transparencies and a plethora of porthole windows. There is a rather thick fret of etched parts for small details, the instrument panel and to detail the beaching gear. A sheet of good quality Cartograf decals offers six options, all RAF aircraft, as follows.

No 210 Squadron, Oban Scotland, 1941. Camouflaged in Extra Dark Sea Grey and Dark Slate Grey over Aluminium under surfaces.

No 210 Squadron Oban, 1940, camouflaged Dark Green and Dark Earth over Aluminium.

No 95 Squadron, Freetown, Sierra Leone, 1941 Grey and Green over Aluminium

No 204 Squadron, Bathhurst, Gambia 1941/42 Grey and Green over Sea Grey Medium.

No 230 Squadron, Eastern Mediterranean, 1940. Green and Earth over Night Black.

No 230 Squadron, Eastern Mediterranean, 1941, Grey and Green over Sky type S. 

This is an intelligent selection of colour schemes offering a choice of upper surfaces in the early war emergency camouflage of Brown and Green upper surfaces or the later type of sea camouflage in Grey and Green. Italeri have also covered four different under surface colours in Aluminium, Medium Grey, Black and Sky. Four of the aircraft feature the upper surface camouflage wrapped around under the rear fuselage boom. Six colour side profiles are set out on the box tray. This range of options was to cause me some self-inflicted problems as the result of brain freeze, as noted below.

The kit is one of Italeri’s deluxe packages that includes the etch, as noted, the good choice of colour finishes and a 24 page detailed reference manual with a selection of photographs and sketches. This useful manual has photos which contradict Italeri’s interpretation of this big boat’s surface detail since the real thing is remarkably smooth in appearance

Assembly instructions consist of a 20 page A4 booklet in greyscale, setting out 24 stages of construction and finishing, with CGI rendered exploded views. Colour call outs give FS numbers, Model Master paints or Italeri’s own.

Surface detailing on the main parts, the wings, fuselage and tail, is heavy, obvious and quite dramatic, with quite deeply engraved panel lines. There are few kits in my experience that exhibit this extreme of detailing, it is almost in low relief. Each hull panel is edged with tiny engraved rivets and the upper surface of the wing appears quilted from certain angles. There has been some dramatic discussion on the web about whether this is acceptable or renders the kit “unbuildable” and it is certainly more than I would choose, but for the purposes of this review I have left it “as is”.


 An early decision has to be made as to which of the openings in the hull are to be shown as such, since this will influence how much of the interior needs to be detailed. I elected to glue the hull crew doors shut, have the nose turret fully forward, the beam guns with fairings extended and the bomb room doors fitted as folded down inside the hull.

This is one kit that benefits from a careful read-through of the assembly instructions and a degree of pre-planning. The interior provides three separate cabin areas, with appropriate bulkheads, arranged around those parts of the interior that might be seen through the various openings in the hull. So construction begins with the interior, the majority of which I airbrushed in Xtracrylix XA1010 (British) Aircraft Grey-Green. The main flight deck consists of a stepped floor with a bulkhead to the navigator/engineer’s position. The main instrument panel can be optionally built with an etch instrument panel or the kit decal that I used. Etch seat belts are provided for the two pilot’s seats, together with rudder pedals. Two control wheels are fixed to convincing pedestals and the seats have a rear framework of folded pierced etch. The rear bulkhead has a moulded in folded curtain across the doorway to the rear cabin that contain the radio operator’s position and two further decal-type instrument panels. This is all built as a sub-assembly that sits on top of the lower forward compartment, which consists of a pierced floor with a rear bulkhead and centre staircase that leads to the flight deck. Assembly of these units certainly emphasise the “upstairs-downstairs” nature of the bulky Sunderland. An anchor and hawser is provided for those who wish to decorate this area together with a boat hook.

The instructions next invite you to glue some 35 pieces of glazing to the portholes. I had already planned to make this glazing from Micro Kristal Klear after the painting stage, so the injected items were discarded. Two large panels are provided to cover the openings to the bomb room, located under the centre section. I fixed these as retracted inside the hull for deployment of the weapons.

The nose compartment sub assembly was glued into the right fuselage half and attention turned to the next major interior structure. 

There is a cranked floor to the upper fuselage section, below which is a floor, with front and rear bulkheads to form the bomb room/ crew accommodation. Two rails are moulded in to accommodate the bomb racks when the armament is stowed internally. This unit was glued into the right fuselage half. This was a convenient time to assemble the bomb racks so that one set could be fixed internally leaving the other to be added externally towards the end of the build. The underwing bomb racks are a mixture of plastic and etch parts which are assembled with plastic glue and cyano. Eight bombs are provided as the sole offensive armament and were painted Olive Drab. The interior was given a weathering wash of water based Dark Brown paint from the Games Workshop range. The crew doors to the fuselage nose and amidships were glued shut.

Attention now turns to the components that must be trapped between the fuselage halves when they are closed up, being the nose and tail turrets and the fight deck glazing. The turrets are small with complex curves and multiple glazing panels. The Eduard pre-cut paint masks are indispensable for this stage. Each turret consists of a base with side trunnions to support the guns and a support hoop over the gunner’s seat back. All of the interior parts were painted in Grey-Green and the guns picked out in Tamiya XF-56 Metallic Grey. Eduard provide some 42 tiny masks for the turrets and some 20 for the flight deck, and this provided a happy evening’s eye strain in their application but the result was well worth it. Both turrets were airbrushed in Xtracrylix XA 1025 RAF Dark Slate Grey and when dry the nose turret was fixed into the similarly pre-painted retractable nose fairing. The flight deck glazing is provided with a roof-mounted internal throttle box which is painted Black with relief detail picked out in dry brushed Silver.

The nose turret assembly and the rear turret were fixed into the right hand fuselage half followed by the flight deck glazing. This glazing has an unusual flange moulded to its joining edges, with the result that it cannot be added after the fuselage is closed up. The two main fuselage halves were glued together after some trimming and fettling to the edges of the internal floors and bulkheads in order to get the parts to close up snugly. The tall tail fin is has one half moulded onto the right fuselage half but the left side is a separate panel that can be added while trapping the rudder in place. The manner of construction means that the turrets’ gun barrels are vulnerable to breakage throughout the rest of the build.

This large assembly was set aside to settle for a couple of days while attention turned to the wing and tail components, which are essentially simple. Each wing consists of one each upper and lower halves with the engine nacelles moulded in. Marked holes need to be drilled out for the float rigging. The large ailerons consist of upper and lower sections that are trapped between the wing sections. There are no separate flaps. The port wing is provided with a pair of clear glazed landing lights in the leading edge, but, having gone to the trouble of providing this feature, Italeri has not extended this detail to the wing tip navigation lights, which are simply scribed on the solid plastic wing tips. Each wing has an inset rail for the bomb carriers to slide into the launch position but I decided to add these later at the finishing stage, together with the remaining bomb carrier sub assembly.

The tail section consists simply of upper and lower panels to the fixed sections and elevator structures, these fit positively into stubs on the rear fuselage.

Italeri next suggests that the beaching gear is attached. I assembled it, together with the tail trolley, but postponed its attachment to the airframe until much later in the build. The main beaching gear consists of a massive vertical leg, moulded in two halves to incorporate the flotation collar. Twin single piece wheels are provided. The legs were painted in medium grey with the flotation collars picked out in red brown, the wheels silver with tyres finished in Tamiya’s XF-85 Rubber Black. The tail trolley was a little more complex being a box and lid arrangement with a built in towing hook. To this, two “v” shape cradles are attached with angled etch plates to support the hull sides. Two single part wheels complete the assembly. The trolley was painted flat red with the hull support pads picked out in red brown. 

The wing is glued to the fuselage stubs via positive fittings tongues to form a relatively large and heavy basic airframe. Some filler was necessary along the joint between the fuselage halves. I used Squadron Green Putty which sets quickly and after it dried small areas of the engraved panels lined were rescribed.

The engines and nacelles were built up next. The single row radial engines have reasonable cylinder detail but care must be taken when cutting them from the parts frames, since alternate cylinders have a small pip moulded onto the end, which are spacers to locate the engine cowlings. The collector rings to the cowl fronts are moulded separately so they can be painted in metallic bronze and added after the cowls are assembled and painted. The engines were painted metallic grey and detailed with a wash of dirty thinners. Care must be taken in fitting the cowls around the radial engines since the joining pins provide minimal contact area and the cowls must be correct aligned for the exhausts; the kit instructions make this clear.

The wing floats were assembled ready for the painting stage. The floats are moulded in two halves and the support struts are provided with a good strong self-aligning socket and peg arrangement. As a precaution, I checked the struts for fit into the underwing sockets while the glue was setting.


 The turrets and engines were masked off and the main airframe given a coat of grey auto primer from a rattle can. Any small scratches and defects in the airframe were refilled and the whole airframe smoothed down using fine grade sanding sticks.

Next I screwed up the paintwork by confusing my choice of a paint finish. I had airbrushed the upper surface base camouflage, in Dark Slate Grey from the Xtracrylix range with the upper surface colours carried under the rear fuselage boom, combined with Medium Sea Grey under surfaces. I then discovered that there was no such combination on the decal options offered, so I had to undertake a partial repaint, starting by re-spraying the lower surfaces in Tamiya XF-16 Flat Aluminium. The under surfaces were then covered with masking tape and the original Slate Grey to the top surfaces touched in.  The top surface was then carefully masked out, using Blu Tack “sausages” and an infill of masking tape to define the demarcation between the upper surface colours before adding the shadow shaded area of Extra Dark Sea Grey. With the size of the fuselage and wing components this took a lot of the low tack putty and tape.

When I came to strip off the masking the camo colours had not taken too well to the silver overspray on the fuselage sides and small ragged areas of the Grey and Green were pulled away when the tape was removed. I also found that the paint along the lower hull chipped when scratched with a finger nail. Strangely, I had accidentally created an interpretation of the paint damage to be found along the waterline of a well-used flying boat, so I decided to leave it as it was. The same had happened to the wing floats, so at least I had consistency. I consider this the happy result of a special modelling system known as SRSU (the Self Rectifying Screw Up). The paintwork was sealed with two brushed coats of Future/Klear floor polish in preparation for the decals.

By default I had ended up with the colour scheme for an aircraft of No.95 Sqn., Royal Air Force, Freetown, Sierra Leone, 1941. But it was none the worse for that. The Cartograf decals went on easily and responded well to Micro Sol and Micro Set, necessary in view of the heavily detailed exterior. The decals simply provided national markings, squadron codes letters and the aircraft serial number. A small decal is provided for the gas detection patch on the fuselage nose.

 The paintwork was then sealed with two misted coats of Xtracrylix matt varnish. I decided that the all-silver underside needed livening up, so as an afterthought I coated the  lower surfaces with Pro Modeller Weathering Wash in Mud Brown and cleaned nearly all of it off with a damp paper towel. This left just a trace of weathering to relieve the overall silver effect.

 Those 35 portholes were glazed with Micro Kristal Klear methodically applied with a cocktail stick. The Eduard masks were stripped from the turrets and flight deck glazing.


 The propellers were painted Black with Yellow tips and the blade roots in Silver. The Bronze painted cowl fronts were added, together with the similarly painted exhaust pipes. The Sunderland Mk.I has a novel arrangement in that the exhaust of the port inner engine is led through the leading edge of the wing and exits through the wing upper surface and the kit parts accurately reflect this.

The chunky beaching gear was glued in place and the main legs have positive locations in the fuselage sides. This was left overnight to set. 

The airframe was propped upside down to permit rigging of the floats. Small marked holes in the floats and wing undersides were drilled out to accept the bracing wires. Italeri charmingly invites the modeller to “add wire bracings from stirred plastic” which I take to mean stretched sprue. However I elected to use Griffon Model 0.3mm Brass Hollow Pipe, marked out with dividers and cut slightly overlong to enable it to be juggled into the fixing holes before being secured with a tiny drop of superglue. The pipe/rigging wire was painted in enamel matt silver before installation. Although I normally use acrylics, the enamel had better adhesion. This rigging method was new to me and recommended by a fellow modeller, Rich Reynolds, who happens to be my son. The relatively stiff hollow wire is easy to handle and provides a rigid assembly, so it is a method that I shall return to with future projects.

Construction was completed with the installation of aerials and the astrodome to the upper fuselage and the beam guns with their extended wind deflectors. The second bomb rack was fixed in the run out position under the port wing to give a little variety to the weapons layout.


 The finished article is an imposing bird and I am glad to have it in my collection. With the number of window sections to be masked and portholes to be glazed it repays steady and thorough preparation before painting.  

I do not consider that the etch fret of parts adds much to the model since the metal is rather thick and most of the  etch could equally well have been rendered in plastic. The decal sheet is adequate but  the absence of any airframe stencilling is disappointing in a kit that is marketed and priced as having premium features. The coloured booklet is helpful but again does not really tip the balance in favour of the relatively high price.

This is a typical Italeri kit in that the fit of parts is adequate rather than totally precise. As to the surface detail, I would not consider this kit to be “unbuildable” but the designers should perhaps have had a closer look at the photographs that are provided with this kit to get a better feel for the characteristics of the external skinning.

It is nigh on fifty years since Airfix first brought a 1:72 Sunderland to the market place and Italeri should be congratulated on a large and imposing model. It looks the part, in my opinion.


Warplanes of the Second World War, Volume Five, Flying Boats, by William Green. Macdonald  1961.

 Italeri’s instructions and their  illustrated booklet. 

The Short Sunderland, by Geoffrey Norris and Richard Ward, Profile Publications Ltd., 1967

Frank Reynolds

October 2014

Kit from my LHS, Spot on Models and Hobbies of Swindon, England.

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