Wingnut Wings 1/32 RE.8 'arry Tate
KIT #: 32012
PRICE: $89.00 direct
DECALS: Five options
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver


     The Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough was established in 1911 to experiment on aircraft designs and provide information for the rest of the new aircraft industry.  The RAF also produced its designs, all of which save the S.E.5a (for Scout Experimental) were of remarkably unimaginative design, and mostly contributed to the retardation of technical development of aircraft for the Royal Flying Corps.

      The roots of "'Arry Tate," as the R.E. 8 (Reconnaissance Experimental, Model 8) was known to its crews, goes back to the creation of the B.E. (for Bleriot Experimental) series.  The B.E.2, which appeared in B.E.2c, B.E.2d and B.E.2e versions, was the primary corps reconnaissance aircraft of the Royal Flying Corps from 1914 until the R.E.8 began to replace it on the Western Front in late 1916.  It was a pilot in a B.E.2 who first spotted the German army shortly after it had turned left toward Paris as it came out of Belgium; that his warning was taken seriously by a ground commander was as big a miracle in itself as the "Miracle of the Marne" it led to by allowing the British Expeditionary Force to withdraw before being surrounded and for the French to use the taxis of Paris to get men to hold on the Marne.  The First World War would have been the six week conflict everyone expected ‑ and ended with German victory ‑ but for that lone pilot in his already‑ obsolete airplane.   

     The B.E.2 made the serious design mistake of putting the pilot in the back seat; at a time when aircraft were unarmed and unlikely to be armed, putting the observer in front supposedly gave him a better field of view.  When it came time to arm airplanes against the "Fokker scourge," the observer was provided with a Lewis gun on a pivot between the two cockpits, with a limited field of fire directly to the rear, over the pilot's head.  With a top speed of 75‑80 m.p.h., the B.E.2s were sitting ducks for German Jagdflieger mounted in Albatros fighters, and they were shot down in droves during the Somme campaign in the summer and fall of 1916 and on through Bloody April in 1917, when the average operational life of an R.F.C. pilot was 7 hours once he arrived at the front with as little as 20 hours total flying time and was assigned to a squadron equipped with the type.

     "'Arry Tate" was not that much of an improvement over his predecessor.  The airplane came into existence in 1916 as a result of the perceived need to create an airplane with superior performance and hence better survivability than the B.E. series.  Among the B.e. characteristics the R.e.8 maintained was its “inherent stability,” which was said to improve the work of the observer when doing aerial photography.  This stability didn't extend to the landing characteristics: it was difficult to land at the stall, due to the torque of the big propeller which would cause the aircraft to yaw dangerously to the right; this was controlled by the rudder, but it caused much concern among pilots new to the R.E.8. 

             The main item of improvement was that the seating order was reversed, with pilot and observer/gunner seated back‑to‑back which allowed better coordination; the gunner's weapons were mounted on a Scarff ring that allowed a full 360 degree field of fire, with either one or two Lewis guns.  While the addition of a second weapon added to an already‑heavy load, the fact that the R.E.8 only had a top speed of 90‑95mph meant many crews decided they would give the enemy a hot reception since it was unlikely they could run away.  The R.E.8 began to replace the B.E. in the corps reconnaissance squadrons in late 1916, and had a survival

rate during "Bloody April" of 1917 slightly better than the B.E.‑equipped units, due to its improved defensive armament.  By that summer, the aircraft had replaced all of the dreadful B.E.s on the Western Front, and had also been adopted by the Belgian Air Force. 

      By early 1918, the production level of the far‑better Bristol F.2B Fighter ‑ which had originally been designed as a competitor to the R.E.8 ‑ had reached the point it could be diverted to the corps reconnaissance squadrons, and it began to replace the R.E.8 on the Western Front.  The airplane continued in widespread use in the Middle East, and was never completely supplanted on the Western Front before the end of the war.

             Little is made of the fact nowadays that there were in fact many “gunner aces” among the R.F.C. and R.A.F. during the First World War, including quite a few with double-digit scores and a several with scores over 20; the overwhelming majority of these gunner aces were rear-seaters on Bristol Fighters, an airplane that genuinely was a two-seat fighter.

             Among the more memorable of these men is Lt. Harvey Rhoads of 12 Squadron, who - between May 7 and September 3, 1918 - scored an amazing eleven victories as the observer in an R.E.8, the only R.E.8 gunner to score sufficient victories to be recorded in the record books.  Flying with Lt. Croye Pithey in B7715 and Lt. Noel Garland in F6097, Rhoads shot down two observation balloons, three Pfalz D.IIIs, two Fokker D.VIIs, a DFW C.V and two LVG two-seaters.  When one considers the kind of defenses that were mounted around observation balloons, the fact that Rhoads and Pithey destroyed two on separate occasions in May and June 1918 demonstrates some very great courage and superior skill, as well as an enormous helping of luck.  Obviously, ‘Arry Tate wasn-t always a target.

            Over 4,000 R.E.8s were built by several subcontractors, and served in eighteen RFC and RAF Squadrons as well as two squadrons of the Australian Flying Corps.

             The Australian Flying Corps used the R.E.8 operationally in No.1 and No.3 Squadrons.  No. 3 Squadron used the R.E.8 during its service on the Western Front during the last year of the war from September 1917.  Over that time, 104 R.E.8s served with the unit, an indication of the heavy use, since only eleven were lost in combat.  R.E.8 A4397, flown by Captain R.G. Francis, set a  Western Front record of service with 440 hours and 147 sorties over the front lines.  Between September 1917 and the end of the war, No.3 Squadron flew over 10,000 hours, dropped 6,000 bombs, fired half a million rounds, and photographed 120 square miles of German territory.  For a loss of eleven aircraft and their crews, No. 3 was credited with 16  enemy aircraft destroyed, 8 driven down out of control, and 27 forced down.  Following the Armistice, No. 3 helped institute air mail, flying throughout France and Belgium, until the unit was demobilized and returned to Australia in 1919.

             Perhaps the most famous story of the R.E.8 in Australian service is that of the “Ghost R.E.8.” On December 16, 1917, Lieutenant J. L. Sandy and Sergeant H. F. Hughes were observing artillery fire when they were attacked by six Albatross D.Va Scouts.  Sandy refused to dive away and engaged the enemy, bringing down one that landed intact in Australian lines north of Armentieres.

     Another R.E.8 aircraft of 3 squadron crewed by Lieutenant E. J. Jones and Lieutenant K.C. Hodgson, went to the assistance of Sandy and Hughes and the surviving Germans flew off.  Approaching Sandy-s airplane, Sandys and Hughes appeared all right. Jones returned to his mission.

             By dusk, Sandy and Hughes had not returned.  Inquiries were made at other aerodromes, but there was no word.  The next day a telegram was received from No. 12 Stationary Hospital, St. Pol, that the bodies of Sandy and Hughes had been found in a crashed R.E.8 aircraft in a field about 8 kilometers north‑east of St. Pol.  An armor-piercing bullet had passed through Hughes- left lung and into the base of Sandy-s skull, killing them instantly during the combat. They had not been injured in the landing crash, and damage to the aircraft was minor.  It appeared that  after the crew had been killed, the R.E.8 had flown itself in wide left‑hand circles until the gas ran out, with the wind blowing it to the southwest.  The site of the crash was 50 miles from the location of the battle.

             The Albatros brought down by Sandy Hughes was recovered by a party of mechanics under Captain Ross under shell fire on the night of December 17/18 and brought back to 3 Squadron-s aerodrome.  It was D5390/17 of Jasta 29, flown by Franz Claus.  After being test flown in England, it was presented to the Australian Government as a War Trophy.  It is today on display in the Australian War Memorial.


            There have only been two other kits released of the R.E.8: an ancient 1/72 kit by Airfix in the late 1950s, and a very nice limited-run kit by Aeroclub in 1995.  This kit by Wingnut Wings is the first mainstream injection-molded kit of the airplane in 1/32, and it is easily the best of the lot. Editor's Note: Speaking of models, those who are in San Diego, visit the Aerospace Museum. In the WWI section is a huge 1/48 Zeppelin being attacked by one of these aircraft. I am sure both were scratch-built.

            The kit arrives in the box with ten sprues in grey plastic and one in clear, with a photo-etch panel for the pilot-s seatbelt and various detail items for the guns.  Decals are provided for five different aircraft.  The differences between aircraft produced by sub-contractors, such as Daimler, Siddeley-Deasy and Austin are included, and the instructions are clear as to which go where for the model selected.  There are lots of spare parts, including bombs and machine guns, for the spares box and future use.


             As is usual with a Wingnut Wings kit, if the modeler commits the radical and frequently-unthinkable act of actually following the instructions as written, it is virtually guaranteed that a superb model will result.  In fact, this is what I did.

             It-s a good idea to paint as many parts as possible while they are still on the sprues.  This is easy, with the excellent paint call-outs included in the instructions.  After all had dried, I proceeded with the assembly according to the steps outlined in the instruction book.  Once I had the fuselage as a complete sub-assembly, I proceeded to paint the model.


             I “filled in” the space between ribs on the wings and tail planes with flat black for pre-shading, then painted the lower surfaces with Tamiya “Buff” and the upper surfaces with Tamiya “Khaki.”  The engine cowling was painted with Tamiya “Sky Grey.”  The interplane struts and the cabane struts were painted with my mixture for “Ash”, being a combination of Tamiya “Flat Brown,” “Orange” and “Flat Yellow.”  The metal parts were painted with Tamiya “Semi-Gloss Black.”  Once all was done, I gave the model a coat of Xtracrylix “Gloss” varnish.

            I chose to do the airplane on the box cover, a Daimler-built R.e.8 operated by 3 Squadron, AFC.  The excellent decals went on without problem under a coat of Micro-Sol.  I then gave the model a coat of Xtracrylix “Satin” varnish.


            I attached the engine and then glued the cowling covers in position.  I then attached the pilot-s Vickers gun with its mounting brackets and the telescopic sight.

             I attached the lower wing and tail surfaces, after gluing the elevators and ailerons in offset positions.  I then attached the main gear, and proceeded to glue the interplane atruts and cabane struts in position.  Once all was set, I glued the top wing in position.

            Rigging was done with .008 wire, painted black.

             The wheels were “muddied” and then glued in position, followed by the bomb rack rails and finally the Scarff ring with its single Lewis gun mounted.


             I don-t really know why, but I have liked the R.E.8 ever since I built a carved balsa-wood model of one from the William Wylam drawings in a Model Airplane News issue back in my youth.  I have built both the Airfix and Aeroclub kits over the years, and really appreciate this model.  As is usual with Wingnuts Wings kits, even a model as potentially difficult as the R.E.8 could be is an easy model for a modeler with average skills to build, due to the “buildability” of the production design.  The end result, as with all the other Wingnuts kits, is an excellent model of a well-known First World War airplane.  British biplanes of the period had considerably more rigging than did German aircraft, so you should have some experience with that and confidence in your ability in order to complete this model.  That said, anyone who takes their time and follows the instructions can be assured of a superb model for their collection.  Highly recommended.

 Tom Cleaver

April 2012

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